UN, Amid Ethiopia Questions, Who Investigates WHO Remains Unanswered
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, JULY
25 -- As the
situation in the Ogaden or Somali region
of Ethiopia remains described
as volatile and "restive," amid reports of blocking and diversion of
humanitarian aid, one UN agency has nothing to say: the World Health Program.
WHO has administered a polio vaccination program in Ogaden that the NY Times of
July 22 reported, with four sources, is being put to military use, and vaccine
July 25, Inner City Press sent questions about this to WHO, and to UNICEF, which
provides the vaccine. Among other things, the agencies were asked who
investigates them. With UNICEF, as this year's North Korea inquiry shows, the UN
Board of Auditors has jurisdiction. But what about WHO, which earlier in the
begrudging response to a question from Inner City Press that it has provided $10
million to the government of Kim Jong-il?
after quickly confirming receipt of the questions, responded by deadline that it
"would support a coordinated response to look into
these allegations, which would be undertaken by OCHA," the UN's Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
An identical message sent to WHO's acting
Director of Communications, Christine McNab, resulted in an auto-responder:
I will not be checking emails regularly. If you need
urgent assistance... send an email to mazuyc [at] who.int; or chaibf [at]
Inner City Press did exactly that, to
Subj: Fwd: Hi,
Qs for WHO on Ethiopia, who investigates, UNCG, DPR
Date: 7/25/2007 8:58:32 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: Inner City Press Press
are press questions concerning what steps WHO has taken and will take to
investigate the allegations concerning the WHO-administered polio vaccination
program in Ethiopia, particular in Ogaden. We've asked spokespeople here at UN
HQ, including yesterday USG John Holmes, about the NY Times report that
described a scheme with a United Nations polio program, which was corroborated
by two former administrators in the Ethiopian government and a Western
humanitarian official, in which military commanders gave prized jobs as
vaccinators to militia fighters, and in the end, much of the polio vaccine was
never distributed. 'Army commanders are using the polio money to pay their
people, who don't pass out the vaccines, so the disease continues and the
payments continue,' said Mr. Kalif. 'It's the perfect system.' United Nations
officials in Geneva said they did not know whether that was happening, but that
they would investigate."
On Monday, OCHA
gave us a statement including that "[t]he WHO program in the country is unaware
of any funds being diverted from the our polio vaccination program to members of
the Ethiopian Defense."
Tuesday, USG Holmes said the charges are
"not substantiated by WHO or UNICEF."
When I asked who was investigating the charges, Mr. Holmes said, we are looking
at it with them, apparently referring to OCHA.
But who has
investigated so far? And if there any chance or likelihood that anyone outside
WHO (or OCHA or UNICEF) will assess the charges? Similar allegations concerning
UN DPKO get investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services; issues
concerning DPR Korea are, at least at UNDP, UNICEF, UNOPS and UNFPA, being
looked into by the Board of Auditors. Who carries out such oversight of WHO?
Ban and WHO's Margaret Chan, April 2007
And, on DPR
Korea, could you describe WHO's current programs and spending, whether WHO works
or would work in all parts of the country, and whether any "audit" has been held
since January 19, 2007?
could you describe WHO's participation in the UN Communications Group...
question is timely and on deadline, the UNCG question is second-most timely, the
DPR Korea question slightly longer-term. Thank you in advance.
Despite sending this to three separate
WHO spokespeople, about a topic the agency is reportedly investigating itself,
and with the notation "on deadline," no response whatsoever was provided,
not within 16 hours, not within 24.
Arrogance? Incompetence? A media strategy? It is unclear. For now we note that,
apparently without responding to questions, WHO has slated $63 million for
Ethiopia in 2008-2009, which according to an industry publication will represent
an "opportunity for local drug producers and regional players such as South
Africa's Aspen Pharmacare and India's Cadila Pharma." And, if the New York Times
is to be believed, also an opportunity for anti-rebel military forces. We'll
have more on this.
* * *
piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress in
Somalia, note the cancellation of
the UN's pre-Congress flight to Mogadishu.
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