A first (non) UN Humanitarian Coordinator… Uganda

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Uganda is to be, well non-UN!For the 99.99% of people working in humanitarian work I should explain. In each country the UN is headed by a Resident Coordinator (RC), this person is always a very senior UN Representative in country (more often than not the head of UNDP). Although they do not have line management responsibility for other agencies they ‘coordinate’ the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) and links with government and play a major role in ensuring joined up support to host countries.In an emergency or humanitarian scenario the RC may not be the most suited or have the time to also humanitarian response, hence a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) may be appointed by through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to-date this person has always been a UN insider. In the case of Uganda due to the localised nature of the humanitarian crisis in the north a separate HC was appointed, however it is a first to put a non UN staff member in this post.HC UgandaThe HC until recently Representative of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Geneva, Ms. Elisabeth Rasmusson, has extensive field experience especially with refugees and intenally displaced persons (IDPs). Though not a complete outsider, she formerly worked for the UN, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) , Ms. Rasmusson is certainly no insider.This is excellent news. The UN is often given unpleasant and unreasonable labels sometimes, but rarely, fairly. Humanitarian reforms have been driven hard and furiously over the last 12 to 18 months, engineered hand-in-hand between senior UN executives and key donors, noteably DfiD.The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was beefed up by adding a $450m grant facility to an existing $50m revolving fund. To firstly, promote early action and response to save lives (release funds within 72 hours). Secondly, enhance response to time-crucial requirements based on demonstrable needs, and thirdly strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crisis. Launched in March 2006, by and September 2006 it had raised $175m.The Humanitarian Coordinator system, designed to ensure focus and leadership during life saving response periods was initiated and many including Ms Rasmusson trained for the role.The Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC) structure was launched in 1992 to ensure that UN and NGO’s worked more effectively. However it has been reinvigorated with the application of technical clusters (initiated in the Pakistan earthquake with mixed success) and the spur of the humanitarian reform process.Thus it is welcome that the UN is now looking to finding the best and most suited people from across the range of humanitarian institutions to coordinate humanitarian response. At the very least it should lead to a great cross fertilisation of ideas and creativity, a greater acceptance of different institutional approaches and improved collaboration. On the downside… well I personally don’t see one! Read the rest of this entry »

France 24… ‘new media’ News broadcasting?

France 24Global news is really taking off, much to my surprise we now have a second non-anglo centric view of the world… within one month, France 24 (en anglias) rumoured to be a reactive idea by President Jacque Chirac following the Anglo intervention in Iraq, was launched on 6th December!

To quote President Chirac, France “must be at the forefront of the global battle of images, that’s why I am resolved that our country should have an international news channel” BBC

Published in French, English and Arabic it will hopefully prove to be yet another voice, view and analysis of world events, along with Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN. Available across Europe, Middle East, Africa and North America some of us are unfortunately unable to view the channel. Early suggestions implied that France 24 would operate its broadcast News channel over the internet. Sadly this is not yet the case, the online version appears to be focused on enabling access to broadcast content, but of course does not yet have the back up of a comprehensive depth of audio, video and text data. The unofficial weblog appears to be a great location for information and comment.

Lets hope the unconventional site structure is a hint of things to come… the tag cloud, journalists blogs… just imagine a conventional broadcaster establishing a News wiki including audio and video. It is already far ahead of Al Jazeera which hasn’t organised downloads yet! It may not be so far fetched after all France 24 would gain from developing a radically different media model. As a rarity the government appointed Chariman is a self made communications and advertising man, Alain de Poulzilhac , no énarque here … “Vive la France Libre”.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get too carried away, a ‘new media’ approach by staid old broadcasting, not yet. Also the énarque appear to have generally lost their shine as Chirac hands the batton to Nicholas Sarkozy. However I am an optimist, Richard Porter of the BBC reports Iran’s interest in an English 24 hour News channel called The Press.

Just perhaps France 24 will bring a fresh approach together with its competition for our valuable time and attention? If not maybe we can look to the Iranians or one of the Anglo channels to take the next step and bring participatory new media, encompassing the views of millions, to us where, when and as we want it, whether by cell, broadband, cable or satellite… “plus ca change!”

Airline Security: biometrics, security ratings… any rights?

biometric scanningCongratulations! You have a personal security rating by the US government, the EU is sharing all data about passengers, the governments are introducing biometric passports, and the UK has now introduced biometric scanning of passengers.

I hope you feel safer!

Passengers at Heathrow airport are being invited to sign up for a trial of the most advanced passenger screening equipment in the world.
Travellers will be able to bypass long queues if they have their fingerprints biometrically scanned, while face and eye scans will be introduced soon.

Those trying the miSense system have the scans at the same time as their passport is scanned at check-in.


The British Aiport Authority suggests that such electronic keys will enable customers to pass through airport process smoothly. Though it is difficult to imagine Heathrow or JFK as smooth as Dubai’s e-gate card system, which requires one fingerprint and a full face photograph, but thereafter a one gate check in!. The British version will require 13 identifying scans of fingerprints, irises and face!Italian biometric passport

Whilst the UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Italy to name but a few, have adopted biometric passports, though the Dutch system has already been cracked!

Biometric scanning is not new, but as we take is and the news from the US in conjunction it is clear that governments around the world will all be able to access to our most personal details… is this a step in the cause of liberty or are these restrictions (innevitably though they may be) playing into the hands of the terrorists, have the terrorists won by derailing our lives?

Global Nomads will innevitably have to manage these challenges and no doubt like me you have been pulled aside (especially in the US) for more detailed checking following their discovery of visas in your passport from wierd and wonderful terrorist havens.

I for one have an uncomfortable feeling that increased paranoia concerning people of different cultures, their ways and means will increase as the fear frenzy escalates,  allowing ever more defenses to be thrown up in the name of “security” concerns… when will this stop?

We witness this in many cities around the world as the rich, then middle class willingly segregate themselves from poorer, increasingly percieved as, crime ridden neighbourhoods. Extrapolating such a social problem to an international scale may potentially lead to greater isolation and marginalisation of whole swathes of nations and possibly countries, religions, cultures or races. Will we still be arguing that we are winning the war of terrorism then?

Al Jazeera – English channel goes live!

Al Jazeera LogoCuriously I have only just discovered that on November 15th, just after its 10th Aniversary on November 1st, Al Jazeera has launched its English News Channel.

Aiming to be the channel of reference for Middle East events, Al Jazeera also has broadcast centres Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington.

For the first time this creates a genuinely different view to the US and UK ‘Anglo’ centric opinions on world developments, clearly an event to celebrate. Why is it that this slipped out unnoticed and celebrated? Or maybe this should be no surprise, perhaps conventional channels, cable companies, satellite providers have shun Al Jazeera for political reasons?. The BBC covered it like any other story but with no fanfare, but it does recommend the Al Jezeera English channel as an in depth news source, often it was cast as an unremarkable and bias start. Of course Al Jazeera is not popular with leaders across the Middle East, but despite that Israel plans to have it up and running soon, and Friends of al Jazeera blog gives some interesting perspectives. However I have never been big on conspiracy theory, surely the delay is simply teething troubles while channel agreements are put in place.

Since I am in Brazil and unable to see the channel, I assumed Al Jazeera would be pushing its content online, sadly the only option for viewing (that functioned) included a 99cent charge to watch! no video podcast available yet. I did find a clip of the english channel from a staff blog don’tbomb from Dec 2005. Lets hope Al Jazeera organises all of its channels to market sharpish so they can become another informed opinion and voice available globally!