- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

Bracing for disaster

The United Nations inaugurated a “virtual network” Thursday to coordinate the international effort against avian flu after scores of world leaders requested technical assistance to fight the feared pandemic.

The office will be based in New York, said its chief, Dr. David Nabarro, although he and a staff of five are likely to spend much of their time traveling to afflicted areas worldwide to halt a virus that could, by World Health Organization estimates, kill tens of millions of people.

Dr. Nabarro, a Briton, has 30 years of experience in community-level and government health work, much of it in Asia, and has held several leadership posts in the WHO.

He said the new office is working to assess stockpiles of the antibiotic Tamiflu and knit together public-health policies at the national levels.

“We expect the next pandemic to come at any time, and it’s likely to be caused by a mutant of the virus that is currently causing bird flu in Asia,” he told reporters.

The unit will coordinate the U.N. response to outbreaks, working mainly through the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank.

UNICEF will coordinate vaccinations, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will be the liaison to nongovernmental organizations.

The initial priorities are to prevent the spread of the virus in birds and prepare governments to deal with a human outbreak and respond to a public-health crisis.

Election fever

When the General Assembly meets in a week to elect the next nonpermanent members of the Security Council, most of the 191 ambassadors won’t have to think very hard.

Slovenia, Qatar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana have the endorsements of their regional groups and are thus unopposed.

They will fill the seats reserved for the “Western European and others” group, Asia and Africa.

Latin American and Caribbean nations have been unable to chose between Peru and Nicaragua, so those candidates will be put to a General Assembly vote.

Envoys from the region say Peru, which appears to be carrying much of Central America and the Caribbean, has the edge. Lima is booking celebrity chefs in the U.N. delegates’ dining room to prepare a festival of Peruvian cuisine later this month.

Of course, even the unopposed are campaigning. Each successful candidate needs two-thirds of the 191 votes, and it’s embarrassing for everyone if the process stretches to second, third or additional ballots.

Qatar, for example, threw a reception last week that would have made Donald Trump envious.

There was an ice field set with steamed lobster tails served in the cracked shell and mountains of shrimp the size of chicken drumsticks, a conga line of chafing dishes filled with hot mezzes and Arab specialities, trays the size of wagon wheels proffered geometrically arranged sweets, and a bar.

A trio played Persian Gulf mood music on violin, dumbaq and oud, while the sun set brilliantly over the East River.

A late commemoration of Qatar’s Sept. 3 national day?

“No, we are celebrating that we may be heading to the Security Council,” said Qatar’s U.N. ambassador, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, a receiving line of one.

Promises discounted

Because Security Council elections are one of the few secret ballots in the U.N. system, there is no guarantee that members who pledged to vote for a candidate will.

Experienced ambassadors say they discount promised votes by 20 percent to 40 percent.

The two-year terms begin Jan. 1 and are unlikely to affect the larger negotiations on Security Council expansion. Those talks were shelved last month so governments could focus on development, security and U.N. management reforms before the summit.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail to bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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