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UN Women launches next phase in ‘HeForShe’ campaign at Davos Forum

INTERNATIONAL – At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 23, UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to achieving women’s empowerment and gender equality, unveiled a new initiative to galvanize the support of global leaders to bring an end to the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls around the world.

At a press conference in the Swiss city, UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who launched theHeForShecampaign in September, said this next phase,HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10, will focus on engaging governments, businesses and universities to make concrete commitments to advance women’s empowerment.

“Women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented, their potential astonishingly untapped. We are very excited to be launching IMPACT 10x10x10 to bring the HeForShe into the next phase,”saidMs. Watson alongside UNSecretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as well as several political and business leaders.

In the months following the kick-off of the initiative in September, several Heads of State, along with celebrities and thousands of men from around the world have committed to be champions for the HeForShe campaign. Ms. Watson said: “Everyone from Desmond Tutu to Prince Harry to Hillary Clinton and Yoko Ono has issued their support.”

Best known for playing the leading role of ‘Hermione Granger’ inHarry Pottersaga, Ms. Watson said: “I’ve had my breath taken away when a fan told me that since watching myspeech[in September] she has stopped herself being beaten up by her father. I’ve been stunned by the number of men in my life that have contacted me since my speech to tell me to keep going and that they want to make sure their daughter will still be alive in a world where women have parity, economically and politically.”

To date, more than 200,000 men and boys have signed their commitment to gender equality. HeForShe has reached more than 1.2 billion people on social media. But more can be done.

“Decide what your commitment is, make it public, and then please report back to us on your progress so that we can share you story. We want to support, guide and reinforce your efforts. Impact 10x10x10 is about concrete commitments to change, the visibility of these commitments and the measurability of them too,” declared Ms. Watson.

Joining Ms. Watson at the press conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “HeForShe has signed up fathers who want to raise empowered daughters; leaders who know their societies will be stronger when there are as many women in parliament and in business as men; and ordinary people who are fed up with violence and discrimination against women – and want to be part of a global force for change.”

Underling the alliances the campaign is building, Mr. Ban said that the partnership involves individuals and corporations, government leaders and activists, celebrities and global citizens.

“Ultimately we need everyone to get involved if we are to turn the tide,” said UN Women Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“The HeForShe IMPACT Initiative puts responsibility for change right where it matters- and spotlights leaders who can make it happen. The founding Champions from industry and Government will pave the way for others to join in, using the pilot initiatives to streamline decision-making on relevant and successful activities,” the Executive Director said.

The World Economic Forum’sGlobal Gender Gap Report 2014highlights a large current gap between men and women in terms of political engagement and opportunity and little improvement in equality for women in the workplace since 2006. Universities join the impact trio because youth engagement represents one of the greatest opportunities for accelerating progress toward the achievement of gender equality, and ending violence against women.

At the launch, global leaders who will serve as IMPACT 10X10X10 founding Champions were announced. They will steer the initiative and lead in mobilizing their communities and include: Prime Minister of the Netherlands; President of Sierra Leone; Prime Minister of Sweden; CEO and Chairman of Unilever; Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tupperware Brands Corporation; Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd. JPMorgan Chase is also a Title Sponsor of the HeForShe campaign.

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Central Africa: UN agency delivers food to thousands of refugees on Nigeria-Chad border

INTERNATIONAL – With a “tense and highly volatile” situation in North-Eastern Nigeria at the Chadian Lac border, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it has begun distributing food to thousands of refugees who have recently been displaced by the region’s escalating violence and urged that it required some $11 million to continue to meet those needs.

Distribution of 159 tons of WFP rations started on January 23 in the border region in Baga Sola, and the agency is planning a first round of distributions for 10 days to more than 7,800 refugees from Ngouboua in Nigeria, of whom 4,103 are new arrivals, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

The situation in the Central Africa region has been deteriorating in recent months. Just last weekend, Boko Haram insurgents pillaged villages and abducted some 80 people in Cameroon in one of the group's biggest kidnappings to take place outside of Nigeria. This sparked fears through-out region that the insurgents were gaining ground and expanding their attacks.

On Monday, Chad’s Government said it would deploy troops to Cameroon to help fight the armed group and keep the violence from spreading to other countries.

WFP was able to able to respond to the first wave of 6,250 refugees within 48 hours of their arrival, with an emergency ration of two days, Ms. Byrs said. There are currently more than 13,000 refugees in North-Eastern Nigeria at the Lake Chad border, according to the latest statistics from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Ms. Byrs today expressed concern over the impact this refugee migration will have host communities. Prior to the crisis, the November 2014 emergency food security assessment showed that areas within the Lac Region were food insecure. At that time, 32 per cent of the population was found to be food insecure while the global acute malnutrition rates were above 15 per cent, above the World Health Organization (WHO) 'critical' threshold.

There has also been an impact on trade flow. Chad had previously exported cattle to Nigeria through the Lac Region and most of this trade had been recently affected by the crisis. The income of livestock keepers in the region has also been affected. Maize farmers who exported their grains to Nigeria are affected as well. The decrease of trade also has had a negative impact on Kanem and Bar El Ghazal‘s regions, which had the highest level of food insecurity in Chad.

She added that many of the refugees were currently located in several hard to reach small islands on Lake Chad. In the coming weeks, the Government and humanitarian partners plan to relocate them on a voluntary basis to areas where they can be reached.

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Haiti: UN, international partners hail formation of Government, urge 'credible' elections

CARIBBEAN – The United Nations and its international partners have welcomed the formation of a new Government in Haiti one week after the country's Parliament became “dysfunctional” due to its failure to hold elections within its constitutional framework.

The Secretary-General's Special Representative in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, and other members of the international community represented in the “Core Group” – comprising the Ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, United States, and the European Union, as well as the Special Representative of the Organization of American States – today welcomed the installation of Prime Minister Evans Paul, the formation of the Government, as well as the establishment of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP).

In a press release, Ms. Honoré and the “Core Group” encouraged the new Government to create “the political and security conditions necessary to guarantee the organization of fair, credible and inclusive elections” and said that the Group's members were “pleased” that the newly established CEP could pursue its activities in “full independence, with a view to guaranteeing the transparency and impartiality of the electoral process.”

In addition, the press release added, the “Core Group” continued to support the efforts of all stakeholders “to reinforce stability, consolidate democracy and restore the functioning of the country's institutions.”

Five years ago, on 12 January 2010 a devastating earthquake struck Haiti killing more than more than 220,000 people as well as 102 UN staff, delivering a major blow to country's already shaky economy, infrastructure and political landscape.

As a result, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti's (MINUSTAH) mandate was immediately increased to help the country's recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts. The Security Council subsequently requested MINUSTAH to further provide logistical support and technical expertise to assist Haiti's Government to continue operations to build the capacity of its rule of law institutions at the national and local level.

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Ebola: UN health agency urges better global preparedness against future outbreaks

INTERNATIONAL – The Ebola outbreak is “clearly” in retreat throughout the affected countries of West Africa but the continuing emergency response shows the need for urgent changes so that “never again should the world be caught by surprise,” the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) told a special meeting Sunday, January 25.

Speaking in Geneva to the UN agency's Special Session of the Executive Board on Ebola, WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan,emphasizedthe importance of maintaining momentum in the fight against the deadly virus and guarding against complacency while also delineating a set of recommendations for future large-scale and sustained outbreaks and emergencies.

“The Ebola outbreak points to the need for urgent change in three main areas,” Dr. Chan told those gathered. “To rebuild and strengthen national and international emergency preparedness and response, to address the way new medical products are brought to market, and to strengthen the way WHO operates during emergencies.”

Above all, she said, the Ebola outbreak had revealed “some inadequacies and shortcomings” in the WHO's administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures, including the need for “a dedicated contingency fund” to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies; “streamlined recruitment procedures” in order to increase the agency's personnel base; the application of a “one WHO” approach in which all levels of the agency use “the same standard operating procedures, tools, and frameworks for risk assessment, monitoring, and accountability during emergencies” and need to enhance crisis management and field experience during emergencies in WHO country offices.

Echoing these points, UN Special Envoy for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, conveyed a message from UN Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon reinforcing the call to draw lessons from this outbreak for the future. In addition, he urged Member States to ensure that the WHO has the resources it needs to end Ebola transmission and build structures for future pandemics.

Meanwhile, Dr. Chan celebrated the international community's ongoing efforts to stamp out the virus in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone but warned that reaching zero cases in the three affected countries was “not going to be easy.”

The United Nations has, in fact, launched an appeal for the $1 billion needed for the first six months of 2015 in order to sustain the momentum in combatting the disease. Nearly 22,000 people have been affected by the disease with more than 8,600 deaths.

The WHO head noted, however, that despite the devastation left in its wake, the 2014 Ebola crisis also presented “an opportunity to build a stronger system to defend our collective global health security,” adding that health systems around the world need adequate numbers of well-trained and appropriately paid health care workers.

“This is one of the biggest lessons the world learned last year,” she continued. “Well-functioning health systems are not a luxury. Well-functioning health systems are the cushion that keeps sudden shocks from reverberating throughout the fabric that holds societies together, ripping them apart.”

“The volatile microbial world will always deliver surprises,” Dr. Chan concluded. “Never again should the world be caught by surprise, unprepared.”

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Children suffering ‘dire consequences’ of conflict in northern Nigeria

INTERNATIONAL – Women and children make up the vast majority of the latest wave of refugees fleeing violence in northern Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund warned this week, spotlighting its ongoing efforts to provide basic assistance, including safe water, nutrition, health, education and protection services to affected children in the region.

“Children are suffering the dire consequences of the conflict in Nigeria, losing their homes, missing out on education and risking their lives,” UNICEF’s Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva.

Boko Haram’s recent attacks on Baga drove a fresh wave of refugees into neighbouring countries, worsening a humanitarian crisis in the region that has already seen 1 million people displaced from their homes and more than 135,000 seeking refuge in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

About 9,000 people crossed into Chad this month, a mixture of Nigerian refugees and Chadian returnees, bringing the total number of Nigerian refugees there to over 10,000. More than 100 children arrived without a parent or a caretaker, and Mr. Boulierac said UNICEF would scale-up its presence around Lake Chad, using its office in Mao to distribute lifesaving supplies, like hygiene kits and therapeutic food as well as blankets, clothing, tents and water supply.

In Cameroon, children represent 60 per cent of the 25,000 Nigerian refugees living in Minawao camp, and in Niger, women and children make up 70 per cent of the 100,000 Nigerian refugees and returnees.

Mr. Boulierac said a recent assessment of children in the Minawao camp revealed an alarming rate of malnutrition, noting that the UNICEF is working with the Red Cross to provide nutritional screening and treatment and to create child-friendly spaces where children could receive psycho-social support. In addition, the agency built 10 clean water facilities and 160 latrines, and distributed 1,300 hygiene kits.

Vaccination efforts in Niger saw over 96,000 children protected against measles between 28 December and 3 January, while school capacities are being reinforced so refugee children could study alongside locals.

UNICEF is working also with displaced children in Nigeria, where more than 65,000 children were being treated for severe acute malnutrition. Trained community volunteers have reached over 13,000 children with psychosocial support, and more than three million children have received vitamin A supplements.

Mr. Boulierac’s briefing comes the day after Security Council Members condemned in the ‘strongest terms’ the recent escalation in attacks conducted by Boko Haram, and expressed deep concern that the activities of the Islamist extremist group, including a spate of shocking suicide bombings across northern Nigeria, are undermining peace and stability in the West and Central African region and some ‘may amount to crimes against humanity.’

Overall, Boko Haram violence in Nigeria may have forced at least one million people to flee their homes, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today, citing a combination of IOM and Nigerian government data on people displaced from 10 states including Borno, the heart of Boko Haram activity.

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At World Economic Forum - Davos: UN launches $1 billion appeal for global Ebola respons

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations on Wednesday, January 21 appealed for US$1 billion needed for the first six months of 2015 to sustain the momentum to stamp out Ebola in West Africa, where ‘the epidemic has started to turn’ in all three of the worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We’re beginning to see an overall decline in number of new cases each week,” Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Special Envoy on Ebola, told anews conferencein Davos, Switzerland, at the 2015 World Economic Forum, where global leaders from across business, Government, international organizations, academia and civil society are gathered for strategic dialogues on events and trends shaping the world.

Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, also welcomed the “early signs of reduction of Ebola in all three countries” but noted the need to remain vigilant.

And as the Secretary-General of the United Nations [Ban Ki-moon] said yesterday, complacency would be our worst enemy,” Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs told reporters.

Theappealwas launched by Ms. Amos and Dr. Nabarro, who are in Davos where there are some 20 scheduled events at the World Economic Forum devoted to the global fight against the Ebola epidemic.

“This is an appeal for funds to support the efforts of the national governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as they identify and treat people affected by Ebola, ensure a rapid end to the outbreak, re-establish essential social services and improve people’s food and nutrition security,” according to the appeal. “[It] includes funds needed for enabling nearby countries to reduce their people’s risk of Ebola infection.”

Explaining the background to the revised $1 billion funding appeal from January to June 2015, the UN notes that ‘some of the funding has already been raised by an earlier appeal.’

In October 2014, it said, the total financial needs were estimated to be to $1.5 billion through to March 2015. By the end of 2014, $1.3 billion had been raised against this appeal. Approximately $800 million has been spent leaving $500 million available for use now in 2015.

Meanwhile in Geneva today, thefourth meetingof the Emergency Committee convened by the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) met and recommended maintaining “robust” exit screening in the three affected countries, which is ‘critical for minimizing the risk of exportation of Ebola cases.’

But the Committee reaffirmed the need to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel and trade, noting that more than 40 countries have implemented additional measures, such as quarantine of returning travellers and refusal of entry.

“Such measures are impeding the recruitment and return of international responders,” said WHO. “They also have harmful effects on local populations by increasing stigma and isolation, and by disrupting livelihoods and economies.”

“The Committee concluded that the primary emphasis must continue to be on ‘getting to zero’ Ebola cases, by stopping the transmission of Ebola within the three most affected countries,” said the agency, adding: “This action is the most important step for preventing international spread. Complacency is the biggest risk to not getting to zero cases. Continued vigilance is essential.”

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Genocide occurs when ‘warning signs’ ignored, action not taken

INTERNATIONAL – During a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp on Wednesday, January 21, United Nations Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called for reflection on how better to prevent horrific crimes witnessed during the Holocaust and other genocides.

“It is important that we examine why we continue to fail to prevent mass atrocities, despite lessons learned, despite knowledge of causes and drivers and despite our assurances of ‘never again,’” hesaid. “Genocide can only happen when we ignore the warning signs – and are unwilling to take action.”

The event, held at UN Headquarters in New York and organized by the Permanent Mission of Poland to the UN and chaired by Boguslaw Winid, preceded the annualInternational Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust.

The permanent representatives to the UN of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Rwanda, Israel and Germany were among those who spoke, with the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Genocide, Adama Dieng, Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch and Robert Kostro, who is Director of the Museum of Polish History.

Mr. Eliasson said the event offered a chance to consider what must be done differently to protect people and build societies ‘where tolerance trumps hatred,’ and stressed that excuses for turning a blind eye were disappearing, with pervasive instant communication and deepening international connections, as well as the knowledge that genocide results from creeping processes unfolding over time and of conditions that allow them to thrive.

“Our challenge is to stop these processes and their enabling conditions at an early stage,” Mr. Eliasson said, adding that armed conflicts often create environments right for mass atrocities but stressing that genocide also resulted from divisions fostered in peace time.

The idea that the international community must stand ready to protect populations from genocide and other atrocity crimes was reinforced by adoption of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principle at the 2005 World Summit and more needed to be done to operationalize that commitment.

“We need political will, and political courage, to move forward,” he said, pointing out that the UN was engaged in a process of bolstering its capacity to act early through the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative, which promoted better coordination and decision-making.

The Director of the Memorial and State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, Piotr Cywinski, delivered the keynote address to the meeting, noting that it was probably one of the last anniversaries that would give the chance to host survivors. Mr. Cywinski said it was an important moment to look to the future and form a vision for the memory of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz today served as ‘testimony, symbol, and a place for education,’ he said, describing the camp’s history and significance, and the Museum’s efforts to reach out to a younger generation.

Mr. Cywinski said protection of the site’s authenticity for younger, less connected audiences was an essential part of his duties and he was working hard to fuse the words of remaining survivors with the physical site where the killing took place.

The representative of Rwanda described the overlap between the events of 70 years ago and of 20 years ago in his own country, asking, in the context of the ‘never again’ pledge made after the Holocaust, why another genocide was allowed to happen.

The year 2015 marked 70 years since the Holocaust, he said but was also 70 years since the creation of institutions that were designed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The question was whether those institutions were strong enough to prevent atrocities in the future and he underlined the importance of political will and implementation of decisions and principles like the Responsibility to Protect.

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International Monetary Fund downgrades global growth forecast, despite cheaper oil

SINT MAARTEN/INTERNATIONAL – Despite a sharp decline in oil prices, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest economic outlook on Tuesday, January 20 lowered growth expectations for this year and the next – 2016 - for most countries due to slowdown in investment, and urged governments and central banks to pursue economic stimulation policies and structural reforms to boost growth.

The Parliament of country Sint Maarten will be debating the national draft 2015 budget starting Thursday, January 22. The budget presented by the Prime Minister Hon. Marcel Gumbs and his Cabinet is Naf.445.000.000 (US$247 million) with investments and capital goods set at Naf.111.031.451 (US$61 million).

Sint Maarten’s budget is has to also receive the greenlight from the College of Financial Supervision (CFT), an entity that was established in 2010 when the former Netherlands Antilles was dismantled in order for Sint Maarten to achieve country status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Sint Maarten is not allowed to have a budget deficit.

The Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten (CBCS) has projected economic growth for 2015 for Sint Maarten at 1.9 per cent.  In the meantime the IMF has lowered its projections for growth for the next two-years (2015 and 2016), and has called on governments and central banks to pursue economic stimulation policies.

The Sint Maarten economy grew in 2014 by 1.7 per cent and for 2013 it was only 0.9 per cent.  

The Government of Sint Maarten and the CFT will be at loggerheads in 2015 should the government pursue recommendations as promoted by the IMF with respect to economic stimulation of the economy.

According to itsWorld Economic Outlook (WEO) update, the IMF now expects growth of 3.5 per cent this year, compared with the previous estimate of 3.8 per cent which it made in October. The growth forecast for 2016 has also been cut, to 3.7 per cent. It also showed increased growth prospects for the United States.

In addition, the Outlook, released on the eve of the annual Davos World Economic Forum, found increasing divergence between the United States, on the one hand, and the euro area and Japan, on the other.

For 2015, the U.S. economic growth has been revised up to 3.6 per cent, largely due to more robust private domestic demand. But the euro area has been revised down 1.1 per cent, due mostly to weaker investment prospects and despite the support from lower oil prices, further monetary policy easing, a more neutral fiscal policy stance, and the recent euro depreciation.

“In the medium run, the future [in Europe] doesn’t look as bright. Investment is weak and so, for most countries, we’re revising down, not much, but down. Now, this being said, I think we may be a bit pessimistic about the effects of the price of oil so in the jargon of economists there’s an upside risk, in which, in fact, the price of oil will help more and things will turn out better, but we can’t count on it,”said Olivier Blanchard, IMF’s chief economist.

In Japan, where the economy fell into technical recession in the third quarter of 2014, growth has been revised down as well. However, policy responses, together with the oil price boost and yen depreciation, are expected to strengthen growth this year and the next.

In emerging markets and developing economies, growth is projected to remain broadly stable at 4.3 per cent in 2015 and to increase to 4.7 percent in 2016 – a weaker pace than forecast last October.

In China, where investment growth has slowed, the forecast has been marked down to below 7 per cent. “The policy makers in China have decided to reduce some of the dangers that they were facing on housing, on shadow banking, are taking the right measures. They are also trying to reorient growth from investment to consumption so all this is desirable but it’s leading to a lower growth rate,” Mr. Blanchard explained.

“Now, this is having an effect on the rest of the world through trade so Asian countries around China will have other things equal, lower growth, because they will be exporting less. We think the effect is relatively small. If you wanted a number, one percent less growth in China leads to about .3 per cent less growth in Asia,” he added.

The sharpest decline of all is for Russia, whose economic outlook is much weaker, with growth forecast at – 3.0 per cent for 2015, as a result of the economic impact of sharply lower oil prices and increased geopolitical tensions.

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ILO Study predicts rising global unemployment due to slower growth, inequality, turbulence

INTERNATIONAL – An extra 10 million people worldwide are likely to be unemployed by 2019, a new United Nations report has said on Tuesday, January 20, pointing to slower growth, widening inequalities and economic turbulence as reasons behind the trend.

According to theWorld Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2015(WESO) report, released today by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the next four years will see the total number of people out of work worldwide climb from the current 201 million to 212 million.

“More than 61 million jobs have been lost since the start of the global crisis in 2008,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “This means the jobs crisis is far from over so there is no place for complacency.”

Young workers aged 15-24 are particularly hit by the crisis, with a global youth unemployment rate of almost 13 per cent in 2014 and a further increase expected in coming years. By contrast, older workers have fared relatively well since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008.

“The good news is that the number of workers in vulnerable jobs and working poverty has fallen around the globe. However, it is still not acceptable that almost half of the world's workers lack access to basic necessities and decent work,” Ryder said. “The situation is even worse for women.”

Inequality is rising and is predicted to continue doing so, according to the report, with the world's richest 10 per cent earning 30 to 40 per cent of total income and the poorest 10 per cent earn between just two and seven per cent. The situation creates uncertainty for enterprise investment and has slowed the rebound from the financial crisis.

“If low wages lead people to consume less, and investment remains subdued, this obviously has a negative impact on growth. Income inequality in some advanced economies now approach levels observed among emerging economies. By contrast, the emerging economies made some progress in reducing their high levels of inequality,” said the ILO head.

The inequality trends have also undermined trust in Governments, keeping the risk of social unrest high, particularly in countries where unemployment is highest or rising quickest. Social unrest has shot up since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, with only developed economies and countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific region seeing a reduction – though even there, levels are significantly above historical averages.

Unemployment growth is fuelled in part by structural factors, like major shifts in demand for skills. Globally, there is a shorter supply of routine middle-skilled jobs, like bookkeepers and clerical workers, while availability of both low-skilled, non-routine jobs, such as security personnel, and high-skilled non-routine cognitive jobs, such as lawyers and software engineers has increased.

“The trends we see are worrying but we can improve the overall economic picture if we tackle underlying weaknesses, in particular the continued lack of aggregate demand, stagnation in the Eurozone, uncertain prospects for productive investment, especially among small enterprises, and mounting inequality,” said Ryder.

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World health organization urges greater government action against non-communicable diseases

INTERNATIONAL – The international community has an opportunity to reverse the global epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and prevent the grim annual toll of 16 million people who die of heart and lung diseases, strokes, cancer and diabetes before the age of 70, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) revealed on January 19.

Speaking at the launch of the WHO’sGlobal status report on non-communicable diseases 2014, the agency’s Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, announced that by investing anywhere from $1 to $3 per person per year, countries could dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs.

“In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not,” Dr. Chansaid, “millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon.”

According to the report, nearly half of premature NCD deaths are preventable. In fact, 16 million of the 38 million lives lost to NCDs, or 42 per cent, could be saved through ramped up government policies targeting tobacco use, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and providing universal health care.

In Brazil, the report notes by example, the NCD mortality rate is dropping 1.8 per cent per year due, in part, to the expansion of primary health, in direct contrast to the global trend, which saw the rate of NCD deaths rise by 9.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012.

Despite Brazil’s successes in reducing NCD mortality, however, the WHO is calling for more action to be taken to reduce the epidemic which is particularly widespread in low- and middle-income countries where NCD deaths are overtaking those from infectious diseases. In addition, the rate of premature deaths is especially impacting those countries’ efforts to alleviate poverty and achieve specific development goals. From 2011 to 2025, cumulative economic losses due to NCDs for low- and middle-income countries are estimated at $7 trillion.

As a result, the UN agency has outlined a nine-point voluntary action plan which, it says, would address key NCD risk factors including tobacco use, salt intake, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and harmful use of alcohol and seek to reduce the number of premature NCD deaths by 25 per cent by 2025.

“Our world possesses the knowledge and resources to achieve the nine global NCD targets by 2025,” explained Dr. Oleg Chestnov, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General for non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health. “Falling short of the targets would be unacceptable.”

Among its suggestions, the report also provides so-called ‘best buy’ or cost-effective, high-impact interventions which encompass all forms of tobacco advertising, the replacement of trans fats with polyunsaturated fats, restricting or banning alcohol advertising, preventing heart attacks and strokes, promoting breastfeeding, implementing public awareness programmes on diet and physical activity, and preventing cervical cancer through screening.

“If we miss this opportunity to set national targets in 2015 and work towards attaining our promises in 2025, we will have failed to address one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century,” concluded Dr. Chestnov.

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