NEW YORK – 2013 was a big year for the United Nations as it achieved several noteworthy triumphs. Here are four of the U.N.’s top accomplishments in 2013:
1. Destruction of chemical weapons in Syria
On August 21, 2013, a deadly sarin gas attack killed an estimated 1,400 people including civilians on the outskirts of Syria’s capital of Damascus. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said it was a “terrible loss of life on 21 August” and he added: “This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988.”
The United States and Russia helped to draft an agreement that called for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities by June 30, 2014. Three months later, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution requiring Syria to abide by the terms of the agreement and authorized the creation of a joint mission by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to monitor the implementation of the resolution.
Results of the joint OPCW-UN mission
- On October 31, the mission declared the obliteration of vital equipment at all stated Syrian chemical weapons production and mixing plants, in order to cause these facilities to become inoperative.
- On November 5, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü confirmed the “verification and functional destruction activities had been completed within the deadlines of 27 October and 1 November, respectively, at all sites (21,) except for two which could not be visited due to safety and security reasons.”
- On November 15, OPCW outlined a plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpiles in the first half of 2014. Ambassador Ümzücü said in a press release: “The plan provides a clear roadmap. It sets ambitious milestones to be met by the Government of Syria.”
- On December 17, OPCW put forward the final plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by having the most lethal chemicals to be “destroyed at sea aboard a U.S. ship by the end of March 2014, and all other chemicals to be destroyed by the end of June.”
- On December 6, the joint mission confirmed that Syrian personnel had “destroyed all stockpiles of unfilled chemical munitions, including missile warheads and aerial bombs.”
- On January 8, Ambassador Üzümcü announced the start of the removal of “priority chemicals from Syria for destruction outside the country.”
OPCW-UN joint mission wins Nobel Prize
The OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10, 2013. Its joint effort with the U.N. mission in Syria won them a medal, a diploma and a cash award of 8 million Swedish kroner (approximately $1.2 million.)
According to CNN reports, Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, said the award “goes most deservedly to an organization and its personnel, who have been quietly working to remove an entire category of weapons.”
Ambassador Üzümcü acknowledged that this is the first time that the Peace Prize has been awarded to an organization.
“For 16 years now, the OPCW has been overseeing the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. Our task is to consign chemical weapons to history forever,” Ambassador Üzümcü said in his Nobel lecture. “Destiny has ruled that we rid the world of chemical weapons, and that we achieve this in our lifetime. This is our place in history, and this is the future we are creating. A future for which our children and grandchildren can be truly thankful.”
2. Responding to the humanitarian crises in Syria
“Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis we face today,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, after visiting displaced families in Syria. “Every child, every woman, every man affected by this crisis deserves our continued support.”
The U.N. has responded in every possible way to help alleviate the suffering of 9.3 million women, children and men in need in Syria and 2.3 million refugees seeking shelter in nearby countries.
Medicine and medical supplies delivered to critical spots in Aleppo
Two shipments of more than 125 tons of life-saving medicine and medical equipment were distributed to health providers in Aleppo. This provided the much needed medical aid to treat approximately 386,000 patients “in both government-controlled and in opposition-controlled areas.”
Food aid reaches 3.8 million displaced Syrians
In December 2013, “757,500 family food rations reached 3.8 million people across 12 governorates, the highest number of people reached in one month since the onset of the crisis.” The “access gains have enabled the delivery of 95 per cent of the planned target of 4.25 million people across 14 governorates.”
Millions of Syrian children are inoculated with polio vaccine
Between 2011-2012, 500,000 Syrian children did not receive polio vaccination because of the instability caused by the conflict. A polio outbreak in October made these children exceptionally vulnerable and as a result the Ministry of Health started a polio vaccine campaign to inoculate 2.2 million children across all 14 governorates of Syria with repeated monthly vaccinations from December 2013 to May 2014. This response was done in conjunction with the “massive regional campaign targeting 23 million children.” The first round of National Immunization Days’ on December 8-12, 2013 “reached 2,177 million children, including those in areas that are hard to reach.”
24 flights of airlifted humanitarian supplies reach 50,000 people in Quamishly
Three U.N. agencies organized an airlift of vital humanitarian supplies from Erbil, Iraq to Quamishly, Al-Hasakeh. During the period December 15-29, a series of 24 flights transported humanitarian aid, which provided aid for more than 50,000 people in order to cope with the cold winter in Al-Hasakeh. The aid distributed included sufficient food to feed over 30,000 people for one month as well as “health kits, water and sanitation equipment; and winterization supplies to help more than 50,000 people.”
According to OCHA, the airlift modality “represents the first time the U.N. has used Iraq as a hub from which to dispatch relief items into Syria. The next airlift is planned for February 2014.”
3. Responding to the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan
Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines on November 8, 2013, causing severe devastation which affected 13 million people and displaced at least four million. The U.N., Philippines government and other humanitarian organizations have launched immediate and critical response to those impacted by the catastrophic disaster.
“A massive disaster like this requires a massive response,” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Valerie Amos told a news conference at the New York Headquarters.
World Food Program distributes more than 1.3 million family food packs
Since November 13, more than 1.3 million family food packs containing World Food Programme (WFP) rice and high-energy biscuits were distributed to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The U.N. agency also handed out more than 1,000 metric tons of relief and support supplies including tents, blankets, water kits and jerry cans, kits for newborn babies, hygiene kits and mobile storage units. These supplies were airfreighted from the U.N. Humanitarian Response Depots managed by WFP in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Subang in Malaysia and Brindisi in Italy.
UNHCR provides assistance in overcrowded evacuation centers
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided much needed assistance to the Philippines Government by relieving the overcrowded evacuation centers. Numerous people were evacuated to stadiums, schools and churches before the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan. Although many have left the evacuation centers, approximately 240,000 people remain in 1,100 centers, living in crammed conditions with limited water and inadequate sanitation facilities. The UNHCR has dispersed relief supplies for more than 50,000 people, including tents, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans.
UNICEF distributes clean water and relief supplies in hard-hit areas
Amos expressed concern for the 1.5 million children at risk of severe malnutrition. UNICEF push hard in providing “child protection, health, education, and nutrition supplies to hard-hit areas.” The U.N. Children’s Agency distributed clean water and sanitation supplies to affected areas such as Tacloban. Some 200,000 people in Tacloban now have access to clean water after a water treatment plant became fully operational.
UNDP launches cash-for-work program to restore crushed economy
On December 23, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) rolled out a cash-for-work program to mend the country’s broken economy and offered temporary employment to some 5,000 people. The program launch was started in Barangay 64 with 130 residents of the village as initial beneficiaries. They are “paid to sweep streets, clear debris and clean up the drainage for eight hours a day, five days a week.”
The cash-for-work program was executed with the assistance of the Land Bank of the Philippines and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart,) a key mobile communications leader.
The first 130 program beneficiaries received their first weekly payout of P 1,400 (roughly $31) through new cash cards issued by LandBank. The beneficiaries were notified through a text message that their pay has been credited to their cash card through a new cell phone provided by Smart. Each of these Smart cell phones are “loaded with free P 10 ($0.22) airtime and 30 days worth of free SMS.”
Cash can be withdrawn at any ATM or “through accredited payout centers in selected rural banks and postal offices using Smart’s mobile money platform in transactions similar to over-the-air load transfers.”
“This mobile cash transfer system provides access to financial services among the poor and vulnerable who have not been using banks at all,” said U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Luiza Carvalho on InterAkyson website. “The mobile cash transfers will speed up the recovery effort as it will align emergency employment cash-for-work programs with the national [Department of Social Welfare and Development] DSWD activities.”
The preliminary phase of the UNDP program will encompass some 5,000 beneficiaries in locations affected by Typhoon Haiyan and will aid about 50,000 people.
4. Reducing Iran’s nuclear development capabilities
November 24, 2013 marked a historic milestone as a Joint Plan of Action was birthed. Members of the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany) reached an agreement with Iran to reduce its nuclear development program in exchange for lifting certain international sanctions. The six-month agreement, which was implemented on January 20, was the result of months of intense built-up and four days of talks in Geneva.
“Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to suspend enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a short technical step away from the level needed for nuclear weapons,” according to Reuters.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will maintain a strategic role in ensuring that Iran fulfills its side of the nuclear deal.
“The IAEA welcomes the agreement reached in Geneva, which is another important step forward following the agreement reached between the Agency and Iran on 11 November in Tehran. With the agreement of the IAEA’s Board of Governors, the Agency will be ready to fulfill its role in verifying the implementation of nuclear related measures,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said in a statement.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed in its report to member states that “as of January 20, 2014, Iran … has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose.”
– Flora Khoo
Sources: UN Foundation, CNN, Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel Prize, BBC, CNN, Syria, OPCW, Chemical Weapons, OPCW, Joint Mission, OPCW, New Phase, OCHA, Syria, OCHA, Donors, BBC, Middle East, BBC, Middle East 2, White House, CNN, Iran Deal, Joint Plan of Action, Reuters, IAEA, UN Foundation, NY Times, CNN, Nuclear Deal, UNDP, InterAksyon, UN 1, UN 2
Photo: Think Progress