UN, NGO and General News Round-Up

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is deeply concerned about the sharp rise in global food prices, which have risen by 40 percent in nine months and food reserves are at their lowest for 30 years. Ban said the trend would hinder progress towards the millennium development goals (MDGs), which aim to halve extreme poverty by 2015. The UN World Food Program (WFP) and other agencies may be forced to ration food aid, he said in a BBC interview. Ban said shortages might be eased by a “green revolution” to transform farming methods in Africa. The WFP is facing a USD 500 million shortfall in its attempts to feed 73 million people this year.

One billion people can get electricity for the first time for little more than the cost of one month’s war in Iraq, said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of a Nobel peace prize-winning UN panel of climate scientists, Reuters reports. Pachauri is supporting a campaign “lighting a billion lives,” led by India’s Energy and Resources Institute, to furnish people without access to the grid with electric lanterns powered by solar photovoltaic panels. “Millions and millions of people do not see light after the sun goes down,” he told a carbon market conference in Copenhagen this week.

The humanitarian crisis in South and Central Somalia is amongst the worst in the world, according to the UN. The hospitals in Mogadishu are over-crowded with people who have been wounded in the fighting, and just outside the city, tens of thousand have settled along the roads. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said it is now providing shelter to some of the displaced. NRC is one of few humanitarian organizations still operating in South and Central Somalia. Over the past weeks, it has launched a shelter project to assist people who have fled fighting.

Hundreds of health workers are in Iraq’s Anbar province to vaccinate 200,000 children against measles in a bid to contain an outbreak which has already struck 100 children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on March 11. The 10-day campaign aims to protect children against the highly-contagious disease which can cause complications including blindness, encephalitis (a brain infection) and pneumonia, it said. Nearly 600 vaccinators are taking part in the house-to-house drive, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters.

The upgrade of China’s environmental watchdog to ministry-level status will give it more clout to check would-be polluters ahead of the Olympics, a top environmental official said on March 12. The assurance came two days after marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie said he was pulling out of the race in August because of fears about pollution, Reuters reported. Beijing announced earlier in the week that its embattled State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) had been upgraded to ministry status, but experts said it would need wider powers and a bigger budget to have more impact than its predecessor.

The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of serious crimes like genocide, has ruled that it will join the cases of two rebel leaders facing charges for crimes allegedly committed by their militia groups in the far east of the Congo (DRC) in 2003. Judges at the ICC, based in The Hague, determined that Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui will have their trials held together, starting later this year.

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