United Nations

The over-simplified narrative of the Somali famine.

The recent attention afforded to the Somali famine has mostly infuriated me. It’s not because I don’t care about those who are starving, quite the contrary; it’s more that I am angered with the way that the crisis is being painted in the media. For example:

The way it is so constantly referred to as a “natural disaster”, the result of drought or climate change, or some other ecological problem, as opposed to being primarily a political or socio-economic problem.

The way access to markets, finances, other entitlements and freedom of movement seem to have no bearing on the recent crisis in the slightest, as if at least one third (if not much more) of all food produced worldwide isn’t wasted after production each year and as if there isn’t more than enough food on this planet for every human being to avoid malnutrition.

The way the popular narrative degrades the dignity of those who are suffering, as if the journalists flocking to the refugee camps by the butt-load to snap a shot of the most pathetic-looking, swollen-bellied child, and trying to get the most convenient narratives from the chosen few “poster” women of the famine isn’t incredibly exploitative of their situation. As if the small children who are filmed or captured on camera have a real choice in whether they are branded across the news in the wider world and can easily say no to their own exploitation. As if repeatedly questioning someone in a refugee camp who has just trekked hundreds of miles, under terrible conditions, about their experiences of rape and violence and hardships experienced in their home country in front of their traumatized children, isn’t re-traumatizing for all of them.

The way so many comments on the crisis in the newspapers and forums seem to point directly to a “population problem”, as if the problem of starvation here was simply a Malthusian problem of Somali women having too many babies. As if a typical family of three in North America or Europe doesn’t use at least double the amount of food a Somali family of eight does. As if the mortality rate in the average Somali family of eight will allow all of that family to actually make it to adulthood, old age or to survive pregnancy, war or illness. As if it is so easy to ignore aspects of history that clearly demonstrate that population isn’t the determining factor in famine, for example the situation in the most populous country, India, where between 1800 and 1947 close to 38 million people died from a series of famines when the population level was less than 350 million, and that since that time, when the population has more than tripled now exceeding 1.21 billion people, the amount of deaths from famine has been comparatively non-existent.

The way the world seems to think that handouts are somehow magically going to solve this problem, as if the vast majority of those who are currently starving aren’t still going to starve to death or live with malnutrition for years to come, despite the money that’s now being collected. As if humanitarian or development aid weren’t incredibly problematic to begin with. As if the dumping of surplus grain in the form of “food aid” from donor countries isn’t actually being done to keep their own domestic grain prices low; and as if it is really about feeding the poor and isn’t essentially increasing the problems in the receiving countries instead of actually helping them; undercutting the local farmers, lowering the prices they receive for their own produced goods and discouraging the real development of a local market.  As if these donor countries weren’t spending numerous times more for their shipping costs, dumping these surpluses, than they are spending in agricultural or production assistance to these recipient countries.

The way the dialogue seems to focus only on the aspect of starvation, as if long term malnutrition, which the majority of those now starving have likely faced for years and will likely face for years to come, wasn’t debilitating and detrimental to the development of those who face it. As if those who are now at risk aren’t mostly the same people who have suffered through the last series of droughts and who have been kept barely alive by insufficient feeding programmes for years.

The way many articles have entirely ignored the aspect of war in the country and the lack of an actual functioning government who controls anything more than a few suburb areas in Mogadishu and who continually receives millions in aid with little to no accountability. That the contributions of aid to Somalia have been primarily in emergency humanitarian assistance and not directed in any significant way into long term projects or agricultural projects and that even if they were, that appeals for aid to the country have come up short for many, many years, instead going to more “popular” crises that attract more donors.

The way the crisis is painted as affecting the entire country and the vast majority of Somalis, rather than being restricted to certain regions only. As if the famine were raging in the same manner in the Ethiopian Highlands, Somaliland, Puntland, or the north eastern parts of the country as it is in the southern areas. As if the rains haven’t also failed in other parts Somalia, and parts of both Kenya and Ethiopia, and yet these regions, for some seemingly unknown reason, aren’t facing the same severity of a crisis as others.

The way the Ogaden region in the Ethiopian Lowlands, that is almost entirely populated by Somalis, is likely suffering or has been suffering for some time now in the same manner or worse than those in Somalia, though is almost entirely ignored, as if it hasn’t been fenced off and closed to outsiders for years, as if the population here were non-existent.

The way most neglect to mention the logistics of how this food aid will actually be delivered in an area that has seen the death of countless aid workers in the last several years, as if the World Food Program hasn’t previously stated that the “food supply line to Somalia is effectively broken”. As if the al-Shabaab group who is in control of much of the affected area doesn’t distrust those delivering the aid, regarding them as foreign “spies”.

The way everyone seems to be talking as if this crisis were new, as if the world wasn’t alerted to the fact that mass starvation would be likely in this area for quite some time, and how the UN itself warned in 2008 that one in six were at serious risk of starvation. The way reporters constantly refer to the “swift action” of international organizations to react to the crisis, even though, in reality, most assistance will come too little, too late to actually help most of those who are starving. As if aid agencies and governments haven’t known for almost a year now that the food would run out by now; that they failed to make a real appeal to the public until only after people begin to die in large numbers, even though it will take months for any of the aid currently being collected to actually reach these populations, if they ever even do. As if the US hadn’t severely restricted the UN’s ability to deliver food in Somalia over the past few years, by politicizing the situation and imposing strict conditions, even going so far as to suspend and hold millions of dollars in food aid and is only now, rather hypocritically, calling upon a need to “solve” the problem only after it is really too late.

The way the media ignores how large land lease “land grabs” by foreign governments and companies for the creation of export crops have further exacerbated this problem. As if governments and developing banks encouraging the population to participate in the market economy by buying grain and growing cash crops instead of growing self-sustaining crops didn’t massively deter people from storing excess grain for potentially bad years and make them more vulnerable to rising grain prices. As if the majority of plans for the limited agricultural development being done haven’t stressed the importance of the new “Green Revolution” that is almost completely unaffordable to the poorest of the poor who are most likely to starve, neglecting more self-sustaining agricultural techniques that could actually help those who most need it.

The way the huge spike in global food prices seems to be non-existent to the problem, as if rising grain prices aren’t a big part of the reason people are starving. As if the increasing diversion of grain to the production of biofuels and other non-feed uses and export restrictions weren’t a factor in this crisis.

The way most ignore the fact that the Kenyan government is largely refusing to allow people to cross into northern Kenya and has kept a nearly completely prepared refugee camp able to accommodate almost 40, 000 people empty to deter others from flooding into the country. As if the governments of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia (what little of it there is), haven’t been marginalizing and discriminating against pastoralists in the region for years, now depicted as “archaic” or “outmoded”, or haven’t been promoting only large-scale farming projects, the expansion of national parks, game reserves and conservation, blocking access to traditional routes to pasture land.

The way the media largely depicts the typical “whites in shining armour” tripe, as if westerners are the only ones capable of “solving” the problems in Somalia.  As if Somalis are perpetual victims and as if there weren’t Somalis and members of the Somali diaspora making a tremendous effort to lessen this crisis themselves.

So what is to be done? Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know what to suggest that will actually make any real difference here. But I do know that this crisis is not going to be solved by simple increases in aid or handouts, as most seem to be calling for. I know that continually painting the crisis in limited terms is only going to lead people to put in place the same “band-aid solutions” for years to come and will only ensure that this type of crisis will happen again and again. If anyone has any positive and concrete suggestions, I’d be very interested to hear them, but personally, I’m at a loss.

I’m sure I’ve missed many other factors with my own fairly simple narrative, and encourage others who have more experience in the area to fill in any significant factors I have missed.

Something’s rotten in the state of Cote D’Ivoire…

Something didn’t sit right with me while watching this second round of the Presidential vote here in Cote D’Ivoire. The international community jumped on the bandwagon of unconditional, almost unanimous support for Ouattara, without real scrutiny into the results being released by the CEI (electoral commission). The UN, France, the US, the EU, the AU and ECOWAS all congratulated Alassane Ouattara for his “win” early on without question. I think the reasoning behind this move can be attributed to the on-air physical blocking of the reading of the provisional results on Tuesday (two days after the vote) that would have allowed the CEI to read its judgment within its mandated time before the vote was handed off to the Constitutional Council. I believe that they suspected this as a move to block the reading in order to prevent the results from being determined before the Wednesday night deadline and thus was essentially a coup on Gbagbo’s part. This may or may not be true. The Council figures have Gbagbo ahead with a convenient 51% of the vote, only after invalidating 500,000 ballots from Ouattara-supporting regions in seven districts.

The international media has taken occasion to one-sidedly point out flaws with the situation. They have cited that the President of the Constitutional Council is pro Gbagbo and that allowing the Constitutional Council to decide the results would sway the reality. What they aren’t saying is that the President of the CEI as well as the Permanent Secretary and Spokesman are all pro Ouattara and so their reading is also suspect. However, the statement given prior to the election by the Carter Centre would suggest that the “formal adjudication of elections petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. There is clearly some imbalance in reporting.

There were several teams of international observers, most notably led by the EU, the Carter Centre and secured by the UN military observers. The EU sent in approximately 120 observers who assisted in observing approximately 4.7% of the polling stations, who may or may not have spoken French, the official language in Cote D’Ivoire. Speaking the local language is incredibly important in order to make impartial and accurate observations. The Carter Centre sent in 10 long term observers to help cover the 322,460 square kilometers and the UN had approximately 192 observers from 42 different countries, who again, may or may not have spoken French.

Three days prior to the vote, the EU electoral observers noted that they had seen a “lack of respect by the CEI (independent electoral commission) of its agreements with observers,” and that “(d)espite a number of requests addressed to the CEI, the EU mission continues to face significant obstacles accessing electoral operations”. The head of the EU electoral monitoring mission, Cristian Preda, then noted shortly after the vote that “(o)ur observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”.

The day after the vote, both sides were complaining of serious intimidation, such as the following statement from opposition Alassane Ouattara’s RDR party, “We have had lots of calls telling us of cases of serious human rights violations, intimidation and prevention of voting,” and statements of several voters such as, “People have not come out today because of the election…We are very afraid about the violence.” It was also reported that the EU had left the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro days before the polls after receiving death threats, making them unable to monitor this largely populated area and the EU themselves announced that barriers were observed blocking people from voting in several places on Sunday, including in Gbagbo’s hometown of Gagnoa and that some ballots were stolen.

The Carter Centre released a report on November 30th citing many problems with the conduct of the vote, which included:

  • documented incidents of violence and intimidation across the country;
  • important procedural irregularities such as the management of the voter lists, failure to check consistently for indelible ink on voter’s fingers (in over half the polling stations visited), and inking the voter’s fingers after they voted;
  • serious election crimes committed such as the destruction of election materials, and ballot box theft;
  • the slow manner which the CEI communicated the important procedural revisions adopted on November 13th, including refusing to admit the existence of the revisions;
  • significant delays in the Sassandra Valley region amid political tension and violence the night of the election;
  • confusion over last minute changes in polling station staff with replacements who did not appear to have received training;
  • following improper steps for voter signature of the voters’ list or use of indelible ink to mark fingers in at least one of ten stations visited;
  • the lack of the “ordre de mission” certificates establishing the rights of voters that was to be retained by polling staff after the voter cast his or her ballot to prevent multiple voting was absent in at least one quarter of the stations visited;
  • the potential for voter intimidation in at least five percent of the stations visited;
  • and serious election day irregularities after the closing of polling stations

The Carter Centre also stated in that report that it “believes it is essential for there to be an investigation of these incidents,” and noted that the “formal adjudication of election petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. So why then, is the Constitutional Council no longer responsible for the formal adjudication? Why has the international community taken it on themselves to declare a winner without their consultation or without investigation into the serious irregularities noted by all parties?

There were also several local civil society organizations charged with elections observations that spoke the language fluently and had intimate knowledge of the local terrain and customs. The COFEMCI-NCEP, COSOPCI, WACSOF-CI RAIDH WANEP-CI coalition had 938 observers in both the Cote D’ivoire and France. They found significant violence, intimidation and voting impediments, particularly in the North, South and forest zone; that the presence of intrusive law enforcement was likely to intimidate voters; the confusion caused by the release of the Ministry of the Interior and that of the Prime Minister’s office showed a lack of coordination and monitoring of the process at the government level; the barring of observers from certain polling stations in Vallee du Bandama; the intrusive presence of law enforcement and disappearance of six ballot boxes in Dix-Huit Montanges; the violence against LMP activists in the Savannah region; the assault in the town of Daloa in Bas Sassandra and the snatching of ballot boxes; massive disorder in Kumasi; that counting was conducted in haste; that sometimes ballot boxes were completely abandoned after the process; and that overall it was difficult to conduct peaceful elections that would be considered free, fair and transparent. These findings were largely ignored by the international media.

Another group of civil society monitors from the CSCI (funded through the EU) had 1100 observers throughout the country who visited on average seven polling stations each or around 38% of the stations. They noted an absence of some election officials in polling stations; the late arrival and lack of election material in the polling stations; the notable absence or delay of Security Forces officials for protection in several locations; several incidents of violence at polling stations; the destruction and removal of ballot boxes; multiple voting in several locations; the impediment of voting in several locations; the absence, late arrival or departure of certain candidate representatives in several regions; the barring of monitors from observing the counting process in some locations; the insecurity of some convoys transferring results, including attacks on some of the convoys; poor quality elections ballots spotted; polling booths that breached confidentiality; insufficient ballots in some locations; and ballot boxes unsealed or only partially sealed. They also noted that the voter turnout was around 70%. Again, these findings were largely ignored in the international media, even though the local monitors had nearly ten times more observers in the country and were accessing far more stations than the international monitors were capable of. These observers are there to represent the voice of the Ivorian people (whose election this is) through their own civil society and they are being almost totally ignored.

Considering that all in all, probably less than half the stations were actually monitored at all, most for only short periods of time throughout the day, and that there were significant reports of irregularities and violence in those stations actually monitored, this election can hardly be counted as “fair and free”.

Looking through the official tally sheets provided by the CEI (electoral commission) and comparing the results for the first and second rounds, some things strike me as very odd…

  • There are 64,290 extra registered voters in the second round (5,783,349 in the first and 5,847,639 in the second) though the official total tally printed on the top of the results from the second round is still listed as the same as the first. When one actually adds up the “inscrits” in each region though, it is easily shown that the numbers don’t add up to the reported total. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General set out the criteria for the official certified final voter list as 5,725,720, yet there are clearly more than that present in the CEI’s reported second round.
  • The entire foreign French vote was removed from the second round. France had 13,881 registered voters in the first round, and Gbagbo received 53.2% of the French vote in the first round, with Ouattara receiving only 25.4% and Bedie with 16.5%.
  • They must have gotten significantly better at filling out the ballots in the second round, despite the lack of education or public awareness to this end in the country, as there were 124,957 less “null” votes counted in the second round from the first round. In fact, there was more than double the amount of “null” votes in the first round compared to the second (225,624 and 101,476 respectively). There are some reasons that *might* account for less nulls in the second round, such as the change from 14 candidates to 2 candidates on the ballot, but when one considers that in some regional cases they had nearly 15 times less null votes in the second round than in the first, it does become rather suspect. In 2000, 12.40% of votes were invalidated, in the first round of these elections there were 4.59% invalidated and only 2.16% in the second round.
  • Voter turnout was originally cited in foreign press and by observers as between 65-70%. Local reports set the turnout at 71.28%, and local observers noted an approximate 70% turnout. Despite this, the final tally of voter turnout as documented by the CEI was cited as 80.19%, only slightly (3.4%) less than the first round (83.63%). When one tallies up the actual number of counted votes, there are actually 63,327 more votes in the second round than in the first (counting “suffrages exprimes”). If there was voter intimidation in many districts, as was reported by all elections monitors, then one would expect that the voter turnout and number of votes would be significantly less than the first. By comparison voter turnout in 2000 was only 28.06%.

While I am certainly not making the case for Gbagbo’s victory, I do believe that the international community’s announcement of a winner in this case is severely flawed and is only exacerbating tensions and violence in the region. The Special Representative to the Secretary-General himself set the criteria for benchmarks to assess the fair and free nature of the vote as whether there was a secure environment that allows for the full participation of the population, that the electoral process is inclusive, that the voters lists are credible and that the results are determined through a transparent counting process and are accepted by all or are challenged peacefully through the appropriate channels. These criteria were CLEARLY not met, and instead of calling for the challenging through appropriate channels, the international community has taken sides without questioning the results one side is offering in the slightest. The international community’s response has only ensured that dialogue between the parties will now be next to impossible (when a unity government could have been proposed if a winner had not been announced), and that mediation will now be extremely suspect for any solution.

The Ivorian people should be in charge of their own destiny and international bodies should remember their place—to act as mediators, diplomats and not adjudicators.

 

 

 

 

 

International community’s response to the Ivorian situation.

I have no access to foreign tv news and radio at the moment, as it has been cut off through the government in an attempt to stop what is being termed “illegal” announcements of a Presidential winner. I have been trawling the internet searching for the international response to the current situation trying to gauge international opinion and what information is being released where.

The election happened last Sunday, and since then things have gone severely downhill. What most frustrates me about what I have so far read in the international news is that several states and bodies (the UN, the EU, the US, the French, etc.) have taken it upon themselves to declare who the winner should be. I see major problems with this bold assertion.

The elections have been marred with political intimidation and violence– and conflicting evidence has been found that makes the election at least suspect. Declaring a winner smacks of colonial imperialism. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire earlier expressed that the tally sheets were being transported normally, while EU electoral commission was suggesting that there were many irregularities and serious tension at the vote. Then they seemingly unanimously stand with Ouattara and announce him as rightful President without finding the full facts first. Instead of automatically declaring a winner, I feel that a more democratic approach would have been an appeal for peace, an investigation, release of the actual results from each district and recounts or investigation into contested areas so that the true voice of the Ivorian people can be represented. By asserting a winner, the international community is overstepping its role and only increasing tensions.

I have also been inundated with email messages since posting my last entry only a few hours ago, which was quite surprising to me as I don’t usually receive so many comments immediately following a post. There are clearly very strong feelings about both candidates. Frankly, it is not for me to say which candidate should have won here and I would never make that suggestion, I am merely trying to paint the situation as I have observed from local media so far. I am saddened to see the strong cultural violence that has been reiterated in many of these messages and comments, and have to say, that unfortunately– if your comment is one-sided without a proof to back it up or contains insults or disrespect directed towards one group– I will not be re-printing your message. I am willing to engage in conversation about the subject, and if you feel I have wrongly withheld your comments, please try messaging me again and provide some backings for your claims. Sorry to anyone that this offends.

All I can hope for is peace and calm and for the voice of the Ivorian people to be respected, and that no more deaths come from this election.

Peace!

Rebecca

The lack of human rights in refugee camps

Lately certain readings have got me thinking again about the idea of refugee camps and the access the residents of such camps have to fundamental human rights. These camps are most often overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), who have registered over 50 million displaced persons or refugees worldwide. Nearly 90% of these registered persons are living within designated refugee camps.

Refugee camps are precarious places, set up in a state of emergency with the intention of being temporary,  leaving the residents constantly unsure of their future. The goal of the refugee camp is to provide displaced persons with temporary shelter, food, and protection until they can safely return to their homes. In practice, many refugee camps are places of immense insecurity where malnutrition and disease runs rampant that remain lasting over many years. Some refugees have lived in their respective camps now for over 60 years, and have raised children and grandchildren within them, who also retain the refugee status. Their rights are limited, and they remain unsure of their future.

Refugees in camps are often seen by the outside world as essentially non-persons in non-places, whose location is not even worthy of recognition on a local map. They have often fled in a hurried situation, without all their legal papers or documents, making travel or relocation almost impossible. This lack of documentation also makes appeals for asylum in places like Canada nearly unattainable. These camps are often located on the outskirts of towns, away from borders and other communities. Some camps have gates, security personnel and barbed wire fences to restrict the movement of refugees outside of the camp and to provide a sense of security for those living inside.  Many of those who have fled their country of origin are essentially illegals in their new countries of residence, and thus unable to work, freely move, or have any political voice. Instead they must idly wait as an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and uselessness take over.

Considering these camps are often set up by the United Nations, the body responsible for creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it is startling that the basic human rights of these people are not being met in these supposed “humanitarian” situations. Going through the rights guaranteed by the UDHR, many refugees do not have:

– the right to recognition before the law

– the right to life, liberty and security of person

– the right to equal dignity

– the right to not to be held in arbitrary detention

– the right to freedom of movement and residence

– the right to leave any country and return to their own country

– the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution

– the right to nationality

– the right to own property

– the right to take part in government

– the right to work, to free choice of employment

– the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families

… and this list of  rights denied to many refugees does sometimes go on.

Why is this so? And what can be done to change this? How can the UN overcome the hypocrisy of one the one hand, claiming to help these populations, while at the same time, ensuring that their rights are denied, sometimes for decades?

The way the camps are so often spontaneously set up makes the problem of access to rights one that is difficult to overcome, but I think it is necessary for the international community to begin to give this matter serious weight. National borders and immigration laws also become an issue as these populations are denied access to work and have little possibility of any legal economic activity. Some NGOs have come into camps to help provide crafting opportunities or small loans for small business start-up so as to give the residents a sense of purpose, but it is not enough. The vast majority remain completely dependent on handouts, without any other possibility, since they have no access to money or the networks necessary to support themselves.

These refugees ARE capable and we need to start seeing them in this light instead of merely as victims. They need to have access to the rights they sorely deserve so that they can give their own lives purpose. They need access to education. Access to employment. Access to land. Access to government. They need to be seen as persons with dignity who are fully capable of living their own lives. They have had misfortune in their lives, but that does not negate their abilities. Forcing them into camps that can last decades, where they are denied of basic fundamental rights does little to promote anything other than the idea of victimhood.

Since these camps are internationally bureaucratized, it is a global concern. These camps must be restructured to provide their residents with rights. Without access to these rights, their future becomes nearly hopeless. With these rights, their future becomes truly possible. I think for the most part the intentions of these camps are good, but to be able to truly provide  “humanitarian” assistance, they must be restructured. Otherwise, we merely are creating a larger problem in the long run.

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The United Nations Human Development Report 2009: A Very Brief Look

Written by Heather Wilhelm

On Monday, the United Nations (UN) released their Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009, ranking 182 countries into their respective places based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Human Development Index (HDI) of these countries.  GDP is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.  In layman’s terms, it measures a country’s economic performance on a yearly basis.  Since its inception in 1990, the HDR has reached beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP and has created the HDI which measures three dimensions of human development:  life expectancy, literacy and gross enrolment in education, and having a decent standard of living.  While it is easy to argue that these measurements are not an effective way to gauge the success or failure of a country in a numbered ranking system (what of gender, social services, child welfare), for the purpose of this article, let’s just look at the gross difference between those living at the top (Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada ranked 1 through 4) and the bottom (Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Niger in spots 180-182).

While it should be noted that this Report was created using 2007 statistics before the current economic crisis, it is still very apparent that there are stark disparities between those countries at the top of the list, and those at the bottom.  For instance, the average life expectancy in Niger is 50 years, which is a full 30 years less than the life expectancy in 4th place Canada.  For every dollar earned in Niger, eighty-five (85) dollars is earned in 1st place Norway.  It is believed that more than half the population in the lowest ranking 24 countries are illiterate.  These kinds of statistics put on paper what most students of global studies already know – we do not live in a world of equality and justice.  These yearly reports simply reiterate that while the privileged can expect to enjoy a long life with education and excellent standards of living the poor seem to be destined to remain in a position of poverty, illiteracy and shortened life expectancies.  I’ve provided a very brief background on the UNHDR for you, and I encourage you to click the link that follows and read a bit more on your own…the results will hopefully shock you back into reality – I know it always does for me.

Click here to view the full Human Development Report 2009.

hw

The Global Hunger Crisis – Why Haven’t We Made More Progress Towards the Millenium Development Goals?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

It is so easy to forget about the true state of the world when we live our day to day lives just going through the motions.  Here are some statistics to shock you back into reality:

~        1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

~        More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

~        Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; and

~        Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.

When I read statistics like these, I actually find it very hard to believe that they are real.  How is it possible that I’ve lived 28 years never going hungry, and yet somehow during my regular 8 hour work day more than 4,800 children die of hunger-related diseases?  Women and children the world over continue to be the most disenfranchised individuals on the planet, and even the most well-meaning organizations, like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), are unable to help effectively.  A recent report from Reuters states that world food aid is at an all-time low despite the fact that the number of hungry people in the world soared to its highest level ever, with more than 1 billion people classified as lacking food.  The WFP has barely enough funding this year to help a fraction of these people, which is made more horrifying by the fact that it would take a mere 0.01% of the global financial crisis bailout package from the United States to solve the hunger crisis.  Priorities need to shift in Washington and in neighbouring developed countries, with the eradication of poverty and starvation not only in “third world” countries, but also right in their own backyards moving to the top of the list.

As per the WFP’s website, one of the possible solutions to the world hunger crisis is the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which are:

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

These eight development goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The importance of the implementation of the MDG’s cannot be overlooked, but considering we are more than halfway through the fifteen year period that was allotted to make these development goals a reality, how much has really been accomplished?  If the WFP can say that 2009 saw more hungry people than ever before, clearly something is being done wrong.  In an attempt to look into progress reports, I found most sites to be sorely lacking (for instance, the United Nations Development Programme website’s section entitled “Implementation of the MDG’s” last shows an update in 2005), which is beyond discouraging.  The eight goals listed above are so basic, so simple and so easily achieved that is simply doesn’t make sense why there hasn’t been more progress reported.  As a society, we need to hold our government accountable for the commitments they made to the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken people of the world in 2000, and ensure that they are meeting the requirements set out for each country in helping to bring the Millennium Development Goals to fruition by the year 2015.  If you want to make sure they are held accountable, speak up, tell people what you’ve read here and make your voice heard.  Local government representatives aren’t just elected to sit around and look pretty – they are supposed to carry our voices and concerns up to Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If there’s one country in the world that exemplifies the spirit of helping others, it’s Canada, so let’s make sure when 2015 rolls around, our country has done everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

hw

Why is the UN failing in many of its missions?

The United Nations is only as powerful as its Member states. It can call on its Members for support: financially, logistically or in troops and hope that they answer the call. If this call goes unanswered (as is currently the situation), what powers does the UN have to ensure enforcement or support?

 

The structures of the International Court of Justice, the UN’s principle judicial organ, are only meant to settle legal disputes between states, and rely on local enforcement structures to arrest and detain crime suspects. The International Criminal Court, which tries crimes against humanity and war crimes, is also reliant on local enforcement structures, which prevents it from trying many international criminals because of a lack of cooperation or capabilities of local enforcement.

 

Five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) enjoy a veto privilege, which means they can stop any action of the UNSC by exercising their veto. The UNSC is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, investigating disputes, recommending methods to solve disputes, regulating armaments, determining the existence of threats to peace or acts of aggression, recommending what actions are to be taken, applying economic sanctions and other measures to prevent or stop aggression, taking action against an aggressor, recommending admission of new Members to the UN, overseeing trusteeship functions of the UN, and recommending the appointment of the Secretary-General to the UN and Judges of International Court of Justice. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France and 6 by China. These vetoes have included subjects such as condemning the violence by the government of Zimbabwe against civilians following the elections in 2008 (vetoed by China and Russia), stopping Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2004 and 2006 (vetoed by the US), on taking action against the killing by Israeli forces of several UN employees and the destruction of the World Food Programme warehouse in 2002 (vetoed by the US), on establishing a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians in 2001 (vetoed by the US)[1]. Many others operations are never even brought to the table, since the veto will ensure the action cannot happen.

 

It is structures like these that allow major criminals to evade justice and limits the power of the UN. Combine this with incredible budget arrears owed to the UN by its Member states. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern, especially considering that peacekeeping support is so desperately needed in many areas of the world. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. The hypocrisy that these countries all sponsor intense humanitarian aid (and state loans) to conflict zones, yet cannot manage to pay their promised share of peacekeeping debt should not go unnoticed. Requests for troop support to areas are also frequently ignored by the international community.

 

If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. That being said, it is time the UN lived up to its original purpose, and created some means of enforcing its own legalities. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.


[1] A full list of vetoes can be found at http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/membship/veto/vetosubj.htm

 


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