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Rotterdam launches campaign to end forced marriages

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A Rotterdam city council poster campaign backing the right of young women to choose their own partner has drawn both mostly praise but some have criticised it for trivialising a serious problem.

The campaign, supported by women’s rights organsations Femmes for Freedom and Dona Daria, consists of four different posters showing a couple kissing in front of the city’s landmark Erasmus Bridge.

They have been hung at 50 different locations around the city and will remain in place for 14 days. In one, a woman in a Muslim headscarf kisses a man wearing a Jewish skull cap, in another, two women kiss.

Each poster carries the text ‘In the Netherlands, you choose your own partner’, followed by ‘do you feel free to choose?’. The campaign was launched by integration alderman Ronald Schneider, who represents the right-wing Populist Party Leefbaar Rotterdam.

Schneider told the NRC he is concerned that women with an Islamic or refugee background might be stopped by a relative if they, say, choose to begin a relationship with a woman. ‘We consider it to be completely normal but not everyone does,’ he said.

The fact that Dutch people were not always free to decide who to marry a couple of generations ago makes the campaign even more relevant, he said. ‘We have to protect the freedoms we have now,’ he told the paper.

Dozens of people showed their support for the campaign on social media and others called for it to be extended nation-wide.


However, local Labour party councillor Fatima Talbi told the party the poster campaign is an election student by Leefbaar Rotterdam and trivialising a serious issue. Nourdin el Ouali, of local Muslim party Nida said the posters are ‘stereotypical, ethnocentric and provocative.

‘This is benefiting no-one,’ he said, adding that the posters are the work of an ethnocentric white man. Nevertheless, both El Ouali and Talbi said they supported the central message.

Shirin Musa from lobby group Femmes for Freedom told the Volkskrant the campaign is a ‘boundary-breaking statement’ which shows that women’s right to self-determination is central.

The council is showing ‘it supports women who are confronted with honour-related violence, forced abortions, who are told they are too western or are sent back to their country of origin to be re-educated,’ she said. (DutchNews)


With focus on natural disasters, UN risk reduction forum opens in Mexico

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2017 – Opening a major United Nations conference on risk reduction in Cancun, Mexico, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed cautioned that the world would not reach its development goals without tackling climate change and disaster risk.

Human and economic losses from disasters cannot continue at current levels if we are going to progress with the Sustainable Development Goals,” the Deputy Secretary-General said at the opening on Wednesday evening.

Held every two years since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to discuss disaster reduction, the 2017 Global Platform – the fifth such event to date – is bringing together some 6,000 Heads of State, policy makers, disaster risk managers, civil society and other participants.

This is the first international summit on disaster since the Sendai Framework, which was adopted in 2015 in the northern Japanese city after which it was named, and consists of seven targets and four priorities for action that aim for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.

Last year, 445 million people were affected by disasters linked to natural hazards worldwide including floods, storms, earthquakes and drought, 8,000 people lost their lives and direct economic losses from major disaster events were estimated at $138.8 billion.

The World Bank estimates that the real cost to the global economy from disasters is $520 billion per year and that they push 24 million people into poverty annually.

“The challenge is how we are going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if annual economic losses from disasters can wipe out the entire GDP of a low income country overnight and force millions from their homes,” Ms. Mohammed said.

She noted that Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Pacific, have all agreed and adopted plans to implement the Sendai Framework “with a clear focus on shifting the paradigm from managing disasters to managing disaster risk.”

She emphasized that this is vital in order to progress on key targets of the Sendai Framework including reducing mortality, reducing the numbers of people affected by disasters, reducing economic losses and reducing damage to critical infrastructure – all points that are also integral to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Earlier in the day, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Robert Glasser, welcomed participants and said he hoped the gathering would provide “great momentum” to efforts to make this a safer and more resilient world.


Kolegio Rayo di Solo reaches highest point

BONAIRE - There was another moment of celebration in the Antriol Pariba neighbourhood on Bonaire on May 23rd. The moment that Dali (Rudaliah) Mercelina symbolically placed the last roof sheet, the ‘Kolegio Rayo di Solo Renovation’ project reached its highest point. 

Dali herself received her primary education at the Kolegio Rayo di Solo. Dali is currently putting her knowledge to use as a member of the project team. In this team she represents the Public Entity Bonaire's Directie Ruimte and Ontwikkeling, Beleid en Projecten  [Urban Planning and Development Department, Policy and Projects].

Principal Enigma Giskus of Kolegio Rayo di Solo is another member of the project team. Enigma Giskus and Eveliene Coenen, Chief Executive of Stichting Openbaar Onderwijs Bonaire [Bonaire Public-Authority Education Foundation] jointly represent the school in the project team. Enigma is pleased to see children who she educated at her school in a role where they contribute to building the future of Bonaire and working on building a career for themselves.

The six existing school buildings of Kolegio Rayo di Solo are undergoing a complete renovation, during which the roofs are entirely replaced and cooling and ventilation installations are installed. An open roof structure is being added. The school is scheduled to be put into service at the start of the 2017/2018 academic year. The school has a capacity of approximately 320 children.

The realisation of this building project is part of the educational buildings plan for Bonaire, which is co-financed by the Public Entity Bonaire and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science [Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, hereafter referred to as OCW]. The Central Government Real Estate Agency coordinates the execution of the different projects which are part of this plan, on behalf of the Public Entity Bonaire and OCW.

The design is by Streefkerk Architects + Consultants from Bonaire. The renovation of Kolegio Rayo di Solo is carried out by the contractor Constructora Tecnica Silvousa. (RCN Caribbean Netherlands)


Economic benefits of Amsterdam tourism are over-estimated: researchers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The economic benefits of tourism in Amsterdam have been exaggerated and its financial impact under-estimated, according to research by investigative journalism platform Investico and magazine De Groene Amsterdammer.

Much of the profit earned from tourism goes to a few large firms, many of which are foreign, and city council figures don’t take the full cost of dealing with tourists into account, the researchers say.

For example, the city claims 17 million people visit Amsterdam every year and spend €9.7bn. However, half the visitors are Dutch and the total also includes people from Amstelveen going out for a meal or visiting friends, the researchers said.

Estimates about the number of jobs created by tourism also vary widely, from 154,000 according to Amsterdam Marketing to 61,000 according to the city’s statistics office O&S.

Many of these jobs are part-time jobs in cafes, cultural attractions and transport – all of which are also used by Amsterdammers, the researchers point out. The city council has introduced a ban on building new hotels in the city centre but 22 more are in the pipeline, and 100 will be opened across the city in total.


Taking the cost of marketing the city, policing tourists, subsidising museums and the impact on liveability into account, the researchers estimate tourism costs the city €71m a year, which is well above the €64m raised in tourism taxes.

The city’s economic affairs alderman Kasja Ollongren told broadcaster NOS the problems caused by tourism in the city centre are now being addressed. Tourist taxes are being increased, the city is clamping down on illegal accommodation providers and efforts are being made to spread tourists throughout the city, she said. (DutchNews)


UN resilience ‘scorecard’ to help cities curb disaster losses from climate change, other risk drivers

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2017 – As world leaders and civil society representatives gather today in Cancun, Mexico, for a biennial United Nations forum on preventing and mitigating disaster impacts, the UN today launched an updated plan to increase the number of cities and towns with the capacity to reduce their disaster losses by 2020.

Announcing a major revision to its Disaster Resilience Scorecard, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said the changes bring the mechanism into alignment with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan for reducing disaster losses.

It is a major boost to the goal of having more strategies in place at local level for reducing disaster losses from climate change and other risk drivers. This is a key area of focus this week at the UN’s biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction where the Scorecard was launched today. Plans are in place to have 200 cities using it by the end of the year.

“National governments have the primary responsibility of implementing the Sendai Framework working with many stakeholders, and the Scorecard is a valuable support to this work at the local level,” pointed out UNISDR chief Robert Glasser.

UNISDR noted that the revision was undertaken by its private sector partners, American firms AECOM and IBM, with the support of the European Commission and USAID. It follows a pilot project undertaken by 35 cities that are members of the UNISDR Making Cities Resilient Campaign which comprises over 3,500 cities worldwide.

Ms. Kathy Oldham, Head of Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit, Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, of the United Kingdom, commented that: “using the Disaster Resilience Scorecard gave us the opportunity to broaden and deepen our understanding of resilience, bringing together partners from across the city region in conversations to explore the different issues the Scorecard highlights.”

Other cities that participated in the pilot included Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Hong Kong, China; Geneva, Switzerland; Quito, Ecuador; and Kisumu, Kenya.

Losses due to disasters from natural and man-made hazards including floods, storms and the impacts of climate change are mounting and on average cost governments over $300 billion globally each year.

The Scorecard provides a set of assessments that cover the policy and planning, engineering, organisational, financial, social and environmental aspects of disaster resilience. Designed to be led by local government authorities, the Scorecard aims to assist in monitoring and reviewing progress in the implementation of the Sendai Framework.

The Scorecard is a free self-assessment tool to be used by cities or local government agencies.


In final address, UN health chief urges world body to ‘remember the people’ behind the facts and figures

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2017 – The outgoing chief of the United Nations health agency today highlighted the relevance of the World Health Organization (WHO), and offered its decision-making body parting advice that included protecting scientific evidence, pushing for innovation and thinking of people in every decision that is taken.

Remember the people,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva. “Behind every number is a person who defines our common humanity and deserves our compassion, especially when suffering or premature death can be prevented.”

Among other advice, Dr. Chan, who steps down after two five-year terms, urged the body to work towards realizing the “tremendous potential of vaccines. She noted that the current measles outbreak in Europe and North America would have never occurred, had immunization coverage not dropped below the necessary 95 per cent threshold.

She also stressed the importance of listening to civil society, calling it “society’s conscience” and who can “give people who suffer the most a face and a voice.”

Refuting what she called “frequent criticism” that WHO has lost its relevance, Dr. Chan pointed to a recently issued report tracking how public health has evolved during her 10 year administration.

“It is a tribute to the power of partnerships and the capacity of public health to take solutions found for one problem and apply them to others,” the senior UN official said of the report.

As an example, she noted that while it took nearly a decade to lower the prices of antiretroviral treatments for HIV, thanks to teamwork and collaboration, the prices for new drugs to cure hepatitis C fell within two years.

‘We falter sometimes, but we never give up’

“This is the culture of evidence-based learning that improves efficiency, gives health efforts their remarkable resilience, and keeps us irrepressibly optimistic,” Dr. Chan said. “We falter sometimes, but we never give up.”

WHO’s relevance was “most dramatically demonstrated” during last month’s global partnership meeting on neglected tropical diseases, she said. Participants celebrated a decade of “record-breaking progress” to eliminate the diseases.

“The fact that, in 2015, nearly one billion people received free treatments that protect them from diseases that blind, maim, deform, and debilitate has little impact on the world’s geopolitical situation. The people being protected are among the poorest in the world,” Dr. Chan said.

She added that this was “a success story that the world was hungry to hear.”

Dr. Chan did admit fault, however, in WHO’s handling of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa; the virus has recently re-emerged near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

The outgoing chief said that “WHO was too slow to recognize that the virus, during its first appearance in West Africa, would behave very differently than during past outbreaks in central Africa, where the virus was rare but familiar and containment measures were well-rehearsed.”

While the organization made “quick course corrections” to bring three outbreaks under control and helped create the first Ebola vaccine, the outbreak happened on Dr. Chan’s watch “and I am personally accountable.”

Current health challenges, elections top Assembly’s agenda

The year’s World Health Assembly, which includes 194 countries, will discuss what has been learned from that outbreak, as well as from WHO’s handling of Zika and other diseases.

Experts will also provide an update on how Angola responded to last year’s Yellow Fever outbreak, which exhausted the global vaccine stockpile several times.

The current cholera epidemic in war-torn Yemen is also on the agenda; only days ago, WHO described it as “unprecedented.”

Polio is still causing misery and paralysis in three countries where it is endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, so delegates will continue to push for the complete eradication of the wild poliovirus, for which there is no cure, only prevention.

In addition to tackling these health threats and many more, the World Health Assembly has one more important task – choosing Dr. Chan’s successor. The three candidates hoping to step into her shoes after the vote tomorrow afternoon are Tedros Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia, David Nabarro from the UK, and Sania Nishtar from Pakistan.


On Day for Biological Diversity, UN says tourists must protect nature that draws them

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2017 – Tourism must not undermine the nature that attracts tourists in the first place, said the head of the United Nations-backed treaty on biological diversity, marking International Day for Biological Diversity.

“Tourism grows, so does the risk of harming the environment […] It will be important therefore such developments do not undermine the very natural beauty that draws tourists in the first place,” said Cristiana Pasca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in her message for the Day, which this year is celebrated under the theme Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism.

Many natural areas with rich biodiversity, such as beaches, coasts and islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, are popular tourism destinations. Roughly half of the leisure trips taken globally are to natural areas, she noted.

It is therefore important to understand that the way tourism is managed will impact biodiversity and conversely, the way ecosystems are managed will impact the sustainability of tourism, as tourists will not come to polluted or degraded destinations.

The Convention was adopted on 22 May 1992 as the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has since been ratified by 196 nations.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 22 May as the International Day for Biological Diversity.

In his message for the Day, UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai said: “Together we can make tourism an ally in fighting loss of biodiversity and achieving the Global Goals for a better world.”

In that regard, UNWTO is encouraging more destinations to set up sustainable tourism observatories, he said.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also been working with all its partners to explore pathways for ensuring the long-term sustainability of tourism while also ensuring that it contributes positively to biodiversity.

“Biodiversity is as necessary for nature and humankind as cultural diversity, to build stronger, more resilient societies, equipped with the tools they need to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in her message for the Day.


Venezuela: UN human rights chief regrets opposition leader being blocked to travel

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – Amid rising violence in Venezuela, the United Nations human rights chief has expressed regret that the Latin American country’s opposition leader was allegedly blocked from leaving the country for New York, where they were planning to meet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said on Twitter that he regrets that Henrique Capriles was unable to travel and hoped that the incident is not a reprisal linked to the planned meeting with him in New York today, Mr. Zeid’s spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.

The spokesperson said that the High Commissioner would go ahead with a meeting this afternoon in New York with Mr. Capriles’ lawyer who would share a report prepared by Mr. Capriles.

“We find the rising tensions in Venezuela very alarming, and incidents like that involving Mr. Capriles yesterday are unlikely to help reduce tensions,” the spokesperson said. 

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also regrets the continued loss of lives during the political unrest, he said. According to the latest figure, 42 deaths were confirmed in the context of the protests. 

OHCHR is monitoring the situation from outside the country, but it would be good to be able to visit the country as the situation is very worrying, the spokesperson said. 

He expressed concerns about allegations of excessive use of force by security forces, reports of violence by armed groups, as well as reports that people detained during the protests are being brought before military tribunals, not civilian courts. 

OHCHR also urges demonstrators to protest peacefully.


Sint Maarten Police Force Warns Caribbean Community on Cyber attacks

PHILIPSBURG - Over the years, the Police Force of Sint Maarten (KPSM) has been handling different forms of complaints of cybercrime. In the wake of the recent global threats by ransomware viruses, KPSM has embarked upon an initiative to raise awareness on the growing ransomware and other cybercrime problem.

Recently, a global cyber attack (Wannacry) in the form of a ransomware has affected more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries. Organizations affected includes hospitals, railway systems etc. This ransomware is being described as the most dangerous and damaging attack in cyber attacks history.

Why is this attack different?
What makes this attack different from others is the ability for the ransomware to spread on its own without any human input. Previous ransomware of its type depended on human input to spread throughout the network.  This new variant however combined this capability with the “computer worm” capability to replicate itself in order to other computers. Once infected, the virus will encrypt targeted files making them useless. It then displays a message on your computer screen demanding a ransom in order to get the files back. We warn that there is no guarantee that by paying the ransom, your files would be restored. Contacting the cybercriminals can also make you a future target since they may now have your information.

False perception of safety
There is often a false perception that because a device is listed as not affected by a specific type of virus that such device is safe to use. Note that a mobile phone for example can also act as a carrier of any virus even if it is not affected by that particular virus. This means that the virus can be copied to your Smartphone and lay dormant until you connect the Smartphone to a vulnerable device like your laptop or computer which can then be infected.

Another false perception for the Wannacry ransomware is that there is now a kill switch that saved the world from the virus. Although it is true that a turn of switch has been discovered in the code of the virus, this only slows down but does not stop the problem. The kill switch works by stopping the virus from activating if the infected computer has access to the internet and connect to a particular domain. However, if that computer loses access to the internet it can no longer connect to the domain and then proceed to infect the computer.

Avoid being victimized
The best way to avoid being affected by any ransomware or virus is by always being aware of the threats and taking immediate actions to secure your systems. This virus is so dangerous that Microsoft has released updates for even outdated operating systems. Below are a few examples on actions that can be taken to secure your personal or company network from cyber attacks:

  • Safe browsing habits: Be careful when clicking on suspicious links on websites and in emails. A method known as phishing tricks users into clicking on links or attachments in emails or on websites. Never click or open unsolicited links or attachments without verifying this with the sender first. Also be aware of those tempting flashing and links on websites. These links are sometimes created in such a way that you are tempted into clicking on them.
  • Always keep your computer up to date by enabling the automatic download feature in Windows to download the latest updates. Microsoft has also rolled out updates for unsupported operating systems like XP and Server 2003. You must also update these systems.
  • Employers of private and government owned companies should always:

- stay aware of threats;

- Take action to protect their network;

- Maintain awareness throughout their organization by always informing their employees on new cyber attacks.

These examples are especially crucial for critical organizations and infrastructures, such as Medical Centers, telephone and internet providers, power distribution companies and the aviation industry.

It is also important to instruct your employees on how they can help to avoid these threats. It is also very important that proper back-up plan be put in place so that you can recover your data if you are a victim of a cyber attack.

Even though most Wannacry attacks happened outside of the Caribbean, everyone is at risk of being attacked at any given time. The Police Force of Sint Maarten therefore encourages the community to remain alert and to take immediate action to protect yourself against cybercriminals. (Police Force Sint Maarten)


Experts race against clock to quell Ebola outbreak in remote DR Congo province – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – A race against the clock has begun to contain an outbreak of Ebola in a remote northern area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today. 

Twenty cases of Ebola have been reported in the DRC's Bas Uele Province – near the vast country's border with the Central African Republic – two have been confirmed by laboratory tests and three people have died so far, the agency says.

On 9 May, WHO noticed a cluster of unexplained illnesses and death, all with bleeding symptoms in the same area. WHO, the Congolese Government and the medical aid organization, Alima, immediately deployed a team to the field and lab tests confirmed it was Ebola. Two days later, the DRC Ministry of Health officially declared an outbreak of the virus. 

“It's important to note that Likati Health Zone is one of the most remote parts of the DRC. It is 1400 kilometres from Kinshasa and 350 kilometres from the nearest major town, Kisangani,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the WHO Executive Director for Health and Emergencies Programmes, speaking to the press in Geneva.

The logistic and practical challenges associated with the response to the outbreak in a very remote and insecure part of the country should not be underestimated  – WHO's Dr. Peter Salama

He also said there are only 20 kilometres of paved roads in that area and virtually no functional telecommunications. It is also an area that has been subject to insecurity and displacement. “The Lord's Resistance Army is believed to be active in the area and their displaced populations from the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic,” he noted. 

With the help of the UN, the first search teams, led by the DRC's Ministry of Health, flew into Likati on yesterday. Their immediate priority is to follow the 400 plus contacts of the suspected Ebola cases. 

The focus is on surveillance, getting the best information on the suspected cases, diagnosing people who have come in contact with an infected person, case management, isolating those who are infected to prevent the spread of the disease and more importantly engaging with the community, explained Dr. Salama. 

Meanwhile, the first Ebola treatment centre has been established in the Likati General Hospital. Protective gear has been dispatched to health workers and a mobile lab is being constructed and then deployed to the area. Immediate repairs to air strips and telecommunications are also being carried out.

The first six months of the operation are expected to cost $10 million.

Risk assessment 'high' at national level; 'low risk' globally

WHO has determined overall that the risk assessment for this event is “high” at the national level, medium at the regional level and low at the global level.

An experimental vaccine for Ebola is being tested in Guinea, where the first outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was reported.

The trials there have been “promising” and the vaccines has proven to be efficient and safe so far, Dr. Salama told reporters, while Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, added that she is encouraged by the rapid response to quell the outbreak.

“We have not received an official request from the Government for this vaccine but they have been made aware that this possibility exists both to benefit from this new tool and also to add their support in the testing of this vaccine, she said, reiterating the experimental nature of the vaccine and expressed hope the authorities “will work with us to consider this and make a decision.”

This is the eighth outbreak in the DRC since 1976. The most recent was in 2014, around the time more than 11,000 people died and some 28,000 cases were reported in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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