Developing nations urged rich nations at UN climate talks this week to raise aid despite the financial crisis to help the poor cope with global warming and safeguard tropical forests. The UN’s top climate official said the Dec.1-12 meeting of 10,700 delegates had started well as the half-way point in negotiations to agree a new climate treaty by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen. Developing nations say they will need billions of dollars to help them combat warming and adapt to changes such as droughts, floods, more powerful cyclones and rising seas. Rich nations say they will help, but have made few pledges.

The death toll from Zimbabwe’s worst recorded cholera epidemic has risen to nearly 500, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Dec. 2, in a sign of the rapidly deepening crisis. The spread of cholera, normally a preventable and treatable disease, highlights the collapse in the once relatively prosperous African nation, where President Robert Mugabe and the opposition are squabbling over how to implement a power-sharing agreement. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s party said talks on the unity government would resume in two weeks. Mugabe’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, made no comment.

An independent United Nations human rights expert voiced his deep concern over the diminishing freedom of expression and association in Burundi, warning that violations of these freedoms imperil the rule of law in the African Great Lakes country. In recent weeks, several journalists, political opponents and representatives of civil society and trade unions have been intimidated and harassed while exercising these basic rights, according to Akich Okola, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi. He is calling for the immediate release of those who have been arrested.

Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption campaigner has in recent weeks been subject to an escalating campaign of harassment, threats, and an apparent attempt on his life, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Dec. 3. The watchdog group called on the Nigerian government to protect the campaigner, Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In an interview with HRW in Nigeria, Ribadu, a long-serving police official, said he feared for his life and believed the threats against him – including shots fired at him in late September and telephoned death threats – were linked to his work at the EFCC.

Environmental degradation, responsible for the dangerous displacement of sand dunes in Mauritania, has wiped out homes, livestock and livelihoods throughout the desert country. An October UN study estimated that land degradation costs nearly USD 200 million annually in potential revenue losses and health care expenses. UN researchers calculated the value of lost cultivable land, disappearing trees and water sources, along with the health care expenses from respiratory and waterborne illnesses related to the poor management of natural resources. The final estimated price tag: 14 percent of the government budget is swallowed up by environmental degradation, or about USD 192 million.

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