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Accountability for rights abuses in South Sudan 'more important than ever,' says senior UN official

INTERNATIONAL, 23 April 2017 – A lack of accountability for crimes perpetrated during the ongoing conflict in South Sudan remains one of the country's “biggest challenges,” the Human Rights Director for the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) said today as he wrapped up a visit to the north-western Wau region.

Violence earlier in April led to the death of 19 Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers and at least 28 civilians, according to State officials. The killing of civilians in Wau town followed the ambush and killing of the SPLA soldiers by suspected SPLA-In Opposition fighters.

According to a news release, the Human Rights Division of UNMISS has interviewed 43 individuals, including eight women and two children, from 11 April, to collect information about alleged human rights violations perpetrated by government forces and aligned armed groups in Wau town on 10 April.

“I can confirm that, as of Sunday, nobody is being detained in connection with this attack against civilians,” said Eugene Nindorera. “I talked to victims and witnesses and was shaken to hear their testimonies of how they had to flee their houses after being attacked. It's more important than ever before that people are held accountable for the crimes they have committed.”

He further confirmed after meeting the Governor of Wau state that the Governor had established a committee to produce a comprehensive report to determine the motive for the attacks and identify the perpetrators in order to hold them accountable.

“I welcome this move,” Mr. Nindorera said, “and I encourage Governor Andrea Mayar Acho to exert his authority to ensure that people are held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

Meanwhile, UNMISS has confirmed that by Thursday (20 April) the protection of civilians site adjacent to the UNMISS base in Wau had registered some 17,000 new arrivals, mainly women and children, while around 5,000 people had sought sanctuary inside the compound of the Wau Catholic Church. The influx of newly displaced people has led to over-crowding and pressure on humanitarian services.


UN and World Bank sign new partnership to build resilience for the most vulnerable

INTERNATIONAL, 22 April 2017 – Building resilience for the world's most vulnerable people by reducing poverty, promoting shared prosperity, enhancing food security, and sustaining peace in crisis-affected situations will be the focus of a new partnership framework agreed by the United Nations and World Bank.

According to a joint statement, the framework, signed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, is in response to global calls for the two institutions to work more closely together on prevention and reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability as the world faces a spike in violent conflict.

The Secretary-General has been at World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the past two days for the Spring Meetings convened annually by the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They bring together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, private sector executives, and academics to discuss issues of global concern, such as the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development, and aid effectiveness.

The UN and World Bank noted that human and economic costs of conflict are massive, affecting long-term stability and prospects for economic development and poverty reduction. Violent conflict drives 80 per cent of humanitarian needs costs, with the UN estimating that $22.1 billion is required in 2017 for humanitarian assistance – a sharp increase from the $9 billion needed just five years ago.

Under the framework agreed today, the UN and World Bank will work in complementary ways to: reduce the multi-dimensional risks of crisis and help prevent violent conflict; develop joint analyses and tools for more effective solutions; coordinate support to address protracted crises including forced displacement; and scale up impact by leveraging financing.

This framework […] is in response to global calls for our institutions to work more closely together on prevention and reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability as the world faces a spike in violent conflict

Building on nearly a decade of efforts to strengthen UN-World Bank collaboration in crisis-affected situations, and updating an earlier framework signed in 2008 , the new partnership also reflects developments since then, including commitments made at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit calling for a “new way of working” that shifts the focus from “meeting needs” to “reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability.”

The framework also notes the importance of aligning and leveraging financial resources, doing more through innovative, data-driven operational responses.

To advance this work, the two institutions will focus on building resilience in, among others: situations where there is a risk of violent conflict or ongoing conflict; situations with high levels of forced displacement; protracted and post-crisis situations; and when climate change and natural disasters affect these situations.

The framework notes areas for operational collaboration in which the UN and World Bank will:

  • Identify and reduce critical multi-dimensional risks of crisis, and prevent violent conflict in relevant countries or regions within the mandate of both institutions;
  • Coordinate support for situations of protracted crisis, including aligning strategies, objectives and collective outcomes, in particular for populations affected by forced displacement, and based on joint analyses and assessments
  • Develop joint analyses and tools where the complementarity of mandates may enable more effective solutions; and
  • Scale up impact, by leveraging existing financing and comparative advantages, and ensuring that operational policies, frameworks, and tools used by both organizations facilitate cooperation and improve efficiency and complementarity.

Mother Earth Day: Environmental and climate literacy vital for a cleaner, greener planet, says UN

INTERNATIONAL, 22 April 2017 – Environmental and climate literacy is the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws and policies but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs, the United Nations is emphasizing on Mother Earth Day.

International Mother Earth Day, marked annually on 22 April, is celebrated to remind everyone that the Earth and its ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance.

It also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the landmark 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity.

The International Day provides an opportunity to raise public awareness around the world to the challenges regarding the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports, says the UN.

The theme for 2017 is 'Environmental and Climate Literacy.' Education is the foundation for progress. A global citizenry must be built that is fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet. Everyone must be empowered with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection, the world body stresses.

Recognizing that Mother Earth is a common expression for the planet Earth in a number of countries and regions, which reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet we all inhabit, and noting that Earth Day is observed each year in many countries, the UN General Assembly, through a resolution adopted in 2009, decided to designate 22 April as International Mother Earth Day.

It invites all Member States, the organizations of the United Nations system, international, regional and subregional organizations, civil society, non-governmental organizations and relevant stakeholders to observe and raise awareness of International Mother Earth Day, as appropriate.


UN welcomes release of 26 Qatari abductees in Iraq

INTERNATIONAL, 22 April 2017 – The United Nations has welcomed the release and return to their country of 26 Qatari nationals abducted in Muthanna governorate, Iraq, in December 2015.

“We understand that the Qatari nationals were released unharmed. We are grateful to the Iraqi authorities and to all who contributed to the safe release of the abductees,” said a statement issued yesterday evening by UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

According to media reports, the 26 Qataris were kidnapped from a desert camp in Iraq's southern Muthanna province in mid-December 2015.


UN food relief agency air-lifts food, medical supplies to 31,000 famine-stricken Somalis

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – As the drought intensifies in south and north-eastern Somalia, the United Nations emergency food relief agency today airlifted to Mogadishu enough high-energy biscuits to assist 31,000 people for three days.

The shipment, made on a Boeing 747 donated by the UPS Foundation from Dubai, also included medical assistance on behalf of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

“A rapid response is crucial to support drought-affected families across Somalia,” said WFP Representative and Director of Gulf Office Abdallah Alwardat. “This airlift is a great example of WFP and its partners coming together to reach those furthest behind with life-saving assistance.”

The food is meant for the most vulnerable people – particularly children – who are displaced from their homes without access to food or cooking facilities, WFP said.

According to UN estimates, half of Somalia’s population, including 330,000 acutely malnourished children, is in need of urgent assistance.

The high-energy biscuits are rich in minerals and vitamins and do not require preparation, the UN agency said. WFP will provide other types of live-saving food assistance for the following days.


Addressing ‘fragility’ of societies key to preventing conflicts, stresses UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – Noting that a key trigger common to nearly all conflicts is the element of fragility – fragility of States, of institutions, or of societies – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for increasing investments in preventative measures that address the problem of fragility before it turns into conflict.

“This means strengthening States, strengthening institutions, strengthening civil societies [and] combining the peace and security approach with the inclusive and sustainable development approach and with human rights,” explained Mr. Guterres, speaking at a World Bank-European Union event in Washington DC, where the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are holding their annual Spring Meetings.

In his remarks at the panel discussion on , the UN chief noted that the traditional forms of development aid are not enough and said that new approaches that create the conditions for investments in building resilience of communities and addressing fragility is needed.

He also praised the World Bank for the innovations it has already in place in countries like Jordan and Lebanon, to help them cope with the refugee crisis in the region.

“In my opinion, this is essential and, [given the scale of needs] should also include the private sector,” he said, adding that it is essential to find ways to divert the massive use of resources in managing crises to what is necessary to do to prevent them and to build the capacity of societies to solve their own problems.

Prior to attending the panel discussion, Secretary-General Guterres met with top United States officials, including President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster at the White House.

According to the UN chief’s spokesperson, Mr. Guterres and Mr. Trump had constructive discussion on cooperation between the US and the UN and agreed to meet again in the near future.


‘Large majority’ of millions living with hepatitis have no access to testing or treatment – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – New data published by the United Nations health agency has revealed that a vast majority of the estimated 325 million people living with chronic hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus infection lack access to life-saving testing and treatment, placing them at a great risk of chronic liver disease, cancer, and even death.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO)’s 2017 Global Hepatitis Report, just 9 per cent of all hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections were diagnosed in 2015. An even smaller fraction – merely 8 per cent and 7 per cent– of those diagnosed with HBV and HCV, respectively, started curative treatment during that year.

“Viral hepatitis is now recognized as a major public health challenge that requires an urgent response,” said Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, in a news release announcing the findings.

“Vaccines and medicines to tackle hepatitis exist, and [we] are committed to helping ensure these tools reach all those who need them.”

The report also revealed that increased coverage of HBV vaccinations among children have contributed substantially to preventing deaths from that virus.

Globally, 84 per cent of children born in 2015 received the three recommended doses of HBV vaccine.

However, an estimated 257 million people, mostly adults born before the introduction of the HBV vaccine, were living with chronic HBV infection in 2015. There is also currently no vaccine against HCV, and access to treatment for both HBV and HCV is low.

HBV infection requires lifelong treatment, and Hepatitis C can be cured within a relatively short time using the correct medicines, making the need for testing and treatment all the more important.

“We are still at an early stage of the viral hepatitis response, but the way forward looks promising,” said Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO’s Department of HIV and the Global Hepatitis Programme, adding: “More countries are making hepatitis services available for people in need – a diagnostic test costs less than $1 and the cure for HCV can be below $200.”

Western Pacific, African regions bear greatest burdens

Findings have also revealed that Hepatitis B levels vary across the planet. WHO’s Western Pacific Region (115 million people) and its African Region (60 million people) have the highest number of such patients. These roughly equate to 6.2 per cent and 6.1 per cent of their respective total populations.

Similarly, HCV prevalence by regions varies from about seven million (in WHO Americas Region) to 15 million (in the UN agency’s Eastern Mediterranean Region).

The report has also shown that that despite challenges, some countries have made strides in scaling-up hepatitis services.

China, for instance, achieved a high coverage of nearly 96 per cent for the timely birth dose of HBV vaccines, and reached the Hepatitis B control goal of less than one per cent prevalence in children under the age of five in 2015.

Mongolia, too, has improved the uptake of hepatitis treatment by including HBV and HCV medicines in its National Health Insurance Scheme, which covers 98 per cent of its population.

Similarly, generic competition among medicines has also contributed substantially, in Egypt, for example, the price of a 3-month cure for Hepatitis C has reduced to less than $200 (in 2016) from $900 (in 2015) also, in Pakistan, the same course currently costs as little as $100.

WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis aims to test 90 per cent and treat 80 per cent of people with HBV and HCV by 2030.


Spread of literacy among women highlighted in UNESCO anniversary global review

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – The increase in reading and writing proficiency among women is a result of the significant up tic in their enrolment and completion of primary education over the last five decades, even as overall funding for adult literacy has remained low, a recently-launched study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has found.

The publication, Reading the past, writing the future: Fifty years of promoting literacy, marks the “uplifting and sobering” fiftieth anniversary of UNESCO’s efforts to mark global progress on literacy, celebrated annually on 8 September as International Literacy Day. The authors of the current report examine the nature and evolution of the educational challenge, and take stock of literacy initiatives worldwide.

The spread of literacy among women has been a key feature of the past fifty years. However, the gap between male and female literacy rates only started narrowing from 1990 onwards. UNESCO projects that it is likely to keep unfolding over the period of 2015-30 and beyond.

While various positive trends are highlighted, Qian Tang, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, in the publication’s foreword, calls for “renewed and strengthened commitment to support literacy promotion for all, including the 758 million youth and adults currently excluded from the networks of written communication.”

The authors note that around 1950, just over half of all the world’s people were reported as being literate. Since then, they state, the adult literacy rate has increased by five percentage points every decade on average, to 86 per cent in 2015.

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with various contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve his or her goals, develop his or her knowledge and potential, and participate fully in community and wider society. UNESCO 2005a:21

One of the report’s main findings is that there are now more illiterate adults compared with 50 years ago, meaning that literacy efforts have not kept pace with population growth, a trend Mr. Tang finds “troubling”.

Resources to educate adults

The UN’s educational agency identifies sufficient resources for education as one of the bottlenecks for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 4, on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, including for the large and growing group of illiterate adults. The authors find that funding for adult education and literacy has rarely been adequate.

UNESCO claims that lack of funding is one of the reasons why progress continues to be slow in certain regions and countries. Among the surveyed countries, only four devote 3 per cent or more of their educational budget to adult education.

Total aid to education by the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is about 1.4 per cent of their total aid budget, according to the UNESCO report, with only a few OECD-members devoting more than 3 per cent of their individual funding to education.

Regional disparities

Progress has been far from uniform across countries and regions. UNESCO defines the spread of literacy among young people – especially young women – as a decisive trend for Western Asia and Northern Africa regions, with regional youth literacy rates reaching almost 95 per cent in 2015.

UNESCO argues that the spread of literacy has contributed to the demand for political freedom and socio-economic development expressed by young people in these regions. It also points out that their reading and writing proficiency will be crucial for democratization and stabilization in both regions.

Eastern Asia and South-East Asia have almost universalized literacy thanks to steady progress since the 1960s. Most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have also reached high adult literacy and almost universal youth literacy in recent decades.

For decades large-scale adult illiteracy will persist in Southern Asia, UNESCO projects. The number of illiterate adults has merely stabilized, but the region still counts 43.9 million illiterate young people. Progress made in the last 25 years has been hampered by extreme poverty and conflict.

Other regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania face specific difficulties. UNESCO warns that both regions cannot be expected to reach universal youth literacy rates by 2030 if current trends continue. It claims that sub-Saharan Africa – accounting for almost half of the world’s illiterate people – is the only region in which the number of illiterate young people kept increasing.

The report is based on data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and information from UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL). The publication analyses trends and impacts of literacy programmes on 50 countries around the world.


UN refugee agency sending urgent relief items for Congolese civilians fleeing to Angola

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – The United Nations refugee agency is shipping tents, mosquito nets and other essential relief items to Angola, where some 9,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fled this month alone.

“Refugees reported fleeing attacks from militia groups, who are targeting police, military officials, and civilians who they believe are supporting or representing the Government,” Babar Baloch, spokesperson at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters at the UN's Geneva Office.

The civilians arrive mainly in Dundo, the capital of Angola's north-eastern Luanda Norte Province.

UNHCR is sending an additional emergency team to the town tomorrow, to support relief efforts.

There are concerns that the situation will worsen as Angola's wet season peaks in April, further complicating living conditions and the health of refugees, particularly women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

The refugees are fleeing from the Kasai region, a formerly peaceful area that turned violent in mid-2016, after a traditional leader, Kamuina Nsapu, was killed in fighting with security forces. Since then, the fighting has displaced more than one million civilians.

“The new arrivals are terrified and still fear for their lives and mentioned they do not have any immediate plans to return home,” Mr. Baloch said. “Some parents have reportedly sent their children across the border, worrying they would be forcibly recruited by the militias if they had stayed in the DRC.”


‘Children being killed or injured’

There is particular concern about the situation of children in Kasai. An estimated 2,000 children were being used by the militias in the affected region and were yet to return to their homes, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

“These children were being killed or injured in the fighting, and were often arrested and imprisoned,” UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said in Geneva.

More than 4,000 children had been separated from their families and at least 300 seriously injured, according to the UN agency.

“Those children should be safe in their homes, schools and playgrounds, not forced to fight on the battlefield or wounded or killed in the violence,” Mr. Boulierac added.

The violence in the region had also had a devastating impact on education and health systems in the region. More than 350 schools had been destroyed in the provinces of Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental, and one out of three health centres no longer function.

The UN refugee agency echoed this concern, saying many of the children arriving in Angola are malnourished and sick “suffering from diarrhoea, fever and malaria.”


UNICEF calls for action to prevent more deaths in Central Mediterranean as attempted crossings spike

INTERNATIONAL, 21 April 2017 – Noting increases in number of migrants, including children, attempting to reach European shores using the Central Mediterranean route, and consequent rise in number of deaths, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called for safe and legal pathways for those who are fleeing conflict, poverty and depravation.

According to UNICEF estimates, at least 849 people, including more than 150 children, perished at sea while trying to make the perilous crossing since January this year.

“It is deeply concerning that vulnerable people, including thousands of children, are risking their lives to reach Europe's shores using this incredibly dangerous route,” Afshan Khan, the UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said in a news release today.

Since the start of the year, nearly 37,000 refugees and migrants – 13 per cent of them children – have reached Italy by sea via the Central Mediterranean. This is an increase of 42 per cent compared to the same time period last year.

In particular, unaccompanied and separated children are at most risk, and these numbers too have seen a dramatic increase. In January and February this year, some 1,865 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Italy, an increase of 40 per cent compared to the same period last year.

This is further evidence that when safe and legal pathways to migration are cut off, desperate children and families will do whatever they can to flee conflict, poverty and depravation

UNICEF also noted that recent good weather and calmer waters in the Mediterranean have been accompanied by a surge in refugees and migrants attempting to cross. During the Easter weekend (last weekend) alone, more than 8,300 were rescued from the sea between Libya and Italy. At least eight migrants were reported to have drowned over the weekend.

“This is further evidence that when safe and legal pathways to migration are cut off, desperate children and families will do whatever they can to flee conflict, poverty and depravation,” noted Ms. Khan.

As part of its global policy for children on the move, the UN agency has been calling for more action to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children; end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

It has also underlined the need to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status; to ensure that all refugee and migrant children have opportunities to learn, access to health care and other quality services; and to address the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants.

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