Somalia, deforestation among UN list of ‘10 Stories the World Should Hear More About’
Does deforestation improve or worsen human health? What exactly has happened in Somalia since Hollywood released a film called “Black Hawk Down?” How can farmers living at the mercy of middle men far from urban centres in Africa, Asia, or Latin America learn how much their produce is worth in distant markets?
These are among the questions members of the public might ask and which are answered by what the head of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), Shashi Tharoor, presented today, on World Press Freedom Day, as “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About.”
“Our list presents a wide spectrum of matters of concern to many, many people around the world, and we look forward to working with media everywhere to help raise the profile of these stories,” Mr. Tharoor, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said at a seminar on the role of media in promoting tolerance.
If it were asked the first answer, DPI would point to UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reports from scientists who “have identified a loathsome catalogue of infectious diseases that have revived and thrived in places where natural habitats are altered or degraded by loggers, road and dam builders and urban encroachment.”
“A team from Johns Hopkins University in the United States found that even a 1 per cent increase in deforestation in Peru increases the number of malaria-bearing mosquitoes by 8 percent,” it says. Malaria mosquitoes are also breeding in stagnant water in shallow gem-mining pits in Sri Lanka.
In the United States, “cases of the tick-borne Lyme disease in New York and Connecticut have surged as humans have moved into forested areas where tick-carrying deer thrive,” it says.
The lack of security in Somalia, which has endured the longest period of state collapse in recent history, has kept “the presence of international media to a minimum at a time when this story needs a bright light from the outside helping to put all parties on notice that the world is watching,” DPI says.
The UN system is providing Somalis with humanitarian and development assistance, where possible, but “greater media exposure can also help to mobilize humanitarian aid to the country which continues to face drought and famine in addition to the recent deaths and damage to its coastline and fishing villages from the recent Indian Ocean tsunami,” it says.
On “Farming in the Dark,” DPI says, “Poor farmers have little chance of getting a fair price for their produce if they don’t know how much markets beyond their villages are willing to pay. The Internet is levelling their playing field through schemes such as INFOSHARE.”
With market information being “a central plank in efforts to break out of the poverty cycle,” the example it gives is that INFOSHARE, run by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is allowing thousands of remote cocoa and coffee farmers in Cameroon, West Africa, to gain access to the latest market news.
The farmer’s share of the price of a package of coffee sold off the supermarket shelf has fallen from 37 per cent in the early 1990s to between 6 and 8 per cent in the new millennium, while cocoa producers get about 7 per cent of the supermarket value, DPI says.
Other underplayed stories include the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) encouraging farmers in Turkey and Thailand to plant legal plants instead of the opium poppies used to make heroin, the post-conflict successes of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the abduction, murders, mutilation and other abuse of northern Ugandan children by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), DPI says.
Two other underplayed stories are: the emergence of more than 100 human rights institututions in recent years, each one active in working to prevent abuses ranging from torture to discrimination to conflict resolution; and the continuing global epidemic of violence against women, with the abuse usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have been campaigning in 30 countries in Asia and Africa against obstetric fistula, a childbirth complication which can kill the child and leave the mother with chronic incontinence. Doctors say it could be prevented if girls were allowed to marry later and received adequate health care during pregnancy and delivery.
Although the world responded generously after Hurricane Ivan devastated the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada last September, seven months later the UN Development Programme (UNDP reports that the producer of nutmeg and other spices “is living proof of how difficult it can be to translate outpourings of international assistance into recovery and reconstruction,” DPI says.