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UN spotlights ‘explosive’ obesity rates, hunger in Latin America and Caribbean

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Health - Since 1975, adult obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean region has tripled, while one in four are going hungry, according to figures published by the UN on Tuesday. 

The Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security 2019, jointly published by a group of UN health agencies, urged countries to take swift action to address the malnutrition issue across the region. 

"The explosive increase in obesity, which affects 24 percent of the regional population, about 105 million people - almost double the global level of 13.2 percent - not only has huge economic costs, but also threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands", said Julio Berdegué, Regional Representative for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

Spotlighting the importance of promoting healthier food environments, the report suggested using taxation and other incentives that favor healthy food, social protection systems, school feeding programmes and the regulation of food advertising and marketing. 

Improving food labeling, ensuring safety and quality of food sold on the street and reformulating ingredients of certain products to ensure nutritional value can also aid the growing problem.  

600,000 deaths due to unhealthy food 

The fastest growing trend in the region’s food sector is that of ultra-processed food products, increasing the population's exposure to excessive amounts of sugar, sodium and fat, according to the report. 

Every year, 600,000 people in the region die from diet-related diseases, such a diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular illnesses, while inadequate diets are threatening future generations, as the rates of both childhood and adolescent obesity tripled between 1990 and 2016. 

Better prices beat healthy choices 

As food processing industries dominate the region’s food environment, ultra-processed products are more readily available in expanding supermarket chains, and affordability is outweighing more nutritious options, with the poor the hardest hit. 

At least 13 countries in the region have taken measures that seek to favor adequate food, and eight have improved advertising regulations, and four have implemented food labeling laws. 

"We must act now to reverse this trend and prevent children from suffering the consequences of poor diets on their health and their future quality of life," said Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which is also WHO’s Regional Office.  

She added that "we need the commitment of the whole society and public policies that regulate unhealthy food products, create environments conducive to physical activity and promote healthy eating at school and at the family table."  

Tuesday’s report stresses that need for social protection programs among other measures that promote food safety and quality essential to improve nutrition.  

Today, social protection programmes supply more than 200 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, roughly a third of the regional population, with breakfast, snacks and lunch, including 85 million schoolchildren.

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Nairobi summit: Women’s empowerment a ‘game changer’ for sustainable development

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Women - The global goal of a sustainable future for all cannot be achieved until women, girls and young people gain control over their own bodies and lives, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told world leaders meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday.

The Kenyan capital is hosting a three-day summit to mark 25 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

The conference, held in Cairo, produced a Programme of Action which recognized that reproductive health, women's empowerment and gender equality are critical to sustainable development.

Ms. Mohammed said it must be carried forward: “Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and upholding women’s rights is a game changer - for poverty-reduction, inclusive growth, democratic governance, peace and justice,” she said.

“The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved until women, girls and young people are able to control their bodies and their lives, and live free of violence. The power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children is a human right that can bolster economic and social development.”

SDGs deadline approaching 

For Ms. Mohammed, the Nairobi Summit is also an opportunity to mobilize political and financial momentum towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015. 

Next year will see the start of a Decade of Action ahead of the 2030 deadline. 

“We must continue to work  even harder towards preventable maternal and child mortality, achieving the unmet need for family planning, and eliminating violence and harmful practices against women and girls everywhere, not least in humanitarian and fragile settings,” the UN deputy chief told the gathering. 

As too many are still being left behind, Ms. Mohammed called for action. 

“Hundreds of millions of women and girls are still waiting for the promise to be kept. They have been waiting long enough,” she said. 

“It’s time for urgent and transformative change as we enter the decade of action to 2030. 

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ICPD, the UN committed on Tuesday to:

  • Uphold the human rights of all people, including their right to sexual and reproductive health.
  • Intensify system-wide efforts to eliminate all preventable maternal and child mortality, to eradicate gender-based violence against women, girls and youth, and to eliminate the unmet need for family planning that constrains the rights and wellbeing of millions of women and young people,
  • Support investments in adolescents and youth that uphold their rights,
  • Support governments in the full and accelerated implementation of the ICPD agenda, in line with implementation of the SDGs,
  • Ensure that no one is left behind, and that we reach the furthest behind first,
  • Incorporate the outcomes of the Nairobi Summit as an integral component in the Decade of Action to deliver on the SDGs.
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In Bahrain, Global Forum for Entrepreneurs and Investment examines empowerment of women, youth through innovation

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Economic Development - Spotlighting the role of targeted investment and innovation towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with special focus on ‘Harnessing the Potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Digital Economy,’ the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum kicked off on Tuesday in the Bahraini capital, Manama.

The Forum will aim to promote investment in entrepreneurship and innovation amid the digital revolution in the Arab world. Participants will also discuss the challenges and opportunities resulting from the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and its impact on the public and private sectors, and highlight best practices and international policies needed to ensure the financial inclusion of youth and women, with emphasis on the Arab region and Africa. 

 
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Speakers at the opening session included Fatou Haidara Managing Director, Policy and Programme Support of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Sheikh Faisal bin Rashid bin Isa Vice-President of the Supreme Council for the Environment of Bahrain, Yousef bin Ibrahim Al Bassam Chairman of the Arab Bank for Economic Development and Dr. Hashim Hussein, Head of Investment Promotion Bureau, UNIDO, Bahrain. 

Addressing the opening session, UNIDO's Ms. Fatwa Haidara, spoke about the implications of the SDGs, which include, among others, sustainability, inclusiveness and partnership, noting that women account for half of the world's population, and questioned the overall ability of achieving the global goals without women. She explained that UNIDO's work was focused on the inclusiveness and sustainability of industrial development. 

 “Today was an opportunity to shed light on UNIDO's work in the area of women's empowerment and put it in the context of the Industrial Revolution,” she said, stressing: “There is a gender gap. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, if we do not [implement] the right policies and measures, the gap may widen further, and this is the last thing we want to happen. We want to work collectively and in different aspects.” 

Speaking to UN News, Dr. Hashem Hussein, head of the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Bureau, said the idea of the Forum started with “what the UN should do about the economic empowerment of youth and women”. 

How can we achieve the SDGs without women? – UNIDO Managing Director Fatwa Haidara

He pointed out that the lack job opportunities for young people today is a problem in all countries, especially in the developing world, and pointed out that the SDGs are suffering from an ‘investment gap’ of more than $250 billion annually, through 2030.   

“We cannot achieve SDGs if the private sector and financial institutions did not play their parts. Humans are the main focus of development for the United Nations, they are the entrepreneurs in this field; a person who establishes a small- and medium-sized enterprise, creates jobs for himself and other young people”, he added. 

Dr. Hussein said that the United Nations plays a role in helping countries, private sector actors, civil society institutions and individuals representing entrepreneurs to establish prosperous and sustainable projects. 

According to Dr. Hashim Hussein, this is the first time that the Arab region has hosted the Arab Business Owners and Investors Summit, in conjunction with the Global Forum for Entrepreneurs and Investment Summit. Holding the two events conjointly showed the organizers belief in the need to have a common network linking investors and entrepreneurs. 

UN News/ Abdelmonem Makki
Dr. Hashim Hussein, Head of UNIDO Investment Promotion Office and the Managing Director, Policy and Programme Support of UNIDO, Fatou Haidara during a meeting on the sidelines of the Global Forum for Entrepreneurs and Investment

Today's sessions at the Forum included several panel discussions that hosted international experts in the fields of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the First Digital Revolution, the role of entrepreneurs and the possibility of benefiting from the results of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

In addition, the sessions included bilateral meetings between entrepreneurs, investors and entrepreneurs. 

On the sidelines of the Forum, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an Entrepreneurship Summit with the participation of 56 countries, where a so called ‘Business Hub’ – an online virtual content – was launched to support entrepreneurs in the OIC countries.   

The importance of education in promoting the Fourth Industrial Revolution was also highlighted through an event on the role of education and universities in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship with the participation of more than 60 universities from all over the world to showcase their projects and programs. 

 The participants also discussed the role of investment in green technology and how entrepreneurs can benefit from technology in green projects. 

UN News / Abdelmonem Makki
The first winner from Lebanon was honored at the UNIDO Innovation Competition in cooperation with the Bahrain Chamber of Industry

Arab Universities Compete 

An ‘Arab Rally for Innovation’ competition took place at the Forum.   

The competition targeted university students in the Arab region and featured 18 teams from 18 Arab countries. Students and university professors worked hard to find innovative solutions for many challenges facing the Arab region, in areas such as water, agriculture, renewable energy, environmental pollution and recycling environmental waste.  

At the end the sessions today, the three winners were honored with the support of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry which offered $ 100,000 to the three winners. The ceremony was attended by the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. 

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Quality education an ‘essential pillar’ of a better future, says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Culture and Education - Education is an “essential pillar” to achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN chief António Guterres told an audience on Tuesday at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization, ahead of the agency’s General Conference.

We must ensure universal access to basic education for every child, everywhere. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President, UN General Assembly

Mr. Guterres, who noted that one-fifth of young people are out of work, lack education or adequate training, praised UNESCO’s fundamental role in coordinating and monitoring global efforts, such as the agency’s initiative on the future of education.

The theme was taken up by Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, in his opening remarks to a ministerial meeting on education at the Conference.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande referred to estimates showing that some 265 million children are out of school. The number is projected to fall to 220 million over the next decade, but he declared that the illiteracy figures forecast for 2030 remain a scandal: “We must remove all barriers to education. We must ensure, at a minimum, universal access to basic education for every child, everywhere.”

He also highlighted the importance of educating children effectively, and equipping them with the necessary analytical and critical thinking abilities, in “an ever-changing and more complex world”.

Recalling his former experience as an educator in his home country of Nigeria, Mr. Muhammad-Bande called for more efforts to ensure that teachers are adequately qualified, because “no educational system can rise above the quality of its teachers”.

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Other important measures cited by the General Assembly President include strong curricula that fully integrate Information and Communications Technology (ICT); ensuring that girls complete at least 12 years of education (which, according to the World Bank, would add some $30 trillion to the global economy); and the effective monitoring and evaluation of learning.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande called on nations to meet their commitments to education spending, and for donor countries to increase international aid directed towards education.

‘Powerful agents of change’

As well as the difficulties in accessing quality education, Mr. Guterres also outlined several other challenges faced by young people: the fact that millions of girls become mothers while they are still children; that one quarter are affected by violence or conflict; and that online bullying and harassment are adding to high levels of stress, which see some 67,000 adolescents die from suicide or self-harm every year.

World leaders, and others who wield power, he continued, must treat young people not as subjects to be protected, but as powerful agents for change, and the role of the powerful is not to solve the enormous challenges faced by young people, but rather to give them the tools to tackle their problems.

Mr Guterres underscored the importance of bringing young people to the table as key partners, and praised UNESCO’s efforts to include their voices, which include holding a major event at the General Conference, and the Youth Forum.

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‘Forgotten’ pneumonia epidemic kills more children than any other disease

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Health - Pneumonia, an entirely preventable disease, kills more children than any other illness in the world, one child every 39 seconds. But although that statistic is well known, funding to improve survival rates continues to come up short, the UN and partners warned on Tuesday, World Pneumonia Day. 

 “For decades the leading killer of children has been a neglected disease and the world’s most vulnerable children have paid the price”, Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of a coalition to stop the disease, said in a joint statement with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other health leaders. 

One child dies of pneumonia every 39 seconds, agencies warn

unicef.org

Join forces to protect children 

“It’s time for governments, UN and multilateral agencies, companies and NGOs, to join forces to fight pneumonia and protect these children”, she added. 

In 2018 alone, pneumonia killed 800,000 children, and while deaths from other infectious diseases, including malaria, diarrhoea are falling, fatal pneumonia cases are declining at a much slower pace. 

In 2000, 1,755,000 children under-five, died from the sickness, compared to 802,000 in 2018, while deaths to diarrhoea, once at 1,200,000, are now almost half of the current pneumonia death count.  

15 per cent of deaths, just 3 per cent of funding 

This “forgotten epidemic” is now responsible for 15 per cent of deaths in children under the age of five, and yet, just three per cent of global infectious disease research spending is allocated to the disease, the health partners explained. 

In addition, the strong link between child pneumonia deaths and poverty is undeniable. Lack of access to drinking water, inadequate health care, and the burden of undernutrition and indoor air pollution are major drivers of vulnerability to the disease. Around half of all pneumonia-related deaths are associated with air pollution. 

When a child contracts the disease, bacteria, viruses or fungi leave them fighting for breath, as their lungs fill with pus and fluid. The more severe cases require oxygen treatment, which is rarely available to children who need it in the poorest countries.  

In Nigeria, more than 440 children die each day 

Nigeria has seen the worst of the problem, with 162,000 child pneumonia deaths in the last year – that’s an astonishing 443 on average, each day. India is not far behind at 127,000, Pakistan at 58,000, the Democratic Republic of Congo at 40,000, and 32,000 deaths in Ethiopia.  

These five countries alone were responsible for more than half of the lives pneumonia claimed in 2018.  

The disease can be prevented with immunization, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics if properly diagnosed, but tens of millions of children are still going unvaccinated. 

Globally, 32 per cent of children suspected of having pneumonia are not taken to a health facility, and the number rises to 40 per cent in poor and low-income countries.  

‘Protective, preventative treatment’ – UNICEF chief 

Only “cost-effective, protective, preventative treatment” which are able to reach children where they are “will be able to truly save millions of lives”, UNICEF’s Henrietta Fore said.  

Vaccine coverage in low-income countries is now higher than the global average, Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the Vaccine Alliance said, however, “the fact that this preventable, treatable and easily diagnosed disease” is the world’s biggest killer of youth, “is frankly quite shocking.”  

“We still have work to do to ensure every child has access to this lifesaver”, he added. 

The organisations are urging governments in the worst-affected countries to development and implement pneumonia control and prevention strategies and call on richer nations and donors to boost immunisation coverage by lowering the cost of key vaccines. 

In a joint call to action, the group of leading health and children’s organisations will host world leaders at the Global Forum on childhood Pneumonia in Barcelona, Spain, next January. 

An estimated 18 million more health workers are needed by 2030 to prevent, diagnose and treat pneumonia as well as to reach the Sustainable Development Goal targets for Universal Health Coverage. 

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Australia wildfires: communities must stay vigilant, urges UN weather agency

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Climate Change - As Australia’s “catastrophic” and deadly wildfire emergency continues, UN weather experts on Tuesday echoed Government warnings for people to remain vigilant in the face of the fast-moving threat and tinderbox conditions.

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that dozens of fires are raging, effecting around six million in eastern New South Wales state, and southeast Queensland, amid reports that three people lost their lives in the fires at the weekend.

“Apart from the immediate physical threat…when authorities issue a message of catastrophic fire danger, the message there is basically, “Get out, get away,’” Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told journalists.

No rain forecast

Citing Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology description of the situation as “evolving and dangerous”, Ms. Nullis said that conditions were likely to remain dry, with little to no rain forecast.

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“The fires are due to a combination of factors including low soil moisture, heat and importantly, wind direction and wind speed,” she explained.

New South Wales has declared a state of emergency as parts of the state - including the Greater Sydney area and Queensland - face a "catastrophic" fire danger, which is the highest level of warning.

Although bush and grassfires are common in Australia, the emergency is linked to increasingly warm temperatures over the course of the last century.

Climate change ‘is contributing’

“According to the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia, it’s been the second warmest January to October on record for Australia as a whole, and these are records going back 110 years,” Ms. Nullis said, adding that the number of days falling into the category of “fire weather days” has increased.

“The most extreme 10 per cent of fire weather days - which is how they measure the fire index - has increased in recent decades across many regions…There has been an associated increase in the length of the fire weather season and climate change including increasing temperatures, is contributing to these changes.”

According to WMO, many at-risk communities face winds of 60 to 80 kilometres per hour (37 to 50 miles per hour) and temperatures in the mid to high 30s Celsius (around 95 Fahrenheit).

Although a cool weather front that is forecast may ease fire dangers, “a combination of dry and gusty winds and a shift in wind direction will mean people in the impacted areas will need to remain vigilant”, Ms. Nullis insisted.

Between 1967 and 2013, major Australian bushfires resulted in over 8,000 injuries and 433 deaths, close to 50 per cent of all fatalities from major Australian natural disasters, excluding heatwaves, Australian Government figures show.

Over the same period, bushfires cost approximately $3.2 billion.

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UN chief welcomes decision to delay formation of South Sudan unity government

INTERNATIONAL, 12 November 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General has welcomed the decision to push back the deadline for the formation of a unity Government in South Sudan.

President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar were expected to form a unified transitional Government by 12 November, in line with a September 2018 peace deal aimed at ending six years of conflict.

Following a meeting last week in Uganda, held under the auspices of regional body IGAD, the leaders and stakeholders agreed to extend the pre-transitional period by 100 days to allow critical tasks to be completed.

“The Secretary-General urges the parties to use this extension to make further progress on critical benchmarks, including security arrangements and the number and boundaries of states, to allow for the formation of an inclusive transitional government of national unity,” his deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said in a statement issued on Monday.

“The Secretary-General also urges the Government of South Sudan to support the process by releasing the pledged amount of $100 million through a transparent and accountable mechanism.”

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, having gained independence from Sudan eight years ago. However, the country has been mired in political instability and violence for most of that period.

A delegation from the UN Security Council was in the capital Juba three weeks ago to shore up support for the revitalized peace agreement and to encourage the sides to meet the 12 November deadline.

In light of the latest developments, UN chief António Guterres has reiterated the organization’s support for the country: “As IGAD has underscored, face-to-face meetings of the leadership of the parties will continue to be crucial in maintaining momentum,” Mr. Haq said in the statement.

“The Secretary-General reaffirms the critical importance of the role of IGAD and the African Union in the political process, and the continued readiness of the United Nations to support their efforts.”

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Multilateralism must weather ‘challenges of today and tomorrow’ Guterres tells Paris Peace Forum

INTERNATIONAL, 11 November 2019, Peace and Security - In a speech to the Paris Peace Forum in Paris on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that to thrive, multilateralism had to adapt, mindful that “conflicts persist, creating suffering and displacement: our world is unsettled”.  He was speaking as commemorations took place in countries across the world, marking the official end of the First World War, in 1918.

Drawing parallels with the geopolitical landscape in the early 20th Century, Mr. Guterres described today’s world as neither bipolar, unipolar, nor multipolar, but rather “chaotic and uncertain”.

Prevention ‘more indispensable than ever’

Today, he said, conflicts are not between sovereign States, but rather consist of asymmetrical conflicts, in which countries are often pitted against non-State actors. 

When third-party states interfere, these conflicts take on a regional dimension, continued Mr. Guterres, at a time when relations between the most powerful countries are dysfunctional, and with a Security Council that is frequently paralysed.

The UN chief declared that conflict prevention is more indispensable than ever, citing growing links to a new form of global terrorism, as seen in Libya and the Lake Chad region, and the danger of nuclear proliferation. He called for the root causes to be addressed, as well as the prevention of new tensions and conflicts.

Mr. Guterres explained that international cooperation is the only way to solve these issues, which is why crisis prevention and mediation, as well as a framework for fighting violent extremism, and reinforcing peace and international security, are at the heart of his UN reforms.

Five fault-lines that threaten the world

The world is facing five major risks, declared the Secretary-General. Firstly, an economic, technological and geostrategic fault line. This sees the planet divided in two, with the two largest economies dividing the world between them, each imposing their own financial and economic rules on their spheres of influence.

 
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"We must do all we can to avoid this ‘Great Fracture’ and preserve a global system, a universal economy that respects international law, a multipolar world with solid multilateral institutions”.

The second risk lies in the social contract between citizens and governments, leading to a wave of demonstrations around the world, said Mr Guterres, which demonstrates a growing distrust in institutions and political leaders. “The people are suffering”, he declared, “and want to be heard”.

This leads to a third risk, said the UN chief: a solidarity gap, and rise in inward-looking attitudes, in which the most vulnerable – minorities, refugees, migrants, women and children – are the first to suffer:

“Fear of foreigners is being used for political ends. Intolerance and hatred are becoming commonplace. People who have lost everything are being blamed for all the world's ills. This exacerbates the polarization of political life and the risk of divided societies”. 

The fourth risk, Mr. Guterres spelled out, is the climate crisis, a “race against time for the survival of our civilization, a race that we are losing”. The UN chief described record temperatures, receding icecaps, expanded deserts, and destructive storms, such as those he has witnessed as UN chief in Dominica, Mozambique and the Bahamas

It’s not too late to act

“If we fail to act now”, said Mr. Guterres, “history will remember that we had all the means needed to fight back, but that we chose to do nothing”.

However, he continued, solutions exist and if countries find the political will to act, honour pledges to cut emissions, and mobilize funding for sustainable development, catastrophe can be averted.

A technological divide, declared Mr. Guterres, is the fifth emerging global fault-line, because, whilst new technology has the potential to be a powerful tool for peace and sustainable development, it can also increase risk and accelerate inequalities. 

Solutions outlined by the Secretary-General include education systems that integrate lifelong learning, because “we must no longer simply learn, but learn how to learn.”

Overcome hate, together

Turning to the rise of hate speech and the manipulation of information, Mr. Guterres said that he plans to make the UN a place in which governments, companies, researchers and civil society can meet to “define together the red lines and best practice rules”. 

We must do all we can to preserve a global system that respects international law, a multipolar world with solid multilateral institutions António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The threat of cyber-attacks and a new “cyber-arms” race involving killer robots and autonomous weapons must also be tackled, warned Mr. Guterres, who said that “machines that have the power and discretion to kill without human intervention are politically unacceptable and morally despicable”.

The world must instead ensure, said the UN chief, that artificial intelligence is used to guarantee that everyone can live in dignity, peace and prosperity. 

Multilateralism must “adapt to challenges of today and tomorrow”

The Secretary-General concluded his speech with a vision of multilateralism, that can adapt to the challenges of today and tomorrow, and make the UN more effective and agile.

Multilateralism, he said, must be networked, and close to the people, working hand in hand with regional organizations, but also with international financial institutions, development banks and specialized agencies. 

It must also be inclusive, he added, with the full participation of civil society, including young people, business, academic and philanthropic circles, and tackle gender equality, an issue that the UN is addressing, with a strategy to achieve parity well before 2030.

The UN chief called for a “sustained strategic vision” to solve the world’s interdependent and long-term challenges, noting that the international community has shown, in the past, that it can come together and rise to the occasion: “So let us fight, fight and not give up”. 

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25 years on from landmark conference, millions of women and girls still in danger: UN deputy chief

INTERNATIONAL, 11 November 2019, Women - The UN Deputy Secretary-General has called for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights to be integrated at the heart of global efforts to achieve a sustainable future for all.

Amina Mohammed was speaking on Monday in Nairobi, where countries are meeting this week to mark 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

The landmark gathering held in Cairo concluded with a Programme of Action “that placed individual dignity and human rights, including the right to plan one’s family, at the very heart of development”, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

 
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Leaders reneging on Cairo promises

Ms. Mohammed acknowledged that although “significant gains” have been made since its adoption, progress is fragile and millions are being left behind.

“The world is still a difficult, and often dangerous, place for hundreds of millions of women and girls,” she stated.

“To make it even more complex, leaders across constituencies are reneging the promise of Cairo, the promise to secure a just future for our youth especially our girls.”

The UN deputy chief outlined some of the tragedies that befall women and girls across the world, including dying during childbirth and being forced into early marriage.

At the same time, five million pregnant women displaced by conflict or disaster require medical care, while more than 230 million women worldwide cannot prevent pregnancy because “they do not have access to the contraceptives they need and have a right to.”

Ms. Mohammed said the Programme of Action “has never been more relevant” in the current era of urbanization, increased migration, and rising population.

“We urgently need to mobilize political and financial momentum to advance the ICPD agenda, particularly around harnessing the demographic dividend, reducing preventable maternal and child mortality and the unmet need for family planning, and eliminating violence and harmful practices against women and girls,” she said.

Rights experts highlight fundamentalist opposition

Twenty-four independent UN human rights experts are also pressing countries to reaffirm their commitments and “fulfil the ambitious commitments” made in Cairo.

“The push back against women’s rights from religious fundamentalists and political conservatives that oppose women’s rights are particularly acute in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights,” they said in a statement.

“Despite States’ clear human rights obligations in these areas, the strong opposition discourse seeks to retreat from the ambitions of the ICPD agenda, challenging women’s right to equality and relegating a woman’s role to only the family and procreation”.

Women’s empowerment central to sustainable development

Four years ago, world leaders meeting at the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a more equitable and just world by 2030.

This will only be possible when the promise made to millions of women and girls 25 years ago is fulfilled, according to Ms. Mohammed.

“So, as we enter a Decade of Action for the delivery of the SDGs, let us seize this opportunity to build momentum and firmly integrate gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights at the heart of our efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda,” she said.

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From Prince to Picasso: the arts can be just the tonic, new UN health agency study shows

INTERNATIONAL, 11 November 2019, Health - From before birth, to the end of life, taking to the dance floor or sketching a still life, can positively affect our health and even prove more cost-effective than conventional medical treatment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found in a new study published on Monday.

The Health Evidence Synthesis report, from WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, analysed evidence from over 900 publications supporting ways in which the arts can help improve physical and mental health, in the most comprehensive review of its kind to date.

The report reviewed the health benefits (either through active or passive participation) in five broad categories of arts: performing arts (music, dance, singing, theatre, film); visual arts (crafts, design, painting, photography); literature (writing, reading, attending literary festivals); culture (going to museums, galleries, concerts, the theatre); and online arts (including animation and digital arts).


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Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a Monday press statement that examples cited in the groundbreaking study, “consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively.”

Different kinds of cultural and artistic engagement can trigger psychological, physiological, social and behavioural responses, linked to health outcomes, report authors explain, and art as medicine can be distinguished into two broad themes; prevention and promotion, and management and treatment.

For the former, music specifically selected to inspire attitudes of independence and self-empowerment helped HIV patients stay on course with treatment programmes, decreasing the volume of the virus in their bodies.

Art therapy sessions during cancer treatment have been shown to reduce the adverse side-effects of drowsiness, lack of appetite or energy, and depression.

Focusing on management and treatment, expecting mothers who engaged in weekly art therapy sessions helped reduce their fear of childbirth, and the general depression and anxiety sometimes associated with becoming a new parent. Singing during pregnancy can strengthen mother-infant bonding, reduce an infant’s crying episodes, and help newborns get a better night’s sleep.

The report indicates that some cultural activities show equivalent - or even greater - cost-effectiveness, as traditional health interventions. Because the arts can provide multiple health-promoting factors within a single activity, they may be better at preventing ailments or disease in the first place, the authors note.

Furthermore, in its various forms, artistic expression can be tailored to each individual, and thus, can help reach minority groups, which are often at higher risk of poor health.

Closing the policy gap

The report outlines policy considerations for decision-makers in the health sector and beyond, including ensuring access to health programmes, promoting public awareness of health benefits of arts engagement, and investment in further research.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, major research developments have traced the effects of art on health and well-being, however, this has not led to significant policy development across Member States within the European region, which was the focus of WHO’s study.

Although since the early 2000s, England, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden have implemented policies enhancing the contribution of art and culture to health and well-being.

Last year, the Secretary-General launched the Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy specifically serving UN personnel. The five-year UN workplace plan aims to create working environments that enhance mental health and well-being, in line with the Sustainable Development target for healthy lives worldwide, SDG 3.

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