Last week's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti not only provides a symbol of extraordinary faith, enduring hope and international solidarity amid the worst devastation, it must also serve as a reminder of the global community's wider responsibilities to help the poor worldwide, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an article. "As we rush to Haiti's aid, let us keep in mind this larger picture," he wrote in an opinion piece published in Washington Post, summarizing his weekend visit to the devastated country. "Those people on the streets of Port-au-Prince asked for jobs, dignity and a better future. That is the hope of all the world's poor. Doing the right thing for Haiti in its hour of need will be a powerful message of hope for them as well." Ban underscored the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted at the U.N. summit in 2000.

Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez proposed to international donors on Jan. 18 the creation of a USD10 billion five-year assistance program to support Haiti's recovery from a devastating earthquake. As a huge international relief effort gained momentum to help survivors of the earthquake, which wrecked the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, donors held a preliminary meeting in neighboring Dominican Republic to try to gauge the cost of reconstruction and longer-term recovery. "Haiti will need an integral national development plan of about USD2 billion a year … We'd be talking about a five-year program of some USD10 billion," Fernandez told representatives of foreign governments and international financial institutions at the conference in Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic leader said forgiveness of Haiti's debt should be part of any assistance program to the nation which was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, Haiti turned down an offer of troops from the neighboring Dominican Republic, forcing the United Nations to look elsewhere for additional peacekeepers, U.N. diplomats said on Jan. 20. The Dominican Republic had offered an 800-strong battalion to form part of the reinforcement of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. One Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity that he assumed the decision came from Haitian President Rene Preval, but may not be final. A U.N. official said the decision might not be definitive and talks were under way to see if Haiti would allow a rescue team or police from the Dominican Republic to help with the relief efforts. "We're hoping other countries can provide troops," the official said. The full potential strength of the U.N. peacekeeping force is now 12,651, up from the current level of around 9,000, after a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted on Jan. 19.

The U.N. has allocated some USD100 million to boost the humanitarian response in 14 ongoing but underfunded emergencies, ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen, where people are suffering the effects of hunger, malnutrition, disease and conflict. U.N. agencies and their partners in Ethiopia received the single largest allocation of some USD17 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) coming in second with approximately USD16 million. The Fund also allocated USD11 million for Afghanistan, USD10 million for Kenya, USD8 million for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), USD7 million both for Yemen and for Chad, USD6 million for Niger, and USD3 million each for Colombia, Eritrea, the Philippines and Haiti. An additional USD2 million was allocated to help address humanitarian needs in Guinea. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that Haiti's full funding needs are being re-evaluated in light of the tragic earthquake.

The U.N. said on Jan. 20 that Israel's blockade of Gaza undermines the enclave's health care system and puts patients at risk. Max Gaylard, resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said Israel was to be commended for letting Palestinians from Gaza access specialist medical care but could save more lives by allowing more timely treatment. "It is causing on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health," Gaylard said, as cited by AP. "It is hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions getting timely specialized treatment."

A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Jan. 19 added al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing and two of its leaders to a U.N. blacklist, which U.S. envoy Susan Rice said would help efforts to weaken the group. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its two leaders, Nasser al-Wahayshi and Qasim al-Raymi, who were among 23 militants who escaped from a Sanaa jail in 2006, now face mandatory global asset-freezes and travel bans, she said. "Today's actions strengthen international efforts to degrade the capabilities of AQAP," said Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as cited by Reuters. The Security Council committee's move followed a U.S. Department of Treasury decision to subject the group and its two leaders to U.S. sanctions. AQAP claimed responsibility for a failed Dec. 25 attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner.

The world financial crisis not only hurt balance sheets but could sabotage poor countries' efforts to get more children into school, according to a new report by the U.N. education agency. UNESCO urged more funding and attention for those shut out of education systems such as ethnic minorities and rural girls, who make up a disproportionate part of the legions of school-age children who have never seen the inside of a classroom, AP reports. "The main message is that education is at risk, that we might have a lost generation because the financial gap of what resources that are needed for education and those that are provided are widening - especially with the crisis," UNESCO's chief Irina Bokova said at the report's launch at U.N. headquarters in New York.

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