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On International Day, UN forecasts 14 million people made homeless each year by disasters

CARIBBEAN, 13 October 2017 – Sudden onset disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and tropical cyclones, are likely to displace nearly 14 million people worldwide each year, warns a United Nations-backed study released Friday – International Day for Disaster Reduction.

“This is an important baseline against which we can measure progress in reducing disaster risk. The findings underline the challenge we have, to reduce the numbers of people affected by disasters,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“Apart from death or severe injury in a disaster event, there is no more crushing blow than the loss of the family home which is often a place of work in many of the countries worst affected,” he added.

The numbers of internally displaced people, refugees and migrants are at an all-time high. Besides conflict, disasters trigger a significant percentage of such movements. Unless disaster risk is managed better, homelessness among people in the world’s most disaster-prone countries is predicted to continue rising.

The study, covering 204 countries and territories, shows that eight of the 10 countries with the highest risk of future displacement and loss of housing are in South and Southeast Asia.

In India, 2.3 million people face such risk, followed by China at 1.3 million; Bangladesh at 1.2 million; Vietnam at 1 million; the Philippines at 720,000; Myanmar at 570,000; Pakistan at 460,000; Indonesia at 380,000; Russia at 250,000; and the United States at 230,000.

The study was conducted by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), using probabilistic risk models for disasters, developed by UNISDR, which have been used to calculate estimates of future economic losses from a range of natural hazards.

This is the first time that these techniques have been applied to forecast potential average numbers of people made homeless over long periods of time. Slow on-set disasters attributed to drought and sea-level rise are not included.

“The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted by UN Member States two years ago has a key target for a substantial reduction in the numbers of people affected by disasters by 2030 and these findings should spur efforts to improve land zoning and the quality of buildings especially in seismic zones and on land exposed to storms and floods.” Mr. Glasser said.

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UN rights office 'deeply concerned' over arrests of LGBT people in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2017 – The United Nations human rights office on Friday expressed deep concern about a wave of arrests in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia of more than 180 people perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), many of whom have reportedly been mistreated by law enforcement officials.

“Arresting or detaining people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is by definition arbitrary and violates international law,” including rights to privacy, non-discrimination and equality before the law, said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at a press briefing in Geneva.

In all three countries, authorities have alleged that those arrested were involved in sex work – although in almost all cases the accused have denied such allegations or indicated that they were coerced into confessing involvement, he added.

Mr. Colville said that Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia should take immediate action to release anyone detained on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, drop charges based on vaguely worded and discriminatory laws, and should repeal such laws in line with their legal obligations under international law and long-standing United Nations recommendations.

In Azerbaijan, more than 80 people presumed to be gay or transgender have been arrested in Baku since mid-September. In Egypt, more than 50 people have been arrested in recent weeks based on their assumed sexual orientation or gender identity. In Indonesia, more than 50 people were arrested at a sauna in Jakarta last Friday, based on their perceived sexual orientation.

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Ahead of UN mission's closure, envoy reports greater stability, security in Haiti

HAITI, 12 October 2017 – Haiti has seen a significant turnaround from profound instability, widespread political violence, and a climate of lawlessness that in 2004 impacted the every-day lives of millions of Haitians, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Caribbean islands country told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Today, Haiti has a very different outlook. The Haitian people enjoy a considerable degree of security and greater stability; political violence has diminished; armed gangs no longer hold the population hostage, also thanks to the work of the national police – now 14,000 strong – which has grown significantly in numbers and capacity,” said Sandra Honoré, in her final briefing to the Council as head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

MINUSTAH will close on 15 October to be replaced the following day by a smaller successor mission, the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), which is mandated to assist the Government in strengthening rule of law institutions, reinforcing national police capacities, and engaging in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis.

Ms. Honoré, who is also the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for the country, noted that when MINUSTAH was established in 2004, State authority had been weak and limited to parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, with the three branches of power either non-functional or non-existent, and a national police force that was overwhelmed by the multiple threats to public order and the rule of law.

Today, Haiti has a very different outlook. The Haitian people enjoy a considerable degree of security and greater stability.Sandra Honoré

Today, 13 and a half years later, “Haiti has a very different outlook, despite the many challenges still facing the country,” she underscored.

All three branches of power are in place with the Executive and Legislative branches restored to full functioning, while the Superior Council of the Judiciary, created for the first time in 2012, remains in need of long-term fixes to allow it to fully play its role as the guardian of an independent and impartial judicial system.

These democratic institutions are complemented by the directly elected officials now in place at all levels of governance, for the first time in 10 years, denoting real progress in the implementation of the constitutional governance system, she said. At the heart of these achievements stood the creation of stable political conditions, without which none of the above would have been possible.

“There is no doubt: Those achievements, and many others which I have not mentioned, while significant, are only initial steps,” she said, stressing the need for the Haitian authorities and all other actors to make tireless efforts to consolidate these gains, with the continued support of Haiti's international friends and partners.

President Jovenel Moïse has reiterated his determination to transform and modernize the State to better serve the people and has taken initial steps to translate this overarching objective into deliverables, especially through the launch and expansion of the Government's flagship development programme, the 'Caravan for Change,' Ms. Honoré explained.

However, amidst a climate of widespread economic grievances and strained relations between the Executive branch and the political opposition, the maintenance of stability in the longer run may depend on the ability and commitment of the Administration to move more swiftly in undertaking concrete action, and implementing the promised reforms, she added.

MINUJUSTH stands ready to play an effective role in supporting the consolidation of the country's stability. The UN will also continue to make every effort to assistant the Government in alleviating the suffering caused by the cholera epidemic.

“Looking ahead, I have no doubt that … the international community and the United Nations will contribute to the sustainability of the progress achieved during the past 13 years in Haiti's stabilization and democratization process,” she concluded.

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Disease outbreak ‘real and present danger’ UNICEF warns, launching latrine-building plan in Cox’s Bazar

INTERNATIONAL, 12 October 2017 – New latrines will be constructed in the Rohingya camps and settlements of Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district to provide sanitation coverage to some 250,000 people, averting a major disease outbreak, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported Thursday.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief of Bangladesh agreed that the Bangladesh Armed Forces Division will construct 10,000 latrines in Cox’s Bazar as quickly as possible at a total cost of $1.5 million.

“There are already reports of water-borne diseases from the health centres in the camps,” said Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, who signed a work plan with Joint Secretary Muhammad Habibul Kabir Chowdhury Wednesday at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.

“Disease outbreak is a real and present danger for the camp dwellers and host population. We immediately need to step up sanitation coverage there,” added Mr. Beigbeder.

UNICEF will contribute financial as well as technical support to the ministry in this public health undertaking, including through it water, sanitation and hygiene sector partners, which will provide locations for each set of 5-rings model latrines.

The latrines, at an estimated cost of $147 each, will also be regularly disinfected through spraying chlorine solution so that these do not become sources of contamination.

UNICEF, the Department of Public Health and Engineering, and water and sanitation sector partners are also implementing an accelerated programme of building latrines for the refugees in the camps in two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar district.

In related news, on 10 October, UNICEF and its health sector partners launched a massive oral cholera vaccination campaign for 650,000 people in Ukhiya and Teknaf sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar – mobilizing 900,000 doses of cholera vaccines to protect newly arrived Rohingyas and the host community from a cholera outbreak.

 
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US withdrawal from UNESCO 'loss for multilateralism,' says cultural agency's chief

INTERNATIONAL, 12 October 2017 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voiced “profound regret” on Thursday over the United States' decision to withdraw from the agency.

“This is a loss to UNESCO. This is a loss to the United Nations family. This is a loss for multilateralism,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement.

“Universality is critical to UNESCO's mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” she added, noting that UNESCO would continue to build a more just, peaceful, equitable 21st century.

Ms. Bokova recalled that in 2011, when the US suspended payment of its membership contributions, she was convinced that the UNESCO never mattered as much for the US or vice versa.

“This is all the more true today,” she continued “when the rise of violent extremism and terrorism calls for new long-term responses for peace and security, to counter racism and antisemitism, to fight ignorance and discrimination.”

Ms. Bokova spelled out her belief that the American people support UNESCO's actions to harness new learning technologies; enhance scientific cooperation, for ocean sustainability; promote freedom of expression, defend journalists' safety; empower girls and women as change-makers and peacebuilders; bolster societies facing emergencies, disasters and conflicts; and advance literacy and quality education.

“Despite the withholding of funding, since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful,” she underscored. “Together, we have worked to protect humanity's shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy.”

The partnership between UNESCO and the US has 'drawn on shared values'

The Director General gave examples of collaborating during that time, such as launching the Global Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education and celebrating World Press Freedom Day in Washington, D.C., with the National Endowment for Democracy.

She also mentioned a long history of joint endeavours, including working together with the late Samuel Pisar, Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, to promote education for remembrance of the Holocaust across the world to fight antisemitism and genocide today; cooperating with major US companies Microsoft, Cisco, Procter & Gamble and Intel to keep girls in school and nurture technologies for quality learning; and working with the US Geological Survey, US Army Corps of Engineers, and US professional societies to advance research for the sustainable management of water resources, agriculture.

“The partnership between UNESCO and the United States has been deep, because it has drawn on shared values,” Ms. Bokova stressed.

Citing lines in UNESCO's 1945 Constitution by US Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish – 'since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed' – she said this vision has never been more relevant, and added that the US helped inspire the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Calling the agency's work “key to strengthen the bonds of humanity's common heritage in the face of forces of hatred and division,” she noted the value of World Heritage cites in the US, such as the Statue of Liberty, as being not just as a defining US symbol but that it speaks for people across the world.

“UNESCO will continue to work for the universality of this Organization, for the values we share, for the objectives we hold in common, to strengthen a more effective multilateral order and a more peaceful, more just world,” Ms. Bokova concluded.

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UN chief Guterres welcomes peaceful elections in Liberia

INTERNATIONAL, 12 October 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed Tuesday's peaceful holding of the presidential and House of Representatives elections in Liberia and reiterated the continued support of the UN to the consolidation of peace and democracy in the West African country.

“The Secretary-General commends the efforts of the National Elections Commission and security institutions for this important milestone in the history of Liberia,” said a statement issued by his Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

Also in the statement, the UN chief congratulated the people of Liberia who turned out enthusiastically in high numbers to vote, and commended the Liberian women's groups for their active and important role in the electoral process.

UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia, deployed in 2003 after a civil war ended, handed back responsibility for security to the country's army and police in 2016, as part of its exit strategy.

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At UN, robot Sophia joins meeting on artificial intelligence and sustainable development

INTERNATIONAL, 11 October 2017 – Artificial intelligence has the potential to accelerate progress on global development goals, but also poses a range of complex challenges, including ethical questions, human rights issues and security risks, speakers told a United Nations event today that featured a robot as one of the panellists. 

A moment that drew big applause during the day-long event, ‘The future of everything – sustainable development in the age of rapid technological change,’ came when Sophia, a humanoid robot, had brief interaction with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed. 

To Ms. Mohammed’s question about what the UN can do to help people in many parts of the world who have no access to the Internet or electricity, Sophia said “the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed […],” quoting renowned science fiction writer William Gibson. “If we are smarter and focused on win-win type of results, A.I. [artificial intelligence] could help proficiently distribute the world’s existing resources like food and energy.” 

Sophia is Hanson Robotics’ latest and most advanced robot. Sophia has also become a media sensation, having given numerous interviews to multiple media outlets, performed in concert, and even graced the cover of one of the top fashion magazines. 

In her opening speech, Ms. Mohammed warned that despite profound potential for accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), if technological progress is not managed well, it risks exacerbating existing inequalities. 

“The influence of technology on our societies should be determined by the actions of us, humans, not by machines,” she said. “Technology is here for us to explore and use for the benefit of all.” 

The meeting was co-organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN General Assembly’s main economic and financial body (Second Committee). 

ECOSOC President Marie Chatardová said that the long-term consequences of the deep technological changes underway, for economies and societies at large, are unknown. 

“We are only starting to see the benefits, but we do need to assess the risks of these technologies,” she said. 

Sven Jürgenson, of Estonia, Second Committee Chairman, said that AI-based solutions are taking his country’s digital society to the next level. 

He said the Government is working on a full legal and cyber-risk management framework for using fully autonomous vehicles in regular road and traffic conditions. And door-to-door robot transport will reshape how goods are shipped and delivered locally. 

“Today, Internet access is a social right in Estonia. Every Estonian resident has an electronic ID and nearly all public services are accessible online, including i-Voting in Estonian Parliamentary elections,” he said. 

“The development of e-Estonia has not happened in one day – it took us 17 years to start from changing legislation and creating our first e-solutions,” he added.

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Cutting greenhouse gases, reducing disaster risk, vital for sustainable development – UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 11 October 2017 – A new United Nations report has underscored the importance of a “risk-informed” approach to sustainable development and called for integrating global agreements on disaster risk reduction and climate change into national socio-economic planning. 

Presenting the report’s findings Monday to the General Assembly’s main economic and financial body (Second Committee) Robert Glasser the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction said that the failure to include such risks in investments have resulted in rapidly rising disaster-related costs. 

In his briefing, Mr. Glasser noted that over the past two decades, more than 1.35 million lives and in excess of $2.5 trillion have been lost to disasters. 

“In the light of this disturbing picture,” he said, “delivering on the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will only be possible if we cut greenhouse gases as rapidly as possible in line with the Paris Agreement and reduce climate and disaster risk in accordance with the ambitious global targets agreed […] in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.” 

The report, Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, also warned that the developing world remains at particular risk from disasters, which have resulted in annual average loss of more than 20 per cent equivalent of social expenditure. 

According to the report, by 2050, urban populations exposed to hurricanes will increase from 310 million today to 680 million. Urban assets vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding could reach $35 trillion by 2070 – 10 times more than the current levels. 

To overcome the challenges, the report urged, UN Member States to prioritize and resource the development of inclusive national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020, as a key element of efforts to reduce climate risk and disaster risk more broadly. 

It also called on them to identify and seize opportunities to coherently incorporate the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement into social and economic planning and investments within the context of the 2030 Agenda. 

The report comes ahead of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, to be marked this Friday. The 2017 theme of the International Day, Home Safe Home: Reducing Exposure, Reducing Displacement, seeks to raise global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices taken to reduce exposure to disaster risk at the community level, thereby contributing to saving homes and livelihoods.

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'EmPOWER' girls before, during and after crises, UN says on International Day of the Girl Child

INTERNATIONAL, 11 October 2017 – The world's 1.1 billion girls are a source of power, energy, and creativity – and the millions of girls in emergencies are no exception, the United Nations said on the International Day of the Girl Child, which kicks off a year-long effort to draw global attention to and action on the challenges and opportunities girls face before, during, and after crises. 

“Because of entrenched gender inequalities, disasters and conflict can make a bad situation even worse for girls,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, in a statement marking the International Day, which this year is on the theme, 'EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after crises.' 

“They and their families, struggling to survive, are left with few choices, leaving girls even more vulnerable to child marriage, sexual- and gender-based violence, including trafficking, rape and sexual slavery,” she added. 

According to the Organization's main entity on gender issues, UN Women, due to growing conflict, instability and inequality in 2017, 128.6 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance, and more than three-quarters of those forced to flee are women and children. 

“No society will flourish and no peace agreement will be lasting without empowering girls in peacebuilding and reconstruction,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “It is time to put this imperative at the heart of all of our efforts in addressing fragility, conflict and violence.” 

Our special photo story on the International Day examines the challenges girls face during emergencies and highlights the critical role they play in building a better future for themselves and their communities.

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Attacks against Rohingya ‘a ploy’ to drive them away; prevent their return – UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 11 October 2017 – Brutal, well-organized, coordinated and systematic attacks have been carried out against the minority Muslim Rohingya community in Myanmar, with the intention of not just driving them away but also preventing their return, a new United Nations human rights report has revealed. 

Based on on-the-ground interviews in Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge, the report also draws attention to a strategy to “instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological” among the Rohingya population. 

“The [UN human rights] team documented consistent accounts of the Myanmar security forces surrounding or entering villages or settlements, sometimes accompanied by Rakhine Buddhist individuals firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring some and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire, and announcing in other villages that the same would befall them if they did not comply with the order to immediately abandon their homes,” notes the report, issued Wednesday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

It also cites testimony from witnesses that security forces committed extrajudicial and summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and attacks on places of worship. 

Efforts [taken] to effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrainOHCHR report

Specific attacks particularly targeted the educated in the Rohingya society such as teachers, business men, religious and community leaders – “people with influence” – in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge, said OHCHR in a news release announcing the grim findings. 

“Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, targeting their houses, fields, food-stocks, crops, livestock and even trees, to render the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future in northern Rakhine almost impossible,” it added. 

UN rights chief urges authorities to end the ‘cruel’ security operation immediately

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who described the Government operations in northern Rakhine state as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” also urged the Myanmar Government to immediately end its “cruel” security operation. 

By denying the Rohingya population their political, civil, economic and cultural rights, including the right to citizenship, he said, the Government’s actions appear to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.” 

More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the Myanmar security forces launched an operation in response to alleged attacks by militants on 25 August against 30 police posts and a regimental headquarters. 

The report, however, suggests that the “clearance operations” started before that date – as early as the beginning of August. 

UN agencies, meanwhile, are working to assist the hundreds of thousands in Cox’s Bazar and other locations in Bangladesh where conditions for the refugees are extremely challenging, including little protection against the elements, limited food, water and sanitation facilities, and the risk of outbreak of disease.

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