Aid groups were joining together Aug. 19 to highlight the growing danger their staff members face in crisis zones around the world, where kidnappings and killings of humanitarian workers are on the rise. Some 122 aid workers were killed last year, most of them local. The figure is greater than the number of UN peacekeeping troops killed in 2008, and compares with only 36 aid worker deaths a decade earlier, according to the UN's humanitarian coordination office. "We are targeted more and more," UN spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told AP ahead of World Humanitarian Day. The event, being held for the first time, coincides with the sixth anniversary of the bombing of the UN's main offices in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003.

Human rights groupings around the world are calling for an end to the bloc system in the UN main rights forum which they say enables countries guilty of gross abuses to sit on the body. In an appeal sent to the 47 governments on the Human Rights Council, a total of 74 NGOs also urge an end to the election of its members by regional slates. "We call on all UN member states to bring vote trading arrangements and uncompetitive elections for the council to an end … The credibility of the council and its ability to respond to human rights violations hang in the balance," the NGOs declared. Their statement, issued through Human Rights Watch, came a month before the council is due to open its autumn session in Geneva.

Norway's ambassador to the United Nations has accused Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a confidential letter of weak leadership, lack of charisma and angry outbursts, the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten newspaper reported Aug. 19. The newspaper published what it said was a letter to Norway's foreign ministry from Mona Juul. "At a time when the UN and multilateral solutions to global crises are more needed than ever, Ban and the UN are notable by their absence," the letter read. Juul and her husband Terje Roed-Larsen - now a UN special envoy - had key roles in secretly brokering the now-failed 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO. She said he was a "passive observer" to Myanmar's arrest of opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and she blasted his slow reaction to the civil war in Sri Lanka.

An international cast of politicians, industry leaders and UN officials joined forces this week to improve access to water and halt a tide of deaths in poor nations. Some 2,000 experts met at a global water summit in Sweden to tackle problems related to the vital natural resource. Millions of people worldwide die each year of water- and hygiene-related diseases, Sweden's minister for international development cooperation said as she opened World Water Week 2009. "By increasing access to water we can change the lives and health of poor women, men and children for the better," Gunilla Carlsson told AFP.

A "weak to moderate" El Nino weather system has developed in the tropical Pacific Ocean and could create unusual weather patterns around the world through March, a U.N. agency said Aug. 19. The condition, which is linked to warmer surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean during the latter months of the year, is already being associated with an intense drought in south Asia, said Rupa Kumar Kolli, of the World Meteorological Organization.

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