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General Assembly creates new Permanent Forum of People of African Descent

INTERNATIONAL, 2 August 2021, Human Rights - Capping years of deliberations, the UN General Assembly on Monday established a new platform to improve the lives of Afro-descendants, who have for centuries suffered the ills of racism, racial discrimination and the legacy of enslavement around the globe.

The 193-member body unanimously adopted a resolution establishing the United Nations Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, a 10-member advisory body that will work closely with the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

The new Forum will serve as a consultation mechanism for people of African descent and other stakeholders, and contribute to the elaboration of a UN declaration – a “first step towards a legally binding instrument” on the promotion and full respect of the rights of people of African descent.

‘Compounding inequalities’

Negotiations on the modalities of the Permanent Forum have been under way since November 2014, when the General Assembly officially launched the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).

Through the resolution adopted on Monday – which articulates the new body’s mandate for the first time – the Assembly expressed alarm at the spread of racist extremist movements around the globe, and deplored the “ongoing and resurgent scourges” of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The move comes just days after the Human Rights Council established a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent, and on the heels of a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In that report and various public statements, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has pointed to the “compounding inequalities” and “stark socioeconomic and political marginalization” faced by Africans and people of African descent in many countries.

The report also notes that “no State has comprehensively accounted for the past or for the current impact of systemic racism” and calls for a transformative agenda to tackle violence against Afro-descendants.

UN-wide expert advice

The Permanent Forum of People of African Descent will be made up of five members nominated by Governments and then elected by the General Assembly, and five additional members appointed by the Human Rights Council.

Among other mandates tasks, it will seek to advance the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent in the societies in which they live – as equal citizens without discrimination, and with equal enjoyment of human rights – and contribute to the elaboration of a UN declaration on the rights of persons of African descent.

The Forum will provide expert advice and recommendations to the Human Rights Council, the Assembly’s main committees, and the various UN entities working on issued related to racial discrimination.

Best practices

It will also collect best practices and monitor progress on the effective implementation of the International Decade’s activities, gathering relevant information from Governments, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and other relevant sources.

The first session of the Permanent Forum will be held in 2022, with subsequent annual sessions rotating between Geneva and New York.

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WHO backs football body FIFA’s #ReachOut campaign for mental health

INTERNATIONAL, 2 August 2021, Health - The world football body, FIFA, launched a UN-backed campaign on Monday designed to raise awareness of potentially damaging mental health issues, and encourage people everywhere to seek help when they need it.

The #ReachOut campaign, has teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO), and the influential Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to underscore how important it is to spot symptoms of deteriorating mental health early.

In a joint press release with WHO, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, said: “This campaign is very important in raising awareness about mental health conditions and encouraging a conversation which could save a life.

“In FIFA’s Vision 2020-2023, we pledge our commitment to make football work for society, and I thank the players and Ms. Enke, who have contributed to this important initiative.

Keep talking

Depression and anxiety affect rising numbers of people worldwide, and young people are among the most vulnerable. Having a conversation with family, friends or a healthcare professional, can be key. FIFA is proud to launch this campaign, supported by WHO and ASEAN to encourage people to #ReachOut.”

The campaign features some of soccer’s most legendary players, including Aline, Vero Boquete, Cafu, Laura Georges, Luis García, Shabani Nonda, Patrizia Panico, Fara Williams and Walter Zenga.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is as important as ever to look after our mental and physical health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “WHO is delighted to support the #ReachOut campaign, spearheaded by FIFA, to encourage people to talk about their mental health.”

Depression, suicide

FIFA.com also highlights the former Bolton Wanderers and Team GB forward, Marvin Sordell, and Sonny Pike, who at 14, were labelled the ‘next big thing’, about their experiences living and playing with depression.

Teresa Enke also discusses the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and her work with the Robert Enke Foundation.

Depression affects more than 260 million people in the world while around half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14, according to the news release. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in young people aged 15-29.

Among active football players, 23 per cent report suffering from disturbed sleep, while nine per cent have reported depression and a further seven per cent, suffer from anxiety.

Post-retirement anxiety

Among retired players, these figures increase, with 28% struggling to sleep and depression and anxiety affecting 13% and 11% respectively, said FIFA.

Working from home, unemployment, school closures and social isolation have affected people around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic; the challenges for people with mental health conditions, for whom access to treatment has, in many cases, been disrupted, are even greater.

The video awareness campaign features former greats, current players and special guests, who have lent their support to this mental health campaign, and at times sharing their lived experience.

Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi said, “Mental health and well-being are just as important as physical health and safety. Under the Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam, ASEAN is taking steps to advance cooperation with external partners on mental health, in order to provide the ASEAN Community with the necessary and appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.”

Collaboration

Back in 2019, WHO and FIFA signed a four-year collaboration to promote healthy lifestyles through football globally.

The two organisations jointly launched a campaign to combat COVID-19 in March 2020, to share advice on effective measures to protect people, followed by the #BeActive campaign the following month, to encourage people to stay healthy at home during the pandemic. Next came the #SafeHome campaign launched to support those at risk from domestic violence.

More recently, the two organisations teamed up at the FIFA Club World Cup to #ACTogether to promote the need for fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, and to encourage people to keep practicing life-saving, everyday public health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect health.

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Breastfeeding central to eliminating child malnutrition: Agency chiefs

INTERNATIONAL, 2 August 2021, Health - Two senior UN officials are urging Governments to make breastfeeding-friendly environments a priority, in line with commitments made earlier this year to accelerate global progress on malnutrition. 

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), issued the reminder in a joint statement for World Breastfeeding Week, which runs through 7 August. 

A central role 

They recalled that Governments, donors, civil society and the private sector, united to launch the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, describing it as an historic opportunity to transform the way the world can fulfil the global commitment to eliminate child malnutrition. 

“Breastfeeding is central to realising this commitment,” they said. 

“Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offers a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.  

“Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses,” they added. 

Pandemic threatens progress 

Although prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding increased by 50 per cent globally in the past four decades, alongside other related progress, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of those gains, the UN officials said. 

In many countries, the crisis has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.  

“Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding,” they said. 

Their statement highlighted how World Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity to revisit the commitments made at the start of the year by prioritizing breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.  

Action includes ensuring full implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – established to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry.  

Health workers also should have the resources and information necessary to support mothers to breastfeed. 

Smart investments and commitments 

Meanwhile, employers must allow women the time and space to breastfeed their babies, including paid parental leave with longer maternity leave, safe places for breastfeeding in the workplace, access to affordable and quality childcare, and universal child benefits and adequate wages. 

Looking ahead to the UN Food Systems Summit in New York in September, and the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo two months later, the UN officials called for smart investments and commitments to combat the global malnutrition crisis. 

Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding through stronger policies, programmes and actions, is part of this effort. 

“Now is not the time to lower our ambitions. Now is the time to aim high,” they stressed. 

“We are committed to making the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action a success by ensuring that every child’s right to nutritious, safe and affordable food and adequate nutrition is realized from the beginning of life, starting with breastfeeding.”

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Lace up and join the UN to help win #TheHumanRace against climate change

INTERNATIONAL, 2 August 2021, Humanitarian Aid - The United Nations is encouraging everyone across the world to participate in the literal race against the climate emergency. 

UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, on Monday launched #TheHumanRace, a global challenge to show solidarity with people in the most disaster-prone countries and those hardest hit by climate change. 

‘A race we can win’ 

Organized in partnership with the popular exercise app Strava, the challenge encourages participants to log 100 minutes of physical activity, and culminates in the week of World Humanitarian Day, celebrated annually on 19 August. 

“The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win … let’s lace up our running shoes and win the climate race for us all,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The campaign aims to carry an urgent message to world leaders attending the UN climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow in November, that solidarity begins with developed countries delivering on their decade-old pledge of $100 billion annually for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. 

Support from top athletes 

The climate emergency is wreaking havoc across the world at a scale that people and humanitarian organizations on the front lines cannot manage, OCHA said

Droughts, heatwaves, raging wildfires and horrific floods are shattering the lives of millions of people, causing them to lose their homes, livelihoods and sometimes even their lives. 

Top athletes from across the globe are backing the campaign.  Brazilian ultramarathoner and environmental lawyer Fernanda Maciel explained why she is part of #TheHumanRace. 

“I am excited to run for the most important goal in our lifetime: to save our planet and the people living on it. We run every day, for ourselves. Why not run for something bigger? Everybody should join this campaign because we need compassion. It is time to run together,” she said. 

Delivering the message 

To join the #TheHumanRace, just log your 100 minutes of running, cycling, swimming, walking, or other activity, on the Strava app during the week of 16-31 August. 

Anyone unable to take part physically can also sign up and show their support on the campaign’s microsite: https://www.worldhumanitarianday.org/ 

OCHA said whether or not participants log 100 minutes of activity, each sign-up will help in delivering the campaign’s message to global leaders. 

Strava CEO Michael Horvath underscored that there is strength in numbers. 

“With over 88 million athletes in 195 countries, the Strava community has the power to help unlock solutions to some of the world’s most critical problems,” he said.  “That’s why we invite athletes everywhere to join this challenge to raise awareness of climate change and its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.”  

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A year after the Beirut explosions: a UN Resident Coordinator blog

INTERNATIONAL, 1 August 2021, Humanitarian Aid - On August 4th, 2020, a devastating blast in a warehouse destroyed much of the centre of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Many neighbourhoods were destroyed, downtown Beirut looked like a war zone. Thousands were injured and some 200 people tragically lost their lives on that day and the days that followed. For many, their property and livelihoods were literally blown away.

Najat Rochdi the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon spoke to UN News about how the country has coped over the last 12 months and what the future holds.

“I had only been in my new position of UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon for three days when the devastating explosions ripped through Beirut Port.

The effects of those explosions are still reverberating one year later. The country is striving to find a path to emerge from a tragedy that has touched every single person.

The destructive fallout of August 4th intensified suffering in Lebanon, which was already reeling from civil unrest, economic and financial hardship, increasing poverty, and unemployment, compounded by political deadlock and a soaring number of COVID-19 cases.

A year on from this tragedy, there is deepening hardship and mounting frustration. I met with many Lebanese people who gave voice and face to the deprivation and adversity that so many are experiencing in this country.

The UN's Najat Rochdi (centre) meets with women in Karantina, one of the neighbourhoods damaged by the port explosion.
UN Lebanon/Nayla Hajjar
The UN's Najat Rochdi (centre) meets with women in Karantina, one of the neighbourhoods damaged by the port explosion.

People such as a 59-year-old homeless man called Youssef, whose dream is to have a roof above his head and a door that he can close when he sleeps and Cathy, who is 15, who has the simple desire to own a mobile phone so she can access online learning.

Or Mirna, a 50-year-old teacher who used to make her own living and provide for her family, but can now only afford one meal a day and is obliged to ask for help. She told me with tears in her eyes “They took my dignity”.

UNFPA distributed dignity kits to women in Beirut following the devastating explosion.
UNFPA
UNFPA distributed dignity kits to women in Beirut following the devastating explosion.

Situation ‘worsening by the day’

It is clear to me that the situation of ordinary people in Lebanon is worsening by the day. Currently, the UN estimates that more than one million Lebanese (out of a population of almost eight million, including more than two million refugees and migrants) need relief assistance to cover their basic needs, including access to food, health, education and water. 

In addition, nine out of 10 refugees live in extreme poverty, an increase from 55 per cent from only a year before. Over half of the migrants in Lebanon say they were unable to meet their food needs, and the same number of migrants reported being unemployed (with the majority losing their jobs during the last quarter of 2020).

Lebanon, which not so long ago was a high middle-income country, is now facing probably the worst financial and economic crisis in its modern history; over half of its population is living in poverty. It is perhaps not surprising that many people have lost trust in their leaders and institutions.

The UN estimates that more than one million Lebanese need relief assistance to cover basic needs.
UNDP Lebanon
The UN estimates that more than one million Lebanese need relief assistance to cover basic needs.

Support for a brighter future

Despite the grim viewpoint, I believe, and so do many Lebanese, that the country has strong potential for a brighter future.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosions the United Nations and its partners reacted quickly and decisively to save lives and provide emergency assistance to those affected. $167 million was generously received for the United Nations coordinated flash appeal, one of the best funded appeals in 2020. 

Support was provided to hospitals and health care centres for continuation of basic services, including in relation to COVID-19; damage to houses was assessed and emergency shelter kits distributed to ensure immediate safety and protection; water connections, including pumps and tanks, were re-established; hygiene and baby kits, in addition to in-kind food parcels, were distributed; protection services and psycho-social and mental health support services were provided; resources were allocated for debris clearance efforts. 

Essential repairs were also started for hospitals, primary health care centres, schools and housing, while the humanitarian community transitioned towards multi-purpose cash assistance in support of recovery, livelihoods and local markets.

On the recovery side, the UN, along with the European Union (EU) and the World Bank, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders, developed the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework. Known as 3RF, it is a people-centered programme, anchored in participation, inclusion and social justice.

It’s for the people and felt by them. It envisages a ground-breaking new way of working, which relies on partnerships, that bring together the presidency, government, parliament, civil society, private sector, and international partners, in addition to the EU, World Bank and UN to ensure the reconstruction of critical assets, services, and infrastructure for equal access to quality basic services, as well as the implementation of key reforms. Its forward-looking priorities, programmes and investments, include social inclusion and protection; housing and cultural heritage rehabilitation; municipal services and environment; and business recovery.

Already, thousands of people have received legal assistance to deal with claims arising from the explosions. Several public buildings have been retrofitted with green technologies, health facilities have received critical medical equipment. Several schools and medical facilities have been reconstructed or partially rehabilitated. In this way, Lebanon is beginning the long and arduous process of building back better.

A UNICEF doctor treats a child just days after the explosion.
© UNICEF
A UNICEF doctor treats a child just days after the explosion.

‘Emergency assistance is not the solution’

But also, Lebanon’s recovery must coincide with reform. Emergency assistance is not the solution.
It is regretful that Lebanon’s leaders have been unable to reach agreement on the formation of a new government in the past 10 months, which has delayed urgently needed structural reforms to address the country’s numerous challenges.

This is a critical moment in Lebanon’s history. The combined magnitude, depth and multi-dimensionality of the political, socio-economic and humanitarian crises facing Lebanon is unprecedented and presents an increasingly challenging landscape for the United Nations to implement its mandates.
But ultimately the responsibility for avoiding the total collapse of Lebanon lies primarily in the hands of its leaders.

Peacekeepers from the UN mission, UNIFIL,  assess the magnitude of the blast that destroyed Beirut Port, Lebanon.
UN/Pasqual Gorriz
Peacekeepers from the UN mission, UNIFIL, assess the magnitude of the blast that destroyed Beirut Port, Lebanon.

UN stands by Lebanon

Unfortunately, a year on from my arrival in Lebanon and the explosions which rocked Beirut shortly thereafter, the situation continues to deteriorate. The UN is developing a 12-month Emergency Response Plan that articulates collective priority responses to the critical humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Lebanese and migrants affected by the situation; it complements the support already provided to refugees and host communities. 

This is not a solution. It aims at linking with and preparing the transition towards solutions to address the root causes of the crisis, which will only come from structural reforms and Government-led comprehensive and sustainable development interventions, including the implementation of a full-fledged comprehensive and inclusive Government-led social protection strategy. 

I have been inspired by the spirit, solidarity, and courage of the young Lebanese people. The UN will continue to stand by Lebanon as it continues on the path to recovery and ultimately fulfilling its potential. That said, the greatest capital is the human capital and Lebanon can count on its women and men. Those who pledged not to leave the country despite the situation, those who use their creativity, their entrepreneurship and their commitment to build a better Lebanon. Those are the best hope for Lebanon”.

Read more here about the UN’s work in Lebanon

UN Resident Coordinator

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

INTERNATIONAL, 31 July 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Leading athletes, influencers and innovators have been sharing their thoughts on the role that sport can play in building a better world for all, in UN-led online discussions held to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics.

“Sport becomes something that can change the life of refugees who are living in refugee camps. Because they can achieve something, they can overcome anything that they pass through…and it gives them a platform”, says Pur Biel, a member of the first-ever Olympic Refugee Team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Mr. Biel, a participant in the UN’s SDG Zone at Tokyo series of online talks this week, explained how sport had helped him to live through traumatic experiences in his home country, South Sudan.

The athlete’s experience was echoed by the many other speakers, who shared a common message; that sport can bring about positive transformation in the world, from bringing hope to refugees, to encouraging climate action, and building societies where everyone can excel, regardless of their background.

Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, a former member of Japan’s national football team, stressed the role of sport in building bridges: “whatever you feel in the Games is made possible because the world is playing as one team”, he said. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, added that the values sport promotes, such as mutual respect, teamwork, equality, and fair play, are very similar to those that help to promote the development of peace.

In the video focusing on sustainability and climate action, Hannah Mills, an Olympic sailor and founder of the Big Plastic Pledge movement to end single plastic use, noted that athletes can have a positive influence over the businesses and brands that support them as sponsors.

Ms. Mils was joined by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who returned from his third space flight in May, and Archana Soreng, a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. They agreed that cooperation among different groups, who often have different interests, must come together to save the Earth.

Speaking during the video focusing on diversity in sport, Aya Medany, an former Olympian who represented Egypt in the modern pentathlon, and Etsuko Ogasawara, Executive Director of the Japanese Center for Research on Women in Sport at Juntendo University, described how women are under-represented, particularly as coaches, and other roles supporting athletes.

Fumino Sugiyama, Co-Chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride, an event that celebrates the city’s LGBT community, shared his own struggle to continue his career as an athlete, whilst revealing his transgender identity. “If the world of sport can move in a direction where anyone can truly participate without fear”, he said, “it will help create a society where no one is left behind.”

“Sport is close to people’s lives, bringing joy and inspiration”, noted Kaoru Nemoto, head of the UN Information Centre in Tokyo. “Sport provides us with courage and determination, which are needed more than ever to go through this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these conversations, we hope to highlight the ways that sport serves as an enabler to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, for a greener, more equal, inclusive, and sustainable world for all”.

The UN at the Tokyo Games

The SDG Zone at Tokyo is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC), the United Nations Information Centre Tokyo (UNIC Tokyo), and the Asahi Shimbun Company, a founding member of the SDG Media Compact.

It is the first of the SDG Media Zone series to be organized fully by a DGC country office.

These online discussions will resume between 25 and 27 August, timed with the Paralympic Games, and will include a number of Paralympians, sharing their experiences with leaders from governments, the business sector, and civil society.

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Sink or swim: Can island states survive the climate crisis?

INTERNATIONAL, 31 July 2021, Climate and Environment - Small island nations across the world are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and their problems have been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely affected their economies, and their capacity to protect themselves from possible extinction. We take a look at some of the many challenges they face, and how they could be overcome.

Low emissions, but high exposure

The 38 member states and 22 associate members that the UN has designated as Small Island Developing States  or SIDS are caught in a cruel paradox: they are collectively responsible for less than one per cent of global carbon emissions, but they are suffering severely from the effects of climate change, to the extent that they could become uninhabitable.

Although they have a small landmass, many of these countries are large ocean states, with marine resources and biodiversity that are highly exposed to the warming of the oceans. They are often vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events, such as the devastating cyclones that have hit the Caribbean in recent years, and because of their limited resources, they find it hard to allocate funds to sustainable development programmes that could help them to cope better,for example, constructing more robust buildings that could withstand heavy storms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic situation of many island states, which are heavily dependent on tourism. The worldwide crisis has severely curtailed international travel, making it much harder for them to repay debts. “Their revenues have virtually evaporated with the end of tourism, due to lockdowns, trade impediments, the fall in commodity prices, and supply chain disruptions”, warned Munir Akram, the president of the UN Economic and Social Council in April. He added that their debts are “creating impossible financial problems for their ability to recover from the crisis.”

The aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Barbuda.
UNDP/Michael Atwood
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Barbuda.

Most research indicates that low-lying atoll islands, predominantly in the Pacific Ocean such as the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, risk being submerged by the end of the century, but there are indications that some islands will become uninhabitable long before that happens: low-lying islands are likely to struggle with coastal erosion, reduced freshwater quality and availability due to saltwater inundation of freshwater aquifers. This means that small islands nations could find themselves in an almost unimaginable situation, in which they run out of fresh water long before they run out of land.

Furthermore, many islands are still protected by reefs, which play a key role in the fisheries industry and balanced diets. These reefs are projected to die off almost entirely unless we limit warming below 1.5 degrees celsius

SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
DESA

SDG13: Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change

  • Sustainable Development Goal 13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  • Climate change continues to exacerbate the frequency and severity of natural disasters, including wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and floods. 

Despite the huge drop in global economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of harmful greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere increased in 2002, and the past six years, 2015–2020, are likely to be the six warmest on record.

Climate finance (climate-specific financial support) continues to increase, reaching an annual average of $48.7 billion in 2017-2018. This represents an increase of 10% over the previous 2015–2016 period. While over half of all climate-specific financial support in the period 2017-2018 was targeted to mitigation actions, the share of adaptation support is growing, and is being prioritized by many countries. 

This is a cost-effective approach, because if not enough is invested in adaptation and mitigation measures, more resources will need to be spent on action and support to address loss and damage.

Water shortages exacerbated by climate change are affecting the Maldives' low-lying islands.
UNDP Maldives
Water shortages exacerbated by climate change are affecting the Maldives' low-lying islands.

Switching to renewables

SIDS are dependent on imported petroleum to meet their energy demands. As well as creating pollution, shipping the fossil fuel to islands comes at a considerable cost. Recognizing these problems, some of these countries have been successful in efforts to shift to renewable energy sources.

For example, Tokelau, in the South Pacific, is meeting close to 100 per cent  of its energy needs through renewables, while Barbados, in the Caribbean, is committed to powering the country with 100 per cent renewable energy sources and reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Several SIDS have also set ambitious renewable energy targets: Samoa, the Cook Islands, Cabo Verde, Fiji, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Vanuatu are aiming to increase the share of renewables in their energy mixes, from 60 to 100 per cent, whilst in 2018, Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bond, a pioneering financial instrument to support sustainable marine and fisheries projects.

Sustainable fishing is improving livelihoods in Haiti.
UNDP/Pierre Michel Jean
Sustainable fishing is improving livelihoods in Haiti.

The power of traditional knowledge

The age-old practices of indigenous communities, combined with the latest scientific innovations, are being increasingly seen as important ways to adapt to the changes brought about by the climate crisis, and mitigate its impact. 

In Papua New Guinea, local residents use locally-produced coconut oil as a cheaper, more sustainable alternative to diesel; seafaring vessels throughout the islands of Micronesia and Melanesia in the Pacific are using solar panels and batteries instead of internal combustion; mangrove forests are being restored on islands like Tonga and Vanuatu to address extreme weather as they protect communities against storm surges and sequester carbon; and in the Pacific, a foundation is building traditional Polynesian canoes, or vakas, serving as sustainable passenger and cargo transport for health services, education, disaster relief and research.

Solar panels are maintained at a farm in Mauritius.
UNDP/Stephane Belleros
Solar panels are maintained at a farm in Mauritius.

Strategies for survival

While SIDS have brought much needed attention to the plight of vulnerable nations, much remains to be done to support them in becoming more resilient, and adapting to a world of rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

On average, SIDS are more severely indebted than other developing countries, and the availability of “climate financing” (the money which needs to be spent on a whole range of activities which will contribute to slowing down climate change) is of key importance. 

More than a decade ago, developed countries committed to jointly mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in support of climate action in developing countries; the amount these nations are receiving is rising, but there is still a significant financing gap. A recently published UN News feature story explains how climate finance works, and the UN’s role.

Beyond adaptation and resilience to climate change, SIDS also need support to help them thrive in an ever-more uncertain world. The UN, through its Development Programme (UNDP), is helping these vulnerable countries in a host of ways, so that they can successfully diversify their economies; improve energy independence by building up renewable sources and reducing dependence on fuel imports; create and develop sustainable tourism industries, and transition to a “blue economy”, which protects and restores marine environments.

A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.
UNDP/Yuichi Ishida
A woman harvests salt in a mangrove in Timor-Leste.
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Mercenaries ‘impede’ peace, must leave Libya to allow elections

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2021, Peace and Security - The continued recruitment and presence of mercenaries in Libya is impeding “progress in the peace process” and an obstacle to upcoming elections, independent UN human rights experts said on Friday, calling for their “long overdue” departure. 

“Nine months after the ceasefire agreement calling for withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, mercenaries and private military and security contractors continue to operate in the country” said the chair of the UN’s Working Group on the use of mercenariesJelena Aparac

Destabilizing presence 

Some of the highly armed and well-trained private contractors operating in the country, hailing from Russia, Syria, Sudan and Chad, meet the criteria for mercenaries, according to the Working Group. 

In addition to the dangers they pose within Libya, the independent experts warned that they could also threaten the security and stability of other nations in the region. 

The UN experts stressed that these mercenary and mercenary-related actors must leave immediately, and that there must be an immediate end to the transfer of military weapons and supplies into Libya.  

We appeal to the international community to take concrete steps to aid this process”, Ms. Aparac said. 

Precondition to peaceful elections 

In the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which took place in Tunisia last November, participants agreed on a roadmap to credible, inclusive and democratic national elections, to be held on 24 December 2021. 

The independent experts stress that the removal of all mercenaries is a vital precondition to peaceful elections. 

“If elections are to be held in December 2021 as scheduled, Libyans should be able to undertake that process in a safe and secure environment, and the presence of these actors impedes that”, said Ms. Aparac.  

Young boys stand in front of a destroyed building in Benghazi Old Town in Libya. (file)
UNOCHA/Giles Clarke
Young boys stand in front of a destroyed building in Benghazi Old Town in Libya. (file)

Escalating conflict 

In June of last year, the Working Group warned that Libya’s reliance on mercenaries and related actors since 2019 had contributed to an escalation of conflict, undermined the peace process and breached the UN Security Council’s existing arms embargo.  

At that time, they urged governments to investigate all allegations of human rights violations and humanitarian law violations. 

“A year on, and looking forward to elections, we remain concerned that any political process aiming to establish sustainable peace has to include a genuine commitment to human rights”, the experts said.  

“There must be real accountability for abuses committed by mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private contractors.” 

Since the 2011 fall of former ruler Muammar Gadaffi, oil-rich Libya has descended into crises on multiple fronts. 

Up until the recent political breakthroughs, the country had essentially been divided between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and a rival administration, led by General Haftar, who commands the western-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). 

The Working Group consists of five independent experts: Chair Rapporteur Jelena Aparac, Lilian Bobea, Sorcha MacLeod, Chris Kwaja and Ravindran Daniel, who were appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on the situation in the country. They are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.

The Working Group consists of five independent experts: Chair Rapporteur Jelena Aparac, Lilian Bobea, Sorcha MacLeod, Chris Kwaja and Ravindran Daniel, who were appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on the situation in the country. They are neither UN staff nor paid for their work. 

Historic achievement    

Meanwhile, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomed the opening of a key road that stretches along the length of Libya’s coastline, the most populated part of the country, which was cut between the cities of Misrata and Sirte. 

In addition to other significant confidence-building measures, such as the resumption of flights and exchange of detainees, Ján Kubiš, Special Envoy for Libya and UNSMIL head, called the road opening “a critical step” to further the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement of 23 October 2020 and, “equally importantly”, to allow the free movement of commerce, humanitarian support and the people of Libya. 

"The next major step in the Ceasefire Agreement’s implementation process is to commence the withdrawal of all mercenaries, foreign fighters, and forces from Libya without delay, starting with the withdrawal of the first groups of foreign mercenaries and fighters from both sides”, he said. 

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Six months after coup, Myanmar’s political, rights and aid crisis is worsening

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2021, Humanitarian Aid - It’s been six months since the military coup in Myanmar where there’s grave concern over the widening impact of the deepening political, human rights and humanitarian crisis affecting the country’s people.

Speaking to UN News, the organisation’s top aid official in Myanmar, Acting Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator Ramanathan Balakrishnan, described how people have been severely impacted across the country since the junta’s power grab on 1 February.

Highlighting the ongoing nature of armed resistance to State security forces “in several ethnic minority areas” including in the states of Shan, Chin and Kachin, the UN official said that more than 200,000 people had been uprooted from their homes there to date.

Displacement swelling

In Rakhine state before the coup, the UN Humanitarian Response Plan pointed to some one million people including internally displaced people in need of urgent assistance, but “this number has only swelled”, Mr. Balakrishnan insisted.

More widely, “following the coup, an additional two million were identified as those in urgent need of humanitarian aid, and those were largely in the urban areas of Yangon and Mandalay”, he said, adding that the intensification of clashes and the worsening socio-economic situation was pushing “tens of thousands of people” into a humanitarian space” every day.

Echoing concerns over rights abuses by UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and others, Mr. Balakrishnan condemned the ongoing and widespread use of lethal force by the military against civilian protesters.

Rising hunger

Looking ahead, the UN’s priorities include ensuring that millions of people do not fall further into hunger, the aid official said. “There has been an increase in the price of basic commodities for many people…this has also resulted in a reduction of the nutrition value of the food basket that people usually take as they substitute their regular food with cheaper, more readily available items.”

Turning to Myanmar’s health system, which is facing extreme pressure because of the coronavirus crisis, as well as attacks on medical personnel and facilities in Myanmar - and a civil disobedience movement by some health professionals - Mr. Balakrishnan warned that even basic services had been disrupted across the country.

Standing with Myanmar’s people

In a message of solidarity, the top aid official insisted that the UN remained committed to respecting the will of the country’s people.

This was despite limited access to parts of the country linked to security concerns and disruption to the banking system, which limited the UN’s ability to transfer funds to humanitarian partners responsible for delivering aid.

The UN will continue to call out human rights violations and is committed to stay and deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, in addition to sending in the COVID-19 response,” Mr. Balakrishnan said.

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Delta variant, a warning the COVID-19 virus is getting ‘fitter and faster’

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2021, Health - Cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 continue to climb worldwide, mostly fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has spread to 132 countries, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.

Almost 4 million cases worldwide were reported last week to WHO and the agency expects the total number of cases to pass 200 million, in the next two weeks.

“And we know this is an underestimate”, underscored Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus during his regular COVID-19 briefing.

Infections have increased in every region of the world, with some even reaching 80 per cent more in the past month. In Africa, deaths have increased by 80 per cent over the same period, the official warned.

Overwhelmed

Tedros blamed the rise of cases on increased social mixing and mobility, the inconsistent use of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccine use. He said “hard-won gains” are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are increasingly overwhelmed.

“WHO has warned that the COVID-19 virus has been changing since it was first reported, and it continues to change. So far, four variants of concern have emerged, and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread”, he underscored.

Patients receive treatment in the COVID-19 care centre at the Commonwealth Games Village (CWG) in New Delhi, India.
© UNICEF/Amarjeet Singh
Patients receive treatment in the COVID-19 care centre at the Commonwealth Games Village (CWG) in New Delhi, India.

A higher viral load

Lead WHO epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, explained that the Delta variant has certain mutations that allow the virus to adhere to human cells more easily and that experts are also seeing a higher viral load in individuals infected.

She called Delta “dangerous and the most transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus to date”. 

“There are some laboratory studies that suggest that there’s increase replication in some of the modelled human airway systems”, she added.

In terms of severity, Dr. Van Kerkhove highlighted that there has been an increase in hospitalizations in certain countries affected by the variant, “but we haven’t yet seen an increase in mortality”.

The WHO expert reminded that although there is some data that suggest that people vaccinated can get infected and transmit the variant, the likelihood is much reduced after the second dose has been administered and reached full effectiveness.

She also clarified that Delta is not specifically targeting children as some reports have suggested, but warned that as long as the variants are circulating, they will infect anybody that is not taking proper precautions.

Continuing to evolve

“It’s in the virus’s interests to evolve, viruses are not alive they don’t have a brain to think through this, but they become more fit the more they circulate, so the virus will likely become even more transmissible because this is what viruses do, they evolve they change overtime”, Dr. Van Kerkhove warned, echoing Tedros’ remarks.

We have to do what we can to drive it down”, she added, reminding that public health and social measures do work against the Delta variant, and that the vaccines do prevent disease and death.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies, said that even with the virus getting “faster and fitter” the gameplan does not change, but It needs to be implemented more efficiently.

“Delta is a warning that this virus is evolving, but it is also a call to action before more dangerous variants emerge”, he said.

Shots for Africa

Last month, the WHO chief announced the setting up of a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines In South Africa as part of WHO’s efforts to scale up production of vaccines and their distribution in Africa.

“Today we have taken another step forward, with a letter of intent that sets out the terms of collaboration signed by the partners in the hub: WHO; the Medicines Patent Pool; Afrigen Biologics; the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa; the South African Medical Research Council and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention”, Tedros explained.

He added that WHO’s goal remains to aid every country in vaccinating at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year.

“We are a long way off achieving those targets. So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only 3 countries have vaccinated 70%”, Tedros warned.

The WHO head reminded that the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust, despite expert warnings and appeals, and said that all regions remain at risk, “none more so, than Africa”.

“On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September”, he cautioned.

New tool to fight Delta

Tedros also announced that on response to the Delta surge, the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is launching the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, and issuing an urgent call for 7.7 billion U.S. dollars for tests, treatments and vaccines. 

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