Disarm and develop: Ban

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says global disarmament can speed up development.
The UN chief is encouraging nations to break the deadlock that has hindered global disarmament talks in recent years, stressing that making progress in this area will free up vitally important resources for development at a time when the world is facing a financial crunch.
“The international community must advance beyond the stalemate that continues to hinder our work for disarmament and nuclear proliferation,” Ban said in remarks to the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters that met in New York recently.
The UN News Centre adds the Conference on Disarmament, the world`s only multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, has not been able to agree on a programme of work for 10 years.
The failure of the 2005 review conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the need for new impetus for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty have also been cited as setbacks by Ban in the past.
He told the Advisory Board that the global financial crisis is only the latest reminder of the high opportunity costs associated with massive investments in weaponry.
“At a time of fiscal cutbacks and constraints, global military expenditures run to about $1.3 trillion each year,” he stated, adding that a fraction of that amount could help guide the international community out of the food crisis, reach the globally agreed anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and tackle climate change.
“While disarmament and non-proliferation are urgent goals in their own right, they are also linked inextricably to development, human rights and peace. By achieving progress in disarmament, we free up vast resources to meet other challenges,” the Secretary-General stressed.
This year the Board will be considering cyber warfare and its impact on international security, as well as the equally critical issue of verification.
“After many years of setbacks, there are now grounds for cautious optimism about the future of nuclear disarmament,” said Ban. “We have seen a cascade of useful disarmament proposals in the past two years, and virtually all of them place a heavy emphasis on the importance of verification.”
The Secretary-General called for cooperation to achieve a breakthrough in global disbarment discussions, saying “the time is ripe to end the disbarment deadlock.”
Whether weather
Meanwhile, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the severe drought and searing heat that recently allowed wildfires to char much of Australia “will oppress wide swathes of the earth with increasing frequency this century.”
Scientists say the combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to ten years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent “and is, at least partly, a result of climate change.”
The continental United States and Mexico, the Mediterranean basin, parts of northern China, southern Africa and Australia and parts of South America were cited as particularly prone to harsh drought, WMO said in a press release relaying the results of the International Workshop on Drought and Extreme Temperatures, held in Beijing this month.  
In addition, severe heat waves are expected to increase everywhere, especially in the continental western US, northern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, southern Africa and Australia, the agency added.
The increase in Australian droughts and heat waves could be a temporary climate event lasting 10 to 30 years, according to several presentations at the conference that noted that these events have occurred in the historical climate record elsewhere in the world.
However, they added, the Australian events are also consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which says that the world has been more drought-prone during the past 25 years.
Several participants detailed examples of droughts and heat waves, such as those in Europe in 2003, in south-east Australia in 2009, and currently in northern and central China, which are the worst drought in half a century
To help agriculture, rangelands and forestry cope with the phenomenon, they recommended the development of a standardized drought index that can be practically applied to a wide range of agricultural purposes across the world.
Other recommendations included more proactive drought planning, efficient water use and wider introduction of new drought-tolerant crop varieties.
WMO said it has been developing monitoring and prediction tools, with CMA and other partners, to increase awareness of extreme climatic hazard in the agriculture and forestry communities.
It added that World Climate Conference-3, which is being held from 31 August to 4 September 2009 in Geneva, Switzerland, will address these issues through several presentations on the connections between climate variability and change and agriculture.
Meaningful data needed
Separately, Reuters Alertnet and IRIN report that researchers at the Feinstein International Centre of the US-based Tufts University say there is a need for more meaningful data and less alarmist predictions.
They say there is a growing need for “meaningful data” to help aid agencies prepare for the future. The group have just completed a study to project the likely rise in humanitarian spending over the next 20 years as the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increases.
But Peter Walker, director of the centre and one of the researchers, said the point of the report was not to say, “This is what the future will be … rather it is to say, ‘Stop making wild and sensationalist predictions and admit the real problem is that we have been negligent in the data we collect, and so have placed ourselves in a situation where we are hard-pressed to say anything meaningful about what the future will look like.'”
Natural disasters affect an average of more than 250 million people per year; since 1992, nearly US$2.7 trillion has been spent on international responses to cyclones, floods and droughts in at least four regions of the world – South-East Asia, India and the neighbouring states, East Africa and Central America – the Feinstein report notes.
The future is “inherently unpredictable”, and aid agencies have “to let go of their old comfortable linear models of change” and become “adaptive, flexible, and open to acting upon feedback”, said Walker.
The Feinstein report said the likely increases in spending could range from a 32%, taking into account changes in the frequency of disasters, to 1600% when other criteria, such as intensity, were also taken into account.
Walker, a leading humanitarian studies scholar, explained by email that it was difficult to project humanitarian costs in the absence of more comprehensive existing data on disasters and spending.
“Once better data is available, more research into the relationship between hazards, vulnerability, climate change and humanitarian response will be needed.”