1. Famine in Somalia
The UN has officially declared two areas of southern Somalia to be in famine, amid the worst drought to hit east Africa for 60 years. The UN said that the humanitarian situation in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had deteriorated rapidly. An estimated 11 million people have been affected by the drought in east Africa, but Somalia has been worst hit as it is already plagued by decades of conflict. The UN and the US have said that aid agencies need more safety guarantees from armed groups in Somalia so that aid workers can reach people in need.
The technical definition of a famine is as follows: a mortality rate of more than two people per 10,000 per day; acute malnutrition reaching more than 30 per cent; water consumption becoming less than four litres a day; and intake of kilocalories of 1,500 a day compared with the recommended 2,100 a day.
2. Serbia arrests last war fugitive
Goran Hadzic, the last remaining fugitive war crimes suspect, has been arrested by the Serbian authorities. Hadzic was the last man sought by the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and has spent eight years on the run, according to reports.. Of the 161 war crime suspects indicted, 131 were caught or turned themselves in. Of the 30 remaining, 10 died before being caught and 20 had their indictments withdrawn.
The 52 year old led Serb separatist forces during Croatia’s 1991-1995 war. He has been charged with the murder of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs and will be transferred to The Hague shortly.
3. NHS to be opened up to greater competition
Andrew Lansley announced on Tuesday that the government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities. Framed as greater “choice”, this has raised fears it will lead to further privatisation of the health service.
The first stage, beginning in April, will see eight areas of the NHS — including wheelchair services for children, and primary care psychological therapies for adults — opened up for “competition on quality not price”. If this goes well, the “any qualified provider” policy will be rolled out from 2013 to cover more complicated services, like maternity.
Lansley said that this was a toned down version of the government’s initial plans for competition in the NHS, which the doctor called in to review plans termed “unworkable”. However, shadow health secretary, John Healey, said this move was “not about giving more control to patients, but setting up a full-scale market”.
4. Lashkar Gah handed to Afghan forces
A significant step forward was taken this week in the transition of power from Nato forces to Afghan toops, ahead of the end of combat operations in 2014. British troops in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province handed control of the city Lashkar Gah to Afghan forces.
This follows Nato handing over Bamiyan, a relatively peaceful province, and the eastern town of Mehter Lam. Maintaining order in Lashkar Gah may pose a more serious challenge.
5. Eurozone crisis hits Britain’s banks
Britain’s three biggest banks saw more than £5bn wiped off their value on Monday, as the deepening crisis in the eurozone impacted on global financial markets. Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays were the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, all losing at least 6 per cent of their value. This was caused by the results of Friday’s stress tests on European banks, the possibility of the US losing its triple A credit rating and concerns about the political fall-out of the News International phone-hacking scandal for David Cameron.
Stocks fell heavily in Europe and North America. Meanwhile gold rose to a new record of more than $1,600 (£995) an ounce — a surefire sign of skittish markets. This lack of confidence is being compounded by concerns that Thursday’s emergency summit of EU leaders will fail to resolve the debt problems of the single currency’s weak members — again.