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Haiti: Security Council visit shed important light on situation as elections loom, members say

HAITI - Members of the Security Council heard briefings today, January 29 from the co-leads of a trip taken by the body to Haiti, where they saw first-hand the critical work being done by the United Nations Mission there in support of a better future for the country’s people.

Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States, said the visit, which Council members carried out from 23 to 25 January, included meetings with political leaders, civil society and United Nations representatives, and had shed important light on the situation as the country headed towards elections.

“Checks and balances are key,” Ms. Power said, as she described how encouraged she was by President Michel Martelly’s efforts in leading a multi-party Government and noted that Council members had been impressed by the newly-formed provisional electoral council’s commitment to independence.

She said she remained concerned about the loss of the check on presidential power and called on all sides to redouble their efforts for constructive dialogue with an aim to ensure free and fair elections.

Ambassador Cristián Barros Melet, Permanent Representative of Chile, which holds the Council presidency for January, echoed Ms. Powers’ views on the contribution made by the UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) through its various projects to the prospect of a brighter future for Haitians.

He said the “fundamental goal” of the Council’s trip was to underscore the importance of an inclusive atmosphere for stability and to promote the prevention of conflict. Council members urged the various actors to work together to hold legislative elections that were free, fair, inclusive, transparent and in the interests of the people of Haiti.

Members also had the chance to assess initiatives undertaken to strengthen the national police of Haiti and to promote more responsibility in the State and national authorities. They had recognised progress achieved while also stressing that it remains one of main areas where challenges remain, with particular significance as elections approach.

The visit to a women’s prison in Pétionville showed Council members how clear the need for progress in guaranteeing the rule of law, including access to justice, was for Haitians, Mr. Barros Melet said, noting that the trip had also given members a chance to evaluate the implementation of resolution 2180 (2014).

Both briefers discussed the visit to the country’s national memorial for all those who lost their lives during the 2010 earthquake, with Ms. Powers noting how moving the tribute – “a large piece of rubble which stands as a stark symbol of all that was destroyed” – was, and Mr. Barros Melet stressing how the Haitian people had shown resilience in the five years since the devastation of the earthquake.

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With recorded Ebola cases reaching new lows, UN health agency targets ending epidemic

INTERNATIONAL – This week, the number of Ebola cases in West Africa has fallen below 100 for the first time in seven months, the World Health Organization reported today, January 29 as it announced that the battle against the deadly virus has shifted from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.

“To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” WHO said in itslatest update containing data up to 25 January 2015.

The WHO announcement came as the United Nations focused on recovery aspects of the Ebola epidemic that affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone the most.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Ebola, Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was to participate in a UN-African Union stakeholders meeting in the Ethiopian capital on the reconstruction of the affected countries, as the Executive Boards of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was meeting today on Ebola Recovery at UN headquarters.

According to WHO, the response to the Ebola epidemic has now moved to a second phase, “as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.”

The agency in its update, said “for the first time since the week ending 29 June 2014, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases reported in a week in the 3 most-affected countries.”

“A combined total of 99 confirmed cases were reported from the 3 countries in the week to 25 January: 30 in Guinea, 4 in Liberia, and 65 in Sierra Leone,” according to the WHO update.

“Case incidence continues to fall in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” it said, but noted that “Guinea reported 30 confirmed cases in the week to 25 January, up from 20 confirmed cases in the previous week.”

The number of total cases was reported at more than 22,000 with some 8,800 deaths.

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Greater protections needed for ‘inland fisheries’

INTERNATIONAL – The world's network of lakes, rivers and streams that provide fish and fresh drinking water to millions of people must be better managed in order to safeguard their ongoing contribution to healthy diets and the global economy, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged on January 29.

“Inland fisheries provide a valuable but often overlooked source of nutrition and employment around the world,” Árni M. Mathiesen, FAO Assistant Director-General in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, explained in apress release.

“But to date, the international effort to effectively integrate inland fisheries into the broader development agenda has fallen short of what is needed.”

Mr. Mathiesen's appeal comes as the UN food agency and international stakeholders – from researchers to indigenous groups – wrapped up the Global Conference on Inland Fisheries, concluding that a dearth of data and sound policies had resulted in development decisions which failed to take into account adverse impacts on inland fisheries.

According to the FAO, lakes and rivers are an “essential source” of protein, micronutrients, vitamins and fats for millions of people, particularly in developing countries, where more than 60 million people rely on them for their livelihood. An estimated 71 low-income countries, in fact, currently produce nearly 7 million tonnes a year, or 80 per cent of so-called global inland captures.

In addition, much of the nutrition garnered from inland fisheries is ultimately critical in supplementing the incomplete diets of many of the world's poor. Some 800,000 children die each year from zinc deficiency; 250 million children worldwide are at risk of vitamin A deficiency; and almost a third of the world's population is iron deficient.

At the same time, the UN agency noted, these bodies of water are frequently impacted by other human needs, including energy creation, tourism and competition for freshwater, which can damage the delicate ecosystems in play.

“We hear a lot about the threats to coral reefs, but freshwater fish are the most threatened group of vertebrates used by humans,” Mr. Mathiesen continued.

“If a country upstream dams a river or drains a wetland, fisheries management downstream is fairly useless,” added FAO Senior Fishery Resource Officer, Devin Bartley.

Currently, less than half of international or shared inland water bodies have international agreements on their management and only 11 per cent have a mandate covering fish, the FAO said.

Experts who attended the Global Conference called on the international community to boost the number of accords aimed at ensuring freshwater resources are used “sustainably and smartly.”

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UN ‘blue helmet’ killed near site of Lebanon-Israel cross-fire

INTERNATIONAL - A United Nations (UN) peacekeeper with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed today, Wednesday, January 28 near the border with Israel but the precise cause of death is as yet undetermined and remains the subject of investigation, according to a statement issued by the mission.

“At around 11:30 am this morning, UNIFIL observed six rockets launched towards Israel from the vicinity of Wazzani north of Maysat in the UNIFIL area of operations,” the peacekeeping operation said in a statement. “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] returned artillery fire in the same general area.”

“During the course of the developments, a UNIFIL peacekeeper deployed at a UN position near Ghajar sustained serious injuries that resulted in his death,” according to UNIFIL. “The precise cause of death is as yet undetermined and remains the subject of investigation.”

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, expressed deep concern over the serious deterioration of the security situation in South Lebanon following the exchange of fire. She urgently called on all parties to refrain from any actions that could destabilize the situation further.

Ms. Kaag strongly urged all parties to continue to abide by their obligations under Security Council resolution 1701, which called for the full cessation of hostilities in the month-long 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah in Lebanon.

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Luciano Portolano was in immediate contact with the parties to help control the situation and prevent further escalation, it said.

The Force Commander has strongly condemned this serious violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. He is maintaining continuous contacts with the parties and has urged both sides to exercise utmost restraint.

UNIFIL has launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident.

UNIFIL also reported that at around 1:30 p.m. today, five rockets were fired from the general area of Kafer Shouba towards Israel, and the IDF fired artillery rounds towards the source of fire. UNIFIL said it has been informed by the IDF that they incurred casualties as a result of fire from the Lebanese side.

The 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon has further reinforced its presence on the ground and intensified patrols across the area of operations in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces.

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South Sudan: UN welcomes demobilization of child soldiers amid signs of peace

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is celebrating the release of some 3,000 South Sudanese child soldiers on January 27 in what is being hailed as one of the largest ever demobilizations of children in a zone of conflict.

“These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch stated in apress release. “The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives.”

An initial group of 280 children – ranging from 11 to 17 years of age – were released by the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction at the village of Gumuruk in South Sudan's eastern Jonglei State. The release was marked by a ceremony overseen by UNICEF and the South Sudan National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission during which the child soldiers reportedly surrendered their weapons and uniforms. Further phased releases of the other children are planned over the coming month.

According to the UN agency, some of the child soldiers have been fighting for up to four years and many have never attended school. In the last year alone, 12,000 children, mostly boys, have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan as a whole.

The security situation in South Sudan deteriorated steadily over the past year since political in-fighting between South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict that has sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country. The crisis has uprooted an estimated 1.9 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.

Nonetheless, a recent peace deal between the warring factions has fostered hope of a definitive end to the year-long conflict.

In its press release, UNICEF explained that it is currently working to trace and reunify the children with their families, a “daunting” task due to the more than 1 million children who have either been displaced internally or have fled to neighbouring countries since fighting broke out.

In the meantime, the UN agency is supporting the former child soldiers with basic health care and protection services and necessities such as food, water and clothing to help them get ready to return to their families. Moreover, counselling and other psychological support programmes are urgently being established as well as access to education and skills training programmes.

Mr. Veitch warned, however, that the successful application of such programmes demanded significant resources.

UNICEF, in fact, estimates the costs for the release and reintegration of each child at $2,330 for a two-year period. Although some funding has been forthcoming, the agency is appealing for an additional $10 million.

For her part, Leila Zerrougui, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, celebrated the demobilization, adding that the release of the child soldiers was “a step in the right direction.”

“Helping them take back their lives must be a priority,” she declared in a statement. “I call on the international community to provide sufficient resources to ensure they have access to the support that will help them heal and return to a peaceful life.”

South Sudan is one of seven countries highlighted in the UN's ongoing “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign which aims to end the recruitment and use of children by Government armed forces in conflict by the end of 2016. During the Special Representative's visit to South Sudan in June 2014, the Government recommitted to the full implementation of its action plan with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of children in the Sudan People's Liberation Army. In May, Riek Machar, signed a commitment with the Special Representative to end all grave violations against children.

“Today's release of children is a step in the right direction, but we cannot forget that thousands more have been recruited by all parties to the conflict,” Ms. Zerrougui continued. “I urge the Government of South Sudan and the opposition led by Riek Machar to honor their commitments. The release of children in their ranks is long overdue.”

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World must 'wake up' to enormity of Central African Republic crisis, warns relief official

INTERNATIONAL – The top United Nations humanitarian official in the Central African Republic (CAR) is calling for increased protection of displaced communities in the northern town of Batangafo, where relief agencies are working hard to ease suffering as the country's ongoing conflict drives a steady stream of terrified people into the area seeking safety.

Senior Humanitarian Coordinator Claire Bourgeois visited Batangafo over the weekend to assess the increasing protection needs in the area caused by a continuous influx of newly displaced persons (IDP). There are now more than 30,000 IDPs in the main site of the city, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

After visiting the overcrowded displacement site in Batangafo – which daily receives hundreds of people driven from their homes by violence – Mrs. Bourgeois, in a press release today,stressedthe urgent need to restore State authority in the town.

While impressed by the way the humanitarian response is organized by the Danish Refugee Council and Médecins Sans Frontières Spain, and by the active role played by the Committee of Wise Men and the Transhumance Committee, she nevertheless emphasized that immediate action is needed to ensure the safety and protection of civilians who are at severe risk of attacks in the region, especially in the western area.

"This will stop the daily influx of hundreds of displaced people arriving at the site searching for safety; it will facilitate the return to their places of origins; and, at the same time, will enable humanitarian actors to reach people in need in areas where activities are now interrupted due to safety concerns,” Mrs. Bourgeois said.

Mrs. Bourgeois was accompanied on her visit by representatives of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN refugee agency (UNHCR), World Health Organization (WHO), and other humanitarian partners.

The delegation met with the Committee of Wise Men, representatives of the Pheul community, non-governmental organizations and IDPs themselves in Batangafo, to discuss their basic needs and the challenges impeding their return to their places of origin.

OCHA notes that the most urgent needs identified were: improvement of the security and protection of civilians, and assistance to newly arrived displaced people. The mission participants called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians and humanitarian workers in CAR.

“The world needs to wake up to the enormity of the crisis in CAR. This is one of the most serious humanitarian emergencies in the world. We urgently need more action and more commitment. Action to protect civilians must be the top priority for all actors,” Mrs. Bourgeois added.

Her strong call comes following the launch last Friday by UNHCR of its latest funding appeal to help more than 450,000 Central African Republic refugees struggling to survive across the region. The $331 million appeal presented seeks to provide safety, food, clean water, shelter, health and other basic services to people, which the agency expects will be seeking refuge in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Republic of the Congo by the end of the year.

More than two years of civil war and sectarian violence have displaced thousands of people in the CAR amid continuing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian CAR faces a humanitarian crisis of major proportions. Nearly a million people have been displaced and 2.7 million people, over half of the population, are in dire need of immediate assistance.

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World tourism tops 1.1 billion in 2014, contributing to global economic recovery

INTERNATIONAL – The number of international tourists reached 1.13 billion in 2014, 51 million more than in 2013, on trend for the fifth consecutive year of above average growth since the 2009 economic crisis, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced on January 27.

“Over the past years, tourism has proven to be a surprisingly strong and resilient economic activity and a fundamental contributor to the economic recovery by generating billions of dollars in exports and creating millions of jobs,saidUNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai at the opening of the Spain Global Tourism Forum in Madrid.

He added: “This has been true for destinations all around the world, but particularly for Europe, as the region struggles to consolidate its way out of one of the worst economic periods in its history,”

According to the latest UNWTOfigures, the Americas (+7 per cent) and Asia and the Pacific (+5 per cent) regions registered the strongest growth, while Europe (+4 per cent), the Middle East (+4 per cent) and Africa (+2 per cent) grew at a slightly more modest pace.

By sub region, North America (+8 per cent) saw the best results, followed by North-East Asia, South Asia, Southern and Mediterranean Europe, Northern Europe and the Caribbean, all increasing by 7 per cent.

The outlook remains positive for 2015, as confirmed by the UNWTO Confidence Index. According to the 300 experts consulted worldwide, tourism performance is expected to improve this year, though expectations are less upbeat than a year ago. UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to grow up to 4 per cent this year. And by region, growth is expected to be stronger in Asia and the Pacific and the Americas, followed by Europe. Arrivals are also expected to increase in Africa and the Middle East.

“We expect demand to continue growing in 2015 as the global economic situation improves, even though there are still plenty of challenges ahead. On the positive side, oil prices have declined to a level not seen since 2009. This will lower transport costs and boost economic growth by lifting purchasing power and private demand in oil importing economies. Yet, it could also negatively impact some of the oil exporting countries which have emerged as strong tourism source markets,” added Mr Rifai.

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Human rights chief says world ‘haunted’ by suffering endured by millions during Holocaust

INTERNATIONAL – Ahead of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, taking place on January 27, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement to mark the “forever solemn day” when the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp was liberated.

Seventy years since the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he bowed “both personally and as a representative of the United Nations” to every woman, man and child who was forced to endure terrible suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

“We continue to be haunted by the fate of the millions of Jewish men, women and children, as well as Roma, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and other prisoners and deportees from all over Europe, people with disabilities, homosexuals, and dissidents, who suffered and were killed by this ghastly extermination machine,” Mr Zeid said. “The memory of well over a million Jewish children, and thousands of other children, who were put to death is particularly unbearable.”

In memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and the pain that many others have since endured, I believe that it is urgent for us all to strengthen our moral courage. We must resist discrimination of every kind so that all may live in liberty, with respect, equality and justice.

Underlining the fact that the UN Charter was shaped in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Second World War, he said the document pursues a vision of “what the world should be”, where people are able to exercise their human rights in freedom, dignity and equality, in full accordance with international human rights law.

Nonetheless, he noted also that the “toxic influences” of discrimination and racial and ethnic hatred have not disappeared, while atrocities continue.

“Discrimination and hatred kill and wound thousands of people,” he said. “In memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and the pain that many others have since endured, I believe that it is urgent for us all to strengthen our moral courage. We must resist discrimination of every kind so that all may live in liberty, with respect, equality and justice.”

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In new development report, ‘string of successes’ spotlighted in Asia-Pacific region

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations main development programme spotlighted January 26 its string of successes in 36 countries and territories in the Asia and Pacific region in the areas of poverty reduction, conservation of natural resources, democratic governance, and crisis resilience.

Launched by the UN Development Program (UNDP), the Asia-Pacific Regional ReportAchieving Development Results in Asia and the Pacifichighlights the accomplishments of programmes implemented in 2013 and 2014.

“The report documents the achievements of UNDP’s $2 billion delivery in the region during the past two years, focusing on key priority areas: innovative solutions to persistent development challenges and scaling up those solutions for greater impact,” UNDP Administrator’s Helen Clarksaidin a statement on January 26.

Innovative solutions go hand-in-hand with efforts to strengthen local level partnerships, UNDP says. An example of that is the Programme’s work with Baidu, China’s largest internet service provider, to develop a mobile application to encourage responsible recycling of electronic waste.

“UNDP will strengthen partnerships and ensure that we are fit for purpose to continue achieving high quality results in the region,” said Haoliang Xu, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

With its programmes, UNDP also assisted people in strengthening livelihoods. From the help of governments and development partners, more than five million people now have access to social protection in the region, half of them women. Additionally, UNDP supported three million urban poor women and men in Bangladesh to gain financial security through loan schemes.

This is critical because economic empowerment is closely linked to the creation of community housing development funds and the various models of land tenure security, ensuring people are secure and can invest in their homes, UNDP said.

On crisis resilience, UNDP supported debris removal efforts, helped to restore social service centres and rebuild infrastructure following Typhoon Haiyan, the biggest natural disaster to hit the region in the two years. Since then, UNDP has been working with local and national authorities to improve early warning systems. The Philippines Government’s impressive preparatory action meant that the death toll from Typhoon Hagupit was just 18 as opposed to the 6,000 casualties after Haiyan.

In the area of strengthening democratic governance, UNDP provided electoral assistance which led to 16.7 million new registered voters across the region. In Bhutan, where it can take up to a week for parliamentarians to visit voters in remote areas, constituents can now interact with their parliamentarians virtually. And in the Maldives, selected community members are testing a new scheme to use mobile phones or log on to a website to report problems with public service delivery.

“It’s a new way for citizens to communicate with policy makers. According to a global survey responsive government is a key priority for more than three million people in the region as the post-2015 development agenda is being formulated,” said Nicholas Rosellini, the Director of UNDP’s Bangkok Regional Hub.

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‘Vicious circles linking violence and hunger’ must end

INTERNATIONAL – Agriculture and food security must be treated as essential components of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said during a special meeting of the UN Peacebuilding Commission held at Headquarters on January 26.

“Food security is an important foundation for peace, political stability and sustainable development. In the history of humanity, time and time again we have seen vicious circles linking violence and hunger – and these are conflicts that are not restricted by national borders,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silvasaidto participants on January 26.

In addition to Mr. Graziano da Silva’s briefing, the meeting was also expected to hear opening remarks from the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, another briefing by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support as well as an interaction with Member States.

In his remarks, the FAO Director-General emphasized that food security can be used as “a conflict prevention and mitigation tool” for the advancement of peace and security. Policies and actions on food security can not only build resilience and resolve conflicts; they can help prevent them, too.

“We cannot just wait for an emergency to react. To achieve food security, we need to act before the crisis. We cannot prevent a drought from happening, but we can prevent it from becoming famine,” he added.

Hunger kills far more people than war or terrorism, he noted during his speech. For example, between 2004 and 2009, an estimated 55,000 people a year lost their lives as a direct result of conflict or terrorism, while in Somalia alone, between 2010 and 2012 over 250,000 died due to famine caused by severe drought, Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

Meanwhile, the impact of conflicts in rural areas can be devastating for crop production, livestock and harvests and often causes the destruction of farm assets and household capital.

And the impact of conflicts on food security often lasts long after the violence has subsided, Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

As agriculture continues to be the primary way of life for the majority of people in post-conflict countries, rehabilitation and revival of agriculture in those areas, therefore, becomes crucial to alleviating poverty and ensuring overall development.

The FAO Director-General emphasized that “partnerships are crucial,” spotlighting that now more than ever countries need to work together to overcome the multiple, interconnected challenges. It is in this spirit of collaboration that FAO has been able to successfully carry out projects across the globe.

Additionally, with the crafting of new global sustainable development goals (SDGs) underway, “improved knowledge and understanding of the possible interplays between food security and human security will help shape more effective interventions and contribute to more lasting results,” Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

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