United Nations

The United Nations is struggling to provide support to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, as donor nations have been slow to hand over much-needed aid, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said. The U.N. launched a “flash,” or emergency, appeal for $562 million from member nations days after the magnitude 7.0 quake on Jan. 12, nearly half of which was to be spent on food, Reuters reports. A revised appeal was launched in February to raise a total of $1.4 billion in order to continue to finance emergency relief work, also to fund recovery and reconstruction work in the country. “We did extremely well on raising funds for the initial flash appeal, but we are struggling, I’m afraid, to raise resources for the revised appeal,” Holmes told. “We have got 49 percent of what we need for the whole year and we are appealing to donors to come forward with more resources for that relief operation,” he said.

Talks on a new global climate change accord, bogged down for years in contested negotiations among nearly 200 countries, will increasingly move outside the sluggish U.N. framework and focus on a streamlined group of countries, special U.N. envoy Gro Harlem Brundtland said March 16. The disappointment of the Copenhagen summit last December, which failed to come up with binding rules on reducing pollution blamed for global warming, likely will bring a shift in the way countries view the cumbersome U.N. process and the need for more informal contact among key players, AP reports Brundtland said. Copenhagen concluded with a nonbinding three-page paper hammered out in an all-night private meeting between President Barack Obama and a handful of leaders, most importantly from China, India, Brazil and South Africa. It fell far short of the summit’s original objective, a full-fledged and legally binding accord setting emission reduction targets for major countries.

A further $4.3 billion is needed if a global vaccines alliance is to meet its goal of supplying life-saving immunizations to millions of children in poor countries by 2015, the organization said March 15. The GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization) said it had asked existing and potential donors to a meeting in The Hague on March 25 and 26 to challenge them to “make a strong impact” on childhood death rates, Reuters reports. In 2000, world leaders from 189 countries signed up to the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. GAVI, which is supported by the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and vaccine makers, says it has 40 percent of the $7 billion it needs between now and 2015 to help meet that goal. GAVI has almost completed a large-scale campaign to supply so-called pentavalent, or five-in-one, vaccines to fight a range of preventable diseases including hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and Hib in developing countries.

A Somali businessman linked to Islamist rebels who likely received a ransom paid for kidnapped French aid workers was a contractor for the World Food Program and UNICEF, said a confidential report by the U.N. Somalia Monitoring Group. It said Adbdullah Ali Luway and his links with Islamist al Shabaab militants was a case study in how U.N. agencies have unwittingly allowed aid for needy Somalis to enrich rebels and criminals, Reuters reports. Three French workers with humanitarian group Action Against Hunger were seized by gunmen in July 2009 and held for several months. In October, a ransom of $1.36 million was paid into an account belonging to Luway at a money transfer firm in Baidoa, Somalia, the report said. “A prominent businessman, Luway serves as a contractor for WFP and UNICEF in the Baidoa area,” it said, adding that he rents vehicles to both agencies and his water firm Gargarwadag often works for UNICEF. He also receives $3,000 a month in rent from UNICEF for use of a building that formerly housed the parliament of Somalia.

With five years to go before the deadline for halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warn in a report released March 15 that without stepped-up efforts, nearly one billion people will be overlooked. Nearly 39 percent of the world’s population, or over 2.6 billion people, live without improved sanitation facilities, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program Report on Water Supply and Sanitation titled Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water: 2010 Update. The Associated Press reports that almost 170 million people have moved from the outdoors to at least the outhouse to defecate in what the UN is calling a major advance in global sanitation over the last two decades. The WHO and UNICEF say open defecation is the riskiest sanitation practice. It can lead to deadly diarrhea, worms that enter food sources and the spread of lethal diseases such as cholera and polio

Climate change, food insecurity, decreasing water availability and unemployment are among the multiple challenges facing the Arab region, according to a new assessment by UNEP that calls for rational and sustainable use of resources and inclusion of the environment issues in decision making. “This assessment has been a truly collaborative one outlining the progress but also the realities facing this diverse but also dynamic region where, if policies and resources are better focused could be a beacon of sustainable, green economic, development for millions of people,” said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. According to the report, Arab countries are now among the most water-scarce in the world with a “worrying decline in per capita water availability,” likely to be aggravated by climate change. Poverty remains a challenge in most countries in the region and unemployment is widespread at 13.7 percent – more than twice the global average, according to latest estimates.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has selected U.S. foreign policy expert Tony Lake, who was an adviser to President Barack Obama, as his candidate to head UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, whose board is expected to approve the selection. Lake, 70, would replace Ann Veneman, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture who was appointed by former President George W. Bush. She announced in late December that she would not seek a second five-year term as UNICEF’s executive director. Her term ends April 30.The head of UNICEF has always been an American, largely because the United States is the largest contributor to the agency, which is active in 190 countries. Ban told a news conference that Lake “brings with him a wealth of experience after a long and distinguished career with the United States government,” AP reports. He thanked Veneman “for her immense dedication, energy and determination to improve the lives of children around the world” and said “she leaves behind an organization well-equipped for the enormous challenges ahead.”

Fertilizing the oceans with iron to absorb carbon dioxide could increase concentrations of a chemical that can kill marine mammals, a study has found. Iron stimulates growth of marine algae that absorb CO2 from the air, and has been touted as a “climate fix.” Now researchers have shown that the algae increase production of a nerve poison that can kill mammals and birds, the BBC reports. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they say this raises “serious concern” over the idea. The toxin, domoic acid, first came to notice in the late 1980s as the cause of amnesiac shellfish poisoning. It is produced by algae of the genus Pseudonitzschia, with concentrations rising rapidly when the algae “bloom.” Now, its presence in seawater often requires the suspension of shell-fishing operations, and is regularly implicated in deaths of animals such as sea lions.

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