NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.
A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.
“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.
“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”
An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.
The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.
Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.
It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.
“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.
It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.
But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.
Libyan authorities say they have raided a secret prison in a southeastern city used by human traffickers and freed at last 156 African migrants – including 15 women and five children.
The raid in the city of Kufra took place on February 16 after a migrant managed to escape a house-turned-prison last week and reported to authorities that he and other migrants were held and tortured by traffickers there, the Kufra security bureau said.
Security forces arrested at least six traffickers and referred them to prosecutors for further investigation on Sunday, it said.
The rescued migrants, who were from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, were taken to a shelter where they were given food, clothes and blankets.
The raid shows the perils that refugees and migrants face in conflict-stricken Libya, which has emerged as an integral transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The country is split between an internationally recognised government based in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival administration in the country’s east.
Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Mediterranean route.
Thousands have drowned along the way, while others have ended up detained in squalid smugglers’ pens or crowded detention centres.
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has urged Gulf states to step up next Monday when the world body seeks to avert a large-scale “man-made” famine in Yemen by raising $3.85bn for humanitarian operations in the war-torn Arabian Peninsula country for 2021.
The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the people in need. Lowcock warned if the world body does not receive the money it needs at a virtual pledging conference on Monday, “we’re going to see is the worst famine the world has seen for decades”.
In 2018 and 2019, the UN prevented famine in Yemen due to a well-funded aid appeal, which included large donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Lowcock said.
“What is alarming and what is different about the situation we’re in now is that there’s been such a big drop off in support for the aid operation that we’ve been cutting aid to starving people – not in an isolated way, in a way that affects millions of people all over the country,” Lowcock said on Wednesday.
In 2020 the United Nations only received just more than half the $3.4bn it needed, which Lowcock said was largely due to smaller contributions from Gulf countries. He urged them to pledge generously for 2021 and pay quickly.
“My message really to the Gulf countries … is you have an extremely important role to play here, what you did in 2018 and 2019 saved a lot of lives, frankly, and enabled us to avoid a total collapse and a tragedy of genuinely historic proportion. It’s now back on a knife-edge,” Lowcock
“This is an entirely man-made famine,” he added.
Yemen is engulfed in a war that erupted in 2014 when Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa and most of the country’s north after overthrowing the internationally-backed government. Months later, a Saudi-led coalition launched a military offensive in support of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
After nearly six years of war, millions of Yemenis are on the brink of famine with the economy destroyed, schools and hospitals barely functioning, and tens of thousands killed.
The needs of people affected by deadly fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are “overwhelming”, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.
“The people in Tigray… lost the harvest season,” the ICRC’s director of operations, Dominik Stillhart, told the BBC during his visit to Ethiopia.
He said there were “serious issues with regards to access to medical care”.
Ethiopia’s government had earlier said was being delivered and nearly 1.5 million people had been reached.
Thousands of people are reported to have been killed, and about two million have been internally displaced.
About 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had been living in UN-run camps in Tigray have also been caught up in the conflict.
Conflict broke out in November after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized federal military bases in the region following a breakdown in relations with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa.
What is the background to the conflict?
The TPLF had been the ruling party in Tigray, with an estimated 250,000 fighters under its command, for almost 30 years.
It was ousted from power on 28 November after Ethiopian government troops captured the regional capital, Mekelle.
Mr Abiy accused the TPLF of threatening the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and of trying to overthrow his government by seizing military bases earlier that month.
The TPLF said it had captured the bases as a pre-emptive strike as it feared federal intervention in Tigray.
In August, it organised elections in Tigray in defiance of a decision taken at federal level to postpone all polls because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Abiy’s government condemned the election as illegal, while the TPLF said his government was “illegitimate” and did not have a mandate to govern Ethiopia.
Tensions boiled over, leading to the outbreak of conflict.
PALISADE, MINNESOTA — In normal times, about 100 souls live in this small Northern Minnesota town on the banks of the Mississippi River where we are making our stand against one of the largest tar sands pipeline projects in North America. Known as Line 3, it has the potential to carry 915,000 barrels a day of dirty oil over 1,000 miles, from Alberta in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Palisade is the kind of place where most people know one another a couple of generations back, a town with a tiny main street and just one café. Now there are about 400 workers here — most from out of state — rolling heavy trucks and equipment down icy, windy unfamiliar roads every day.
This small town is nestled in the deep woods and muskegs of Aitkin County, the lands of the Chippewa of the Mississippi, as my people are known. Akiing, the Anishinaabe word for “the land to which the people belong,” is half land and half water. Waters deep and shallow filled with wild rice, sturgeon and muskies, and all the mysteries of the deep waters. This is the only place in the world where wild rice grows. Each year in succession the manoomin returns, the only grain native to North America. This is the homeland of the Anishinaabe.
And here Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in the world, is hell-bent on jamming through their Line 3 Pipeline, the company’s most massive project, under the cover of this COVID-19 winter as fast as they can—before we can stop them and before the world takes notice.
From the Water Protector Center at the edge of the pipeline route, Water Protectors gather. We hear the pounding all day long. The constant roar of heavy machinery as it rips through the forest and the wetlands. It’s brutal work, and dangerous as hell. Last month, Jorge Lopez Villafuerte was killed in the Enbridge Pipeyard, run over by a forklift. He came here from Utah for work. Instead, he found death. Enbridge halted work in the area for less than four hours — and then the pounding began again.
Then there’s the armed forces, the sheriff’s office, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who have deployed here. Their wages are paid by Enbridge. That’s because Minnesota noted the $38 million bill for Standing Rock, and decided just to pay in advance. A Canadian corporation paying for the police in Minnesota.
It looks like an occupation. It feels like an occupation. With all the violence that entails.
First the big dozers came, then the excavators, backhoes and feller bunchers. That last one just sort of walks through the forest, beheads a tree, drops the top to one side, and then comes back for the rest of the tree. This is how Enbridge rolls through a forest. They are gunning for the rivers now, heading straight for them: the Mississippi, the Willow, the Shell, the Little Shell, the Crow Wing: 22 river crossings in all. They are coming with something called a High Directional Drill. So they can drill under the river, just like they did at Standing Rock, at the Cannonball River. It feels a lot like a rape.
They don’t want us to see what they are doing. Last week, they put up a fence around the drill site. They plan to shove in that 36-inch pipe, so it can move 915,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil in the world across 330 miles of Northern Minnesota to Lake Superior.
We have been fighting this pipeline for seven years. And so far we’ve held it off in the courts and through the permitting process. The carbon output would be equivalent to opening 50 new coal plants—more carbon emissions than the entire current Minnesota economy. And all this for a dying industry. Energy companies and investors are fleeing the tar sands. Keystone XL is doomed, Dakota Access is in a legal mess (federal courts have ruled that its Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate). Enbridge itself is putting 400,000 barrels a day less through its main lines than they did a year ago. But the company still wants to sell this last pipeline. The Last Tar Sands Pipeline. Our governor, Tim Walz, took the bait. Minnesota needs real infrastructure: water, sewer and bridges. But we’re getting a climate bomb pipeline instead.
Enbridge would like to start flooding the north country with oil, as quick as it can. The Red Lake and White Earth tribes and even the Minnesota Department of Commerce have filed suit in state courts to overturn all the permits on this pipeline. On Christmas Eve, we filed in federal court to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits to cross the rivers. There has been no federal Environmental Impact Statement. We have a pretty good chance of prevailing in court. So Enbridge wants to finish this dirty work before the law comes.
On the bank of the Mississippi in the pathway of the pipeline, there is a prayer lodge, a waaginoogan, a ceremonial teaching lodge, and we have been praying there. We’ve built lodges like this on the shores of the river for generations. We built the lodge before Enbridge.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tania Aubid and I returned to our lodge and found a stake in it, an Enbridge pipeline right-of-way stake. That was a surprise. One of the conditions of Enbridge’s permits is that they are supposed to have cultural monitors out ahead of the pipeline. But of course they didn’t. They just put a stake in the middle of the lodge. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued an “exclusion order” on Dec. 5, excluding Minnesotans from public lands they had given to Enbridge. That’s public lands, handed over to a Canadian corporation. I was cited by Aitkin County for trespassing, as I left my lodge. We contend that our spiritual practice, guaranteed by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, supersedes the ordinance. The Creator gave us a right to pray, not Minnesota. We put up a “No Trespassing” sign with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act cited on it — USC 42. The lodge is still there. And so are we.
And not just in Palisade. Indigenous people and our allies are resisting across the whole pathway of this pipeline, from near the Red Lake Reservation in the Northwest, where a new camp just opened, to the Fond du Lac reservation on the eastern end, where Water Protectors have been disrupting the destruction everyday. This past month we’ve been praying by the river, and asking others to come. And they have answered the call: legislators, friends from the cities, people of all religious faiths, relatives from South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, water protectors from all four directions to sing those Water Songs, as Enbridge drills.
When the pipeline project was one month in, 44 people already had been arrested. Forty-four good people who put their bodies on the line because they believe in water more than oil. And more are coming every day.
We are digging in for the winter. After all, we’ve got good genes and warm clothes, and being outside during the pandemic is a good idea. But, really, we are looking to Washington now. This is the Pandemic Pipeline Project, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s the end of the tar sands era, and it’s time for a just transition. A new president says he will take action on climate change; the Army Corps of Engineers needs to do an environmental impact statement; and we want the court to stay the project, so we can have our day in court. In the meantime, the movement grows, to stand for the water.
KUALA LUMPUR, – Air pollution caused tens of thousands of deaths in the world’s five most populous cities last year despite coronavirus lockdowns, researchers said on Thursday, urging governments to ditch fossil fuels and invest in a green recovery.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace Southeast Asia and air quality technology company IQAir measured pollution levels across 28 cities – chosen according to where data was available and with a geographical spread.
In the five most-populated cities – Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo – air pollution caused about 160,000 deaths and economic losses totalling about $85 billion.
“A few months of lockdown hasn’t really dented that long-term average of air pollution that people have been exposed to,” said Aidan Farrow, an air pollution scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Britain’s University of Exeter.
“It is a little shocking to see how much upheaval there has been – and we still have work to do to improve air pollution,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Air pollution is the single largest environmental risk to human health globally, and kills an estimated 7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO says nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, which is linked to strokes, lung cancer and heart disease – and now equals the effects of smoking tobacco, health experts say.
The problem affects more cities in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Major causes include vehicle emissions, coal power plants, construction, festival fireworks, forest clearing, and burning of crops, firewood and waste.
Delhi had the highest death toll among the five biggest cities, with some 54,000 deaths – or one per 500 people – due to high levels of tiny pollution particles, known as PM2.5, which can cause lung and heart diseases, the study said.
Japan’s capital Tokyo suffered the highest financial cost with approximately 40,000 deaths and economic losses of $43 billion, it added.
Lockdowns to stem the spread of the new coronavirus in major cities have forced millions to work from home, while slowing economies have slashed carbon dioxide emissions.
“We have seen changes in road traffic, aviation as well … but the major (air pollution) sources have continued to operate largely as before,” Farrow said,
“The problem is vast and needs a big, multi-industry effort to address it,” he added, calling for more investment in cleaner technologies, renewable energy and electrified public transport.
Yearly, these centers have welcomed a large number of displaced children who have migrated to Ho Chi Minh City from rural provinces. Most of them are from poor families, or difficult situations.
Happily, Friends for Street Children has also welcomed many volunteers from inside and outside Vietnam, who come to FFSC centers to share love with children through gifts, to play with them, or (most importantly) to provide them with the chance to gain knowledge, and develop their potential and life skills so they can have a better life in the future.
One of the volunteers that we most admire is Philip MacLaurin, 60, from London, England, and his wife Frances MacLaurin, 54, from Scotland. They are Catholic, and have a great affection for the poor children in Vietnam.
They live in Ho Chi Minh City and have been doing volunteer work with Friends for Street Children for about 12 years. They truly love the poor children, as well as students in Vietnam, and generously finance scholarships or support other needs to help these children have better lives and brighter futures. Although they must work hard to earn a living in Vietnam, what they do have they use to do charitable works for the poor children in Vietnam.
Philip came here to work as a director of Premier Oil’s Vietnam branch in 2006, and just retired in June 2020. Since he is not working for the company anymore, he told Sister Mary (who is in charge of caring for the orphans at the Binh Trieu warm shelter) that he would have more time to do charitable works. “I really thirst to help the poor young students, show them how to get a good job, or how to achieve success in their life in the future.”
When he was working from Monday to Friday, he spent two days on the weekend to do volunteer works in some of the Friends for Street Children centers. For example, every Saturday he taught English to younger children from 3 to 10 years old, at the warm shelter in the Binh Trieu center. These kids love to study with him because he is very friendly and creates a pleasant learning environment, not forcing them. They especially love his teaching hour when he uses video clips, nice pictures, and English songs like “Baby Shark” and the “Finger Family Song” … things that help kids remember their lessons and relax after a week of study. In fact, the aim of his teaching hour is to bring joy to children, and it also relaxed him after a hard work week.
Even more wonderful is his wife Frances, who came with her husband to Vietnam; she is a full-time volunteer, doing only charitable works. On weekdays, she teaches free English for adult children (grades six to 12) at Binh Trieu’s warm shelter and at Stephan (another warm shelter in Ho Chi Minh City that is not an FFSC center). She is a psychology teacher, and knows how to encourage children to study. She usually has prizes for children who achieve in her classes. Or she might reward them by taking them to the supermarket to choose any gifts they like, or by taking them to get fast food like pizza, spaghetti, or fried chicken at a restaurant. The children have never eaten such dishes, and are very glad to study with her.
Realizing the affection that the MacLaurins have for them, the children are very joyful and happy to see them. When they come to any Friends for Street Children center to teach or attend events, the children say “hello” loudly, then run up and hold them with welcoming hugs. The children truly love them, and consider them like their parents.
In addition, every year the MacLaurins provide scholarships for poor students with good grades in the university. They also help with gifts like money, rice or oil for children whose families are in difficult financial circumstances for the Vietnamese Tet holiday at the end of the year. They particularly like to give their share of contributions in the form of educational programs for the poor children in Friends for Street Children.
We sisters, teachers and volunteers of the Friends for Street Children program really are grateful to Phillip and Frances not only for loving the Vietnamese children and giving significant contributions for our program, but also for giving Vietnamese children a good impression of foreigners.
We are proud to have zealous foreign volunteers like them, and consider them wonderful role models for us to imitate in serving and loving the poor children. We particularly learned about their generosity and love for children in Vietnam when we did an interview with them:
Nguyen:What motivates you to love the poor children in Vietnam? MacLaurins: We are very privileged in our lives; we had a high-quality education and good jobs. Now we feel we have a lot to offer in terms of our life experience, knowledge and skills. We want to encourage disadvantaged children to achieve their potential and motivate them to have a better future.
How do you feel when helping poor children in Vietnam? It is always a pleasure because the children are so appreciative, warm and joyful, but it is also heart-wrenching to see the very difficult situations that some children live in. Too many have substandard homes and need to work to support their families. However, if we can do even a little bit to make their situation easier or encourage them in their lives, that is very rewarding for us, and hopefully for them as well.
What do you want them to do when you support them? We obviously want them to succeed. For us, success does not mean being top in the class, it means achieving their potential, and being decent, hardworking young people, who have good values and care for themselves and others.
We thank God for sending the MacLaurins to the Friends for Street Children program; all of us — staff and children — pray for them every day. May God bless their charitable works, so that they can continue to bring love and happiness to others. May God bless them with pleasure in sharing their love with the disadvantaged children in Vietnam.
As St. Paul said, “Happiness lies more in giving then in receiving” (Acts 20:35).
More children could be pushed into joining armed groups in conflict zones as families face increasing poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a top U.N. official warned on Friday.
The exact number of child soldiers is unknown, but in 2019 alone about 7,740 children – some as young as six – were recruited and used as fighters or in other roles by mostly non-state armed groups, according to United Nations data.
Speaking on International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers – or Red Hand Day – the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said that number was likely to rise as a result of coronavirus-related hardship.
“There is a real threat that as communities lack work, and are more and more isolated because of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, we’re going to see an increase in the recruitment of children for a lack of options,” she said.
“More and more children will be either attracted or sometimes told by their parents to just go and join because someone’s got to feed them,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call.
Girls and boys are still forced to join armed groups, as fighters or in roles such as cooks or for sexual exploitation, in at least 14 countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Somalia, the United Nations has said.
The United Nations called for a global ceasefire last year to help fight COVID-19, but armed groups have continued fighting and Gamba said the pandemic had also hampered efforts to protect children in conflict zones.
She said she was concerned about a surge in attacks by Islamist militants against children in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, including kidnappings, killings and forced displacement, noting that COVID-19 was changing armed groups’ tactics.
“As children are not in schools, therefore the target of attacking a school for abduction or recruitment of children … is shifting to where the children are,” she said.
The pandemic has also delayed progress on implementing legislation in different countries to prohibit and criminalize the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, Gamba said, calling for lawmakers to prioritise the issue.
“The issue of accountability is fundamental,” she said.
But despite some worrying trends, progress on combating the use of child soldiers is being made, Gamba said.
In South Sudan, the number of violations against children including their recruitment as fighters has significantly declined over the past five years, according to her office’s annual report.
And last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Dominic Ongwen, a commander of Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and former child soldier, of dozens of crimes including child abductions and murder.
Ongwen’s conviction at the Hague-based court was applauded by the United Nations, but Gamba said a concerted effort at the national level was the best way to stop children becoming soldiers.
“In all our joint action plans with the government, and with the armed groups, we make it very, very clear we expect to see an oversight of the way their own officers, their own personnel are engaging in recruitment,” she said.
This material has been funded by UK aid from the UK government; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.
Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said.
Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year.
Making peace with nature was the defining task of the coming decades, he said, and the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all people. The report combines recent major UNassessments with the latest research and the solutions available, representing an authoritative scientific blueprint of how to repair the planet.
The report says societies and economies must be transformed by policies such as replacing GDP as an economic measure with one that reflects the true value of nature, as recommended this month by a study commissioned by the UK Treasury.
Carbon emissions need to be taxed, and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to green energy and food production, the report says. As well as systemic changes, people in rich nations can act too, it says, by cutting meat consumption and wasting less energy and water.
“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” said Guterres. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”
The triple emergency threatened our viability as a species, he said. But ending the war would not mean poorer living standards or an end to poverty reduction. “On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”
“This report provides the bedrock for hope,” he said. “It makes clear our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a postwar rebuilding programme.”
Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said: “We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, a disease transmitted from animals to humans, to know that the finely tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted.” Unep and the World Health Organization have said the root cause of pandemics is the destruction of the natural world, with worse outbreaks to come unless action is taken.
The report says the fivefold growth of the global economy in the last 50 years was largely fuelled by a huge increase in the extraction of fossil fuels and other resources, and has come at massive cost to the environment. The world population has doubled since 1970 and while average prosperity has also doubled, 1.3 billion people remain in poverty and 700 million are hungry.
“We use three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans – we are completely dominating the Earth,” said Ivar Baste of the Norwegian Environment Agency, a lead author of the report.
Prof Sir Robert Watson, who has led UN scientific assessments on climate and biodiversity and is the other lead author of the report, said: “We have got a triple emergency and these three issues are all interrelated and have to be dealt with together. They’re no longer just environmental issues – they are economic issues, development issues, security issues, social, moral and ethical issues.
“Of all the things we have to do, we have to really rethink our economic and financial systems. Fundamentally, GDP doesn’t take nature into account. We need to get rid of these perverse subsidies, they are $5-7tn a year. If you could move some of these towards low-carbon technology and investing in nature, then the money is there.”
This meant taking on companies and countries with vested interests in fossil fuels, he said: “There are a lot of people that really like these perverse subsidies. They love the status quo. So governments have to have the guts to act”.
Financial institutions could play a huge role, Watson said, by ending funding for fossil fuels, the razing of forests and large-scale monoculture agriculture. Companies should act too, he said: “Proactive companies see that if they can be sustainable, they can be first movers and make a profit. But in some cases, regulation will almost certainly be needed for those companies that don’t care.”
Pollution was included in the report because despite improvements in some wealthy nations, toxic air, water, soils and workplaces cause at least 9 million deaths a year, one in six of all deaths. “This is still a huge issue,” said Baste.
The world’s nations will gather at two crucial UN summits in 2021 on the climate and biodiversity crises. “We know we failed miserably on the biodiversity targets [set in 2010],” said Watson. “I’ll be very disappointed if at these summits all they talk about is targets and goals. They’ve got to talk about actions – that’s really what’s crucial.”
The storm has engulfed much of the United States, leaving millions in Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, without power for three days, and killing at least 21 people across four states.
The homeless population in Texas is particularly vulnerable, with cities across the state scrambling to provide shelter in hotels, churches, and other buildings, and state capital Austin estimated to be home to about 2,500 homeless people.
“The funding coming in from around the world really is a huge weight off our backs,” said Bobby Cooper, who founded the volunteer-run Austin Mutual Aid in March 2020 in response to COVID-19.
He said they have received reports of people dying in the streets and local authorities should have done more to prepare shelters when they knew a storm was coming.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler blamed the power failures on a lack of preparedness and also called for reforms.
“We could have done this work before the storm hit,” Cooper said. “These were preventable deaths.”
The nonprofit is spending thousands on hotel rooms and food, often by cash and credit from local volunteers, many of whom are low income and need to be reimbursed quickly, Cooper said, adding so far they had helped more than 400 people into hotels.
Supporters in the United States are also donating thousands more through the payment app Venmo.
About 27,000 people are homeless on any day in Texas as of January 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Cooper said dozens of volunteers have been driving around the city to find and help homeless people.
But it is getting increasingly harder to find vacant hotel rooms and other spaces for people to shelter, said Eric Samuels, president and chief executive of the Texas Homeless Network, which supports homeless agencies across the state.
He said communities need to find whatever space they can, from convention centers to city-owned buildings with power.
Samuels said COVID-19 has made their efforts especially difficult due to social distancing and a lack of volunteers.
“During these times, we need more facility space than we ever would because we have to keep people separated,” he said.
The issue hasn’t affected all Texans equally.
About 37% of the homeless population in Texas is Black, according to HUD, despite making up only 13% of the total state population of about 29 million.
“The unhoused, the poorest populations, people of color – they’re at the end of the priority list with any disaster,” said Cooper.