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UN agencies warn of rising hunger risk in 18 'hotspots'

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2023, Humanitarian Aid - Hunger is set to worsen in 18 “hotspots” worldwide including Sudan, where fighting is putting people at risk of starvation, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a report published on Monday.
Sudan, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Mali have been elevated to the highest alert level, joining Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Additionally, a likely El Niño – a naturally occurring climatic phenomenon that has a warming effect on ocean surface temperatures in the central and east Pacific - is also raising fears of climate extremes in vulnerable nations.

Against ‘business-as-usual’

The report calls for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods, and to prevent starvation and death.

“Business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today’s risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind,” said Dongyu Qu, the FAO Director-General.

He underlined the need for immediate interventions in the agricultural sector “to pull people from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives, and provide long-term solutions to address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Worse than ever

Acute food insecurity is set to potentially increase in 18 hunger “hotspots”, comprising a total of 22 countries, according to the report.

“Not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever,” said Cindy McCain, WFP Executive Director.

The Sudan conflict is already driving mass displacement and hunger. More than one million citizens and refugees are expected to flee the country, while an additional 2.5 million inside its borders are set to face acute hunger in the coming months.

The report warned that a possible spillover of the crisis raises the risk of negative impacts in neighbouring countries.  If the conflict continues, it could spark further displacement and disruptions to trade and humanitarian aid flows.

Economic shocks continue

Meanwhile, economic shocks and stressors continue to drive acute hunger in almost all the hotspots, carrying over trends seen globally in 2022, largely due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen remain at the highest alert level for acute hunger.

Alongside Sudan, three other countries - Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali – also have been elevated to this level because of movement restrictions affecting people and goods.

“All hotspots at the highest level have communities facing or projected to face starvation, or are at risk of sliding towards catastrophic conditions, given they have already emergency levels of food insecurity and are facing severe aggravating factors. These hotspots require the most urgent attention,” the UN agencies said.

The report listed the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and Syria as hotspots with very high concern, along with Myanmar.

All of these countries have a large number of people facing critical acute food insecurity, coupled with worsening drivers that are expected to further intensify life‑threatening conditions in the coming months. 

The other hotspots are Lebanon, Malawi, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. 

Sudan food distributions

Meanwhile in Sudan, WFP began distributing food assistance on Saturday to thousands of people trapped in the capital, Khartoum, since fighting broke out six weeks ago.

The distributions came in the last days of the seven-day ceasefire agreed by the army, which was set to expire on Monday evening, local time

“This is a major breakthrough. We have finally been able to help families who are stuck in Khartoum and struggling to make it through each day as food and basic supplies dwindle,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director.

Staff have been working round the clock to reach people in the city since the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and rival military group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), erupted in mid-April.

“A window opened late last week which allowed us to start food distributions,” Mr. Rowe said, adding that  “WFP must do more, but that depends on the parties to the conflict and the security and access they realistically guarantee on the ground.”

Stepping up support

WFP is rapidly expanding distribution of emergency food assistance across Sudan.

Latest updates including distributions to some 12,445 people in locations controlled by both sides in Omdurman, part of the Khartoum metropolitan area.

More food assistance has been prepositioned to continue distributions in the capital for as long as the security situation allows, with the goal of reaching at least 500,000 people.

Food and nutrition distributions also began over the weekend in Wadi Halfa in Northern State to around 8,000 Sudanese who have fled Khartoum and are making the long journey to Egypt. Last week WFP also began distributions to 4,000 newly displaced people in Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea Coast.

The UN agency has rapidly scaled up support to reach 675,000 people so far with emergency food and nutrition assistance in 13 of Sudan’s 18 states since resuming operations earlier this month. Activities were halted after three staff were killed in North Darfur on 15 April, the first day of the conflict.

As hunger rises, WFP is expanding to support 5.9 million people across the country  and requires $731 million to reach them.


International Day of UN Peacekeepers honours 75 years of service and sacrifice

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2023, Peace and Security - Since 1948, more than two million uniformed and civilian personnel have served at UN field missions across the world.  Their contributions are being highlighted on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, observed on Monday.
“United Nations peacekeepers are the beating heart of our commitment to a more peaceful world,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

He called for continued support for these men and women, who help countries to transition from war to peace.

Hope and help

“They are also critical to the protection of civilians caught up in the chaos of these deadly conflicts, providing a lifeline of hope and help in some of the most dangerous contexts imaginable," he added.

Mr. Guterres noted that many have paid the ultimate price as more than 4,200 peacekeepers have lost their lives serving under the UN flag.

“We stand in sympathy and solidarity with their families, friends and colleagues, and will forever be inspired by their selfless devotion to the cause of peace,” he said.

Support and recognition

Today, more than 87,000 peacekeepers from 125 countries serve in 12 UN operations located in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

They face rising global tensions and divides, stagnating peace processes, and more complex conflicts, the Secretary-General said.

“Despite these obstacles, and working with a wide range of partners, peacekeepers persevere,” he added

“To people living under the shadow of conflict, our teams of Blue Helmets represent hope.  As peacekeepers support humanity, let us always support and recognize them.”

‘Peace begins with me’

The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers has been commemorated annually on 29 May, in line with a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2002.

The date marks the start of the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), in Palestine in 1948.

The theme of the 75th anniversary of UN Peacekeeping is ‘Peace begins with me’, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of blue helmets, past and present. It also pays tribute to the resilience of the communities they serve, who continue to strive for peace despite many obstacles.

Two officers take part in the Inside Out Action event held to commemorate UN Peacekeeping's 75th anniversary in Times Square, New York City.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Two officers take part in the Inside Out Action event held to commemorate UN Peacekeeping's 75th anniversary in Times Square, New York City.

The annual ceremony marking the Day was held on Thursday at UN Headquarters in New York, where the Secretary-General noted that peacekeepers “are increasingly working in places where there is no peace to keep.”

The following day, the city played host to an interactive art installation in Times Square celebrating peacekeepers and all those who work together to build and maintain peace across the world, including community members and local influencers in places where UN missions operate.


Malaysia: ‘Everyone has a migration story’, now let’s eat

INTERNATIONAL, 28 May 2023, Migrants and Refugees - Every recipe has a story, from Pakistan’s signature chicken korma to kaldu kokot cooked on Indonesia’s Madura Island. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has set the table for an innovative campaign that brings seven recipes to life, tackling a wave of hate speech against migrants and refugees by serving up the rich diversity of food and culture they bring with them to Malaysia.
“I can’t think of a better way than using food to bring everyone to the table,” said Elroi Yee, an investigative reporter and producer of the Dari Dapur campaign. “We need shared stories that show migrants and refugees have a place in the Malaysian narratives.”

Tales and tastes of Tamil puttu, Cambodia’s nom banh chok, Kachin jungle food shan ju, Yemeni chicken mandy, and Rohingya flatbread ludifida flavour those narratives, telling their stories in Dari Dapur’s videos featuring Malaysian celebrities who sampled culinary history and heritage.

Launched by OHCHR in December 2022, the campaign partnered with untitled kompeni, a Kuala Lumpur-based social impact production team, with a view to putting these delicious stories at the heart of public discourse.

‘Food always brings people to the table’

Through seven short videos, celebrities visited the kitchens of migrant workers and refugees to share a home-cooked meal around the same table, hearing about each other’s lives, hopes and dreams, and learning what they have in common.

“Anytime you cook food and you bring your guests, everyone turns to smile and be happy because food always brings people to the table,” said Chef Wan in an episode with Hameed, who served up a scrumptious Pakistani ayam korma.

“Regardless of which culture, where we come from, everybody will need to eat,” he said.

Plantation day trip

Liza, a Cambodian plantation worker, shared more than just a meal with her guests, Malaysian comedian Kavin Jay and food Instagrammer Elvi. During a day trip to visit her on the plantation, Liza showed them how she cooks nom banh chok, a fragrant fermented rice noodle dish.

“To have someone come here to visit me, to see me and to see my friends, I’m so happy,” Liza said.

Exchanging jokes around the table, Mr. Jay said “everyone has a migration story”.

“It doesn’t matter what your race is, if you look back far enough, you will find your migration story,” he said.

Similar exchanges around dinner tables unfolded in other Dari Dapur episodes that starred migrant and refugee chefs with social justice influencer Dr. Hartini Zainudin, hijabi rapper Bunga, educator Samuel Isaiah, Tamil film star Yasmin Nadiah, Chinese-language radio DJ Chrystina, and politician and activist Nurul Izzah Anwar.

‘It’s exactly the same!’

From Myanmar to Malaysia, breaking fast was common ground in an episode that brought broadcast journalist Melisa Idris and US Ambassador Brian McFeeters tableside with Ayesha, a Rohingya community trainer.

“I would like to know them, and I am also very happy that I can explain what I am doing and who I am [to them],” Ayesha said, as she prepared an iftar feast for her guests.

Sitting them down at a table laden with traditional dishes along with some of her friends, Ayesha was frank.

“Before this, I’ve never cooked for other communities,” she admitted, ahead of a lively conversation about Eid celebrations.

Ms. Idris and Ayesha’s friend, Rokon, shared similar childhood memories, from her Malaysian village and to his family home in Rakhine, Myanmar.

The way they treated me today, if we could be as gracious a host as a country, it would go such a long way. – journalist Melisa Idris

“It’s exactly the same!” Ms. Idris exclaimed. “Sometimes we focus on the differences and don’t realize we have almost exactly the same traditions.”

Post-feast, she shared gratitude and a revelation.

She said it was clear how “complicit the media has been in othering refugees and migrants, in normalizing the hate, in sowing the division, and targeting an already marginalized community as a scapegoat of our fears during a pandemic.”

“They gave us the best; they gave everything to us,” she said, tearfully. “The way they treated me today, if we could be as gracious a host as a country, it would go such a long way.”

‘Cut through the noise’

To design the campaign, OHCHR commissioned research that revealed a complex relationship between migrants and Malaysians. Findings showed respondents overwhelmingly agreeing that respect for human rights is a sign of a decent society and that everyone deserves equal rights in the country.

Some 63 per cent agreed that their communities are stronger when they support everyone, and more than half believed they should help other people no matter who they are or where they come from. Around 35 per cent of respondents strongly or somewhat strongly believed that people fleeing persecution or war should be welcomed, with an equal number wanting to welcome those who are unable to obtain healthcare, education, food, or decent work.

“Migration is a complicated and often abstract issue for many Malaysians,” said Pia Oberoi, senior advisor on migration in the Asia Pacific region at OHCHR, “but storytelling is a good way to cut through the noise.”

Migrant worker Suha hosted actress Lisa Surihani at the oil palm estate where she works and where they shared a meal and stories about their lives.
© OHCHR Malaysia/Puah Sze Ning
Migrant worker Suha hosted actress Lisa Surihani at the oil palm estate where she works and where they shared a meal and stories about their lives.

Cow’s feet and camaraderie

“Our research found that people want to hear and see the everyday lives of people on the move, to understand and appreciate that we have more in common than what divides us,” she said, adding that the campaign was built on shared realities and values that personify the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 75 this year.

With the production of these short films, she said “we hope to inspire Malaysian storytellers to share the narrative space, and for all of us to rethink the way we relate to our migrant and refugee neighbours.”

On a sprawling oil palm estate, actress Lisa Surihani tucked into a meal of kaldu kokot – cow’s feet soup – dished up by her host Suha, an Indonesian plantation worker.

“What I learned was ‘try and not let what you do not know of affect the way you treat other human beings’,” actress Lisa Surihani said in a Dari Dapur episode.

“No matter who it is, our actions should be rooted in kindness,” Ms. Surihani said.

Learn more about the Dari Dapur campaign here.


Menstrual Hygiene Day: Putting an end to period poverty

INTERNATIONAL, 28 May 2023, Women - Fatoumatta Fatty’s commute on an old, malfunctioning wheelchair takes up to two hours during rainy season in The Gambia, but she is happy joining her co-workers at a sanitary pad production centre, where she takes pride in making products that help women overcome “period poverty” across the country.
Period poverty, or the inability to afford menstrual products, is a serious issue especially in developing countries, an issue menstruating girls and women grapple with monthly and a spotlight topic on Menstrual Hygiene Day, observed annually on 28 May.

“I’m happy to come work here because I meet and work with other people,” said Ms. Fatty, who operates a special machine to install snaps on each pad. “This place gives me joy because I can forget about my disability while working here.”

The sturdy, long-lasting pads she produces help women like her with a mobility impairment, who have trouble going to the restroom. After working there for a year, Ms. Fatty hopes to continue. While her disabilities bring many challenges and she struggled to make ends meet for a long time, her life has become better since she joined the project.

Keeping girls in school

In The Gambia, Africa’s smallest nation, period poverty is prevalent across the country, but it hits harder in rural areas, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Some girls skip school for around five days every month due to the lack of menstrual products and sanitary facilities.

The girls are afraid of staining their clothes and become a target of bullying or abuse, the agency said. As a result, gender inequality widens; boys will have an advantage as they attend school more often than girls, who have a higher chance of dropping out of education.

To tackle this problem, UNFPA developed a project in Basse, in the country’s Upper River Region, to produce recyclable sanitary pads. These pads are distributed at schools and hospitals in local communities.

The agency takes it as an opportunity to talk about bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health with young girls to mitigate period shaming and stigma.

Empowering young women

The project is also a way of empowering young women in the community as it provides them with a secure job and an opportunity to learn new skills.

SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
United Nations
SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Since 2014, Menstrual Hygiene Day has been observed on the 28th day of the fifth month of the year as menstrual cycles average 28 days in length and people menstruate an average of five days each month.

Poor menstrual health and hygiene undercuts fundamental rights – including the right to work and go to school – for women, girls and people who menstruate, according to UNFPA.

It also worsens social and economic inequalities, the agency said. In addition, insufficient resources to manage menstruation, as well as patterns of exclusion and shame, undermine human dignity. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can amplify deprivation and stigma.

With that in mind, the theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day this year is “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”, said UNFPA Executive-Director Natalia Kanem.

“A girl’s first period should be a happy fact of life, a sign of coming of age with dignity,” she said. “She should have access to everything necessary to understand and care for her body and attend school without stigma or shame.”

The Day brings together governments, non-profits, the private sector, and individuals to promote good menstrual health and hygiene for everyone in the world. The occasion also aims at breaking the silence, raise awareness around menstrual issues and engaging decision-makers to take actions for better menstrual health and hygiene.

Learn more about what UNFPA is doing to eliminate period poverty here.

Eliminating period poverty

UNFPA has four broad approaches to promoting and improving menstrual health around the world:

  • Supplies and safe bathrooms: In 2017, 484,000 dignity kits, containing pads, soap and underwear, were distributed in 18 countries affected by humanitarian emergencies. UNFPA also helps to improve the safety in displacement camps, distributing flashlights and installing solar lights in bathing areas. Promoting menstrual health information and skills-building, projects include teaching girls to make reusable menstrual pads or raising awareness about menstrual cups.
  • Improving education and information: Through its youth programmes and comprehensive sexuality education efforts, UNFPA helps both boys and girls understand that menstruation is healthy and normal.
  • Supporting national health systems: Efforts include promoting menstrual health and provide treatment to girls and women suffering from menstrual disorders. The agency also procures reproductive health commodities that can be useful for treating menstruation-related disorders.
  • Gathering data and evidence about menstrual health and its connection to global development: A long overlooked topic of research, UNFPA-supported surveys provide critical insight into girls’ and women’s knowledge about their menstrual cycles, health, and access to sanitation facilities.

Trafficking in the Sahel: Killer cough syrup and fake medicine

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2023, Peace and Security - In the summer of 2022, 70 Gambian babies and young children died from kidney failure after ingesting cough syrup spooned out by their caregivers. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert that four tainted paediatric products had originated in India, as local health authorities continue to investigate how this tragedy unfolded.
This feature, which focuses on the illegal trade in substandard and fake medicines, is part of a UN News series exploring the fight against trafficking in the Sahel.

From ineffective hand sanitizer to fake antimalarial pills, an illicit trade that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is being meticulously dismantled by the UN and partner countries in Africa’s Sahel region.

Substandard or fake medicines, like contraband baby cough syrup, are killing almost half a million sub-Saharan Africans every year, according to a threat assessment report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report explains how nations in the Sahel, a 6,000-kilometre-wide swath stretching from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, which is home to 300 million people, are joining forces to stop fake medicines at their borders and hold the perpetrators accountable.

This fight is taking place as Sahelians face unprecedented strife: more than 2.9 million people have been displaced by conflict and violence, with armed groups launching attacks that have already shuttered 11,000 schools and 7,000 health centres.

Deadly supply meets desperate demand

Health care is scarce in the region, which has among the world’s highest incidence of malaria and where infectious diseases are one of the leading causes of death.

“This disparity between the supply of and demand for medical care is at least partly filled by medicines supplied from the illegal market to treat self-diagnosed diseases or symptoms,” the report says, explaining that street markets and unauthorized sellers, especially in rural or conflict-affected areas, are sometimes the only sources of medicines and pharmaceutical products.

Fake treatments with fatal results

The study shows that the cost of the illegal medicine trade is high, in terms of health care and human lives.

Fake or substandard antimalarial medicines kill as many as 267,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. Nearly 170,000 sub-Saharan African children die every year from unauthorized antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia.

Caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs up to $44.7 million every year, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

Counterfeit drugs at a market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
IRIN/Brahima Ouedraogo
Counterfeit drugs at a market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Motley trafficking

Corruption is one of the main reasons that the trade is allowed to flourish.

About 40 per cent of substandard and falsified medical products reported in Sahelian countries between 2013 and 2021 land in the regulated supply chain, the report showed. Products diverted from the legal supply chain typically come from such exporting nations as Belgium, China, France, and India. Some end up on pharmacy shelves.

The perpetrators are employees of pharmaceutical companies, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors, all motivated by potential financial gain, the report found.

Traffickers are finding ever more sophisticated routes, from working with pharmacists to taking their crimes online, according to a UNODC research brief on the issue.

While terrorist groups and non-State armed groups are commonly associated with trafficking in medical products in the Sahel, this mainly revolves around consuming medicines or levying “taxes” on shipments in areas under their control.

Snip supply, meet demand

Efforts are under way to adopt a regional approach to the problem, involving every nation in the region. For example, all Sahel countries except Mauritania have ratified a treaty to establish an African medicines agency, and the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization initiative, launched by the African Union in 2009, aims at improving access to safe, affordable medicine.

All the Sahel countries have legal provisions in place relating to trafficking in medical products, but some laws are outdated, UNODC findings showed. The agency recommended, among other things, revised legislation alongside enhanced coordination among stakeholders.

Custom and law enforcement officers prevent huge quantities of contraband from entering the markets of destination countries.
Custom and law enforcement officers prevent huge quantities of contraband from entering the markets of destination countries.

States taking action

Law enforcement and judicial efforts that safeguard the legal supply chain should be a priority, said UNODC, pointing to the seizure of some 605 tonnes of fake medicines between 2017 to 2021 by authorities in the region.

Operation Pangea, for example, coordinated by UN partner INTERPOL in 90 countries, targeted online sales of pharmaceutical products. Results saw seizures of unauthorized antivirals rise by 18 per cent and unauthorized chloroquine, to treat malaria, by 100 per cent.

“Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical products,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said. “We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe.”

Following the death of 70 children in The Gambia in 2022, the World Health Organization identified four contaminated paediatric medicines in the West African nation.
Following the death of 70 children in The Gambia in 2022, the World Health Organization identified four contaminated paediatric medicines in the West African nation.

UN in action


Stop tobacco farming, grow food instead, says WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2023, Health - With hunger spreading worldwide and tobacco responsible for eight million deaths each year, countries should stop subsidizing tobacco crops and help farmers grow food, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday 31 May, WHO deplored that 3.2 million hectares of fertile land across 124 countries are being used to grow deadly tobacco – even in places where people are starving.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that governments across the world “spend millions supporting tobacco farms”, and that choosing to grow food instead of tobacco would allow the world to “prioritize health, preserve ecosystems, and strengthen food security for all”.

Disaster for food, environmental security

The agency’s new report, “Grow food, not tobacco”, recalls that a record 349 million people are facing acute food insecurity, many of them in some 30 countries on the African continent, where tobacco cultivation has increased by 15 per cent in the last decade.

According to WHO, nine of the 10 largest tobacco cultivators are low and middle-income countries. Tobacco farming compounds these countries’ food security challenges by taking up arable land. The environment and the communities which rely on it also suffer, as the crop’s expansion drives deforestation, contamination of water sources and soil degradation.

Vicious cycle of dependence

The report also exposes the tobacco industry for trapping farmers in a vicious cycle of dependence and exaggerating the economic benefits of tobacco as a cash crop.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Friday, Dr. Rüdiger Krech, WHO’s Director for Health Promotion, warned that tobacco’s economic importance is a “myth that we urgently need to dispel”.

He said that the crop contributes less than 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in most tobacco-growing countries, and that the profits go to the world’s major cigarette-makers, while farmers struggle under the burden of debt contracted with the tobacco companies.

‘Smokers, think twice’

Dr. Krech also explained that tobacco farmers find themselves exposed to nicotine poisoning and dangerous pesticides. The broader impact on communities and whole societies is devastating, as some 1.3 million child labourers are estimated to be working on tobacco farms instead of going to school, he said.

“The message to smokers is, think twice”, Dr. Krech said, as consuming tobacco came down to supporting an iniquitous situation in which farmers and their families were suffering.

Workers at a tobacco factory in Malawi fill processing machinery with coal. (file)
© ILO/Marcel Crozet
Workers at a tobacco factory in Malawi fill processing machinery with coal. (file)

Breaking the cycle

WHO, along with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have joined forces around the Tobacco Free Farms initiative, to help thousands of farmers in countries like Kenya and Zambia to grow sustainable food crops instead of tobacco.

The programme provides farmers with microcredit lending to pay off their debts with tobacco companies, as well as knowledge and training to grow alternative crops, and a market for their harvest, thanks to WFP’s local procurement initiatives.

Dr. Krech said that the programme was a “proof of concept” of the power of the UN system to enable farmers to break free from harmful tobacco cultivation. He outlined ambitious plans to expand the programme, as countries in Asia and South America were already requesting support.

“We can help every farmer in the world to get out of tobacco farming if they wish,” he said.


UNESCO unveils new AI roadmap for classrooms

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2023, Culture and Education - The UN convened the first ever global meeting with education ministers from around the world to explore risks and rewards of using chatbots in classrooms, announcing on Friday a new roadmap to chart a safer digital path for all.
Less than 10 per cent of schools and universities follow formal guidance on using wildly popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like the chatbot software ChatGPT, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which hosted more than 40 ministers at an groundbreaking online meeting on Thursday.

The ministers exchanged policy approaches and plans while considering the agency’s new roadmap on education and generative AI, which can create data and content based on existing algorithms, but can also make alarming factual errors, just like humans.

“Generative AI opens new horizons and challenges for education, but we urgently need to take action to ensure that new AI technologies are integrated into education on our terms,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education. “It is our duty to prioritize safety, inclusion, diversity, transparency and quality.”

Institutions are facing myriad challenges in crafting an immediate response to the sudden emergence of these powerful AI apps, according to a new UNESCO survey of more than 450 schools and universities.

Rapidly evolving landscape

At the same time, governments worldwide are in the process of shaping appropriate policy responses in a rapidly evolving education landscape, while further developing or refining national strategies on AI, data protection, and other regulatory frameworks, according to UNESCO.

However, they are proceeding with caution. Risks to using these tools can see students exposed to false or biased information, some ministers said at the global meeting.

The debate revealed other common concerns, including how to mitigate the chatbots’ inherent flaws of producing glaring errors. Ministers also addressed how best to integrate these tools into curricula, teaching methods, and exams, and adapting education systems to the disruptions which generative AI is quickly causing.

Many highlighted the vital role teachers play in this new era as learning facilitators.

But, teachers need guidance and training to meet these challenges, according to UNESCO.

Adding to existing frameworks

Teachers need guidance and training to meet these challenges. — UNESCO

For its part, the agency will continue to steer the global dialogue with policy makers, partners, academia, and civil society, in line with its paper, AI and education: A guide for policy-makers and Recommendation on the Ethics of AI, as well as the Beijing Consensus on Artificial Intelligence and Education.

UNESCO is also developing policy guidelines on the use of generative AI in education and research, as well as frameworks of AI competencies for students and teachers for classrooms.

These new tools will be launched during Digital Learning Week, to be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 4 to 7 September, the agency said.

Learn more about UNESCO’s work in digital learning and education here.


Despite ‘slightly’ improved food security in Yemen, hunger stalks millions

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2023, Humanitarian Aid - The food security situation in Yemen’s government-controlled districts “slightly improved” during the first five months of this year, but acute malnutrition is on the rise, UN agencies warned in a new report released on Friday.
“The United Nations and its partners made strides in rolling back the worst food insecurity last year, but these gains remain fragile, and 17 million people are still food insecure in Yemen,” said David Gressly, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country.

Compared to the same period in 2022, the levels of acutely malnourished people rose in 2023, indicating a need for more funding to stave off extreme hunger, according to the latest findings of a new report by three UN agencies that are closely monitoring the situation, following eight years of intense warfare.

Drivers of hunger

Yemen remains one of the most food insecure countries globally, mainly driven by the impact of conflict and economic decline, according to the report from the UN food agency, FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The integrated phase classification (IPC) analysis provides an outlook for the period between now until the end of this year, indicating the need for more programme investments, as the modest improvements may be eroded, the agencies said.

Their report showed that the people of Yemen continue to require attention, with hunger stalking millions. The agencies cautioned that the situation could worsen if nothing is done to address the key drivers of food insecurity.

The new report showed that between January and May 2023, about 3.2 million people experienced high levels of acute food insecurity in government-controlled areas, representing a 23 per cent reduction from the period between October and December 2022.

During the June to December 2023 period, the report estimated that the number of people likely to experience high levels of acute food insecurity could increase to 3.9 million, out of which 2.8 million people are projected to reach crisis levels of hunger.

Life-saving interventions

FAO Yemen representative Hussein Gadain, said the agency is focused, through various interventions, on improving household food security and income by strengthening agricultural production practices, increasing labour opportunities, and diversifying livelihoods in a sustainable way that fosters peaceful coexistence.

There are women, men, and children behind these IPC statistics, whose lives straddle the fine line between hope and utter devastation. –  Richard Ragan, WFP Country Director

We are working directly with farmers on the ground to enable them to maintain their livelihoods,” he said. “We make sure that smallholder farmers in Yemen will withstand any shocks which impact food security.”

UNICEF and partners reached around 420,000 children suffering from severe and acute malnutrition with life-saving interventions in 2022, said the agency’s Yemen representative, Peter Hawkins.

“This is the highest ever reached in Yemen, thanks to the scale-up of nutrition services,” he said, adding that despite this, malnutrition levels remain critical in many areas of the southern governorates.

“A multisectoral approach to address all forms of malnutrition is essential and together with partners UNICEF is strengthening the provision of primary health care, including early detection and treatment of severe acute malnutrition”, he said.

Averting famine

The UN food agency’s assistance is critical for getting people to firmer ground, for averting crisis and famine, said WFP Country Director, Richard Ragan. Yemen’s food insecurity situation remains fragile, and the hard-won gains of the past 12 months will be lost without continued and urgent support, he said.

“There are women, men, and children behind these IPC statistics, whose lives straddle the fine line between hope and utter devastation,” he said, urging donors to renew their commitment to supporting the most vulnerable Yemenis. “We simply cannot take our foot off the gas now.”

Learn more about what the UN is doing to help the people of Yemen here.


Ukraine: UN delivers aid to millions, as civilian suffering continues

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2023, Humanitarian Aid - Humanitarians reached 5.4 million people in Ukraine with desperately needed aid by April this year, including cash assistance, food, health services, and medicines, the UN said on Friday.
“The escalating war is taking a heavy toll on civilians who live close to the front lines, people who cannot go back to their homes, and people across the country living under almost daily threats of attacks,” said Jens Laerke, from the UN’s humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.

More than a year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, mine contamination and lack of access to Russia-controlled areas remain obstacles to reaching those in need, he said.

Delivering emergency assistance

Assistance has included cash to more than 2.1 million people and food for 3.5 million people, while nearly 3 million gained access to health services and medicines, Mr. Laerke said.

The assistance also included support for survivors of gender-based violence, he said, adding that more than 60 per cent of those reached with aid are women and girls.

Other types of assistance include access to clean water and hygiene products, emergency shelter, education services for children, and protection services, including prevention of gender-based violence and support to survivors, he said.

Volunteers play vital role

“Hundreds of humanitarian organizations are involved in this effort working with local groups and community-based volunteers who play a vital role in getting the assistance delivered on the last mile,” he said.

However, assistance to areas under Russian military control remains extremely limited, he said.

This year, because of the worsening security situation and shifts in the front lines, humanitarian partners have lost access to almost 60,000 people in around 40 towns and villages close to the front lines in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, he said.

Mine action casualties

At the same time, mines and explosive remnants of war in Ukraine have left 263 killed or injured in 2023. That is more than 50 per month on average, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, which believes that the actual figures are considerably higher.

The agency’s latest report indicates that from 1 to 21 May, 46 civilians were killed or injured by mines, 44 in April, 102 in March, 36 in February and 35 in January.

Mine contamination remains a deadly threat to farmers and humanitarians delivering assistance. In the agricultural regions of Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Kherson, dozens of mine-related accidents are being reported every month, Mr. Laerke said.

Denise Brown, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said recovery work hinges on demining.

“Ukraine is considered as one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world,” she said. “Demining agricultural land is one of the Government’s priorities so that farmers can get back to work, and the UN, through WFP World Food Programme] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], working with the Ministry of Agriculture, are contributing to this.”

Learn more about what the UN is doing to help the people of Ukraine here.

A deminer for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine sweeps the ground for unexploded ordnance and landmines.
UNDP Ukraine/Oleksandr Simonenko
A deminer for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine sweeps the ground for unexploded ordnance and landmines.

‘Safe digital public square’ never more important, says Türk

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2023, Human Rights - Allowing space for everyone to speak up, is critical for a free and fully functioning society said the UN human rights chief on Friday, warning that a safe environment online has never been more essential.
Volker Türk was issuing a clarion call to protect and expand civic space, arguing that it’s the only way to enable us all “to play a role in political, economic, and social life, at all levels, from local to global.”

Hate speech going unchecked

He said with more and more decision-making migrating online, “with private companies playing an outsized role, having an open, safe digital public square has never been more important”.

And yet, States are struggling and “often failing” to protect online space for the common good, “swinging between a laissez-faire approach that has allowed violence and dangerous hate speech to go unchecked, and overbroad regulations used as a cudgel against those exercising their free speech rights, including journalists and human rights defenders,” he added.

Invest in multilingual markets

He called on big business to step up and increase investment in preventing and responding to online harms, especially in the non-English language environment, stressing that “doing business in any location requires making sure you can do so safely, in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

The UN rights chief said that carving out civic space was key to human rights, to peace, development, and for “sustainable and resilient societies”, but coming under more and more pressure from undue restrictions, and laws.

This includes crackdowns on peaceful assembly, internet shutdowns and bullying and harassment online.

Expand space as a ‘precondition’

“States must step up efforts to protect and expand civic space as the precondition for people to be able to sustainably enjoy all other entitlements enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from access to healthcare and clean water and quality education to social protection and labour rights”, Mr. Türk  argued.

Pressure on civil space continues despite the inspiring commitment of civil society groups, he continued.

“Civil society is a key enabler of trust between governments and the populations they serve and is often the bridge between the two. For governments to reduce barriers to public participation, they must protect this space, for the benefit of all – both online and offline”.

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