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UN Daily News, 4 December, 2008

UN Daily News, 4 December, 2008

From The United Nations News Service

BAN UNDERSCORES URGENT NEED TO ADDRESS HUMANITARIAN NEEDS IN ZIMBABWE

The United Nations and its relief partners must respond quickly to address the humanitarian needs of Zimbabweans and prevent the cholera epidemic from spreading, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in a telephone conversation with South African President Kgalama Motlanthe.

During this morning’s conversation, they also discussed the political situation in Zimbabwe and the mediation by the South African Development Community (SADC) in the power-sharing talks between President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, who heads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

A power-sharing deal on the formation of a new government was reached on 15 September with the help of regional leaders, but outstanding issues remain, jeopardizing the deal’s implementation.

Meanwhile, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) today pledged its continued support to Zimbabweans, with the number of suspected cholera cases in Zimbabwe having grown to nearly 13,000 and 570 deaths reported since August.

The agency heads the group of heath providers who are responding to the outbreak as well as the country’s wider health challenges.

Zimbabwe has appealed for $1.5 million each month to address the cholera problem, get health workers to return to their posts and provide medical supplies. Over $4 million worth of chemicals are also needed to ensure the safety of the country’s water supply.

Kits capable of treating 800 severe and more than 3,000 moderate cases of diarrhoea have arrived in Zimbabwe, where 9 out of its 10 provinces have been affected by the cholera outbreak, which has also spilled over into neighbouring South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday announced that it is stepping up its help for Zimbabwe’s swelling population of children in need, outlining a four-month response plan to deal with the Southern African country’s multiple crises, including a deadly cholera outbreak, the closure of many hospitals and the collapse of the education sector.

The 120-day plan yesterday in the capital Harare, and the agency warned that women and children are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian suffering engulfing Zimbabwe, where the economy is largely shattered and severe food shortages have become standard.

“Schools and hospitals are closing, while teachers, nurses and doctors are not reporting for duty,” UNICEF acting country representative Roeland Monasch said. “It is UNICEF’s top priority to ensure that Zimbabwe’s children get vital life-saving interventions at this critical time.”


* * *

GAZA CROSSING PARTIALLY OPENED TODAY PERMITTING RESTRICTED DELIVERY OF UN AID

Some crossings into Gaza, including fuel pipelines, were opened today, allowing a limited amount of United Nations humanitarian supplies to reach the area’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) delivered six truckloads of Jordanian-donated aid into Gaza, but the agency noted that an additional 10 trucks of oil and tinned meat were not allowed entrance into the territory.

UNRWA has stressed that it needs to send 15 trucks a day into Gaza just to maintain its basic operations, but it has only managed to deliver 37 trucks of emergency relief supplies over the last month, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

Meanwhile, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd opened a year-long series of events today in Jerusalem to mark the agency’s 60th anniversary on 8 December.

“Closures in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza add to the terrifying sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally, depriving children of that simplest of rights, the right to be a child,” said Ms. AbuZayd.

Ms. AbuZayd said that the anniversary was a time for sober reflection on why a “temporary agency” still exists and a time to ponder the realities of the refugees after 60 years of exile, dispossession and statelessness.

“While the 60th anniversary of UNRWA is nothing to celebrate, it is an occasion to pay tribute to the people, the vast majority of them refugees, who have been part of this unique agency over six decades and to those who have benefited and made such good use of its services,” she added.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA was established by the General Assembly to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.


* * *

MEASLES DEATHS DRAMATICALLY CUT BY 74 PER CENT WORLDWIDE – UN HEALTH AGENCY

Measles deaths have plummeted by some 74 per cent worldwide since 2000, the United Nations announced today, while warning that the problem has still not been eradicated.

The estimated number of people dying from measles each year dropped dramatically from an estimated 750,000 to 197,000 between 2000 and 2007, thanks to improvements in routine and supplementary immunization activities.

In the same period, the Eastern Mediterranean region – including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Sudan – has cut measles deaths from 96,000 to 10,000, achieving the UN goal of reducing measles deaths by 90 per cent three years ahead of time.

“This significant decline in measles deaths in the region was made possible by the hard work and dedication of national governments to fully implement the measles mortality reduction strategy with the support of the Measles Initiative partners,” said UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director, Eastern Mediterranean Region, Hussein Abdel-Razzak Al Gezairy in remarks to the press this morning.

The major reduction in measles deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region was a result of ramping up vaccination campaigns, with more than twice the number of children immunized in 2007 compared to the previous year.

“Going forward, however, we cannot drop our guard against this disease. We know that children being born today, tomorrow and the next day will need the life-saving benefits of vaccination,” said Dr. Al Gezairy in remarks read by his colleague, Peter Strebel.

“Countries must plan and budget for periodic nationwide measles vaccination campaigns to make sure all children are protected by vaccination. If this is not done systematically we could see a reversal of the gains made,” he added.

The progress was announced at a press conference today by the partners of the Measles Initiative – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Foundation and WHO, as well as the American Red Cross and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of (CDC) – ahead of tomorrow’s WHO report, which will include the latest data on measles mortality.

Although more than 3.6 million lives have been saved, measles is still one of the leading killers of children worldwide, with an estimated 540 dying each day from the disease, the Initiative said in a press release issued today.

Africa saw the largest decrease in measles deaths, accounting for roughly 63 per cent of the reduction in worldwide deaths over the eight-year period. In 2007, however, measles outbreaks occurred in a number of African countries due to gaps in immunization coverage, reinforcing the need to remain vigilant against the disease.

South-East Asia only experienced a 42 per cent decline in measles deaths due to the delayed implementation of large-scale vaccination campaigns in India, which currently accounts for two-thirds of global measles deaths.

“Much needs to be done. An estimated 500 children a day die of measles. This is an unacceptable reality when there is a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine to prevent the disease,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

“Of the estimated 197,000 measles related deaths in 2007, 90 per cent or an estimated 177,000 were children, who died before their fifth birthday,” Ms. Veneman added.

Success in reaching the 2010 goal of reducing measles death by 90 per cent worldwide depends on ensuring that all children receive two doses of the measles vaccine including one dose by their first birthday, strengthening disease surveillance systems and providing effective treatment for measles.

“Progress also depends on addressing the considerable funding gap,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the UN Foundation Kathy Calvin.

“Currently the shortfall stands at $176 million for 2009-2010, of which $35 million is urgently needed for 2009. During these tough economic times it is important to remember that prevention is always more cost effective in the long run than treatment,” said Ms. Calvin.

“For only a $1 a vaccination, measles can be prevented,” she added.

Measles infection occurs through the spread of nasal and oral fluids. After an incubation period of seven to 14 days, the first symptoms are fever, nasal discharge and redness of the eyes. Measles is a contributing cause of malnutrition, which in turn increases the risk of contracting measles.


* * *

AS 94 STATES SIGN CLUSTER BOMB BAN, FUNDS FOR OVERALL UN DE-MINING LANGUISH

While 94 countries signed an historic United Nations-sponsored treaty renouncing the use of cluster bombs, the larger effort to rid the world of ordnance that kill and maim thousands of people years after they are laid is facing a gigantic shortfall, with less than 5 per cent of funding secured so far for 2009.

“Without full donor support many of Mine Action initiatives will have to be cancelled and more civilians will be at risk of losing limbs, lives and livelihood,” Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Dmitry Titov told a news conference in New York, presenting the $459-million UN Mine Action Service portfolio for next year, with only $22 million raised so far.

“The portfolio of mine action projects is critical in our view to efforts to protect civilian populations and we urge again and again donors, traditional and untraditional ones, to step forward to help us meet this funding shortfall,” he said of the 300 projects to address the problem of land mines and explosive remnants of war in 33 countries and territories.

Of these, 32 deal with cluster munitions, which have gained added prominence with this week’s meeting in Oslo, Norway, to sign the new pact. First used in World War II, they contain dozens of smaller explosives designed to disperse over an area the size of several football fields; 15 per cent of them fail to detonate upon impact, creating large de facto minefields. They have claimed over 10,000 lives, 98 per cent of them civilians, and 40 per cent of these children.

The Convention will enter into force after ratifications by 30 States, making its commitments to assist victims, clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles binding on its Parties. Hailing it as “a step forward in international efforts to protect civilians and control the spread of deadly weapons,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – in a statement issued by his spokesperson – urged more States to sign and ratify the Convention.

The Portfolio of Mine Action Projects is an annual analysis by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Mine Action Service, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). At a similar time last year the smaller $404-million 2008 portfolio had secured $40 million.

Over the past year 72 countries were reported to be affected by landmines or the explosive remnants of war, and there were 5,426 casualties although the actual number may be much higher as there is often a problem with under-reporting. About one quarter of land mine victims worldwide are children and the country with the most casualties last year was Colombia.

Anti-personnel mines are not only used by governments. Last year, usage by non-state groups was reported in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Peru and Sri Lanka.

Mr. Titov stressed that Mine Action also helped the safe deployment of peacekeepers in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon and Sudan.

“In Sudan over 25,000 kilometres of roads have been cleared extending the reach of peacekeeping operations and civilians even to areas where no cars or trucks have been seen in 30 years,” he said. “In Afghanistan, under the most difficult conditions, over 1 billion metres of land have been cleared, halving the number of casualties from unexploded ordnance and freeing up vital agricultural land for cultivation.”


* * *

GUNMEN LAUNCH YET ANOTHER ATTACK ON AID WORKERS IN DARFUR, UN REPORTS

Two gunmen equipped with AK-47 assault rifles and a hand grenade stopped a humanitarian convoy in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region today, beat up the aid workers and stole money in the latest of a long series of such assaults that are impeding relief operations, the United Nations reported.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) convoy of three vehicles with six local staff was stopped this morning in South Darfur on its way from Nyala, the provincial capital, to Kalma internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said in a statement. The gunmen forced it to drive down to a nearby gully.

“Although the workers complied without resistance to demands for money, the attackers assaulted them up before leaving the scene,” it added “Three out of the six workers were reportedly severely beaten and taken to the local hospital, where their condition is listed as stable and non life-threatening.”

Initial reports suggest that the assailants were informed of the workers’ movements and that they were transporting cash intended for the payment of salaries for the Kalma camp staff.

“If proven right, these suspicions would point to an act of banditry,” UNAMID added.

Just yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council that 261 vehicles had been hijacked and 172 compounds broken into so far this year. Rebel movements, or those linked to them, appear primarily responsible for the majority of “these terrifying incidents” in rural areas, but many also occur in main towns in Government control, he said.

“I call on both the Government security forces and rebel leaders to put a stop to this banditry once and for all,” he added. “It seriously damages the quality of assistance – just as one example, World Food Programme (WFP) rations are still only at 70 per cent because of attacks on their convoys – and it damages the credibility of their promises to ensure our safety.”

UNAMID, slated to reach 26,000 personnel but now only 10,500-strong, is being deployed throughout Darfur in an effort to bring peace to a region where more than five years of fighting between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militia and rebel groups have killed an estimated 300,000 people and driven another 2.7 million from their homes


* * *

NEXT YEAR WILL BE CRITICAL YEAR FOR ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, UN OFFICIALS SAY

With negotiations on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions, expected to wrap up in December 2009, next year will be the year of climate change, United Nations officials said today in New York.

The latest round of UN talks, currently underway in Poznan, Poland, is a “stock-taking” meeting, falling between last year’s landmark Bali conference, where 187 countries agreeing to launch a two-year process of formal negotiations, and next year’s Copenhagen, Denmark, gathering.

“The year between this meeting in Poznan and the meeting in Copenhagen is going to disproportionately on climate change as it should be in terms of attention of governments of the world,” as well as the private sector and civil society, said Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.

Economic recovery and climate change are heavily linked, he stressed at a press conference, “because you can’t really deal with one without the other.”

Mr. Orr also noted that since the end of the Bali conference last December, it has become “very old-fashioned” to pit climate change against development. Regarding the solutions to both issues, “the arrows go both directions.”

Also addressing reporters in New York today, Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, said that real progress needs to be made during the two-week Poznan meeting, including laying out a “shared vision” that addresses what countries are willing to undertake in terms of long-term cooperation on climate change.

Nations must decide on a timetable and workplan for the remaining negotiations before the Copenhagen meeting, he said, adding that “we do hope that there will be clear political signals provided by countries about what they’re prepared to do, or which direction they’re prepared to go.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hoping for an “ambitious, comprehensive agreement that is ratifiable by all countries” next December. The new pact must contain four key elements: ambitious emissions reductions by developed countries; mitigation measures by developing nations; financial support by wealthier nations for poorer ones; and stepped up multilateralism.

To achieve these goals, “we need nothing less than a revolution to pave the way for the low-carbon emissions economy of the future, including massive investment by the public as well as private sectors in alternate energy systems, a global green ‘New Deal,’ and also innovative ways of financing this, from public as well as private sources,” Mr. Pasztor said.


* * *

UN MAY HAVE TO RE-THINK GROUND ROLE FOLLOWING RUSSIA-GEORGIA CONFLICT – BAN

The United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) may have to reassess their roles on the ground following this summer’s fighting between Russia and Georgia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Recent events in your region have riveted the world’s attention and challenged existing arrangements for peace and security,” he told the 16th OSCE Ministerial Council in a message delivered by his Special Representative for Georgia Johan Verbeke in Helsinki.

“Indeed, following the tragic fighting in Georgia and the South Caucasus in August, and in light of persistent instability in the area, we may have to re-think our respective roles on the ground. The conflict also demonstrated that the lack of a meaningful political process over an extended period of time can lead to conflict. This lesson should be borne in mind when considering all protracted conflicts in the OSCE area.”

Calling for the “utmost” efforts to ensure the success of the Geneva International Discussions on Georgia, Mr. Ban said all sides must turn their immediate attention to “the most pressing short-term problems: security and the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

He noted UN-OSCE cooperation during the past year to shore up peace and stability in other areas such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

“Our cooperation also extends to human rights, including the human rights aspects of electoral processes and conflict and post-conflict situations,” he said. “We are working hard to prevent statelessness in South-Eastern Europe and to strengthen border management capacities in Central Asia.”

Not least, he stressed, the UN attaches great importance to common efforts to address environmental concerns in the OSCE region, in particular regarding climate change.


* * *

UN FORUM ADVOCATING AN ‘INTERNET FOR ALL’ IS UNDER WAY IN INDIA

A United Nations-backed international forum focusing on Internet governance issues, particularly the potential expansion of access to greater numbers of people, is under way in India.

The third Internet Governance Forum brings together representatives from government, the private sector, civil society, the Internet community, international organizations and the media to discuss how to make the web accessible to the largest number of people possible while guaranteeing that cyberspace remains safe, secure and reflective of the diversity of the world’s people.

Some 2,000 participants from over 100 countries are slated to attend the four-day meeting in Hyderabad, titled “Internet for All,” which includes workshops addressing such topics as expanding Internet access, including for persons with disabilities; promoting cybersecurity and child protection; and the future of the Internet.

In his opening remarks to the Forum, Assistant Secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Jomo Kwame Sundaram, noted that the Forum has become a valuable tool for forging a common understanding of complex Internet issues from diverse points of view.

Mr. Sundaram noted that with an estimated 1 billion people on course to gain access to the Internet in the coming years, it is essential to ensure that people with disabilities are taken into account.

“The access needs to take into account the diversity of the world’s population, the diversity of languages but also the diversity of people with different abilities,” said Mr. Sundaram.

Nitin Desai, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Internet Governance, added that multilingualism is key as most of the expansion of Internet use is taking place in developing countries, where the English language and Latin script are not used.


* * *

BAN CALLS ON BURUNDI’S GOVERNMENT, REBELS TO QUICKLY COMPLETE PEACE ACCORD

Burundi’s Government and the rebel group Palipehutu-FNL must now summon the political will and courage to overcome outstanding issues and successfully conclude the peace process they agreed to two years ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Time is of the essence,” he told a regional summit of the Burundi Peace Initiative in a message delivered by his Executive Representative for Burundi Youssef Mahmoud in Bujumbura, the small Central African country’s capital. “The crucial deadline for completing the full implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement is fast approaching

“I therefore urge the Government and the Palipehutu-FNL to work with greater urgency and determination to reach compromises on the difficult issues which have so far hindered their efforts.”

Burundi is rebuilding after a brutal civil war between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. In September 2006, the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement was signed between the Government and Palipehutu-FNL, the last major rebel hold-out group.

The group’s leader, Agathon Rwasa, returned home this May in what Mr. Ban the called a “significant development.”

Today, he thanked the Regional Initiative leaders, the South African Facilitation and the African Union for “their tireless efforts” to help the parties in their quest for a durable solution.

“I urge you to do your utmost at this Summit to achieve an outcome that helps restore hope for the Burundian people, and enables them to imagine a more prosperous and peaceful future,” he said. “For my part, I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations as well as the Organization’s readiness to continue its support, in full coordination with regional and international partners.”


* * *

DR CONGO: UN PEACEKEEPERS TO ‘PRESS’ REBELS TO LEAVE EASTERN TOWN

United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) intend to press fighters from the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Hutu rebel group, to leave a town they recently entered near the Ugandan border.

The UN Mission for the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, disputed information in some news reports that FDLR had systematically redeployed to “fill in” positions vacated by another rebel group, the National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP), although they had entered the town of Ishasha in the northeastern part of strife-torn North Kivu province.

“UN peacekeepers, meanwhile, will be redeploying in the Ishasha region until later this month,” UN spokesperson Michele Montas told a news briefing in New York. “The peacekeepers are patrolling the region, and they intend to press the FDLR forces to leave.”

Deadly fighting between Government forces, the CNDP and Mayi Mayi militia in North Kivu province in recent months has some 250,000 people to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, with security improving in Orientale, another eastern DRC province, UN peacekeepers are helping to redeploy aid agencies there. The first group of aid workers from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) arrived there on Tuesday to assist some 6,000 internally displaced persons.

The region has suffered repeated raids by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, which has killed at least 20 people and abducted more than 150 children since September.

MONUC also said today that it is continuing to reinforce its presence in North Kivu, with French-speaking blue helmets having arrived in the provincial capital Goma to protect civilians.

The mission noted that its combat helicopters in Goma and in neighbouring provinces are on alert and ready to respond to respond to any threat of attack.


* * *

NEARLY 2 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE REGISTERED TO VOTE, SAYS UN MISSION IN CôTE D’IVOIRE

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) announced today that almost 2 million people have been identified and registered to vote ahead of long-delayed elections, a key element in resolving a political crisis that in 2002 divided the West African country into a rebel-held north and Government-controlled south.

UNOCI said it will continue its efforts to pave the way for the polls, scheduled for 30 November, which were recently delayed for the third time.

Elections are one of the key benchmarks of last year’s Ouagadougou Agreement, the 2007 political accord reached in neighbouring Burkina Faso that aims to reconcile Côte d’Ivoire’s Government and the rebel Forces Nouvelles.

The pact called for a number of measures to resolve the crisis that first divided the country in 2002, including creating a new transitional government; merging the Forces Nouvelles and the national defence and security forces; dismantling the militias and disarming ex-combatants; and replacing the so-called zone of confidence separating north and south with a green line to be monitored by UNOCI.

In a press release issued in Abidjan today, the mission reaffirmed its support for the Agreement, which “has registered undeniable progress that has been recognized by the whole of the internationally community.”

It also called on all sides in Côte d’Ivoire to show restraint in order to consolidate gains that have been made thus far and continue the “peaceful” registration process launched in mid-September which has proceeded without major incident.

Last month, the Security Council called for the sides to wrap up the identification and registration process before the end of next January.

In a presidential statement, the 15-member body also voiced its support for a “credible electoral process” in Côte d’Ivoire, which is rebuilding after a brutal 14-year civil war, on the understanding that presidential elections will be staged before the end of the northern spring next year.


* * *

UNDP CHIEF HAILS NATIONS FOR COMMITMENT TO ACTION ON POVERTY, CLIMATE CHANGE

The head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has commended the resolve of the more than160 countries who met for a global finance meeting, which wrapped up recently in Doha, Qatar, to address the triple crisis posed by economic turmoil, far-reaching poverty and climate change.

The four-day UN gathering ended on 2 December with a declaration in which nations affirmed that the commitment made at the 2002 landmark global partnership agreement for development in Monterrey, Mexico, for developed countries to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to ODA must be maintained, despite the current financial crisis.

“We must treat these crises as common rather than separate challenges,” said UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş, noting that boosting public spending can simultaneously propel economic recovery and positive action on climate change.

He is currently in Poznan, Poland, where the latest round of UN climate change talks seeking to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012, are under way.

“At the same time, a global climate deal that establishes an effective carbon market and price of carbon, as well as mechanisms for resource flows to developing countries would generate significant financing for green growth and poverty reduction,” the Administrator said.

Emphasizing the UN’s role in helping countries address the interconnected crises, he said that UNDP, which “invests in the ‘how’ of development,” will carry on helping nations ‘green’ their economies, cope with uncertainty and take measures to slash poverty.

Meanwhile, a UN independent expert said the Doha meeting missed a crucial opportunity to restructure the international debt framework and address the impact of development policies on human rights, a United Nations independent expert said today.

“Financing for development is a matter of human rights,” which should supersede other agreements States enter into, said Cephas Lumina, Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights.

The lack of political will is exacerbating the problem, he said, pointing out that creditor countries have spent hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out their banks which have acted irresponsibility, but have not found similar funds to tackle the debt crisis, which has impacted developing nations for decades.

Mr. Lumina voiced regret that the Doha talks did not view economic policy making through the lens of human rights, as the two issues are “profoundly interconnected.”


* * *

UN RELIEF FUND LAUNCHES ANNUAL PLEDGING SESSION IN FACE OF GROWING NEEDS

The $500-million United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) today launched its annual pledging conference, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that the financial crisis, climate change and population growth are likely to increase demands for relief aid.

“We will need more resources to meet those demands,” he told delegates from Member States. “The needs are tremendous, but I believe that your generosity can match them.”

The CERF was set up in 2006 as part of UN reforms, to jump-start relief operations in natural and man-made disasters by providing funds within days and saving thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay under the then under-funded $50-million mechanism.

“Any aid worker can tell you that in a disaster, delays are deadly,” Mr. Ban said. “It is in the earliest hours of a crisis that the most lives are saved – or lost. Tragically, humanitarian funds were coming too late for some victims.”

UN officials have noted that under the previous system it took four months between the lifting of access restrictions in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region and the commitment of funds to the relief appeal. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) climbed to 1.6 million and mortality rates rose above emergency levels.

In the case of locust swarms infesting the African Sahel area in 2004, a $9-million appeal by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in February to spray larvae and prevent their spread was inadequately funded. That summer, the locusts multiplied throughout eight countries and FAO had to revise its appeal upwards to $100 million.

“Now we have the CERF, which approves funds in as little as forty-eight hours – a fraction of the time it used to take,” Mr. Ban said. “There are millions of lives at stake. So I appeal to you, on behalf of these suffering people, to contribute as much as possible.”

Citing the Fund’s successes, he noted that in its first three years, it provided more than $1billion for food, shelter, clean water and health care for tens of millions of people from Afghanistan to Zambia. Overall, 67 countries have received CERF funds. Even more are contributing – 93 countries, nearly half of the UN's membership. Many States now contributing to the CERF have also received its donations - Bangladesh, China, El Salvador, Indonesia, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Syria among them.

“This year's floods in Central America showed how natural disasters can destroy in seconds what took years to build. The strife in Kenya proved the same point. If we move quickly to reverse such damage, we have a much better shot at long-term development,” Mr. Ban said.

“The CERF is truly a Fund by all, a Fund for all. It shows the United Nations taking immediate action to alleviate acute human suffering.”


* * *

UN ACCORD AIMS TO CUT TECHNICAL TRADE BARRIERS FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

Developing countries are set to benefit from a United Nations-backed partnership announced today that seeks to establish a coherent system of measurements throughout the world to minimize technical barriers to trade which are still a major obstacle to exports.

The UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the inter-governmental International Bureau of Weights and Measure (BIPM) and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML) agreed to join forces to assist focus countries integrate more beneficially into the global economy, thus enhancing the impact of industrial development on economic growth.

Concrete technical areas of cooperation include the establishment of training guides to assist developing countries overcome metrology and legal metrology issues at the laboratory level.

With this agreement, UNIDO is partnering with two major global players who are crucial to successfully building capacity in standards and conformity as well as compliance with sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures that seek to ensure food safety and animal and plant health.

The agreement will not only reinforce UNIDO’s ability to deliver technical assistance, but also help further its position as a key agency for implementing projects to eliminate technical barriers to trade.

Effective immediately, the accord was signed by UNIDO Director-General, Kandeh Yumkella, BIPM Director Andrew J. Wallard, representing OIML, and International Committee of Legal Metrology (CIML) President Alan Johnston.

Established in 1966, UNIDO works towards improving the quality of life of the world’s poor by helping countries achieve sustainable industrial development.


* * *

PAKISTANI GIRLS GET FIRST SHOT AT EDUCATION IN UN-SUPPORTED CAMPS

Children uprooted by the violence in the war-torn north-western region of Pakistan have unexpectedly benefited from their plight by having the opportunity to attend school for the first time in United Nations-supported camps, reported a senior UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official.

During a visit to Pakistan this week, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Hilde F. Johnson met some of the thousands of families who have fled conflict in the Bajaur agency, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as government ministers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), donors and beneficiaries of the agency’s programmes in the country.

In the UNICEF-supported Katcha Garhi camp, Ms. Johnson talked to girls who had their first opportunity to attend school while in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and helped to administer polio vaccines as part of a campaign to immunize all Pakistani children under the age of five.

“The conflict in north-western Pakistan affects areas of the country where the people, especially children, already suffered from a lack of services and development,” said Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson requested government support in delivering essential services to families displaced by conflict in a meeting with the Governor of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), noting that over two-thirds of those living in the camps are children and are in urgent need of care and protection.

“In the IDP camps, we have both an imperative to support children – the defenceless victims of conflict – and an opportunity to deliver health and education services that they could not avail before,” she added in a press release issued by the agency yesterday.

In addition to high-level discussions with cabinet ministers in the country’s capital, Islamabad, Ms. Johnson had the opportunity to meet some of the children and women who have been helped by UNICEF.

She heard one story of a 28-year-old mother living in the Katcha Garhi camp whose family was forced to abandon their village and all their belongings in Bajaur. They could not even take their warm clothes. Her elder children had never been to school, but with the encouragement of a UNICEF partner, she had enrolled her five-year-old daughter in the camp school.

“Hearing from the residents of Katcha Garhi, like Shazadgai Yousuf, who are benefiting from our work in the IDP camps, it becomes even more important to reaffirm UNICEF's commitment to helping Pakistan's children, particularly the most vulnerable, to achieve their full potential through health, education, protection, and a healthy environment,” said Ms. Johnson.


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FARMS, FORESTS CAN HELP FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE, SAYS UN AGRICULTURE AGENCY

Although agriculture and deforestation together account for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, farm communities and those deriving their livelihoods from forests can help combat climate change, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

This will require increased investment for farmers and foresters to, among other steps, use more efficient crop varieties, better control wildfires, improve natural resource management, capture biogas from animal manure and restore land by controlled grazing, according to the agency.

The financing should prioritize emission-reducing schemes that simultaneously help boost food and energy security, slash poverty and promote the sustainable use of natural resources. “Forestry and agriculture offer many opportunities for such ‘win-win’ measures,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute 17 per cent of emissions annually, while agriculture is responsible for nearly 14 per cent.

“Climate change will affect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, fishers and forest users in developing countries, many of whom are already facing difficulties in earning a sufficient income and feeding their families,” Mr. Müller said.

He cautioned that immediate action must be taken to avert surging hunger in the poorest nations and avert a humanitarian disaster.

Nearly half of land biomass is either directly or indirectly managed by farmers, foresters and herders, and they must be mobilized to rein in emissions and ensure that carbon remains in soil and plants.

ENDS

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