Timbuktu Treasures at Risk

Sankoré Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

[scrollGallery id=2] The recent military coup in Mali not only severed the country in two, but also put valuable artifacts in the northern ancient city of Timbuktu at risk. The desert enclave, where Islamic civilization thrived centuries ago near the Niger River, was invaded by Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists soon after the March 22 … Read more

In Tiny Guinea-Bissau, Ruthless Politics and Cool Refrain

Bissau port

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau — Guinea-Bissau’s presidential election on March 18 and the shooting of the country’s former military intelligence that evening caught the world’s attention briefly, as rumors of a coup festered. So far, that has not happened. Since then, more prominent West African nations have snagged international attention: the presidential election run-off in Senegal, in … Read more

Leaving Liberia, a ‘Fragile State’

ellen loej

Top United Nations officials generally wait until they leave their jobs before they speak candidly about the conditions they faced and the problems that remain. So Ellen Margrethe Loj, who has ended her four years as UN special envoy in Liberia, did not mince words in New York about Liberia’s painful recovery and challenging elections, … Read more

 

Congolese Warlord Found Guilty in Court’s First-Ever Trial

Thomas Lubanga

Thomas Lubanga, the Congolese militant accused of war crimes by recruiting child soldiers under age 15 to fight in conflicts in the eastern region of his country, has been found guilty of the war crimes by a three-judge chamber presiding at his case at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The decision was made … Read more

A Science Prize Complicates Life at Unesco and for the US

unesco science prize

Unesco is keeping a $3 million science prize after debating for months whether to drop the controversial award, which is meant to help fight diseases and was donated by the government of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea. With 33 years in office, he is Africa’s longest-serving dictator. The vote to keep the … Read more

BOOKS

A Search for Truth Behind UN Motives in Africa

lumumba and congo

“How can a beret colored blue … vaccinate against the racism and paternalism of people whose only vision of Africa is lion hunting, slave markets and colonial conquest; people for whom the history of civilization is built on the possession of colonies?” The question was asked by Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese premier, who was worried … Read more

Verdict on Congolese Rebel About to Be Made

ICC first verdict

The International Criminal Court is ready to announce its first-ever verdict, in the trial of Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord accused of committing war crimes for recruiting child soldiers under age 15. The verdict will be read on March 14 at the court’s headquarters in The Hague, where the judicial body began operating in 2004. … Read more

 

GOINGS-ON

Where Will the News Be in 2012?

Even before unforeseen events like natural disasters or outbreaks of new conflicts occur this year, as they always do, 2012 will be full of important political news, with elections not only in the United States but also around the world, some in countries that are crucial to the stability of their regions. The International Peace … Read more

A Charity to Run, and Keeping Up With UN Folks

A newly hired radio staff in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, test their skills on producing a program on the virtues of breast milk for an experiment run by a former UN Radio professional. FRED ECKHARD

  OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — It turns out that in this small, landlocked West African country, the United Nations has a full plate of programs going and that former UN staffers can’t pull themselves away from here, immersed in projects they started themselves. My own investment in the country started with Solidarité Goëlo-Burkina, a nonprofit … Read more

GOINGS-ON

The International Court’s New Prosecutor

Fatou Bensouda has been named the new prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, nominated by consensus by the Assembly of States Parties, which manages the court. She begins her nine-year term on June 16, 2012. Bensouda replaces Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine who seeks the spotlight and has served as the court’s first and only prosecutor, … Read more

 

Congo Elections, Hardly a ‘Hinge Moment’

One of Africa’s largest, poorest and most violent countries will have its second election – presidential and parliamentary – on Nov. 28, after overcoming a dictatorship, a coup and two brutal civil wars. The Democratic Republic of Congo, independent since 1960 from Belgium, remains a glaring paradox, however, with enormous mineral wealth plumbed alongside extreme … Read more

More Refugees Flee the Horn of Africa for Yemen

In the Horn of Africa, where drought and political violence have already cost thousands of lives this year, desperate people are turning to the sea to escape intolerable conditions all around them. They are landing by the thousands in the dangerous chaos of Yemen. In October alone, more than 12,000 people, mostly from Somalia and … Read more

WORLDVIEWS

Sticking With a Story After the Media Forget

Do you want know what happens to news reports in parts of the world after they seemingly drop from the front page? Do you get frustrated by constant coverage of certain stories at the expense of others? Do you think that the US media and the US foreign policy establishment should pay some attention to … Read more

Seven Billion? What It Looks Like in Nine Countries

The world may look more diverse than ever as it hits the seven billion population mark, though scratch below the teeming surface and you discover similarities in rich and poor countries alike. Problems of urban density, youth unemployment, elderly care and scarcer resources are shared across all economic and regional spectrums. By interviewing people in … Read more

 

Climate Change, Migrations and Few Welcome Mats

Climate change is being linked to such far-flung situations as rising seas that threaten to sink small island nations and drying up vast regions in Africa, which has spurred large upheavals of people, most recently in Somalia.

This week, the complicated topic of environmental shifts and their effect on migration was tackled at a lunchtime panel sponsored by the International Peace Institute with the Portuguese and German governments. This summer, the subject was debated for the first time at the United Nations Security Council when Germany assumed the presidency in July.

Human migration is an ancient adaptation strategy rooted in the desire to find a better life, and today the phenomenon still reflects that urge. But climate change and related food scarcity problems have created new pressures that few countries can handle or understand. Take Somalia again, where the drought in the Horn of Africa has led to hundreds of thousands of people displaced, straining relations with Kenya while heightening warfare within its own borders.

The Peace Institute discussion focused on how multilateral institutions are being forced to address climate change and migration, despite relative inexperience in the matter. The speakers were Udo Janz, the director of the New York office of the UN high commissioner for refugees; Susan Martin, the executive director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Michele Klein Solomon, the permanent observer to the UN for the International Organization for Migration. Warren Hoge, senior adviser for external relations at the Peace Institute, moderated (http://www.ipacademy.org/news/general-announcement/276-environmental-migrants-climate-change-and-human-migration.html).

Dialogue on climate shifts and human movement remain contentious. As Professor Martin pointed out in her scholarly talk, projections of numbers have not been borne out. Experts in the environment and in migration have not been conversing with each other, though that is improving, she said.

The problem is that “there has been a great deal of disagreement about what the actual causal or determinative linkages are between environmental change on one hand and human migration on the other,” she said.

Moving away from projections, migration experts are now focusing on the ground, Professor Martin said. Migration is pushed by various factors that include economics, social relationships, politics and national and human security. The environment is an important factor, but seldom is it the only reason that people move.

Climate change affects mobility gradually from, say, rising sea levels, making life uninhabitable; increasing droughts and desertification, especially disrupting agricultural livelihoods; severe hazards like cyclones, causing sudden displacement; and intense competition for scarce resources, sowing conflicts and tension.

In addition, migration patterns vary widely and can change overnight, as in the Somalia crisis. The movements can be temporary (a few days or months) or permanent; internal (most within borders); and international – most people head to neighboring countries, where problems are slightly less extreme. For example, desperate Somalis who made the boat journey to Yemen had no idea the country was battling a civil war, so some returned home.

Migration is expected to continue mainly in developing countries, given the costs of going long distances, notably from poor to wealthier nations. One big concern, Professor Martin said, are those who can’t leave, “the most vulnerable amongst us.”

As for policies to help fix the problems, Professor Martin recommended that “pre-migration” phases focus on mitigation and adaptation – like developing coping skills to contend with unfolding dramas and finding strategies for reducing disaster risks.

Somalian refugees at an internal camp in Mogadishu. Nearly four million Somalians, half the country, have had their lives severely disrupted by the recent drought, leading to forced migration and deadly conflicts.
STUART PRICE/UN PHOTO

Yet some migration, she acknowledged, is inevitable, through either a spontaneous departure to a new location or a planned relocation, as with small island countries. Both paths involve challenges of integration or reintegration. More important, Professor Martin said, migration doesn’t end with the arrival of people in a new place but “with how they are received.”

Laws and policy programs addressing all forms of movements and phases are weak except for emergencies, particularly related to conflict, which fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Policies are almost nonexistent for slow-forming situations, especially for ones across borders. Some treaties are evolving for internal displacement, but most are not binding. The African Union has adopted a convention of rights of internally displaced people, though it is not in force yet. Meanwhile, African populations are the fastest-growing in the world, the UN says, increasing the number of people at risk in many places and putting greater pressures on natural resources.

Klein Solomon of the International Organization for Migration, which consists of 132 member countries that is independent of the UN, reiterated much of Professor Martin’s remarks but summarized her group’s function in migration policy discussions.

For example, IOM, as it is known, is researching situations and trends and bringing people together to talk at national and international levels, like climate change scientists with migration experts and political groups with development communities.

Janz of the UN refugee office repeatedly linked increased displacement of people to environmental factors such as natural disasters, which he said are growing in number and intensity. But he mainly concentrated his talk on drought and desertification in Africa and the plight of low-lying island countries in the Pacific, all problems stemming from climate change, he said.

“Drought and desertification are at the core of serious challenges and threats facing sustainable development,” Janz said, adding that land degradation is a major cause of forced migration and incites violent conflicts over dwindling natural resources, food insecurity and starvation, loss of biological diversity and homes, poor health and rising poverty.

Two-thirds of Africa is classified as desert or dry land, primarily in the Horn of Africa and the Kalahari Desert, farther south. More droughts are predicted, Janz said, while arid conditions are pushing more people out of their homes internally. The greatest people affected are at the lowest end, settling in the outskirts of urban areas or suboptimal coastal lands.

The effects of the drought in Somalia are threatening up to 750,000 more lives, the UN says. Unusually, some herders and their livestock have even gone to live in Mogadishu, the capital, hardly a city with a welcome mat. Women and children bear the heaviest burden, making weeks-long treks to presumed safety while risking sexual assault as their men stay behind to tend whatever livestock remains.

Sea-level rises in the Pacific are not just about islands disappearing but entire populations having to vacate long before then, Janz said, because of salinization in otherwise arable land. Twenty-two countries with up to 9.2 million people could be without homes and livelihoods.

“What can we do?” he asked. UN and other international organizations must develop efficient adaptive mechanisms, he suggested, among other actions, while countries should be more responsible for developing responses for areas prone to disasters, like Bangladesh. There, Janz said, the region is constantly vulnerable to cyclones, but a flexible shelter program has helped people manage.

Libya’s Leaders, the UN Says, Value Democracy

Very soon after the reported death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Surt on Oct. 20, the United Nations responded with a statement by the secretary-general calling for reconciliation and national unity and with a press conference live from Tripoli featuring Ian Martin, the head of the UN’s new political mission in Libya, which was set … Read more

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