UN Peacekeeping, and a Pub Quiz?

A UN Peacekeeper in Africa
A UN Peacekeeper in Africa. Photo: Flickr/Julien Harneis

I often play Pub Quiz on my iPhone as I’m waiting for the bus. Recently, I was
intrigued by one question in particular – or more specifically, by the answer:

In which country – apart from India and Bangladesh – is Bengali an official language?

A) United States

B) Sierra Leone

C) Canada

The correct answer is: Sierra Leone. Did you get this right? 

World Water Week 2011

Queuing for water. Photo: Oxfam International/flickr

For many of us, water is such a fixture of everyday life that we take it for granted and even waste it — forgetting that more than 1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to it at all. Today, clean, safe drinking water is scarce. Though a basic human need, so many people around the world spend much of their time searching for it and, too often, failing to find it.

The 2011 World Water Week lasts from 21 to 27 August in Stockholm, Sweden– hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Humanitarian Issues

A ‘Complex Emergency’ in the Horn of Africa

Famine in Somalia. Source United Nations/flickr

Biafra, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia… the same story, the same heartbreaking pictures of children starving, and the same anger: These children are not starving because there is not enough food. They are starving because their governments – or whatever is left of them – have failed and are failing to handle this crisis.

The famine and refugee crisis in Somalia, said to be the result of the worst drought in 60 years has left the international community floundering to address it. The crisis is the result of a combination of a two-decade old civil war and the second famine in 20 years. In response Somalis are fleeing to Mogadishu or Kenyan refugee camps. Families are compelled to leave behind the weak and disabled – including babies – on the long walk through conflict and drought zones in search of a means of survival. Most Somalis head to the Dadaab camp in Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp. It is seriously overcrowded – with an official capacity to hold 90,000 people, it currently hosts more than 420,000.

Many of those who manage to reach to the camp die waiting to enter, as there are endless lines at the registration offices. And even those who enter the camp face a new risk of violence: the local marauding gangs and criminals in the camp. Men are beaten and women raped. The Kenyan police say they do not have enough manpower to stop them.

Pakistan: A Failed State?

Pakistani protests over failed electricity distribution management. Photo: groundreporter/flickr

The term failed state is often used to describe a state perceived as having failed to meet some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of sovereign government. In international law, a failed state is one that, “though retaining legal capacity, has for all practical purposes lost the ability to exercise it.” According to the Fund for Peace that just released its seventh annual Failed State Index (FSI), a failed state is characterized by:

  1. loss of physical control of its territory or loss of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force;
  2. the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions;
  3. an inability to provide reasonable public services; and
  4. an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

The FSI is made up of 12 social, economic and political indicators − each split into an average of 14 sub-indicators. The Fund for Peace bases its assessment primarily on content analysis of thousands of electronically available articles and reports that are processed by special software.

According to the latest index scores, Pakistan ranks 12th out of 177 countries examined.

Gorkhaland for Sale

Gorkhaland: compromise or sell out? Photo: Rak’s/flickr

The newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, announced on 7 June that the West Bengal state government has come to an agreement with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party leading the agitation for a separate Gorkha state since 2007. Gorkhaland was supposed to be carved out of West Bengal in India and encompass the current district of Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills.

Darjeeling district is culturally distinct from the rest of the state by its primary language (Nepali instead of Bengali) and its character as a melting pot of religions and ethnicities (various indigenous tribes and immigrants from Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan). Now the leaders of the GJM have dropped the demand for a separate state and instead reached an agreement with the West Bengal government to form a new hill council with elected representatives to govern in a semi-autonomous fashion.

It seems that history has just repeated itself. The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland is not new. In the 1980s, Subhas Ghisingh and his Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led a violent two-year conflict for a separate Gorkhaland state. In 1988 Ghisingh accepted a political settlement, signing a tripartite agreement with the governments in Kolkata and New Delhi that gave partial autonomy to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGCH), the governing body for the district of Darjeeling.