As flu season reaches peak WHO steps up efforts to fight disease

The World Health Organization (WHO) also strongly advised early vaccination as the best prevention against the potentially devastating disease. “Influenza vaccines have an excellent safety record. In particular, the elderly and patients with chronic illnesses should see their doctor or health worker and get their flu vaccination,” said Dr. David L. Heymann, Executive Director at WHO Communicable Diseases branch. For healthy people, influenza normally amounts to high fever, headache and a few days in bed. However, for the elderly and chronically ill, the flu can be fatal. To save lives, WHO brings together influenza experts every year to compose a vaccine for the following year. More than 230 million vaccine doses are used annually. According to WHO, during the annual epidemics influenza infects as many as 100 million people annually in the northern hemisphere. While exact figures are unavailable for most countries, in the United States influenza kills approximately 20,000 people each year, the agency said. The elderly and children under one year of age are particularly at risk. History shows the potentially devastating consequences of the disease. The “Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918-19 claimed up to 40 million lives, while in Hong Kong, China, in 1997, one-third of infected patients died. read more

UN launches Literacy Decade stresses importance of link to global development

In a bid to extend literacy to the 861 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write and the 113 million children out of school, the United Nations today launched the Literacy Decade.”Literacy remains part of the unfinished business of the 20th century. One of the success stories of the 21st century must be the extension of literacy to include all humankind,” Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said at the ceremony to kick-off the Decade at UN Headquarters in New York.Emphasizing that literacy is a prerequisite for a “health, just and prosperous world,” Ms. Fréchette noted that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women and that is why the first two years of the decade will focus on “Literacy and gender.””When women are educated and empowered the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up,” the Deputy Secretary-General said. “And what is true of families is true of communities – ultimately, indeed, of whole countries.”Joining Ms. Fréchette at the ceremony was the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, under whose direction the Decade, which has the theme, “Literacy as Freedom,” will be coordinated.In his remarks, Mr. Matsuura said through literacy, the downtrodden could find their voice, the poor could learn how to learn and the powerless could empower themselves. In that light, the drive for universal literacy was integrally linked to the human rights agenda. Literacy was not a universal panacea for all development problems, but, as a tool of development, it was both versatile and proven.For his part, President Natsagiyn Bagabandi of Mongolia, the driving force behind the initiative, warned that the international community would fail to guarantee equal human rights for all as long as it accepted illiteracy. Literacy was not only the primary requirement for economic well-being, but also a solid base for a lifelong investment in a better and happy life.Notwithstanding the progress and development made in the new information-based century, he added, the virtual elimination of illiteracy called for an effective partnership based on redoubled efforts, resource mobilization and coordination of relevant policies and strategies at the global level.The implementation of the Decade’s plan of action, prepared by UNESCO, will be organized around themes with biennial focuses such as gender, poverty, health, peace and freedom. read more

UN international aid workers begin returning to Iraq after fiveweek absence

A team of six international UN staff, led by the northern Iraq coordinators for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), crossed the Turkish border and were expected in Dohuk tonight, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities.Another group of 28 international UN staff led by the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for northern Iraq landed in Dyarbakir, Turkey, from Larnaca, Cyprus, and are scheduled to reach Erbil in northern Iraq tomorrow, spokesperson Veronique Taveau said.This team will concentrate on basic food services, internal refugee assistance and mine action in the three northern governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleimaniyah, and then rapidly expand their activities to health and education, she added.Ms. Taveau said electricity in Baghdad has now been partially restored, reaching about 30 per cent of the city. This will not only help to ease living conditions for residents but also facilitate the work of hospitals and the water-supply system. But the surrounding poorer suburbs lagged far behind, with pools of sewage and heaps of uncollected refuse polluting the streets, she added.For its part the WFP said food supplies via Turkey were increasing dramatically, with 1,607 trucks containing some 38,177 tons of food aid sent so far – enough for about 2.7 million people for one month. The three Kurdish provinces, the major targets of this route, have about 3.6 million people benefiting from these food commodities. The major escalation in deliveries meant food stocks in Kurdish-controlled areas were approaching pre-war food security levels, allowing the WFP to focus on reaching areas formerly controlled by the Iraqi Government, where food distribution was effectively frozen during the conflict, spokesman Khaled Mansour said.The World Health Organization (WHO) said its national staff, more than 350 people in all, were working in many Iraqi communities to help jump-start medical services. In Baghdad, a team of WHO epidemiologist and engineers, together with Iraqi microbiologists from the National Public Health Laboratories, was rebuilding the laboratories’ capacity to analyze blood and other samples, spokesperson Fadela Chaib said.Together with the Department of Health, WHO was also moving a convoy of three trucks filled with urgently needed medical supplies and food from Dohuk to Mosul in the north, while in Kirkuk life appeared to be returning to normal with electricity and water both functioning, she added.The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) said the Jordanian Government had admitted some 300 Palestinian refugees from Iraq, among them people who were stuck in no-man’s-land for nearly three weeks. But more than 850 Iranians remained in the no-man’s-land at Al Karama, most of them ethnic Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in Iraq.A UNHCR staff member from the Kuwait City office went on a day-mission today to the southern Iraqi town of Um Qasr to make contact with local officials, the second such mission by a staff member into Iraq in as many days, spokesman Peter Kessler said. read more

Burundi UN helps build safer shelters for people displaced by ongoing fighting

The new site in Kabezi Commune, just south of Bujumbura, will put some distance between the IDPs and government military positions, which are regularly attacked by the Front National de Libération (FNL), the only rebel group not to have joined the peace process after a decade of war in the small Central African country. As other rebel forces join with various political parties in efforts to form a multi-party, power-sharing government, more than 80,000 Burundians who fled to surrounding countries have returned so far this year, with over 10,000 coming home in the last month alone, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In May the UN Security Council created the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), with an eventual strength of 5,650 military personnel and up to 1,000 national and international civilian staff, to help restore lasting peace and bring about national reconciliation between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis. read more

UN envoy visits rebelheld north in Côte dIvoire for first time since

Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Albert Tévoédjrè and Gen. Abdoulaye Fall held talks with Guillaume Soro, Secretary-General of the rebel Forces Nouvelles, and visited three sites that came under bombardment last week. Mr. Tévoédjrè reiterated the UN’s commitment to help put the peace process back on track.General Fall said UN military forces, which patrol the Zone of Confidence (ZOC) separating Government and rebel forces had fully played their role in recent days, helping with evacuation as well as observing the violation of the ceasefire. He said they had prevented ground troops from crossing the ZOC, including by firing warning shots in the air.Meanwhile in Abidjan, the West African country’s largest city, the situation continued to gradually return to normal though it still remains tense. Offices, banks and businesses are reopening. Children are slowly returning to school, all of which have opened except for the four French schools.The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), set up in April to monitor the ceasefire and help implement peace accords signed in January 2003, said human rights violations by Forces Nouvelles elements were being reported in Bouaké and other parts of the north.The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Ivorians fleeing the fighting to neighbouring Liberia had climbed to 13,000, with more than 1,000 arriving in just one night, most of them women and children.For its part the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it had been able to resume some of its operations. read more

UN refugee chief calls on Europe to develop comprehensive strategy on asylum

European Union (EU) countries can improve the management of refugee problems by focusing on reinforcing protection in the regions of origin, building greater capacity in transit countries and improving the quality of the EU’s own asylum systems, according to the head of the United Nations refugee agency.“By reinforcing protection in regions of origin, and ensuring that refugees can find solutions there, we can reduce the pressure for onward movement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers told an informal meeting of European Interior Ministers over the weekend in Luxembourg.He said that for this to happen, there needed to be more resources and closer coordination between interior, foreign and development ministries as well as with the European Commission.Although refugee numbers worldwide are going down – currently just under 10 million, or about half what they were a decade ago – there are still too many long-lasting refugee problems, he noted.He cited the case of Afghanistan – the largest group of asylum seekers arriving in Europe in 2001 – as an example of how a concerted effort in the region of origin can provide a clear dividend in terms of reduced flows to Europe. “There is certainly a link between the sharp decline in the number of Afghan asylum seekers in Europe and the massive return to Afghanistan,” he said.Turning to the issue of transit countries, through which refugees and economic migrants pass through on their way to Europe, Mr. Lubbers suggested that improving asylum conditions there would also help reduce onward movement. “But this will take time,” he warned. “Therefore, I strongly counsel against any precipitous initiative to declare such countries ‘safe,’ in the absence of acceptable protection safeguards.” read more

States need help in cooperating with arms embargoes UN official

“Such support could include technical assistance for improved monitoring of national air spaces and maritime borders as well as the development of means to identify and prosecute those that violate arms embargoes” said Hannelore Hoppe, Officer-in-Charge of the Department for Disarmament Affairs, as she introducing a review of progress in the area since a milestone 2002 report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In that report, Mr. Annan called for support to a small arms advisory service within the UN to assist States’ control efforts. Ms. Hoppe said initiative, called the Coordination Action on Small Arms (CASA), had made great strides but required more backing from Member States. The report had also called for an international convention to identify and trace illicit arms, suggesting that countries fully utilize the Interpol tracking system for weapons and explosives. Ms. Hoppe noted that the General Assembly had recently adopted a politically binding international pact for that purpose, as well as an arms-trade protocol to the convention against trans-national organized crime. She suggested the Council urge States that have not yet ratified or acceded to that treaty to do so. The 2002 report also urged the Council to include in the mandate of peacekeeping operations clear provisions for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants, including measures for the collection and disposal of weapons. There had been some progress in that area, Ms. Hoppe, but efforts to systematically integrate long-term weapons control measures in the DDR process had to be intensified. An encouraging sign of progress, she said, was the increased focus on the link between the illicit arms trade and the illicit exploitation of natural resources, as well as on measures to disrupt that linkage. In her presentation, Ms. Hoppe called attention to the upcoming major UN conference to review progress made in the implementation of the 2001 programme of action to eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. She said the intensity of the debates during the preparatory process for the conference confirmed, on the one hand, that States remained as committed as they were in 2001 to tackle the challenges posed by the trade. On the other hand, she said the wide diversity of views expressed regarding the question was “symptomatic of the complexity of the challenges posed by the problem of the illicit trade and its multifaceted nature.” The conference will be held from 26 June to 7 July. In the day-long discussion that followed Ms Hoppe’s presentation, in which some 40 delegations took part, most speakers agreed that in order to halt conflicts, particularly those decimating Africa, it was crucial to complete the implementation of the 2001 action programme and the 2002 recommendations of the Secretary-General. This year’s Review Conference presented a vital opportunity to focus on areas where obstacles to full implementation persisted, namely marking and tracing, brokering regulations, transfer controls, ammunition, and the integration of small arms measures into development assistance, participants said. While the majority of speakers welcomed the recent adoption of the instrument for marking and tracing arms, they regretted that it did not have a legally binding character or contain provisions regarding ammunition. read more

UN agency urges backing for treaty on plant genetic resources as way

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf made his call at a meeting in Madrid of agriculture ministers at which they approved a Ministerial Declaration in which the Treaty’s contracting parties pledged its full implementation through specific national rules and programmes, the Organization said in a news release. “We must reaffirm our political will to work for the benefit of present and future generations as well as our commitment to do everything possible to ensure that the Treaty is fully and comprehensively implemented,” said Mr. Diouf, pointing to the challenge of feeding a growing world population that will reach nine billion people by 2050. The ministers also expressed their conviction that the Treaty is vital to achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals — particularly eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and guaranteeing environmental sustainability. They also pledged to enhance national capacities for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.The Madrid meeting of the Ministerial Segment of the Treaty’s governing bodies, chaired by Elena Espinosa, Spain’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was attended by over 70 countries, a fact which sent a powerful political message in support of the Treaty, according to FAO. This was the first meeting of the Treaty’s governing body.In his remarks, Mr. Diouf also gave several examples of progress made under the Treaty, including enabling developing countries to conserve and make better use of their plant genetic resources as well as those they obtain internationally, and also reversing a recent trend towards reduced international sharing of plant genetic resources.FAO calculates that the average level of country interdependency for plant genetic resources is 70 per cent, meaning that all countries depend significantly on the genetic diversity of crops in other countries in order to be able to guarantee the food security of their own populations.In a separate development related to food security, the FAO said its recent Regional Conference of Europe had underlined the key role of rural development driven by agriculture in combating poverty and hunger, especially in Europe’s transition countries.Attended by agriculture ministers and delegates of 51 countries and numerous observers, the Conference in Riga, Latvia from 8-9 June, also urged greater FAO cooperation with and assistance to the countries of the region. read more

US trade deficit grows to 422B because of fewer exports deficit with

US trade deficit grows to $42.2B because of fewer exports; deficit with China hits record high by Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press Posted Dec 11, 2012 9:28 am MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email WASHINGTON – The U.S. trade deficit increased in October because exports fell by a larger margin than imports, a sign that slower global growth could weigh on the U.S. economy.The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the trade deficit grew 4.8 per cent in October from September to $42.2 billion.Exports dropped 3.6 per cent to $180.5 billion. Sales of commercial aircraft, autos and farm products all declined.Imports fell 2.1 per cent to $222.8 billion, reflecting fewer shipments of cellphones, autos and machinery.The trade gap with China also increased to a record high, which will keep pressure on the Obama administration. Manufacturers and U.S. lawmakers have complained about China’s use of unfair trade practices.Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said the decline in both exports and imports likely reflected some disruptions from Superstorm Sandy. The storm closed ports in the Northeast for the last few days of October. Exports should rebound in November, although Dales expects the longer-run trend to stay negative.“The bigger issue is that the weak global economy has been taking its toll on exports,” Dales said, predicting that trade would drag slightly on overall U.S. growth in 2013.A wider trade deficit acts as a drag on U.S. growth. It typically means the U.S. is earning less on overseas sales of American-produced goods while spending more on foreign products.Exports rose to a record high in September, which helped lift economic growth in the July-September quarter to annual rate 2.7 per cent. That more than doubled the 1.3 per cent annual growth rate in the April-June quarter. Growth during the summer quarter was also helped by stronger rebuilding of business stockpiles than previously estimated.Most economists say growth is slowing in the current October-December quarter to below 2 per cent. One reason for the weaker growth is the decline in exports. And U.S. companies are probably cutting back on restocking, mostly because of worries about looming tax increases and government spending cuts that will kick in next year without a budget deal before January.There were some hopeful signs in the report.U.S. exports to the 27-nation European Union rose 1.4 per cent in October. Exports to that region have fallen 0.7 per cent from January through October because the debt crisis has pushed many European nations into recession.The U.S. also ran a record $2.6 billion trade surplus in October with the nations of South and Central America. The surplus with Brazil, the largest economy in South America, was $1.8 billion. U.S. exports to that country hit a record $4.1 billion.Still, the U.S. trade deficit with China kept growing in October to a record $29.5 billion.American manufacturers say China has kept the yuan undervalued against the U.S. dollar. A lower valued yuan makes Chinese goods cheaper for U.S. consumers and American products more expensive in China.The Obama administration has lobbied China to move more quickly to allow the yuan to rise in value. But it has refused to cite China as a currency manipulator. That designation would require negotiations between the two nations and could lead to the United States filing a trade case against China before the World Trade Organization. read more