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UN's Rosy on Asia, Except Japan, North Korea and Timor-Leste, Carbon and Growth

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 18 -- "Reaping the one-off demographic dividend" is something the UN cautions against, in its Survey of Asia and the Pacific being released today. The report is upbeat, but there are holes in the data and unexplained dark clouds on Eastern horizons, particularly over Japan.

            "Inequality and poverty are on the rise in Japan," the reports states, citing an OECD study and referring to "declining household income and more homeless people in urban areas."

            The UN proffered a briefer on Tuesday, DESA director Robert P. Vos. Inner City Press asked him about the Japan portion of the report and he apologized: he is not its author. Where is the author -- Japan? Actually, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is based in Bangkok, Thailand. DESA has a center in Japan, in Nagoya. There is no decline in income for workers at that center, far from it.

           The report cites UN Habitat that "570 million slum-dwellers in the region -- more than half the world's total -- experience the cumulative impact of labor oversupply, tenure insecurity, poor infrastructure, pollution and congestion."

            On pollution, the tables at the back of the report include a comparison of countries by how much carbon dioxide they produce. Tuesday at UN headquarters, a day-long Security Council debate pitted generally rich countries, favor the Council as venue, versus poorer countries which wanted the debate in the General Assembly, which they called more democratic. India, for example, 1.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide were produced per capita in 2003. Indian Ambassador Nirupam Sen said Tuesday that the UN Security Council "may not have the mandate: to make an uncertain long term prospect a security threat amounts to an informal amendment of the Charter."

            Australia's Ambassador Robert Hill on Tuesday called the venue of the Council for the debate "warranted." Australia produced 18 metric tons of carbon dioxide were produced per capita in 2003 -- 15 times as much as India.

One view of Asia: Timor-Leste

            The report lists North Korea has declining in carbon dioxide production, from 12.4 metric tons per capita in 1990 to 3.5 tons in 2003. Is that progress? Is Kim Jong Il green or does he just like (and counterfeit) green?

            While the report lists 23% of children under five in North Korea as underweight, things are worse in Pakistan (37.8%), Nepal (48.3%) and India (48.5%).  Cambodia, Laos and Timor-Leste are no day at the beach either. Of Timor-Leste the report note it went from net out-migration between 1995 and 2000 to immigration now, up 19% from 2000 to 2005.  North Korea has zero net migration -- unless, of course, you could the fleeing refugees. But how many are there? The report does not say.

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UN's Africa Report Sidesteps Zimbabwe's Fall, Embraces Privatization of Banks

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- Africa's economic future is painted, in nuanced but generally upbeat tones, in the 2007 report of the UN's Economic Commission on Africa. The report was presented Monday at UN Headquarters by Ejeviome Eloho Otobo, something of an in-house UN intellectual, who repeatedly pitched two of his publications, one in the New School Economic Review, the other a letter to the editor of the Financial Times.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Otobo for his views on the economic downturn in Zimbabwe, which the ECA puts at negative 4.4% growth last year, and which the UN's humanitarian affairs office last week put at a 40% decline since 2000. Mr. Otobo ascribed the drop to "political tensions," but did not explain why political tensions in other African states, from Cote D'Ivoire to Somalia to Uganda, did not result in anywhere near Zimbabwe's decline. Video here, from Minute 36:22 to 39:32. In fact, tension-wracked Sudan was one of the eight fastest-growing African countries in 2006.

            On Monday, Ban Ki-moon returned to UN Headquarters from a lengthy Middle Eastern trip. Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban two Africa questions, about Somalia -- click here for that story -- and about Zimbabwe. The Harare Q and A, from the transcript:

Inner City Press: ... while you were away, on Zimbabwe, the Secretariatís briefer to the Council said that the situation in Zimbabwe is not a threat to international peace and security.  I am wondering if thatís the Secretariatís view, or what is your view on that?

SG:  We are also very much concerned about the situation in there.  It is necessary for the leaders of the Zimbabwean Government to strictly abide by all democratic rules, to firmly establish democratic rules again. Click here for video.

            The ECA "Economic Report on Africa 2007" states, at page 32, that "only one country -- Zimbabwe -- recorded a negative growth rate in 2006."  On page 39, this decline is diplomatically ascribed to "political difficulties." Inflation makes its appears on page 41: "In Zimbabwe, inflation increased to 1216 per cent in 2006 compared to 237.8 per cent in 2005, owing to inflationary financing of the budget deficit." Still, Zimbabwe scored high in tourism.

Mr. Otobo, Ms. Montas, UN hand-signals

            The ECA report, formally entitled "Accelerating Africa's Growth and Development to Meet the Millennium Development Goals - Emerging Challenges and the Way Forward," purports to deal with the financial services sector in less than one of its 182 pages. The report's approach is surprising: "financial sector reforms have resulted in a gradual move towards market-based interest rate determination and curtailment of the governmentís presence in the financial sector through privatization of government-owned banks. While these are welcome developments" -- that is, ECA unequivocally portrays bank-privatization as welcome, regardless of buying.

   In  Mr. Ban's native South Korea, banks sold by the government were snapped up by predatory investors like Lone Star, subsequently sued for fraud. Would ECA really like to lure Lone Star to Africa? There is no discussion of the so-far seminal African bank-acquisition deal, Barclays return to South Africa by purchasing Absa. Given the report's 189 pages, this deal merited discussion.

            Inner City Press, in the course of reporting on another of the UN's regional economic commissions, ESCWA in Lebanon, received detailed reports from Addis Ababa regarding abuses under the 1995-2005 head of UNECA, K.Y. Amoako of Ghana, including that he unceremoniously had ejected from Ethiopia any dissenters among his ranks, family first. How these far-flung UN commissions can remain accountable and credible is a question for reform, and a question of the objectivity of their reports. We'll see.

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