Special to WorldTribune.com
Presidents, Prime Ministers, Potentates and Kings have assembled in New York for the opening sessions of the 77th UN General Assembly. The annual event, which was sidelined and subdued by the COVID pandemic, seems to be back in stride but lacking a bit of the buzz and expectations of previous years.
Delegations from 193 UN member states meet under the gathering clouds of global discord, conflict, and natural disasters. The Ukraine war and ensuing refugee and humanitarian crisis. Conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Burma/Myanmar. Drought and famine in Subsaharan Africa are juxtaposed with terrible flooding in Pakistan. And then there are the “broken countries” Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Libya to name a few.
And all of these concerns come with the backdrop of a post-pandemic world economic slowdown and particular economic and energy shocks among the United States and many of the key European countries which are major providers of international humanitarian aid and assistance. Germany for example, given its serious energy shortages and economic slowdown has trimmed its once expansive humanitarian aid budget by almost $400 million!
Procedurally Hungarian diplomat Csaba Korosi becomes President of the 77th Assembly for a one-year term. As per tradition, Brazil’s President will speak first followed by the American president.
Equally, the Assembly opens to the somber backdrop of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II who is fondly remembered as an extraordinary leader not only of the United Kingdom but of the Commonwealth of 56 states. She was Head of State for fifteen UN members including Australia, Canada, Jamaica and New Zealand. Diplomats viewed her as a global statesperson.
Let’s review some key concerns.
The international community faces war in Europe. Just a year ago, few observers assumed that Ukraine’s long smoldering conflict with Russia would explode into war. Then Vladimir Putin’s Russia attacked and attempted to further dismember independent Ukraine. The global community to its credit largely responded quickly and effectively. UN Security Council meetings have isolated and hampered Moscow’s ambitions. But diplomacy failed in February to prevent the war, fighting not seen on this scale since the Second World War.
Today Ukraine faces occupation, destruction and a tragic refugee flow into Europe. More than 11 million Ukrainians have fled the fighting both as internally displaced persons or as refugees to find solace in neighboring Poland and Germany. But beyond refugees there are credible reports of Deportations. So called Filtration Camps, a banal phrase representing a noxious system of controversial processing centers for Ukrainian civilians within their own country using systemic detention, “procession” and forced deportations into the depths of Russia. Reports of up to two million Ukrainians including large numbers of children have gone through this process.
One sign of hope is the UN’s successfully concluded Black Sea Grain Initiative which allows for reopening blockaded Ukrainian ports so that food, grain and wheat may be shipped. More than one hundred ships have carried 2.3 million metric tons of foodstuffs thus far.
Syria’s brutal conflict between the Assad family dictatorship and a gaggle of militant opposition forces and militias has continued for over a decade. More than 500,000 have died, the country has suffered massive destruction of many key cities and towns, and the numbers of Syrians displaced within their own country stands at 7 million. Moreover, more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees have fled largely to Turkey, Jordan and Germany.
Political solutions for crises like Syria remain elusive since the UN Security Council deadlocked in classic cold war showdown; Russia and China will simply not support diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting.
Recurring droughts and famines have sadly been a hallmark of Sub-Saharan Africa. Countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Somalia have endured this natural scourge for generations. Mali faces famine and an Islamic insurgency. Famine stalks Ethiopia too but that country’s government is fighting an ethnic conflict in the northern Tigre region.
Somalia faces famine with a humanitarian crisis brought on by the worst drought in forty years. Over 8 million people, almost half the population are now affected.
From drought to flooding, Pakistan has sustained heavy Monsoon rains since mid-June inundating large parts of the country. UN Secretary Antonio Guterres visited the South Asian country to assess the damage where a third of the landmass in under water and is facing food and shelter problems for 33 million families.
The world faces war, humanitarian disasters and ill economic headwinds. Sadly, there’s a chance that crisis overload and political squabbling will sidetrack any serious and meaningful solutions.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]
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