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UN/Canadian-Media: The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated much of the world’s attention over the last 12 months, but many other crises will continue to require the urgent attention of the UN and the international community in 2021.
Displaced women prepare food at an informal camp in Bagoundié, Mali.
Image credit: © UNOCHA/Michele Cattani
Syria and Yemen are probably the best known long-running conflict zones. A decade of fighting in Syria has seen millions of people displaced, many requiring humanitarian assistance. Yemen, meanwhile, remains the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, where the risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute.
Insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has compounded the country’s economic decline, and DRC now has the world’s second highest number of people who are classified as severely food insecure, and the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa.
And in the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, a perfect storm of climate change, weak governance, poverty and chronic underdevelopment have combined to create an unprecedented security and humanitarian crisis.
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UN/Canadian-Media: At least 14 people are reported to have died and over 170 missing after part of a Himalayan glacier broke away in India’s Uttarakhand province on Sunday, unleashing a torrent of water, rock and debris downstream. Key infrastructure, including a dam, are also reported to have been damaged.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Image credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin
Some 15 people are said to have been rescued as of Monday morning (local time).
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of India.
“The United Nations stands ready to contribute to ongoing rescue and assistance efforts if necessary”, the statement added.
According to media reports, experts are investigating the incident, which occurred in a remote area, and the cause is yet to be determined.
Glacier bursts, and the resulting flash floods, are extremely destructive natural hazards, especially for communities and infrastructure downstream. The Himalayan region is particularly vulnerable to such disasters, with the risk aggravated due to climate change and temperature rise.
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UN/Canadian-Media: With extreme poverty on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic for the first time in more than two decades, senior officials briefing the Security Council today called for redoubled efforts to break the “vicious cycle” of poverty, fragility and conflict still devastating many nations.
Humanitarian needs. Image credit: Unsplash
Briefing the 15-member Council, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that, even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global conflict landscape was deteriorating. Conflicts have become more complex, fuelled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-State armed groups and their links to criminal and extremist interests. According to the World Bank Fragility and Conflict Report, one of every five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict. Humanitarian needs have multiplied, reaching the highest levels since the Second World War and the number of people at risk of starvation has doubled.
Warning that such trends have put many countries in a vicious cycle — in which conflict breeds poverty, poverty breeds fragility and fragility decreases resilience to conflict — he went on to note that, for the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty was on the rise in 2020. The contraction of economic activity in fragile and conflict-affected settings is now expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into poverty, the gender equality gap is widening and the climate emergency is exacerbating insecurity.
“If we are to break the cycle of poverty and conflict, we need a more ambitious approach based on two principles enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said, spotlighting both interdependence and inclusion. Efforts to prevent and resolve conflict must be driven by the pledge to “leave no on behind”, and the not-yet-fully-realized promise to increase women’s participation in peace processes must be met.
Noting that fragility in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region has been exacerbated by transboundary threats such as climate change, terrorism, transnational organized crime and the proliferation of armed groups — and spotlighting the continued presence of armed groups and human rights violations in the Great Lakes region — he said the United Nations is working closely with the African Union and regional economic communities to reverse those trends. The organizations’ joint frameworks have served as key instruments to prevent and sustainably resolve conflicts in Africa, as well as to strengthen the resilience of States to withstand current threats.
At the Fourth United Nations African Union Annual Conference in December, leaders of the two organizations explored new ways to address the root causes on conflicts — including economic and social disparities — and accelerate the “Silencing the Guns in Africa” initiative. “My call for a global ceasefire [amid the COVID-19 pandemic] goes hand-in-hand with this flagship initiative,” he stressed, underlining the United Nations continued commitment to supporting the African Union’s Agenda 2063. In that vein, the organizations have also decided to establish a Joint United Nations–African Union Group on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda and Agenda 2063, including in regard to COVID-19 recovery.
While prevention and peacebuilding are cost-effective, he went on to note that they nevertheless require national leadership, political commitment and financial support. “The international community continues to underinvest in these areas,” he said, reiterating his call for increased financing — in particular at the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund’s upcoming replenishment conference. He also called upon the Council to finalize its discussions on the question of providing predictable, flexible and sustained financing to operations authorized by the Council, but carried out by African Member States, through United Nations assessed contributions.
Also briefing the Council, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said that State fragility and the related challenges for peacekeeping are most acute on the African continent. Such root causes, from climate change to COVID-19, are playing out, affecting the health and socioeconomic situations of many people. For its part, the African Union has adopted related policies and guidelines to prevent conflict and tension, which continue to be obstacles to peace and sustainable development. Moreover, efforts to rebuild peace and foster diplomacy are active continent-wide, alongside tireless work to promote the principle of African solutions to African problems. Citing other ongoing initiatives, he said the African Union’s agreement on peace and development with the European Union and the United Nations lays the foundation for progress.
The Security Council has been contributing to these efforts, he said, pointing to resolutions supporting such African Union strategies as its Silencing the Guns initiative. Responding effectively to challenges hinges on the adoption of a strong strategy. However, access to predictable resources and other related challenges are hindering response efforts. Exclusion is also a key obstacle, he said, underscoring that women and young people must be included in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts. Innovative approaches have been adopted in this regard, he said, and work is under way to promote solidarity and inclusion.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a member of The Elders and former President of Liberia, said there has never been a time when so many people wanted and needed the previous year to end. Today’s debate must remain faithful to the promise of 2021 and commit to steps forward. Emphasizing that the Council has the power to help end the cycle of conflict, poverty and despair that so many continue to face, she called for more attention to the festering root causes of conflict — even before they erupt. Among other things, she voiced support for local governance responses and for the training of more local women leaders, who can help “put out a smouldering fire before it becomes a major conflagration”.
Spotlighting lessons learned from the long conflict in her native Liberia, she said prevention is always better than cure. “The signs […] of active conflict are usually there, long before any helpful actions are taken,” she said, spotlighting human rights violations, deepening poverty and inequality and the dismantling of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms as red flags. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) helped support the implementation of a final peace agreement, protecting civilians even as armed militias contested election results and carried out sporadic violence.
Today, she said, peacekeepers must also contend with the spread and impacts of COVID-19. While raising concerns about the value of multilateralism, countries are also questioning the efficacy of peacekeeping operations and the cost of running them, often for years at a time. Advocating strongly for United Nations peace operations, she said that, like all things, their architecture must “change with flexibility to respond to challenging circumstances”. She also noted that 2021 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While praising the agency, she nevertheless declared that “its continued existence is a mark on our collective conscience”. The Security Council must be an active agent of hope for fragile nations that, for too long, have been left behind.
As Council members took the floor, Kaïs Saïed, President of Tunisia, Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, saying the open debate’s theme stems from a strong determination to underscore the notion that fragile situations can fuel violence and trigger conflict, sometimes lasting for decades, hindering States’ capacity and threatening their very existence. Ending wars does not always lead to lasting peace, which should be a long-term goal, and ceasefires do not mean an end to conflict, but a first step towards peace, he said, emphasizing that Africa has suffered greatly from conflict and tragedies that prevent stability. To address these challenges, there must be a holistic long-term approach for durable peace that tackles the root causes of conflict — including climate change, terrorism, pandemics and weak State institutions, he said, cautioning that this vicious circle can further stoke violence and strife. Peacebuilding efforts must focus on stability and progressively address fragility. The necessary guarantees — including promoting democracy and inclusive participation — must be provided to uphold peace and security.
Pointing out that instability, violence and terrorism persist in all regions, notably in Africa, decades after countries obtained their independence, he said such challenges require urgent attention, with the Security Council adopting a more comprehensive approach to international security. Coordinated efforts such as the Silencing the Guns initiative are key. All countries and relevant stakeholders must work together, including United Nations programmes and funds, international financial institutions and donors. The result would be a global peacebuilding strategy that supports national efforts to promote stability and sustainable development. The Council must support conflict-prevention and efforts to strengthen the rule of law and national institutions, he said, calling for collective action to help States cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and address fragile situations. Recalling a resolution introduced by France and Tunisia on the pandemic, he reaffirmed his delegation’s commitment to security and development to meet the legitimate aspirations of all people worldwide.
Issoufou Mahamadou, President of Niger, said that as further information on fragile States becomes available, from an index on State fragility to the World Bank’s assessment tools, a range of root causes becomes clear. For instance, almost all fragile States have abundant natural resources, reflecting the consequences of poorly managed institutions, he said, citing a recent African Development Bank report. Indeed, fragility is one of the twenty-first century’s greatest challenges, often triggering displacement, violence and corruption. If nothing is done now, more than 80 per cent of the world’s population could live in fragile States. Citing current examples, he said 65 per cent of the global population that lacks access to clean water live in fragile States, flows of internally displaced persons and refugees are rising, and the broader impact of COVID-19 threatens to erase development gains.
Providing hope for a better existence is the ultimate goal, he said, emphasizing the need to boost efforts by investing in solutions with more resources, aid and data collection initiatives to better understand fragile States. Inclusive solutions must boost community resilience and tackle the root causes. The World Bank and the African Development Bank must be encouraged to do more, including by helping the continent to implement the African Union’s 2063 Agenda and addressing terrorism in the Sahel. Indeed, collective efforts must provide strong support to the Group of Five (G5) for the Sahel Joint Force and must help countries in the region to overcome the deadly violence it currently faces. The Security Council must also play its important role in supporting all fragile States in their efforts to advance peace and development.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, said the fact that the bulk of the Council’s agenda is on conflicts in Africa is testament to the fragility of many countries and regions in the continent. “If we are to be true to the founding Charter of the United Nations, it follows, therefore, that we should invest more in building more effective approaches, or revitalizing existing mechanisms, that maintain peace and anchor stability in Africa,” he said. Citing a range of challenges facing nations in fragile situations, he pointed to the COVID-19 response as an example, emphasizing that the biggest difference is not between Eastern and Western approaches, but between States that can provide a strong bridge to allow their citizens and economies to successfully navigate extreme crises versus those that cannot muster such an effort. In countries afflicted by war, or recovering from it, peace will only be maintained if they are enabled to be strong enough to win control of their territory and provide public services, with the multilateral system, as embodied in the United Nations, helping these States attain such capacities. The political processes that build peace, and binding resolutions by the Council, should include measurable State strengthening elements.
Offering four proposals to build a multilateralism fit for the times, he first underlined the importance of leveraging the knowledge and buy-in of stakeholders closest to the crisis. In addition, the Council and associated United Nations bodies must do more to strengthen the capacity of key State institutions during post-conflict reconstruction, with the Peacebuilding Commission playing an invaluable role. Next, the international community should not let the COVID-19 pandemic be a major driver of insecurity; if fragile countries do not get prompt access to the vaccine, their economic problems will likely turn into political and security challenges. Finally, it is essential to strengthen the role of Africa and the global South in the multilateral system. Indeed, the road to revitalizing multilateralism to effectively deliver global peace and security runs through a united Africa and an active and engaged global South.
Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called for practical and people-centred solutions that bolster national ownership in countries requiring assistance.
There is no panacea for the root causes of fragility, but through solidarity and collective action, a better future remains within the grasp of those who yearn for it. Recalling that his country, Council President for November, held a high-level event on the contemporary drivers of conflict and insecurity, he said participants called for a comprehensive, coordinated whole-of-system approach to addressing the root causes of fragility and insecurity, including those that have been left largely unsettled by the rapid process of decolonization. The Council must work more closely with the other United Nations main organs to foster development solutions to peace and security challenges. The international community must leverage more often the strategic advisory capacity and convening platform of the Peacebuilding Commission to mobilize multilateral partners to help Member States build institutions, strengthen capacities and address the challenges of fragility.
Greater political will is vital to ensure no one is left behind, he said, appealing to developed countries to honour their official development assistance (ODA) commitments and increase support to conflict-affected countries through concessionary loans, debt relief, and quick impact projects, as well as support for climate adaptation and mitigation. Reparatory justice must form part of any serious international development agenda, he said, echoing recent calls by Sir Hilary Beckles for the Special Committee on Decolonization to finalize its work and for reparations to be made for the historical crimes of native genocide, African slavery and violent colonization. Encouraging all countries to not impose unilateral coercive measures on weaker nations, he said that even in the most difficult circumstances, a firm commitment to sovereignty and political independence, within the framework of multilateralism, offers the greatest defense against chaos and disorder. “Just as the Second World War provided the impetus for the United Nations to emerge from the ashes of conflict, so too can the COVID‑19 pandemic be used as a critical turning point,” he said, calling for a renewed, effective multilateralism that works in the interest of all nations and peoples.
Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, agreed that poor governance and human rights violations, combined with a lack of development, a scarcity of jobs and poor prospects for the future, are indications of countries and regions moving into fragility. Noting that systemic corruption and inequality are mutually reinforcing and increase the risk of conflict and destabilization, she added that of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change, half are also struggling with violent conflict. Assisting such nations requires a surge in peace diplomacy, she said, praising the various United Nations reforms aimed at making the Organization’s work more agile and conflict sensitive. In that regard, she sounded alarms over the continued humanitarian toll of conflict and fragility — which is exacerbated by COVID-19 — and underlined the need to put civilian protection at the core of all interventions. The Council should also put a stronger focus on early warning — as seen in its informal “situational awareness briefings” — while broadening its analysis and strengthening its capacity to act.
James Cleverly, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa of the United Kingdom, stressed that women’s meaningful participation can prevent conflict, support conflict resolution and maintain peace. His country has supported the International Civil Society Action Network to develop the protection framework for women peacebuilders, and it is the Council’s lead on the women, peace and security agenda, he said, urging all Member States to commit to its recommendations. The United Nations and the African Union are stronger together as peacebuilding partners, he said, citing their collaboration that delivered the Central African Republic peace agreement, and the bloc’s mediation in Sudan. Interventions also need to span humanitarian, development and peacebuilding operations. His country worked with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to develop recommendation on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to guide future interventions. The United Nations and international financial institutions should continue developing their working partnership. Noting the Organization’s positive steps aimed at maintaining peace in fragile settings, including the Secretary-General’s reform agenda, he said its capacity to prevent and respond to conflict has been bolstered through the Peacebuilding Fund, the multi-year appeal and the peace and development advisors. The Peacebuilding Commission is now a critical forum for international cooperation on fragile States and regions. In an evolving world, “partnerships are our strength, inclusion is our security, and the prize is peace,” he said.
Le Hoai Trung, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown more clearly the fragility of the world and its capacity to address global challenges. The biggest health crisis in a century has affected security and poverty and hunger increased more in 2020 than in the past decade, and rising numbers of displaced persons havw been seen alongside food and water insecurity. Rarely has the call for multilateralism been so strong. As such, maintaining peace and security in a fragile context requires a comprehensive approach involving all stakeholders, with the root causes of conflict and fragility at the centre of long-term solutions that respect national ownership and ensure capacity-building.
In this regard, he said the Security Council must adopt effective approaches and make efforts to better use the tools at its disposal, including diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping at the outset and after a conflict has been resolved. Multilateralism, with the United Nations at its centre, must prevail. In addition, cross-regional cooperation must address all related challenges. Indeed, these efforts are critical along the path to peace in fragile situations, before, during and after a conflict, and in the face of such threats as climate change and pandemics.
Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said national priorities during his delegation’s Council membership will include building peace and addressing fragility. Early warnings of conflict must be heeded, and all parties must be included in conflict resolution and dialogue. In addition, the Council must use all tools available, as doing so can make a real difference on the ground. Peacebuilding efforts are stronger when they are inclusive. Noting Ireland’s more than 60 years of involvement with United Nations peacekeeping, he said that operations must have a clear mandate to be effective. In terms of strengthening conflict prevention, efforts must address the causes of conflict, including climate change and socioeconomic inequality, he said, emphasizing that COVID-19 and climate change have only amplified existing challenges and must be viewed through a security lens.
Cooperation is needed, he said, pointing to the African Union’s Silencing the Guns initiative as an example of a strong regional response. Efforts must also promote the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, adding that human rights violations are a root cause of conflict and must be addressed. There is power in prevention, and when crises occur, efforts must aim at protecting individuals and ending impunity for perpetrators. Moreover, the Council’s decisions must be respected and implemented. Around the Council’s virtual table, it is important to recognize differences and work together to maintain international peace and security, he said, pledging Ireland’s commitment to contributing to the Council’s work.
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie of France, underlined the need to better understand the drivers of conflict in fragile States and to develop enhanced support modalities. Agreeing that “endless cycles of crises” often share an underlying factor, namely weak or absent governance, he spotlighted the importance of conflict prevention and capacity-building in that regard. Addressing climate change, health crises, inequality and the lack of inclusivity in peace processes is therefore crucial. The United Nations has successfully reformed itself into a stronger and more agile presence on the ground, he said, also calling for more mobile and reactive troops equipped with the multilingual skills needed to work with civilians. He welcomed the growing role of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, noting that France plans to quadruple its support to the latter. Meanwhile, United Nations support to the G-5 Sahel Joint Force is an important partnership — which can serve as an example for other collaborations — and the management of post-conflict transitions requires more flexibility. In that regard, he cited the important establishment of United Nations peace operations in the wake of peacekeeping missions’ drawdowns.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of India, said fragility stems from the absence or breakdown of the social contract between people and their Governments. These can also be caused by extremist political ideologies, and there is a strong correlation between such breakdowns and the conditions of poverty, terrorism, radicalism and violent extremism and pandemics — as well as the predations of regional powers and international actors. Meanwhile, climate change, water scarcity and resource wars are adding new dimensions to these complexities. Noting that democracy is undoubtedly gaining ground in Africa, he echoed concerns about drivers of instability and poverty, among them over-exploitation and conflicts such as the one in Libya.
“Let us not fail to acknowledge that the legacy of colonialism constitutes the foundational basis of the current instabilities that plague the African continent,” he stressed, adding that “we should not paint all fragility issues with the same brush”. The Council should remain primarily concerned with those directing affecting the maintenance of international peace and security. He also underlined the importance of respecting national ownership, emphasizing that the Council should remain respectful of the regional approach adopted by countries, including those in Africa. United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions, along with the G5 Sahel Joint Force and similar initiatives, must also be sufficiently mandated and resourced, he said, drawing attention to India’s significant contributions.
Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubón, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said threats to international peace and security are not just military in nature, but are often linked to human rights violations, discrimination, environmental degradation, the irresponsible trafficking of weapons and now COVID-19. Underlining the need for full and inclusive civic participation by all members of society, he went on to echo support for enhanced prevention and efforts aimed at tackling the root drivers of conflict. The Council must always put people at the centre of all of its activities, he stressed.
The representative of the United States said fragility can result from ineffective or unaccountable Governments or leaders who disrespect human rights. The rise of terrorism and violent extremism makes States more vulnerable and is exacerbated by COVID-19. Some actors, including Iran, use fragile States or non-State actors as proxies for their malign activities, and humanitarian needs continue to outpace assistance. The international community must support fragile States “lest they become failed States”, as the issues with which they grapple do not stop at national borders. She warned against politicizing humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts. She also spotlighted the United States Global Fragility Act of 2019 as well as a related strategy aimed at putting partnership, accountability and national ownership at the heart of Washington’s foreign assistance. Indeed, 70 per cent of United States foreign aid goes to fragile States, and the country has provided some $30 billion to fragile countries in recent years. Pledging to continue such support, she also pointed out that the United States leads the way in funding United Nations peacekeeping operations, providing 25 per cent of their budget.
The speaker for China said that, after a turbulent 2020, multilateralism is more crucial than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic is surging in a new wave and all countries should respect science, joining hands to stop the spread as soon as possible. Meanwhile, more mediation and conflict prevention efforts are required, and COVID-19 vaccines should be equitably distributed around the globe. He outlined China’s massive humanitarian response to the pandemic, noting that it is supporting 150 countries and ten international organizations and was the first to make vaccines a public good. Strengthening economic and social “weak links” is also crucial as developing countries face new difficulties, which threaten to further expand the gap between the global North and South. In that context, he called for more efforts to support peacebuilding, strengthen Government capacity, build consensus and provide development assistance aimed at building resilience. “No country can work alone,” he stressed, adding that countries have no choice but to safeguard the international system and support each other.
The Russian Federation’s representative said factors impacting peace and security in fragile contexts are pertinent for discussions in the Council and other United Nations bodies. However, issues not directly linked to international peace and security should be addressed in the relevant fora with a view to identifying effective solutions. At the same time, duplication of efforts must be avoided. Some factors undermining stability mentioned in the concept note for today’s meeting, such as climate change and other environmental issues, require practical measures through decisions made in the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council, he said, adding that each United Nations body should work within its own mandate. In Africa, environmental issues must be considered on an individual basis, and external actors must not illegally exploit Africa’s natural resources for their own aims. Links between human rights and development should not automatically be made nor should they be based on arbitrary definitions. External interference, including illegally overthrowing a Government, must not be tolerated. Raising concerns about illegal sanctions that bypass Security Council decisions, he voiced support for the Secretary-General’s call to lift unilateral coercive measures. In terms of regional efforts, he emphasized that Africans know best the situation on their own continent.
The speaker for Estonia urged the Council to treat not only the symptoms but also the causes of violence, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the interdependence of security and sustainable development. Climate change exacerbates existing conflicts and contributes to the onset of new ones. The Council must take climate-change-related threats to peace and security seriously, he said, expressing hope that in 2021 it is finally able to adopt a thematic resolution on climate and security, mandate the Secretary-General to report on climate change’s impact on international security, and provide robust mandates to the relevant missions the Council authorizes. A dedicated climate expert in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is a good start. In addition, rule of law, access to justice and human rights are essential for maintaining peace and security in fragile contexts. It is also vital to include persons belonging to marginalized groups, especially women and girls. Greater efforts are needed to win the trust of youth. The Council must make all the relevant mandates robust in these aspects and constantly adapt to changing times. This includes being open to new topics, being willing to employ new tools to tackle emerging issues and reviewing its current practices, he said.
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UN/Canadian-Media: A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year, a near- 40 percent increase on 2020 which is “almost entirely from COVID-19”, the UN’s emergency relief chief said on Tuesday.
A family flees the violence in Idlib, Syria. (file). Image credit: UNOCHA/HFO
In an appeal for $35 billion to meet humanitarian needs next year, Mark Lowcock said that the global health crisis had impacted dramatically people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, climate change shocks. He said that “multiple” famines are looming.
The situation is “desperate” for millions and has left the UN and partners “overwhelmed”, he added.
“The picture we are presenting is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs in the period ahead that we have ever set out. That is a reflection of the fact that the COVID pandemic has wreaked carnage across the whole of the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet.”
Mr. Lowcock’s call for global solidarity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to “stand with people in their darkest hour of need”, as the global pandemic continues to worsen.
Although the humanitarian system had delivered “food, medicines, shelter, education and other essentials to tens of millions of people “the crisis is far from over”, the UN chief insisted in a statement.
56 countries to benefit
This year’s Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) sets out plans “to reach 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries and most plans, if they are fully financed, will cost $35 billion”, Mr. Lowcock said.
He noted that while richer countries had invested some $10 trillion in staving off economic disaster from the COVID-induced slump and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel…the same is not true in the poorest countries”.
The COVID-19 crisis had lunged millions into poverty “and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing,” Mr. Lowcock explained, adding that aid funding was needed to “stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school”.
Cash will also be used from the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to tackle rising violence against women and girls linked to the pandemic, Mr. Lowcock said.
Climate shocks add to woes
"If we get through 2021 without major famines that will be a significant achievement," said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Lowcock.
He also highlighted how climate change and rising global temperatures had further ;contributed to the bleak outlook for humanitarian needs in 2021, their impact being “most acute in the countries which have also got the biggest humanitarian problems. Indeed, eight of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are ones where humanitarian agencies have got a huge amount of work to do already.”
Conflicts new and old had also contributed to increased needs, the UN relief chief continued, pointing to “new spikes of conflict in places that were previously more peaceful. We’ve seen that obviously recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we’ve seen it in northern Mozambique, we’ve seen it in the Western Sahara and at the moment obviously, tragically, we’re seeing in northern Ethiopia.”
Sadly, these flare-ups “haven’t replaced conflicts which have been resolved and calmed down in other places”, Mr. Lowcock continued. “In fact, things are just as bad now in the biggest humanitarian settings driven by conflict as they were when we spoke to you a year ago.”
He added: “We’re overwhelmed with problems, as you know, but just the scale of the need and the scale of crisis is such that these efforts to anticipate things make things a little bit better than they would otherwise have been, but they still leave us with a terrible, desperate situation.”
Spending wisely counts
n addition to providing the means to help communities in crisis, Mr. Lowcock underscored the UN appeal’s focus on preventive action.
This included a cash injection for the World Health Organization (WHO) in February at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that poorer countries received protective equipment to tackle COVID-19.
Similarly, tens of thousands of potential flood victims in Bangladesh also received “support and cash” help in good time so that they could protect their belongings and livelihoods.
“What we ended up with there was a much cheaper, more effective response as well as one that dramatically reduced the human suffering we would have had than if we’d done the traditional thing - waiting until floods arrive,” Mr. Lowcock insisted.
Alarm bells ringing
The concept of “nipping problems in the bud” and acting on them before they become critical was “increasingly well-established now”, he maintained.
Nonetheless, the UN emergency relief chief underscored that the scale of the challenges facing humanitarians next year are massive – and growing. “If we get through 2021 without major famines that will be a significant achievement,” he said. “You know, the red lights are flashing, and the alarm bells are ringing.”
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UN, Oct 19 (Canadian-Media): Parties to the conflict in Yemen must do more to protect civilians, a senior UN humanitarian official there has said, as the number of civilian deaths has witnessed a sharp rise over the last few weeks in the war-ravaged country.
Tents and makeshift shelters at an IDP camp in Yemen. Years of conflict has left millions at crisis levels of hunger, with some facing starvation due to COVID. Image credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi
“Innocent Yemenis continue to die and suffer because of this terrible war,” Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, said in a statement on Saturday.
Since the end of September, several civilians – including children – have been killed and many more injured in fighting in Hudaydah governorate and Taizz, according to the statement. Important civilian infrastructure, including schools and health centres have also been damaged.
“We share our condolences with the many grieving families and wish the injured a swift recovery, added Ms. Grande.
Famine looming In the statement, Ms. Grande also said that with famine looming and funding for humanitarian assistance running out, the parties “have to find the strength” to end fighting and start dialogue.
“We have to be clear, absolutely clear about this … Parties which have taken up arms are responsible, morally and legally, for doing everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they receive the assistance they are entitled to and need,” she stressed.
“There are political options on the table to end the fighting and move to political dialogue. With famine looming and funding running out, the parties have to find the strength and courage to do this,” added the UN official.
World’s worst humanitarian crisis Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the result of five years of a brutal conflict, disease, economic collapse and a breakdown of public institutions and services.
A staggering 80 per cent of Yemen’s population – over 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection, including about 12.2 million children. A total of 230 out of Yemen's 333 districts (69 per cent) are at risk of famine.
Despite a difficult operating environment, humanitarians continue to work across Yemen, responding to the most acute needs. However, funding remains a challenge: as of mid-October, only $1.4 billion of the $3.2 billion needed in 2020 has been received.
Bad situations ‘only get worse’ without disaster risk governance, UN chief says on International Day
UN, Oct 13 (Canadian-Media): With nations facing multiple crises simultaneously and a dramatic rise in extreme weather events in recent decades, the UN Secretary-General has called for strengthening disaster risk governance, to build a safer, more resilient world.
In a message commemorating the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, Secretary-General António Guterres warned that without good disaster risk governance, “bad situations only get worse.”
Noting that disaster risk isn’t the “sole responsibility” of local and national authorities, Mr. Guterres highlighted the need for political commitment at the highest level to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“Good disaster risk governance means acting on science and evidence,” he added.
COVID-19 and disaster risk reduction The Secretary-General also referred to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact, highlighting that lessons from the global crisis can be applied to strengthen disaster risk governance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the importance of strengthening disaster risk reduction … COVID-19 has shown us that systemic risk requires international cooperation,” he said.
“To eradicate poverty and reduce the impacts of climate change, we must place the public good above all other considerations,” he added.
Multi-sectoral policies Meanwhile, Mami Mizutori, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, also highlighted the lessons from COVID-19.
In a separate message, she explained that COVID-19 has underscored the need for “clear vision, plans and competent, empowered institutions acting on scientific evidence.”
“We need to see strategies which address not just single hazards like floods and storms but those that respond to systemic risk generated by zoonotic diseases, climate shocks and environmental breakdown,” she urged.
“Good national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction must be multi-sectoral linking policies in areas such as land use, building codes, public health, education, agriculture, environmental protection, energy, water resources, poverty reduction and climate change adaptation,” added Ms. Mizutori, who is also the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
The International Day The theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is strengthening disaster risk governance – one of the Priorities for Action of the Sendai Framework – to build a safer and more resilient world.
Disaster risk governance refers to the way in which the public authorities, civil servants, media, private sector, and civil society coordinate at community, national and regional levels in order to manage and reduce disaster and climate related risks.
Held every 13 October, the International Day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face. The International Day was designated by the UN General Assembly in 2009.
#UN; #UNDP; #Covid19Pandemic; #Migration; #Poverty
United Nations, Sep 26 (Canadian-Media): The fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic is adding a “deadly layer of complexity” to the global challenge of preventing more people from falling into poverty, a view articulated in a photographic exhibition sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
A migrant labourer in India holds a photo of his mother who was killed in a road accident as they returned home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: UNDP India/Dhiraj Singh
One hundred million more people are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, an unfolding human tragedy which has been captured on film by eight photographers who have travelled across the world to tell the stories of the most vulnerable.
The impact on people’s access to health, education, work and property is documented in a series of intimate images.
Their photographs are being displayed at the Photoville Exhibit in New York City until the end of November 2020.
Read more here about the exhibition and how photographers are depicting a “once-in-a-century crisis”.
The pandemic has added a deadly layer of complexity to those pressing challenges. It’s a once-in-a century crisis, with consequences that will leave deep scars for years to come.
With up to 100 million more people being pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, 1.4 billion children affected by school closures, and record unemployment, COVID-19 is a huge impediment to human progress. UNDP has predicted that global human development is on course to decline this year for the first since the concept was introduced.
UNDP’s Photoville exhibit, in New York City shines a spotlight on the pandemic’s effects as it sweeps over the rich and the poor—from the deserted streets of the mighty economic engine of New York City, to the so-called “Sewage Slum” of Nairobi, where some of the world’s most vulnerable people face even more hardship.
The full exhibition will display at the Photoville Exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City, 15 September through 29 November 2020.
#UN; #WFP; #Famine; #Hunger; #poverty; #HungerPademic
Geneva/UN, Sep 25 (Canadian-Media): The UN is warning of an impending hunger pandemic across the world, partly a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the World Food Programme (WFP) preparing to launch an unprecedented food aid operation, UN News spoke to WFP Assistant Executive-Director Valerie Guarnieri, on the devastating rise in hunger, and the scale of funding needed to feed those most vulnerable.
A child receiving food in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. COVID-19 risks undermining efforts to reduce hunger. Image credit: WFP/Saikat Mojumder
In her role as WFP deputy chief, Valerie Guarnieri leads programme and policy developments towards ending hunger, including efforts to ensure protection and inclusion; expand school meals and nutrition programmes; empower women; build resilient food systems; and support cash transfers and social protection.
In this interview, part of an SDG Media Zone series, taking place during the high-level opening of the General Assembly, Ms. Guarnieri warned that billions are still needed to fund the agency’s projects, and explains why food systems urgently need to be transformed.
UN News: Why has COVID-19 dramatically increased the threat of hunger?
Valerie Guarnieri: Before COVID-19, we were already seeing a rise in hunger, after decades of having hunger on the run, because of conflict and because of climate change.
What we're seeing is that that hunger is being taken to new levels. On the one hand, food prices are going go up and, at the same time, people are feeling the hit of the socio-economic crisis. So, families are struggling to afford the food they need, to survive and to thrive.
UN News: WFP is launching what is possibly the largest food aid operation in history. What does that look like?
Valerie Guarnieri: We’re scaling up to reach 138 million people this year. It’s a huge operation for us and means that we need to mobilize the resources that we need. We’re still $5 billion short of our target.
We need to be buying food, getting it ready to reach the people who have been affected, and then we need to ramp up our cash assistance for households, pump-priming our cash programmes to ensure that people can buy food in the market.
So, it's a massive undertaking for which we need a lot more support. A few months ago, we called on donor governments to advance financing that they had already committed for the year. And many did that.
But what we've seen is that, with COVID, the impact on hunger is really growing, and so our programs have had to scale up even further.
Governments have also turned to WFP to assist them in buying the food that they need to keep their social protection systems going, or to help make those programs more effective. That’s why we need an additional $5 billion before the end of the year, so that we can deliver on those promises.
UN News: For many people, food systems just aren't working. Two billion people are obese, a trillion dollars-worth of food is wasted every year, yet millions go hungry. What's the answer?
Valerie Guarnieri: When we're looking at food systems, we're basically talking about everything from farm to fork, and here we need to make sure that those systems, and each step in that value chain, is delivering food security for all, in a sustainable way for the planet.
Food systems are also a huge contributor to climate change, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in terms of deforestation. That’s why the UN Secretary-General has called for a Food Systems Summit next year.
This is a great opportunity for us to align public sector, private sector, and everything that needs to come into place, to make sure that food systems really deliver for all.
The World Food Programme (WFP) grain stored in Hudaydah's Red Sea Mills has been inaccessible for over five months and is at risk of rotting.
UN News: David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme, recently addressed the Security Council and raised the alarm of a “hunger pandemic”. Do you share his fears?
Valerie Guarnieri: We are on the verge of famine in a number of countries. And this comes as a result of conflict. It comes as a result of climate shocks, but it's also compounded and exacerbated by the effect of COVID-19.
And we've seen donor nations stepping up to provide resources, to support WFP programs and also partner programs that target the most vulnerable and seek to support them. But it's not enough.
There's a huge amount of wealth in the public sector and in the hands of very wealthy individuals. And it's essential that it comes together, to prevent this from happening.
The famine is absolutely preventable, but it requires political, and financial innovation.
UN News: We’re speaking in the United States, the richest country in the world, but even here, there are many people who are suffering food insecurity and going to bed hungry.
Valerie Guarnieri: Well, countries like the United States have the wherewithal to ensure that no child goes to sleep hungry. And in situations like we have now, it's absolutely imperative that the US matches the stimulus support that they're providing, with efforts to ensure that it reaches, and targets, those who are most vulnerable.
But that's not enough. It's also essential that the U S and other rich nations reach out and support those around the world, whose governments don't have the wherewithal to provide that support.
I think COVID-19 has shown us, almost more than anything else, how connected we all are. And it is incumbent on all to ensure that we reach those furthest behind.
UN News: for many vulnerable children, school may be their only chance of getting a meal. Are you in favour of reopening schools?
School meals are the largest global safety net, and they provide a lifeline for children. You can't learn on an empty stomach. Valerie Guarnieri, Assistant Executive-Director, World Food Programme
Valerie Guarnieri: It's absolutely essential to get children back to school, wherever it's safe for them to do so, so that they can have access to the learning that comes through being in school, and engaging directly with their teachers and their peers, but also so that they can access a nutritious meal.
School meals are the largest global safety net, and they provide a lifeline for children both to ensure that their food needs are met, but also to help them benefit more from the learning. You can't learn on an empty stomach.
UN News: You must often have to deal with some harrowing situations. Is the situation regarding hunger bleak, or are you seeing any positive signs?
Valerie Guarnieri: One of the really positive signs that we've been seeing at WFP is how nations are really stepping up to ensure that their systems are catering to the most vulnerable.
Fifty nations have approached the WFP specifically for help to ensure that their systems are adapted, are more efficient, and more effective in reaching the most vulnerable.
At the end of the day, nations are on the frontline for addressing the problems for keeping hunger and the hunger pandemic at bay. And for me, it's been really encouraging to see the number of nations who are really stepping up to do that.
#UN; #Palestine; #Covid19; #UNWRA; #Refugees; #UNHCR
UN, Sep 5 (Canadian-Media):The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a health and socio-economic emergency across the occupied Palestinian territory, the UN agency for the region warned on Friday, noting a swell of coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
A health worker provides COVID-19 information to a patient visiting the Jerusalem Health Center. Image credit:: UNRWA/Louise Wateridge
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), said that it requires some $95 million to cover the emergency needs of 5.6 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, until the end of December.
The funds will, among other things, focus on health, cash assistance and education.
Until now, UNRWA’s efforts to contain the virus among those it assists have been largely successful.
But spokesperson Tamara Alrifai, said that between July and September, the number of cases soared from 200, to nearly 4,000.
COVID-19 cases surged in the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria in July, she said, with more recent increases in Jordan, and the first cases of local transmission was recorded in late-August.
“That’s a really dramatic jump…mostly due to the longer-term socioeconomic impact of the lockdown and the closures and the fact that beyond a few weeks, it was not possible to keep everybody confined in camps because Palestine refugees needed to go back to work”, she explained.
Refugees must work To minimize contagion risks, UNRWA was able to adjust its working methods to provide healthcare and hospital care, including switching to remote learning.
To avoid crowds in its distribution centres, the UN agency delivered medicines and food to people’s homes, which also helped containment of the virus.
However, the recent surge has made this even more challenging because of the longer-term impact of the lockdown and closures on household economies.
Fear of worsening spread Unless the UN is able to support refugees to stay in camps and meet people’s medical needs, Ms. Alrifai flagged growing fears of an outbreak in very densely populated communities.
“This funding is crucial for controlling the spread of the pandemic in Palestine refugee camps and to help prevent a major outbreak”, the UNRWA spokesperson stressed.
Schools in session Meanwhile, despite financial and other challenges, over half a million children are enrolled in 711 UNRWA schools in the West Bank – encompassing East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon – where they receive a quality education, including classes on human rights, and conflict resolution.
UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, made the decision to open schools for the new academic year, primarily to ensure that every girl and boy has access to equitable quality education.
He believes that resuming classes also gives children a greater sense of normality within what is a highly unpredictable region.
#Beirut; #UN; #WaterBorneDiseases; #WaterShortage; #UNICEF; Hygiene; Covid19
Beirut/UN, Aug 29 (Canadian-Media): Risk of water-borne diseases is rising in Beirut, in the aftermath of the devastating explosion in early August, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned, calling for urgent action to ensure families and responders have access to safe water and sanitation.
Scenes of destruction at the port area due to the massive explosion that tore through Beirut, Lebanon. Image credit: © UNICEF
Rising cases of COVID-19 is complicating an already difficult situation, according to the head of the UNICEF office in Lebanon.
“As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, it is more critical than ever to ensure that children and families whose lives were turned upside down by the explosion have access to safe water and sanitation,” said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Lebanon Representative.
“When communities don’t have access to this critical necessity, the risk of water-borne diseases, as well as COVID-19, can skyrocket,” she added.
The situation is particularly distressing for some 300,000 people – including around 100,000 children – whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the blast.
Though public water sustained only minor damage and remains mostly functional, the explosion cut off more than one hundred buildings from the water supply network and damaged the water systems in over 500 others. This compounded an already precarious situation in terms of access to safe water and sanitation in the greater Beirut area.
UNICEF response In the immediate aftermath of the 4 August explosion, UNICEF along with partners and water authorities assessed the damage to water infrastructure and began responding to pressing needs, supporting repairs where needed.
UNICEF and partners also reconnected over one hundred buildings to the public water system and installed 570 water tanks in damaged ones, trucked water for households, provided water to first responders, and distributed over 4,300 hygiene and 620 baby kits to affected families.
UNICEF is also providing training and resources to equip thousands of young people across Lebanon with the skills they need to help rebuild their country, including training on repairs and maintenance of critical water and sanitation infrastructure.
Ensuring people can wash hands safely, against COVID Making sure communities can wash hands with soap and safe water is also vital to protect against coronavirus.
“One of our immediate priorities was ensuring that children and families affected, as well as critical frontline responders, had access to safe water,” said Ms. Mokuo, adding:
“Working with the relevant authorities and our partners we’ve been able to reach more than 6,650 children and their families, but there is so much more to do, and time is of the essence.”