Latest Developments, August 3

In the latest news and analysis…

The UN has declared three additional famine zones in Somalia – including the refugee camps in the capital Mogadishu – on top of the two areas already considered as such since last month. The famine is expected to spread throughout southern Somalia and persist until December.

The Guardian’s Mark Tran goes through the factors hampering the delivery of emergency food aid in Somalia: lack of funds, hostile Islamist rebels, US anti-terror legislation and corruption. And ABC informs us we can add another item to the list: the Mogadishu offensive launched by African Union and government troops against Al Shabab.

There is also increasing concern about the Ogaden, a predominantly Somali part of southeastern Ethiopia where not even the International Committee for the Red Cross is allowed to set foot. According to the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden, “ it has been fenced off and closed to outsiders for years because Ethiopia fears it might be infiltrated by anti-Ethiopian insurgents. Atrocities by Ethiopian troops are reported but cannot be verified. If the rest of the region is suffering, the closed Ogaden may be hiding an even larger disaster.” The area is not completely closed off, however, as Canada’s Africa Oil Corp. has just released an update on its exploration activities in East Africa, including the Ogaden where: “Preparations for drilling, including purchase of materials, execution of drilling related contracts, civil works, and environmental permits have commenced.” The Canadians are not alone, as Reuters reports “a surge in requests for exploration rights” in the Ogaden’s 18 oil and gas exploration blocks, which Ethiopia believes “may contain gas reserves of 4.7 trillion cubic feet of gas and major oil deposits” which could be ready for  production in six years.

A Colombian mining union leader has been shot dead by paramilitaries, according to the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions, which says his own union “had reported threats to its leaders that were believed to be tied to the contested takeover of Frontino by [Canadian mining companies] Modora[sic] and Gran Colombia, and the sacking of all miners.” And Ghana’s Chronicle reports a dispute between inhabitants of the town of Yayaso and Canadian Newmont Mining. The latter claims it is serious about social responsibility and spent nine months working out a compensation package for Yayaso’s inhabitants to relocate. But a number of the villagers refuse to leave and allege that the company has already destroyed several farms and plans to dump mine waste in revered burial sites. There are currently no Canadian laws in place requiring the investigation of domestic companies for alleged wrongdoing overseas. A bill that would have threatened to withdraw public support –  but not to impose fines or prison sentences – for Canadian companies found guilty of such offences was defeated by parliament last fall.

Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay compensation that could exceed $400 million for two oil spills in Nigeria, after a class action suit by a group of inhabitants of the Niger Delta. And victims’ families have won the right to sue Chiquita in the US for complicity in torture and killings of employees by Colombian paramilitary groups.

Jewelry giant Tiffany & Co.’s CEO Michael Kowalski writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: “There are places in our nation, belonging to all Americans, that are too special to mine, too special to develop for oil and gas and too special to forever sacrifice for short-term gain.”  It is for that reason, he says, that his company opposes the mining of California’s Bodie Hills as well as the legislation that “would eliminate protections and allow development on more than 43 million acres of America’s most fragile and important lands.” But as the New York Times reported last month, Tiffany & Co. has tried to have gold exempted from US legislation requiring companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals.

Kenneth Epps of disarmament advocacy group Project Ploughshares accuses Canada of having “reversed its previous low-key but constructive role at the United Nations [Arms Trade Treaty] preparatory meetings to become a potential treaty spoiler,” in particular by pushing for exemptions to sporting and hunting firearms. “To work,” Epps argues, “the ATT must adopt high universal standards that would require many states to improve their arms transfer controls to meet these higher standards. A lowest common denominator approach to the ATT, by locking in low global standards, would actually make matters worse.”

And Al Jazeera English tweets: “Now that #Mubarak is on trial, do his foreign supporters owe #Egypt an apology?”