A Norwegian aid airlift, the UN’s man in South Sudan and why hurricane season has reinvigorated Puerto Rico’s statehood bid.
South Sudan only celebrated its independence in 2011 but the world’s youngest country remains embroiled in a civil war. The UN peacekeeping mission, headed by David Shearer, special representative of the secretary-general, tries to be neutral while protecting civilians and supporting a fractious peace process.
“Fighting is ongoing and millions of people are in need, yet hard to reach; we only have 250km of tarmac road,” says Shearer of a country roughly the size of France. Without good roads the logistics of peacekeeping are a challenge. The mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) is largely diplomatic but it also assists the South Sudanese in building a functioning state.
The 60-year-old New Zealander swapped his post as a Labour MP back home for South Sudan at the start of the year. Having previously headed up UN humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, he’s well versed in working in volatile places.
“I don’t fear for my life; I’ve spent a lot of time in difficult situations and I like to make a difference,” says Shearer. Yet he admits that it can be difficult to live in a no-family duty station, without his wife and daughters around. A routine of working out every morning helps and, even though he’s the UN’s main man in the country with bodyguards in tow, he makes himself approachable. “I often learn more about the mission on a Friday night at the bar than I do any other time,” he says.
Ethnic clashes continue to divide South Sudan and the UN warns it could be on the cusp of genocide. “Conflict won’t resolve the situation – it needs reconciliation,” says Shearer. “I’d like to see the country move on as a united South Sudan and not as different ethnic groups.” If Unmiss were to leave it would signal the end to a long, bloody conflict. “I’d like to be unemployed.”
Puerto Rico voted to become the 51st US state back in June and now the wooing has begun as the Caribbean island looks to win over Congress: a seven-member team is in the US capital to push its agenda. Indeed, the recent destruction wrought by hurricanes has shown just what a limbo the “unincorporated territory” is in. For starters, its commonwealth status means it only has one non-voting member of Congress, so relief efforts were slower to mobilise than in Texas or Florida. “If you’re not represented in a democracy it’s hard to get your fair share of anything,” says Brent Wilkes, CEO of Washington’s League of United Latin American Citizens.
Norwegians have long made international goodwill and diplomatic missions part of the country’s national brand. So it’s fitting that Oslo-based Norwegian Air partnered Unicef in late September to deliver 28 tonnes of emergency supplies to those affected by the civil war in Yemen.
“The country is enduring a terrible crisis that is only getting worse – especially with increased cholera outbreaks,” says Bjørn Kjos, the founder and CEO of Norwegian Air. The airline, which enables passengers to donate to Unicef when booking online, has carried out similar missions to the Central African Republic, Jordan and Mali with its Boeing 737 jets over the past three years. But this year it upped the ante and made the route with a factory-fresh Boeing 787 Dreamliner. To get goods into Yemen, it delivered them to Djibouti where they were put in a boat and shipped across the Gulf of Aden.