SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organisation said on Wednesday.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.
Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.
“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”
Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.
McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation”.
Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.
Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.
More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.
If you peer into the gutters of any big Nigerian city, a filthy sight awaits you: Floating cans, nylon water sachets, empty bottles and other waste materials discarded by humans, swept there by rain, gathering and clogging up the drain.
This is not only a Nigerian problem, it is a global challenge. The world continues to writhe under the burden of waste management. In 2019, the Global Material Footprint (the amount of raw material including fossil fuels, biomass and metal and non-metal ore, extracted to meet total consumption demand), according to the United Nations, was 85.9 billion tonnes – up from 73.2 billion tonnes 10 years before. Meanwhile, the world’s electronics waste – namely discarded smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices – grew by 38 percent in that same year.
Today, March 18, the world celebrates Global Recycling Day with the theme #RecyclingHeroes to draw attention to “the people, places and activities that showcase what an important role recycling plays in contributing to an environmentally stable planet and a greener future which will benefit all”.
In Nigeria, “wastepreneurs” are providing an answer to this by taking waste straight from the dump, transforming it and redefining its purpose. These innovators work with different materials – water sachets, scrap metal, bottles, plastic, tyres and more – with many of them learning on the job, how to manipulate these objects, to make “beauty out of ashes”. These entrepreneurs ask: “If you can recycle it, why waste it?”
Ade Dagunduro: ‘Not trash, but a thing of beauty’
Surrounded by art pieces in his gallery in Dugbe at the heart of Ibadan, Ade Dagunduro, 34, takes us through his creative journey. A graduate of Fine Art from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, his desire to push the boundaries of what he learned within the walls of a university spurred him to take up more training in painting and sculpture.
“School was more theoretical, less practical. When you get out of school and into the real world, you realise there is much more to learn,” he says.
Art has “changed his life”, he adds, and, now, he can help improve life a little for others by taking waste from the streets to make art.
Originally working with regular art materials such as paint, clay and wood, five years ago, Dagunduro decided to challenge himself by thinking beyond those.
“I wanted to see if I could actually think outside the box. I asked myself if I could be more creative,” he says. In his quest to do this, Dagunduro learned to manipulate waste materials like used tyres, which would otherwise be burned – a common cause of pollution in Nigeria.
His first work with waste in 2016 was an ox made out of a tyre, called The Challenge. These days, he also works with metal, ropes and plastic which he finds on the streets in his community. Sometimes, people bring materials to his studio.
“Our environment can now smile because we have people like us trying to ease off its burden by picking the waste off its shoulders. These days, you hardly find cartons, for instance, littering the streets. Humans are exhausting the forests. Now we need more paper, so we have to start recycling what we see on the street,” he says.
Dagunduro’s latest work, titled Torso, is a female form made from dismantled motorcycle chains – which he picked up from a motorcycle mechanic’s workshop – welded together.
“You first craft with clay, then you take the mould which has been constructed and cast it out with cement. After that, you allow it to dry and then ‘liberate’ it out of the clay. So now that it is out, the pattern is already printed on the mould, and you can begin welding the metal around it, which is done in batches. After that, you couple the metal pieces together.”
Dagunduro says this is then followed by cleaning and shining, to prevent rust and preserve the artwork.
The motorcycle chains that would have been thrown on a dump now stand as a sculpture, in the far-right corner of Ade Dag Art Gallery, waiting to be bought; “waiting to re-enter the world that discarded it, not as trash but as a thing of beauty,” he says.
PHNOM PENH, – A Cambodian policewoman has been showered with gifts and messages of support after she was shamed online by superiors and forced to apologise over a photo of her breastfeeding at work went viral on social media last week.
The working mother this week received $2,500 from the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen – the latest public overture to her following intense public backlash over her treatment by superiors at the Stung Treng provincial police department.
“The support from Bun Rany Hun Sen instills pride in the woman to be a mother while working and breastfeeding her son,” the provincial administration said in a Facebook post accompanying pictures of the cash handover.
Provincial governor Mom Saroeun also gifted $125 to the policewoman, Sithong Sokha, who was last week forced to make a public apology for sullying the reputations of Cambodian women and the police force with her breastfeeding post.
Cambodian authorities have come under increased scrutiny for policing how women dress and behave, with campaigners calling out multiple violations of United Nations commitments to end violence and discrimination against women.
More than 30 civil society groups slammed “entrenched cultural norms” behind the censuring of Sokha, and various government departments condemned her treatment in a rare show of discord among officials under the one-party government.
The police backtracked and said she was punished only for posting pictures while on duty, and then published photos of her being handed gifts on behalf of the national police chief and provincial police department.
While the gifts suggest acknowledgement of wrongdoing, the police officials who sanctioned Sokha should be held accountable and forced to publicly apologise, said Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“Appropriate measures must be taken to promote gender mainstreaming not only in the workplace but everywhere,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The blank look on his face … a look of hopelessness … helplessness … perplexed … it wasn’t a silent face at all. The look on his wrinkled, aged face spoke aloud, as he stood passively before the vehicle that was about to leave the slum. He had remained absolutely silent all through our interactions with the people and now his look was disturbing. It yearned for something!
We had organized food distribution for stranded migrants in one of the slums in Mumbai due to the lockdown. This slum area of migrants is not unlike other migrant living areas elsewhere in India. They live in subhuman, pathetic conditions, lacking decent housing facilities, potable water, sanitation facilities and other amenities, and are exposed to inclement weather and a hazardous atmosphere. They work for long hours, sometimes risking their health and lives, and yet are paid less than they are entitled to.
The sad eyes of this aged man seemed to express his resignation to his fate, and I wondered if it reflected the feelings of the rest of the migrant population, who also seem to have accepted their present plight helplessly. This resignation might also arise due to the insecurity, uncertainty and unpredictability of their lives.
As they lack financial and health security and have little or no social support from a caste- and class-ridden society, they are unsure of what they can or cannot control in their lives. This leads to a certain passivity, and they feel locked down deep within, unable to rise above. All that they can do is to sigh, become resigned to their “fate,” accepting life events as bound to happen, and feel helpless to change them.
In my experience, their helplessness also leads to a feeling of alienation, of being severed from the mainstream, no longer deemed worthy of love, care or support. Unable to cope with the dynamics and politics of modern-day society, they experience themselves as deficient, limited and powerless.
Even though they aren’t behind prison walls, the structures of society imprison them and they are forced to face physical and emotional captivity. Their helplessness leads them to feel exposed and vulnerable, like a bird grounded by a broken wing.
As I looked at the yearning eyes of the aged man, it seemed to me that he gazed not at the vehicle which was preparing to leave, but at the complacency of those who were more privileged than he. I think that this complacent attitude towards the plight of the migrants in India stems from ignorance about the real extent of the migrants’ situation, or the migrants’ internalized attitude of “resigning to their fate.” Are we so mired in our complacency that we have become blind to their reality? Have we etched more deeply in them the feeling that they have to be resigned to their fate?
Has our craving for power stripped them naked of their own inner strength and dignity, thus making them powerless and limited?
For me, the recent low point of this societal complacency has been the passivity of a few privileged people in India as they watched the unending trail of desperate migrants, within the city and interstate, trying to reach home to be with their loved ones. The migrants took any means — cycles, motorbikes, or container trucks. Some of them even made treacherous journeys on foot, sometimes walking hundreds of kilometers.
Social media projected photographs of women carrying their children in their arms, and their personal belongings on their heads. In such foot journeys, a few of them even lost their lives before reaching home, due to exhaustion, all because they wanted to escape dying of hunger as they tried to save themselves from the coronavirus. These are India’s nameless, faceless migrants who were unjustly denied time and transport to return home, due to the sudden and dramatic announcement of the lockdown — which was, ironically, to save lives.
But who cares for the lives of the poor?
The yearning eyes hit hard at my complacency and I realized that it is this complacency that continues to enslave them. The eyes that are “resigned to fate,” internalizing helplessness, are knocking hard at hearts filled with complacency. These eyes look into the hard-heartedness of those who wallow in the little charity that they offer and think of it as “great generosity,” but which does little to raise the self-worth and dignity of the neglected poor. The yearning eyes long for freedom and dignity, and they continue to pierce into complacent hearts, seeking a response from me and from you.
Quezon City, Philippines — Jane Ollivier lost her parents by the age of 10. For five years, she bounced around between various relatives before she entered the School of Life, a residential program for teenage girls in metropolitan Manila run by the Missionaries of Mary.
“I wasn’t treated as a child who needed help, but as a member of a family,” she said. “I found the care of a family that I was looking for.”
In her three years in the program, Ollivier earned an education degree. She taught school for a year before returning to the School of Life as the home life officer to help other girls learn to be self-sustaining.
The sisters “gave me a foundation of what real life was like,” said Ollivier, now 30.
The School of Life is one of the central programs of Association Compassion Asian Youth, or ACAY. For more than 20 years, the association has focused on providing the support, skills and structure to change the lives of troubled teens and young adults in the Philippines.
The School of Life, founded in 2000, provides a home for around 20 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, many of whom were abused. The program helps them with school or vocational training and teaches practical life skills to help the girls become self-sustaining, such as budgeting and managing a house, planning meals and shopping. The girls also can earn money by doing administrative tasks for the program and making and selling crafts.
The Second Chance program for teen boys who are in detention centers began in 2002 and also emphasizes personal development, such as through anger-management classes, and vocational training to enable participants to get jobs in construction and other skilled trades once they are released from detention.
ACAY is the brainchild of Sr. Sophie Renoux, who prefers to be known as Sr. Sophie de Jésus. In 1995, the French sister heard a call to help children in the Philippines after she participated in World Youth Day in Manila as a member of the Community of the Beatitudes. She moved to the Philippines from France two years later.
There, she found few programs to help teens, so she and Sr. Edith Fabian, a Hungarian sister Sister Sophie knew through the Community of the Beatitudes, founded Association Compassion Asian Youth in 1997. Over the years, they were joined by Sr. Laetitia Gorczyca from Poland and Sr. Rachel Myriam Luxford from New Zealand, who were also members of the Community of the Beatitudes. Together, they founded the Missionaries of Mary, a diocesan community, in 2007.
Now, the programs are models for other organizations in the Philippines as well as similar programs in other countries. A Second Chance program began in Marseille, France, in 2014. Members of a nongovernmental organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo have welcomed ACAY staff in Kinshasa for training and have gone to the Philippines to find aspects of the School of Life to incorporate into its program for teenage and young women.
Girls are referred by nongovernmental organizations and detention centers or after they age out of other social service programs; boys are referred through social workers, counselors and other staff at the detention centers. After they leave the program, the women tend to work at offices or as teachers or nurses, and the men become carpenters or entrepreneurs or work in the field of social development. Most alumni return to speak with the young men and women still active in the program.
A caring, family-like atmosphere is fundamental for the teenagers, Sister Sophie said. The sisters, staff and volunteers offer encouragement, counseling and support.
“Emotionally, I had people I could lean on,” Ollivier said. “The sisters gave me that motherly care I was looking for. They’re not just there to give you the basic needs, but they are there to give you everything that you need to empower you as a woman.”
Raymart Montinola credits the sisters with helping him change his life. He was in a detention center at age 18 when a social worker referred him to the Second Chance program.
“I felt hopeless,” he said. “I had no skills. I couldn’t get a job.”
The sisters helped him get an apprenticeship in furniture-making. When he was inspired to start his own business, the sisters loaned him money for machinery and helped him find clients. Now in business for more than a year, he is supporting his wife, who was in the School of Life program, and their two children.
“I learned a lot, and I’m thankful because they’re still there, even if I’m not in any program now,” said Montinola, now 30. The sisters “continued to give me opportunities, give me wings so I could fly.”
Ojok Okello is transforming his destroyed village into a green town where social enterprises responsibly harness the shea treeGlobal development is supported by
The village of Okere Mom-Kok was in ruins by the end of more than a decade of war in northern Uganda.
Now, just outside Ojok Okello’s living-room door, final-year pupils at the early childhood centre are noisily breaking for recess and a market is clattering into life, as is the local craft brewery, as what has become Okere City begins a new day.
“I think what I’m doing here is radical,” says Okello, who is behind an ambitious project to transform the destroyed village of 4,000 people into a thriving and sustainable town.
Okere City began in January 2019. Its 200 hectares (500 acres) feature a school, a health clinic, a village bank and a community hall that also serves as a cinema, a church and a nightclub.
Electricity is available to all, generated from solar energy – a rarity in the region – and far from the many outbreaks of cholera which were rampant years ago, there is now clean water from a borehole.
Pupils at the school pay half their fees in cash, and the rest in maize, beans, sugar and firewood. The clinic lets people pay their bills in instalments. The local security man wields a spear, an unusual sight in an area where many men idle around as women shoulder most of the paid and unpaid work.
Okello is funding the project from his own pocket. Last year, it cost 200 million Ugandan shillings (about £39,000). The London School of Economics graduate and development expert had worked for several international charities and NGOs but grew disillusioned seeing projects fail because, he says, communities were not involved in decisions about their own future.
When he returned a few years ago to Okere Mom-Kok, hoping to meet extended family in the village he had left as a baby when his civil servant father was killed in the bush wars of the 1980s, he decided to put what he had learned into action. He wanted to create a project that was truly led by the people who lived there.
Okere now generates revenue. Every project, from the school to the local bar, can fund itself, something that has been possible because the project is being built not as a charity, but as a social enterprise, Okello says.
“I don’t want this project to be at the mercy of some white people,” he says. “I want us to have business conversations with partners. I want us to be responsible for shaping the destiny and the future of the project.”
Translated from Lango, Okere Mom-Kok means, “a baby should not cry” and the logo for the project has a smiling baby’s face. But Okello quips that building the town has been far from all smiles.
While comparisons could be made to Akon City, the futuristic smart city with its own currency being built by R&B star Akon in Senegal, Okere is, in essence, the opposite, according to Amina Yasin, an expert in city planning, who works in Vancouver, Canada.
“Akon City is going to be a walled city for the wealthy,” she says. “It sounds like a capitalist endeavour on the African continent. It is to benefit mostly non-indigenous Africans, unfortunately.”
Okere City will pioneer green energy, but its unique selling point is its shea trees. Okello says the inspiration came to him via the Marvel blockbuster movie Black Panther, as he sat under a shea tree outside his house one afternoon in early 2020.
“I looked at [the shea tree] and realised that we have this important natural resource and we were not harnessing it,” Okello says. “And I thought about Wakanda and Black Panther, they had vibranium, this shea tree could be our vibranium.”
“So I am like: ‘Damn, I’m going to invest everything within my means to tap this resource, to protect [it], and to use it to emancipate my community.”
In August, Okere Shea Butter arrived on the market. The whole city smells of shea butter, and Okello has advocated for the protection and regeneration of shea trees, classed as an endangered species threatened by extinction.
Once a week an investment club meets in the community hall. As the sun starts to set over the city, the members assemble in a circle. The majority of the more than 100 members are women, mostly farmers, but some also run small businesses.
“I got a loan from the club to buy shea seeds, which I sold at a profit,” says member Acen Olga.
Members’ financial contributions are carefully recorded before being redistributed as loans to members who need them. When borrowers repay the loan, the cycle continues.
This style of banking is particularly important because it’s original to Africans, Yasin says.
CNA Staff, – Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war, the Catholic charity Caritas has launched a campaign to help children in Syria with much needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.
March 15 marks the grim anniversary of 10 years of war in Syria. The World Bank estimates that the country has suffered at least $197 billion worth of infrastructure damage during the conflict.
“Syrian children have known nothing but war,” Caritas Internationalis states on its website.
The charity’s “Tomorrow is in our hands” campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.
An estimated 2.45 million Syrian children were already not attending school at the end of 2019, according to the charity. Now, 2 in 3 children in the country are out of school.
“The lack of access to education by Syrian children risks having a devastating impact on the future of the country. The education sector is in dire need of resources, and donors should fund interventions designed to lift families out of poverty,” it states.
Caritas is seeking to provide meals in line with international nutrition indicators for children at schools and to launch child oriented workshops to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Eight in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line with an estimated 11.1 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 4.7 million people in acute need in 2020. Children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly are the most at risk.
The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up across the country protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The civil war has been fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.
Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored some rebel groups.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s diplomat in Syria for the past 13 years, has said that after nearly a decade of war, the Syrian people had now been hit with a “poverty bomb” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fr. Firas Lutfi, a Franciscan priest who served as a missionary in Aleppo at the height of the violence, witnessed the trauma endured by a generation of Syrian children who have spent the entirety of their lives in the uncertainty and tragedy of war.
The Franciscan sought to create a place of safety and healing for these kids, many of whom were suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.
“We observed that the children, the Aleppian children, many had trauma, post-war. Lots of them lost parents, some of them had mutilation, losing hands or legs, and they are afraid of everything,” Fr. Lutfi told CNA in 2020.
Lutfi founded the Franciscan Care Center’s post-traumatic war treatment program in Aleppo in 2017. Since then, its staff of clinical psychologists, volunteers, and social workers have served 1,500 Syrian children aged 6-17 years old.
Many children born in Syria amid the bombings and chaos of the war never received a birth certificate because their birth was not registered with the government.
To give these forgotten children an identity, the Franciscans began the “Name and Future” project in Eastern Aleppo.
“We take care of these children, and we gave them an official registration … We have in each center 500 children,” Lutfi said.
Among those cared for by the Franciscans in the centers in Aleppo are abandoned young people with Down syndrome and autism, as well as pregnant mothers in need of assistance.
Pope Francis offered encouragement to charities seeking to rebuild Syria in a video message in December.
“Every effort — large or small — made to foster the peace process is like putting a brick in the construction of a just society, one that is open to welcome, and where all can find a place to dwell in peace,” Pope Francis said.
“My thoughts go especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to escape the horrors of war, in search of better living conditions for themselves and their loved ones,” he added.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, more than 5.6 million people have left Syria since 2011.
The majority of refugees stayed in the Middle East, with more than half registered as living in Turkey (3.6 million in 2021) and another 1.6 million refugees also living in either Lebanon or Jordan, which also border Syria.
Within Syria itself there are 6.7 internally displaced persons, according to Caritas.
“I appeal to the international community to make every effort to facilitate this return, guaranteeing the security and economic conditions necessary for this to happen. Every gesture, every effort in this direction is precious,” Pope Francis said.
SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS — Watching the waters lap at the top of the stairs leading to the second story of their convent home in the La Planeta neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, Srs. Victoria Emérita and Milena Vanegas of the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana knew they were running out of time and options.
The protective levees surrounding the town had been breached earlier that day, Nov. 5, and a wave of water swept through town in an instant, brought to La Lima by Hurricane Eta, which made landfall the day before. Even after the initial surge from the broken levees, flooding worsened as heavy rains pelted their submerged neighborhood.
Now, with water rising as high as 12 feet, the sisters prepared to evacuate into their attic on a ladder set up next to the access door. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary: A rescue boat arrived around 6:30 that evening, and the sisters were able to pry apart two security bars on the second-floor balcony, slip through the narrow gap, and slide down the patio roof into a waiting boat.
“We could see everything had already been lost,” Emérita said, surveying the mud from the balcony of their home in La Planeta in late January. “We were worried for ourselves, yes, but when the boat came, we knew our prayers had been answered.”
The boat transported the sisters to the higher ground of the highway running through town. Because of the damage to their home, the sisters first relocated to a private home and now live in a retreat center dormitory in nearby San Pedro Sula.
However, Eta was only the first of two major storms: Hurricane Iota followed two weeks later, Nov. 18, as a Category 4 storm, soaking this low-lying town in northeastern Honduras next to the Chamelecón River and resulting in further damage to the Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School that the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana run and to the adjacent church.
The storms affected an estimated 4.7 million people and resulted in more than 100 deaths. At least $5 billion in property damages was sustained during the storms and subsequent flooding, one-fifth of Honduras’ gross domestic product. The total economic impact from the storms is estimated at $1.86 billion, including losses of 80% of the annual sugar cane, cacao and banana harvest.
Hondurans fortunate enough to return to their homes or construct makeshift shelters still face the ever-present threat of COVID-19, made worse by limited supplies of personal protective equipment. Large groups congregate at shelters and distribution centers when much-needed food and fresh water arrive. Few wear masks.
When Eta struck Honduras, there had been more than 98,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 2,700 deaths. As of March 1, confirmed total cases had risen to more than 170,000, with more than 4,100 deaths.
The sisters have tried to set a good example throughout the pandemic and hurricane recovery by wearing masks and encouraging others to do the same, observing distancing protocols, and advocating for testing and isolation from infected people. But for the poor residents of La Planeta struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, these safety measures are often secondary to daily survival.
Providing help amid their own recovery
Months after the hurricanes, La Lima and the church property are marked by devastation. Although floodwaters receded by mid-December, the streets are still a muddy maze of makeshift paths and mud piles cleared from inundated homes. The mucking continues, shovelful by wheelbarrow. Some heavy machinery is present, with excavators and dump trucks clearing debris already removed from buildings where the deluge deposited 3 to 4 feet of mud.
At Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School, the flooding waterline is visible at nearly ceiling level, stopping at the neck of Jesus in a painting hanging over a doorway. Although the mud has been removed, the school’s rooms are piled full of salvaged equipment, such as cribs and toys. Most everything else at the school, church and convent is a total loss. The school’s kitchen and bathrooms will need to be redone, walls scrubbed and repainted, electric equipment and wiring repaired or replaced, and plumbing recertified for potable water.
The sisters continue to clean and prepare for an engineer’s evaluation on the soundness of the structures, which have several cracked walls, destroyed doors and buckled sections of flooring. They don’t yet know when their 35 students can return to the nursery school.
“At the moment, we don’t know the costs,” Emérita said. “The financing of the repairs is going to be quite difficult, and we will look for help since the nursery school by itself is not self-sustaining due to the type of population we serve.
“We are looking at the situation and asking God for his wisdom.”
Even as progress continues to restore the school, church and convent to their pre-hurricane states, the sisters are engaged in hurricane relief efforts for people affected in the area. Although displaced themselves, Emérita and Vanegas are coordinating efforts with local parishes to sort and distribute donated clothing, food and home furnishings to people who lost their homes and belongings in the storms.
Working out of two rooms piled floor-to-ceiling with donated goods at the Mhotivo Foundation in San Padro Sula, volunteers from nearby St. Peter and Paul Parish organize the items, preparing bags for Fr. Fredy Valdiviezo to pick up and distribute to local shelters housing hurricane victims. It’s a herculean effort, with thousands of items still coming through the doors each day: mattresses, bedding, cleaning supplies, food, propane tanks and more.
But the sisters know these physical provisions are only the beginning of the needs that have to be addressed in La Planeta.
The world is facing a “pandemic of human rights abuses”, the UN secretary general António Guterres has said.
Authoritarian regimes had imposed drastic curbs on rights and freedoms and had used the virus as a pretext to restrict free speech and stifle dissent.
Writing exclusively in the Guardian, Guterres said the Covid-19 pandemic had rolled back years of progress on human rights, and that abuses had “thrived because poverty, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies”.
China has been accused of particularly egregious breaches, including online censorship, invasive surveillance and the arrest of coronavirus whistleblowers.
“The Chinese regime has threatened, arrested, jailed and silenced whistleblowers and citizen journalists who tried to warn of or report on the pandemic. There are grave concerns that the surveillance technology it has rolled out as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus could be used to further stifle dissent and violate human rights,” said Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch.
Around the world, governments are failing to guarantee basic rights to health, education and equality, hitting the poorest, most marginalised and minorities the hardest.
Guterres said that the failure to ensure equity in vaccination efforts was “the latest moral outrage” to come out of the pandemic.
More than three-quarters of 128m vaccine jabs given so far have been administered in only 10 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Not a single dose has been administered in 130 countries, with combined populations of 2.5 billion.
While deaths tolls appear to be significantly higher in western states, the economic impact of Covid has been felt most acutely in the developing world. After years of progress on eradicating poverty, last year the pandemic pushed up to 124 million more people below the poverty line, defined as living on less than $1.90 (£1.36) a day, according to the World Bank. Advertisement
The impact on education has also been “catastrophic”, with school closures affecting around 1.6 billion children, says the UN. Girls in particular are likely to drop out, leaving them vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.
Progress on gender equality has been set back decades. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage,” said Guterres.
The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight, too, on the dire working conditions of millions of low-wage workers. Massive orders for PPE have been produced by North Korean women toiling in secret factories in China, in conditions that amount to slave labour. Garment makers in Bangladesh have been left struggling to survive as orders from western clothing giants suddenly dried up. And in the Gulf, one of the world’s wealthiest regions, migrant workers have been victims of racial discrimination, arbitrary detention in appalling conditions and wage theft on a huge scale.
On top of the slew of pushbacks and attacks on human rights resulting from the pandemic, crises such as the conflict in Yemen, spiralling violence in Afghanistan, the military takeover in Myanmar and an escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela threaten the lives of millions across the world.
“From Syria to Myanmar, South Sudan or Yemen, or the situation facing the Uighur population in China, the pandemic has added another layer to existing and unfolding human rights crises around the world,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.
“There has been a failure of national governments and the United Nations in taking decisive action to address these big global issues and the UN security council veto must not continue to be used to block action on genocide or human rights abuses.”
In a speech to open the 46th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Guterres also said that racist, extremist movements are engaging in a “feeding frenzy of hate” and represent “the number one internal security threat” for some countries. He said global coordinated action was needed to defeat the grave and growing danger of racism.
“The danger of these hate-driven movements is growing by the day. Let us call them what they are: white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat,” he said. “These and other groups have exploited the pandemic to boost their ranks through social polarisation and political and cultural manipulation.”
The UN secretary general also said that gender inequality was the world’s biggest human rights scourge.
“The crisis has a woman’s face,” he said. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage.”
But amid the despair, there are some reasons for hope. “A real battle” had emerged in defence of human rights, according to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The pandemic has posed enormous and dangerous challenges and has left millions of people less secure and more vulnerable than they were a year ago, but it has also spotlighted many of the inequalities that we can now focus on.”
Guterres called for a response based on solidarity and cooperation. “With the pandemic shining a spotlight on human rights, recovery provides an opportunity to generate momentum for transformation,” he said. “The virus threatens everyone. Human rights uplift everyone.”
Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.
In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.”
The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns.
The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”
It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”
The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.”
It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”
Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence.
In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”
Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”
A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security.
“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.
“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”
“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”