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Billions globally lack ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’, new UN report spells out

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, Health - Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely-managed drinking water, while 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities, according to a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Mere access is not enough” said UNICEF’s Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). “If the water isn’t clean, isn’t safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we’re not delivering for the world’s children”.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, “Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000-2017: Special focus on inequalities”, finds that while significant progress has been made toward achieving universal access to WASH, there are huge gaps in the quality of services provided.

“Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind”, Ms. Naylor said, urging Governments to “invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right”.

The report reveals that since the turn of the century, 1.8 billion people have gained access to basic drinking water services, but vast inequalities in accessibility, availability and quality prevail.

Estimates show that 1-in-10 people still lack basic services, including 144 million individuals who drink untreated surface water. And the data illustrates that 8-in-10 people in rural areas lack access to these services.

“Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030,” said Maria Neira, WHODirector, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books”, she spelled out. “Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways”.

While open defecation has been halved since 2000, from 21 per cent to 9 per cent, 673 million people continue this practice in ‘high burden’ countries. Moreover, in 39 countries, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people openly defecating has increased.

The report also highlights new data showing that in 2017, three billion people lacked basic soap and water handwashing facilities at home, including nearly three quarters of those in the Least Developed Countries category.

Every year, 297,000 under-age-five children die from diarrhea linked to inadequate WASH. Poor sanitation and contaminated water also help transmit diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

“Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies”, Ms. Naylor stressed. “To relent on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades worth of progress at the expense of coming generations”.   

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UN chief accepts independent report on Myanmar, highlighting ‘systemic’ failure surrounding Rohingya crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, UN Affairs - An independent review into how the UN System operated in Myanmar in the years leading up to the mass exodus of the Rohingya following serious human rights abuses, has concluded there were “systemic and structural failures” that prevented a unified strategy from being implemented.

The report by former Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister, Gert Rosenthal, a former UN Ambassador and top executive at the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the UN System overall had been “relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar, to reverse the negative trends in the areas of human rights, and consolidate the positive trends in other areas.”

The review, published on Monday, covers the period 2010-2018, encompassing the UN’s response to the systematic and brutal abuse of hundreds-of-thousands of mainly-Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state, by the national army and security forces, which began in August 2017, described by the UN human rights chief at the time as a text book example of ethnic cleansing.

In his conclusions and recommendations, Mr. Rosenthal writes that responsibility for the grave abuses wrests mainly with the Government. But although the UN’s systematic failures are not down to any single entity or any individuals, “clearly there is a shared responsibility on the part of all parties involved in not having been able to accompany the Government’s political process with constructive actions, while at the same time conveying more forcefully the United Nations’ principled concerns regarding grave human rights violations”.

He also notes the UN Security Council should bear some responsibility, “by not providing enough support to the Secretariat, when such backing was and continues to be essential”.

Mr. Rosenthal said that the key lesson, was “to foster an environment encouraging different entities of the UN System to work together” to reinforce a “broader, system-wide strategy”.

The UN Spokespersons’ Office, reacting to the report, said that UN chief António Guterres was “grateful to Mr. Rosenthal for producing a candid, forthright and useful report. The entire report, including its conclusions and recommendations, has been transmitted to the Member States”.

Mr. Guterres said he was accepting the recommendations “and is committed to implementing them so as to improve the performance of the United Nations system. This review is valuable for the Resident Coordinator and the UN Country Team in Myanmar, as well as in other countries where the UN operates in similarly challenging conditions.”

The UN chief noted that no individual or agency was being singled out, and said it was useful for analyzing how the UN can work more effectively, “on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future.”

“The Secretary-General notes the report’s assessments are in line with the Secretary-General’s own efforts to put a greater emphasis on prevention, and also to improve the performance and accountability” of the UN at a country level, “by creating a new generation of UN country teams and more adapted structures at the headquarters level”, said the Office of the Spokesperson.  

Mr. Guterres indicated he would be following up to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.

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9.7 billion on Earth by 2050, but growth rate slowing, says new UN population report

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, Economic Development - By the year 2050, there will be some 9.7 billion people living on Earth, says a UN population report released on Monday. However, the overall growth rate will continue to fall, and more countries will have to adapt to the consequences of an ageing population.

The World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights”, estimates that the next 30 years will see the global population add an extra 2 billion people to today’s figure of 7.7 billion, and, by the end of the century, the planet will have to sustain around 11 billion.

India will overtake China, sub-Saharan Africa population to double

India is expected to show the highest population increase between now and 2050, overtaking China as the world’s most populous country, by around 2027. India, along with eight other countries, will make up over half of the estimated population growth between now and 2050.

The nine countries expected to show the biggest increase are India, Nigeria and Pakistan, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States of America. In all, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to practically double by 2050.

However, growth in these countries comes against the backdrop of a slowing global fertility rate. In 1990, the average number of births per woman was 3.2. By 2019 this had fallen to 2.5 births per woman and, by 2050, this is projected to decline further to 2.2 births: a fertility level of 2.1 births per woman is necessary to avoid national population decline over the long run (in the absence of immigration).

The population size of more and more countries is actually falling. Since 2010, 27 countries or areas have seen a drop of at least one per cent, because of persistently low fertility rates. Between now and 2050, that is expected to expand to 55 countries which will see a population decrease of one per cent or more, and almost half of these will experience a drop of at least 10 per cent.

In some cases, the falling population size is reinforced by high rates of emigration, and migration flows have become a major reason for population change in certain regions. Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines are seeing the largest migratory outflows resulting from the demand for migrant workers; and Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela are the countries where the largest numbers are leaving because of violence, insecurity or armed conflict. For those countries where population is falling, immigration is expected to plug the gaps, particularly in Belarus, Estonia and Germany.

Population report a ‘roadmap to action and intervention’

“Many of the fastest growing populations are in the poorest countries, where population growth brings additional challenges”, said Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). These challenges include the fight to eradicate poverty, and combat hunger and malnutrition; greater equality; and improved healthcare and education. The report, he said, offers a “roadmap” indicating where to target action and interventions.

At the same time, growth is providing opportunities in many developing economies: recent reductions in fertility mean that the working-age population (25 to 64) is growing faster than other age ranges, which could improve the possibilities for faster economic growth. The report recommends that governments make use of this “demographic dividend” to invest in education in health.

Proportion of older people increasing, life expectancy still lower in poorer countries

There will be one in six people over 65 by 2050, up from the current figure of one in 11. Some regions will see the share of older people double in the next 30 years, including Northern Africa, Asia and Latin America.

By 2050, a quarter of the population in European and Northern America could be 65 or over. The higher proportion and number of older people is expected to put increased financial pressure on countries in the coming decades, with the higher cost of public health, pensions and social protections systems.

Although overall life expectancy will increase (from 64.2 years in 1990 to 77.1 years in 2050), life expectancy in poorer countries will continue to lag behind. Today, the average lifespan of a baby born in one of the least developed countries will be some 7 years shorter than one born in a developed country. The main reasons are high child and maternal mortality rates, violence, and the continuing impact of the HIV epidemic.

“The World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights”, is published by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and provides a comprehensive overview of global demographic patterns and prospects. The report is based on population estimates from 1950 to the present for 235 countries or areas, underpinned by analyses of historical demographic trends. The 2019 revision also includes population projections to the year 2100, that reflect a range of plausible outcomes at the global, regional and country levels.

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UN oceans treaty ‘essential’ to combat ‘unprecedented pressure’ on the world’s seas – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, SDGs - The oceans are not only under “unprecedented pressure” due to climate change, but “half of all living coral has been lost in the past 150 years”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, addressing the latest gathering of nations which are party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“In the past four decades, plastic pollution in the sea has increased ten-fold”, he told the meeting. A third of fish stocks are now overexploited; de-oxygenated dead zones are growing rapidly in extent and number; and ocean acidification, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change are “taking a massive toll”.

Commemorating 25 years since its entry into force, Mr. Guterres dubbed the Convention “the constitution for our oceans”.

With “nearly universal acceptance”, it provides a “comprehensive framework for the peaceful, cooperative and sustainable use of seas, oceans and their resources”, he elaborated.

“And it has provided a foundation for the progressive development of the Law of the Sea”, he said, calling it “essential” to have a well-defined and extensive body of international law establishing the rights and responsibilities of countries.

The UN chief stressed that activities must be sustainable; relationships among parties adequately regulated; needs and challenges addressed; and peace and security maintained.

He spoke about his recent visit to Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu in the Pacific, where he saw the consequences already taking their toll.

Battle Plan

“Thankfully” he said, “we have a battle plan”, namely the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 14 with its 10 targets from addressing marine pollution and acidification, to ending overfishing and protecting ecosystems.

However, for this to be effective “we need the full implementation of the legal regime for the oceans as set out by the Convention and other relevant international instrument”.

According to the UN chief, the overall 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “commits us to this aim”, as it specifically calls for enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans by implementing international law, as reflected in the Convention.

In the past four decades, plastic pollution in the sea has increased ten-fold – UN chief

“This is one of the key-means to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other ocean-related targets” he flagged, noting that the 2030 Agenda also embraces the pledge to leave no one behind, including people who depend on the oceans for food security, tourism, transportation, heritage and climate regulation.

Mr. Guterres maintained that acknowledging the “human dimension of the oceans” was critical.

“Conflicting demands from industry, fishing, shipping, mining and tourism are creating unsustainable levels of stress on marine and coastal ecosystems”, he laid out, adding “we must act across an array of sectors to address these challenges”.

Pointing to the UN Law of the Sea Convention as “one of our best tools”, Mr. Guterres appealed to all States Parties to “approach the task of the Convention’s full implementation with renewed commitment and vigour”.

“Let us be the generation that reverses the cycle of continuous decline in our oceans and ensures their conservation and sustainable use, for the benefit of current and future generations”, concluded the Secretary-General.

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24 billion tons of fertile land lost every year, warns UN chief on World Day to Combat Desertification

INTERNATIONAL, 16 June 2019, Climate Change - In a video message released in advance of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, marked on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world loses 24 billion tons of fertile land every year, and that the degradation in land quality is responsible for a reduction in the national domestic product of up to eight per cent every year.

“Desertification, land degradation and drought are major threats affecting millions of people worldwide,” said the UN chief, “particularly women and children.” Mr. Guterres said that it is time to “urgently” change such trends, adding that protecting and restoring land can “reduce forced migration, improve food security and spur economic growth”, as well as helping to address the “global climate emergency”.

‘Let’s grow the future together’

The World Day, which raises awareness of international efforts to combat desertification, was established 25 years ago, along with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. Running under the slogan “Let’s grow the future together”, the 2019 World Day focuses on three key issues related to land: drought, human security and climate.

By 2025, says the UN, two-thirds of the world will be living under “water-stressed” conditions – when demand outstrips supply during certain periods – with 1.8 billion people experience absolute water scarcity, where a region’s natural water resources are inadequate to supply the demand. Migration is likely to increase as a result of desertification, with the UN estimating that, by 2045, it will be responsible for the displacement of some 135 million people.

Restoring the soil of degraded land, however, can be an important weapon in the fight against the climate crisis. With the land use sector representing almost 25 per cent of total global emissions, the restoration of degraded land has the potential to store up to 3 million tons of carbon annually.

The importance of ensuring that land is well-managed is noted in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which declares that “we are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations”. Specifically, Goal 15 states our resolve to halt and reverse land degradation.

What is desertification?

Desertification does not refer to the expansion of deserts, but rather the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, primarily as a result of human activities and climatic variations. It happens areas of dry land are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.

‘It isn’t just about sand’

In his message, Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention, said there are only three things all people need to know about the World Day to Combat Desertification:

  1. It isn’t just about sand,
  2. It isn’t an isolated issue that will quietly disappear; and
  3. It isn’t someone else’s problem

“It’s about restoring and protecting the fragile layer of land which only covers a third of the Earth, but which can either alleviate or accelerate the double-edged crisis facing our biodiversity and our climate,” he said.

The international community, he continued, has acknowledged the central role our land plays in our lives and livelihoods, and since the creation of the Convention, some 196 countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, China and India, as well as the European Union, have signed up to coordinated actions for sustainable land management.

“However, there are even more stories about how poor land management has degraded an area twice the size of China and shaped a farming sector that contributes nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gases,” he said, stressing that there are even more stories about how half the people on the planet are affected by that damaged land or live in urban areas, consuming resources that require 200 times as much land as their towns and cities and generating 70 per cent of emissions.

“Yet, the world is determined that by 2030, we will switch from destroying the Earth to making it productive enough to grow a better future for everyone. If we take action to restore our degraded land, it will save $1.3 billion a day to invest in the education, equality and clean energy that can reduce poverty, conflict and environmental migration,” noted Mr. Thiaw.

And while, better land management does not hold all the answers, it offers a stepping stone to reach global goals by 2030 and then act as a natural multiplier of their benefits.

“So, for this World Day to Combat Desertification, I am calling on everyone to drive this change from the ground up; to make choices and take action, either privately or professionally, as producers or consumers, to protect and restore our land. Let’s grow the future together,” he said.

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UN chief condemns terrorist attacks in Kenya and Somalia

INTERNATIONAL, 16 June 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, condemned on Sunday the attack that took place on Saturday in Wajir County, Kenya, in which at least eight police officers were killed when their car struck an improvised explosive device (IED), and the car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which at least eight people were killed. 

Dozens were injured in both terrorist acts, claimed by the armed group Al-Shabaab, which is particularly active in Eastern Africa. 

In Kenya, attack followed the kidnapping of three Kenyan police reservists in Wajir County on Friday.

UN chief Guterres expressed solidarity and “his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and to the Governments and people of Kenya and Somalia” and he wished “a quick recovery to the injured”. 

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Record number of Venezuelans arrive in Peru: UN steps up response

INTERNATIONAL, 16 June 2019, Migrants and Refugees - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has sent extra teams this week to the border between Peru and Ecuador to support the authorities, as an unprecedent number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants – over 15,000 – have entered Peru this week.

On Friday, over 8,000 Venezuelans crossed the border at Tumbes, the largest number ever recorded on a single day. Of them, 4,700 requested asylum in Peru, also an unprecedented number in one single day. 

“People are arriving in a more and more vulnerable situation,” said Federico Agusti, head of UNHCR in Peru.

“Some have been walking for 30 or 40 days through various countries in the region. We see people suffering from malnutrition or dehydration and people with medical problems. There are more and more families with children,” he explained. 

The Peruvian authorities have issued a statement that same day explaining that, due to this massive influx of refugees and migrants, a special contingency plan would be put in place, and Venezuelan refugees are now required to have a passport and a visa in order to enter the country. Until now, each Venezuelan was asked only for a basic document, such as an ID or an Andean Card to be allowed entry into Peru.

We see people suffering from malnutrition or dehydration and people with medical problems - Federico Agusti, head of UNHCR in Peru

The total number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country now stands at about 800,000. In total, to date, Peru has received over 280,000 asylum applications by Venezuelan citizens and given temporary residence permits to over 390,000.  

Peruvian authorities, UNHCR and its partners, including over a dozen NGOs at the border are working around the clock on the ground, to process the arrivals, providing humanitarian assistance, medical care, information, legal support to refugees and migrants on both sides of the border.

According to the UN refugee agency, Peru’s new visa requirements for Venezuelans are having an impact on Ecuador’s northern border with Colombia, through which 8,380 Venezuelans entered on Friday, according to the authorities.

The UN and its partners are also present there providing much needed humanitarian assistance, protection services, to save lives and alleviate suffering in support of the Ecuadorian Government and civil society groups.   

Give the scale of the crisis and the levels of need recorded, the UN calls on the international community to step up its support to countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, that have been receiving the vast majority of the 4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela, most of whom are in need of life-saving assistance. 

To date, the Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, remains severely under-funded, with close to 79 per cent of funding requirements (US$ 580 million) still unmet.

This week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, will be visiting Venezuela, from Wednesday to Friday, at the invitation of the Government. During her visit to the capital, Caracas, she will meet with President Nicolás Maduro Moros and several Government officials, will hold discussions with the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, and will engage with victims of human rights violations and abuses and  civil society representatives.

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Remittances matter: 8 facts you don’t know about the money migrants send back home

INTERNATIONAL, 15 June 2019, Economic Development - This Sunday marks the second International Day of Family Remittances, observed every year on 16 June, in recognition of the fundamental contribution of migrant workers to their families and communities back home.

Here are eight things you might not know about the transformative power of these often small – yet major – contributions to sustainable development worldwide:

1. About one in nine people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers

Currently, about one billion people in the world – or one in seven – are involved with remittances, either by sending or receiving them. Around 800 million in the world – or one in nine people– are recipients of these flows of money sent by their family members who have migrated for work.

2. What migrants send back home represents only 15 per cent of what they earn

On average, migrant workers send between US$200 and $300 home every one or two months. Contrary maybe to popular belief, this represents only 15 per cent of what they earn: the rest –85 per cent – stays in the countries where they actually earn the money, and is re-ingested into the local economy, or saved.

3. Remittances remain expensive to send

These international money transfers tend to be costly: on average, globally, currency conversions and fees amount to 7 per cent of the total amounts sent. To ensure that the funds can be put to better purposes, countries are aiming through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.C to “reduce to less than 3 per cent the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5 per cent by 2030”.

Technical innovations, in particular mobile technologies, digitalization and blockchain can fundamentally transform the markets, coupled with a more conducive regulatory environment.

4. The money received is key in helping millions out of poverty

Although the money sent represents only 15 per cent of the money earned by migrants in the host countries, it is often a major part of a household’s total income in the countries of origin and, as such, represents a lifeline for millions of families.

"It is not about the money being sent home, it is about the impact on people’s lives,” explains Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. “The small amounts of $200 or $300 that each migrant sends home make up about 60 per cent of the family’s household income, and this makes an enormous difference in their lives and the communities in which they live."

The small amounts of $200 or $300 that each migrant sends home make up about 60 per cent of the family’s household income - IFAD head, Gilbert Houngbo.

It is estimated that three quarters of remittances are used to cover essential things: put food on the table and cover medical expenses, school fees or housing expenses. In addition, in times of crises, migrant workers tend to send more money home to cover loss of crops or family emergencies.

The rest, about 25 per cent of remittances – representing over $100 billion per year – can be either saved or invested in asset building or activities that generate income, jobs and transform economies, in particular in rural areas.

5. Specifically, remittances can help achieve at least seven of the 17 SDGs

When migrants send money back home, they contribute to several of the goals set in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In particular: SDG 1, No Poverty; SDG 2, Zero Hunger; SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 4, Quality Education; SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; and SDG 10, Reduced Inequality.

If current trends continue, between 2015 and 2030, the timeframe of the 2030 Agenda, an estimated $8.5 trillion will be transferred by migrants to their communities of origin in developing countries. Of that amount, more than $2 trillion – a quarter -- will either be saved or invested, a key aspect of sustainable development.

"Governments, regulators and the private sector have an important role to play in leveraging the effects of these flows and, in so doing, helping nearly one billion people to reach their own sustainable development goals by 2030," IFAD’s Gilbert F. Houngbo stressed in a statement.

6. Half of the money sent goes straight to rural areas, where the world's poorest live

Around half of global remittances go to rural areas, where three quarters of the world's poor and food insecure live. It is estimated that globally, the accumulated flows to rural areas over the next five years will reach $1 trillion.

7. They are three times more important than international aid, and counting

Remittances are a private source of capital that’s over three times the amount of official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI) combined.

In 2018, over 200 million migrant workers sent $689 billion back home to remittance reliant countries, of which $529 billion went to developing countries.

In addition, the amount of money sent by international migrant workers to their families in developing countries is expected to rise to over $550 billion in 2019, up some $20 billion from 2018, according to IFAD.

8. The UN is working to facilitate remittances worldwide

"It is fair to say that, in poor rural areas, remittances can help to make migration a choice rather than a necessity for so many young people and for future generations," explained Mr. Houngbo.

As such, migrant contributions to development – through remittances and investments – is one of the Objectives of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December of last year.

With half of all flows going to rural areas in developing countries, IFAD, the UN’s agency mandated with agricultural development, is working to make the development impact of remittances even greater. The organisation’s Financing Facility for Remittances programme (FFR) was designed to promote innovative business models in order to lower transfer costs and provide financial services for migrants and their families. Through partnerships across several sectors, the programme runs initiatives to empower migrants and their families through financial education and inclusion, as well as migrant investment and entrepreneurship.

"Over the past decade, IFAD has invested in over 40 countries, supporting more than 60 projects aimed at leveraging the development impact of remittances for families and communities,” said Paul Winters, IFAD’s Associate Vice-President, in an event held on Friday at UN headquarters in New York.

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Shining a light on sustainable power: how clean energy is helping to improve camps for displaced people

INTERNATIONAL, 14 June 2019, Climate Change - Hauwa, from Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria, fled her home village of Adamari with her husband and four children in March, when violence struck. Now, she is in the relative safety of a UN-run camp but, with little electricity available at night, lighting is scarce, and darkness can mean danger. However, thanks to a solar-energy initiative from the UN migration agency IOM, that is beginning to change.

El-Miskin, where Hauwa and her family are sheltering, sits at the edge of the capital of Borno State, Maiduguri. It is one of several camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in the region, victims of the fighting between armed groups and Nigerian forces that has persisted for almost a decade.

Newcomers to El-Miskin camp live in makeshift shelters made of straw, and energy is hard to come by. This means that safety is an issue, particularly for women and girls: without proper lighting, they often have to walk in the dark to use the latrines and other water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. For Hauwa, even the cost of batteries to power a small lamp is beyond her means, so when she, along with 1,405 others, was given a solar-powered lamp – donated by GOGLA, the global association for the off-grid solar energy industry – in early April, as part of the IOM initiative, her daily routine improved drastically. 

Hauwa recalls that during the distribution of the lamps, IOM staff assisted her and taught her how to use it. “I think it is very easy to use,” she says as she proudly shows IOM staff how to fix the lamp on her roof to charge it. With the lamp, Hauwa feels safe when she uses the latrines at night. “The lamp helps me see the path when it’s dark, but I still need to be careful not to step on a lizard!” she jokes.

Smart tech to keep refugees, and forests, alive

But safety is not the only advantage that renewable energy has brought to humanitarian camps, as Djamila Fatime Harine, a Nigeria-based IOM Programme Manager explains. “With solar lights, children can continue to learn without the health and safety risks of smoky firewood or kerosene lamps, which also pose health hazards such as burns and respiratory problems”.

Where there is a large-scale concentration of refugees, anything that can reduce the need to burn wood, would have a huge impact. In Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar, for example, some 700,000 Rohingya refugees have few options other than firewood for their household energy needs. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that a staggering 820 tonnes of trees – equivalent to 4 hectares – are being cut down for firewood by Rohingya refugees every day.

This is causing tensions with local people, who want to protect their natural resources and livelihoods, and increases the risk of assaults on refugees. As for the health risks, the smoke created by around 191,000 families in such a densely populated area is having a negative effect on the whole population, especially those directly involved in tending fires and cooking.

Cases such as Bangladesh explain why UNHCR, IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, have a strong motivation to find ways to power refugee camps with cheap, clean energy. For example, at UNHCR’s two largest refugee camps, in Jordan, a solar plant has been providing clean, reliable electricity to over 100,000 Syrian refugees since 2017. Whilst it cost US$17.5 million, it is now saving the agency an estimated US$12.5 million per year in energy costs, and cutting carbon emissions by around 20,000 tons a year.

In South Sudan, where thousands of displaced people fled to a UN-protected base in Malakal, in the Upper Nile region, following attacks on communities in 2013, clean water was a priority. IOM initially trucked in water, and then began using diesel-run generators to pump in water from the Nile.

However, since last year, the camp’s supplies come from a solar-powered pump, providing some 29,000 residents, and around 300 humanitarian workers, with around 20 litres of water every day. The environmental footprint of the camp is now much smaller, as fuel consumption has dropped drastically. This also means that the pump will have paid for itself by the end of 2019, thanks to savings on transportation and diesel fuel.

With the costs of renewable energy installations continuing to fall, more and more humanitarian centres will be powered by clean power sources, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. To speed up the process, a group of UN-related bodies, led by IOM, have made the switch to clean energy a priority, and joined together to bring about a global sustainable energy plan of action, part of the aim to achieve Goal 7 of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: safe access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services for all displaced people.

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Ahead of 2020 elections, situation in Burundi shows encouraging signs but remains fragile

INTERNATIONAL, 14 June 2019, Economic Development - A UN Security Council meeting on the security and political situation in Burundi was held on Friday, as the country continues to grapple with a four-year-long crisis and is gearing up for new elections in 2020.

The situation deteriorated sharply in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term, seen by many Burundians as a breach of the constitution. The announcement led to an upsurge of violence in the country, leaving hundreds dead and prompting around half a million people to flee the country.

Currently, close to 1.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Toward peaceful and fair elections?

“The Independent National Elections Commission (CENI) continues its efforts to sensitize the population on democratic values, in pursuit of peaceful and credible elections,” said Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, UN Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.

In addition to a variety of recent encouraging developments, Jürg Lauber, the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, told the Security Council that, during his recent trip to the country, he was assured that President Nkurunziza will not stand as a candidate.

“With regard to preparations for the peaceful conduct of the elections, the need for technical support, for instance in the areas of police training and security sector reform, was mentioned. I was informed that the [CENI] would invite observers from international and regional organizations to the elections,” Ambassador Lauber explained.

However, he noted that “a number of interlocutors voiced concerns over difficulties encountered by members of the opposition parties to gather freely” and some “expressed concerns over recent measures against of two foreign media that allegedly violated national regulations, according to the national authority.”

Continued reports of human rights violations

Although the Burundian Government claims that the security and human rights situation has improved, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) in Bujumbura, which was continuing to receive reports of gross violations – including arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detentions – was forced to close in February, after a 23-year presence in the country.

“The human rights situation remains worrying in view of many violations of fundamental civic and political freedoms as reported by political actors, some media and civil society organizations,” said Assistant-Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco.

This was supported by Mr. Lauber’s recent visit, as he explained that “a number of interlocutors voiced concerns about alleged violent incidents and human rights violations that are not properly investigated and prosecuted.”

He added however that “the Minister for Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender confirmed Burundi's readiness to engage in technical cooperation with international human rights bodies and highlighted the ongoing work on the implementation of the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review  of Burundi in the UN Human Rights Council.”

Humanitarian and socio-economic aspects

Despite a relatively satisfactory agricultural production this year, the Security Council was told that nearly 1.8 million people remain at risk of food insecurity “due to recurrent and devastating climatic hazards”.

In addition, it was noted that “increases in unemployment and the rise in prices of basic commodities and services have negatively affected the economic and socio-cultural rights.”

As there are still over 350,000 Burundian refugees in the region, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is assisting them as well as people who voluntarily repatriate to Burundi, primarily from Tanzania.

“The protection and assistance to refugees, the sustainable reintegration of those who choose to return as well as of internally displaced people remains a core concern and funding requirements remain acute in this area,” noted Mr. Lauber.

Funding for life-saving programmes remains a problem overall, as the humanitarian response plan is only 24 per cent funded to date. Mr. Fernandez-Taranco called on the international community to increase their contributions.

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