- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

They’re back again

NEW YORK — The bomb-sniffing dogs roam the hallways and sand-filled dump trucks block off First Avenue, but there is one thing missing from the United Nations’ security setup: a honcho to coordinate everything.

As the United Nations prepares to welcome about 90 presidents and prime ministers and nearly as many foreign ministers for the opening Tuesday of the General Assembly’s 59th annual session, some here wonder why the world body has not yet replaced the chief of security at U.N. headquarters.

“It’s really unbelievable,” said a representative of the U.N. staff union.

In fact, U.N. officials have not yet replaced the coordinator for U.N. security in field missions, a post vacant since March, when the official was sacked for failing to avert a bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 persons last year.

Security is an exceptionally touchy issue inside the world organization because attacks against humanitarian workers in the field have been rising since the end of the Cold War a decade ago.

A series of internal investigations into security lapses at the United Nations’ Baghdad headquarters, in a former hotel on the edge of the city, found myriad breaches of procedure and common sense. The blame for the “dysfunctional” security system went all the way up to Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who tendered her resignation. Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not accept it.

In Geneva, where most of U.N. humanitarian operations are based, officials have requested increased precautions from the Swiss government, such as concrete barriers for the perimeter.

Security measures still are being pondered in New York, where the U.N. compound is circled by a low metal fence and bordered on one side by the East River.

In the meantime, U.N. officials are working, as always, with a patchwork of local, national and international police and security agencies, to keep the annual General Assembly “debate” as smooth as possible. Although it’s intended to influence the world body’s direction in the coming year, there is no debate — just a series of speeches by heads of state.

On Tuesday, when President Bush arrives for his internationally televised address to the U.N. General Assembly, there will be black-clad sharpshooters on nearby roofs and plainclothes agents in the marble chambers.

Among other heads of state expected in New York for all or part of the first week of the General Assembly’s new session are Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Paul Kagame of Rwanda on Tuesday; Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on Wednesday; Jacques Chirac of France and Emile Lahoud of Lebanon on Thursday; and Iyad Allawi of Iraq on Friday.

Scores of U.N. member nations will be represented by their foreign ministers.

Crowds, catastrophe

It will come as no surprise to readers from Alabama, Louisiana or Florida, but the consequences of natural disasters are on the rise.

According to a U.N. survey, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and landslides claimed nearly twice as many victims in 2003 as in 1990.

Urban crowding is considered to be the primary reason for the catastrophic results, because victims seek shelter in substandard facilities or in areas that are prone to natural disasters.

“Urban migrants settle in exposed stretches of land on seismic faults, flood plains or landslide-prone slopes,” said Salvano Briceno, director of the Geneva-based U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).

“The urban concentration, the effects of climate change and the environmental degradation are greatly increasing vulnerability.”

Mr. Briceno noted that deaths are only one measure of natural calamities: Loss of jobs, destruction of homes and crops mount rapidly.

The ISDR will issue its full account of disaster statistics in October, in cooperation with the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters based in Belgium.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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