- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

McAskie heads panel

Veteran U.N. aid coordinator Carolyn McAskie has left her post running the peacekeeping mission in Burundi to lead the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission, an initiative to help states solidify and stabilize in the years after a conflict.

Miss McAskie, a Canadian diplomat, has a reputation as an effective and respected U.N. bureaucrat. As deputy and then as acting humanitarian-aid coordinator in the early 2000s, she oversaw disaster response and long-term assistance coordinated by more than a dozen U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

Before that, Miss McAskie spent nearly three decades with the Canadian International Development Agency, serving in Africa and the Middle East. She was, by all accounts, the front-runner in a shifting shortlist of three considered to shape the Peacebuilding Commission. She will begin by managing a 31-member board of Security Council nations, Economic and Social Council members, major financial donors and contributors of peacekeeping troops, whose priorities don’t necessarily overlap.

The Peacebuilding Commission was suggested last spring by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and created in the fall at the 2005 U.N. summit to nurture post-conflict societies. Its job is to “develop best practices on issues that require extensive collaboration among political, military, humanitarian and development actors.”

The Peacebuilding Commission is not to be confused with its sister program, the Democracy Fund, whose mandate will help draft laws and constitutions and foster free speech and political participation.

Both initiatives are aimed at countries emerging from conflict. A number of studies have tried to determine why nearly half such countries collapse back into war or lawlessness in the five years after peacekeepers depart.

“This resolution would, for the first time in the history of the United Nations, create a mechanism which ensures that for countries emerging from conflict, ‘post-conflict’ does not mean ‘post-engagement of the international community,’” said General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, of Sweden.

“When the cameras disappear, the attention also disappears, and five years later, you pay an enormously heavy price … This is what we are trying to repair when we fill this institutional gap,” Mr. Eliasson said recently.

The Peacebuilding Commission and Democracy Fund are actively supported by the Bush administration, which is an important factor because both will rely on voluntary funding from member states and groups.

The world body last month authorized the Secretariat to spend up to $1.5 million to get the peace-building support office off the ground. The resolution stressed that this appropriation was an extraordinary measure.

WHO chief has surgery

Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), underwent emergency brain surgery Saturday afternoon after he collapsed during a meeting.

The Korean-born public-health specialist was rushed to a hospital in Geneva for surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain, according to the WHO.

“He will be in hospital for some time. As a result, he will not be able to attend the World Health Assembly,” which begins in Geneva today.

Dr. Lee, 61, has worked with the WHO for more than two decades, in the field and at the Geneva headquarters. His priorities since taking over the 192-nation organization has been to halt the spread of or eradicate infections or diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and now bird flu.

The WHO said that, until now, Dr. Lee had been in generally good health.

The annual health assembly is to focus this year on strengthening global preparedness and response to pandemics; infant and child nutrition; eradication of HIV/AIDS, polio, sickle-cell anemia; tobacco controls; and the thorny question of whether to destroy the last known samples of smallpox virus.

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

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