‘Among the Most Ruinous Presidential Decisions in Recent History’: Trump Begins WHO Withdrawal
The Trump administration began the formal process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO), a White House official said Tuesday, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the country.
President Donald Trump first began attacking the WHO's handling of the new coronavirus in April, when he made the decision to halt funding. But public health experts and Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle say leaving the organization will make Americans, and people around the world, less safe in the midst of a pandemic that has sickened more than 11 million people and killed more than 544,000, according to Wednesday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Lawrence Gostin, who directs the WHO's Collaborating Center on National & Global Health Law, said the withdrawal was "among the most ruinous presidential decisions in recent history," according to a statement reported by The New York Times.
"It will make Americans less safe during an unprecedented global health crisis," Gostin, who cosigned a letter to Congress from 750 health and legal experts opposing withdrawal, said. "And it will significantly weaken U.S. influence on W.H.O. reform and international health diplomacy."
Thread explains why US w/drawal from @WHO is unlawful & unethical, among most ruinous presidential decisions in his… https://t.co/BK4SsmPARP— Lawrence Gostin (@Lawrence Gostin)1594154039.0
Trump first announced he would pull the U.S. from the organization May 29, arguing that it had responded too slowly to the pandemic and was under the "total control" of China, NPR reported. But the organization issued its first warning about the new virus Jan. 4, just five days after the first announcement from local health authorities in Wuhan, China, The New York Times pointed out. It had completed a detailed report by the next day.
In order to withdraw from the WHO, the U.S. must pay any unpaid dues — which stood at $198 million as of June 30 — and give a year's notice, NPR explained. The UN confirmed to reporters that it had received that notice and was checking with the WHO if all the conditions for withdrawal had been met.
"On 6 July 2020, the United States of America notified the Secretary-General ... of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, effective on 6 July 2021," UN Secretary-General António Guterres's spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric wrote in an email to reporters.
The yearlong delay means the withdrawal might not go into effect at all if Trump loses to Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in November's Presidential election.
"Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health," Biden tweeted in response to the news. "On my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage."
Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health. On my first day as President, I will re… https://t.co/qNgyOKHOlE— Joe Biden (@Joe Biden)1594154693.0
But it isn't only Democrats speaking out against Trump's withdrawal.
"I disagree with the president's decision," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement reported by NBC News. "Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it. Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States."
Public health experts agreed with Alexander's assessment of the risk. In their letter to Congress, the 750 health and legal experts wrote that, by leaving the organization, the U.S. would lose access to the WHO's system for sharing data and vaccines. The U.S. also contributes more funds than anywhere else to the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, which means withdrawal will cost the whole world funds for contact tracing and vaccine development.
The U.S. historically has contributed around 15 percent of the WHO's overall budget, or $450 million a year. Beyond COVID-19, that money helps fund programs fighting health concerns like polio, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
"Pulling funding could reverse hard-won progress and erode the ability of the U.S. to shape and lead policy," the letter writers said.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.