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Seafarers' Day honours maritime journeys and voyages

INTERNATIONAL, 25 June 2022, SDGs - The United Nations has underlined its support for the men and women working at sea, whose immeasurable contributions help to keep global trade moving.

Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted both their critical role, as well as the challenges they face, In his message to mark the Day of the Seafarer on Saturday.

“The world counts on seafarers,” he said.

“Ships transport a remarkable 90 per cent of the world’s commodities — from grains and energy, to consumer goods and much more. Without ships and the women and men who work on them, economies would stall and people would starve.” 

Pandemic challenges

However, seafarers have faced immense challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN chief listed some of these issues, which include contracts extended long beyond their expiry dates and maximum periods of service, and problems related to vaccinations, medical care and shore leave. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) continues to advocate for seafarers during the pandemic by urging countries to designate them as key workers.

Kitack Lim, the IMO Secretary-General, stated that without seafarers, there would be no shipping.

Sharing the journey

The theme for this year’s international day celebrates maritime journeys and voyages, providing a chance “to recognize and pay tribute to seafarers everywhere, whatever their voyage”, he said.

As part of an IMO campaign, seafarers from around the globe are using social media to share images and information about what truly resonates with them, whether a positive experience or challenging circumstances.  

“Shipping and the call of the oceans, form a way of life,” said Mr. Lim. “It is a meaningful, important career that provides a solid foundation for life and offers endless opportunities to learn and progress.”

A greener future

The international day is also an opportunity to look to the future, and for the UN Secretary-General, this means listening to seafarers.

“They know better than anyone their needs and what this industry needs to do to address key challenges. This includes the expansion of social protection, better working conditions, addressing the crew-change crisis, adopting new digital tools to enhance safety and efficiency, and making this industry greener and more sustainable,” he said.

The UN chief concluded his message by calling for renewed commitment to supporting seafarers everywhere, and honouring their knowledge, professionalism and experience.

 

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INTERVIEW: Pollution, Cartagena, and the Caribbean

INTERNATIONAL, 25 June 2022, Climate and Environment - Since the 1980s, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) convention has been in place, to deal with pollution issues affecting the wider Caribbean region. Since then, the climate crisis has been added to the risks. Christopher Corbin, the acting coordinator for the UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat, told UN News that the focus of the Convention is shifting from policy to local action.

UN News How did the Cartagena Convention come about?

Christopher Corbin The Cartagena Convention was driven primarily by a major oil spill that took place in the region close to Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1980s.

This brought home the fact that this region is so dependent on the coastal and marine resources on the Caribbean Sea for tourism, for fisheries, and livelihoods, that there needed to be a framework to protect those valuable resources.

At the same point in time, several major conferences had taken place at the broader UN level, and the governments in the region got together and approached the UN Environment Programme, and said that they needed a mechanism to address the issues facing them.

The Convention is split into three main areas: oil spills, land-based sources of pollution, and marine biodiversity.

Christopher Corbin, Acting Coordinator of the Cartagena Convention Secretariat.

UN News How bad is the situation now?

Christopher Corbin I would say it's almost like we are running on a treadmill.

There have been signs that the region is taking action, particularly for oil spills, and we've seen a reduction in the number of spills.

But we’re also seeing greater risk. We see the increasing focus on coastal development, and of tourism, and we've seen the challenges facing our coastal and marine resource management. Pollution, from land-based sources and activities, continues to damage our coastal and marine ecosystems.

But I would say that the Convention has allowed governments to address those transboundary issues that are outside of the control of any single government.

UN News Has the Convention changed to adapt to the growing realization that there is man-made climate action?

Christopher Corbin Very much so. If we look at the original Convention document, there is absolutely no mention of climate change.

Khus khus grass is being grown in the Barbados National Botanical Gardens, to be used in hedgerows as part of an initiative to reduce land-based pollution in the ocean.

Climate change impacts on all of the activities that happen within the region. We are not completely changing the focus of the Convention, but rather seeing how the impact of climate change relates to our two core focus areas of marine pollution and marine biodiversity.

So, we're starting to look at issues of adaptation, and nature based solutions. When it comes down to issues such as sea level rise, we are seeing the importance of integrated planning and integrated coastal zone management. The whole approach to ecosystem-based management is also a recognition that we can't approach the management of our resources in an isolated and sectoral way.

Barbados has been, I would say, one of the extremely strong supporters of the work of the Cartagena Convention. It's also, one would argue, one of the more vulnerable islands in the region because of its geography. A lot of the work we have done in Barbados is really to help them build resilience.

Coral nursery off the coast of Barbados, created by CORALL

UN News What risks does Barbados face?

Christopher Corbin Barbados has been listed globally as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world: they have a significant challenge as it relates to the provision of drinking water. They are heavily dependent on groundwater and therefore their water is at high risk from pollution, particularly domestic wastewater.

Some of the early work of the convention was more in the context of regional policy, regional standards, and we worked very closely with the government of of Barbados in reviewing regulations and helping them develop new policies.

Over the years, more and more countries like Barbados started to say that they needed more concrete work on the ground, and our more recent projects have focused primarily on supporting Barbados at the local level.

One of our projects is working to ensure that reused water is safe. We have developed a very detailed communication strategy with the government, to explain this to farmers, and the general public.

We hope that this will become an example of best practice that we can share throughout the region.

A sea turtle attempts to lay eggs on a Barbados beach

UN News The proliferation of sargassum seaweed had been a problem for several years.

Christopher Corbin Barbados was one of the first countries in the region to be affected.

It has impacted the nesting of sea turtles, fisheries, and tourism. We partnered with the University of the West Indies and developed a number of guidelines, looking at how to deal with this issue, how to monitor the spread of sargassum and how to reuse it.

I think that Barbados is in the lead, in terms of some of the solutions that could be implemented. The government takes a very methodical way of approaching these issues. They want to ensure that they have the national policies in place and, as a result of their focus on that, the projects that they're now doing on the ground are having a bigger impact.

The Cartagena Convention in Barbados

  • The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) or Cartagena Convention is a regional legal agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea. The Convention was adopted in Cartagena, Colombia on 24 March 1983 and entered into force on 11 October 1986.
  • The Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco Project) addresses water, land and biodiversity resource management as well as climate change, by improving the management of fresh and coastal water resources, land resources and forests. As such, the project supports the objectives of the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols.
  • IWEco is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the lead implementing agency for national and regional sub-projects.
  • Barbados benefits from regional interventions which largely have to do with different aspects of capacity building. In addition, they benefit from funding support for the Hedgerow Rehabilitation Programme which is being implemented within the context of the National Beautification Programme and Clean and Green Initiative.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina: UN rights chief urges leaders to ‘turn the page on rhetoric’

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Human Rights - Leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina must abandon divisive policies and focus on building an inclusive future for all, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday in the capital, Sarajevo, concluding an official visit to the country.

The four-day mission marked the first visit by a UN human rights High Commissioner in more than two decades, and she noted that some of the same rights challenges from that era persist today.

Ms. Bachelet hailed an “unprecedented ruling” handed down this week, sentencing three people for incitement to hatred for singing songs threatening violence.

“There is no place for hate speech on any grounds,” she said. “As Bosnia and Herzegovina readies for the election in October, I encourage all politicians to turn the page on rhetoric and policies of division, to focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country, and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on equality of all citizens.”

Painful memories, persistent discrimination

Bosnia and Herzegovina was the scene of heavy fighting during the ethnic conflicts that plagued the Balkans region following the fall of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Horrific crimes were committed, including mass rape and the massacre of some 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.

“The scars from the 1992-95 conflict are deep. The memories are still painful. But after my visit, I am convinced that there is a will and determination among many to achieve a society where all citizens, across the country, can enjoy peace and be treated equally, with respect and dignity,” said Ms. Bachelet.

The UN rights chief met with a wide range of people in the country, including senior officials and parliamentarians, representatives from the international community and civil society, as well as families of victims of the conflict.

Most of those she met expressed concern about persistent discrimination based on various grounds, though primarily related to ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, which affects civil and political rights.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina has legislation prohibiting discrimination and it is essential that it is applied across the country and by all institutions so that all forms of discrimination are effectively eliminated. The active engagement of political leaders in building an inclusive society is essential for its future,” she said.

A Muslim man offers prayers at his son’s grave in Vitez, in current day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
UN Photo
A Muslim man offers prayers at his son’s grave in Vitez, in current day Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Never forget

Civil society representatives highlighted some of the difficulties they face, and concerns around protection of civic space, including online and offline threats to journalists investigating corruption or who “challenge the dominant political narratives”.

She also observed real concern for young people, “particularly as the fragmented education system, with different curricular and textbooks, has entrenched divisions and distrust among communities.”

Ms. Bachelet also recalled her moving visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial complex, where she paid homage to the victims, survivors, and families of those killed. While there, she met a woman who had lost her husband and teenage son. The husband’s remains were recovered from a mass grave, but the boy is still missing.

“She told me of the determination of the Srebrenica mothers to continue their fight to ensure the genocide will never be forgotten. We both shed tears. I share her hope that one day she will find her son’s remains, and, that we must never forget the tragedy of Srebrenica.”

Ms. Bachelet said some 7,000 people who were “disappeared” during the war are still unaccounted for as a result of the large-scale atrocities committed across the country.

Hope for justice

Although some of those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are now behind bars, “many perpetrators still remain unpunished and are walking free”, she said, both there and in other countries.

“It is my hope that justice will be served on them too,” she told journalists. “With the passage of time, some may never be identified, and therefore it remains vitally important to vigorously pursue domestic criminal prosecutions, for all crimes committed during the conflict; that those found guilty are duly sentenced. It is important that countries in the region step up their cooperation in this regard.”

Responsibility for accountability

The High Commissioner reported little progress has been made in reparations to victims of atrocities. She was also concerned that courts have denied survivors’ claims for composition by imposing statutes of limitation.

“It is the responsibility of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure accountability for past crimes, to provide reparation for survivors and families of all victims, and to lead and support healing and reconciliation. It is also the responsibility to counter denial of atrocity crimes and glorification of war criminals,” she said.

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UN plan calls for real progress towards ending internal displacement crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Migrants and Refugees - With record numbers of people uprooted within their homelands due to conflict, disasters, the climate emergency and other tragedies, more must be done to end this crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday, launching his Action Agenda on Internal Displacement

The plan outlines 31 commitments by the UN system to better resolve, prevent and address internal displacement, and calls for action from countries, international financial institutions, the private sector, and others. 

“Let me be clear: the duty to end displacement lies first and foremost with governments.  However, we all have a responsibility to act,” Mr. Guterres said in a video message. 

Nearly 60 million uprooted 

The Action Agenda builds on a 2021 report by a high-level panel convened by the Secretary-General to identify concrete recommendations towards solving the internal displacement crisis. 

Last year, a record 59.1 million people were displaced within their countries, or four million more than in 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported in May, citing the latest Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID). 

Many have been uprooted for years, or even decades, and often multiple times.  Others have been forced to flee more recently.  

“In just three months, the war in Ukraine drove 13 million people out of their homes and communities, nearly two-thirds of whom remain in Ukraine,” the UN chief said.  

Fundamental change needed 

The Action Agenda calls for the UN and partners to make fundamental changes to how they work together if real progress is to be achieved. Or, as the UN chief stated in the report “more of the same is not good enough.” 

The three key objectives are to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) find durable solutions, to better prevent future displacement crises, and ensure stronger protection and assistance for those currently facing displacement.  

Some of the UN’s commitments include stepping up efforts to ensure greater inclusion of IDPs, as well as local community members, in decision-making on solutions.  

The UN also will address displacement more systematically under its work on climate change, and will work with national and local authorities to ensure displacement is part of disaster-risk reduction policies and plans. 

Ease the suffering 

The three goals are interlinked, as explained in the report. No solution is sustainable if another crisis is looming. No assistance will be sufficient if underlying drivers remain unresolved, and prevention cannot succeed if past crises have not been addressed. 

“The plight of internally displaced persons is more than a humanitarian issue,” said the Secretary-General. “It takes an integrated approach – combining development, peacebuilding, human rights, climate action and disaster risk reduction efforts.” 

He urged partners to support the UN in driving forward change, saying “together, we can ease human suffering and deliver a better future for internally displaced persons around the world.” 

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Overturning of Roe v Wade abortion law a ‘huge blow to women’s human rights’ warns Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Women - Friday’s decision by the US Supreme Court which overturns the 50-year-old Roe v Wade judgement guaranteeing abortion across the United States, was described by the UN human rights chief as “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”

The widely anticipated Supreme Court decision, by six votes to three, was made in the specific case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, and Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that it represents a “major setback” for sexual and reproductive health across the US.

The historic decision returns all questions of legality and access to abortion, to the individual states.

Reacting earlier to the US ruling, without making specific reference to it, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHOnoted that a staggering 45 per cent of all abortions around the world, are unsafe, making the procedure a leading cause of maternal death.

The agencies said it was inevitable that more women will die, as restrictions by national or regional governments increase.

Restrictions, ineffective

“Whether abortion is legal or not, it happens all too often. Data show that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it simply makes it more deadly”, UNFPA highlighted.

According to the agencies’ 2022 State of World Population report, nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and over 60 per cent of these may end in abortion.

UNFPA said that it feared that more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access becomes more restricted.

“Decisions reversing progress gained have a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere”, the agency emphasized.

WHO echoed the message on their official Twitter account, reminding that removing barriers to abortion “protects women’s lives, health and human rights”.

Restrictions to abortions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.
© WHO
Restrictions to abortions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.

An attack on women’s autonomy

Ms. Bachelet further reminded that access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human right law and is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy, and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence and coercion.

“This decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the US, in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights”, she warned.

The rights chief highlighted that the decision came after more than 50 countries with previously restrictive laws have liberalized their abortion legislation over the past 25 years.

“With today’s ruling, the US is regrettably moving away from this progressive trend”, she said.

Meanwhile, the UN agency, UN Women, cautioned in another statement that the ability of women to control what happens to their own bodies, is also associated with the roles women are able to play in society, whether as a member of the family, the workforce, or government. 

Countries’ responsibilities

The 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), signed by 179 countries including the United States, recognized how deadly unsafe abortions are, and urged all countries to provide post-abortion care to save lives, irrespective of the legal status of abortion.

The document – resulting from a high-level meeting in Cairo, Egypt—also highlighted that all people should be able to access quality information about their reproductive health and contraceptives.

UNFPA, as the custodian of the Programme of Action, advocates for the right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

The agency also warned that if unsafe abortions continue, Sustainable Development Goal 3, related to maternal health, to which all UN Member States have committed, will be at risk of not being met.

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Abu Akleh shooting: fatal shot came from Israeli forces, says OHCHR

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Human Rights - Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank - not indiscriminate Palestinian firing - the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday.

Ms. Akleh – an experienced television journalist familiar with reporting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories - was killed on 11 May, as she attempted to report on an arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and clashes in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“More than six weeks after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injury of her colleague Ali Sammoudi in Jenin on 11 May 2022, it is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

Following OHCHR’s own probe into the incident, Ms. Shamdasani added that “this monitoring from our Office is consistent with many findings out there that the shots that killed her came from Israeli Security Forces”.

Rejecting that conclusion, a statement issued by the Israeli mission in Geneva insisted that it was not yet possible to conclude who was responsible, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s “refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.

Final moments

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Shamdasani described Ms. Akleh’s final moments, with her colleague, Ali Sammoudi.

“At around half past six in the morning, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, and another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

Highlighting how the OHCHR probe had followed the methodology used in many other country situations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that there was no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by.

Ms. Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street”, Ms. Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

Every angle

She added: “We’ve inspected photo, video, audio material, we’ve visited the scene, we’ve consulted with experts, and we’ve looked at official communications; we’ve interviewed people who were also on the scene when Abu Akleh was killed…Based on this very vigorous monitoring, we find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

After Ms. Abu Akleh was shot, “several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach her body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree,” the OHCHR official continued. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh and into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, OHCHR said that it had verified that Israeli Security Forces had killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children.

“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”

Israel has rejected the findings of the OHCHR probe, adding that the Palestinian Authority has not handed over the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

A placard from a protest in London in support of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
© Unsplash/Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
A placard from a protest in London in support of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
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Internet shutdowns impact human rights, economy, and day to day life

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Human Rights - The dramatic real-life effects of shutdowns of the internet on people’s lives and human rights are vastly underestimated, the UN human rights office warns in a report released on Thursday.

When major communication channels and networks are slowed down or blocked, this means thousands, even millions of people are deprived of their only means of reaching loved ones, medical assistance, of working, or participating in political debates or decisions, the report highlights.

Alarm bells

“When you see a shutdown happen, it's time to start worrying about human rights”, said Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, at the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

Speaking at a press conference at the UN in Geneva on Thursday morning, Ms. Hicks explained shutdowns deepen digital divides between and within countries and “are happening in places where there are deteriorating human rights situations”.

At a time when substantial development aid is directed towards enhancing connectivity in less developed countries, some of the beneficiaries of that assistance are themselves deepening the digital divide through shutdowns.

Oppressive shutdowns

“At least 27 of the 46 least developed countries have implemented shutdowns between 2016 and 2021, despite receiving support to increase their Internet connectivity” stressed Ms. Hicks.

The first major internet shutdown took place in Egypt in 2011, during the Tahrir Square protests that led to hundreds of arrests and killings.

Shutdowns can mean a complete block on Internet connectivity, but governments also increasingly ban access to major communication platforms and limit bandwidth and mobile services to 2G transfer speeds, making it difficult to share and watch videos or live picture broadcasts.

In denial

Many States refuse to acknowledge interfering in communications or putting pressure on telecom companies to prevent them from sharing information.

The official justification for the shutdowns was unknown in 228 cases reported by civil society across 55 countries.

When authorities do recognize having ordered disruptions, justifications often point to public safety, containing the spread of hostility or violence, or combatting disinformation.

Yet, shutdowns often achieve the exact opposite. According to Peggy Hicks “199 Shutdowns were justified by public safety concerns, and 150 were based on national security grounds. But many of those shutdowns were followed by spikes in violence.”

Time to end shutdowns

When a State shuts down the internet, both people and economies suffer. The costs to jobs, education, healthcare, and political participation virtually always exceed any hoped-for benefit.

Tim Engelhardt, Human Rights Officer, reported examples of how hospitals, unable to contact their doctors in cases of emergency, “installed loudspeakers on the hospitals to call them.”

The report urges States to refrain from imposing shutdowns, to maximize Internet access and remove the multiple obstacles to communication. The report also encourages companies to share information on disruptions and ensure that they take all possible lawful measures to prevent shutdowns they have been asked to implement.

“We call on States to stop doing this, stop imposing shutdowns. Based on our research, shutdowns are simply never the best answer,” stressed Ms. Hicks. “Their costs are simply too great to economies, to democracy, and to people's day to day lives”.

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Monkeypox: Amid uncertainty, global situation ‘cannot be ignored’ says WHO chief

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2022, Health - Addressing the first meeting of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee on Thursday over the global Monkeypox outbreak, the WHO chief told members that person-to-person transmission was ongoing, and “likely underestimated”.

Members of the committee could announce their decision on whether or not the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, as early as Friday, but meanwhile Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the spread of the disease both in non-endemic and endemic countries, “cannot be ignored”.

The first mysterious cluster appeared in the United Kingdom just over six weeks ago, when WHO was told of a family cluster of three cases, without any recent travel having taken place.

“Since then, more than 3,200 confirmed cases of Monkeypox, and one death, have been reported to WHO, from 48 countries including Nigeria, and in five WHO regions”, said Tedros.

The outbreak in newly affected countries continues to be primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, he added.

Lack of understanding

“Person-to-person transmission is ongoing and is likely underestimated. In Nigeria, the proportion of women affected is much higher than elsewhere, and it is critical to better understand how the disease is spreading there”, said the WHO chief.

He said so far this year, almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and around 70 deaths have been reported in Central Africa, primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) but also in the Central African Republic and Cameroon.

“Few of these cases are confirmed, and little is known about their circumstances. While the epidemiology and viral clade in these cases may be different, it is a situation that cannot be ignored.”

Sharing information, saves lives

He outlined several asks of Member States, going forward, primarily for all information to be shared. He said in some other outbreaks, “we have sometimes seen the consequences of countries not being transparent, of not sharing information.”

He called for case finding, contact tracing, laboratory investigation, genome sequencing, and implementation of infection prevention and control measures. WHO also needs clear case definitions to help identify and report infections.

And the WHO chief said all countries had “to remain vigilant and strengthen their capacities to prevent onward transmission of Monkeypox. It is likely that many countries will have missed opportunities to identify cases, including cases in the community without any recent travel.”

WHO’s goal is to support countries to contain transmission, and stop the outbreak with established public health tools including surveillance, contact-tracing and isolation of infected patients. 

Risks to health workers

Tedros said there were also “some risks to health workers if they are not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.

“So, although most cases so far in newly affected countries have been identified in men who have sex with men, WHO has been calling for intensified surveillance in the broader community.”

We have learned a great deal from recent outbreaks, including COVID-19 and the global HIV epidemic, he told assembled scientists, but one of the most important, was to work closely with those communities “to co-create effective risk communications. That is what WHO is doing.”

Address stigma, disinformation

Tedros said it was vital to address stigma, discrimination and misinformation, in the Monkeypox, and other outbreaks, swiftly and decisively.

“We also need to work together as an international community to generate the necessary clinical efficacy and safety data on vaccines and therapeutics against Monkeypox, and to ensure their equitable distribution.”

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Supporting UN’s Palestine refugee agency, means ‘investing in stability for the region’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Investing in the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is also “investing in stability” for the entire Middle East region, the UN chief told a pledging conference on Thursday.

“It means investing in the economic and social wellbeing of Palestine refugees and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN General Assembly ad hoc committee for voluntary contributions to UNRWA.

“It means investing in the future through education of children and youth, girls and boys, young women and men and…honouring the commitment of the international community to Palestine refugees and their rights until a just and durable political solution is found”.  

Off the radar

Mr. Guterres invited participants to “imagine for a moment that we are a young man or woman Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, or in Syria, or in Jordan, or in Gaza”.    

He said for them, a political solution now seems “more far away than ever” with no active peace process and the diplomatic Quartet – consisting of the UN, European Union, United States and Russia – unable to meet, as evictions and settlements continued.    

While the war in Ukraine and other global events have pushed the Palestinian question out of media headlines and political debate, he said the international community needed to “work to address all crises with determination”, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of Palestine refugees. 

The Secretary-General described supporting UNRWA as not only “a matter of justice” but also “a barrier to the progression of extremism” and terrorism.

Many families in Gaza need humanitarian aid to survive and receive food parcels from the UN agency working in the region, UNRWA.
© UNRWA/Hussein Jaber
Many families in Gaza need humanitarian aid to survive and receive food parcels from the UN agency working in the region, UNRWA.

Chronic underfunding

Over the last ten years, the needs of Palestine refugees have continued to increase even as funds have stagnated.   

“We are asking for your solidarity and your support,” said Mr. Guterres, appealing for pledges to bridge the gap between UNRWA’s mandate and its budget for vital services until the end of the year.   

The UN chief explained the need to put the agency on “durable financial footing,” which requires stabilized financing to reach “sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding”.   

“Millions of Palestine refugees are counting on us to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future.  We cannot let them down,” he spelled out. 

Millions of Palestine refugees are counting on us to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future – UN chief

Two States, side by side

The Secretary-General also reiterated the importance of efforts to realize Israel and Palestine as two States living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both.  

“But until then, UNRWA remains vital in supporting those in need,” he said, reminding Member States that they had “collectively committed to providing assistance to Palestine refugees” by creating and supporting the agency. 

Mr. Guterres outlined how their contributions would enable over half a million children to receive quality education in UNRWA schools; allow 140 clinics to offer over eight million medical consultations each year; and provide cash, food assistance and social services to millions of people where poverty rates can exceed 80 per cent. 

“Multilateralism requires not only political commitments but also resources to implement them,” the UN chief continued, vowing to pursue “every avenue to sustain services to Palestine refugees in line with the UNRWA mandate”.  

“Let us pledge to support UNRWA and leave no one behind”. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) helps combat malnutrition and iron deficiency in Palestine.
WFP
The World Food Programme (WFP) helps combat malnutrition and iron deficiency in Palestine.

‘Opposite directions’

Hosting the event, Assembly President Abdulla Shahid pointed out that UNRWA and its budget are “moving in opposite directions”.

“Put simply, there is more to accomplish, even as financial resources continue to diminish,” he said, noting a $1.6 billion dollar budget gap for 2022.

Current UNRWA requests include additional emergency funding to address humanitarian needs in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon.

To support millions of Palestine refugees with vital lifesaving services and programmes, the UN official implored the international community and UN General Assembly “to meet this funding gap”.

There is more to accomplish, even as financial resources continue to diminish – Assembly President

Beyond money

Mr. Shahid beseeched the ambassadors to “look beyond the monetary value” toward “commitments, principles and values to global peace and security, to peoples, prosperity, and the planet”. 

“It is about providing a sense of normality for the young people who in their own words, ‘did not choose to live through war and blockade’,” he said, urging the participants to “live up to those commitments for the millions of lives and livelihoods that count on us”. 

Decade of stagnation 

For the last 10 years, UNRWA’s stagnating funds have caused interruptions and income unpredictability that have compelled the agency to operate for a decade with an average shortfall of around $100 million, said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini 

“UNRWA cannot be compared to any other UN humanitarian agency,” he said, drawing attention to is mandate to provide “government-like services” without the fiscal and financial tools of a government.  

“We have depleted our financial reserves and reached the limits of cost control and austerity measures,” which are now affecting the quality of services. 

The UNRWA chief highlighted that “despair and hopelessness” are growing in the refugee camps; political, economic and security conditions deteriorating across the West Bank; and Gaza is struggling to recover from the impact of last year’s conflict.  

A young child watches over her toddler siblings sleeping in a classroom of UNRWA Salah Eddin School in Gaza.
© 2021 UNRWA/Mohamed Hinnawi
A young child watches over her toddler siblings sleeping in a classroom of UNRWA Salah Eddin School in Gaza.
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Talking to the Taliban ‘only way forward’ in Afghanistan

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2022, Peace and Security - The devastating earthquake on Wednesday is just one of several emergencies facing Afghanistan, and continued dialogue with the de facto Taliban authorities remains the only way to address ongoing challenges in the country, the Security Council heard on Thursday. 

Ambassadors stood and observed a minute of silence for the victims of the disaster before being briefed by Ramiz Alakbarov, Acting Special Representative at the UN’s Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, and Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator. 

Mr. Alakbarov provided an update on the earthquake, citing latest figures which revealed nearly 800 confirmed deaths and more than 4,000 injured, before turning to the ongoing human rights, economic and humanitarian challenges the country is facing. 

Despite difficulties, he said “we firmly continue to believe that a strategy of continued engagement and dialogue remains to be the only way forward for the sake of the Afghan people, as well as for the sake of regional and international security.” 

Squeeze on human rights 

Mr. Alakbarov reported that the human rights situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. 

Despite the adoption of a general amnesty, and repeated assurances by Taliban leaders that it is being respected, UNAMA continues to receive credible allegations of killings, ill-treatment and other violations targeting individuals associated with the former government. 

Credible allegations of violations against persons accused of affiliation with the National Resistance Front and the ISIL-KP terrorist organisation have also been reported. 

“The de facto authorities have increasingly restricted the exercise of basic human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression, quelling dissent and restricting civic space in the country,” he said. 

Furthermore, restrictions particularly target women and girls, such as the ban on secondary schooling for girls, and the decree ordering women to wear face coverings. 

“The costs to the economy of these policies is immense,” he said. “The psychosocial costs of being denied education, for example, are incalculable, and women are collectively being written out of society in a way that is unique in the world.”  

Economic woes persist 

The economic crisis is perhaps the single most important issue in Afghanistan, and a potential driver of conflict and misery. It is estimated the economy contracted by up to 40 per cent since August. 

Unemployment could reach 40 per cent this year, up from 13 per cent in 2021, while the official poverty rate could climb as high as 97 per cent. 

“If the economy is not able to recover and grow meaningfully and sustainably, then the Afghan people will face repeated humanitarian crises; potentially spurring mass migration and making conditions ripe for radicalization and renewed armed conflict,” he warned. 

Rural focus 

Afghanistan also remains highly vulnerable to future climate and geopolitical shocks. Drought, floods, disease outbreaks affecting both people and livestock, as well as natural disasters like the earthquake, are further deepening vulnerabilities. 

Mr. Alakbarov stressed the need to prioritize rural areas, with focus on agricultural and food systems to prevent hunger. This will also help to reduce child labour, improve health outcomes, and create the environment that will enable social development and change. 

“It will also pave the way for substitution agriculture to replace the poppy cultivation, allowing us to capitalize on the de facto authority’s recent ban on poppy and narcotic cultivation,” he said.  

“While doing so we need to continue to provide adequate attention to clearance of widely unexploded ordnance of war. This bottom-up approach to economic recovery is shared by the de facto authorities and would help the most vulnerable.” 

On the political front, Mr. Alakbarov reported that the Taliban continues to hold power almost exclusively, and the emergence and persistence of an armed opposition is largely due to political exclusion.  

Exclusion and insecurity 

Meanwhile, the overall security environment in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unpredictable.  

Armed opposition attacks against the de facto authorities doubled in May, compared to the previous month. Although the number of ISIL-KP terrorist attacks has generally decreased, their geographic scope has widened from six to 11 provinces.  

“We cannot exclude the possibility of increased instability if peoples’ rights are denied and if they do not see themselves in their government,” he said. 

Inclusion and engagement 

In the coming month, the UN will seek to promote political consultation and inclusion, and engagement with the de facto authorities will continue. 

“Even as the international community and the Taliban remain far apart” on the question of human rights, specifically for women - and political rights, “there are some areas where we can do better to improve the lives of Afghans, as well as advance on issues of common concern such as counter-narcotics and mine action.” 

Addressing humanitarian response, Mr. Alakbarov highlighted how aid partners have reached some 20 million Afghans between January and April this year alone, including nearly 250,000 returnees and some 95,000 people affected by floods and weather-related events. 

However, the humanitarian crisis persists, and sustained support will be needed through next year. 

A mother and her two-year-old son are treated for malnutrition at a hospital in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
© UNICEF/Sayed Bidel
A mother and her two-year-old son are treated for malnutrition at a hospital in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Millions facing famine risk 

More than 190 aid organizations are operating in Afghanistan, where nearly half the population, 19 million people, are facing food insecurity. 

This includes more than six million people at emergency level - the highest number of any country in the world at risk of famine-like conditions, said Mr. Griffiths, the UN’s relief chief.  

Last December, the Security Council adopted a resolution clearing the path for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban, which has been critical to ensuring operations can continue. 

Taliban 'resistance' 

Although humanitarians are reaching record numbers, there is still “a long hill to climb”, said Mr. Griffiths, listing several impediments to aid delivery. 

The formal banking system continues to block money transfers due to “excessive de-risking”, thus affecting payments and causing supply chain breakdowns. 

“Despite efforts to create a temporary solution for the failure of the banking system, through a so-called Humanitarian Exchange Facility, we have seen limited progress because of resistance, I have to say, by the de facto authorities,” he said, adding “this is an issue that is not going to fix itself.”  

Additionally, national and local authorities are increasingly seeking to play a role in the selection of beneficiaries.  They are also channelling assistance to people on their own priority lists, thus, contravening promises made to UN officials. 

Interference on the rise 

Humanitarians are also seeing more demands by the Taliban authorities for data and information regarding budgets and staffing contracts. Non-governmental organizations in particular face continued difficulties in trying to hire Afghan women staff for certain functions.

“There are more instances of interference today than in previous months, most of which are resolved through engagement with the relevant de facto authorities,” Mr. Griffiths told ambassadors. 

“But for every issue that is resolved, another one emerges, sometimes in the same location with the same departments. And there is now a much more palpable frustration felt by aid organizations, local communities and local authorities.” 

Mr. Griffiths also underscored the pressing need for funding. A more than $4 billion humanitarian plan for Afghanistan is only one-third funded, despite pledges of $2.4 billion made at the launch in March. 

“Now is not the time for hesitancy,” he told ambassadors. “Without intervention, hunger and malnutrition will intensify, with devastating consequences.

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