Friday, January 25, 2008

Stories That Should Not Slip Into the Shadows

With so much attention being paid to the US presidential election campaign and the precarious global economy, it's easy to let other important stories slip into the shadows. However, all too often the story that you choose to ignore today becomes the crisis that you can't ignore tomorrow.

So on the eve of the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary here are a few excerpts of news items from Thursday's UN Daily News which should help us keep perspective.


Cautioning that a shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos today that the United Nations will take action to address the problem in the context of reaching global anti-poverty targets.

“Our experiences tell us that environmental stress, due to lack of water, may lead to conflict, and would be greater in poor nations,” Mr. Ban told leaders from governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, industry, academia and the arts attending the annual meeting in Davos.

“Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon,” he warned.

The Secretary-General cited a recent report by International Alert identifying 46 countries, home to 2.7 billion people, where climate change and water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict. A further 56 countries, representing another 1.2 billion people, are at high risk of political instability, according to the study.

“This is not an issue of rich or poor, north or south,” he said, pointing to examples of water problems in China, the United States, Spain, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea. “All regions are experiencing the problem.”

The Secretary-General emphasized that water resources must be protected. “There is still enough water for all of us – but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly,” he said.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which call for halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015, are key to this effort, he said.

Mr. Ban announced that he would gather world leaders at the UN this September “for a critical high-level meeting on the MDGs, focusing in particular on Africa.”

While emphasizing that “governments must engage and lead,” he said the private sector also has a role to play in this effort.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council today called for immediate international action to force Israel to allow fuel, food, medicine and other essential items to be sent to the Gaza Strip, to reopen the border crossings and to end its “grave violations” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The statement passed by a roll-call vote of 30 in favour with Canada voting against it and 15 countries abstaining, following a special session that began yesterday. In it, the Council expressed its deep concern about “the series of incessant and repeated Israeli military attacks and incursions,” which it said had killed and injured many Palestinian civilians.

The resolution demanded “that the occupying Power, Israel, lift immediately the siege it has imposed on the occupied Gaza Strip, restore continued supply of fuel, food and medicine and reopen the border crossings.”

* * * * *


As security conditions deteriorate in Kenya, the United Nations refugee agency is in the process of relocating an estimated 6,500 refugees who fled across the border to Uganda to a transit centre farther inland.

Hundreds of refugees have already been transported by bus from the border towns of Busia and Malaba to a centre at Mulanda, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said, as part of a five-day relocation operation.

Many of the Kenyan refugees "carried plastic bags containing the meagre possessions they were able to salvage before being chased from their homes in post-election violence across the border in Kenya," the agency said.

By Wednesday, some 200 tents provided by UNHCR had been erected at the transit centre in readiness for the refugees, with another 300 being prepared. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) installed water tanks at the site.

Registered refugees will receive ration cards which entitle them to food, basic household commodities and other services at the transit centre.

Many of the refugees had been living at schools, with women and children quartered in classrooms and men sleeping in tents.

But others who are staying with relatives and friends "may not move to Mulanda because they prefer to stay close to the border where they can closely follow developments taking place on the other side," said a UNHCR official who travelled. She added that they were anxious to return home, put their children back in school and rebuild their lives.

In contrast, many of those moving to Mulanda on Wednesday were expecting to be there for some time. "I have nowhere else to go. We plan to stay here for some months as we decide what to do next," said Rahab Wanjiru, a dealer in electronic goods in Busia, which straddles the border.

Her shop was set ablaze by drunken youths as they hunted down people from Wanjiru's ethnic group after the results of the 30 December presidential poll were announced, sparking violence that has left hundreds dead.

* * * * *


The number of people displaced by recent flooding in southern Africa has nearly doubled in less than a week from 70,000 to more than 120,000, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.

Unusually early torrential rains in the Zambezi river basin led to widespread flooding in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe in recent weeks.

UN agencies and their partners are continuing to assist flood victims in the affected areas. In anticipation of this year’s rainy season, emergency supplies, including shelter and non-food items, had already been pre-positioned in several strategic locations in flood-prone areas.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is continuing to deliver food via helicopter to a resettlement centre in Mozambique that houses roughly 13,000 people. The agency has also provided Mozambican authorities with three boats to assist in rescue and evacuation operations and some people are stranded in areas that cannot be reached by road. Some parts of three provinces – Tete, Sofala and Manica – are now inaccessible by land.

This is the second time in a year that central Mozambique has been hit hard by floods. Since January last year, when the Zambezi valley was inundated, WFP has provided relief assistance to about 190,000 people.

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