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Newsfile: January 2012

Newsfile aggregates news that might otherwise drop off the horizon about situations affecting humanitarian work and the international situation. It doesn't chase after the most immediate stories which other newsfeeds can offer. Latest items from each region are presented first. To comply with fair-use rules we give only a headline, or enough of the story to explain the headline. All the stories cited are fully detailed. Dollars are U.S. unless stated otherwise.

By Peter Hulm



U.N. and social media - a profile

Mashable, the excellent web watching site, profiled the U.N. use of social media on 14 January via an interview with Nancy Groves, social media manager at New York. As a result, it tends to neglect anything outside the Big Apple.

She highlights the "Be a Human Rights Defender" campaign as its most successful social media effort. Her comments on the coordination efforts among the 17 specialized agencies, 62 information centres and 15 peacekeeping operations make clear the inadequacies of its activities - "an informal group of U.N. social media agents".

But she also reveals how the social media team gets over the U.N.'s restriction on single postings - using preapproved content to speed up the review and translation process.

Mashable concludes the article with an appeal to visitors to give their views of the U.N.'s efforts.

Note that the article itself doesn't give you the facebook and twitter links it mentions. These are in the comment section:



The Facebook site offers critical comments on Durban as well as Justin Bieber videos, a €5000 design competition and a note by someone who has just applied for a U.N. job. Typical Facebook. Twitter covers the more serious stuff.



W.H.O. Essential Drugs work at risk, says Oxfam

WHO's Essential Drugs work is under threat because of a serious shortage of funds, according to a letter from the charity Oxfam published in The Lancet on 13 January 2012.

Work on pain guidelines has been put on hold. Also at risk is the work on drug safety and antibiotic resistance. The programme is currently funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The issue came before the W.H.O. Executive Board on January 16-23 in a session to consider organizational reforms to cope with a $300 million shortfall. Margaret Chan, due for unopposed re-election, did not mention the concerns in her opening speech. "In my view, the agenda for this session supports a mood of pride in accomplishments and qualified optimism for the future," she said.

By contrast, the Oxfam letter from Mohga Kamal-Yanni said: "Allowing continuing erosion and outsourcing of its component parts would risk irreparable loss." For 30 years what is now its Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies has been one of the most innovative projects of W.H.O., challenging the big pharmaceutical companies to work with the programme in an attempt to give poor countries hope of treating diseases with the drugs they need.

You have to go to the main documents for the Board to learn about the reforms in any detail. They seem not to deal with the programme in any detail, though a financial resources documents suggests they get $40m a year.

WHO agenda:
DG speech:

How successful is the U.N. in Haiti?

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Nigel Fisher said on 6 December 2011 that the humanitarian response two years after the earthquake of 12 January 2010 "was a success".

This view has been strongly contested by respected researcher Peter Haas, Executive Director of AIDG (the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group), on the TED blog site. "With 500,000 still under tarps and tents, with a cholera outbreak started by the UN ( 2011/08/ 110824123128.htm), and with a huge sex scandal, you have to ask, what would failure have looked like?," he comments.

"Only 4.7% of those who got out of camps got into quality housing ( world/americas/24haiti.html ). Many were simply evicted into worse conditions than the camps in informal settlements. Many others got themselves out as soon as possible with the help of remittances from family and friends living overseas. The rate of people leaving camps over the past year and a half has slowed dramatically. The people who are left have fewer and fewer means. The biggest fear for me is that when the money runs out in Port-Au-Prince, we will have [...] closed NGO offices and unfinished projects and [...] people left to fend for themselves in informal settlements."

He looks at where the money went (30% of the U.S. contribution was spent on its military) and who raised what. He points out: "The humanitarian organizations are really good at [emergency relief]. What we’re worse at on the humanitarian side is rebuilding lives and livelihoods. That requires government intervention."

"I am angry that we broke our promises, that all of us, for however hard we worked, truly failed the people of Haiti in the scale of the response," he concludes.

A sobering corrective to U.N. optimism. The media briefing at Geneva gives the details of how the U.N. sees the situation.


Kickstarter projects to change the world

Mashable on 11 January 2012 also focused on 10 kickstarter projects to achieve social goals, with videos on each initiative. An idea the U.N.'s social media site might take up.

Kickstarter is a funding platform to enable startups to get the money they need to move forward.

Projects include the Global Village Construction Set, Krochet Kids Peru (a women's hat-making project), a collection of Guatemalan photos from its 'lost' years of institutional and guerrilla violence, Words without Borders on Mexico's drug wars, undocumented deaths of Mexican immigrants, and a project converting shipping containers into hydroponic farms.



Printing revolution in Geneva

Time was, the U.N.'s printing service in Geneva was your last option as a U.N. publications office, because it was so slow, design services were minimal, and mainly because official documents took precedence over any publicity material (i.e. unofficial stuff) you might need to get out urgently. So you went outside and paid for it.

Today, the documentation section reports: "Most documents are now printed within two days of receipt by the Section, while urgent in-session documents such as those of the Human Rights Council are produced within one hour of receipt."

They also look better, thanks to a four-colour printing press. This has given it a better reputation, and more business: "The enhanced attractiveness and quality of printing outputs have in turn led to more client requests for our services. Many publications which were previously outsourced are now produced internally."

The full story is available in its updated brochure.

Source: UNOG