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A 1970 mega- cyclone that killed over 300,000 in Bangladesh is the deadliest weather related event on record.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
19 May 2017: Bangladesh had the world's deadliest storm on record in November 1970, according to the World Meteorological Organization. On 12-13 that month, a tropical cyclone whipped out of the Bay of Bengal and flooded the low-lying delta regions of what was then East Pakistan, killing an estimated 300,000 people. (Higher estimates put the toll at 500,000.)
Bangladesh also holds the record for the highest mortality associated with a tornado: 1,300 people killed on 26 April 1989 in Manikganj. The tornado destroyed two towns as it cut a mile-wide swathe through the countryside.
Other grim record-breakers on the WMO list:
The WMO list of deadly weather events was released just ahead of an initiative to create multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthening disaster risk reduction at a conference in Cancun, Mexico from 22 to 26 May.
Organized by WMO and the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction, it will consider the results of an investigation by a committee of experts of mortality records on five specific weather-related events. The committee did not report on deaths caused by heat- or cold-waves, drought and floods, but that is expected to be rectified going forward. The results will be in WMO's Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes.
An article published in the online edition of the American Meteorological Society’s journal, Weather, Climate and Society reflects the Committee's view that climate change poses the threat of increased mortality from extreme weather. As world population continues to grow, "a greater portion of humanity is threatened by a multitude of climate and weather phenomena,” it said.
“However, vulnerability is a function of both the risk of an event and the adaptation or resilience to the event. For example, heatwave-related mortality tends to decrease as air conditioning becomes more widespread. Similarly, lightning casualties decrease when munitions storage facilities install lightning rods and athletic programs establish lightning safety protocols."
Building Baseline Data
Before such action can be taken it is necessary to establish baseline data on the severity and impact of weather incidents, a task that has been taken in hand by the WMO's 19-member expert panel. There will also be need for a continuous improvement in related forecasting and warning infrastructure. The MeteoAlarm system in Europe, a web-based service designed to provide real-time warning for people travelling in Europe of severe weather, is an example of what can be done.
The expert panel includes climatologists and meteorologists, as well as a physician and a weather historian. It has only considered mortality extremes after 1873, the formation date of the WMO’s predecessor, the International Meteorological Organization. WMO is strengthening collaboration with UN partners to help improve knowledge on the humanitarian and environmental impact of extreme weather and climate events and has started factoring this information into its reports on the state of the climate.
A full list of weather and climate extremes is available at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes (http://wmo.asu.edu/) This includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, maximum gust of wind, as well as hemispheric weather and climate extremes.
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24 May 2017: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia has been elected to be the eighth Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The annual World Health Assembly picked him over Dr. David Nabarro of Britain in a secret ballot by133 votes to 50, with two abstentions. A third candidate, Dr. Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, was eliminated in the first round of voting.
Dr. Tedros – as he prefers to be addressed – will be the first non-medical doctor to lead WHO; he holds a doctorate in community health and a master of science in immunology of infectious diseases. Tedros served as Ethiopia's Minister of Health from 2005 to 2012, then as its foreign minister for four years.
He is also the first African and the first to be elected in a competitive race; all his predecessors were picked by the Executive Board and confirmed by the Assembly. In his acceptance speech, Tedros noted that the election had brought greater legitimacy to the post of DG and that he would use it to “bring the change and reform we need.” Half the world population had inadequate access to health care, he said, and remedying that would be his priority. He will take over from incumbent D-G Dr. Margaret Chan of China on 30 June.
Health has been on the international agenda ever since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people in a year than the First World War did in four. The League of Nations established as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the War had a Health Office that pioneered international cooperation in dealing with infectious diseases. It was also largely responsible for globalizing the Canadian discovery that insulin could be used to treat diabetes.
WHO has expanded the work of its predecessor in all ways. It now has almost universal membership and a presence in all of them. (Taiwan is a major exception. An attempt by a Taiwan delegation to participate in the current session of the WHO Assembly was blocked by Beijing.)
Under WHO aegis, the world mobilized to wipe out smallpox and the organization has led the successful fight against polio to the point where the disease is now present only in a few pockets in some of the poorest countries. It has also been a leader on issues like tobacco use, road safety, the prevention of drowning and the drive to provide vaccines and ensure immunization against a set of childhood diseases. The organization stumbled in dealing with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa by not recognizing the seriousness of developments and mobilizing urgently. Reform thus became part of the campaign of all candidates for the top post.
19 May 2017: The choice of Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia to be the next head of the World Tourism Organization despite charges of vote buying (see below), is causing considerable dismay. Members of the African Union in particular, are concerned at the lack of group unity. Even though the AU fielded an official candidate, Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe and Alain St.Ange from the Seychelles dropped out at the last minute, the European candidate won.
The selection will have to be ratified by the WTO Assembly meeting China in September.
Dismay at African Disunity
Speaking at a Tourism Indaba on 19 May, South African Tourism minister Tokozile Xasa has expressed dismay at African countries not supporting each other and failing to vote for the AU candidate. The Zimbabwe Tourism minister led the first round with 11 votes to Georgia's eight, but lost in the second round, getting 15 votes to his rival's 18.
There are 33 member states in the UNWTO executive council, which constitute the electoral college, of which 10 are from Africa, Europe 10, Middle East three, South Asia two, Americas five and East Asia three.
12 May 2017: Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia has been selected to head the World Tourism Organization despite charges of vote buying (see below). The candidate from Seychelles, Alain St.Ange, dropped out at the last minute but that did not seem to help the African Union nominee for the post, Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe. The candidate from Armenia dropped out earlier, perhaps occasioning the charges of fraud.
The selection will have to be ratified by the WTO Assembly meeting China in September.
3 May 2017: As the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) gets set to pick its next Secretary-General on 12 May, an open letter alleging corruption in the process has gone viral. Addressed to those who will make the selection, it appeared first on worldtourismwire.com and is signed by Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, publisher, eturbonews (etn).
The letter says that according to “multiple, unimpeachable sources, one candidate, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, with the direct influence of Georgia’s prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, appears to have made bilateral agreements, unrelated to tourism with other countries in exchange for votes.” The aim seems to have been to secure a united european front in support of the georgian candidate.
“My global travel and tourism news organization, etn, reached out to Mr. Pololikashvili and the Georgian Embassy in Madrid multiple times to ask for comment on these grave allegations", the letter say, adding, "we did not receive a response.”
Changing tack, the letter continues: “Mr. Pololikashvili has not appeared at a single UNWTO or trade event created for candidates to present their vision for the top job in world tourism. No interaction, engagement, or communications have been publicly made by the Georgian candidate since his initial candidacy was announced december 2016."
The letter concludes with the formal request "via individual letters to the unwto executive council members and also their embassies in washington for official comment on this developing situation." a promise follows to follow up later this week and publish comments received.
There were originally seven official candidates:
Mr. Vahan Martirosyan of Armenia (withdrew)
Márcio Favilla of Brazil
Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente of Colombia.
Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia
Young-shim Dho of the Republic of Korea.
Alain St. Ange of Seychelles (withdrew)
Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe.
Seven other candidates did not submit the necessary paperwork and their names have not been forwarded to the Executive Council for further consideration. That is one less than at the beginning of the race; the Armenian candidate seems to have dropped out, perhaps occasioning the charges above. The person selected on 12 May will be formally appointed by the WTO General Assembly in China on 2 September.
25 April 2017: Francis Gurry, the Director General of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), has been on a rampage against staff who dared testify against him in an internal investigation that revealed he had manipulated a procurement exercise for the benefit of an acquaintance. In a case that has escalated over the last four years, staff have accused him of unlawful action not only in reprisals against whistleblowers but of violating United States sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and of stealing the personal effects of staff to get samples of their DNA.
In the most recent outrages, Gurry has withdrawn recognition from the WIPO Staff Association representing 600 dues paying members, fired its president, Moncef Kateb, asked other officers to vacate rooms at WIPO, and recognized his own pliable "Staff Association." He has even denied the right of the Staff Association to communicate by email with its members.
The three largest UN staff bodies, CCISUA, FICSA and UNISERV with some 120,000 members have now jointly sent a letter to Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Member States, asking for their intervention to protect the rights of WIPO staff. The joint letter points out that the initial internal WIPO investigation has been supplemented by an OIOS finding. They also cite a highly critical article published on WIPO by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) last week. GAP has pointed out that for the past two years, the US Congress has withheld 15 percent of the United States’ annual contribution to WIPO because the agency failed to implement best-practice whistleblower protections.
The UN System's highest level executive body, the Chief Executives Board (CEB), is meeting this week in Geneva, but swift action is highly unlikely. Especially because WIPO member States refused to take action against Gurry after an all-day closed discussion of the charges against him in October 2016. In January 2017 WIPO staff demonstrated publicly asking for his ouster and the charges against him have become too public to be brushed under the rug. Whether that will make a difference to the UN's deep resistance to rocking the boat remains to be seen
Gurry is an Australian lawyer who has been at the head of WIPO since October 2008; his current term ends in September 2020.