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One-Third of Yemen’s Population May Go Hungry. Still, Money For Weapons But Not Food.

A few days ago there was an odd juxtaposition of Yemen-related news.  On the one hand, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the United States would double its military assistance to Yemen to about $150 million next year.  That same day, the UN Refugee Agency warned that it faced a huge funding shortfall for its Yemen related work, which includes taking care of 250,000 people made refugees and internally displaced, in part by fighting between the Yemeni military and rebel groups. 

Well, today, the news become worse on the humanitarian front.  The World Food Program said today that one in three people in Yemen go are in danger of going hungry.  This, says the WFP makes Yemen, “one of the countries worst affected by hunger in the world, with 12 per cent of the population of some 23 million suffering from severe food insecurity, the United Nations reported today.”  The problem, though, is that like the UN Refugee Agency, funds for WFP projects in Yemen are slow coming.  Among other things, this has forced the WFP to cut its food rations below the 2,000 calorie threshold and curtail some school feeding programs.  This is all for the lack of funding.  How much funding?  So far, the the UN has received only 0.4% of the funding that it requires to keep its humanitarian operations going in Yemen in 2010.  The WFP says it needs $30 million to cover Yemen food needs for the next six months.  

At what point does the focus on military aid to the exclusion of humanitarian relief become yet another example of our myopic focus on the former to the detriment to our long term goals in the region? 

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Kris Allen and American Idol Help the UN Help Haiti

As Matt noted, reigning Idol champ Kris Allen traveled to Haiti last week with UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin to visit the relief efforts.  (Recall: We posted some exclusive video of that trip.)  Well, Thursday night, on Fox at 8pm EST (7 Central) you can see more from the Haiti trip when Idol airs a special episode dedicated to Haiti. 

The UN Foundation is organizing some virtual watch parties and has other resources for Idol fans and everyone else who wants to help the UN help Haiti.   Don’t miss the action!

UPDATE: 100% of the proceeds from Itunes downloads of Allen’s rendition of “Let it Be” will go to the UN’s Haiti relief efforts. 

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UN General Assembly to Re-Consider Goldstone Report Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the Goldstone Report that criticizes both Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces for alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.   The resolution that is up for a vote is partly symbolic — it will show that the Goldstone Report (which will not be taken up by the Security Council) is not gone and forgotten.  But it also gives both sides five months to implement some of the report’s key findings and assures that there will be another vote on the matter this summer.  This helps keep the pressure on both sides to implement their own accountability mechanisms as the report reccomends. 

Still, the prospects for accountability for alleged crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead looks pretty bleak.  The Security Council route is a non-starter.   The United States has expressed its reservations with the report and it is hard to believe that the United States would let a discussion on the report take place at the Council.  Now, the report does recommend that if local authorities are unable or unwilling to pursue their own credible investigations, the International Criminal Court should get involved. The problem, though, is that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel, which is not a member of the court. 

Chances are the vote will pass overwhelmingly in the General Assembly, much as a similar vote did in November.   The final vote count then was 114 to 18, with 44 abstentions (mostly from Europe.)  As was the case during the debate on that resolution, the key question for many European countries is whether or not the resolution will specifically endorse a Human Rights Council resolution on the Goldstone report. That language was left in the resolution last time, leading a number of European countries (which did not vote for the original Human Rights Council resolution) to abstain from the vote.  So, stay tuned.  

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Presidential Decree De-Fangs Afghanistan’s Election Watchdog

Eleven days ago, I heard a rumor that the office of President Hamid Karzai had re-written Afghanistan’s Election Law in ways that would deal a blow to the country’s beleaguered democrats. The changes had gone into force through a presidential decree, I was told.  While the international press was still quiet, ripples of alarm were already spreading through Kabul-based civil society.

The story is out now, and the worst has been confirmed.

Among other changes, the decree gives the president the power to appoint all five members of the country’s election watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the formerly UN-backed body that uncovered massive fraud during last year’s presidential election. Before, three of the commissioners were appointed by the UN, one by the Supreme Court, and one by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), a body accused of favoring the incumbent president last August.

Former UN senior political adviser Gerard Russell described the decree in a Guardian comment piece as “a terrible blow to the intended legacy of the 2001 invasion – fair elections, democratic institutions and a constitutional government.”

2010 is yet another election year in Afghanistan. In September, Afghans will vote in the second parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Taliban regime eight years ago. 

In an unpublished interview I conducted in December 2009, Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and chair of the Free and Fair Election Foundation for Afghanistan described the importance of a strong and independent ECC :

During the last election, the ECC was not able to establish offices in all provinces. Complaints were taken by the IEC offices during the campaign and then processed by the ECC. This did not work, as we saw. The best way [to collect complaints ahead of the election] is to empower and resource the ECC. During the 2010 elections, the ECC must have offices in all provinces. This will strengthen the legitimacy of the process. The IEC is not regarded as an impartial institution, and people are not willing to bring their complaints to the IEC. This is especially true for complaints against the IEC itself. The government will talk about how the ECC is run by foreigners, but this is because the government does not trust the ECC. The people trust the ECC.

With control over both institutions, “the president can be sure that the parliament elected this September will be dominated by his allies,” according to Russell.

A badly tainted parliamentary election six months from now would remove Afghanistan’s strongest institutional check on presidential power.

 “The government and the IEC are gearing up for a series of elections that are as controlled as possible, and with as little fuss as possible,” wrote Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analyst Network blog in a long analysis piece on the law.

“The struggle for a cleaner election has for the moment been lost. We need to think hard how to deal with that.”

Afghan civil society activists are undoubtedly discussing how to proceed from here, while at the same time wondering how many of their foreign friends will back them up, how far, and for how long.

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Tune in to American Idol Now!

At 8pm EST, Season 8 winner Kris Allen will perform “Let it Be” and present footage of his trip to Haiti with the UN Foundation.

Kris traveled with UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin to Haiti to raise funds and awareness last week. This episode is part of the show’s Idol Gives Back series, intended to do exactly what the title suggests. Viewers will be able to donate online or by texting during the show.

For a primer on the UN’s work in Haiti, check out our coverage.  Mark also posted some clips from the trip.

*Photo: American Idol

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The Coming Flood of Electronic Waste

Consumers in the developing world are rapidly increasing their purchases of electronics – computers, cell phones, toys, cameras. Disposal capacity isn’t keeping pace. The UN Environmental Program just issued a new report that predicts a massive increase in e-waste in the developing world.

Global e-waste is increasing by 40 million tons a year, much of it in poor countries.  Modern electronics can use up to 60 different elements; some are toxic, some are valuable, some are both. In the developing world, e-waste is generally handled by “backyard recyclers” – basically, families who break down electronics and isolate valuable components. That often means incineration, which has a major impact on air quality.

For once, however, this seems to be a problem that actually has a solution. UNEP recommends the development of high-tech recycling centers capable of handling e-waste, bolstered by a community network that collects e-waste and delivers it to recycling facilities. One promising model is in Bangalore, India.  EWA supports a clean e-waste channel to receive consumer electronics for recycling.

One issue UNEP doesn’t address is financing. I’d love to know if there is enough value to e-waste to help support these recycling centers, or they’ll be an ongoing cost center for governments.  

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