IRIN’s Top Picks: Ban Ki-Moon, MDGs, Displacement and Syria

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Achieving universal primary education was one of the eight Millennium Development Goals. Was it a policy mistake to put a price on achieving these targets?

LONDON, 6 March 2015 (IRIN) – Welcome to IRIN’s reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share some of their top picks of recent must-read research, interviews, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.Five to read:
The Secretary General in His Labyrinth
“When Ban Ki-moon was a child, the United Nations saved his village from a war. Can he save the U.N. from irrelevance?” is the opening line to this thoughtful and well-researched profile of the UN Secretary-General. Journalist Jonathan M. Katz gains rare access to Ban, weaving personal observations into a wider history and critique of the UN.  A long read, but worthwhile and with the UN facing increasing legitimacy challenges over Syria and Ukraine, more relevant than ever.
Shame on me: Why it was wrong to cost the Millennium Development Goals
Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s chief economist for the Middle East & North Africa, admits he was wrong to have put a price tag on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2002, he co-authored a conference paper stating that it would cost US$50bn to meet the MDGs by their 2015 deadline, a number that became commonly cited by policy makers and officials. In this candid blog post Devarajan acknowledges “approaching development as a problem of finance–the amount of money it will take to achieve the goals–can be counterproductive”. He says “poor people are poor because they are stuck in a low-level political equilibrium” and suggests deep systemic analysis and reform is what is needed, not a pile of cash.
The identity politics of displacement in the Middle East
Writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Adam G. Lichtenheld analyses the growing problem of forced displacement in the Middle East. He asks why – when the number of people displaced within their countries is far greater than the number who have fled across borders – most of the current literature and formal response is so “refugee-centric”. He crunches the numbers and looks at the historic and current role of ethno-politics in forced displacement.
Wars without limits are wars without end
This is the full speech by Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), delivered at the closing session of the  World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Middle East and North Africa Regional Consultation, which took place in Jordan this week. It is an honest appraisal of the challenges facing the humanitarian system today, noting the pressures on aid actors to work under ever-growing political and security agendas. Maurer urges his audience – NGOs, UN staff and donors – to “make pragmatic use of the opportunity that is the World Humanitarian Summit, not as an inward-looking technocratic exercise, but as a chance to broaden the global network of those engaged in making the world a better place”.
The Islamic State through the looking glass
Co-authored by Peter Harling, a senior Middle East advisor with the  International Crisis Group, and Sarah Birke, Middle East correspondent for The Economist, (writing in their personal capacities) this essay is a scholarly  reflection on the Islamic State and “its investment in the phantasmagorical”.  The authors examine the global reaction to the terror group’s courting of the “the brutal theatre of the absurd” and ask what can we do about it.
One to watch:
The Future of Aid
Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima discusses the relevance and future of aid in today’s world. In a lecture delivered at last month’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s governing council annual meeting, Byanyima makes a plea for a focus on climate change, inequality and women’s empowerment and urges that local people are put in “in the driving seat” of development partnerships.
Coming up:
Syria’s health: assessing the last four years
Monday 9 March 2015
As the Syrian crisis prepares to enter its fifth year, a panel of experts gathers at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in London to evaluate what the war has done to the country’s health system. Speakers include: Dr Fouad M. Fouad, a Syrian physician and general surgeon currently at the Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut; Jesse Erin Berns, an epidemiologist for Médecins Sans Frontières, who has worked with Syrian conflict-related displaced persons; and Omar Abdul Gabbar, is a UK-based consultant orthopedic and spinal surgeon, who studied medicine in Aleppo and is the former head of the medical committee of Hand in Hand for Syria, a UK-based charity.
From IRIN:
What refugees really think of aid agencies
Aid agencies are partial, unaccountable and potentially corrupt, and they fail to meet people’s most pressing needs, according to refugees interviewed as part of a focus group study prepared ahead of this week’s World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Middle East and North Africa consultation event in Jordan. We take a look a look at some of the less-than-glowing views aid receivers have of the humanitarian system. Kudos to the WHS Secretariat for full disclosure of what will be uncomfortable reading for many in the sector.

Theme (s): Aid Policy, Conflict, Economy, Refugees/IDPs,