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The exodus began shortly before the historic January referendum on whether South Sudan would remain part of greater Sudan or become independent. Day after day, thousands of southern Sudanese living in the north started returning home. But with the election producing an overwhelming vote in favour of independence, the stream of humanity flowing south has become a flood. By mid-February, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that some 200,000 southerners had returned from the north. At the same time, in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, around 75,000 others had registered to go back. Relief agencies anticipate that as many as 800,000 southerners will return from the north this year.
Many of those heading back have been away for decades, a spokesperson for UNHCR said. Others were born and raised in the north and are going to locations that will be entirely new to them, he further remarked. For many southerners concerns about their citizenship status in the north are said to be a major motivation. But many also want to be part of the birth of their new country, set to take place officially in July this year. UNHCR says it needs $53.4 mn to support southerners moving back.
Global women's agency launched
The long-awaited global agency for women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, was formally launched at UN headquarters in New York on 24 February. Four years in the making, the new agency, known as UN Women, consolidates many UN gender and women's empowerment programmes into a single powerful institution — a move intended to make the UN a more effective advocate for equality and women's rights around the world.
"The decision to establish UN Women reflects global concern with the slow pace of change," said Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president who was selected as the agency's first executive director. "It is no longer acceptable to live in a world where young girls are taken out of school and forced into early marriage, where women's employment opportunities are limited, and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, in the street, at school and at work."
With a starting budget of about $500 mn annually, UN Women will focus on five priorities: strengthening women's leadership and political participation, curbing violence, involving women in peacemaking, economic empowerment and entrenching women's concerns in national budgeting and policy decisions. "I am determined that UN Women will offer a new dynamic to the global dialogue on gender equality, and bring new energy," Ms. Bachelet concluded, "drawing on multiple talents and bringing together men and women from different countries and communities in a shared endeavour."
Follow UN Women at www.unwomen.org
Fight against meningitis
New vaccine targets meningitis in Africa
A new vaccine developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) is giving African doctors and public health officials a powerful new weapon in the fight against meningitis. The disease, a bacterial infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, infected over 88,000 people in the African "meningitis belt" stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia in 2009, causing more than 5,000 fatalities. Between 10 and 20 per cent of survivors, WHO reports, suffer long-term injuries, including brain damage, hearing loss and learning disabilities. An estimated 450 million people in Africa are at risk.
The new injection, known as Menafrivac, is available at a fraction of the cost of existing vaccines, provides longer protection and can be safely given to children as young as a year old. It is the first vaccine developed exclusively for Africa and targets the strain of the disease most common in the continent. Shipments began arriving in December in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, among the countries most affected by meningitis outbreaks. To date some 20 million people have been vaccinated.
UN Food and Agriculture Organization report
Loss of African forests slows
In 1990, Africa's forests covered almost 750,000 mn hectares, representing 23 per cent of total land area on the continent. Twenty years later, they covered less than 675,000 mn hectares. Yet, says State of the World's Forests 2011, a report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there is good news: the loss of the continent's forest cover is slowing. Between 1990 and 2000, the UN report notes, 40 mn hectares of forest were destroyed. During the last decade, that number went down to 34 mn hectares.
Two main reasons account for the reduction, the report explains. First are efforts by North African countries to preserve their forests. Net losses in this region dropped to 41,000 hectares per year, from a previously recorded 590,000 hectares per year. Recent efforts by Sudan to gather data about the state of its forest is the second reason. Figures for 2000-2010 proved significantly lower than earlier estimates for the preceding decade. Also, North African countries and Sudan lead the continent in forest planting programmes. With 6 mn hectares of planted forest (out of 15 mn across Africa), Sudan is the undisputed leader.
In Africa, as in much of the world, the report further notes, while deforestation has been slower in recent years, its rate remains high. The regions of the continent with the greatest forest cover (Central and Southern Africa) generally recorded only modest reductions in forest loss. Africa's forests account for 17 per cent of the world's forest area.
Kwaku Aning of Ghana has been appointed deputy director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Mr. Aning is the first African to assume the position. Prior to joining the IAEA in 2000, he served with the United Nations in various capacities for 23 years in New York, Angola and Geneva.
Christian Manahl of Austria has been appointed deputy special representative for Somalia. Mr. Manahl had been director of the Political Affairs Division in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) since June 2010, after serving as acting director from February 2007. He previously was senior political adviser to the European Union Special Representative for Sudan and was also a member of the Policy Unit of the High Representative for the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Karin Landgren of Sweden as his new special representative and head of the United Nations Office in Burundi. Ms. Landgren was previously the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Eritrea and Africa's Great Lakes region. She takes over from Charles Petrie.
Corentin Ki Doulaye of Burkina Faso has been nominated as the acting deputy joint special representative of the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Mr. Ki Doulaye previously served his country as ambassador to the US and Canada. He was also a representative of the African Union, for which he held several positions, including as head of the Darfur Integrated Task Force and as AU bureau chief in Chad.