African water fund proposed
With 60 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa's 680 million people lacking access to safe water, it is vital to increase investment in water development and management, argues a UN report prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. Directed by the Netherlands' Prince Willem-Alexander of Orange, at the request of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the report, "No Water, No Future," specifically calls for the creation of a new African Water Facility. It would provide some of the start-up financing for improved water investment and management in the region, within the framework of the continent's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
The report notes that people in the world's 40 poorest countries -- more than half of which are in Africa -- must try to meet their water and sanitation needs on an average of 30 litres or less per day, far below the 50 litres considered to be the absolute minimum for well-being. Even worse, people in nine African countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Gambia, Somalia, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda) currently live on less than 10 litres per day. The report urges a more comprehensive approach to water management, encompassing not just access to potable water and sanitation, but also water for crops, livestock and fisheries.
While some countries and populations suffer from water scarcity, the main problem is a "crisis of governance," says Prince Willem-Alexander. The report emphasizes the need for better coordination among countries sharing common river basins. It cites as a positive example the Nile Basin Initiative, launched in 1999 to coordinate policies among the 10 countries sharing the Nile's waters. By 2015, the report recommends, the countries of Africa's other major international river basins should develop similar plans for water resource allocation and investment.
UN vows to stop sexual exploitation
The head of UN peacekeeping operations, Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, has announced that the UN will not tolerate sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls by its officers. Addressing a special session of the Security Council in July, he urged countries that contribute soldiers and policemen to UN peacekeeping missions to "take appropriate disciplinary and, if needed, criminal action against their nationals who commit such acts."
His comments come at a time when the UN has been investigating allegations of sexual exploitation of refugee girls by aid workers and peacekeepers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The charges were made in a report released early this year by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the non-governmental Save the Children (UK).
According to the claims, some of which were contested in subsequent press reports, employees of at least 40 aid organizations and UN agencies denied assistance to refugees, mainly girls between the ages of 13 and 18, unless they submitted to sex. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a team of investigators to West Africa to examine the charges, and the team is expected to present its findings to the General Assembly.
The sheer number of complaints confirms that a "serious problem of sexual exploitation exists" in the three countries, noted the UNHCR/Save the Children report. It noted that the abuse involved "those who are engaged to protect the very children they are exploiting." The UNHCR already has responded by increasing security and international personnel in refugee camps, deploying more female staff and establishing new reporting procedures.
Annan urges orderly land reform
Adding his voice to the raging controversy over land reform in Zimbabwe, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a phased, orderly programme. As Southern Africa faces the risk of famine, "a successful, sustainable land reform programme that will benefit all the people of Zimbabwe, especially the landless poor, is more important than ever," Mr. Annan said.
The Secretary-General spoke as he toured drought-stricken Southern Africa in August. In Zimbabwe, 6 million people, about half the population, need food aid. Poor rains are largely to blame, but domestic and external critics of President Robert Mugabe's government also say its programme to seize white-owned commercial farms without compensation and redistribute them to landless blacks has disrupted production.
Mr. Annan noted that there would be no lasting solution to the problems in Zimbabwe unless land reform is "run according to the law, allows for proper training and adequate support to new small farmers, and compensation to displaced farm workers and commercial farmers."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello as the UN's new high commissioner for human rights. He succeeds Ms. Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland who will leave the Geneva-based office in September, after five years. Until May of this year, Mr. Vieira de Mello was the UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor. With most of his 33-year career spent working in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he has served the UN in various other capacities including as under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi is the new director-general of the World Trade Organization, starting in September. He will be the organization's first leader from the developing world. A well-regarded economist, Mr. Supachai has held various posts in Thailand, including as deputy premier and trade minister. He headed Thailand's delegation at the end of the seven-year Uruguay Round of trade talks.
Mr. Annan has appointed several new special representatives. Mr. Ibrahima Fall (left), a former assistant secretary-general for political affairs, is the new special representative for Africa's Great Lakes Region. Mr. Berhanu Dinka, a former special representative and regional humanitarian adviser for the Great Lakes Region, has been appointed as special representative for Burundi. Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, a former UN official who has been executive secretary of the Washington-headquartered Global Coalition for Africa, is the Secretary-General's new special representative for West Africa.