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BLUE SMOKE: A monthly column, from PassBlue and UNA–UK, spotlighting senior appointments at the UN

Trending UN News: Week Ending Feb. 17

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Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Vanessa Frazier and Pascale Baeriswyl at the UN Security Council on Feb 14, 2023
Malta led a Security Council debate on how sea-level rise is affecting global peace and security, Feb. 14. From left, Ambassadors Linda Thomas-Greenfield of US, Vanessa Frazier of Malta and Pascale Baeriswyl of Switzerland. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that sea-level rise is threatening lives and jeopardizing access to water, food and health care worldwide. More concerted action, he noted, would be reducing carbon emissions. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

This week, we focus on the rising humanitarian crises in the world as the situation in Türkiye and Syria deepens.

You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, we look at the enormous appeals by the UN for financial aid amid the crippling humanitarian needs across the world.

• Welcome to the world, Iman! Kyrgyzstan’s envoy to the UN, Aida Kasymalieva, gave birth to a girl on Jan. 19, possibly the first UN ambassador while in office to do so. She told PassBlue that she was back to work, though mostly online!

• In Mali, Force Commander Lieut. Gen. Cornelis Matthijssen, of the Netherlands, has recently stepped down. His successor could be in place by June. Until then, the acting force commander is Maj. Gen. Mamadou Gaye of Senegal. Our recent story by Joe Penney on Mali’s tilting alliance with Russia and the threat of a civil war.

• Don’t miss our new monthly newsletter, Blue Smoke, produced with UNA-UK, throwing much-needed light on the secretive process of how the UN picks its top brass. The new effort requires money and time, of course, so please donate to PassBlue to ensure that the newsletter thrives. If you are a subscriber, you’ll get the monthly item automatically in your in-box. Reach out to us in total confidence at hello@bluesmoke.blog with any information you think should be included in the newsletter.

Sunday, Feb. 12

World Radio Day: How Community Radio Helped Liberate Women’s Voices: Chloé Cosson chronicles a chapter in her maternal grandmother’s life who, despite being a housewife with seven children, gave life to others through the radio in Bourgogne, France. Cosson, who produces her own podcast, discusses the importance of radio and the wide gender disparity in the industry as the world marks Radio Day on Feb. 13.

Monday, Feb. 13

UN Members to Mark the 1-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War on Ukraine: Kourosh Ziabari reports on a draft resolution circulating among the UN’s 193 countries that emphasizes the need for a “just and lasting peace” for Ukraine as Russia’s full-fledged attack enters its second year. Meanwhile, Western diplomats are shooting for as many positive votes as possible in the General Assembly next week, when it votes on the draft resolution, most likely in the afternoon of Feb. 23, and marks Russia’s yearlong devastation against its neighbor.

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• Spokesperson’s briefing: Humanitarian groups are stressing that priorities in the areas affected by the Turkish-Syrian earthquakes of Feb. 6 include heavy machines for debris removal; medical supplies, including ambulances and medicine; shelter and nonfood items, including heating; and emergency food and water, sanitation and hygiene help as the UN sends emergency teams and relief operations to the region. Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief chief, visited Türkiye and Syria during the weekend, conceding on Sunday: “We have so far failed the people of north-west Syria.” When asked about entry points to truck in aid to the rebel-held northwest, Stéphane Dujarric said talks continued with relevant parties, a week after the quakes. [Update: The UN launched a $397 million appeal for three months for Syria; pressured by the UN and the Security Council, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria agreed to open two other cross-border entries from Türkiye into Syria, even though he doesn’t control these areas. Besides Bab al-Hawa, the single Council authorized channel, Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee are now open to UN convoys and its partners; shelter is the top need. On Feb. 14, the first convoy, of 11 trucks from the International Organization for Migration, transported nonfood items into northwest Syria through Bab al-Salam. Yet cross-line aid deliveries, inside Syria, to the northwest remain seriously hindered, a Council member told PassBlue. Responding to criticism about the slow response by the UN to the disaster, Dujarric said: “We can understand the frustration and the anger of people who are in an area, that because of an ongoing conflict and lack of a political agreement are not getting enough aid.” He also confirmed the UN was “aware of three staff members” who died in the quakes. On Feb. 16, the UN launched a $1 billion humanitarian appeal for 5.2 million people in Türkiye for three months to boost government relief. As of Feb. 17, 178 trucks of UN aid have gone into northwest Syria, it said. — D. B. 

Dr. Mustafa Al-Yamani, a neurosurgeon at Bab al-Hawa Hospital, in northwest Syria and supported by the Syrian American Medical Society, treated a baby injured in the quake. “During the first hours after the earthquake, Mohammed’s case was the most difficult among the cases we received. A 3-month-old child arrived without anyone from his family, and his health condition was very sensitive. Until now, we do not know anything about his family, and no one asked about him,” Dr. Al-Yamani said. Mohammed arrived with a fractured skull, so he was put on a ventilator, but his condition remains unstable. SAMS 

• Amid the tumult of dealing with the post-quake crisis, Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN General Assembly what everyone knows: that his Common Agenda to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 was “far off track.” On Feb. 17, as part of a formal SDG stimulus campaign, he called for “the urgent need for a significant increase of finance for sustainable development.” As of November 2022, 37 of 69 of the world’s poorest countries were either at high risk or in debt distress, while one in four middle-income countries, which host most of the extreme poor, were at high risk of fiscal crisis, the UN said.

Tuesday, Feb. 14

Italy Is Hopeful About UN Reform, Especially Its Own Proposal: Italy is leading a proposal to shake up the formation of the UN Security Council by expanding the number of its elected seats, among other credible reform ideas. That includes dropping more veto power. In this interview with PassBlue’s Dulcie Leimbach, Maurizio Massari, Italy’s envoy to the UN, described the Uniting for Consensus plan as a “win-win” solution.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: In Bangladesh, the World Food Program said it faced a dire funding shortfall, forcing the agency to reduce “essential” food aid for the first time since the Rohingya refugee crisis emerged six years ago. The first-envisioned ration cut is from $12 to $10 per person a month, triggering an “immense and long-lasting impact on food security and nutrition.” Unless there is immediate international support soon, more cuts may be needed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s readout of a call with Guterres on the opening of two cross-border aid channels from Türkiye into Syria for three months (see Feb. 13) may need to be put into an “expanded” Security Council resolution “to give the UN and humanitarian actors the flexibility and predictability they need to more effectively deliver aid to people in need in Syria.” For now, the Council remains fixed on ensuring aid gets through the three cross-border channels, and no resolution is to be voted on yet as some Council members want to see how the new flexibility of the Assad government can be maximized for cross-line deliveries amid the catastrophe.

Wednesday, Feb. 15

• Spokesperson’s briefing: With the full-scale war by Russia in Ukraine entering its second year, the UN relief chief, Martin Griffiths, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi have launched an appeal of a whopping $5.6 billion in Geneva to ease the plight of millions of people in Ukraine and those who have fled. “We are shaking trees in order to get as much money as possible,” Dujarric said to a reporter’s question about donor “fatigue” from so many humanitarian crises worldwide.

Thursday, Feb. 16

Optimism From West Africa: Sierra Leone and Liberia Have Escaped the Conflict Trap: After enduring a tough year with peacekeeping missions, especially in Africa, there seems to be rising optimism, based on such past UN peace operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have escaped the conflict trap. It has been 20 years since these West African countries’ civil wars ended, and Alan Doss analyzes how they have staved off fighting and whether they can keep the status with presidential elections scheduled later this year.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN has launched yet another appeal — $1.3 billion for Nigeria — to help six million people in three northeastern states. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, said “the large-scale humanitarian and protection crisis” in the three states shows no sign of abating as 2.4 million people, 80 percent of them women and children, face acute need affected by conflict, disease and disaster.

Ian Borg, Pedro Comissário Afonso and Verónica Macamo
At the sea-level rise debate in the Security Council: Verónica Macamo, Mozambique’s foreign affairs minister, and Ian Borg, Malta’s counterpart, Feb. 14, 2023. Borg said about the topic: “Malta was the first country in the world to bring this challenge to the United Nations a number of years ago, and today we have maintained the same commitment to see that this matter becomes an essential part of an international discussion.” JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Friday, Feb. 17

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Voice of America reporter asked the deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, about a letter sent by US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R, Texas) to Guterres regarding the financial scandal that surfaced last spring at the UN Office for Project Services (Unops). The letter says the US mission to the UN has not been given access to the results of the UN’s probe on the matter, “which raises significant doubt about the UN’s commitment to transparency and accountability while also inhibiting U.S. efforts to ensure sufficient reforms are implemented.” Has the UN refused to share the results? Haq: “I wouldn’t have any comment about internal investigations, which are by definition internal. I’ll check to see whether we received the letter from Mr. McCaul, and if so, what response we have to that.”

Separately, a reporter asked about current rules for UN staff to work at New York City headquarters, stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. Reply: “Most staff are in fact encouraged to be back in the building. Depending on offices, managers have the authority to ask for people at this stage to be here at work three days a week and to have the option to work from home up to two days a week.”

ICYMI: 

“USAID’s Workforce System Is Broken: Can Samantha Power Fix It?”: Devex article on the former UN ambassador’s role in the US State Department agency

• “China and Russia Fail to Defund Human Rights Work” in the UN, essay by Human Rights Watch

• “The Key to Eliminating Gender Bias Is to Change Perceptions of Women,” an essay by Shamila Nair-Bedouelle of the UN Environment Program for the blog published by the New York-based Konrad Adenaur Stiftung UN office


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the numerous humanitarian crises globally?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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Trending UN News: Week Ending Feb. 17
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