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FROM THE FIELD: Humanitarian crises of concern in 2021

INTERNATIONAL, 27 February 2021, Humanitarian Aid - The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated much of the world’s attention over the last 12 months, but many other crises will continue to require the urgent attention of the UN and the international community in 2021.
A woman survivor of gender-based violence in Kalemie, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. , by UNOCHA/Alioune Ndiaye

Syria and Yemen are probably the best known long-running conflict zones. A decade of fighting in Syria has seen millions of people displaced, many requiring humanitarian assistance. Yemen, meanwhile, remains the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, where the risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute.

Insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has compounded the country’s economic decline, and DRC now has the world’s second highest number of people who are classified as severely food insecure, and the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa. 

And in the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, a perfect storm of climate change, weak governance, poverty and chronic underdevelopment have combined to create an unprecedented security and humanitarian crisis. 

Read more here about these, and other crises of major concern.

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Myanmar Ambassador to UN denounces military coup, as envoy warns democratic processes have been ‘pushed aside'

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Human Rights - As the democratically elected leader of Myanmar, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still in detention following the military takeover that triggered country-wide protests, violence and arrests, the UN envoy for the country observed on Friday, declaring that “democratic processes have been pushed aside”. 

Speaking at an informal General Assembly meeting on the Myanmar crisis, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener said, “I told you in 2019 that I would sound the alarm if necessary…This is now the case”. 

‘Fragile and fluid’ situation 

The situation in Myanmar is “fragile and fluid”, the UN envoy said, calling it “a people’s fight without arms”.  

Ms. Schraner Burgener strongly condemned the military’s “recent steps” and urged the Ambassadors to “collectively send a clear signal” supporting democracy. 

She underscored the urgency in helping to lay the foundations of a “pluralistic democracy”, balanced with the complex domestic challenges of the civilian leadership.  

“I have tried again and again to explain the complex situation, namely that the army holds the real power”, the UN envoy said. “Genuine democracy requires civilian control over the military”. 

Reject regime 

Noting that “the takeover has not stabilized”, the UN official upheld that the international community must “not lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime”. 

She labeled it a “coup”, calling the military takeover and declaration of the state of emergency “a clear violation of the constitution regardless of what they claim”.  

Recalling that the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won the November election with 82 per cent of the vote, Ms. Schraner Burgener emphasized: “There is no justification for the military’s actions, and we must continue to call for the reversal of this impermissible situation, exhausting all collective and bilateral channels to restore Myanmar’s path on democratic reform”. 

Myanmar ambassador denounces 'coup'

Responding to the envoy, Myanmar's Ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, announced that he was representing not the military leadership, but the NLD, saying he was speaking instead, for the democratically-elected parliamentarians of the country. 

Denouncing the coup, he said that the continued and strong support for the people, was "imperative", and appealed for all Member States and the UN, to condemn the takeover, and take "all strongest possible measures to stop the violent and brutal acts committed by the security forces against peaceful demonstrators, and end the military coup immediately".

His voice breaking in the General Assembly Hall, he gave the three-fingered salute adopted by protesters in Myanmar.

The Ambassador said he would join those continuing "to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, and for the people."

‘Egregious’ violations 

Although the Secretary-General had called on Myanmar’s military and police to ensure the right of peaceful assembly, hundreds of people are being detained without charges or fair trial proceedings, leaving frantic families unable to locate or contact them, according to the UN envoy. 

“Ongoing violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel, and deliberate acts to create insecurity and instability, as well as the enactment of draconian laws which deprive people of their basic human rights, some of which are also in violation of their own Constitution, are egregious”, she said. 

Among other grievances, Ms. Schraner Burgener pointed to the release of some 23,000 prisoners associated with political murders as “regretful”, and the ensuing chaos as a lost opportunity for an inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ongoing violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel... are egregious -- UN envoy

Collective responsibility 

With her “unique access to key stakeholders”, the UN official has directly relayed international concerns, advocated for dialogue and requested a country visit in which she meets with detained government leaders, which was rejected.  

“It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD Government”, she said. “This is cruel and inhumane”.  

Ms. Schraner Burgener urged influential Member States to step up, saying they have “a collective responsibility towards the people of Myanmar and safeguard their democratic aspirations”. 

“Clearly, regional engagement is needed on all fronts”. 

If there is any escalation in terms of military brutality against people exercising their basic rights, “let us act swiftly and collectively”, the UN envoy said. 

End the crackdown, urge rights experts 

At the same time, independent UN human rights experts called on the military to end the violent crackdown on peaceful protests. 

“The people of Myanmar have the right to protest peacefully and express their discontent with the military coup”, the experts said. “We call on the military to refrain from using force against peaceful protests, stop using live bullets against protesters immediately and respect their right to peaceful protest”. 

The experts also spoke against the arbitrary detention and harassment of those voicing their dissent or organizing and participating in peaceful protests as well as the journalists covering the events.  

“Deliberate attacks on journalists and their arbitrary detention are serious violations of international human rights law and must immediately stop.” 

Worrying measures 

The experts noted “a worrying series of regulatory measures” that would entrench military control over internet information and strip individuals of their human rights. 

“These vague and overly broad provisions would give the military unfettered power to censor dissenting voices on social media, disrupt the internet at will and access user information with no restraint or regard for their right to privacy”, they said. 

The experts urged the military to restore democratic institutions and ensure the release of all those detained for exercising their human rights. 

“We warn the military junta that those who are responsible for repression and killing of peaceful protesters as well as the detention of government officials and journalists will be held accountable before international jurisdictions”, the experts said. 

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific country situation. The experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

Click here for names of the experts.

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UN Security Council demands COVID-19 vaccine ceasefires; WHO pushes for more action to speed up inoculations

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Health - The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously passed a resolution calling on all Member States to support a “sustained humanitarian pause” to local conflicts, in order to allow for COVID-19 vaccinations. Briefing journalists afterwards, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus argued that more could be done. 

While welcoming the historic resolution and upholding the importance of vaccine equity, he said that “concrete steps should be taken” to waive intellectual property rights to increase vaccine production “and get rid of this virus as soon as possible”. 

“The virus has taken the whole world hostage”, Tedros said. “The UN Security Council can do it, if there is political will”. 

The Council resolution calls for review of specific cases raised by the UN, where access to vaccinations is being hampered and to “consider what further measures may be necessary to ensure such impediments are removed and hostilities paused.” 

Vaccine deliveries 

Tedros noted that Côte d’Ivoire had received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with more to be shipped to other countries in the days and weeks ahead – with the goal of getting vaccination underway in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. 

Crediting the UN-led vaccine initiative COVAX, he said that fragile progress has been made, but that vaccine supplies and distributions must be accelerated. 

However, he warned against bilateral deals with manufacturers producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on. 

“I understand full well that all governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But the best way to do that is by suppressing the virus everywhere at the same time”, underscored the WHO chief. 

“Now is the time to use every tool to scale up production, including licensing and technology transfer, and where necessary, intellectual property waivers. If not now, then when?”, he added. 

Yemen: ‘Opportunity for peace’ 

In a bid for more funding, the WHO chief said that Yemen remained the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people desperately needing assistance. Some five million are at risk of famine, while half a million children under-five risk death without urgent treatment and the continuing spectre of COVID-19. 

“This current crisis comes at a time, after years of conflict, when there is now a real opportunity for peace in Yemen. We have to act on it”, he said, urging donors to generously support the 2021 Response Plan for $3.85 billion during a High-Level Pledging Event next Monday. 

Strategic Preparedness  

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, WHO officially launched its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for 2021.  

It builds on achievements, focuses on new challenges, such as mitigating risks related to new variants, and considers the road towards the safe, equitable and effective delivery of diagnostics and vaccines as part of the overall strategy to successfully tackle the pandemic, according to the WHO chief. 

“The 2021 SPRP outlines how WHO will support countries in meeting these objectives, and the resources we need to do it”, he said.   

Proud son of Ethiopia  

During a separate ceremony, Tedros said he was “deeply humbled” to receive the African Person of the Year award.  

“I do not accept this award only on my own behalf, but on behalf of my colleagues at WHO, who work every day, sometimes in difficult and dangerous situations, to protect and promote the health of Africa’s people, and the world’s”, he said.

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Condemnation over new attack on Nigeria school, ‘more than 300’ girls missing

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Peace and Security - An attack on a secondary school in northwest Nigeria on Friday in which several hundred girls are still missing, has been strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General, and UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. 

The UNICEF representative in the country, Peter Hawkins, urged the assailants to let the teenagers go immediately, after the latest in a recent spate of outrages perpetrated against youngsters, this time in Zamfara state. 

“We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” Mr. Hawkins said. “This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being.”  

The Secretary-General António Guterres called for the "immediate and unconditional release of the abducted children and for their safe return to their families", in  statement issued by his Spokesperson.

"He reiterates that attacks on schools and other educational facilities constitute a grave violation of the rights of children and human rights more broadly", the statement said. "He stresses that schools must remain safe spaces for children to learn without fear of violence" and urged the Nigerian authorities to "spare no efforts in bringing those responsible for this crime to justice. "

Way of life 

Such incidents have become “a way of life” to many in Nigeria, Mr. Hawkins told UN News in an exclusive interview, recorded before Friday’s development. 

Bandits hoping to make quick cash by forcing the families and authorities to pay ransom money their hostages, often target institutions just out of reach of State control and usually in rural areas, he explained. 

It comes after dozens of boys and teachers were taken from a college housing borders, in central Nigeria’s Niger state last week; they have yet to be released. 

Night assault 

According to reports, Friday’s incident attack happened in the middle of the night at the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state. 

“We utterly condemn the attack and call on those responsible to release the girls immediately and for the government to take steps to ensure their safe release and the safety of all other schoolchildren in Nigeria”, Mr. Hawkins said. 

“Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning.” 

After acknowledging the efforts of the Government of Nigeria to secure the release of kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria, the UNICEF official urged the authorities “to make schools safe”. 

Boko Haram threat 

In addition to these armed gangs operating in Nigeria’s northwest, north-central and northern states, Boko Haram extremists still control vast areas of the northeast. 

Nearly seven years ago, Boko Haram - whose name is usually translated as “western education is forbidden" - took 276 girls from their school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria. Many of them remain missing. 

Access to schooling is key 

Despite the dangers - and because of them - humanitarians believe that education should remain a priority for governments, who should also boost access to lessons for the most vulnerable. 

Highlighting how progress is being made against the extremists in the former Boko Haram stronghold of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, UNICEF’s Peter Hawkins happily described how “thousands of children, tens of thousands of children” have now returned to the classroom – something that not have been imagined during the extremists’ insurgency, which began in 2009. 

Miraculous change is possible 

“If you went to Maidiguri in 2015-2016, there was nothing happening, no schools”, he said. “If you go there now…there are traffic jams of KKs - the three-wheelers around the city transporting children…girls and boys. It’s a miraculous change that has taken place.”  

Friday’s school attack comes just over a week after a similar attack in Niger state on a school for boys. UNICEF is working with partners to confirm the exact number of kidnapped students, currently estimated to be more than 300. 

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Pandemic pushing people ‘even further behind’, UN rights chief warns

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Human Rights - As the COVID-19 pandemic gathers pace, people worldwide are “being left behind – or pushed even further behind”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned on Friday. 

Delivering a global update to the Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet said people everywhere were being excluded from not only development, but also opportunities.  

At the same time, civil society activists were being denied the right to voice opposition to government. 

“This makes us all weaker”, she told the virtual meeting. “It heightens grievances that are destabilizing. It means we miss perspectives and expertise that could inform and strengthen our initiatives. It shields corruption and abuses, by silencing feedback.” 

Engage the public 

While acknowledging the major health and financial challenges facing governments in the pandemic, the rights chief underlined that “a country's people are its leader's finest and most important resource” and must be involved in policy making. 

“Participation is a right – and it is also a means that ensures better, more effective policy,” she said.  “To help heal harms, bridge deep fractures, and lead change that meets expectations, every society, and every leader, needs to engage the public's participation, fully and meaningfully.” 

The High Commissioner’s speech addressed human rights issues in some 50 countries. 

Improve social protection 

She welcomed the cessation of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, announced in November by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Russian Federation, and called for investigations into all alleged violations that occurred during fighting there. 

Moving to Asia and the Pacific, Ms. Bachelet encouraged governments to improve social protection systems as the pandemic has shown their value. On average, countries devote less than two per cent of GDP to social protection, compared with the global average of 11 per cent, she said.  

The UN rights chief addressed the “serious concentration” in civic space across Southeast Asia, including what she described as “the alarming situation” in Myanmar, where the military seized power at the beginning of the month. 

Turning to India, she said ongoing protests by thousands of farmers in India highlight the importance of having laws and policies based on consultations with concerned parties. 

“Charges of sedition against journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on the protests, and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media, are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles”, she added. 

Tackle remaining issues 

In the Americas, Ms. Bachelet welcomed “broad new measures” to tackle structural inequalities and racism in the United States, which include action to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies.  

“We also welcome new steps to end several migration policies that violated the human rights of migrants and refugees, including executive orders to end the family separation policy. I encourage further measures to tackle remaining issues, such as the massive detention of migrants, through the implementation of alternatives to detention”, she added. 

A decade on from the “Arab Spring”, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa continue to suffer very serious inequalities, as repressive policies have been strengthened in some cases.  

“Despite these setbacks, I remain optimistic that justice and human rights can be realized across the Middle East and North Africa – and that progress in this direction will ensure deep and lasting progress for development and peace,” Ms. Bachelet said. 

© UNICEF/Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Children stand outside the tent where they live in a remote desert camp in southern rural Homs, Syria.

Syria’s ‘grim anniversary’ 

Next month will mark 10 years since the start of the Syrian crisis, which the High Commissioner called a “grim anniversary”. She expressed hope that the Constitutional Committee will realize “tangible progress” and that the international community will work to bridge divides while also putting the needs of Syrians first.   

Ms. Bachelet underscored that humanitarians and human rights workers must have immediate access to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where government and regional forces have been clashing since November. She said credible investigations into allegations of violations such as mass killings, extrajudicial executions and other attacks on civilians are critical. 

The human rights chief warned that the conflict in Tigray, coupled with rising insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights, underlining the need for a peaceful solution.

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USA: Rights experts call for reforms to end police brutality, systemic racism

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Human Rights - Independent UN human rights experts appealed on Friday for the new United States Government to adopt wide ranging reforms to end police violence and address systemic racism and racial discrimination. 

Affected communities must be included in shaping these reforms, which include diverting funding from policing to alternate safety measures, they added. 

“We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the excessive force used by American police in the context of peaceful demonstrations, and the use of lethal force against individuals who did not present a threat to life at the time of the police intervention”, the experts said in a statement. 

“In this time of political change, the United States must initiate far-reaching reforms to address police brutality and systemic racism.” 

Excessive force used 

African American communities have long decried police brutality and racial profiling. 

The issue gained global attention last year when protests broke out across the US, some of them violent, following the death of George Floyd, the unarmed African American man whose death while in police custody was captured on video. 

The rights experts welcomed a recent report on protest response in the city of Philadelphia which found authorities failed to sufficiently plan for the demonstrations and that excessive force had been used. 

They urged other municipalities to assess their response and allegations of systemic racism. 

“In Philadelphia, as in other parts of the country where Black Lives Matter protests took place, law enforcement interventions were not limited to areas where lootings and vandalism had allegedly occurred”, they said. “Police officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and used pepper spray from close range against protesters, residents and bystanders indiscriminately. Tear gas canisters even landed in home yards hurting children.” 

 Revise laws on use of lethal force 

The experts were also concerned that law enforcement officers in the US are allowed to use lethal force whenever it is deemed “reasonable”. They called for relevant legal and policy frameworks to be revised urgently to reflect established international human rights standards. 

“The use of potentially lethal force is an extreme measure, which may be resorted to only when strictly necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury from an imminent threat”, they said. “Likewise, less lethal weapons must be employed only subject to strict requirements of necessity and proportionality, in situations where less harmful measures would be ineffective.” 

Relatedly, they called for reform of laws and policies regarding the use of tear gas, pepper spray and other “so-called less-lethal weapons” during protests. 

“The expanding and improperly regulated use of less-lethal weapons raise serious and dramatic concerns for the respect of the right to life and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment”, the experts said. “They can kill and have killed; they can harm and wound horribly, leading to permanent disability.”  

Against ‘militarisation’ of policing 

Noting the increased “militarisation” of policing, the experts said the use of military equipment by law enforcement cannot be justified, adding that studies show military gear and armored vehicles do not reduce crime or increase officers’ safety. 

With misdemeanours accounting for some 80 per cent arrests in the US, the rights experts said reducing “unnecessary interactions” between the police and community members would lead to decreased violence and deaths. 

“We have witnessed many police killings that have resulted from police action related to petty offences. Instead, non-serious offenses, including minor traffic violations, should be addressed through mechanisms outside the criminal legal system”, they recommended. 

The experts said ensuring equality and justice in law enforcement will require the participation of affected communities, who must be involved in shaping policing and related reforms. 

 “Policing reforms must adopt genuine and substantive measures to dismantle systemic racism in policing, including against racial, ethnic and other minorities, by divestment from current policing budgets and reinvestment in alternative social and economic resources that are vital for the safety of these communities”, they stated. 

“We hope that the new US administration will be able to pursue the necessary reforms with resolve, determination, and a strong political and financial commitment.” 

The role of UN experts 

The 18 experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific thematic issues.  They include members of a Working Group studying racial discrimination faced by people of African descent globally. 

The experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization. 

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UN chief returns to the Bronx for second coronavirus shot

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Health - UN Secretary-General António Guterres  received his second COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies in the Bronx,  New York, on Friday. 

The Secretary-Generally has repeatedly called for the vaccines to be "a global public good", accessible to all people, everywhere.

All UN staffers at UN Headquarters are waiting their turn for the vaccine based on the local rollout plan, and Mr. Guterres is among the first in the Big Apple-based UN family to receive a jab, based on his eligibility - he's over the standard UN retirement aged of 65.  

The UN chief spoke to the site manager, Yaeshea Braddock, while getting his second innoculation about the importance of fair access to all. 

Mr. Guterres said he was privileged to be receiving the vaccine, when "so many areas of the world" were, so far, without access. 

Ms. Braddock told the UN chief that sites such as theirs were providing important access to minority communities, but "it's not everything we need", she added, and she said some visitors were hesitant about taking the vaccine.

"Because of misinformation, because of historical mistrust" on the part of African-Americans, she explained, who had been used for testing "without our knowledge" in previous decades. 

Inclusive process in New York City

"For African-Americans - I am one myself - I think it's particularly important for me to be vaccinated, to show my community that's it's safe and that I believe in it, and that this vaccine process was one of the most studied, with our involvement, in proportion to society...We were included in this process."

New York school workers, first responders, public transit workers and grocery workers join the over-65s in the current list of those eligible for shots within the five boroughs of the city.

In December, Mr. Guterres declared that he would happily receive the vaccine in public, and said that, for him, vaccination is a moral obligation: “Each one of us provides a service to the whole community”, he said, “because there is no longer a risk of spreading the disease.”

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Palestinian elections raise hopes for two-State solution, Middle East Coordinator tells Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Peace and Security - The holding of free and fair elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory will help “clear the path” for restoring a legitimate political horizon to realize a long sought two-State solution, the leading UN diplomat for the region told the Security Council on Friday.

“The depth of the task is daunting, but not insurmountable”, said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. “We must seize emerging opportunities.” 

With the upcoming elections offering just such an occasion, he pointed to the “extraordinarily high” registration rate among Palestinians as a “resoundingly positive” response. 

The elections will provide a crucial step towards re-establishing Palestinian national unity – and renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, including a democratically elected Legislative Council and Government in Palestine, he assured.

Palestinian Progress

He said Palestinian factions are making progress towards holding legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections.  Earlier this month, they met in Cairo, reaching agreement on several outstanding issues and emphasizing that elections must be held throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, without exception.

Meanwhile, on 17 February, the Central Elections Commission announced 421,000 new registrants during the period, he said, raising the total registered voters to over 2.6 million - 93 per cent of all eligible voters, according to estimates from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. “It is encouraging to see such strong public participation in the democratic process”, he said.

International support

For its part, the international community is focused on helping the parties return to the negotiating table, he said.  On 8 February the League of Arab States reiterated its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet – the Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations - met virtually on 15 February to discuss the political developments, with all agreeing to meet on a regular basis. And a Chair’s summary of a 23 February virtual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee highlighted that the parties expressed renewed commitment to enhance cooperation.

For its part, the UN is working with the parties and international partners to address the pressing socioeconomic needs of Palestinians, including in the context of the pandemic.  It is also advancing the goal of ending the occupation and realizing a negotiated two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law and prior agreements.

Vaccine Roll-out

On COVID vaccination prospects, he welcomed the announcement of the Palestinian vaccination strategy and the initial allocation to the Palestinian Ministry of Health of 37,440 doses of vaccines by the COVAX-AMC facility.  In February, 30,000 doses of vaccines were delivered to Palestinians, including in Gaza, by the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates. 

He said this is in addition to Israel’s earlier transfer of 5,200 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, vaccination of 5,000 Palestinian educational and health workers working in Israel, and efforts to vaccinate the population in East Jerusalem, which is 50 per cent complete.

Home demolitions

He went on to describe developments on the ground, expressing concern over Israel’s demolition or seizure of 170 Palestinian structures in Area C and 10 in East Jerusalem.  The demolitions were carried out due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Regional tensions simmer

Turning to the region as a whole, on the Golan, he said the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has been generally maintained. However, the security situation continues to be volatile, with continued violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement by the parties.

In Lebanon, the population faces increasing hardship, due to deteriorating economic conditions and impact of COVID-19. In the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations, incidents of weapons pointing between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces across the Blue Line contributed to heightened tensions.

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UN climate report a ‘red alert’ for the planet: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Climate and Environment - Nations are “nowhere close” to the level of action needed to fight global warming, a UN climate action report said on Friday, urging countries to adopt stronger and more ambitious plans to reach the Paris Agreement goals, and limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, by the end of the century. 

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Initial NDC Synthesis Report measures the progress of national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, ahead of the 26th session of Conference of its Parties (COP26) this November in Glasgow. 

It found that even with increased efforts by some countries, the combined impact falls far short of what is needed. 

“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on the report’s findings. 

2021, a ‘make or break’ year 

He said 2021 is a “make or break year” to confront the global climate emergency.  

“The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must cut global emission by 45 per cent by 2030, from 2010 levels”, he stressed. 

The Secretary-General called on major emitters to “step up with much more ambitious emissions reductions” targets for 2030 in their NDCs, highlighting that COVID-19 recovery plans offered the opportunity to “build back greener and cleaner”. 

“Decision makers must walk the talk. Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need”, Mr. Guterres urged. 

Report, a ‘snapshot, not a full picture’ 

The UNFCCC report covered submissions from countries up to 31 December 2020, showing that 75 Parties to the Framework Convention communicated a new or updated NDC, representing approximately 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, said that the report is a “snapshot, not a full picture” of the NDCs as COVID-19 posed significant challenges for many nations to complete their submissions in 2020.  

She added that a second report will be released prior to COP26, and called on all countries, especially major emitters that have not yet done so, to make their submissions as soon as possible, so that their information can be included in the updated report. 

“We congratulate Parties that rose to the challenges posed by COVID-19 in 2020, honoured their commitments under the Paris Agreement and submitted their NDCs by the deadline … but it’s time for all remaining Parties to step up, fulfil what they promised to do and submit their NDCs as soon as possible”, Ms. Espinosa said. 

“If this task was urgent before, it’s crucial now.” 

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Côte d'Ivoire takes delivery of latest COVAX vaccine shipment, in further boost for Africa

INTERNATIONAL, 26 February 2021, Health - Côte d'Ivoire received 504,000 doses of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine on Friday making it the second African nation in a week to benefit from the first shipments of shots from the UN-backed global COVAX initiative, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported.

The delivery of AstraZeneca/Oxford jabs, following the first historic shipment to Ghana earlier this week, showcases an unprecedented international parternship to provide at least two billion doses of coronavirus shots by the end of this year.

The vaccine doses were shipped by UNICEF from the Indian metropolis of Mumbai, via its regional supply centre, Dubai, to Côte d'Ivoire’s capital, Abidjan, as part of the first wave of vaccines headed to several low and middle income countries.

Equitable shots

"Today is an important first step towards achieving our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it is only the beginning”, said Jean-Marie Vianney Yameogo, the WHO Representative in Côte d'Ivoire, adding that “we are proud that Côte d'Ivoire is among the first countries in Africa to receive the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine through the COVAX Facility.”

As the COVID-19 global pandemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and disrupted billions more, Mr. Yameogo stressed the importance of reducing deaths and bringing the pandemic under control. The vaccine will also help prevent estimated monthly losses of around $375 billion to the global economy.

“Global and equitable access to a vaccine, which will protect health workers and those at greatest risk of contracting the disease in particular, is the only way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on public health and the economy,” underscored Mr. Yameogo.

Moving forward

Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partners are working together to help more countries prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“Vaccines save lives. As health workers and other front-line staff are vaccinated, we will see a gradual return to normality… especially for children”, said Marc Vincent, the UNICEF Representative in Côte d'Ivoire.

“In the spirit of universal health coverage, we must leave no one behind”, he stressed.

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