United Nations

More than one month on from the devastating earthquake in Haiti, no increase in infectious diseases has been reported, according to the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO). The finding is based on epidemiological surveillance carried out by 52 sites across the Caribbean island nation. WHO spokesperson Paul Garwood told reporters in Geneva on Feb. 16 that respiratory infections were the main cause of morbidity, followed by diarrhea and malaria. Two isolated cases of typhoid have been confirmed, while low numbers of measles and diphtheria cases have been reported but no confirmed. Last week, the agency warned that sanitation has become a pressing need in Haiti and the lack of it could pose health problems for the nearly 1 million people living in temporary settlements ahead of the rainy season.

How many people live and work in a shantytown? How do you map health clinics or water delivery sources in a slum? Humanitarian agencies will be seeking answers to these and other questions as vulnerable populations settle in a sea of shacks on the outskirts of cities and towns across the world in the next few years, a new report forecasts, IRIN writes. Humanitarian Horizons: A Practitioners’ Guide to the Future, published by the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College, London, and the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University in the U.S., is one of two new reports advocating the need for programs to reduce vulnerability in urban settings. The other is the World Bank’s flagship Development Report 2010. “Half the world’s people now live in cities, a share that will rise to 70 percent by 2050,” said the World Bank report, citing U.N. Population Fund statistics. “Of urban population growth (5 million new residents a month), 95 percent will be in the developing world, with small cities growing fastest.”

West African drug trafficking is having a “very significant” impact on the region’s economies but local responses have been contradictory as the flow of money is seen as “better than nothing” by some, the U.N. said. The world body estimates that USD1 billion worth of cocaine, destined to Europe from Latin America, passed through West Africa in 2008. The figure is higher than or comparable to the GDP of a handful of nations in the region. The drug trade is leading to a spike in money laundering, crime and corruption in a region in need of stability and investment, Reuters reports. Real estate, tourism and casinos in the region are being used to launder vast sums of money, experts say: a boom in construction in Senegal and a sudden jump in the number of banks in Gambia are cited as evidence. West Africans are consuming more of the drugs flowing through their countries, raising the specter of rising crime and health problems in already unstable states. Instability in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea over the last year has also been linked, in parts, to the trade.

It will take three long years to clear the rubble left by Haiti’s devastating earthquake, said President Rene Preval who admitted even he’s still afraid to sleep under concrete in case another quake strikes. In a rare exclusive sit-down interview, Preval told Associated Press Television News that Haiti faces a long reconstruction process that will result in fewer people living in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “It will take 1,000 trucks moving rubble for 1,000 days, so that’s three years. And until we move out rubble, we cannot really build,” Preval said. At least 54 aftershocks have shuddered through Haiti’s shattered capital since Jan. 12. They have toppled weakened buildings faster than demolition crews can get to them, sending up new clouds of choking dust. Preval said that the government has destroyed some hastily rebuilt structures in the capital, but until alternative housing plans can be completed, the government’s ability to regulate reconstruction will be limited.

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