Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital after the strongest earthquake hit the poor Caribbean nation in more than 200 years crushed thousands of structures, from schools and shacks to the National Palace and the UN peacekeeping headquarters. Untold numbers were still trapped. The devastation was so complete that it seemed likely the death toll from the magnitude-7.0 quake would run into the tens of thousands. France's foreign minister said the head of the UN peacekeeping mission was apparently among the dead. International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said an estimated 3 million people may have been affected by the quake, AP reported. Humanitarian officials said the proximity of the quake's epicenter, only 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the capital Port-au-Prince, and Haiti's crumbling infrastructure meant it was impossible to gauge exactly how many people might be dead or wounded. The first airlifts to Haiti concentrated on search and rescue efforts and setting up makeshift hospitals.
More than 2,400 civilians died in Afghanistan in 2009, the deadliest year for non-combatants since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, but killings by foreign and government troops fell, the United Nations said on Jan. 14. Civilian casualties, one of the most emotive issues of the eight year conflict, rose 14 percent overall, the Human Rights division of the U.N.'s Afghan mission said in a statement, as cited by Reuters. The report said two thirds of civilian deaths were caused by insurgents, while just a quarter were caused by government or foreign troops. The rest, not quite 8 percent, could not be attributed to either side. Western efforts to cut the human cost of their presence in Afghanistan appeared to have had some success, with casualties falling a quarter from 2008, but nearly 600 people were still killed by foreign and government forces.
The UN has cut back sharply on investigations into corruption and fraud within its ranks, shelving cases involving the possible theft or misuse of millions of dollars, an Associated Press review has found. At least five major cases in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa are among the inquiries halted as the UN scaled back on self-policing over the past year. The world body was rocked in the past decade when more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries colluded with Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk USD 1.8 billion from a U.N.-administered oil-for-food program for Iraqi humanitarian relief.
In response, it established a special anti-corruption unit, the Procurement Task Force, in 2006 that over the next three years uncovered at least 20 other major schemes affecting more than USD 1 billion in UN contracts and international aid. But at the beginning of 2009, the UN shuttered the agency and diverted its work to the Office of Internal Oversight Services' permanent investigation division. Since then, the number of cases opened, pursued or completed has dropped dramatically.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) warned Jan. 11 that Southern Sudan is facing a massive food deficit fuelled by drought and widespread insecurity. The warning comes as Sudan marks the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended two decades of conflict between the central government in Khartoum and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement. The 2005 peace deal established a semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, and a referendum on independence is to be held in February 2011. In addition, national elections are scheduled for this April. Food aid will be key for the region in 2010, noted WFP, which is aiming to feed 4.5 million people this year in Southern Sudan, where drought has pushed cereal prices up and livestock prices down.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has outlined seven priorities for 2010, beginning with the urgent need for a renewed focus on sustainable development, including advancing efforts to achieve the globally agreed targets aimed at ending poverty, disease and hunger. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are among the seven "strategic opportunities" to be realized not over decades but within the next twelve months. Ban told the General Assembly. "I ask that we join together to make 2010 a year of sustainable development - to meet the MDGs, address climate change, promote global health and take the necessary steps for lasting and robust economic recovery," he said. Ban highlighted the special MDG summit he will be convening in September in conjunction with the Assembly's annual General Debate. Prior to that, in March, he will present his own assessment to the membership on the gaps and needs on this issue.
A senior UN relief official has lauded the increasingly important role played by the League of Arab States in facilitating humanitarian aid, and encouraged it to step up efforts in the areas of coordination and funding. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg met yesterday with representatives of the League, as she began a two-day visit to Cairo. She commended the League's efforts in supporting UN relief efforts and appeals, including advocating improved coordination among its member countries and with the wider international humanitarian system. The appeals, which help raise funds for emergencies, include Afghanistan (USD 871 million), the occupied Palestinian territory (USD 664 million) and Yemen (USD 177 million). There is also the Syria Drought Response Plan (USD 48 million) and the Iraq Humanitarian Action Plan (USD 193 million).