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WHO chief points to ‘green shoots of hope’ in COVID-19 pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Health - Although COVID-19 cases are on track to hit 20 million worldwide this week, and 750,000 deaths, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed to “green shoots of hope” amidst the global crisis, while urging both governments and people everywhere to work to suppress the new coronavirus.

“I know many of you are grieving and that this is a difficult moment for the world”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday, in his latest briefing to journalists

“But I want to be clear, there are green shoots of hope and no matter where a country, a region, a city or a town is – it’s never too late to turn the outbreak around.”

Action by leaders and citizens

Tedros underlined two elements for addressing the pandemic effectively, namely that “leaders must step up to take action and citizens need to embrace new measures.”

He praised New Zealand as a “global exemplar” in the pandemic. This weekend the country celebrated 100 days with no community transmission of the virus, while Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has also stressed the need to remain cautious.

“Rwanda’s progress is due to a similar combination of strong leadership, universal health coverage, well-supported health workers and clear public health communications”, he added.

The UN’s top official also commended nations in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, which took early action to suppress the virus.

Countries such as France, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom, which faced major outbreaks, also were able to suppress the virus to a significant extent, after taking action.

Strong, precise measures

Throughout the pandemic, WHO has been recommending measures such as rapid case identification, contact tracing, physical distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing.

Tedros said countries facing new spikes of the disease “are now using all the tools at their disposal”.

He cited recent stay-at-home measures implemented in the UK, as well France’s decision on the compulsory use of masks in busy outdoor spaces in Paris.

“Strong and precise measures like these, in combination with utilising every tool at our disposal are key to preventing any resurgence in disease and allowing societies to be reopened safely”, he said. “And even in countries where transmission is intense, it can be brought under control by applying an all of government, all of society response.”

‘Suppress, suppress, suppress’

The WHO chief stressed that virus suppression is crucial for societies to re-open safely, including for students to return to school.

“My message is crystal clear: suppress, suppress, suppress the virus. If we suppress the virus effectively, we can safely open up societies,” he said.

Support to Lebanon

WHO has underlined its support to Lebanon following the devastating explosion last week that destroyed large parts of the capital, Beirut, leaving more than 200 dead according to news reports on Monday, more than 6,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless.

WHO has issued a $76 million appeal for Lebanon, while staff are on the ground working alongside Lebanese and other UN partners to assess the impact on the health sector.

The agency is shipping $1.7 million-worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) items to supplement COVID-19 and humanitarian supplies destroyed by the blast.

“We are also working closely with national health authorities to enhance trauma care, including through the deployment and coordination of qualified emergency medical teams,” Tedros told journalists.

“We’re also mitigating the COVID-19 impact, addressing psychosocial needs and facilitating the rapid restoration of damaged health facilities.”


New guidance for protecting migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Migrants and Refugees - As migrant workers continue to be on the front lines of the collective response to COVID-19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are releasing new employer guidance for measures to protect them.

Migrant workers are a crucial part of the global workforce, accounting for 3.5 per cent of the world’s population, according to IOM

Worldwide, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, rely on them, including sectors providing essential commodities and services, as well as industries hard-hit by COVID-19.

Marina Manke, Head of the IOM Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, pointed out that they're working not only as “doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, but as the agricultural, transport and retail workers that keep our cities and towns functioning”.

Distinctive challenges

As the coronavirus continues to impact local communities, businesses can play a decisive role in addressing the unique challenges faced by migrant workers.

Susceptible to job loss, salary cuts, and various health and safety concerns, migrants are far away from family support networks, can face clear language or cultural barriers and often lack social protection.  Many also suffer from discrimination. 

Meanwhile, overseas economies that rely on financial contributions from migrant workers—especially low- and middle-income countries—face a steep decline in cross-border remittances.

A guiding hand

To address the specific challenges migrant workers face during COVID-19, IOM and ICC published a set of employer guidelines on Monday.

Highlighting the role of the private sector, the advice includes a set of general principles – such as treating all workers with “equality, dignity, and respect” – regardless of gender or migratory status. 

It is presented in the five categories of physical and mental health; living and working conditions; economic support; ethical recruitment; and supply chain transparency.

“Employers are in a unique position to ensure full protection for these workers both at the workplace and in their communities of operation and supply chains”, said Ms. Manke. “We hope this guide will serve them well”.

On the ground

IOM, ICC and its network of national committees are working to raise awareness of the particular support measures needed for migrant workers during the pandemic among businesses in different regions. 

Most recently, IOM and ICC – along with  regional offices in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico – hosted a webinar directed at employers in Latin America in Spanish. 


Young people have a major role to play in ridding the world of nuclear weapons

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Peace and Security - Nuclear weapons are still one of the most serious threats to mankind, and the dangers are growing. Young people can play an important role in ensuring that they are eliminated once and for all, says the UN’s top disarmament official, ahead of International Youth Day on 12 August.

This coming Wednesday, the world will highlight young people as essential partners in effecting change. The annual celebration of International Youth Day is also an opportunity to raise awareness about the problems facing youth,  including the continued existence of nuclear weapons.

Seventy-five years ago last week, the only two nuclear bombs ever used in warfare were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing approximately 210,000 people within months and sickening tens of thousands more with cancer and lifelong diseases.

Nearly 14,000 nuclear warheads exist today, most of them many times more powerful than those two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world has succeeded at reducing some of the risks, especially after the end of the Cold War, but Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, has said the danger is now “higher than it has been in generations.”

Ms. Nakamitsu talked to UN News about why, and how, young people are helping to tackle this crisis.

‘The memory stays with you’

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefs members of the UN Security Council.

“When catastrophes occur, they tend to turn into numbers, and it is important to remember that everyone who suffered the devastation from the atomic bombings 75 years ago has a story. They had lives, people they loved and who loved them.

When I was about 10 or 12 years old, I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and once you have seen them the memory stays with you.

Eliminating these indiscriminate and inhumane weapons is the UN’s top disarmament priority – and one of its oldest goals.

But the world’s progress to rid the world of nuclear weapons has slowed down, and now we are actually starting to go backwards. This back-sliding increases the possibility that a nuclear weapon could be used– either intentionally, by accident or because of a misunderstanding.

In today’s complicated international environment – with priorities ranging from climate change to sustainable development, pandemics and migration – nuclear weapons are still one of the most urgent threats to tackle.

Here are three reasons why.

First, they are the most destructive weapons ever invented. Most that exist today are vastly more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Second, nuclear weapons are one of the two threats, along with climate change, that extend to all life on the planet. Any use of  nuclear weapons could cause an environmental cataclysm.

Third, no country can adequately respond to the vast suffering and death that would follow any use of a nuclear weapon. Most countries, and international organisations like the ICRC, have voiced concern about this. Some countries have adopted a new treaty which prohibits nuclear weapons.

The power of youth

As part of the largest generation in history, today’s young people hold tremendous power – and responsibility. 
Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, stressed this during a visit to Japan earlier this year. She said, “The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should always remind us, especially the younger generations, how important disarmament and denuclearization is. Young people under the age of 30 account for over half of the world’s population, and we can’t achieve world peace without their participation.

The Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament recognizes youth as “the ultimate force for change”. When they are educated, engaged and empowered, they can have decisive influence on how their societies and governments view nuclear weapons.

We have seen their power before. Young campaigners, many of them women, helped lead successful global efforts to ban landmines and cluster munitions under international law, and they are rallying many countries to reduce nuclear threats.

Some of these campaigns have been awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly reaffirmed the contributions that young people can make in sustaining peace and security.

Young people can contribute by starting discussion groups, hosting film screenings and planning informative events with fellow students and friends. I recommend reading the United Nations book, “Action for Disarmament: 10 Things You can Do!” to learn more about these and other outreach strategies.

How to get involved

At the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, we want to help create space for young people to meaningfully contribute to progress on disarmament. Through a new outreach initiative, called “#Youth4Disarmament”, we are working to engage, educate and empower young people by offering resources like e-newsletterstraining programmes and an upcoming website dedicated to youth and disarmament.

We also recently announced our first group of “Youth Champions for Disarmament”. These 10 young people will receive training on general principles of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control through both online courses and a two-week in-person study tour in Vienna, Geneva, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They will exchange ideas with experts from think tanks, civil society organizations and the diplomatic field, and develop a plan to engage their communities on disarmament-related issues.

It is vital for countries to engage with their younger citizens. They have the power to effect change, and their ideas can help strengthen our collective peace and security—now and for the future. With their fresh ideas and perspectives, together we can find solutions to the world’s gravest dangers.”


Beirut blast: ‘The faster we act, the better we can reduce human suffering,’ says UN deputy chief

INTERNATIONAL, 9 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - To help Lebanon overcome the tragedy and recover better, “we will need all hands on deck”, deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed told virtual donors conference on Sunday, convened to rally international assistance and support in the wake of last week’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, which killed some 150 people, wounded thousands and caused destruction throughout much of the city.

“The explosion in Beirut last Tuesday shocked the world,” leaving neighborhoods flattened, a large part of Lebanon’s grain reserves obliterated, six hospitals damaged or destroyed, hundreds of thousands have been made homeless - many of them children, the Deputy Secretary-General told the donors teleconference, co-convened by French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN.

The deputy UN chief offered her condolences to those who lost loved ones, and a full recovery to the thousands of injured. “Above all,” she said, “I give my pledge that the United Nations is committed to helping the people of Lebanon in every way we can.

Since the blast, the UN system has been working around the clock, delivering medical supplies, shelter kits and food parcels, and helping reunite separated families, and Ms. Mohammed expressed gratitude to the donors that had enable the Organization to jump into action.

“Financial support leveraged in record time – in particular from regional partners – is already making a difference. But of course, this is just the beginning,” she cautioned.



On International Day, UN chief spotlights indigenous peoples’ resilience in face of COVID-19 pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 9 August 2020, Human Rights - Inclusion and participation of the world’s 476 million indigenous peoples must be ensured in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on the road ahead towards recovery, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has underscored.

Marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Guterres drew attention to the “devastating” impact of the pandemic on indigenous peoples around the world.

“Throughout history, indigenous peoples have been decimated by diseases brought from elsewhere, to which they had no immunity,” said the Secretary-General.

While indigenous peoples already faced deep-rooted inequalities, stigmatization and discrimination prior to the current pandemic, inadequate access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation increases their vulnerability, he added.

That said, indigenous peoples’ traditional practices and knowledge also offer solutions that can be replicated elsewhere.

For instance, the Karen people of Thailand revived their ancient ritual of “Kroh Yee” – or village closure – to fight the pandemic. Other Asian countries and in Latin America applied similar strategies, with communities closing off entry to their areas.

‘Indigenous peoples have demonstrated extraordinary resilience’

In his message the UN chief also highlighted the extraordinary resilience shown by indigenous peoples in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Many have lost their jobs in traditional occupations, the informal sector or subsistence economies. Indigenous women – often the main providers of food and nutritious for their families – have been particularly impacted with closure of markets for handicrafts, produce and other goods, as have indigenous children, who have lost out on education due to lack of access to virtual learning opportunities.

In addition, indigenous people have been victims of threats and violence, and many have lost their lives, amid increasing encroachment on indigenous peoples’ territories by illegal miners and loggers due to lapsed enforcement of environmental protections during the crisis.

“In the face of such threats, indigenous peoples have demonstrated extraordinary resilience,” declared Mr. Guterres in the message, urging countries to marshal the resources to respond to their needs, honour their contributions and respect their inalienable rights.

Indigenous peoples must be consulted in all efforts to build back stronger and recover better, he added, noting that from the outset of the global pandemic, UN agencies have been working to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights.

“The UN system remains committed to realizing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to bolstering their resilience,” he concluded.

The International Day

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is commemorated annually on 9 August in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, held in Geneva in 1982.

This year, the Day’s theme focuses the spotlight on COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience, and several events – mostly virtual – will be organized, bringing together indigenous peoples’ organizations, UN agencies, UN ;Member States, civil society and other key stakeholders.


Lessons of Nagasaki survivors should motivate the world to eliminate all nuclear weapons – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 9 August 2020, Peace and Security - UN Secretary General António Guterres on Sunday marked 75 years since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki with praise for the hibakusha, the survivors, who transformed their decades-long plight into a warning about the perils of nuclear weapons and an example of the triumph of the human spirit.

 “Your example should provide the world with a daily motivation to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Sadly, three-quarters of a century after this city was incinerated by an atomic bomb,the nuclear menace is once again on the rise,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement delivered in Nagasaki by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

In remarks delivered to the Peace Memorial Ceremony, the UN chief hailed Nagasaki as a true example of resilience, recovery and reconciliation.

“Citizens of Nagasaki are not defined by the atomic bombing, but they are dedicated to ensuring such a catastrophe never befalls another city or people,” he said, adding that the international community remains grateful for that dedication to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

Yet while the resilience of the people of Nagasaki and the venerable, long-suffering hibakusha “should provide the world with a daily motivation to eliminate all nuclear weapons,” the Secretary-General warned that the prospect of nuclear weapons being used intentionally, by accident or miscalculation, is dangerously high.

He explained that while nuclear weapons are being modernized to become stealthier, more accurate, faster and more dangerous, the relationships between nuclear-armed States are precarious – defined by distrust, a lack of transparency and dearth of dialogue.

“Nuclear sabres are being rattled, with bellicose rhetoric not seen since the Cold War,” he stated.

Moreover, the historic progress in nuclear disarmament is in jeopardy, as the web of instruments and agreements designed to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and bring about their elimination is crumbling, he said, urging: “This alarming trend must be reversed.”

Calling on the international community to return to the understanding that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, Mr. Guterres stressed that there&is an urgent need to stop the erosion of the nuclear order.

“We must use the tenth review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)to restart our joint efforts. We must continue to uphold the norm against nuclear testing. And we must protect and further strengthen the international nuclear disarmament regime,” said the Secretary-General, looking forward to the entry into force of Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an “important” new element.

That treaty, known as the TPNW, is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons. It was adopted by a 2017 UN conference, where States undertook not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The TPNW will enter into force 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been deposited.

All countries possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to lead – UN chief Guterres

Closing out his remarks on Sunday, the Secretary-General pledge that the United Nations will carry forward the message of the courageous hibakusha so that the entire world can see the human face of the cold logic of nuclear strategy.

“Connecting this history with the youth of today – tomorrow’s peacebuilders – must be our goal to help future generations move out from under the shadow of nuclear apocalypse,” he said.

Saturday’s ceremony follows the commemoration on 6 August of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which devastated that city in 1945.

The birth of the UN in that same year, is inextricably intertwined with the destruction wrought by the nuclear bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he told that ceremony.

“Since its earliest days and resolutions, the Organization has recognized the need to totally eliminate nuclear weapons”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that goal remains elusive.


First Person: COVID-19 helping Hawaiians to ‘recognize the importance of heritage’

INTERNATIONAL, 9 August 2020, Culture and Education - Sabra Kauka is a cultural practitioner and teaches Hawaiian Studies at the Island School on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii, while acting as a coordinator for the Department of Education. As the daughter of an army officer, she spent much of her youth living overseas, but “felt the call to come home” to Hawaii as an adult after reading a newspaper article which highlighted the poor standard of living for indigenous Hawaiians in Hawaii.

UN News spoke to Ms. Kauka as part of the International Labour Organization’s photography project “Dignity at Work: The American Experience” ahead of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples which is marked annually on 9 August.

“I have been teaching my students how to produce kapa which is a traditional cloth made from the inner bark of a native plant. This material is used for clothes for both men and women, and for blankets, as there was no woven or loomed clothing in the past. 

Traditional designs are printed onto the cloth using natural dyes.  In the winter people would wear several layers of kapa which they would gradually peel off as the weather got warmer. It is also used in ceremonies. I was recently asked to make a kapa to wrap and then inter ancestral remains, the bones of our ancestors, that were returned home to the islands as a result of federal legislation in the Native American Graves Repatriation and Protection Act (NAGPRA). 

My students have learned how to grow and then harvest the plant, remove and clean the bark with a shell, and how to prepare by pounding it with a wooden mallet called a hohoa. On one side of the hohoa is a carving which is used to print a design on the cloth. This imprint with inks tells stories of our culture.  A hands-on approach is key to learning these indigenous crafts and is an important part of the process of transferring knowledge to the next generation.

I am passionate in wanting my students to know about Hawaii and, by knowing this place, I hope that they will feel a responsibility to take care of it: both the physical beauty of the islands but also the cultural traditions that I teach here, including music, art, dance and crafts.  

COVID-19 and sharing

ILO Photo/John Isaac
Wooden hohoa are used to flatten and then imprint kapa cloth.

The school year was cut short by COVID-19, so my students were not able to finish making the kapa, although some will be able to do so in summer school classes.

The lockdown has been traumatic for me, as I am so used to hands-on working, and interacting with the students, and it took some time for me to create new online lessons. I found the technology challenging, but I received great help from high school students and my grandson.

I think COVID-19 has pushed people in Hawaii to recognize the importance of heritage. People are not rushing around as much under lockdown and so they are more appreciative of their surroundings; the sea, the water from our hills, the landscape.

The pandemic has enabled people to really feel the spirit of nature, it is connecting us to the land, and it is teaching young people about the importance of sharing. People around me have less money because of the lockdown but are sharing more.

I have felt such joy to receive gifts of fresh vegetables and fish brought by students and friends.

This is really the essence of native Hawaiian culture is aloha aina; the love of the land and the love of the people. The land is the chief and the people are the servants.

I always tell my students that wealth is measured in different ways; wealth is not just to be found in money. Wealth is in food, wealth is in family, wealth is in friends, wealth is in nature and indigenous knowledge. So, people can be very wealthy in all those ways, but have a very small bank account.

Climate Change

Hawaiian indigenous culture is inextricably linked to the land and the island ecosystem. Climate change is now significantly affecting that ecosystem. Sea levels are increasing, and the ocean is warming, affecting our coastal habitats including coral which, according to our legends, is where life began. We have also seen marine debris, including plastics, which have been carried by currents across the North Pacific from Asia.

Changes are taking place in our forests as native plants struggle to survive and our watersheds suffer. Every native plant has an important role to play in our ecosystem.

There's great awareness on this island for the health of the land, sea, and air, and how they can best be protected: these are messages that are part of the Hawaiian culture that I’m teaching.”


Building a green economy, brick by brick

INTERNATIONAL, 8 August 2020, Climate Change - In Uruguay, thousands of families earn a precarious livelihood making bricks, using traditional methods that are often inefficient and harmful to the environment. A UN project, in collaboration with the Uruguayan government, aims to make the industry less polluting, whilst preserving jobs for the many artisans who depend on it. 

Land, fire and water

When Eduardo Romero was 40 years old, he was fired from his job as a bricklayer. It was 1992, in the city of Durazno, Uruguay. With his few belongings on his shoulder, Eduardo headed for the north of the country and stopped only when he found work. It was in the city of Tranqueras, and his new source of income came from land, fire and water: Eduardo started making bricks.

Today, five jobs, two ventures, three children and 28 years later, Mr. Romero is still linked to this insecure industry, which is both an easy source of employment for those who need it most, but where people work without social security or insurance, and with their labour rights continuously violated. “It is a precarious sector,” says Mr. Romero. “We are always on the edge of town, wearing dirty clothes.” 

Reliable statistics on the industry are hard to come by, but estimates suggest that there are some 14,000 families working in 3,500 production units across the country. The informal nature of the work makes for high turnover. 

Changing traditions

Germandy Perez-Galeno/UN Uruguay
Eduardo Romero has spent a lifetime in bricks—as a brickmaker for 28 years, and a bricklayer before that.

On top of the pressure on individual workers, the industry has a negative impact on the environment; emissions are high and some brickmakers, lacking other sources of fuel, burn protected species of trees.

During the brickmaking season, which lasts from September to April, an artisanal producer can make an average of about 30,000 bricks per month; the entire sector in Uruguay yields enough bricks every year to build at least 1,500 new houses, plus hundreds of businesses, kilns, factories, and more.

Eduardo is one of a growing number of artisanal producers who are changing the way they make bricks and, in the process, helping the entire country enjoy a cleaner environment. But in a sector like this, changing traditions is difficult.

Turning mud and garbage into solid foundations

Making bricks the traditional way, is an art that requires several stages. First the elements are obtained to make the raw material: water, soil, clay, sand, and organic matter such as horse dung.

This material is mixed and put into moulds, then laid out to dry for three days. Then they are baked in an oven, with firewood serving as the main fuel, for between two and seven days, and allowed to cool. Four days later they are ready for sale.

At each stage of the process, there are abundant occupational hazards and environmental impacts.

‘Far behind in technological terms’

Pablo Montes Goitia/UN Uruguay
Artisanal brickmakers in Uruguay put the raw material into a mold, and then lay it out to dry.

In addition, this method is far more inefficient than modern, mechanized techniques: according to the government, factories can churn out bricks almost seven times faster than an artisanal producer.

“The artisanal brick industry is far behind in technological terms,” says Pablo Montes, who works for the Uruguayan government, and is also national coordinator of PAGE Uruguay (Partnership for Action on the Green Economy), a project involving the UN and the Uruguayan Government.

He explains that there are significant obstacles to artisans moving to newer techniques: it has fewer job opportunities; it also requires certification that most artisans don’t have, whether for the expense, or because many have not finished primary school and can barely read or write.   

That’s why PAGE is looking to support the artisanal industry, helping workers to enjoy greater rights and higher incomes, and cutting pollution during the production process. 

PAGE staff talked to brickmakers from all over the country, looking for improvements at every stage of the production process, and brought in consultants from other countries – such as Colombia, which has already undergone its own transformation – to give workshops on how to make better bricks.

By doing so, PAGE is helping to move Uruguay closer to the twin goals of a greener and more prosperous economy. The project is still in progress, and is developing even better methods and training more brickmakers. 

Artisanal, safer, greener

“Transforming the industry will allow these ventures to be successful,” says Mr. Romero. Still, he has no illusions that such a change will be easy to achieve.

“In this profession, there are men and women who have made an honest living for decades or for their whole lives,” he explains. Artisanal brickmaking is a way of life, a tradition. Countless homes and businesses in every part of Uruguay have been built with bricks made by the hands of anonymous laborers. They have invested their lives in the profession, and they are proud of what they have created. 

“That is what we are trying to defend,” says Mr. Romero. Even as he changes his own way of working, with guidance from PAGE, he realizes that not everyone will be so quick to adapt. Some may be sceptical of outsiders who come to teach them a skill they’ve practiced for many years. 

Pablo Montes of PAGE is optimistic that brickmakers will be won over by the benefits that the new ways of working offer them. “We want to keep the industry artisanal, while making it safer and greener,” he says. “We can have both.”


Beirut blast: Here’s how you can help the UN aid Lebanon's recovery

INTERNATIONAL, 7 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - After a devasting blast ripped through Beirut Port in Lebanon on Tuesday, wounding thousands and rendering hundreds of thousands homeless, the UN moved rapidly to step up its relief effort. 

The comprehensive network of specialist UN agencies are working together to help the people of the Lebanese capital get back on their feet, but if you are wondering what you can do to help, we’ve put together this list of what they are doing, and where you can donate, to ensure that any aid you can give, reaches the people most in need. 

This Friday and into the weekend, the UN continues to mobilize emergency assistance, including relief items such as temporary shelters. for approximately 300,000 displaced people. 

The horrific blast has brought into sharp focus the need for the international community to step up and help Lebanon and its people at their time of greatest crisis, suffering the impact of economic collapse, political turmoil and uncertainty, rising infection rates from COVID-19, and the terrible destruction wrought by Tuesday’s explosion.

UN Humanitarian Affairs office, OCHA

The blast ripped through “a country already facing civil unrest, economic hardship, the coronavirus outbreak, and a heavy burden from the Syrian refugee crisis”, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, pointed out on Friday. 

As more supplies are arriving each day to support operations, OCHA has released $6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to fund trauma care, support to hospitals, repair damaged homes and provide logistical support.

Meanwhile, within 36 hours of the blast, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, had released $9 million from the Lebanon Humanitarian Fund to address primary health needs and provide food assistance to the most vulnerable.

Funds given to UN and partners ‘will go directly to the people’

In a specially recorded audio message for UN News, Ms. Rochdi gave an assurance that all funds that members of the public around the world feel moved to donate to the UN, and its NGO partners, “will go directly to the people who suffered from this horrendous blast’. 

WFP: Feeding people

Amid concerns that the explosion will worsen an already grim food security situation that has coincided with a profound financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it is in “close” discussions with Lebanese authorities to coordinate its emergency food response.

As the country works to rebuild Beirut Port, WFP announced on Friday that it would help boost food security across the country by importing wheat, flour and grain as huge cereal silos were destroyed in the epicentre of the blast.

Already providing cash and food programmes in Lebanon, WFP will also help with logistical and supply chain expertise and any donation you can spare would be greatly appreciated. 

WHO: Working with health partners

The day after the massive blast, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent 20 tonnes of health supplies to cover 1,000 trauma and 1,000 surgical interventions for those injured in the explosion.

“We are working closely with national health authorities, health partners and hospitals treating the wounded, to identify additional needs and ensure immediate support,” said WHO Representative in Lebanon, Dr Iman Shankiti.

And on Friday afternoon WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released $2.2M from the Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE) to support the immediate response while ensuring the continuity of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to support the UN agency’s work in dealing with the on-going outbreaks in countries dealing with multiple disasters like Lebanon.  

UNHCR: Needing shelter

As they rush to support the Government-led response, “shelter, health and protection” are the top priorities for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told reporters on Friday. 

“The need for shelter is massive”, he said, adding that the explosion may have also impacted refugees living in Beirut.

As UNHCR continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, it is also working to decrease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals and allow more patients to be treated promptly. Any contribution you can make will be used to help achieve this.

IOM: Missing refugees

While the impacts of the explosion on Lebanon’s estimated 400,000 labour migrants and approximately 1.5 million refugees are yet to be seen, those already living in precarious situations will certainly be at greater risk, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The UN migration agency is working alongside UN partners to conduct a rapid assessment to further understand the magnitude of the damage and the specific needs of the most vulnerable people – including Lebanese citizens, migrants and refugees.  

“Now more than ever we must guarantee the health, safety and security of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people”, said IOM Director General António Vitorino, stressing the need to incorporate the needs of migrants and refugees in broader emergency response plans. Click here to donate to IOM’s general relief efforts.

UNICEF: No water, COVID surges

Against the backdrop of massive damage to homes, and COVID-19 cases spiking to a record 255 infections registered on Thursday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) cited latest available figures on Friday estimating that up to 100,000 children might be homeless, or living without water or electricity. 

“The needs are immediate, and they are huge”, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado told journalist in Geneva on Friday, appealing for an initial $8.25 million for the emergency response.

Among other things, UNICEF is working to replace PPE and other medical products lost in the blast while procuring critical health supplies; distribute water; reunite children separated from their families, and provide them with psychosocial support. 

Emergency cash assistance is needed and damaged health care facilities and schools require rehabilitation, please consider donating here.

A woman in Beirut searches through the rubble that was once her home after a blast on 4 August pummeled her home.

UN human rights office highlights ‘calls for accountability’

With large swathes of the city unfit to live in, the country's principle port all but destroyed and the health system on its knees, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) called the situation “dire”. 

“Victims' calls for accountability must be heard, including through undertaking an impartial, independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion”, OHCHR Spokesperson Rupert Colville said, calling for “a swift international response and sustained engagement”, to prevent many more lives from being lost.

Click here to assist the UN human rights agency protect the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable.

UN staff: A family matter

UN staff across the world have also stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with their Lebanese colleagues.

The UN Staff Unions in New York, Nairobi and Vienna, as well as the Staff Associations of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), have raised $32,000 in funds so far from workers, to support the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), both headquartered in Beirut. 

Click here to donate to the Go Fund Me page set up by UN Staff Unions and Associations.

Recommendations by WHO and AUB on air pollution against any repercussions from the Beirut port explosion.

Pandemic highlights importance of indigenous self-determination: UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 7 August 2020, Human Rights - The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to ensure the world’s indigenous people have control over their own communities, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has affirmed.

Michelle Bachelet described the pandemic as “a critical threat” to indigenous communities everywhere, at a time when many are also struggling against man-made environmental damage and economic depredation.

“Overall, the pandemic hammers home the importance of ensuring that indigenous peoples can exercise their rights to self-government and self-determination”, she said in a message for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, observed this Sunday.

“This is about saving lives and protecting a precious web of cultures, languages and traditional knowledge, that connect us to the deep roots of humanity.”

Among the world’s poorest

There are roughly 476 million indigenous people worldwide, according to UN estimates.

Although less than five per cent of the global population, they account for 15 per cent of the poorest people on the planet.

Ms. Bachelet noted that many indigenous communities have “deeply inadequate” access to health care, clean water and sanitation, while their communal way of life can increase the probability of rapid contagion.

Ancestral knowledge lost

COVID-19 cases have surpassed 18 million globally, and the Americas remain the epicenter of the crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced earlier this this week.

The UN rights chief said more than 70,000 indigenous people across the region have been infected to date, including almost 23,000 members of 190 indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin.


“Over 1,000 deaths have been recorded, including several elders with deep knowledge of ancestral traditions”, she added. “They include the tragic death in Brazil this week of chief Aritana, of the Yawalapiti people.”

Lives under threat

The Amazon spans nine countries and Ms. Bachelet noted that indigenous communities in the vast region live on lands that are increasingly damaged and polluted due to illegal mining, logging and slash-and-burn agriculture.

Despite measures to contain COVID-19 spread, such as movement restrictions, many of these activities have continued, alongside movements by religious missionaries which also expose the indigenous to the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, those indigenous people who live in voluntary isolation from the modern world may have particularly low immunity to viral infection.

Ms. Bachelet said indigenous communities must have a role in pandemic response, stressing that “they must also be consulted, and should be able to participate in the formulation and implementation of public policies affecting them, through their representative entities, leaders and traditional authorities”.

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