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Food’s a human right, not just ‘a commodity to be traded’: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, UN Affairs - Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Two billion are overweight or obese and yet 462 million, are underweight. Nearly a third of all food that is produced, is lost or wasted.  

These are just some of the problems and contradictions laid bare by the UN Secretary-General on Thursday at the opening of the landmark UN Food Systems Summit, that is bringing together farmers and fishers, youth, Indigenous Peoples, Heads of State, governments and many more, in an effort to transform the sector and get the world back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

For António Guterres, “change in food systems is not only possible, it is necessary”; for the people, for the planet and for prosperity.  

The UN chief warned, though, that COVID-19 has made the challenge much greater. 

The pandemic has deepened inequalities, decimated economies, plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries.  

At the same time, Mr. Guterres said, the world is “waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest”, with ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems. 

Food systems also generate one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, he added. And they’re responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.  

Solutions 

Over the last 18 months, through national dialogues, governments gathered businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems across 148 countries. Over 100,000 people came together to discuss and debate solutions.  

From those discussions, came many proposals. Mr. Guterres chose to highlight three key areas of action.  

Support health and well-being 

First, there’s a need for food systems that support the health and well-being of all people. 

Recalling that nutritious and diverse diets are often too costly or inaccessible, Mr. Guterres said he is pleased to see many Member States rallying around universal access to nutritious meals in schools. 

Protect the planet 

Second, he argued that the world needs food systems that protect the planet.  

“It is possible to feed a growing global population while also safeguarding our environment. And it takes countries coming to COP26 in Glasgow with bold, targeted plans to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “The war on our planet must end, and food systems can help us build that peace.” 

Support prosperity 

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks
Farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks, by © FAO//Fredrik Lerneryd

Third, and finally, food systems need to support prosperity.  

“Not just the prosperity of businesses and shareholders. But the prosperity of farmers and food workers, and indeed, the billions of people worldwide who depend on this industry for their livelihoods,” argued the UN chief.  

Highlighting the selfless workers who have toiled in the fields and transported food during the deadly pandemic, he said “these women and men have been the unsung heroes of the last 18 months.”  

Despite that, “too often, these workers are underpaid, even exploited.”  

COVID-19 recovery 

These systems represent 10 per cent of the global economy and, because of that, Mr. Guterres believes they “can be a powerful driver for an inclusive and equitable recovery from COVID-19.” 

To make that a reality, though, he said governments need to shift their approach on agricultural subsidies, and employment support for workers.  

They also need to re-think how they see and value food, “not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares.” 

The Secretary-General assured that the UN would continue towards this end, together with the international community. The organization is convening a follow-up summit, in two years, to take stock of the progress.  

In the meantime, the UN chief said more businesses need to join in the work and the voice of civil society needs to continue pressing for change.  

“And throughout, we need the engagement of the people at the centre of our food systems. Family farmers, herders, workers, Indigenous Peoples, women, young people. Let’s learn from each other, and be inspired by one another, as we work together to achieve the SDGs,” he concluded. 

In his Chair Summary and Statement of Action, the Secretary-General also pointed to five action areas emerging from the Summit: provide nourishing food for all, boost nature-based solutions, advance equitable livelihoods, decent work and empowered communities, build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses, and, finally, accelerating the means of implementation.

Speaking at the opening of the event, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Food System's Summit, Agnes M. Kalibata, said "food systems have incredible power to end hunger, build healthier lives, and sustain our beautiful planet." 

'Priceless piece'

The President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said it was crucial to change the way we produce and consume food "by shifting to methods that are resilient to shocks, more environmentally friendly, and enhance individual health and well-being.

"Every nook of this planet has its own microclimate, its own unique growing conditions", the first Maldivian to hold the top job in the Assembly added. "Through a combination of natural selection and trial-and-error, farming communities all over the planet have, over the course of centuries, developed varieties uniquely suited to their locale. The diverse food of the planet, and the seeds they come from, are a priceless piece of our humanity."

Experts show concern 

Highlighting the intense level of debate over the issue of food production, on the eve of the Summit, three independent UN human rights experts said they were deeply concerned that the event would not be a “people’s summit” as promised. 

They voiced concerns that it could leave behind the most marginalized and vulnerable. 

According to the Human Rights Council-appointed experts, who were involved in the Summit preparation, the event “claims to be inclusive, but it left many participants and over 500 organizations representing millions of people, feeling ignored and disappointed.” 

In a joint statement, they say “the Summit may unfortunately present human rights to governments as an optional policy instead of a set of legal obligations.” 

The experts fear that there is a risk the Summit would serve the corporate sector “more than the people, who are essential to ensuring our food systems flourish, such as workers, small producers, women, and Indigenous Peoples.”  

The statement is signed by Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. 

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UN chief: Window to avert devasting climate impacts ‘rapidly closing’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Climate and Environment - No region is immune to climate disasters the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday, warning that “our window of opportunity” to prevent the worst climate impacts is “rapidly closing”.

Drawing attention to the “deeply alarming” report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month, Secretary-General António Guterres spelled out that “much bolder climate action is needed” to maintain international peace and security.

He urged the G20 industrialized nations to step up and drive action before the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in early November.

‘Risk multipliers’

Against the backdrop of wildfires, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather events, the UN chief said that “no region is immune”.

And he pointed out that the climate crisis is “particularly profound” with compounded by fragility and conflict.

Describing climate change and environmental mismanagement as “risk multipliers”, he explained that last year, climate-related disasters displaced more than 30 million people and that 90 per cent of refugees come from countries least able to adapt to the climate crisis.

Many of these refugees are hosted by States also suffering the impacts of climate change, “compounding the challenge for host communities and national budgets”, Mr. Guterres told ambassadors, adding that the COVID pandemic is also undermining governments’ ability to respond to climate disasters and build resilience.

Prioritizing actions

Maintaining that “it is not too late to act”, the top UN official highlighted three “absolute priorities”, beginning with capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To avert catastrophic climate impacts, he urged all Member States to up their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – plans through which countries commit to increasingly ambitious climate action – before COP26 and to translate those commitments into “concrete and immediate action”.

“Collectively, we need a 45 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030”, he said.

‘Forgotten half’

To address the dire impacts of climate disruption, Mr. Guterres stressed the need for adaptation and resilience, which he maintained requires committing at least half of global climate finance to build resilience and support adaptation.

“We simply cannot achieve our shared climate goals – nor achieve hope for lasting peace and security – if resilience and adaptation continue to be the forgotten half of the climate equation”, he said.

Mutual reinforcement

Climate adaptation and peacebuilding “can and should reinforce each other”, he said, highlighting cross-border projects in West and Central Africa that have “enabled dialogue and promoted more transparent management of scarce natural resources”.

And noting that “women and girls face severe risks from both climate change and conflict”, he underscored the importance of their “meaningful participation and leadership” to bring “sustainable results that benefit more people”.

The UN is integrating climate risks into conflict prevention, peacebuilding initiatives and its political analysis, the Secretary-General explained.

“The Climate Security Mechanism is supporting field missions, country teams and regional and sub-regional organizations…[and] work is gaining traction in countries and regions where the Security Council has recognized that climate and ecological change are undermining stability”, he said.

Recurrent drought and the resulting competition over resources has led to conflict in Somalia in recent decades.
UNDP Somalia
Recurrent drought and the resulting competition over resources has led to conflict in Somalia in recent decades.

Treading lightly

Acknowledging that 80 per cent of the UN’s own carbon emissions come from its six largest peacekeeping operations, Mr. Guterres said the Organization had to do better.

He assured that the UN is working on new approaches to shift to renewable energy producers, which will continue “beyond the lifetime of our missions”.

We are all part of the solution. Let us all work together to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption to build peaceful and resilient societies”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Moment to act

Chairing the meeting, Ireland's Prime Minister, Micheál Martin underscored the importance for the 15-member body to take a greater role in climate assessment and mitigation, including through peacekeeping operations and mandates.

“People affected by climate change-driven conflict depend on this Council for leadership”, he said. “Now is the moment for the Council to act”.

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Call to action: Prevent gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Women - Top UN officials met in the margins of the 76th General Assembly on Thursday,  with a strong call to action to stamp out gender-based violence (GBV), amid a rise in forced displacement and other humanitarian emergencies around the globe.

GBV includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm – or other forms of suffering, coercion and limits on personal freedoms - and has “long-term consequences on the sexual, physical and psychological health of survivors”, according to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA).

These are being driven increasingly by conflict, climate change, famine and insecurity, heightening vulnerabilities for girls and women.

‘Willingness to act'

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem told the meeting on Localizing GBV in humanitarian crises, that peace, justice and dignity are the “birthright of every woman and girl”.

She spoke of the agency’s “clear and ambitious” 2021-2025 Roadmap, which reflects a shared vision and underscored the need to create new pathways to ensure those rights.

Emphasizing the need for accountability “to ourselves and each other”, Ms. Kanem said that as the lead UN agency on the issue, “UNFPA is committed to standing strong”.

She said there was a strong will to act, “to do something about gender-based violence”, she added, stressing the importance of putting the voices of women “at the heart of what we do”

Ms. Kanem pledged to funnel 43 per cent of UNFPA’s humanitarian funding to national and local women’s organizations, saying “now more than ever, they need us”.

Afghanistan: ‘Important reminder’

Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called the situation in Afghanistan “an important reminder of the primary vulnerability of women and girls in crises”.

He highlighted the vital role of women-led local communities, pointing out that they act as first responders to crisis.

Recalling a recent trip to Ethiopia, where he heard first-hand accounts of the traumas suffered by women in Tigray, he said that it was the local communities who first responded to the atrocities, which underscores the “absolute importance” of listening to women, protecting women and girls, and “protecting local communities to do what they naturally want to do”.

The protection of women is one of the least-funded parts of the humanitarian programme, Mr. Griffiths said.

Getting the word out

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said to deliver on “the ambitious call to action”, it is important to “get the word out” to the girls and women on the ground about the services available.

After a short, informal marriage, a transient 15-year-old Ethiopian girl was severely stabbed when the man  who had deserted her after promising to see her to Yemen, flew into a jealous rage.

“This has not been clear at all”, Ms. Fore stated.

She spoke of the UNICEF report We Must Do Better, which provides a global feminist assessment of the experiences of women and girls, and the organizations they lead, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report highlighted that the needs of women and girls are either ignored or treated as an afterthought; and that despite being on the front lines of humanitarian crises, women are not taken seriously enough.

And although the demand for GBV services has increased during COVID, the resources have not, said Ms. Fore, calling for greater support for local women’s groups, including financially.

Bureaucratizing assistance

Fighting GBV is an important priority for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), High Commissioner Filippo Grandi assured participants, especially in situations of forced displacements, which are “rife” with opportunities.

He acknowledged that during humanitarian crises as everyone is moving quickly, too often the critical role of local women’s organizations are overlooked.

The top UNHCR official said that providing “substantive, flexible, direct and rapid” resources to women-led, community-based organizations without undue red tape is “one of the most important” ways to empower them.

He conceded however, “this is a difficult call” as humanitarian funding is follow the trend of being “bureaucratized”.

Click here to watch the the meeting in its entirety. 

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UNICEF: Haiti children vulnerable to ‘violence, poverty and displacement’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Migrants and Refugees - As Haiti continues to reel from the “triple tragedy” of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern on Thursday that two-thirds of Haitian migrants expelled from the United States border in recent days are women and children – including newborns with “specific and immediate needs”.

“When children and families are sent back without adequate protection, they find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement – factors that drove them to migrate in the first place”, said Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

A rocky road

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has been long plagued with poverty, civil unrest, political and economic instability.

Children should never be returned to situations where their basic safety and wellbeing are at risk -- UNICEF chief

Last month, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, upending lives, destroying markets, roads and irrigation systems. And just days after the seismic event, Tropical Storm Grace amped up the suffering with additional damages.

Wanting to secure a better life, thousands of Haitians – many of whom have been living outside their homeland for years - have fled to Mexico with the hope of entering the US.

They have been met with a show of force from border agents in Texas, with scenes broadcast around the world of horse-mounted officers violently corralling migrants, evoking tactics widely used in the slave-era South.

On Thursday morning, the US special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest over the deportation of Haitian migrants by plane from the border area, a process which began last weekend, after more than 13,000 migrants had gathered and set up camp, under a bridge.

UNICEF urged authorities to “refrain from any use of force at borders, to keep families together, and to properly assess migrants’ protection needs before any decision on return is made”. 

Children should never be returned to situations where their basic safety and wellbeing are at risk”, said the UN agency. 

Haiti is the one of poorest countries in the world, where many people are forced to live from handouts from humanitarian agencies.
IFRC
Haiti is the one of poorest countries in the world, where many people are forced to live from handouts from humanitarian agencies.

Early evaluations

Initial assessments in Mexico and Haiti suggest that many of the children under age 10 were either born outside Haiti or lived most of their lives in another country.

Zeroing-in on Haitian migrant families camped in the southwest Texas border town of Del Rio, UNICEF estimated that about 40 per cent were children who “live in overcrowded and inadequate conditions and need basic humanitarian support”.

News reports said that more than 1,400 Haitians have been returned from the area, since the deportations began.

Children must ‘trump all’

Meanwhile UNICEF continues to work for children and families to receive basic assistance, including in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, where it will help with child protection services and deliver drinking water, hygiene kits, mobile toilets and handwashing stations.

In Haiti, the agency is coordinating with national authorities and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide the returning children with psychosocial support, protection services and education supplies.

But more support is needed to provide these families with the life-saving assistance they need.

The best interests of children must trump all other considerations”, underscored the UNICEF chief.

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UN chief appeals for countries to sign nuclear test-ban treaty

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Peace and Security - UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday again urged eight key countries which have not yet signed or ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), to do so without delay.

His request came in remarks to the latest conference to promote the treaty’s entry into force, which were delivered by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu.

Near universal acceptance

The CTBT was adopted in 1996 and has been signed by 185 countries, and ratified by 170 of them, including three nuclear weapons-holding States: France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

However, for the Treaty to enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, eight of which have yet to ratify the Treaty: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

The last Annex 2 State to ratify the Treaty was Indonesia on 6 February 2012.

The Secretary-General stated that a prohibition on nuclear testing is an essential element of a nuclear weapons-free world.

The CTBT “has created an almost universally adopted norm against the testing of nuclear weapons,” he added.

‘Disappointing and frustrating’

The UN chief applauded the Preparatory Commission, the office working to achieve the treaty’s entry into force, for its tireless efforts in establishing a proven, robust and global verification system that can conduct real-time monitoring of nuclear tests anywhere in the world.

“Given its necessity and readiness, it is both disappointing and frustrating that the Treaty has not yet entered into force. We all know the reason for this – the eight remaining Annex II States whose ratifications are required for the Treaty’s entry-into-force,” he said.

“As a result, a critical element of our collective security cannot be fully operationalized. I repeat my call to these States to sign and ratify the CTBT as soon as possible. I also call on all other States that have not yet signed or ratified the treaty to do so without delay.”

‘State of limbo’

The Secretary-General expressed hope that the day will come when the Article XIV Conference will no longer need to be convened. It has been held every other year since 1999.

“We have remained in this state of limbo for too long,” he said.  

“No norm or moratorium can replace a legally binding prohibition. States must take this occasion to redouble their efforts. To think creatively. And to act in the interest of the entire world’s security.”

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South Sudan plagued by violence and corruption, Human Rights Council hears

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Human Rights - South Sudan continues to be “plagued” by violence and corruption, the Human Rights Council heard on Thursday, jeopardizing the young nation’s efforts to establish lasting peace and put it on the road towards sustainable development. 

Delivering an update to the forum in Geneva, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al- Nashif, highlighted “staggering levels of localized violence”. 

She attributed this to community-based militias who were responsible for almost all killings, injuries, abductions and sexual violence between April and June this year. 

Fight against impunity ‘minimal’ 

According to the UN Mission in South Sudan, (UNMISS), the three-month period saw 585 people killed, 305 injured and thousands forcibly displaced throughout the country – particularly in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. 

Despite the many allegations of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, progress in the fight against impunity has been minimal, Ms. Al-Nashif said, before "strongly" encouraging the Government to work closely with local leaders to achieve peaceful conflict resolutions. 

‘Epic’ human rights crisis 

Also reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the chairperson of the Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan, Ms. Yasmin Sooka, underlined that since last March, the human rights situation in the country had deteriorated considerably and that a human rights crisis of "epic" proportions is unfolding in a dramatic way. 

She noted that there has been an increase in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and torture as well as rape and conflict-related sexual violence. 

The Government's intolerance of criticism has also led to a brutal attack on fundamental freedoms and the suppression of dissent, using excessive force against civilians, she said. 

According to Ms. Sooka, between June and August of this year, more than 100 civilians were killed in an ethnic conflict of Tambura in Western Equatoria. Between 80,000 and 120,000 people have reportedly been displaced by the conflict, with thousands fleeing to neighbouring Bahr el Ghazal state and Ezo County.  

Humanitarians under attack 

The chairperson also warned that the humanitarian community in the country is increasingly under attack, resulting in the suspension of their activities and the relocation of aid workers. 

More than 4.3 million people have been displaced, with almost 80% of the population believed to be living in extreme poverty, and more than 7.2 million people experiencing food insecurity, she continued. 

Ms. Sooka also pointed out that the UN humanitarian appeal for South Sudan amounts to approximately $ 1.7 billion, less than half of which has been committed by the international community. South Sudan was ranked seventh among 8 countries in the world with the worst humanitarian crises, she said. 

$73 million taken  

Ms. Sooka also maintained that the country’s leaders have continued to divert “staggering amounts of money…from (the country’s) public coffers”.  

The result has been to undermine human rights and endanger people’s security in the country. 

According to investigations carried out by the Commission over the past two years, more than $73 million was been siphoned off since 2018. She also noted that this figure is only a fraction of the overall amount looted, as South Sudan’s ruling elites had diverted more than $4 billion, since 2012 – the year after independence. 

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Human rights ‘catastrophe’ in Myanmar: UN calls for urgent action

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Human Rights - Urgent action is needed to prevent the situation in Myanmar from escalating into a “full-blown conflict”, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned on Thursday.   

Ms. Bachelet’s alert came in a new report from her office OHCHR, which details widespread violations by the military against the country's people, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.  

Crisis escalating towards civil war 

With the spiral of violence that has rocked Myanmar since February showing signs of escalation “into a widespread civil war”, the UN rights chief called for more action on the part of the international community.  

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, she noted that clashes now “occur regularly” between civilian fighters and Government forces in many areas of the country, “where conflict has not been seen in generations”. 

Presenting the new report on Myanmar to the Council, Ms. Bachelet explained that it detailed many serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  

Economy in freefall 

The country is also facing an “economy in freefall”, and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; “a human rights catastrophe that shows no signs of abating”, she highlighted.  

Recent reports from the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that millions are facing growing food insecurity, amid poverty, political unrest, and economic crisis.  

Human rights violations  

Mentioning that military authorities have perpetrated the vast majority of human rights documented since the coup of 1 February, the report highlights that there has been “heavy use of lethal force and mass arrests”.  

It documents violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person; the prohibition against torture; the right to a fair trial; as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  

The report, covering the period from February until mid-July, was based on interviews with over 70 victims and witnesses to human rights violations, as well as remote monitoring, credible open sources, and meetings with a range of informed stakeholders. 

Since the coup, more than 1,120 people have been killed. Military authorities have also arrested over 8,000 people, and at least 120 have reportedly died in custody. 

Intensification of military activity 

Ms. Bachelet added that “there is no sign of any efforts by the military authorities to stop these violations nor implement previous recommendations to tackle impunity and security sector reform,” underscoring the urgent need for strong accountability measures.  

There are also reports of increasing fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups since the coup, displacing thousands, particularly in Kayin, Shan and Kachin State, where the military has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery barrages, killing civilians, the report added.  

“The national consequences are terrible and tragic, and the regional consequences could also be profound," Bachelet highlighted.  

Calling on the international community to redouble its efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar, Ms. Bachelet said it was essential to prevent the civil conflict from escalating further. 

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No Denying It episode 5: Jane Goodall Introduces Xiaoyuan "Charlene" Ren

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Climate and Environment - In the fifth episode of the UN climate action podcast No Denying It, United Nations Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall, known for her groundbreaking scientific work studying chimpanzees, interviews Xiaoyuan "Charlene" Ren.

Ms. Ren is the founder of MyH20, a network that collects drinking water data to help find solutions to improve water quality across China. Globally, two billion people lack access to safe drinking water, a figure that will only go up as infrastructure struggles to keep pace with new climate change-related weather patterns.

Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren

Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren - Charlene is the founder of MyH2O, a data platform connecting clean water resources to rural communities in China.
Photo Credit: UNEP
Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren - Charlene is the founder of MyH2O, a data platform connecting clean water resources to rural communities in China.

Charlene is the founder of MyH2O, a data platform connecting clean water resources to rural communities in China. She received a B.A. from Vassar College and dual M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Technology and Policy at MIT.

Over 300 million residents in rural China don't have consistent access to clean drinking water, and due to a lack of information on drinking water quality in rural China, this issue has long been neglected.

MyH20 solves that issue through a nationwide collaborative youth volunteer network, to collect clean water data, diagnose water problems on a case-by-case basis, with the goal to connect data-driven water resources and solutions to the underprivileged communities in need and improve their overall health.

Charlene inspires us to do citizen science - to use our on-the-ground knowledge to inform decisionmakers about what we need.

Jane Goodall

UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall addresses a Student Observance of the International Day of Peace (21 September), organized by DPI. 15 September 2017.
Photo Credit: UN Photo/ Evan Schneider
UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall addresses a Student Observance of the International Day of Peace (21 September), organized by DPI. 15 September 2017.

Jane Goodall is a pioneer in the study of chimpanzees, having spent many years living amongst them and studying their behavior in western Tanzania.

Ms. Goodall’s work, which began in 1960 in the Gombe rainforest reserve, has not stopped after more than 50 years. The decades-old study holds the record for the longest-running wildlife research ever conducted.

In an effort to raise awareness on wildlife habitat destruction, Ms. Goodall launched the Jane Goodall Institute, a global leader in chimpanzee habitat protection, and from this organisation founded environmental youth programme, Roots & Shoots.

In 2002 Ms. Goodall was appointed a UN Messenger of Peace. In her role she calls upon all of humanity to promote peace among people and the natural world, and for future generations to come.

Each year Ms. Goodall delivers a message on peace at UN Headquarters in New York during the ceremonial bell ringing and student observance of the International Day of Peace.

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Myanmar: UN expert says current international efforts failing, urges ‘change of course’

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Human Rights - The UN independent rights expert on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that conditions inside the country following the 1 February military coup have worsened, urging a “change of course” to prevent further human rights abuses and deaths.

According to Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, since its power grab and overthrow of the democratically-elected Government, the junta and its forces have murdered more than 1,100 people, arbitrarily detained more than 8,000, and forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally placed persons in Myanmar to well over half a million.

Mr. Andrews described how junta-controlled military forces have killed protesters in the streets, murdered civilians in their homes, beaten individuals to death and tortured people to death while in detention.

This has been carried out through bombings, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, he said.  Entire villages have also been attacked using airstrikes, sieges and mass arson and civilians have been forced to serve as porters and human shields.

Children not spared 

As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years, the rights expert said.

These children were hit by junta driven vehicles, shot by junta forces or killed by junta artillery shells. Mr. Andrews also told the Council he had received credible reports of children being tortured, including two boys who were starved and then had their legs burnt with iron rods.

Civil and political rights in Myanmar have also been systematically destroyed by the junta, Mr. Andrews said.  Freedoms of expression, of association, the right to privacy, access to justice, and a free press have also been dismantled.

New tactics

According to Mr. Andrews, the junta is increasingly relying on the use of collective punishment, including the abduction of family members of those who have been issued arrest warrants, but who police and military forces are unable to locate.

The rights expert said he had received credible reports that at least 177 individuals were arbitrarily detained when the initial target of a raid had successfully eluded arrest. These victims include very young children as young as 20-weeks old, he said.  

Rohingya in danger

The junta also continues to deny the existence of the Rohingya ethnic minority, Mr. Andrews said, denying them citizenship, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights.

The same commanders who oversaw the mass atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya in 2017 are now overseeing the military junta, putting more than 600,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar in danger.  

Healthcare undermined

The right to health is being undermined by the junta’s assault on the health care system, Mr. Andrews warned.

Junta forces are harassing, arbitrarily detaining, torturing and killing healthcare providers in retribution for the leadership that many provided to the civil disobedience, he said.

Medical doctors have informed him of military raids on charity and make-shift health facilities, destroying, damaging or confiscating medical equipment, while abducting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining their colleagues.

Junta forces attacked healthcare workers or facilities in at least 260 separate incidences from 1 February to 25 August 2021. The junta has outstanding arrest warrants for 600 healthcare workers, forcing them into hiding.

Many continue to treat patients clandestinely despite the enormous personal risk, he added.

Boycotts

The expert urged governments to support the people of Myanmar’s own boycotts against the junta, by imposing stronger coordinated economic pressure and an arms embargo.

“People throughout Myanmar from all walks of life are engaging in what can accurately be described as ‘citizen sanctions’ - boycotts of products produced by military-owned companies as well as the payment of energy bills and taxes,” he said.

“By some accounts, the public’s widespread refusal to pay utility bills and some taxes have cost the junta an estimated $1 billion in revenue.”

Mr. Andrews highlighted the civilian-led “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), which have formed in parts of the country, noting that the opposition National Unity Government has declared a “defensive war” against the junta and its forces.

Relying primarily on homemade, improvised weapons, Andrews said the armed groups were engaging in protection and ambush operations, while up against one of the largest militaries in the world that has responded with “indiscriminate attacks on entire villages and towns”.

The independent expert, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council, called for greater humanitarian aid for the more than three million Myanmar people who have been left in desperate need by the takeover.

‘Stronger commitment’

“The international community must make a stronger commitment to ensuring lifesaving aid reaches those in need,” he said. “Myanmar civil society organizations who are saving lives need and deserve our support. The 2021 UN Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 46 percent of requested funds to date.  We can and should do better.”

As “the voice of human rights, the conscience of the UN”, Mr. Andrews called on Council members to “give voice” to the plight of the besieged people of Myanmar and become “a catalyst for action”. “Now, more than ever, the people of Myanmar need strong, targeted and coordinated action by the international community.”

 

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Afghanistan’s healthcare system on brink of collapse, as hunger hits 95 per cent of families

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse, the head of the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned on Wednesday, while on the streets of Kabul, the hunger families are suffering is as acute in urban areas as the drought-stricken rural parts of the country. 

The development came as the United Nations’ top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, announced the release of $45 million from an emergency fund to support Afghanistan’s crumbling health-care system

“Allowing Afghanistan’s healthcare delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous,” said Mr. Griffiths. “People across the country would be denied access to primary healthcare such as emergency caesarean sections and trauma care.” 

Kabul crisis 

Echoing that message from the Afghan capital, Kabul, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that international funding cuts had forced health providers to decide “who to save and who to let die”. 

After meeting senior Taliban figures, medical professionals and patients, Tedros explained that a lack of financial support for the country’s largest health project, Sehetmandi, had left thousands of facilities unable to buy medical supplies and pay salaries. 

Fewer than one in five of the country’s Sehetmandi facilities remained open, the WHO chief explained, although he said that access to all communities was “no longer impeded”. 

Medicine shortages 

This breakdown in health services is having a rippling effect on the availability of basic and essential health care, as well as on emergency response, polio eradication, and COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” Tedros said, amid reports that cold chain medical storage has been compromised. 

COVID-19 risk 

The WHO chief also noted that nine of 37 COVID-19 hospitals have already closed, and that “all aspects” of the country’s COVID-19 response have dropped off, from surveillance to testing and vaccination.  

Amid concerns over women’s rights in the country following the appointment of an exclusively male Taliban interim cabinet earlier this month, Tedros insisted that women needed access to education, health care, and to the health workforce.  

“With fewer health facilities operational and less female health workers reporting to work, female patients are hesitant to seek care,” he said. “We are committed to working with partners to invest in the health education of girls and women, as well as continue training female health workers.” 

Among its operations in Afghanistan, WHO supports an extensive trauma programme that includes training, the provision of supplies and equipment for 130 hospitals and 67 blood banks. 

COVID-19 vaccine challenge 

Data from WHO indicated that before the Taliban takeover on 15 August, 2.2 million people had been vaccinated against the new coronavirus in Afghanistan.   

“In recent weeks, vaccination rates have decreased rapidly while 1.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in country remain unused,” Tedros said. “Swift action is needed to use these doses in the coming weeks and work towards reaching the goal of vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population by the end of the year.” 

The WHO top official also urged renewed action to eradicate polio in Afghanistan - one of two countries where the disease remains endemic.

Measles is also spreading, the WHO Director-General warned, but he said that access to all communities was now possible. “With only one case of wild poliovirus reported so far this year, compared to 56 in 2020, there has never been a better time to eradicate polio,” Tedros said. “However, the polio programme will struggle to respond if the basic immunization infrastructure begins to collapse around it.” 

This meant that WHO and partners can begin a country-wide house-to-house polio vaccination campaign, combining measles and COVID vaccination too, he explained. 

95 per cent of Afghan families going hungry

Rising job losses, lack of cash and soaring prices are creating a new class of hungry in Afghanistan, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFPwarned on Wednesday, with urban residents suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, for the first time.

Only five percent of households in Afghanistan have enough to eat every day, according to recent surveys conducted by WFP, while half reported they had run out of food altogether at least once, in the past two weeks.

“The economic freefall in Afghanistan has been abrupt and unrelenting, adding to an already difficult situation, as the country grapples with a second severe drought in three years. We are doing everything we can to support Afghan communities at this critical time,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s Country Director and Representative.

The middle classes are also struggling, WFP reports, with only 10 percent of households headed by someone with a secondary or university education, able to buy sufficient food for their families every day.

Though the situation is worse for those less well-educated, the unprecedented prevalence of hunger among families that had previously been spared, signals the depth of the crisis facing Afghans. 

On average, breadwinners are finding work just one day a week, barely enough to afford food that is rapidly increasing in price. Cooking oil, for example, has almost doubled in price since 2020, and wheat is up by 28 percent.

“WFP is stepping up to the urgent challenge which is now two-fold. First, we continue to assist the people who need it most to avoid acute hunger and malnutrition from devastating the country, and second, we are strengthening local capacity to produce food and get it to market, while also providing short-term work opportunities that help stabilise the economy and give families access to cash,” Ms. McGroarty added.

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