- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

WFP appointment nears

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expects to name the next head of the World Food Program in the coming week or so, his last major appointment before stepping down in nine weeks.

Candidates include a Swiss aid official, a Norwegian development specialist and a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

The odds-on favorite is, as always, the nominee backed by Washington, which contributes more than half of the Rome-based agency’s $2 billion annual budget in cash and commodities. Americans have headed the WFP for the past 14 years.

The White House has recommended Josette Sheeran, the undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, and a former managing editor of The Washington Times, to be the new WFP executive director.

Asked Friday about the appointment, Stephane Dujarric, Mr. Annan’s spokesman, said the WFP appointment would be announced in about two weeks.

“The WFP appointment, which was in progress prior to the selection of Mr. Ban Ki-moon [to succeed Mr. Annan], is continuing,” said Mr. Dujarric, adding that Mr. Annan would not make any other long-term appointments.

Mr. Annan is due in Washington today and tomorrow for a lecture on Africa, and is likely to hold discussions with U.S. officials on several topics.

With two months left of their appointments, many U.N. officials have been making plans for their next jobs, whether in the U.N. system, in their own capitals or elsewhere.

Bird flu kept at bay

A year ago this month, the newly appointed U.N. coordinator on avian influenza warned that the little-understood virus could soon afflict up to 150 million people.

But fewer than 300 human cases of bird flu have been confirmed and 151 persons have died, a fact that Dr. David Nabarro said shows unusually strong coordination and commitment by governments, donors, corporations, scientists and health organizations.

Still, he cautioned governments, the citizenry and especially farmers that it is too soon to relax, because the H5N1 virus remains virulent and probably will be a threat for five to 10 years.

“There will be an influenza pandemic one day,” Dr. Nabarro said last week. “I don’t know, you don’t know, when it is going to be. When it does come along, it will have really major economic and social consequences.” The death rate, he said, is “distressingly high,” with Indonesia and pockets of Africa causing the greatest concerns. Overall, he said, the number of bird-flu deaths per month seems to be increasing worldwide.

More than 30 nations have reported the presence of H5N1 virus in the past year, leading to widespread culling of poultry on three continents, international monitoring of migrating and farm birds, and restrictions on sales of chickens, ducks, geese and quail.

In the poorest parts of Asia and Africa, where families often live close to their backyard birds, health officials have tried to impose distance. Dr. Nabarro rebuffed skeptics who say H5N1 is “the new Y2K” scare, manipulated to cause fear and vast public spending.

“We wish it was the case,” he told The Washington Times.

“It hasn’t happened yet, but we still fear it could. And one reason there hasn’t been a widespread outbreak is because of this cooperation.”

Dr. Nabarro has spent much of the year flying to afflicted countries and donor meetings, trying to raise the $400 million pledged and make sure it is spent properly. That figure does not include domestic spending.

He has just returned from Burma, where he was surprised at the level of cooperation international health authorities have received.

Unlike other aid workers and those involved with tuberculosis or HIV epidemics, Dr. Nabarro said, U.N. agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said they were generally able to travel to Burma’s provinces, work freely and meet with government officials.

“On this issue, cooperation was positive,” he said.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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