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Yemen aid lifeline near ‘breaking point’: UN food agency

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Humanitarian aid projects to war-torn Yemen are reaching breaking point, and some $870 million is needed to continue giving life-saving assistance to millions of vulnerable people for the next six months, the World Food Programme (WFP), warned on Tuesday.

The appeal for a fresh cash injection comes after more than five years of fighting in the Arabian peninsula country, between the Government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now based in the south, and the mainly Houthi-led opposition, which occupies the capital, Sana’a, in the north.

Yemen was already one of the poorest countries in the world before violence escalated in March 2015, and today millions of people lack access to sufficient food, fuel and medicine, almost all of which is imported. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, around 80 per cent of the Yemeni population need humanitarian assistance.

Workers stack food assistance in a warehouse in Lahj, Yemen. (file), by WFP/Saleh Baholis

At a press conference held remotely, Elisabeth Byrs, WFP senior spokesperson, noted the agency’s particular concern for over 20 million Yemenis who are food insecure, of which nearly 10 million are acutely food insecure, adding that WFP expects coronavirus “to push many more children in Yemen into acute malnutrition. Over two million children in Yemen are already acutely malnourished, and it’s a figure that WFP fears will increase”.

UN health fears for Yemeni population

As of Monday evening, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported nearly 50 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Yemen, but there are widespread concerns that the situation is much worse.

It is also widely feared that, with around half of the country’s health facilities shut, Yemen lacks the means to prevent this latest threat to an already weakened population that faces the ever-present threat of cholera and ongoing conflict that has displaced more than four million people.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, echoed concerns that the aid situation in Yemen threatens to spin out of control, describing it as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with unparalleled protection concerns.

Among the UNHCR projects most at risk are a cash-assistance programmes for internally displaced and impoverished host communities. Under the scheme, each eligible family receives around $170 in instalments over six months to help pay for rent, buy food, extra clothes and fuel, along with medicine and other urgent concerns. Up to one million people are at risk, if the projects stop unless funding is found.

A UN pledging conference for Yemen, hosted by Saudi Arabia, which heads an international coalition in support of President Hadi, is due to be held next Tuesday.


First Person: The struggle to protect human rights in East Africa during the pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2020, Health - Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in East Africa, the UN Human Rights regional office, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has been contributing to the COVID-19 response of UN country teams in the region, by ensuring that human rights protection for vulnerable people is included in their plans. The head of the office, Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, shared some of the challenges she and her colleagues are facing.

“These have been trying times for all of us on different levels, almost like a seismic change in the direction of our work, but we made the decision not to forget everything else, even as we focus on COVID-19.


Our work includes providing technical advice, and input to response plans, humanitarian appeals, development plans, as well as socio-economic analyses of the impact of COVID-19, in coordination with other offices UN in East Africa.

We provide advice for the prevention of stigmatization and discrimination, particularly in relation to healthcare access and testing for those suspected of having symptoms of COVID-19, and we organize webinars with human rights defenders – including women human rights defenders – on the impact of the pandemic on their work, and on self-care.

And we are monitoring state of emergency declarations in the East Africa region, to ensure that they do not infringe on rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of association and of speech, the right to life, the right to highest attainable standard of health, and the right to education.

COVID-19 protection measures have been put in place at an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya., by UN Habitat/Isaac Muasa

Challenges, and lessons learned

This pandemic reminds me of the saying, ‘Man plans and God laughs’ Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, head of the UN Human Rights East Africa Regional Office

I have been telling myself that this pandemic reminds me of the saying, "Man plans and God laughs": we will keep on planning, but we need to be agile. We have had to pivot immediately, to be able to respond to the needs of the people we serve.

The work we have all been doing on socio-economic analysis has opened my eyes to how much more we need, particularly in Africa, to get civil society organizations to look at the wider picture of rights: most organizations only focus on civil and political rights, which is vital, but there is a place for these organizations, and national human rights institutions to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights as well.

Once this pandemic started, it exacerbated all of the issues we had pointed out before it began, such as poverty, the lack of access to quality education, and the lack of access to health services. But it has also helped to confirm why the UN is here: to show Governments how to do better for those who could possibly fall through the cracks.

More data, for improved protection

Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, Head of UN Human Rights East Africa Regional Office., by Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor

The UN has a standard idea of vulnerability: women, children, internally displaced persons, migrants, refugees and the elderly. However, even for the elderly, we do not have data in Africa. For a long time, we have been pushing issues of persons with disability, but I have yet to see a proper analysis of disability data in Africa either, and there are groups of people on whom we never capture data in Africa, such as the homeless.

We do not have distinct categorizations on the urban poor either, even though the very people I have listed are the ones most prone to COVID-19 infection, because of their living conditions. We need to widen our definition of vulnerability, and produce more inclusive data.

I cannot think of a better example than this pandemic, to show us why it is important to stand up for everyone's rights. And we have to work towards ending the pandemic as a collective: if we don’t, it is more likely that it will happen again”.
A longer version of this interview was originally published on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.


Making education safe for children with albinism in Malawi

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2020, Culture and Education - In Malawi, where children with albinism face attacks, and even ritual killings, going to school can expose them to life-threatening dangers. The UN is helping to make schools safer for these vulnerable students. 

Chinsisi Jafali, a 14-year-old with albinism, knows that going to school is a risky prospect, but it’s a risk he’s prepared to take. “I have six siblings who are all looked after by my mother,” he says. “Fending for the entire family has been exceptionally difficult for my mother. Her fight for our survival motivates me to go to school and work hard, so that I can help my family in future.”

One in 130 people in Malawi has albinism, over 134,000 in total. Of these, 40 percent (about 53,000) are of primary and secondary school age. Yet going to school potentially puts them in grave danger. In some communities they are attacked or even killed for their body parts which are erroneously believed to possess magical powers. In the last five years, over 160 cases of killings, and other human rights violations against persons with albinism have been reported in the country, with similar cases also occurring in neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique.

Corbis Images/Patricia Willocq
People affected by albinism are often visually impaired and need special protection against the sun. They often develop skin cancer and suffer from social stigmatization, according to UNICEF.

“Some parents are so afraid of sending their children with albinism to school that fewer children with albinism access education,” says Maria Jose Torres, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the most senior UN humanitarian official in Malawi. She also points out that, with many of them visually impaired, a lack of schools offering special needs education also limits their chances of receiving a quality education.

Fighting for survival, and schooling

Despite their plight, many boys and girls with albinism are defying the odds to remain in school in search for a brighter future. Chinsisi, who is from Kunaunje Village in Salima district in the Central Region of Malawi, is one of these brave children.

When Chinsisi lost his father at age 4, many people in his village thought his future was over. Being raised by a single mother in a poor family was always going to be difficult, particularly with small-scale subsistence farming as their only tangible means of livelihood.

Ten years on Chinsinsi is now studying at a primary school in the district: normally, at his age, he should have been finishing primary education, but it is not uncommon in Malawi to have older children in lower grades due to dropping out, starting school late, repeating classes, and inadequate learning support.

“I repeated some classes because I was struggling to learn with my sight problem. I couldn’t clearly see things that teachers were writing on the board. But now I sit in front and teachers write in bigger letters than before so that I can read properly. My performance in class has been improving, which makes me feel good,” he says.

Creating a safe learning environment

Chinsisi Jafali, a 14-year-old with albinism in Malawi

Thanks to a collaboration between the school and the community, as part of the Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE), supported by the United Nations and Norwegian Government, pupils like Chinsisi now study in a safer environment. This has involved engaging the school, local community and police in efforts to stop violence against girls, and children with albinism. 

They have also been teaching the students how to protect themselves: as part of the programme, Chinsisi and other students with albinism received an alarm device for alerting people and security authorities when they face attacks. “I used to be very afraid when going to school and struggling to concentrate on my studies before I received the alarm. Now this is one of my weapons against any threat that comes to me,” he says.

“Children with disabilities used to have poor attendance and poor performance, but that has changed,” says the school’s headteacher, Vincent Selemani. “Chinsisi is one of the students benefiting from an improved and safer learning environment. He is now able to walk from his home and stay at school without worrying about his safety.”

Education is not a luxury, it is a right

“For any child, anywhere, education is not a luxury. It’s a necessity and fundamental right regardless of their status”, says the UN’s Ms. Torres. “Educating girls and children with albinism helps us leave no one behind.” 

“Education creates entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, more consumers and more prosperous communities. A healthy, educated, empowered adolescent girl, or child with albinism has the unique potential to break the cycle of poverty for herself, her family and her country.”

Since the programme has been running, supporting schools in Salima, Dedza and Mangochi districts, school dropouts have fallen from around 16 per cent, to about five percent. As well as stopping violence, and raising the quality of learning, the programme, provides school meals to students like Chinsisi, who would otherwise go hungry, and promotes access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services to reduce teen pregnancies.


Women peacekeepers from Brazil and India share UN military gender award

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2020, Peace and Security - For the first time, the UN Military Gender Advocate award has been awarded to two UN peacekeepers: Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian Naval officer, and Major Suman Gawani, of the Indian Army.

The award, created in 2016, recognizes the dedication and effort of individual military peacekeepers in promoting the UN principles on Women, Peace and Security in peace operations. Women peacekeepers are nominated by the heads and force commanders of peace operations. 

Commander Monteiro de Castro Araujo serves as the military Gender and Protection Advisor in the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). During her tour of duty, she has conducted training on gender and protection, and was instrumental in seeing the number of gender-responsive patrols engaging with local communities increase from 574 to nearly 3,000 per month.

For the Brazilian officer, the award is recognition of a team effort: “It’s very gratifying for me and the Mission to see that our initiatives are bearing fruit”, she said.

Brazilian Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo

Major Gawani – the first Indian peacekeeper to win the award – is a Military Observer, formerly deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), where she mentored over 230 UN Military Observers on conflict-related sexual violence, and ensured the presence of women military observers in each of the Mission’s team sites. She also trained South Sudanese government forces, and helped them to launch their action plan on conflict-related sexual violence.

Expressing happiness at seeing her work recognized, Major Gawani noted that, “whatever our function, position or rank, it is our duty as peacekeepers to integrate an all-genders perspective into our daily work and own it, in our interactions with colleagues as well as with communities”.

Commending the two women peacekeepers, UN chief António Guterres described them as powerful role models: “Through their work, they have brought new perspectives and have helped to build trust and confidence among the communities we serve”, he said. “Through their commitment and innovative approaches, they embrace a standard of excellence that is an inspiration to all blue helmets everywhere. As we confront today’s challenges, their work has never been more important or relevant.”


First person: ‘I am nothing without my culture’

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2020, Culture and Education - A master practitioner of the Hawaiian hula dance has told UN News that he is “nothing without my culture.”

Michael Pili Pang, who is based in Honolulu, the capital of the US state of Hawaii is what is known as a kuma hula, or master teacher of the traditional dance. His interest in hula began at the age of seven and he opened his hālau or dance school over thirty years ago. He teaches what he describes as “multi-generational” classes.

He spoke to UN News as part of a photography project by the International Labour Organization ahead of the UN-backed International Arts Education Week which begins on 25 May.

The hula is a traditional dance rooted in Hawaiian culture., by ILO Photo/John Isaac

“Hula is closely connected to the culture of the Hawaiian Islands. And so, as a hula teacher, I am nothing without my culture. I am nothing without the connection to the stories I teach in dances, to the land, the sea, the sky and the gods that created these islands.

I am guided by the belief that the best foundation in creating something new is a thorough understanding of the past and our culture.

When I teach hula, I make the connection with nature; In a dance my students may have to imagine that the mountain or the flowers are their children. For example, when I teach a simple motion like the sway of a coconut tree, my hand is across my chest and my eyes are looking up and not down. That’s because when you go to the beach, you would never see a coconut tree below you. So, as a hula dancer you learn to naturally lift your body up and look at the coconut tree up above your hands. 

This is a way of showing through dance that we are all part of nature; this is the connection with nature that you can find through hula and which helps the dancers to perform with emotion and empathy.

We remember that nature becomes part of us and then when we die, we go back to the Earth.

The impact of climate change on hula 

Hula incorporates the natural world in a physical way as well. The flowers, seaweeds and shells that are part of our dances and the wood from which we carve our drums, come from these islands. But climate change means they are not readily available because they are not growing in the same way or in the same places as before.

So, we can no longer go to the mountain to gather flowers; we can’t touch or smell them and that makes it more difficult to teach students about the deep-rooted hula culture.

The dance and culture which it engenders is something that people of all ages want to learn and experience and my multi-generational classes can include school children and retirees.

Hula helps to promote cultural awareness and happiness. It inspires creativity, passion, optimism and fun. Ultimately, I hope it will help my students to make a positive difference in the world.”

What is hula?

Hula is a dance form which was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers centuries ago.
Danced by men and women, it visually portrays stories encompassed in traditional chants and songs. 

Mozambique school children face ‘catastrophic’ fall-out from COVID-19: a UN Resident Coordinator blog

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2020, Health - School children in Mozambique are facing what a senior United Nations and World Bank official in the southern African country are calling “catastrophic outcomes” from the COVID-19 pandemic. By the UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, and Mark Lundell, World Bank Country Director.

For 13-year-old Rafina from Beira, one of Mozambique’s largest cities, the feeling seems familiar; her school is, once again, closed. Only one year has passed since Cyclone Idai devasted the country affecting 1.85 million people, damaging 90 per cent of Beira’s infrastructure.

This time, however, there are no collapsing buildings, flooded streets and desperate people. 

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) sneaked into Mozambique in silence, yet it might have a far more devastating impact on Rafina’s life, and the life of all Mozambican children, than any previous disaster.

UN Mozambique/Arete/Karel Prinsloo
UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard (far right) visits a primary school in Beira, Mozambique, in March 2020.

As in 191 countries worldwide, where 1.57 billion learners are affected, nearly 15,000 schools and universities in Mozambique have been closed since March 23, affecting more than 8.5 million students. It is a necessary decision that will most likely save thousands of lives, but it comes at a heavy price.

Based on recent lessons learned with school closures in response to the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we know that the longer children stay away from school, the less likely they are ever to return, increasing the risk of their falling into illiteracy. 

Catastrophic impact on education

Mark Lundell World Bank Country Director in Mozambique., by World Bank

In Mozambique, where already more than one-third of students drop out before Grade 3, and less than half complete primary school, the impact of the pandemic on learning outcomes could be catastrophic.

This is particularly true for girls like Rafina, whose families live in poverty. Throughout the world, the pressure on families during emergencies is often so high that many are pushed to send their children to work, as a strategy for survival, or to marry their daughters off prematurely. 

As a result, childhood is cut short, schooling is abandoned, and  fundamental rights are compromised. When children are out of school, they become more vulnerable and at increased risk of abuse and exploitation.

Aware of this critical context, the Ministry of Education and Human Development (MINEDH), with support from the humanitarian community, was successful after the cyclones in ensuring that classes continued in “temporary learning spaces”, by erecting school tents. 

Remote learning plan

This time the nature of the emergency is unlike anything we have ever seen before, as children may not even gather in the same place. As a consequence, the response must also be very different; temporary learning spaces need to be virtual or remote.

MINEDH, with support from the Ministry of Health, is working with the United Nations, the World Bank, key bilateral agencies, and other cooperating partners, in exploring alternative and innovative ways to ensure that learning can continue remotely. 

WFP/Rafael Campos
Social distancing is being practiced at a resettlement centre in Dondo District, as part of efforts in Mozambique to combat the spread of COVID-19.

A critical task of any remote learning system is to support teachers’ ability to stay closely in touch with their students despite being physically distant. For most children, community radios, which have been successfully used in other countries, will be the most accessible means, but a variety of other complementary distance-learning opportunities - such as television, digital platforms, or catch-up and accelerated programs - could also be implemented. To be functional, all these initiatives will require solid coordination, and effective monitoring and support systems, which will help avoid widening of inequalities in the education system.

MINEDH, along with education partners, is leading the way to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable, such as children with disabilities or children who are displaced as a result of last year’s cyclones, are addressed. 

Tailored remote learning

Remote learning programs are being tailored, so that no child is left behind.  For many children like Rafina, who in normal times got their main meal at school, new ways of organizing school feeding could take away some of the economic pressure on their families and act as an incentive for children to continue their education remotely.

Although nobody can predict how long this situation will continue, the African Union recommends planning in advance for the eventual return to classrooms, to ensure that the reactivated schools provide a safe, clean and hygienic environment for the children to come back to.

Even at her young age, Rafina has already experienced more emergencies than many of us will be faced with during our lifetimes. The best thing that can be done to make her and her family more resilient to future disasters, is to help her get a solid education. To this end, the United Nations and the World Bank remain committed to continuing support to MINEDH, teachers, communities, and parents.

As of 18 May 2020, Mozambique had reported 137 cases of COVID-19, with no deaths.

Even at her young age, Rafina has already experienced more emergencies than many of us will be faced with during our lifetimes. The best thing that can be done to make her and her family more resilient to future disasters, is to help her get a solid education. To this end, the United Nations and the World Bank remain committed to continuing support to MINEDH, teachers, communities, and parents.

As of 18 May 2020, Mozambique had reported 137 cases of COVID-19, with no deaths.

The UN Resident Coordinator

The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level.In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve.

Heed ceasefire call, UN chief urges, marking Africa Day

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2020, Peace and Security - African countries have “demonstrated commendable leadership” battling the COVID-19 pandemic, but more nations across the continent where conflict prevails, should heed the UN call for a global ceasefire to push back the deadly virus, said the Secretary-General on Monday.

Marking Africa Day, António Guterres said in his message that the pandemic “threatens to derail progress” which would enable countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and development targets set out in the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063.

Tomorrow, @idriselba and @Trevornoah will host the Concert . The event has the goal of raising funds for WFP and @UNICEF response to in Africa.

Tune in LIVE tomorrow, 6 pm CET: 

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

The AU has established a task force to develop a continent-wide strategy and appointed special envoys to mobilize international support, said the UN chief. Its Peace and Security Council has also taken steps to counter the negative impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of critical peace agreements and reconciliation efforts.

He noted that the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention established a response fund, while African Member States have undertaken “robust measures to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate the socio-economic impacts.”

Mr. Guterres welcomed the AU’s support for his global ceasefire call, an imperative that also reflects the AU’s 2020 theme: “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.”

“Armed groups in Cameroon, Sudan and South Sudan have responded to the call and declared unilateral ceasefires. I implore other armed movements and governments in Africa to do likewise.  I also welcome the support of African countries for my call for peace in the home, and an end to all forms of violence, including against women and girls”, he continued. 

Politics and the virus

Some 20 African countries are scheduled to hold elections this year, some of which are likely to be postponed due to the pandemic, with potential consequences for stability and peace, noted the Secretary-General.

“I urge African political actors to engage in inclusive and sustained political dialogue to ease tensions around elections and uphold democratic practices.”

UN pointers

Last week, the UN issued a policy brief outlining the impacts of the pandemic on the continent: “We are calling for debt relief and action to maintain food supplies, protect jobs and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.  African countries, like everyone, everywhere, should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment.”

An opportunity now exists, for African governments to “use this moment” to shape new policies that bolster health systems, improve social protection and pursue climate-friendly pathways.  

Targeting measures to those employed in the informal sector, the vast majority of whom are women, will be an important step to recovery, said Mr. Guterres, as will empowering women to ensure their full participation and leadership. 

“The inclusion and leadership of young people will also be crucial every step of the way.”


Five reasons Costa Rica is winning plaudits for fighting COVID-19: a Resident Coordinator’s blog

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2020, Health - Costa Rica is winning plaudits for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alice Shackleford, UN Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica, and WHO Representative María Dolores Pérez-Rosales, explain why the small Central American country is managing to keep the number of cases down, and its population healthy.

Recognized worldwide as a strong democracy that promotes human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection, Costa Rica abolished its army, and dedicated those resources to public education. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed perhaps the greatest challenge to those historic achievements in the nation’s history, which is why, despite the low numbers and the good news, the authorities are not claiming victory.

Nevertheless, the data and facts are extremely promising: Costa Rica has the lowest COVID-19 case fatality rate in the region, and the country currently has more recovered cases than active cases. There is no registered community transmission, and daily infections have fallen significantly (they have remained below 10 cases in recent weeks). At the beginning of May, there were less than half a dozen infected patients in Intensive Care Units throughout the whole country.

How has Costa Rica achieved these impressive results? Here are five key reasons.

1. Putting health first

The country has historically had a robust, universal health system, which covers approximately 95% of the population. This has contributed to the life expectancy in the country being one of the highest in the world (79.6 years, as indicated by the World Health Organization).

Costa Rica has nearly 30 hospitals and clinics, and more than a thousand basic comprehensive care teams at the community level. The country also established a specialized center for people with COVID-19 in a matter of a few weeks, with all the equipment and supplies necessary to care for these patients. Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 are issued an order to isolate in their homes for 14 days, and receive daily telephone follow-up (or face-to-face where necessary) by a medical team.

2. A rapid response, based on facts and scientific evidence

From the beginning of the pandemic, Costa Rica based its decisions and actions on scientific evidence, putting the preservation of life and the protection of health before other issue, including politics, and the President of the Republic, Carlos Alvarado, positioned his Minister of Health, Daniel Salas, an expert in epidemiology, as the leader in the country’s preparation and response to the crisis.

UN Costa Rica
UN visits Salitre indigenous territory in Buenos Aires, Puntarenas.

Costa Rica already had care and preparedness plans for possible pandemics, based on previous experiences with avian influenza, AH1N1 influenza, and SARS, in which the minister himself had participated as coordinator and part of the technical teams of the Health Surveillance Directorate of the Ministry.

He, along with the President of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, Roman Macaya, became benchmarks and authorities for the entire population, on the measures to follow in order to prevent infections and stop the spread.

The country applied staggered measures that included sanitary vehicle restrictions, restrictions on the gauging and operation of commercial premises, closure of educational centers in communities with infections and, at the national level, the closure of borders, beaches, and national parks, among others.

Importantly, the authorities decided to always place the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization as a reference and international leader in its response, and to apply their guidelines and recommendations (for the early detection of cases, testing, their isolation, traceability of contacts, as well as providing care and carrying out the necessary public health interventions) in a firm and sustained manner. 

3. Strong institutional support

Alice Shackelford., by UN Costa Rica

Many of Costa Rica’s institutions were mobilized to respond to the pandemic. Here are some important examples.

Production at the National Liquor Factory was switched to the production of alcohol gel, to meet the growing demand. The Post Office was put in charge of its distribution throughout the country.

Public universities concentrated on developing respirators, to equip and strengthen the intensive care units in the country, and the National Learning Institute produced thousands of items of hospital clothing to deal with the pandemic.

The Ministry of Labor and the Mixed Institute of Social Aid launched an initiative to support people whose jobs have been affected by the crisis, and Congress passed legislation quickly, to allow the application of emergency sanitary measures, the relaxation of labor contracts to avoid layoffs, as well as the relaxation of banking conditions for debtors, and a tax relief plan that establishes a moratorium on the payment of some tariffs.

4. A society that follows official instructions, and acts responsibly

The sum of all the measures described above generated a strong sense of responsibility, and mutual trust between the authorities and the population.

In general terms, people have respected the call to adopt basic hygiene measures (hand washing, sneezing and coughing protocol, not touching your face with dirty hands, not going out if you are sick or having contact with sick people), staying at home , physically distancing, and avoiding public places as much as possible.

Hundreds of companies, foundations, and community organizations are distributing food and aid to those who affected by the economic slowdown, with others collaborating with the authorities in the distribution of medicines. There are also countless examples of support and solidarity from members of the public.

5. Avoiding complacency

Every day Daniel Salas, Minister of Public Health, delivers the same warning at his evening press conference: "we cannot get too comfortable, we need to be very careful and follow all the health and physical distancing regulations."

Little by little, and with confidence based on the results achieved so far, the government has made the decision to relax some of its measures: certain shops can open up, with limited capacity, and some individual sports can already be practiced in open areas. It is expected that in the next few days new evidence-based measures will be announced.

No economic immunity

Costa Rica has not won the battle yet. It is not claiming victory, and it knows that there are still great challenges ahead.

The authorities acknowledge that some 500,000jobs could be lost due to the pandemic, and the World Bank has said that the economy will suffer a recession in 2020, with GDP contracting by around 3.3 per cent. The fiscal deficit is expected to go up significantly, with sharp increases in unemployment and poverty.

At the United Nations, we are supporting the country in urgently facing key challenges. These include the ongoing need to prioritize health; focus the response based on science and evidence; promote gender equality, and eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination; and start the process of socioeconomic recovery as soon as possible, whilst ensuring that no-one, including the most excluded groups, is left behind.

From donating thousands of screening tests and personal protective equipment, to supporting the creation of diagnostic tests, the United Nations is also fully accompanying Costa Rica in this process.

The battle is far from over, but the results so far show that the example of Costa Rica must be studied, and taken into consideration, as an example of how to face down and tackle this unprecedented global health crisis.

(a Spanish-language version of this blog was originally published in the newspaper El Pais)

The UN Resident Coordinator

The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level.

In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve


UN welcomes three-day ceasefire announcement by Afghan government and Taliban during Eid al-Fitr

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2020, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General has welcomed the announcement by the Afghan Government and the Taliban of a ceasefire to mark the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims around the world.

Hours before the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr was due to begin, Taliban militants made the unexpected declaration that they would attack only if their positions were hit, leading President Ashraf Ghani to welcome the move shortly afterwards, and release a statement saying security and defence forces would comply.

Deborah Lyons@DeborahLyonsUN
Reason to hope! A welcomed move by Taliban. Well responded by Afghan government. Echos also UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for ceasefire to focus on the new enemy, COVID virus. Let wisdom and compassion of EID convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks. 

UNAMA welcomes Taliban & #Afghanistan government statements of a 3-day ceasefire over Eid. The Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting & urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start.

It marks just the second time during the nearly 20-year period since Taliban extremists were removed from power, following the US-led invasion of the country, that a brief ceasefire has been agreed. There was widespread rejoicing on the first occasion – again to mark the end of Ramadan – in 2018, as Taliban fighters mingled in the capital and elsewhere, some hugging and posting for selfies with security forces.

But this time, Taliban fighters have been ordered not to enter government-controlled territory.

The truce comes after an escalation in attacks in recent weeks by the Taliban against the backdrop of stalled peace efforts, and violence from other extremist elements, including ISIL.

In an address to the nation following Eid prayers on Sunday, President Ghani announced a further “step forward”, to accelerate the release of Taliban prisoners; something which has been a stumbling block in efforts to finally bring the Taliban and government into direct talks, following a US-Taliban deal signed in February.

‘Seize this opportunity’

“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process” said the statement on Saturday night from UN chief António Guterres.

“Only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan. The United Nations is committed to supporting the people and Government of Afghanistan in this important endeavour”, he continued.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also welcomed the move, saying on Twitter that “the Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting and urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start.”

Powerful ‘reason to hope’

The head of the mission, and UN Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, who took up the top job just last month, declared the announced a “reason to hope” and a welcome move.

She noted that it also echoed the call from the UN Secretary-General for a ceasefire to focus on “the new enemy”, the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Cases in Afghan, according to latest World Health Organization figures, stand at more than 9,860, with 211 recorded deaths.

“Let wisdom and compassion” during Eid, “convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks”, she tweeted.

Just on Friday, she conveyed the UN’s warm wishes to all Afghans on the occasion of Eid, hoping that “every family can celebrate this auspicious and important time in peace.”

“I urge all those in positions of power to do everything possible to stop the violence and to respect this time of reflection and tolerance. This year COVID-19 presents a new challenge for the country, including events during Eid when extended families would normally gather in celebration”, she said, encouraging everyone “to take the necessary preventative measures to protect yourselves, your loved ones and community.”

Make it permanent

The UN’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, also added her voice on Twitter: “I fervently hope the parties can make it permanent and move decisively towards a political settlement.”


Guterres commends India and Bangladesh for life-saving work in face of deadly Cyclone Amphan

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The UN chief António Guterres commended the governments and people of India and Bangladesh on Saturday, for their life-saving efforts ahead of devastating Cyclone Amphan, and for the effective relief effort, wishing those survivors injured and affected by the disaster, a speedy recovery.

In a statement, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the loss of dozens of lives due to the most powerful storm to form in the Bay of Bengal, that packed powerful winds, slamming into the vulnerable coastal area along the border between the two nations, compounding the on-going COVID-19 crisis, and compromising efforts to maintain physical distancing.

Bangladesh is dealing with the devastating impact of while also facing the socio-economic fallout of .

WFP is supporting the needs of the community and also conducting an assessment, collecting data on damages incurred.

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Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA), said on Friday that Cyclone Amphan had impacted some 10 million people in Bangladesh, killing at least 25 there, and more than 70 in India. Half a million families may have lost their homes, he added.

Deadly mix of cyclone, COVID-19

The storm caused unprecedented damage across the historic India city of Kolkota, cutting off power supply to cities and towns, many of which are working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, where there are more than 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh and 432 deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Bangladesh government evacuated around two million people before the storm hit, Mr. Laerke said, and more than 12,000 cyclone shelters had been set up with COVID-19 prevention equipment, including masks, sanitizers, soap and handwashing facilities.

About one million people had also been evacuated in India. According to WHO figures, there are more than 125,000 coronavirus cases there, with 3,720 deaths reported.

On Friday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a $132 million emergency relief package, after travelling to the region to survey the damage.

First responders, communities praised

“The Secretary-General commends the governments, first responders and communities for their pre-emptive work to make people safe ahead of the storm and to meet their immediate needs afterwards”, said the statement from the UN Spokesperson’s Office. “The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts.”

The Secretary-General expressed his “solidarity with the people of India and Bangladesh as they face the impact of a devastating cyclone while also responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

WFP team conducting assessment

Elisabeth Byrs, from the World Food Programme (WFP), told journalists on Friday a team was conducting a Rapid Needs Assessment. While most crops had been harvested already, early reports suggest that there was damage to fisheries, particularly smallholder shrimp farmers.

WFP had prepositioned food stocks, including high energy biscuits for 90,000 families, in affected areas and extra food stocks could also be made available and ready for distribution, if needed.

The Rohingya camps had been largely spared from damage when Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Bangladesh and India on 20 May, however a direct hit from a cyclone had the potential to be devastating, said the agency.

The UN refugee agency’s Charlie Yaxley (UNHCR) said that in Cox’s Bazar, home to around a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 118 shelters had been destroyed and 1,423 had been damaged, affecting just over 7,000 Rohingyas refugees in the settlement. Of that number, 555 had been moved to temporary shelters or were staying with relatives while their homes were repaired.

‘Textbook example’ of good preparation

Clare Nullis, for WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, said the disaster mobilization for the cyclone had been “a textbook example of how it should be done. The forecast provided by the Indian Meteorological Department, which served as WMO’s regional specialized meteorological centre and provided forecast for the entire basin, “had been spot on”.

The information that it provided had been the basis for the massive evacuation and the community response, Ms. Nullis added.

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