Why Doctors Without Borders Is Skipping The World Humanitarian Summit

Issues on the table at the World Humanitarian Summit range from conflict zones to refugees. Above, a herder moves his goats at the Dadaab refugee camp, created nearly 25 years ago. The Kenyan government now threatens to shut it down.

Issues on the table at the World Humanitarian Summit range from conflict zones to refugees. Above, a herder moves his goats at the Dadaab refugee camp, created nearly 25 years ago. The Kenyan government now threatens to shut it down. Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The World Humanitarian Summit begins this Monday in Istanbul. But one prominent group won’t be in attendance. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), withdrew from its role in the summit in early May, after 18 months of active involvement in preparations. The group’s main reason for pulling out was that governments around the world wouldn’t be bound to any initiatives put forth.

The MSF decision was also triggered by the organization’s concerns about the inability of nations to protect MSF and its patients in battle zones. Last year, 75 MSF-managed and supported facilities were bombed.

The group’s executive director Jason Cone spoke with NPR via email about the decision.

In your press release, you said that: “The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions” that won’t actually improve any of the “weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

When we saw the full agenda we realized that this forum would not reflect our main priority: responding to some of the most acute medical and humanitarian emergencies in the world. Instead, it seeks to align humanitarian and development agendas, taking on a much wider array of challenges. This comes as we are seeing dramatic failures to respond to emergency needs in places such as in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Central African Republic. The humanitarian system is too often failing in its core duty of meeting the needs of victims of conflict, and we are worried that the summit will do little to change that.

In some ways, the fact that MSF — for some, the embodiment of humanitarian aid — is pulling out of the WHS feels like a sign that the international system is breaking down. Is it?

The world should pay more attention to conflict-affected places like Yemen, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Burundi — these require concerted political action. Humanitarians are just picking up the pieces, and we cannot “fix” these conflicts with better aid.

We also need the role that humanitarians play to be respected. This includes the rules of war — you may not bomb hospitals, you must allow the population access to humanitarian aid and medical care. For example, there are besieged areas in Syria where medical supplies are not allowed in, and wounded people are not allowed out in medical evacuations. This is a breakdown in the rules of war that go back generations.

And your decision to pull out is sending a message to …?

We are looking to states to improve their commitments to supporting impartial, independent and neutral humanitarian aid, ensuring that people caught up in conflicts can access humanitarian assistance and abstaining from targeting civilians and medical facilities. We are also asking the humanitarian sector to recommit to working in the most difficult places, and [to] ensuring that humanitarians retain the capacity to respond quickly and effectively. This includes having the logistical capacity to respond quickly in emergencies and having the knowledge and expertise in security issues to operate in conflict areas. [This requires resetting priorities and reforming] a system which has become sluggish and bureaucratic in responding to crises. When war broke out in Yemen last year, for example, many international aid organizations left the country and were slow to return.

Who really has the power to enforce international humanitarian law? Asking for commitments from world governments has always been the way the system has worked.

The World Humanitarian Summit commitments are non-binding and voluntary. When it comes to international laws, we need states to implement the commitments that they have already signed up to, which are legally binding. These include the laws of war, which allow and protect medical and humanitarian assistance, and laws that govern how nations treat refugees.

What were you slated to do at the World Humanitarian Summit? What has your part been in preparing for the summit in recent months?

MSF has been engaging with the World Humanitarian Summit over the past 18 months. We have written many papers on WHS-related issues (see this) and submitted three of them to the summit. We have also attended four regional events and various side events, including the Global Forum for Improving Humanitarian Action held in New York last June, which was hosted by USAID and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. While we have decided not to attend, we will continue to engage with the participants on medical and humanitarian issues.

So many global summits, meetings and forums, from Davos to the G8, take place each year. What makes the WHS particularly ineffective?

It’s partly the format — the fact that states are not leading the process is innovative, but it leaves them without a clear role.

How could the issues you have with the WHS be resolved?

I’m not an expert on summits. However, it is clear that asking NGOs, states and UN agencies to sign up to non-binding and voluntary commitments will not lead to strengthening international humanitarian law. Putting states on the same level as non-governmental organizations and U.N. agencies minimizes the responsibilities of states. It lets governments off the hook for their obligations.

Have you heard from the WHS about MSF pulling out? What have they said?

We have had an open and constructive dialogue with the World Humanitarian Summit Secretariat and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs from the beginning [of the planning for the summit]. We informed them of our decision prior to making our statement. We received a considered and measured response to our statement from Stephen O’Brien, expressing disappointment that we would not attend.

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The 'Added Sugar' Label Is Coming To A Packaged Food Near You

Coming soon: The redesigned nutrition facts label will highlight added sugars in food. The label also will display calories per serving, and serving size, more prominently.

Coming soon: The redesigned nutrition facts label will highlight added sugars in food. The label also will display calories per serving, and serving size, more prominently. U.S. Food and Drug Administration hide caption

toggle caption U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The new, redesigned “Nutrition Facts” label is coming. The Food and Drug Administration has announced that the new label will be required on most packaged food by July.

The big change: The label will have a separate line showing how much sugar has been added to each food. The amount of “added sugar” will be expressed in grams and as a percentage of a “Daily Value” — an amount of sugar consumption that nutritionists think would be reasonable as part of a daily 2,000-calorie diet. The label also will display calories per serving, and serving size, more prominently.

As one example, a 20-ounce bottle of Coke could show 65 grams of added sugar, representing 130 percent of a recommended daily intake.

The change reflects increasing concern about the amount of sugar that Americans consume, and the amount of sugar that’s added to common foods.

Several advocacy groups cheered the FDA’s move. Michael Jacobson, founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, released a statement saying that the new labels will allow consumers to make more informed choices and “should also spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products.”

The FDA proposed including “added sugar” on the label last summer, and many food companies, such as General Mills, opposed it. The companies argued that, from a health point of view, it doesn’t matter whether sugar is added or is already present naturally in ingredients such as fruit. The existing labels already show the amount of total sugars in packaged food, and food manufacturers argued that this already tells consumers what they need to know.

Now that the FDA has made its decision, however, the Grocery Manufacturers Association does not seem interested in continuing the fight. The GMA released a statement welcoming the FDA’s revised food label and calling for a “robust consumer education effort” to help explain it.

The Sugar Association, on the other hand, was outraged, calling the FDA’s decision a “dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science.”

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Politics Podcast: The Team Goes Live!

The NPR Politics team tapes its podcast in front of a studio audience at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The NPR Politics team tapes its podcast in front of a studio audience at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. Meg Kelly/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meg Kelly/NPR

The politics team is back to discuss the state of the race on the GOP and Democratic side, and this time it’s in front of a live studio audience. Listen along as your favorite political nerds talk about what happened this week in the campaign, look ahead to the conventions, and share their own stories from the campaign trail.

On the podcast:

  • Campaign Reporter Sam Sanders
  • Campaign Reporter Sarah McCammon
  • Campaign Reporter Asma Khalid
  • Campaign Reporter Scott Detrow
  • Political Editor Domenico Montanaro
  • Editor and Correspondent Ron Elving
  • Congressional Reporter Susan Davis
  • White House Correspondent Tamara Keith

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Lawmakers Agree On Deal To Expand Regulation Of Toxic Chemicals

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., speaks with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Thursday before joining a bipartisan group of senators at a Capitol Hill news conference to discuss legislation to improve the federal regulation of chemicals and toxic substances.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., speaks with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Thursday before joining a bipartisan group of senators at a Capitol Hill news conference to discuss legislation to improve the federal regulation of chemicals and toxic substances. J. Scott Applewhite/AP hide caption

toggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a plan to update a 40-year-old law regulating the safety of chemicals.

The bipartisan legislation would update the Toxic Substances Control Act, which became law in 1976. The original act gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to require testing and reporting of potentially harmful chemicals.

But as NPR’s Jon Hamilton reports, the law didn’t apply to most chemicals already on the market:

“It assumed that thousands of untested chemicals already in use were safe.

“The new legislation, if it becomes law, would require the EPA to begin evaluating those untested older chemicals. It would also allow federal regulations to pre-empt those adopted by states, even if the state regulations are more stringent.”

The compromise bill — which the House and Senate are expected to vote on as soon as next week — is not universally supported. A group of House Democrats said in a statement that the legislation is “significantly weaker” than a previous House version of the bill as well as the 1976 law.

But backers say the final measure will significantly strengthen the decades-old regulation. “We have really a great bill here,” James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a news conference Thursday.

The Oklahoma Republican noted that it has been backed both by industry and by environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

“I wish I had the option to write the bill on my own. Believe me, it would have been much stronger,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said Thursday. “But I know if we want to make progress, we need to reach across the aisle. And as long as this is progress over the current situation, I am supporting it.”

Inhofe says he hopes the legislation will be delivered to President Obama before the Memorial Day recess.

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Snarky Puppy On World Cafe

Snarky Puppy.

Snarky Puppy. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

  • “Grown Folks”
  • “Tarova”
  • “Semente”

With all the genre and style possibilities that are a part of its music, the Brooklyn band Snarky Puppy is happy just to be called an “instrumental band.” It’s the only label inclusive enough to encompass the band’s fusion of rock, jazz and funk. Snarky Puppy is in its element when it’s performing live, and it’s often recorded its albums that way: live in the studio, often with an audience.

But the new album, Culcha Vulcha, was recorded differently; the band built up bandleader, producer and bassist Michael League’s compositions track by track in the studio. In this session, hear an interview with League and a live performance by a 12-piece version of the shifting band.

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An Underground Supper Club Where Music Moves The Menu

A falafel dish, one of musician-turned-chef Philip Gelb's creations for his Sound & Savor series of dinners and concerts.

A falafel dish, one of musician-turned-chef Philip Gelb’s creations for his Sound & Savor series of dinners and concerts. Hannah Kaminsky hide caption

toggle caption Hannah Kaminsky

When Philip Gelb was a young music student in Tallahassee, Fla., he had an unusual friend and mentor: the great jazz musician Sam Rivers.

Rivers, who died in 2011, was known for his improvisational style, and for the gatherings he would host in the ’70s at Studio Rivbea, a New York City loft where musicians would come together and just, well, jam. He wanted to create a space for artists to experiment.

Sam Rivers, “Beatrice”

YouTube

Decades later, Gelb, 51, is now a professional chef, though he still teaches music. And for the past 10 years, he’s been creating a culinary version of those jam sessions at his own industrial loft in West Oakland, Calif. As often as several times a month, he hosts an underground supper club called “Sound & Savor” — intimate dinner concerts for about 20 paying guests. The multi-course menu is an act of improvisation, and so too, in a sense, is the entertainment served up by top-flight musicians who often play larger venues.

Gelb plays the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. Though he once toured with leading musicians, including trailblazing composer Pauline Oliveros, he couldn’t make ends meet. “And the only other skill I had was cooking,” he says. So, along with a catering business, he started the dinner and concert series, inviting his musician friends to play.

For the last decade, musician and vegan chef Philip Gelb has hosted an underground supper club called "Sound & Savor" — intimate dinner concerts for about 20 paying guests — in his loft in West Oakland, Calif.

For the last decade, musician and vegan chef Philip Gelb has hosted an underground supper club called “Sound & Savor” — intimate dinner concerts for about 20 paying guests — in his loft in West Oakland, Calif. Hannah Kaminsky hide caption

toggle caption Hannah Kaminsky

“For many of the musicians who have performed on my series, improvisation is an integral aspect of their approach to creating music,” Gelb writes in his new cookbook, Notes From An Underground Restaurant. As a musician, he’s always been intrigued by the idea of composing in real time. “And this interest extends to the kitchen.”

The performers featured on the series over the years aren’t household names, but many are innovative figures who have challenged boundaries within their genres. They include people like double bassist Mark Dresser and saxophonist Oliver Lake – who also played at Sam Rivers’ Studio Rivbea sessions. Booking Lake was an act of serendipity, Gelb says.

Oliver Lake Trio, “Clicker”

YouTube

“One time a woman was at [my] cooking class and she’s like, ‘Oh, my friend Oliver Lake is going to be in town. Would you like to have him play here?’ My jaw just dropped.”

Sometimes, the meal is directly inspired by the artist. For instance, when musician Stuart Dempster played, Gelb whipped up multi-layered dishes as an homage to the trombonist’s multi-layered sound.

“When I first heard Stuart, it was one of his solo records, recorded in a big cathedral with a 13-second reverb,” Gelb explains. “What he was doing on that recording was playing a note, letting it resonate and then just stacking up layers on top of it, all using layers of natural reverb. … We had an eggplant Napoleon with five different treatments of eggplants, all stacked on top of each other.”

Other times, an ingredient itself becomes Gelb’s muse, such as peaches grown on the Central Valley, Calif., farm of Mas Masumoto, a pioneering figure in the organic agriculture movement who first gained fame for his eloquent defense of heirloom peaches. “I became a huge fan of him as a person … and then I got to taste his peaches,” Gelb says. Now, each summer, Gelb hosts a dinner in which each course features Masumoto’s peaches – raw, roasted, grilled and served over salad, alcohol-marinated, in teas and smoothies.

Mark Dresser, “Bacahaonne”

YouTube

At just 750 square feet, the loft is an intimate space. The dinners and music playing take place in the kitchen, so cooking becomes part of the performance. The bassist Dresser once performed a solo while apples baked in an oven right behind him, Gelb says.

Gelb is a vegan, and so are all of his locally sourced menus, which share with the entertainment the ethos of improvisation. For instance, a pistachio-matcha ice cream was born of a desire to blend two ingredients with the same beautiful green hue, he says. Then he and his sous chef tossed in some dried cherries. It’s “spur of the moment ideas that I would refer to as improvisation,” he says. Just as musicians aren’t expected to play a certain piece the same way each time, he says, chefs should feel free to riff off recipes.

Why this approach to cooking? “Most chefs, when they’re young, they’re in the kitchen working with great chefs. I was on stage working with great musicians. And I went out to eat with them,” says Gelb.

San Francisco Bay Area jazz saxophonist Howard Wiley performs at a Sound & Savor event.

San Francisco Bay Area jazz saxophonist Howard Wiley performs at a Sound & Savor event. Hannah Kaminsky hide caption

toggle caption Hannah Kaminsky

Gelb’s vegan repertoire is wide-ranging: His cookbook runs the gamut from Mexican to Chinese to Jewish soul food. He says he approaches cuisines as he does compositions: He immerses himself in “as much tradition as I can, and then throw it out the window and go from there.”

Over the years, Gelb has hosted close to 100 musicians from more than 14 countries and many different genres: from Yang Jing, a soloist on the Chinese lute (or pipa), to Japanese-American rapper Shingo Annen. Gelb estimates well over 1,000 guests have paid for the pleasure of dinner and a show at his loft. (Tickets usually go for about $60 each.)

“Underground restaurants have been around for a long time,” Gelb says. “So have house concerts. The idea of blending them is relatively new, especially at the level we’re doing it.”

What does he hope his guests take away?

‘A smile, I hope, a full heart, a full belly, a full mind. We want these experiences to be all encompassing. Of course, you have to eat to survive. But every culture has music, which says something. … We need it. … We’re trying to feed not just the body but the spirit as well.”

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Leroy Jones' New Orleans Strut

May 20, 201612:00 PM ET

Trumpeter Leroy Jones was playing in New Orleans back when Bourbon Street was lined with jazz clubs. The city has changed since then — Bourbon Street is a prime example — and Jones has evolved with it. From second lines with the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band and the Hurricane Brass Band, club gigs with modern combos and tours with Harry Connick Jr., he’s been a part of many jazz scenes.

Jazz Night In America takes in a set with Jones’ sextet at the Dew Drop Social & Benevolent Jazz Hall in Mandeville, La., across the lake from New Orleans. We hear the story of the venue, a small wooden room which has hosted jazz performances for more than a century, and the stories of Jones, a well-loved presence in his hometown.

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