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‘Uphold human dignity’, dismantle ‘specious notion of racial superiority’ urges UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, Human Rights - Raise awareness of the dangers of racism and “stand up against old and new forms of slavery” was the resounding message of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday during a special event marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

“Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade were among history’s most appalling manifestations of human brutality”, he reminded delegates from across the world gathered in the General Assembly Hall with a call for “justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent”. 

In 2007, the UN designated 25 March as a day to honour and remember those who suffered during the transatlantic slave trade: “We pay homage to the millions of African men, women and children who were denied their humanity and forced to endure abominable cruelty across centuries”, Mr. Guterres said. 

Over the course of 400 years, more than 15 million people have been killed and irrevocably harmed “by an institution that should never have existed”, the UN chief lamented. He flagged that they were more than just victims, and often “sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and dignity”. 

The Secretary-General urged everyone to remember not only the brutality meted out against them, but also their “remarkable endurance, resilience and countless contributions” to humankind. 

He recalled a few of the many who “stood up against their oppressors”, citing Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, Queen Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica, the Kingdom of Matamba, which resisted Portuguese colonization, and Harriet Tubman in the United States. 

This year’s theme: “Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts for Justice”, recognizes the contribution of art as an instrument to “confront slavery, empower enslaved communities, and honour those who made freedom possible”.  

Literature, music and poetry are among the artforms that commemorate past struggles, highlight ongoing injustices and celebrate the achievements of people of African descent.  

“Today, the artists and writers and poets who are committed to the struggle for racial equality and empowerment should know we are with them”, Mr. Guterres stated, saying “let us resolve to carry their messages far and wide” to fight racism, combat xenophobia, tackle discrimination, end social and political marginalization and “uphold human dignity for one and all”.   

Hate speech ‘spreading like wildfire’ 

Earlier in the day, Mr. Guterres observed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination “to renew our promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitism”. 

At a commemorative event also in the General Assembly ,he recalled the New Zealand mosques massacre in which 50 were killed allegedly by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman, as “the latest tragedy rooted in such poison”, saying that last Friday he visited the Islamic Center in New York to show solidarity and express his outrage. 

“Today and every day, we must stand united against racial and religious hatred and the terrorism of bigots” spelled out the UN chief. 

Alarmed by the current rise of xenophobia, racism and intolerance being fed by nationalist and populist ideologies, he asserted that “no country or community is immune”. 

“Hate speech is entering the mainstream, spreading like wildfire through social media and radio… in liberal democracies and authoritarian States alike”, he underscored. 

The UN chief argued that “these dark forces” menace democratic values, social stability and peace, and stigmatize women, minorities, migrants and refugees – diminishing society. 

To combat hate speech, and “defend the principles of equality and human dignity”, Mr. Guterres has asked his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to coordinate a strategy and plan of action for the UN system. 

“We need to engage everyone in dismantling the harmful and specious notion of racial superiority” he spelled out, emphasizing that the recent surge of neo-Nazi thinking and white supremacist ideology must be buried “once and for all”. 

This can be supported by national legislation that promotes non-discrimination, and by politicians and religious leaders who speak out against intolerance and hate speech, said Mr. Guterres. 

He recounted how a white Englishman had stood in solidarity with New Zealand’s Muslim community days after the murders, by holding a placard at a mosque in the United Kingdom saying “You are my friends…I will keep watch while you pray.” 

“We are all connected by our humanity.  We are all equal.  We should all be looking out for each other’s welfare” concluded the Secretary-General. 

Global co-operation needed ‘like never before’  

For her part, General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa pointed to an observation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that populists rely on demonizing the “other”, saying that across the world, “populists are exploiting the legitimate grievances of those who feel left behind”.  

 “Hate speech isn’t free speech. It’s racism”, she declared, adding that blaming problems on migrants must be pushed back and short-sighted nationalism must not be allowed to derail the search for global solutions.  

“The challenges we face require global co-operation like never before”, said Ms. Espinosa. “Multilateralism makes us stronger, not weaker. The 2030 Agenda is a framework all governments can use to respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens”. 

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UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, Climate Change - It takes around 7,500 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans,  equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years. That’s just one of the many startling facts to emerge from recent environmental research, which show that the cost of staying fashionable is a lot more than just the price tag.

When we think of industries that are having a harmful effect on the environment, manufacturing, energy, transport and even food production might come to mind. But the fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be the second most polluting industry in the world.

According to UNCTAD, some 93 billion cubic metres of water - enough to meet the needs of five million people - is used by the fashion industry annually, and around half a million tons of microfibre, which is the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, is now being dumped into the ocean every year.

 As for carbon emissions, the industry is responsible for more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

The dominant business model in the sector is that of “fast fashion”, whereby consumers are offered constantly changing collections at low prices, and encouraged to frequently buy and discard clothes. Many experts, including the UN, believe the trend is responsible for a plethora of negative social, economic and environmental impacts and, with clothing production doubling between 2000 and 2014, it is crucially important to ensure that clothes are produced as ethically and sustainably as possible.

Innovating for sustainability

Despite the grim statistics, producers and consumers of fashion are increasingly waking up to the idea that the industry needs to change. A number of companies, including large volume retailers, are integrating sustainability principles into their business strategies. Examples include the global clothing chain H&M, which has a garment collection scheme; jeans manufacturer Guess, which is involved in a wardrobe recycling programme; and outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which produces jackets using polyester from recycled bottles.

Smaller companies are also helping change the environmental landscape of fashion and building sustainability into their whole business model.

Among them are the Swiss firm Freitag, which upcycles truck tarpaulins, seat belts and seat belts to make bags and backpacks; Indosole, which makes shoes from discarded tyres; and Novel Supply, a Canadian clothing business, which has a “take-back scheme,” whereby customers can return their clothes when they are no longer wearable, so that the company can reuse and recycle them.

The founder of Novel Supply, Kaya Dorey,, won a Young Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour, in recognition of her attempts to create a production model that involves using environmentally-friendly materials, and finding solutions for waste created during the manufacturing process.

In this video she explains how every element of her company’s production process is geared towards minimising waste and damage to the environment.

The UN’s role in cleaning up the fashion industry

If we carry on with a business-as-usual approach, the greenhouse gas emissions from the industry are expected to rise by almost 50% by 2030 Elisa Tonda, Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at UN Environment

In a bid to halt the fashion industry’s environmentally and socially destructive practices, and harness the catwalk as a driver to improve the world’s ecosystems, 10 different United Nations organizations established the UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion, launched during the 2019 UN Environment Assembly, which took place in Nairobi in March.

Elisa Tonda, Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at UN Environment (UNEP), one of the 10 UN bodies involved in the Alliance, explained the urgency behind its formation: “The global production of clothing and footwear generates 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, with manufacturing concentrated in Asia, the industry is mainly reliant on hard coal and natural gas to generate electricity and heat. If we carry on with a business-as-usual approach, the greenhouse gas emissions from the industry are expected to rise by almost 50% by 2030.”

The power of influencers

British artist and environmental activist Elle L was one of the speakers at the launch, and she told UN News that she agrees that fast-fashion was the biggest obstacle to sustainability: “there’s a real pressure to buy, and there are no brake pads to slow over-production and over-consumption. We need better labelling, so that people know what they’re buying; a tax or a ban on synthetic fibres which are causing serious environmental damage and contributing to a micro-plastics crisis; and a shift in mindset regarding over-production and over-consumption.”

Increasingly, and particularly over the last 10 years, it is social media ‘influencers’ like Lucia Musau, an award-winning fashion and lifestyle blogger based in Kenya, who are effectively spreading the kind of messages that can help highlight the negative consequences of fast fashion.

UN News spoke to Lucia whilst she was taking part in talks about sustainable fashion at the UN Environment Assembly, and she agreed that, over time, she has become a voice to be reckoned with, advising people on trends and influencing what they buy:

“As global citizens we have a big role to play. We’re becoming more conscious about the fashion we consume, and gone are the days when you could just buy something because it’s trendy. If a Kenyan designer wants me to promote them, I want to know exactly how they produce the clothes,” said the blogger, who’s also supporting the new UN alliance.

As consumers become more aware, the industry will have no choice but to adapt to their needs,” she said.

Less is more

Despite the moves being made by some retailers to make the industry less harmful to the environment, it can be argued that, ultimately, the only way to really make fashion sustainable is to end the throwaway culture.

Not only is the average person buying 60 per cent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago but, according to the McKinsey 2019 State of Fashion report, they are only keeping them as half as long as they used to.

UN Environment says that promoting a change in consumption modes, through actions such as taking better care of clothes, recycling and “take-back” programs, can make a major impact, and that simply doubling the time that we use each item of clothing could halve the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

However, for this to happen, both retailers and consumers will have to reject the “take, make and dispose” model and agree that, for the sake of the planet, when it comes to fashion, less is more.

Environmental impact of fashion industry

  • 2,000 gallons of water needed to make one pair of jeans
  • 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough for 5 million people to survive, is used by the fashion industry every year
  • Fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater
  • Clothing and footwear production is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned
  • Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014
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On International Day, UN stands in solidarity with some 20 detained staff

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, UN Affairs - Marking International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to UN personnel abducted, detained or missing while serving.

“Day in and day out, deed by deed, United Nations personnel work unwaveringly to help the most vulnerable, protect the planet and build a better future for all,” said Mr. Guterres. “Sadly, fulfilling this vital mission, often entails great perils.”

In 2018, 16 UN staff members were kidnapped or abducted, and one so far in 2019. All have been released.

In addition, according to the UN’s security department headquartered in New York, about 20 UN staff members from a dozen agencies are currently under arrest or being detained, including several held without charges being made explicit. Given the sensitive nature of some of the cases, no further details on specific cases can be disclosed.

“We will continue to do everything within our means to secure our colleagues’ release,” said the UN chief, in his statement.

The International Day was created on the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, who worked for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) until he was abducted by armed gunmen in 1985. His body was finally found in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 2009.

“I call on all countries to support the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel as well as its 2005 Optional Protocol,” said Mr. Guterres, deploring that, to date, only 95 countries are party to the Convention and only 33 to the Optional Protocol.

“Whether in their home countries or abroad, United Nations staff members have an admirable commitment to service. Their safety must be our priority.”

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Autonomous weapons that kill must be banned, insists UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, Culture and Education - UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged artificial intelligence (AI) experts meeting in Geneva on Monday to push ahead with their work to restrict the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems, or LAWS, as they are also known.

In a message to the Group of Governmental Experts, the UN chief said that “machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law”.

No country or armed force is in favour of such “fully autonomous” weapon systems that can take human life, Mr Guterres insisted, before welcoming the panel’s statement last year that “human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained, since accountability cannot be transferred to machines”.

Although this 2018 announcement was an “important line in the sand” by the Group of Governmental Experts - which meets under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) – the UN chief noted in his statement that while some Member States believe new legislation is required, while others would prefer less stringent political measures and guidelines that could be agreed on.

Nonetheless, it is time for the panel “to deliver” on LAWS, the UN chief said, adding that “it is your task now to narrow these differences and find the most effective way forward…The world is watching, the clock is ticking and others are less sanguine. I hope you prove them wrong.”

The LAWS meeting is one of two planned for this year, which follow earlier Governmental Expert meetings in 2017 and 2018 at the UN in Geneva.

The Group’s agenda covers technical issues related to the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, including the challenges the technology poses to international humanitarian law, as well as human interaction in the development, deployment and use of emerging tech in LAWS.

In addition to the Governmental Experts, participation is expected from a wide array of international organizations, civil society, academia, and industry.

The CCW’s full name is the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects,  entered into force on 2 December 1983.

The Convention currently has 125 States Parties. Its purpose is to prohibit or restrict the use of specific types of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately.

In previous comments on AI,  the Secretary-General likened the technology to “a new frontier” with “advances moving at warp speed”.

“Artificial Intelligence has the potential to accelerate progress towards a dignified life, in peace and prosperity, for all people,” he said at the AI for Good Global Summit in 2017, adding that there are also serious challenges and ethical issues which must be taken into account – including cybersecurity, human rights and privacy.

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UN urges ‘maximum restraint’ as Israel-Hamas tensions rise over rocket attack

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General said he was “gravely concerned” by the firing of a rocket from Gaza deep into Israel on Monday which reportedly injured seven people, including three children, north of the capital Tel Aviv.

Briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York in the middle of the day, UN SpokespersonStéphane Dujarric, said that the rocket attack was “a serious and unacceptable violation.”

He also noted the reports of Israeli fire directed towards Gaza in response, saying that the UN chief was “monitoring events” closely. According to news reports, Israeli forces said they had carried out strikes against what were described as Hamas targets, and Gaza’s health ministry reported that seven had been injured during the retaliatory air strikes.

The extremist group Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006, but so far, no group has claimed responsibility for launching the rocket on Monday morning, according to latest media reports, which penetrated further into Israel than any attack since the end of the most recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, in 2014. 

Mr. Dujarric, told reporters that the Secretary-General was due to meet his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, on Tuesday “who is also scheduled to brief the Security Council in person and where he will discuss the latest developments”, adding that the Council meeting was “a pre-scheduled briefing.”

“We continue to work with Egypt and all concerned parties to try to de-escalate the situation and again, encourage restraint” said Mr. Dujarric. “Further escalation is likely to make an already bad situation worse, in particular for civilians in and close to Gaza,” he added.

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‘Ticking bomb’ health warning over deteriorating conditions facing Cyclone Idai victims

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2019, Humanitarian Aid - Efforts are continuing to reach all victims of Cyclone Idai in southern Africa where a senior relief chief has warned of a “water, sanitation and hygiene ticking bomb”, as the scale of the emergency continues to unfold, and the official death toll rises.

Latest reports indicate that more than 400 are now confirmed dead in Mozambique alone, with a further 300 fatalities in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

In Geneva, Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that an estimated 300 square kilometres of land had been destroyed or submerged when 150 kilometre-per-hour-plus winds and floodwaters swept across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe from the night of 14 March.
In partnership with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other UN agencies, IFRC is working with the authorities to provide assistance.

Trees as high as 10 metres ‘all under water’

“We flew over many - what used to be - forests but you could not even see the trees,” Mr As Sy said, describing his visit to Mozambique last Friday: “Trees as high as 10 metres were all under water”, he added, noting that many homes lay totally submerged beneath.

It’s not an exaggeration when I say that we are really sitting here on a water, sanitation and hygiene ticking bomb -IFRC's Elhadj As Sy

Needs are huge for all those affected by the disaster, made worse by the widespread poverty and lack of development in the affected countries.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable and suffering from “multiple deprevations”, Mr. As Sy explained, after his visit to Beira, the port city where Idai made landfall.

“Jumping up in your eyes, these kinds of disasters do affect disproportionately, women and children,” he said. “The worst is the children crying and looking for their parents, either because they’re just in a different shelter, hopefully, or unfortunately, they may have died.”

An initial IFRC appeal for around $10 million has been tripled after “we realized very, very quickly that this is not going to be anywhere near the scale and magnitude to make any difference”, Mr. As Sy said.

Praising the courage and professionalism of countless boat-owners who rescued thousands of people from flooded areas, the IFRC top official expressed concern over the lack of adequate shelter and basic services for survivors in Beira – Mozambique’s second-largest city, which was hit twice by the cyclone.

Six toilets for 3,000 sheltering in a half-flooded school

“They are not good, to be very honest,” he said, noting the conditions survivors’ faced in the city. “Some of them are even horrendous,” he said, adding that he had gone to a school where 3,000 were crammed into15 classrooms: “The school itself is half-flooded and there are only six toilets for all those people. So it’s not an exaggeration when I say that we are really sitting here on a water, sanitation and hygiene ticking bomb.”

Amid concerns that the death toll is likely to rise as the floodwaters recede, the IFRC official insisted that everything possible was being done to get help to where it was needed most.

“We are making an extra effort to go to those that are hardest to reach and those that are most vulnerable,” he said. “And those of course, will include the elderly, female-headed households, the children, the disabled. These are often times, the ones that are left behind.”

Underlining the importance of ensuring that protection of victims is as important as providing food and safe water and sanitation facilities, Mr. As Sy explained that sexual exploitation was common in such situations – although he had not received any reports of abuse yet.

“These are very, very, very vulnerable people: very vulnerable children, very vulnerable young girls and women,” he insisted. “If we do not do something, then we should not then be surprised and then feel sorry afterwards that something happened.”

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It’s ‘time to #EndTB’, says UN on World Tuberculosis Day

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2019, Health - Tuberculosis, or TB, is not only the world's top infectious killer, it is also the leading cause of deaths among people with HIV and a major cause of antimicrobial resistance-related deaths, the United Nations health agency said on Sunday, World Tuberculosis Day

TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer, claiming nearly 4,500 lives each year and afflicting close to 30,000 others according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since 2000, global efforts to combat this preventable and curable disease have saved an estimated 54 million lives and reduced the TB mortality rate by 42 per cent. “The theme of this year’s World TB Day is: It’s time to end TB,” saidTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHODirector-General, leading the global call to “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB”

In line with WHO’s overall drive towards Universal Health Coverage, on this World TB Day, WHO calls on Governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, and national/international partners to unite forces under the banner “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB” to ensure no one is left behind.

To accelerate the TB response, Heads of State came together in September 2018 and made strong commitments to end the disease at the first-ever UN High Level Meeting.

“We’re highlighting the urgent need to translate commitments made at the 2018 UN High Level Meeting on TB into actions that ensure everyone who needs TB care can get it,” stated the WHO chief.

Last week, WHO issued new guidance to improve treating multidrug-resistant TB and, made recommendations that included cross-sector actions to monitor and review progress; prioritized planning and implementation of TB interventions; and a task force to ensure meaningful civil society engagement.

“This is a set of pragmatic actions that countries can use to accelerate progress and act on the high-level commitments made in the first-ever UN High Level Meeting on TB last September,” said Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director WHO’s Global TB Programme.

Migrants at high risk

Because TB is contagious and airborne, migrants are among the high-risk vulnerable groups, according to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).

IOM pointed out that many work in dangerous, difficult jobs, and live in sub-standard housing. Others may be detained in over-crowded detention facilities or live in refugee or internally displaced persons camps.

Moreover, migrants face language, administrative and cultural barriers in accessing health services and are often excluded from social protection and universal health coverage programmes.

As a result, whose who pay out-of-pocket for health services can end with catastrophic health expenditures and substandard care.

“It’s time for inclusion of migrants!” IOM spelled out, urging that ambitious goals be set for successful treatments with accountable TB commitments.

Each 24 March, the world commemorates TB Day to raise awareness of the devastating health, social and economic consequences of the disease, and to step up efforts to end the global epidemic. It marks the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of the bacterium that causes TB – opening the way towards diagnosing and curing this infection.

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UN Security Council condemns ‘unspeakable’ attack that leaves scores dead in central Mali

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2019, Peace and Security - The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned an armed attack on a village in restive central Mali which reportedly left more than 100 people dead early on Saturday.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this unspeakable attack,” said François Delattre, France’s UN Ambassador speaking as President of the Security Council at a press conference Saturday evening in the Malian capital, Bamako.

A Council delegation has been in the country since late last week as part of a mission to Africa’s troubled Sahel region. The trip will wrap up tomorrow in Burkina Faso.

Located in Mali’s central Mopti region, the village of Ogossou-Peulh was attacked on Saturday morning, reportedly by armed men dressed as traditional hunters. The attack claimed the lives of more than 100 people, including women and children, according to the UN integrated mission in the country, known by the French acronym, MINUSMA.

Calling the attack act of “unspeakable barbarity,” Kakou Houadja Leon Adom, the Ambassador of Côte d'Ivoire to the UN and co-organizer with France and Germany of the Council’s visit to Mali, expressed condolences to the families of the victims , as well as to the people and the Government of Mali.

In a statement condemning the attack, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Head of MINUSMA, called for an end to the spiral of violence in Mali and reported that as part of the mission’s civilian protection mandate, a rapid response force had been deployed to the scene. The mission was also working to ensure the wounded were evacuated to the nearby town of Sévaré, he added.

“This unspeakable tragedy…unfortunately reminds us that the challenges [in central Mali] are many,” he said, calling on the Malian authorities to launch an investigation “so that justice is done and the perpetrators of this atrocity answer for their actions.”

Deadly violence on the rise in Mopti region

The Mopti region in central Mali has been the scene of deadly violence since the beginning of the year.

Last Sunday, the camp of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMAs) in the village of Dioura suffered an attack in which several of its soldiers were killed. On 26 February, 10 people from the Dogon community were killed in an attack on the village of Gondogourou. Further, on 1 January, 37 people were executed in the Fulani village of Kulogon by unidentified armed elements.

At the press conference, Ambassador Delattre recalled, in the context of a recent Security Council resolution extending MINUSMA until the end of June, that the question of central Mali was an integral part of the mandate of the UN peace operation.

“MINUSMA is to support the Malian State through the protection of civilians,” he said in response to a question from a journalist.

The situation in central Mali was at the heart of the various meetings that members of the Security Council had in Bamako. “The unanimous message [we received] is that it is essential to break this negative dynamic between the different communities, and to do everything to try and recreate a virtuous circle,” said Ambassador Delattre.

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UN chief welcomes establishment of inclusive government in Central African Republic

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2019, Peace and Security - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the establishment in the Central African Republic (CAR) of a government in line with an early February peace deal struck with more than a dozen armed groups active in the country.

In a statement issued Saturday evening by a UN spokesperson, Mr. Guterres commended the leadership of the African Union, particularly in the successful conclusion of the consultations that were held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 18 to 20 March, with United Nations support on CAR.

This latest move towards a more inclusive Government in long-troubled CAR comes following the signing on 6 February in the capital, Bangui, of the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation between the Government of CAR and 14 non-State armed groups.

CAR has been grappling with conflict since 2012, as fighting between the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia and the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition killed thousands and left two out of three civilians dependent on humanitarian aid.

In 2013, armed groups seized the capital and then President François Bozizé was forced to flee. After a brief period of reduced violence in 2015, and elections held in 2016, fighting intensified again at the end of the year.

Peace talks had started on 24 January this year in Khartoum, Sudan, and lasted 10 days under the auspices of the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR, led by the African Union with UN support.

In today’s statement, the Secretary-General urged all signatories of the Political Agreement to adhere to its agreed principles, especially the rejection of violence and respect for human rights and human dignity.

“He further urges all signatories of the peace agreement to expedite its implementation,” the statement said.

Mr. Guterres also reiterated the UN’s commitment to assisting the CAR and called on “all partners” to continue to support the country’s people and Government in their efforts to secure lasting peace.

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Cyclone Idai: UNICEF warns of ‘race against time’ to protect children, prevent spread of disease in flood-ravaged Mozambique

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2019 - Humanitarian Aid - A week after the flooded Mozambican port of Beira was hit by Cyclone Idai, “aid agencies are barely beginning to see the scale of the damage”, the head of UNICEF said on Saturday, as she called for more international support to help quickly get relief to more than a million people across the country and prevent the possible spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.

We are in a race against time to help and protect children in the disaster-ravaged areas of Mozambique,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said at the end of a visit to Beira, one of the areas worst affected by Cyclone Idai. 

According to initial Government estimates, 1.8 million people across the country, including 900,000 children, have been affected by the cyclone which slammed into the country last week. However, many areas are still not accessible and UNICEF and partners on the ground know that the final numbers will be much higher.  

“The situation will get worse before it gets better,” Ms. Fore said, noting that as aid agencies get a clearer picture of the devastation, some have reported that entire villages have been submerged, buildings have been flattened, and schools and health care centers have been destroyed in the days since the storm struck.

“While the search and rescue operations continue, it is critical that we take all necessary measures to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases which can turn this disaster into a major catastrophe,” she warned.

UNICEF said it is concerned that flooding, combined with overcrowded conditions in shelters, poor hygiene, stagnant water and infected water sources, is putting them at risk of diseases like cholera, malaria and diarrhoea.

Initial assessments in Beira indicate that more than 2,600 classrooms have been destroyed and 39 health centers impacted. At least 11,000 houses have been totally destroyed. “This will have serious consequences on children’s education, access to health services, and mental wellbeing,” the UNICEF chief said.

In Beira, Ms. Fore visited a school which had turned into a shelter for displaced families. Classrooms were converted into overcrowded bedrooms with limited access to water and sanitation.

Safety of women and children a major concern

“We are particularly concerned about the safety and well-being of women and children who are still waiting to be rescued or are crammed in temporary shelters and at risk of violence and abuse,” she said, also raising concerns about children who were orphaned by the cyclone “or who became separated from their parents in the chaos that followed.” 

Ms. Fore also visited a UNICEF warehouse which was severely damaged in the cyclone, causing the loss of essential supplies that had been pre-positioned before the cyclone made landfall.

Cyclone Idai started as a tropical depression in Malawi, where it forced families from their homes into churches, schools and public buildings. Nearly half a million children are affected. After Mozambique, the cyclone moved to Zimbabwe where it caused significant damage to schools and water systems.

“For children affected by Cyclone Idai, the road to recovery will be long,” Ms. Fore said. “They will need to regain access to health, education, water and sanitation. And they will need to heal from the deep trauma they have just experienced.”

She said that UNICEF teams are on the ground in the three countries helping children learn, play and heal, “but our resources are overstretched. We will initially need $30 million in the first stage of the response and look to our public and private donors to be generous to the thousands of children and families who need support.”

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