Five Stories to Follow During UN Week

Hundreds of world leaders make their annual pilgrimage to New York for the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.  This is what is on their agenda.

1) Millennium Development Goals

When: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

What: Before the UN General Assembly officially kicks off, presidents and prime ministers will gather at the UN for a summit on 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  These are a set of eight anti poverty and global health targets that world leaders set for themselves in 2000. They are due in 2015 and progress, so far, has been mixed.

Some of the goals will be met, but that is mostly because the rapid economic development of China and India over the past decade lifted millions out of poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind on most indicators.  The idea behind this summit is to inject some political will and secure new commitments that will close the gap to reaching the MDGs. To that end, all summer long, diplomats have been pouring over the text of a “summit outcome document” that heads of state will endorse when they arrive in New York.

Expect world leaders to laud progress made toward some of the goals, and lay out some grand new commitments to achieving others. Whether they follow through on those commitments is another story.

2) Women and Children First

WHEN: Wednesday

WHAT:   Not all of the MDGs have been approached equally. The Goals farthest from their targets are Goal 4 (a two-thirds reduction in child mortality) and Goal 5 (a three quarters reduction in maternal mortality and universal access to family planning). Progress toward these goals have been particularly stunted in 49 of the least developed countries in the world, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In late August UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released a Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health, which calls for an additional $26 billion to reach these goals.  The summit outcome document (see item 1) endorsed this plan in principal.  On Wednesday, the Secretary General is convening a meeting of major donors and recipient countries, philanthropists and private partners to secure tangible commitments toward implementing the plan. “We want developing countries to come to the table with policy commitments and donor countries will come to the table with financial commitments,” says UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant who met with a group of journalists last week to preview the event.

The UN says more than 15 million deaths of children under five could be prevented; 33 million unwanted pregnancies could be avoided; and 740,000 women would be saved from dying from complications during child birth should these efforts be fully implemented.  No one predicts that $26 billion of additional funding will suddenly materialize during the UN meeting. But most UN watchers do expect that convening this meeting will result in a big dent in the funding gap for women’s and children’s health.

3) Can Pakistan Get Some Relief?

WHEN: Friday

WHAT:  The waters are beginning to recede, but Pakistan’s epic floods remain the single worst natural disaster in recent history. It has affected more people than the Haiti earthquake, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake…combined.

On Friday afternoon, there will be a special meeting on Pakistan flood relief, prior to which the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (which is sort of like the UN’s FEMA) has released a new estimate of what it will cost to fund humanitarian operations in Pakistan for the rest of the year. The UN is now asking donors for an additional $1.6 billion to support relief efforts.

These funds pay for the emergency work of UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program and international NGOs like Save the Children and CARE International which are delivering food rations, providing emergency shelter, schooling displaced children and offering health care for people affected by the floods.

If past is prologue, expect donors to come up short on funding. It has been over one month since the UN launched its initial $460 million emergency appeal for Pakistan flood relief.  To date only about 80% of that emergency funding has been committed by donors.

4) Trying to Avert Disaster in Sudan

WHEN: Friday

WHAT. Sudan is very close to another civil war.  Its southern provinces will vote for independence in early January, and the central government has made it clear it does not want to lose its grip on the oil-rich southern region. (At least, not without a fight.)

In the lead up to this vote, the Obama administration is ramping up its diplomatic efforts to avert an outbreak of violence, which intelligence analysts believe would likely result in mass atrocity or even genocide. Last week, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration met with leaders in Khartoum to present a package of diplomatic enticements—including an easing of some U.S. sanctions—should Sudan allow the referenda to go forward and respect the results.

On Friday afternoon, countries will meet with Sudanese representatives on the sidelines of the General Assembly.  The administration hopes that this meeting will galvanize international support for a peaceful independence referendum.

This meeting represents one of the few times that Sudan is dealt with directly by the president himself — President Obama will speak directly to Sudanese representatives at the meeting. That, itself, is a boon for the prospect of a peaceful referendum. Still, Sudan watchers and those in the advocacy community will be eager to see if some diplomatic sticks are presented along with these carrots.

5) The Curious Case of Paul Kagame

WHEN: Thursday

Muammar Ghadaffi will not be around this year to work translators into the ground, but Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez can be counted on to put on their usual show at the General Assembly.  This year, though, particular attention will be paid to the remarks of Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

Kagame came to power as the leader of a militia that was able to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  In the years since, Kagame has been a darling of the international community.  Rwanda has experienced tremendous economic growth and is on pace to meet many of the MDGs.  Ban Ki Moon even appointed Kagame to co-chair a body called the “Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group.”

But there is a problem. Two weeks ago a the French newspaper Le Monde published the leaked contents of a draft UN report that accuses the Rwandan army (read: Kagame’s Tutsi militia) of committing genocide against Hutus as they fled Rwanda for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Needless to say, the Rwandan government was very, very displeased to see that in the paper.  The government even threatened to withdraw their troops from UN peacekeeping, which would effectively dissolve the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

This sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity. The top UN human rights official delayed the publication of the report for at least until October. And on September 8, Ban Ki Moon paid an emergency visit to Rwanda to convince Kagame to maintain his commitment to UN peacekeeping.

Expect Kagame to receive some extra-special attention from diplomats in New York.  More than just the usual crowd will tune in when he addresses the General Assembly on Thursday.