World Food Day: Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis
Sunday, January 17, 2010
11:06 AM
UNITED NATIONS— On Thursday, October 29, World Food Day was observed at the United Nations Headquarters where Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other notable speakers gave remarks to an assembly about the severity of the rapidly growing number of individuals that are malnourished throughout the world.

The situation in rural areas in developing countries is dire, coming in the wake of the surge in food and fuel prices in the past two years. 70 percent of the world’s hungry are on small-scale farms. The second crisis is hitting the poor. Money sent home from relatives working in the city or abroad has declined as the global unemployment rate quickly rises. In small agricultural fields, the poor have already exhausted their savings to buy food. In addition, there have been cut backs on health and education for these individuals.

The food crisis impacts most individuals in developing countries, predominantly in Africa and southern Asia. Over 1 billion individuals are hungry and malnourished with an increase of 100 million people just last year! This means that approximately one in six persons in the world suffers from hunger every day. Ki-moon stressed the importance for these individuals to gain immediate access to food and agricultural development while building canals and irrigation systems to provide clean, drinkable water.

“There has been an unacceptable rise in hungry people in the past two years,” emphasized Ki-moon. “We need even greater efforts to help those affected. We must invest in food production and distribution and there also needs to be political and financial support.”

As developing countries are more financially and commercially integrated in the world economy, a drop in the global demand or supply and in credit availability has immediate repercussions on them. Also, because of the widespread nature of the crisis, the normal mechanisms used by governments and households to cope with economic shocks are stretched thin, added Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Even though food prices have declined overall, they remain high in developing countries and there is still the possibility of another food crisis if concerted action is not taken to achieve food security,” stated Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations. “Food security is not only about alleviating hunger, it is a complex and interrelated issue that concerns peace and well-being, economic security, environmental stability, the empowerment of women and sustainable development.”

Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, food price index rose, on average by 52 percent from mid-2007 to mid-2008. For example, global cereal prices are still more than 63 percent higher than they were in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund. Factors that initially caused the food crisis are still present: the population growth rate is still high in many of the most food insecure countries, agricultural productivity is low, water availability and land tenure are significant problems and the number of floods and droughts is above long-term averages.

According to the World Food Bank, in 2008, officially recorded remittances accounted for around $300 billion USD. The current economic slowdown means a sharp decline in remittances sent home to poor families in both rural and urban settings. It is clear that the most vulnerable and hungry individuals need help now.

“I believe that moments of crisis often inspire people to action,” exclaimed Dr. Abdussalam Treki, President of the United Nations General Assembly.

The first step in reaching the hungry is to know their identity, location and situation. Monitoring food pricing helps governments keep tabs on hunger hotspots both within countries and communities. Safety nets and social programs must be created to catch the most vulnerable. Options include food distribution programs and various feeding programs. Establishing a network of food stamps and direct food aid or “food for work” would also be effective.

Investments of $30 billion USD a year would generate an overall annual benefit of $120 billion USD, which would improve agricultural productivity and enhance the livelihoods and food security in poor rural communities, develop and conserve natural resources and ensure access to food for the most needy through safety nets and other direct assistance.

“The urgency of this matter cannot be overemphasized,” said Heraldo Muñoz, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations. “If we lose this “window of opportunity” to attend to the special needs of post-conflict countries, it will inevitably undermine our efforts for years to come in terms of health, learning capacities and social opportunities and well-being for the populations concerned.”

Worldwide Children’s Immunization Report
11:04 AM
Immunization is essential for child survival. UNICEF reported in 2009 that “the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.” Vaccines have already saved millions of lives over the past three decades, but there are still many more millions of lives that need to be saved. 27 million children under age one and 40 million pregnant women are overlooked annually worldwide by routine immunization services. Therefore, 2 million deaths occur each year due to vaccine-preventable diseases.

In order to ensure progress to full immunization, the UN General Assembly Special Session for Children in 2002 created an agenda that included:

-Reduction of measles deaths by half by 2005
-Certify the global eradication of polio by 2005
-Extend the benefits of new and improved vaccines.

During that year in many developing countries, the immunization rates increased substantially. More than 41 developing countries have now met the agenda, yet there is the constraint of health delivery systems, making it almost impossible to reach those that need help. According to UNICEF, “there is a lack of needed human and financial resources; rapid turnover of trained health workers, especially at the district levels; weak supervision and use of data; competing health priorities; as well as the inability of some public health programs to fully reach very poor families, minorities and those living in remote locations or amid conflict.”

In order to be able to reach these individuals, the main priority must be to target the unreached populations in all areas. Many countries use what is called the Reach Every District Approach in order to seek greater equity and availability of routine immunization services.

Vaccine-preventable diseases cause an estimated 1.4 million deaths in children under five annually. Measles, for example, is one of the largest single killers among the vaccine-preventable diseases, causing an estimated 530,000+ deaths a year. Other vaccine-preventable diseases that cause deaths include: tuberculosis, diphtheria, hepatitis B, rotavirus, pertussis, and pneumococcal disease. The World Health Report predicts, “Vaccines against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus may be widely available in developing countries by 2008-2009.”

UNICEF launched the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy for 2006-2015. Its goals and strategies fall into four areas:

-Immunize more people against more diseases.
-Introduce a range of newly available vaccines and technologies.
-Provide a number of critical health interventions along with immunization.
-Achieve a secure, equitable supply of resources for immunization through collaboration among governments, donors, international organizations and vaccine manufacturers.

Success is believed to be possible, but it is going to take a group effort. For more information on this and other similar topics, go to:

World Health Organization: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation
11:03 AM
The World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund issued a Joint Statement on Female Genital Mutilation in the late 90’s which described the implications of the practice for human rights and public health and declared that the practice should be terminated. Yet stopping the practice of female genital mutilation means the UN must delve deep into the social, economic and political structures of most African countries. Female genital mutilation represents the society’s control over women. It is therefore difficult for both men and women that feel it is wrong in those countries to abandon it, because there has to be great support from the extended community. In an interagency statement of the World Health Organization: “[such mutilation] is often practiced even when it is known to inflict harm upon girls because the perceived social benefits of the practice are deemed higher than its disadvantages.”

Female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting includes all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia that include the clitoris and the labia for cultural, religious, traditional purposes. The WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA classified FGM into four types:

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with or without the excision of the labia majora.

Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting the labia minora and/or the labia majora with or without the excision of the clitoris.

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medial purposes: ie. piercing, incising, scraping, pricking and cauterization.

It is estimated the between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM. It was estimated by Yoder and Khan, spokesmen for the WHO, that a total of 91.5 million girls and women above 9 years old in Africa alone are currently living with the consequences of FGM. The practice of FGM has been documented in 28 countries in Africa and in some countries in Asia, Central and South America, and in the Middle East. Shockingly, in seven countries, the national prevalence of FGM is more than 85%.

Ironically, women are usually responsible with the decision-making and practical arrangements about FGM. Ahmadu, a spokesman for WHO, stated: “in some societies, the practice is embedded in coming-of-age rituals, sometimes for entry into women’s secret societies, which are considered necessary for girls to become adult and responsible members of the society.” Girls may desire to undergo the procedure as a result of social pressure from peers and fear of rejection by their communities. Sometimes, the girls are rewarded with a celebration and gifts if they undergo FGM in some cultures. There is often the expectation that men will not marry a woman unless she has undergone FGM. “The desire for a proper marriage, which is often essential for economic and social security as well as for fulfilling local ideals of womanhood and femininity, may account for the persistence of the practice.”

FGM can cause many serious health consequences. The process is traumatic and most girls experience pain and bleeding after the procedure. Infections can occur, as well as various psychological and physical health problems may arise. Long-term consequences include: infections, decreased sexual enjoyment, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain. There is also an increase for adverse events during childbirth. FGM of mothers has negative effects on their newborn babies; death rates among babies during and immediately after birth were higher for those born to mothers who had undergone genital mutilation compared to those who had not.

Most importantly, FGM is a violation of human rights. It violates the principles of equality and non-discrimination. FGM also violates the rights of the child. Human rights granted children special protection because of their need for care and support. It also violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which refers to the capacity of children to make decisions regarding matters that may affect them.

Action has taken affect and in recent years there has been an increased number of men and women from FGM practicing groups that have declared support for discontinuing the practice. It is important to empower education in order to help individuals examine their own beliefs and values related to FGM and other threatening practices. Schools should offer class discussions about FGM while creating a comfortable environment for women to be in. The media can play a crucial role in informing people about the harmful effects of FGM and therefore encourage positive social change inside communities. Governments should also fulfill their duties to protect and promote the international human rights laws. Bringing an end to FGM requires a long-term commitment. This issue should never be ignored, for it is a dangerous procedure, and a serious issue of human rights.

Volunteerism at the Crossroads in a Changing World
11:02 AM
NEW YORK CITY—On Thursday, February 26, 2009, the United Nations held a Communications Workshop called Volunteerism at the Crossroads in a Changing World. The panelists spoke of how important it is to volunteer and its’ the value and significance for the world, and how ever-growing the number of volunteers is throughout the past decade. “There are signs everywhere of increased participation and interest among the youth,” the moderator, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, explained.

Gillian Sorensen is the Senior Advisor & National Advocate for the UN Foundation and Former Assistant Secretary General at the United Nations. She has also served as the New York City commissioner for the United Nations. Her responsibilities include diplomatic security, housing and education. Sorensen was the special adviser for public policy from 1995-1996 and is a member of the council of foreign relations. She is a big supporter of volunteerism and comes from a family where volunteering is a fact of life. Sorensen has worked for years with different non-governmental organizations that are empowered by volunteerism. “Non-governmental organizations are self organized and are our essential partners,” once stated by Kofi Annan, for Secretary General to the United Nations.

There is sometimes intense competition between non-governmental organizations. In order to rule out the competition, “They have to be moved and motivated to carry things out,” explained Gillian. “We have to be missionaries, especially during hard times.”

Non-governmental organizations are able to bring about political change. There, however, needs to be more encouragement for individuals to join these organizations. The main focuses of the United Nations currently are children’s health, human rights and climate change. It is important to raise tough issues in a frank way. “Speak truth to power,” projected Sorensen. “You love you’re country [therefore] you want it to be the best it can be.”

Bruce Knotts is the Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. That office has been at the UN since 1962. He received his bachelor’s degree in History from Pepperdine University. He once was one of the “most interactive diplomats” for Africa and has spoken with many people from around the world. During the panel, he stressed how important it is to inform young people about the United Nations. “United Nations studies should be incorporated [more] in schools,” suggests Knotts. “The U.N. is not just located on First Avenue.”

Leslie Wright is the President of the Metro Chapter of the US Committee for UNIFEM. She began volunteering as a Sunday school teacher at a young age in her hometown. Wright holds an undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies. She currently volunteers 20 hours a week. “Even though there are many opportunities for young people within the United Nations such as volunteering and internships, it is difficult for some because accreditation and travel serves as a blocker for access to the U.N. It is important to open up the U.N. Briefings to the public and for more non-governmental organizations,” advises Wright. “I recommend that young people stay vigilant, keep sharing ideas, don’t be afraid to take action, download and share information, be informed, there is power in numbers and find good mentors to help you move your agenda forward. Remember that the United Nations is a “political place” and that money talks. It is also important to support your local non-governmental organizations, which is the key to global networking.”

Jenny Han is an outstanding volunteer and student. A current resident of New York City, she is currently a high school senior and actively involved in her student council. She started volunteering at the beginning of high school. Recently, she successfully raised over $5,000 by organizing a benefit concert near her home while meeting many more young volunteers like herself. “It was one of the most rewarding experiences,” Han said. “I would definitely do it again.”

“Impact of the Global Economic Crisis On the Work of NGOs”
11:01 AM
NEW YORK CITY— On Thursday, February 12, 2009, the United Nations addressed the concern as to how NGOs, or Non-Governmental Organizations, will cope with the possible impacts in funding and the ability to effectively support their projects, causes or programs because of the current global financial crisis.

The financial crisis we face today is more devastating and widespread than any economic situation the world has seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The current financial crisis became clearly visible in 2008 with the crash of the housing market, a dramatic decrease in liquidity in the U.S., and the failing of major banks. The poorest in our societies are affected the most by the crisis. The issue with NGOs is that they receive much of their funding from external donations and fundraising. It is becoming more and more critical because less and less individuals are becoming tight with their money as well as governments around the world are becoming much more careful with their spending. Economists have warned NGOs that they need to be prepared for a reduction in financial assistance.

Henk-Jan Brinkman is the Senior Adviser for Economic Policy, World Food Program. From 2001 to 2006, he served as a senior economic affairs officer. He told a brief story about a family in Costa Rica called the Padilla family and how because of the food crisis, they were cutting back. “They are eating less and less well, which can develop into lifelong consequences.” The prices of food started to increase in 2001 and soared in 2006. In accordance with the price per metric tone, rice went up 600 points in 2008 and maize increased drastically in 2008 as well. The governments, especially in third world countries, are spending less in health care and cutting out production of meat products and vegetables. “Children are therefore less healthy.” A study was done in the 90’s that concluded if children are not felt properly during the first two years of their lives, they will receive less pay when they get older.

Brinkman stated that the global financial crisis we are suffering from is the “worst since the Great Depression.” Prices have come down, the dollar has however appreciated a little bit, stocks are low, food prices remain high, there are few tourists, and foreign act investments fell 20% and are predicted to fall 30% lower in the next year.

The solution for NGO’s is proposed to be as follows: to assist governments, to adjust existing programs, to advise government on policies, and to assess and analyze each NGO’s current situation within the financial crisis.

Yuvan A. BeeJadhur is the Counselor for the World Bank, Special Office of the Representative to the United Nations. While traveling around the islands of the Pacific and Caribbran, he noticed there were few to no tourists. Some hotels had less than 20% occupancy during on-season. “There is no time for complacency,” BeeJadhur stated firmly. “Countries should not got to a state economic nationalism.”

The financial crisis can become a human crisis. “There needs to be global action. We need to stress how difficult these times are.”

Daniel Platz is the Economic Affairs Officer, NGI Focal Point, Financing for Development Office of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). The main question asked is ‘how does the crisis affect the developing countries? “There is less access to credit and interest rates are rising,” said Platz. “Global imbalances are getting worse and the oil prices have gone down, which is a problem for “oil” countries.” The global financial crisis began in developed countries and it is now considered to be a world-wide crisis. “The dollar is a reserve currency and has increasing imbalances.”

How do we deal with the financial crisis? We must focus on short term and long term measures. Short term measures include bailout and stimulus packages and long term measures include a universal forum. Those within and apart from the United Nations can make a difference!

“Autism and Human Rights: Understanding and Safeguarding the Rights of People with Autism”
10:59 AM
The United Nations recently held a briefing in the observance of those with autism. The briefing focused on the need to increase education rights and fundamental human rights for those with autism, and to increase understanding of autism and respect of those who combat autism daily. In certain cultures, autism is confused as being a mental illness and as a result, children are neglected from proper care and health benefits, and are often kept at home and hidden from society.

World Autism Day was established by a UN General Assembly resolution in December of 2007 to increase awareness of autism. “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or autism is a developmental disability considered the result of a neurological condition affecting normal brain function, development and social interactions. Families and those closely associated with individuals affected with autism find it difficult or impossible to understand or relate to them. Those with autism find it difficult to communicate with their loved ones due to restrictive patterns of behavior. Great efforts are being made to find a cure, yet there is no known cause or effective treatment. In the United States alone, “1 in 150 people are estimated to have an autism spectrum-related disorder.”

Non-governmental organizations and governments provide the best efforts to give care and support so those with autism can lead as dignified lives as possible. Non-governmental organizations help insure housing and job opportunities, though it still remains an important challenge. Families are the only ones who really know what it is like to be there for their autistic loved one(s). Dealing with it is neither simple nor easy. NGO’s and governments want to increase the help for autistic children and have worked tirelessly.

Dr. Hatem El-Shanti is the Director of the Genetic Medical Center at the Shafallah Center in Qatar. He is also a pediatrician and has a solid track record for genetic research. “There has to be early treatment options,” insisted Dr. El-Shanti. “We need to increase the kills of health care providers in order to detect autism early on.”

Paulo Barrozo is a Professor of Law at Harvard University and Boston College. He has a PhD in Political Science. The next development of human rights is working with those with mental disabilities. “We have to recognize those in need of support. More people need to be included and more international human rights have to be acknowledged,” advised Barrozo. “There needs to be respect and consideration for those involved with autism.”

Evelyne Friedel is the President of Autism Europe. Autism Europe strives to allow people with autism to enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population. She is a lawyer who works in a business law firm. She is also the mother of an autistic child. She explained that autism is a significant lifelong disability, which affects all forms of communication and social interactions. “The autistic represents a particularly excluded population, even among the disabled population themselves,” Friedel made clear. “They also need continuing assistance for safety purposes, intensive education and assistance in activities of daily lives.”

The fundamental rights of these people are rarely effective if positive measures are not adopted. The situations of rights are complex and diverse, the needs are not standard. For those with autism, there needs to be an early diagnosis and early intervention. Other needs include: the right to receive adopted care all life long, a right to work, access to private housing with appropriate guardianship systems, treatment must be limited to their needs and a right to a lifelong education where special schools must be linked or within the mainstream schools. Education for people with autism must include: a preparation for an independent life and adaptive behaviors for school skills.

Lee Grossman is the President and CEO of Autism Society of America. He is also the publisher of the Autism Advocate Journal. (Paulo also works for the Autism Society of America). He also has a two year old son with autism. “You have to appreciate who they are and the wonderful gifts they had,” explained Grossman. “Otherwise autism can decimate a family. The families that have to cope are very heroic.”

The autism community is 10 million large. “We know enough about autism to change it,” Grossman claimed. “The problem is accessibility to help.” Causes of autism include genetic predispositions and environmental factors. To help those strive with autism, we must improve the quality of life, which includes social inclusion, autonomy, health and well being and academic success. “It is important to expand access to treatments, interventions and services. There should be no delay receiving services that can improve the quality of life. There is hope! We can provide this sort of help around the world. At the end of the day, we want to maximize potential and improve the quality of life.”

For more information go to

Pat Matthews is the Executive Director of the Irish Society of Autism. He is also a parent of a child with autism. A startling statistic states that 1 in 100 children are reported to be affected with autism. “Doing nothing is not an option,” stated Matthews. “Those affected need dignity, respect and a life without abuse. We need more autism awareness. Without awareness, we will go nowhere. We need worldwide research to identify the cause of autism. The ball is in our court.”

Stephen Shore is an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. He suffered from the effects of autism as a young child. At 18 months the “autism bomb” dropped. There was a loss of speech, tantrums and environmental withdrawal. He was non-verbal until age 4. “I was lucky because I had parents who advocated for me,” Shore stated reluctantly. “It is important to emphasize sensory integration.” To help him, his parents imitated Shore when he was a young child to help him become more aware of his environment. “Instead, do not think of autism as a bomb. Look at it more positively as “restricted interests.”

Shore is the author of the book “Beyond the Wall,” about personal experiences with autism and aspergers syndrome. Shore stated proudly that, “If you are productive and fulfilled with your life, you are probably successful.”

Location: United Nations Headquarters
Author: Vanessa Pinto
NGO: Manhattanville College

I'm a senior majoring in English. I attend and report on UN Briefings and other meetings from October through May. I published a novel at the age of seventeen and have three years of writing experience for my college newspaper, literary and travel magazine. My focus is magazine & editorial writing and travel documentary. I am also active in global volunteer efforts for peace and interfaith alliance, as well as the promotion of animal rights, women's rights and education, and disaster relief.

UNA-USA: YPIC, World Youth Alliance, GPC, Seeds of Peace, WHO, UNICEF, UN University

All briefings are held at or outside the UN Headquarters in NYC. Contact your NGO to find out how you can attend. Be sure to reserve your spot a week in advance.

More Information
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October 2009
January 2010