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The powerful polar vortex causing the "big freeze" in parts of the U.S. has forced tens of millions of Americans to confront record cold winter temperatures. While waiting for the bus in the icy New York winds, I reflected on a report I picked up earlier at the U.N. dealing with the widening humanitarian crisis in Syria and how the vortex of conflict in that Middle Eastern land has engulfed a generation of children in the most horrible conditions in a civil war without mercy.
It's that time to consult the snow globe and try to peer ahead at some of the key stories, crises and opportunities which await the world as we prepare for a new year. Indeed, 2013 has been marred by new levels of violence, humanitarian disasters and a perceptible lack of leadership from the U.S. on the foreign policy front.
Faced with the ongoing civil war in Syria, the natural disaster in the Philippines and a spreading civil conflict in the Central African Republic, the U.N. humanitarian agencies are confronting a near perfect storm of political and natural disasters. Add the continuing needs from earlier trouble spots such as South Sudan, Somalia and Haiti and the system and donor states are facing a near overload.
While final exams and the end of the semester are fast approaching for students across America, there's an early report card which was just delivered with grades for math, reading, and science. Regrettably, students in the United States don't rate terribly well against their global peers, especially those in East Asia. But wait, there's more to the story.
Situated geographically between two blocs, divided culturally and religiously between two civilizations and now placed in the political conundrum of choosing between East and West, Ukraine is again the object the competing interests. And amid the political and gravitational pull of the two sides are the swirling clouds of Ukraine's tumultuous 20th century history.
In a world where politicians and potentates clog the media with pre-packaged sound bites, yammer on with a staccato of political chatter, or drone on with endless explanations of subjects even they forgot, it's heartening to see a former British prime minister act the role of statesman and sage. Thus, after the sonorous drone of the recent U.N. General debate, it's a pleasure hearing Tony Blair address key global issues with passion, verve, and dedication.
Super Typhoon Haiyan, which swept across the central Philippines, left a brutal legacy of death, destruction and dislocation in its wake. The category-five storm which slammed into Leyte and Cebu directly confronted the global community with yet another gripping disaster in which 13 million people were affected, with over 4 million persons displaced and at least 4,000 dead.
You can't make this up. In recent elections for the U.N.'s 47 member Human Rights Council (UNHRC), some of the winners of the coveted seats are ironically the countries who are among the major global human rights transgressors. The situation ironically evokes the old adage of the foxes guarding the henhouse or of Tony Soprano chairing a Senate subcommittee on organized crime.
As civil war, political stalemate, and the tragic humanitarian hemorrhage of refugees continues, Syria approaches its third winter of conflict.
A host of "systemic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights" continue to plague Iran despite the election of the purportedly reformist President Hassan Rouhani. That's part of a stinging assessment of the current human rights landscape according to Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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