October 17 – International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

More Global Poverty Blogging today (in addition to the extensive posting I have already done, click on the categories on the right).

“The Century of Migrating Peoples”

Antonio Guterres (Wikipedia page), Un High Commissioner on Refugees, gave an interview to Le Monde at the occasion of the UN General Assembly meeting to discuss the question of climate refugees, a status yet not legally recognized.

If there is a debate on climate change (big "if"), there is, according Guterres, no debate concerning the implications of climate change on forced migration. For lowering of every centimeter of the oceans, one can expect one million displaced people. Such an impact will be direct (as in droughts, natural disasters, the disappearance of islands. Or it will be indirect, such as the increased competition for access to water.

So, we can already start discussing the question of hunger refugees and climate refugees even though these have no legal recognition. Victims of war are already protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention, but hunger and climate change have now to be treated as sources of forced displacement. And the processes that cause such displacement will only accelerate. The 21st Century, as Guterres puts it, will be the Century of Migrating Peoples… or Peoples on the Move and the international community is not ready for it. The only measures that nations have taken so far is to increase border controls and restrict access. It is all in vain if the causes of such displacements are not addressed.

In the absence of clear legal status, there exists mechanisms of cooperation with the UN system but there is a need for more systematic protection of these population. What is the solution when island-states disappear? These people cannot become stateless. They have to be placed somewhere with some degree of protection of their culture and identity.

The problem is even worse when governments do not let humanitarian agencies help internally displaced people, as is the case in Darfur, but also in Myanmar. For Guterres, it is a scandal that these governments have to be begged to let humanitarian agencies help their citizens. And all the talk of humanitarian intervention and of the "responsibility to protect" has been damaged by the war in Iraq as more countries have become suspicious that the "responsibility to protect," recognized by the UN General Assembly, is just a coverup for Western domination. This concept of protection need to be reactivated.

In addition, the current food crisis have not improved the situation. There are currently 11 million refugees and 27 million displaced people because of conflicts. These people need food air, mostly provided by the World Food Program, which, we know, is already struggling because of high food prices. Guterres notes that it is profoundly immoral to not have too much trouble finding $700 billion to save the financial system, but it is incredibly difficult to fin just $1 billion to support agricultural production on the poorest countries. This really shows where the priorities.

[My editorial comment] The poor can starve, but Wall Street gamblers have to be bailed out.

Back to the question of refugees, Guterres insists that nation-states have not only the responsibility for the security of their citizens but they also need to define their own migration policies and have an obligation to provide protection to those in need; this includes refugees and asylum seekers who need to be able to physically access the territories where they seek protection. And as countries tighten their border controls, it is more and more difficult for these people to exercise their rights under international statutes.

Now, up until 2006, there have been a reduction in the annual number of refugees as some conflicts, such as Sierra Leone or Liberia, finally came to an end. But since then, there has been an intensification of conflicts, either in less visible parts of Central Africa (DRC), or in very visible areas, such as Afghanistan, Somalia or Sudan. As these conflicts intensify, the numbers of IDPs and refugees increase again.

Now, where have these people gone? There is no European invasion. The vast majority of refugees live in the Global South: Pakistan, Iran or Syria, for instance. Their goal is to go home when the security situation permit it. The racist and ethnocentric rhetoric of invasion in core countries is not supported by facts and reality. However, such fears of global migration (especially from South to North) fuel global nationalistic ideologies that certain political parties in the North can tap into to build a social basis of support.

Book Review – The Wisdom of Whores


Elizabeth Pisani’s The Wisdom of Whores – Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS is a great book (along with a great website ). Elizabeth Pisani is an epidemiologist with years of experience working on HIV/AIDS (or sex and drugs, as she puts, which sounds a lot, well, sexier) at a variety of agencies, including UNAIDS. The book is the story of her frustrations at the way the international community, national governments, NGOS and AIDS activists have dealt with the epidemics, as well as her hopes in some of the progress made.

I got interested in the book when I read an interview Pisani gave to the Guardian. The interview kinda billed the book as a controversial work where Pisani would be the mean lady who said people got AIDS because of their stupid behavior and not enough was being done because of political correctness. So, I was ready to get really pissed off with the book. That has not been the case at all.

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Why Hillary Should Be President – About that Beijing Speech

I know a lot of Hillary supporters refer to her speech at the UN Women’s conference in Beijing in 1995. So, today, I decided to take a closer look at the whole speech, especially in the context of Senator Obama’s remark on abortion and the need to respect the anti-choice position (just like we should respect and understand anti-LGBT positions). Again, remember, this speech was delivered 13 years ago, on one of these trips that Hillary took where she just shook hands with officials and watched little girls dance (snark). The audio is embedded below, otherwise, I selected a few excerpts (the full text is here, with video as well).

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Sk3nzRt7p94" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
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Food Riots and Global Security

All the major outlets I read have reported on the food riots in Haiti, caused by high food prices. This is a major crisis and I have started blogging about it weeks ago.

Haïti : les “émeutes de la faim” gagnent les rues de Port-au-Prince
LE MONDE | 09.04.08

© Le Monde.fr

The Blue Helmets in Port-au-Prince had to deploy to protect the presidential palace. The direct cause of the riots is the fast increase in the price of rice, wheat and sugar. There are currently 9,000 peacekeepers in Haiti. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has exhorted the multilateral lending agencies to come to Haiti’s rescue with emergency aid package, according to Liberation. Haiti is the poorest country in the Northern hemisphere. 80% of its population leaves on less than $2/day. There is no way they can afford a doubling of price in basic food. According to the Independent,

“The poor even rely on biscuits made of mud to get through the day. Even the price of this traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs has gone up to more than $5 (£2.50) for 100 biscuits. There is now a grave danger of a coup being triggered in what is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.”

But this is not the first food riot. And it won’t be the last either,

“The rising food prices are causing waves of unrest around the world. In Manila, troops armed with M-16 rifles now oversee the sale of subsidised rice, the latest basic crop to see a spike in prices. In Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cameroon there have been protests in recent weeks all related to the food and fuel prices.”

These high prices are a threat to global security as the poor become unable to afford food. People in the Global South can endure a lot, but the inability to access food is usually the straw that breaks the camel’s back. What we see here is the result of failed development and economic policies, based on neoliberal principles and the Washington Consensus.

And as surprising as it might seem, this another case of famine occurring not because of the absence of food but because of its costs. This, of course, makes all the more relevant Amartya Sen’s argument of famine as a problem of entitlement. Food is available but the poor of the world are denied access to it, either because of their lack of land, lack of credit to grow for subsistence. It is time to reconsider and regulate the world’s food production and distribution. It is all the more necessary that there is another looming on the horizon that will make the food situation worse. As the Guardian reports,

“Sir John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and the UN’s emergency relief coordinator (…) said food scarcity and soaring fuel prices would compound the damaging effects of global warming.”

Great. Some major economic overhaul needed.

Book Review – Chasing The Flame – Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight To Save The World

Samantha PowerSamantha Power’s book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, would have received much more, and well-deserved, publicity if she had not made a stupid comment to a journalist regarding Senator Hillary Clinton. As a result, she resigned from Barack Obama’s campaign and this has probably affected her promotion of the book. It is a shame because it is indeed a fascinating book regarding the complex and frustrating internal workings of the United Nations through the prism of another fascinating figure: Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Sergio Vieira de Mello was Brazilian, born in 1948 and he died in Baghdad in 2003 after a bombing of the hotel that housed the UN there. The bombing, we now know, was organized by Al Zarkawi. August 19, 2003, the day of the bombing marked the beginning of the collapse of Iraq into chaos and the arrival of Al Qaeda. As many of the actors involved also stated, it was the end of the innocence of the UN, as a multilateral agency independent from the great powers.

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The Tragedy of Congo’s Displaced People

What is currently going on in the Congo is a massive humanitarian tragedy that photographer Susan Schulman, on assignment for the UN Refugee Agency and UN World Food Program, has managed to capture in stunning photos that are the subject of an exhibit. Some of them are reproduced in the Guardian (here and here). The Guardian also provides a useful primer on the war in the Congo, a conflict that kills 45,000 every month, in almost complete global invisibility.

Freedom, Democracy, Privacy and the Internet

Several stories from various sources indicate that the Internet is clearly becoming one of of the battlefields for the struggles for freedom and democracy.

Internet EnemiesFirst, via Le Nouvel Observateur, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) indicates that UNESCO will no longer participate nor offer its patronage to Online Free Expression Day created by RSF. According to RSF, the main reason for such a withdrawal is that fifteen countries, members of UNESCO, have been labeled “Internet enemies” by RSF and pressured UNESCO to no longer be part of the event. These countries are Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe (see map from RSF, the countries in red are Internet enemies, countries in grey are under surveillance for their treatment of freedom of expression online).

Yahoo! is in trouble again for behaving badly when it comes to freedom of expression. Again, via Le Nouvel Observateur, it seems that Yahoo China would have published the photos of 19 men sought by the Chinese authorities with a notice inviting people to call the police if they had any information that might help in their arrest. These men were allegedly related to the demonstrations in Tibet. Yahoo China denies the allegations. However, a spokesperson for Yahoo France has confirmed that indeed, the photos of the protestors had been distributed online. However, according to this spokesperson, Yahoo China is operated by another company, Alibaba, and Yahoo has less than 40% of the shares in that company. So, I guess that makes it all ok.

Also disturbing on several levels is this news from the Netherland, via Le Monde

Le film sur l’islam du député néerlandais Geert Wilders bloqué par un fournisseur d’accès à Internet
LEMONDE.FR | 23.03.08

© Le Monde.fr

As stated in the Guardian,

“The website where Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders was promoting his not-yet-released anti-Qur’an film has been suspended by its US hosting service. The site formerly showed the film’s title, Fitna, the trail line “coming soon” and an image of a gilded Qur’an. Now it shows a note that the company, Network Solutions, is investigating whether the site violates its terms of service.”

There is obviously something fishy going on here, even if Wilders is a sleazy character. What we know is that Dutch officials were probably afraid of violent reactions comparable to what happened with the Dutch cartoons representing Mohamed. Wilders himself is under constant protection because he has received death threats (so much for Islam as peaceful religion). The movie might still pop up on Youtube. Look, Muslim groups need to get over themselves. There is such a thing as freedom of speech and expression in democracies. There is, however, no freedom to not be offended. It is amazing that we have to repeat over and over again basic lessons in Free Speech 101 every time some religious group reaches for the smelling salts (and that’s not limited to Muslims, think Bill Donohue’s crowd).

Finally, via Liberation, we learn that our online privacy is even more undermined than we thought through a study conducted by ComScore. ComScore measured how many times, over a period of one month, data were transmitted without consent from the user, as she browses, shops or watches videos. Together, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, AOL and MySpace tallied 336 billion data transmission events, with Yahoo as number one. These data are collected for marketing purposes as marketing companies now require more and more specific data for demographics they are interested in. But the reality is that once a user connects to the Internet, an enormous amount of data will be transmitted voluntarily or involuntarily. To modify the old joke, on the Internet, everyone will know you’re a dog.


World Water Day 08 – Glaciers Melting Faster than Anticipated

Via Der Spiegel,

“Glaciers across the globe are melting faster than at any point in the last century. Many could disappear within decades, and their decline could cause droughts and chaos for billions of people who depend on rivers fed by glaciers.”

This is according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The study itself was conducted bu the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Switzerland. According to this study,

“In 2006, the 30 glaciers included in the study shrank an average of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) — more than double the rate of shrinkage in 2005. Chile’s Echaurren Norte glacier was the only one to grow in 2006, and the gain was slight.”

This is going to have serious consequences for the populations that depend heavily on glaciers for their water, for instance in India and Bangladesh. As glaciers shrink, water reserves shrink as well but as the melting proceeds, these countries might experience more flooding. UNEP urges global regulations to reduce the impact of global climate change. But more generally, the consequences of this phenomenon will be varied but all negative, as the Guardian reports,

“Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told The Observer that melting glaciers were now the ‘loudest and clearest’ warning signal of global warming. The problem could lead to failing infrastructure, mass migration and even conflict. ‘We’re talking about something that happens in your and my lifespan. We’re not talking about something hypothetical, we’re talking about something dramatic in its consequences,’ he said.

Lester Brown, of the influential US-based Earth Policy Institute, said the problem would have global ramifications. (…) ‘This is the biggest predictable effect on food security in history as far as I know,’ said Brown.”

World Water Day 08 – One Billion People Without Access to Water

And according to Liberation, 2.4 billion do not have access to clean water or simple toilets. These conditions are responsible for the death of 25,000 people, mostly children, every day. This means that the objective 7 (Target 10 – Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation) of the Millenium Development Goals is already out of reach.

Water is unequally distributed on the planet. There is water in areas where there is very little human population, such as the Peruvian part of the Amazon. On the other hand, the Pacific Coast of South America is overpopulated and in the process of desertification. These are not coincidences of course.

Global climate change and warming is expected to make things worse with increased evaporation, ice cap melting and overall reduction of the availability of fresh water. When one combines these factors with increased demographic pressure and increased demand for an environmentally unsustainable lifestyle (based on that of Western countries), and all the factors are present for a major water crisis in not too distant a future.

World Water Day 08

March 22nd is World Water Day! What is World Water Day?

Safe drinking water

“The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/47/193 of 22 December 1992 by which 22 March of each year was declared World Day for Water, to be observed starting in 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) contained in Chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of Agenda 21. States were invited to devote the Day, as appropriate in the national context, to concrete activities such as the promotion of public awareness through the publication and diffusion of documentaries and the organization of conferences, round tables, seminars and expositions related to the conservation and development of water resources and the implementation of the recommendations of Agenda 21.”

IYSThis year, the theme is access to sanitation and clean water. 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation.

“The goal is to raise awareness and to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to reduce by half the proportion of the 2,6 billion people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.”

Sanitation is important for all these reasons:

So let’s all do our part for World Water Day:

  • Don’t drink bottled water, use tap water
  • Turn off the water when it is not necessary (like when you brush your teeth)
  • Don’t overuse water for car washing and gardening / landscaping
  • Use water saving showers and toilets

Good News… Sorta

From BBC News:

The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, with the ultimate aim of abolishing capital punishment.”

Yay!!… Oh wait…

It voted 104 in favour and 54 against with 29 abstentions on a resolution which, while non-binding, reflects the view of most member states. Unusually, the US sided with countries like China and Iran to oppose it.”

Yeah, that’s a big surprise. </snark>

Oh, and rule #983842 of bad faith – when you do something questionable as far as human rights are concerned, and you don’t want to be questioned or criticized, scream cultural imperialism. It works every time:

The vote followed a heated debate in the Human Rights Committee of the UN as Singapore accused countries in favour of the moratorium on the death penalty of trying to impose their values on the rest of the world, the BBC’s Laura Trevelyan reports from the UN.”