Haiti: High child mortality rate

According to a recently released UNICEF report titled “Child Alert: Haiti,” roughly 1 of every 8 children born in Haiti are likely to die before the age of 5, the highest rate of child mortality in the Western Hemisphere.

Millions of children under 18 years of age on this small Caribbean island are at great risk. The report cites a lack of basic health care as a major problem, compounded by environmental decay, violence, poverty, malnutrition and a lack of education.

Commenting on the report, the UNICEF representative in Haiti, Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral, said, “There are few more challenging places to have a healthy childhood than Haiti. While Haiti accounts for only 2 percent of births in Latin America and the Caribbean, it accounts for 19 percent of [the region’s] deaths of children under 5.”

Haitian President-elect René Preval has made a public commitment to improve the lives of Haiti’s children.

Philippines: Human rights violations

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, headquartered in Quezon City, recently said the Philippines is probably second only to Colombia in the number of trade unionists and workers’ rights activists killed each year. The institute is forming an international labor solidarity mission to visit the Southeast Asian archipelago in May 2006 to spotlight the problem.

A recent Counterpunch article described the Philippines as “the site of an ongoing undeclared war against peasant and union activists, progressive political dissidents and lawmakers, human rights lawyers and activists, women leaders and a wide range of print and broadcast journalists. Because of the links between the army, the regime and the death squads, political assassinations take place in an atmosphere of absolute impunity.”

Iraq: Aid agencies blocked by U.S. military

Aid agencies reported being unable to gain entry to the city of Samarra, in central Iraq, where U.S. and Iraqi troops launched major military operations March 16 “to flush out insurgents,” according to IRIN, the UN-related news agency.

“Our convoys … have been prevented from entering the city by U.S. troops and our information from inside is that families are without food, power and potable water, particularly because they cannot leave their homes,” said Abdel Hameed, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

Muhammad al-Daraji, director of the Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq, said, “U.S. and Iraqi military groups have prevented the entrance of local nongovernmental organizations as well as the media to show the reality of human rights violations inside it.” He continued, “We have been informed they are taking men for interrogation and leaving women and children alone in their homes afraid and desperate for supplies.”

Mexico: World forum to protect water

About 20,000 people marched through Mexico City March 16 in support of publicly owned water and against its privatization. The event, which was sponsored by the Mexican Coalition for Water Rights, coincided with the Fourth UN World Water Forum held at an exclusive Mexico City hotel.

Another group, Workers in Defense of the Public Character of Water, recently held a three-day protest camp to demand that water remain in public hands.

Mexico City water workers, community leaders, rural peasants, fishermen and indigenous people came together with delegates from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canada’s largest union, to draw attention to their common struggles for access to clean water and to protest privatization.

The final statement read: “We urge all governments to place the interest of humanity and the ability of our planet to sustain life well above the drive for profit and power. Keep water in public hands! Democratic management of water! Water for life, not big business!”

Botswana: Labor unions join opposition

The labor secretary of the Botswana National Front, the country’s main opposition party, invited trade unions with affiliate to the party, saying the move would facilitate cooperation and promote mutual interests.

At an address to the national congress of the Botswana Wholesale, Furniture and Retail Workers Union, Labor Secretary Gabatsoswe Lebitsa said the ruling Botswana Democratic Party was “in cahoots” with big business. Botswana, he said, is exploited by foreign interests with little regard for, or benefit to, the people.

According to The Reporter (Mmegi) in Gaborone, Lebitsa said the BDP “only takes care of the interests of capital and places the majority of citizens last.”

The southern African country has a population of about 1.5 million and is rich in minerals, particularly diamonds.

World Notes are compiled by Pamella Saffer (psaffer@pww.org).