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Malnutrition and cholera in war-torn Yemen

In Yemen, the world's worst cholera outbreak is unfolding amid the world's largest humanitarian crisis, according to the heads of three United Nations agencies. "The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60% of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from," said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement. The agencies noted that nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, and "malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition [in] a vicious combination." A fact-finding mission to Yemen over the last three months documented 400,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 1,900 associated deaths. The country's health workers are struggling to stem the outbreak, but have not been paid in months.

Haiti: UN admits role in cholera epidemic

In an e-mail sent out the week of Aug. 15, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, made the organization's first-ever acknowledgment of any responsibility for a cholera epidemic that has wracked Haiti since October 2010. "[T]he UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera," Haq wrote. Activists, journalists and epidemiologists have contended for nearly six years that the epidemic originated near Mirebalais, in Center department, at a base staffed by Nepalese soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been sickened by the disease, which had never been reported in the country before 2010, and at least 10,000 people have died. Cholera victims have brought several lawsuits against the UN; the organization has repeatedly denied any legal liability.

Haiti: US grants UN immunity in cholera suit

On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity," Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.

Cuba: will US swap jailed agents for Gross?

In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.

Haiti: UN troop mandate renewed for one year

The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend for another year the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the international military and police force stationed in Haiti since June 2004. For now the operation will continue to consist of 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents. The Council accepted UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's recommendation to cut the number of soldiers to 2,370, but it decided to maintain the current troop strength until after March 2015, when Ban is to deliver a report on developments, including elections for local, municipal and some parliamentary posts. According to the government of President Michel Martelly, the elections, originally scheduled for 2011, will be held in the first three months of 2015; under the 1987 Constitution a presidential election should take place later in the year.

Conspiracy vultures descend on Boston —already

OK, so twin bombs go off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three—including an 8-year-old child—and injuring over 100. And the Internet conspiranoia crowd, led by the indefatigable Alex Jones, jump on the attack in record time, even faster than they did with the Newtown massacre. Salon notes that on his radio show, Jones speculated the Boston blasts are linked to the price of gold: "With gold plunging, what could this signify?" He also noted that one of the 9-11 planes took off from Boston, and claimed to have predicted the attack: "I said on air that they're getting ready to blow something up. To fire a shot heard round the world like at Lexington and Concord, and then they do it at this same place on the same day!" Well, if you always predict attacks, sooner or later you're going to be right...

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