Somalia Crisis Dubbed Worse Than Darfur

Internally displaced Somalis try to flee with some of their belongings as fire rages at a camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007. Nearly 90,000 people have fled Somalia's capital in recent days, a massive upsurge of displacements following the heaviest fighting to shake the war-battered city in months, the U.N. said Thursday. AP

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It's a dubious honor, but if the title of Africa's most pressing humanitarian crisis belongs to any country, it might not be the one with all the bus stop advertising featuring movie stars striking poses of deep concern.

At this moment it may belong to Somalia, where 200,000 people recently displaced by violence are rapidly running out of food, the New York Times reports. Top United Nations officials who specialize in Somalia said the country had higher malnutrition rates, more current bloodshed and fewer aid workers than Darfur, which is often publicized as the world's most pressing humanitarian crisis.

It might not matter who's in bigger trouble, except that Darfur has taken clear priority in terms of getting peacekeepers and aid money. In some cases, such as the African Union's promise to send 8,000 troops to stop the anarchy in Somalia, promises couldn't be fulfilled because the soldiers were deployed to Darfur. Only 1,600 Ugandan troops of the promised 8,000 have showed up so far.

Somalia's problems are centered in Mogadishu, where relentless urban combat between an unpopular transitional government - installed partially with American help - and a determined Islamist insurgency have driven waves of people to more than 70 refugee camps.

These people are hungry and sick, and only the hardiest of hardcore humanitarian agencies can get to them. Unlike Darfur, where suffering is being eased by a billion-dollar aid operation and more than 10,000 aid workers, Somalia is mostly considered a no-go zone. Pirates lurking off the coast of the country have attacked more than 20 ships this year, including two carrying U.N. food.

The U.N. officials calling attention to the country's plight said they weren't diminishing the problems of Darfur, where over 200,000 people have died from violence and disease since 2003. But they were clearly trying to launch their own PR campaign to vie for some of the same attention and aid dollars that are going to the Sudan. It seems to have worked, at least this round. Their invitation to Times reporter Jeffrey Gettlemen, one of several journalists participating in recent organized trips to the country, got Somalia above the fold on today's front page.

Oil-Rich Persian Gulf States Reconsider Peg To Dollar

It's hard to find a friend these days if you're a U.S. dollar.

The latest folks considering sitting the dollar down for one of those "it's not you, it's us" conversations are the stinking (of petroleum) rich nations of the Persian Gulf, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For many years, states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pegged their currencies to the dollar to stabilize their revenue from oil, which is traded in dollars. Now that link is stoking a nasty bout of inflation in their turbo-powered economies and forcing them to consider a breakup.

Kuwait has already done it, switching earlier this year from the dollar peg to a "basket of currencies," as the Journal puts it. If others follow suit, it could undermine demand for the dollar and encourage others to diversify their holdings.

Like apparently every other problem on the planet earth these days, this one stems from - wait for it - the downturn in the U.S. housing market. The Federal Reserve's decision to cut interest rates to prop up the slowing U.S. economy and forestall damage from the mortgage meltdown turns out to be the exact wrong monetary policy prescription for the Gulf states, which are trying to tame galloping growth.

Normally, when the price of a country's major export rises - or skyrockets, as is the case with oil these days - that pumps up the local currency. This helps restrain inflation. But the opposite has happened in the Gulf, where currencies tied to the dollar have fallen relative to other currencies such as the euro and the British pound. This makes many of their imports more expensive.

The political effects are palpable. In Dubai, thousands of workers have staged sometimes violent protests at construction sites to protest their diminished buying power.

So investors, seeing the writing on the wall, are doing the monetary policy equivalent of separating their record collections and taking back their favorite sweatshirts. Even if a breakup is averted, the thinking goes, there will at least be a renegotiation of the peg that values the Gulf states currency more highly. So bank deposits in the UAE have swelled, as local and foreign investors buy dirhams at the current rate and bet on a revaluation.

"Coffee, Tea Or Me" Alive And Well In The Chinese Sky

There was a time that we called them stewardesses: lovely lasses, thin, unmarried, hairsprayed, high-heeled and able to direct large groups of terrified passengers in the event of an emergency landing by sea.

The word, and the questionable gender politics tied to it, has gone the way of the rotary phone in America; thanks in part to legislation like the 1971 law forcing airlines to allow married women and men to apply for the job.

But "coffee, tea or me" stereotype is alive in well in China, the Los Angeles Times reports. The world's fastest-growing aviation market flaunts a job entry process for flight attendants that makes the mid-century U.S. version look like a Planned Parenthood march.

There is, for starters, a swimsuit contest. China Southern, the country's largest carrier, includes the contest as part of a televised six-month audition for its 180 flight attendant openings. Other contests include races involving luggage, makeup brushes and drink drays. Time counts, but so does poise.

"This is every little girl's dream," said Lu Ju, 20. "I want to be beautiful like the flight attendants. They can see the world and go places most people can't."

Flight attendants must be under 24 and several inches over the average Chinese woman's height to qualify. Nice legs are also a must.

"A lot of Chinese passengers judge the quality of airlines based on the quality of their flight attendants," said Luo Man, a media director at China Southern, "meaning are they pretty or not pretty."

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