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EL ESPECTADOR

Is The UN Security Council Destined To Disappear?

The pandemic has delivered yet another blow to the increasingly irrelevant, UN-led multilateral system that was created after World War II.

The UN Security Council: 'paralyzed, cataleptic or already dead'?
The UN Security Council: "paralyzed, cataleptic or already dead"?
Marcos Peckel

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — It may have been the war in Syria, starting in 2011, that delivered the knockout punch. Either way, there are no obvious signs of recovery, and looking at things now, it's unclear if the victim is paralyzed, cataleptic or already dead, ready to be wheeled away.

The patient in question is none other than the UN Security Council, and its dismal condition reverberates throughout the entire United Nations system and its many agencies.

As thousands were killed in Syria, the body was effectively bound and gagged by the veto powers of Russia and China, which impeded humanitarian aid and other interventions. UN mediators repeatedly failed in their endeavors, having no tools to force an end to the barbarism.

We are suffering from the incompatibility of 20th century multilateralism and 21st century geopolitics.

Since then, the Security Council has failed to fulfill its main objective: to maintain peace and security around the world. In a string of conflicts and disorders — in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Ukraine and in the Mediterranean — it is simply absent. And with the arrival of the pandemic in late 2019, the body virtually disappeared save for reports of the politicized process of electing new members, which alters nothing in its sterile prospects.

The UN and UN Security Council were created at the end of World War II in conditions that were the result of that broad conflict. Never a paragon of virtues, the Council nevertheless managed for decades to enact its mandate in different scenarios, defusing or preventing wars, channeling disaster aid or curbing epidemics.

Meeting at the UN Security Council about Russian missiles in Cuba in 1962 — Photo: U.S. Government

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is ostensibly leading the world's response to the pandemic, is another hostage to political rivalries. The United States announced it would leave the body as debates arose over WHO's initial response to the emerging pandemic. We haven't come to the vaccine issue yet, which could turn into a competitive frenzy.

The body wasn't designed to take humanity to heaven but prevent it sliding into hell.

We are suffering from the incompatibility of 20th century multilateralism and 21st century geopolitics. The latter is marked by renewed great-power rivalries, lack of consensus in practically all international themes, absence of global leadership, the collapse of a supposed liberal world order, ballooning nationalism, governments brazenly turning to authoritarian methods, discord inside democracies, and reluctance of states to abide by the international norms that had hitherto prevailed, for better or worse. Talk of reforming the UN in these conditions seems deluded.

As the UN's second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, observed, the body wasn't designed to take humanity to heaven but prevent it sliding into hell. Let's hope it can do that at least, before the flames engulf us.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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