The world is running out of time to reach an ambitious deal to stem the destruction of the natural world, the co-chair of negotiations for a crucial UN wildlife summit has warned, amid fears of a third delay to the talks.
Negotiators are scheduled to meet in Kunming, China, in October for Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, to reach a hoped-for Paris-style agreement on preventing wildlife extinctions and the human-driven destruction of the planet’s ecosystems.
The summit was meant to take place in October last year but has been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Basile van Havre, a co-chair for the UN convention on biological diversity (CBD) negotiations, has raised the prospect of a third delay to the Kunming summit, which he fears would threaten the ambition of the biodiversity targets for this decade.
Van Havre said countries must meet in person for preparatory talks for at least two weeks if the biodiversity summit is to go ahead in China. He warned the talks were unlikely without a major push on vaccinations for delegates in developing countries and, given China’s restrictive travel policy, also called for another country to step up and host preparatory talks to help the process stick to the current schedule.
“In my view, the time has come to roll up our sleeves and put a practical plan on the table or face another delay. We need a proper plan,” Van Havre said. “If we need to delay by a few months, fine – everyone can understand that. But let’s give ourselves a full plan that enables us to meet the deadline and not wait for things to magically happen.
“If we’re not going to get together in the short term, we cannot have an ambitious agreement.”
Negotiators are approaching the end of gruelling virtual scientific and financial discussions for the agreement, which have been held six days a week for three hours. Timezone clashes have meant that some negotiators have been participating in talks in the early hours.
“I really feel for people that come from small island states in the Pacific where the negotiation is taking place at night. The lady representing Palau said she was negotiating at night and doing her job during the day, which is not what we had in mind,” Van Havre said, emphasising the importance of meeting in person.Advertisementhttps://f572d467114db3849a860f06074a6bc0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
A decision is expected on the next steps for the Kunming summit in mid-June.
Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China who has been following biodiversity negotiations closely, said it was clear decisions had to be made face to face, not online.
“The virtual talks are not flawless; they have helped advance the discussion. The problem is there is just so much work. They are only doing three hours a day – it is simply not enough time,” Li said.
“It is not likely that China will allow thousands of diplomats to come with the pandemic. What if someone tested positive on the second day of the Cop? A normal Cop15 in October that completes all its major tasks are difficult.”
Resource extraction, agricultural production and pollution are driving what some scientists believe is the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, with 1 million species at risk of disappearing largely as the result of human activity. The world has never met a single UN target to prevent the destruction of nature.
“There’s famine now in Tigray.” The world’s most senior humanitarian official, UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock, said these frank words on the situation in the northern Ethiopian region on Thursday.
His statement – at a roundtable discussion ahead of the G7 summit – drew on the authoritative assessment of the crisis by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).
In a report, it estimated that 353,000 people in Tigray were in phase 5 (catastrophe) and a further 1.769 million are in phase 4 (emergency).
That’s a technical way of saying “famine”. The IPC didn’t use that word because it’s so politically sensitive – the Ethiopian government would object.
Behind these numbers lies a brutal human tragedy. Huge numbers of deaths by starvation are unavoidable. Indeed, it is already happening.
Tigrayans tell of remote villages where people are found dead in the morning, having perished overnight. Women who were kidnapped by soldiers and held as sexual slaves, cared for in hospitals or safe houses, are tormented by the children from whom they were separated, who may well be starving without their mothers’ care.
Starvation is a cruel way to die, as the undernourished body consumes its own organs in order to generate enough energy to keep a flicker of life.
Those who succumb first are young children – typically two-thirds of those who die in a famine. Based on the just-released numbers from Tigray, it is quite realistic to fear 300,000 child deaths – equivalent to half the pre-school children in London.
The numbers err on the side of understatement. The survey teams could not reach all areas and relied on extrapolating from limited data.
According to the Tigray Humanitarian Atlas published by researchers at Belgium’s University of Ghent, out of Tigray’s six million people:
Just one-third live in areas controlled by the Ethiopian government
Another third are in areas occupied by the Eritrean army, which is Ethiopia’s military ally, but which doesn’t cooperate with humanitarian agencies
A further 1.5 million live in rural areas controlled by the Tigrayan rebels, where aid workers cannot go and mobile-phone coverage has been shut off.
The government says that there are only “remnants” of resistance by Tigrayan rebels and promises it will soon be in full control.
The UN forecasts that the situation will deteriorate – the question is just how far and how fast.
The IPC report includes the line that “this report has not been endorsed by the Government of Ethiopia”.
That’s a warning.
The Ethiopian authorities will probably dispute the “famine” warning, on the technicality that the “catastrophe” conditions were spread out across different parts of Tigray and in no single location did the proportion of people in phase five reach 20%, the standard threshold for declaring famine.
Ploughing in the darkness
At the roundtable, USAid administrator Samantha Power waved away what she called “attempts at obfuscation by the Ethiopian government”.
Humanitarian workers are worried that, with the summer rains now falling across Tigray, farmers need to be busy cultivating – and they’re not.
A team from the University of Ghent, until last year working on agricultural projects in the region, describes how large areas of farmland are abandoned this year because peasants don’t have seeds, oxen to plough, or fertilizers.
Worse, soldiers threaten them: “You won’t plough, you won’t harvest, and if you try we will punish you.”
In remoter villages, farmers rouse their oxen at midnight and plough in the darkness before dawn, with scouts to warn them of marauding soldiers.
If there’s no harvest later this year, Tigrayans will depend on aid – or starve.
This is a man-made famine. There’s no drought, and last year’s locust swarms have gone.
The region was classified as borderline “food secure” seven months ago, before fighting erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – then the party in power in the region – and the federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Food aid stolen
The war disrupted services, closed banks and stopped the government’s biggest emergency response system – the “productive safety net programme”.
The most fertile parts of Tigray were occupied by forces from neighbouring Amhara region, depriving Tigrayans of their farms and also shutting down the biggest seasonal labour opportunities.
The Eritrean forces that joined the conflict have been accused of widespread pillage and, along with the Ethiopian army, of burning crops, destroying health facilities, and preventing farmers from ploughing their land.
The UN conservatively estimates that 22,000 survivors of rape will need support. Fear of sexual violence means that women and girls stay in hiding, unable to seek food.
Humanitarian agencies have been slow to respond, impeded both by the insecurity and by numerous bureaucratic obstacles placed in their way by the Ethiopian authorities. To operate in a context such as this, aid workers need communications equipment.
The UN officially claims that aid distributions have reached 2.8 million people. Privately, the humanitarian workers say that is far too rosy.
Many of those have received one distribution of rations, perhaps 30kg of flour – enough to feed a family for 10 days. Luckier ones have got two allocations.
And there are persistent reports that aid offloaded from trucks is then stolen by troops. Some villagers report that Eritrean troops show up immediately after aid distributions and take the food.
Independent estimates are that just 13% of the 5.2 million people in need are getting aid.
NEW DELHI/SATARA, India, – Urban Indians are getting COVID-19 shots much faster than the hundreds of millions of people living in the countryside, government data shows, reflecting rising inequity in the nation’s immunisation drive.
In 114 of India’s least developed districts – collectively home to about 176 million people – authorities have administered just 23 million doses in total.
That’s the same number of doses as have been administered across nine major cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Thane and Nagpur — which combined have half the population of the least developed districts.
The disparity was even stronger last month, after the government allowed private sales of vaccines for adults aged under 45 years, an offer which favoured residents of cities with larger private hospital networks. For the first four weeks of May, those nine cities gave 16% more doses than the combined rural districts, data from the government’s Co-WIN vaccination portal shows.
“My friends from the city were vaccinated at private hospitals,” said Atul Pawar, a 38-year-old farmer from Satara, a rural western district of Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state. “I am ready to pay, but doses are not available and district borders are sealed because of the lockdown.”
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement on Saturday that reports of vaccine inequity in India were “inaccurate and speculative in nature”.
“Liberalised pricing and accelerated national COVID-19 vaccination strategy ensures vaccine equity,” it said, adding that smaller cities were also getting doses like the big ones.
The ministry said it had asked states with fewer private hospitals to review the status of their vaccination campaigns and encourage some government-empanelled hospitals to strike deals with vaccine companies if need be.
India has administered more than 222 million doses since starting its campaign in mid-January – only China and the United States have administered more – but it has given the required two doses to less than 5% of its 950 million adults.
Rural India is home to more than two-thirds of the country’s 1.35 billion people. While urban areas account for a disproportionately large share of the confirmed COVID-19 cases, those concerned about the spread of the virus in the countryside say statistics undercount cases in villages, where testing is less comprehensive.
The health system in several regions in India collapsed in April and May as the country reported the world’s biggest jump in coronavirus infections, increasing pressure on the immunisation programme.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offers vaccines to vulnerable people, healthcare workers and those aged over 45 for free. Since last month, individual states have also been expected to procure vaccines for younger adults, or to provide them commercially through the private sector.
Poorer states say this leaves their residents more vulnerable. The eastern state of Jharkhand, where nearly all districts are categorised as poor, this week urged Modi to give it free vaccines for all age groups.
In many states the doses for those under 45 are available mostly or entirely in urban areas. Some officials say this is intentional, as the infection spreads more easily in crowded cities.
“It’s because of high-positivity” in urban areas, said Bijay Kumar Mohapatra, health director of the eastern state of Odisha, explaining the state’s decision to prioritise cities.
Major international and domestic firms such as Microsoft , Pepsi, Amazon, Reliance Industries , Adani Group and Tata Motors have organised inoculations for their employees, in many cases in partnership with private hospitals. Most of these companies and the huge private hospitals that serve them are located in urban centres.
Vaccination rates in rural areas have also been depressed because of patchier internet access to use the complex online system for signing up for shots, and possibly because of greater hesitancy among villagers than among city dwellers.
India’s Supreme Court criticised the government’s handling of the vaccination programme this week and ordered it to provide a breakdown of shots given in rural and urban areas.
“Private hospitals are not equally spread out” across the country and “are often limited to bigger cities with large populations”, the top court said in its order dated May 31.
“As such, a larger quantity will be available in such cities, as opposed to the rural areas,” it said. Private hospitals may prefer to sell doses “for lucrative deals directly to private corporations who wish to vaccinate their employees”.
Dr. Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the risk of inequity was that parts of India would build up immunity disproportionately.
“It can leave the rural population relatively more vulnerable.”
A shepherd has been hailed as a hero in China after it emerged that he saved six stricken runners during an ultramarathon in which 21 other competitors died.
Zhu Keming was trending on Weibo on Tuesday, three days after a 100km (60-mile) cross-country mountain race in the north-western province of Gansu turned deadly in freezing rain, high winds and hail.
The incident triggered outrage and mourning in China, as questions swirled over why organisers apparently ignored warnings about the incoming extreme weather.
Zhu was grazing his sheep on Saturday around lunchtime when the wind picked up, the rain came down and temperatures plunged, he told state media.
He sought refuge in a cave where he had stored clothes and food for emergencies but while inside spotted one of the race’s 172 competitors and checked to see what was wrong because he was standing still, apparently suffering cramps.
Zhu escorted the man back to the cave, massaged his freezing hands and feet, lit a fire and dried his clothes.
Four more distressed runners made it into the cave and told the shepherd others were marooned outside, some unconscious.
Zhu headed outside once more and, braving hail and freezing temperatures, reached a runner lying on the ground. He carried him towards the shelter and wrapped him in blankets, almost certainly saving his life.
“I want to say how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” the runner, Zhang Xiaotao, wrote on Weibo.
“Without him, I would have been left out there.”
Zhu has been feted in China for his selfless actions, but the shepherd told state media that he was “just an ordinary person who did a very ordinary thing”.
Zhu rescued three men and three women, but regrets that he was unable to do more to help others who reportedly succumbed to hypothermia.
“There were still some people that could not be saved,” he said. “There were two men who were lifeless and I couldn’t do anything for them. I’m sorry.”
The tragedy has thrown a renewed spotlight on the booming marathon and running industry in China, with authorities ordering organisers of events to improve safety.
According to the Paper in Shanghai, five cross-country, marathon or other running races have been cancelled at short notice.
Last year, Shyam*, 17, became one of the thousands of children in danger of living on the streets of India.
Shyam’s father had abandoned his family in Gudhiyari – a village in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state – eight years earlier. Shyam’s older brother, Gopi, who was 16 at the time, had turned to alcohol to cope, subsequently becoming violent towards their mother, 47-year-old Kishori*.
To protect her and help support the family, Shyam dropped out of school when he was 10 and worked odd jobs as a dishwasher. But, unable to bear the stress and violence at home, he ran away in February 2020, in the hope of reaching Mumbai.
“I did go to school regularly,” Shyam explains. “But then my father left us and we did not know for a long time where he was.
“We found out through relatives that he had remarried. My mother worked several odd jobs to put food on the table. My brother turned to alcohol and would fight with her and beat her up. I felt I had no choice but to quit school to protect my mother from my brother and help her out. But then one day I fought with my brother and left home in anger. I thought I would go to Mumbai and look for work there,” he says.
India has the largest railway network in Asia. A 2009 study conducted by Railway Children India (RCI), a child rights organisation that helps at-risk youngsters at railway stations, street children and slum dwellers, found that 121,860 children were then at risk at 32 railway platforms across all 16 railway zones (there are 17 zones now).
This equals a child arriving alone at a big city railway station and being at risk every five minutes in India.
“These children have run away or have been abandoned and are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,” says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of RCI.
Shyam was one of the “lucky” ones. He was rescued by The Railway Children (RCI). It picked him up at Raipur station and reunited him with his family. As a result, he was offered counselling and enrolled in a vocational training school in the neighbouring city of Durg which was being run by a local non-government organisation (NGO), Chetna Women and Children Society. His brother also received counselling.
But, then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and threw their lives back in disarray. Shyam was doing well until a nationwide, 21-day lockdown was implemented overnight on March 24, 2020, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. His mother, a domestic worker, and Gopi, a labourer, both lost their jobs. The RCI stepped in to help provide the family with groceries.
But, with India in the grip of the second wave of the pandemic, Kishori and Gopi are still out of work and the family is struggling to make ends meet. Kishori hopes that as soon as the lockdown eases, she can send Gopi back to the rehabilitation centre to continue with his addiction counselling.
Children in India, particularly those from marginalised communities, had it tough even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the last Census in 2011 shows that India has 10.1 million child labourers.
More than 200,000 Indian children are working or living on the street, according to Save the Children’s 2019 Spotlight on Invisibles survey, which covered 10 cities in the country. Nearly 60 percent of these children are between the ages of six and 14.
Governmental organisations like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the 24-hour child emergency helpline (Childline 1098), district-level child welfare committees (CWCs) and a vast network of collaborative organisations in the public and private sectors have worked to improve the standard of living of children in India and have made some great strides over the years.
However, they all agree that much of the progress made in addressing child labour, education, nutrition, mental health, prevention of domestic violence and child marriage has been undone by COVID-19.
“Financial instability in families, which can arise for a multitude of reasons, can quickly snowball into more dire situations,” explains Anurag Kundu, chair of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR). “These include eviction from homes for non-payment of rent, children dropping out of schools or running away, alcoholism, child labour, drug addiction or poor nutrition, leaving India’s children vulnerable to untold adversity and emotional trauma.”
The rise in child marriages
One form of adversity is child marriage.
On February 11, the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a Bengaluru-based grassroots organisation and one of the collaborators behind Childline 1098, received a phone call alerting them to an impending child marriage.
Sixteen-year-old Deepa Byrappa*’s parents intended to marry her to a 26-year-old man.
The APSA, along with representatives from the Bengaluru Urban CWC and the Byappanahalli police, in whose jurisdiction the marriage was going to happen, went to Deepa’s home. She told CWC workers that she did not want to get married but was being forced by her parents who said they would not need to meet the cost of a large wedding if she married during the COVID pandemic.
Deepa was placed in a government shelter until March 4, when her parents submitted a written undertaking that they would not have her married until she was of legal age (18). Deepa returned home – and was married off a few days later.
Childline was informed and legal proceedings initiated. The parents of the bride and the groom were arrested and today Deepa lives in a government-run girl’s shelter.
Wealthy countries risk an “unforgivable lost opportunity” by not emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with newly green economies to address the climate crisis, the United Nations secretary general has warned.
Before meeting the leaders of the world’s major economic powers at the G7 summit in the UK, António Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery.
“I’m more than disappointed, I’m worried about the consequences,” Guterres told the Guardian at the UN headquarters in New York, as part of a Covering Climate Now consortium of interviews alongside NBC News and El Pais. “We need to make sure we reverse the trends, not maintain the trends. It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return.
“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.”
A recent analysis showed the G7 countries – the UK, US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan – have committed $189bn to support oil, coal and gas, as well as offer financial lifelines to the aviation and automotive sectors, since the outbreak of the coronavirus. This is over $40bn more than has been directed towards renewable energy.
Several leaders, including the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have stressed the need for the climate crisis to be central to the Covid recovery, with various cities around the world ushering in cyclists and pedestrians to streets previously dominated by cars.
But while the G7 countries have agreed to stop the international financing of coal, the world’s wealthiest nations are pouring billions of dollars into developing gas, another fossil fuel, in the global south at a rate four times that of finance supporting wind or solar projects. With economies starting to reopen, planet-heating emissions are expected to jump by the second biggest annual rise in history in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.
Guterres said he welcomed the G7 commitment as “many countries are still addicted to coal” but that much more needed to be done in what he called a “make-or-break year” that will be rounded off by crucial UN climate talks in Scotland in November.
“We need to abolish subsidies to fossil fuels, this is a central question,” he said. “We have to look at the real costs that exist in the economy, which means a price on carbon. If we do these things, many of the investments made to fossil fuels in the recovery phase will obviously not be profitable. They will be stranded assets with no future.”
A key priority for the UN secretary general at the G7 summit will be to press leaders on the contentious issue of climate finance. As part of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, rich countries agreed to provide $100bn a year to developing countries to help them adapt to the damaging flooding, drought, heatwaves and other impacts of the climate crisis.
This money has never been delivered in full, however, and Guterres said it will be “impossible” to effectively deal with the climate crisis without assistance for poorer countries. He said the G7 will need to deliver the money to “rebuild trust” with developing nations.
“The $100bn is essential,” said the secretary general. “Climate action has until now been centered on mitigation, on reducing emissions. But developing countries have huge problems in adaption from the existing impacts of climate change.”
Guterres said he was hopeful that Joe Biden will be able to mobilize other countries to meet commitments on climate aid as the US continues its reintegration into international climate diplomacy following the presidency of Donald Trump.
But the US has “a lot of catching up to do”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “Biden doesn’t get a free pass because it’s the US that caused the damage. If you fail to deliver for the rest of the world that will be our problem and it will come back to bite you.”
Scientists recently warned that the world could breach, albeit temporarily, the 1.5C average temperature increase limit set out in the Paris agreement within the next five years. Guterres, however, said it’s “not only possible, it’s necessary” to strive to avoid global heating above this threshold, beyond which disastrous climate impacts are expected.
“We still have time, but we are on the verge,” he said. “When you’re on the verge of the abyss, you need to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”
Pope Francis said Monday that “the very concept of democracy is jeopardized” when the poor are marginalized and treated as if they are to blame for their condition.
In his World Day of the Poor message released June 14, the pope appealed for a new global approach to poverty.
“This is a challenge that governments and world institutions need to take up with a farsighted social model capable of countering the new forms of poverty that are now sweeping the world and will decisively affect coming decades,” he wrote.
“If the poor are marginalized, as if they were to blame for their condition, then the very concept of democracy is jeopardized and every social policy will prove bankrupt.”
The theme of this year’s World Day of the Poor is “The poor you will always have with you,” the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 14:7 after a woman anointed him with precious ointment.
While Judas and others were scandalized by the gesture, Jesus accepted it, the pope said, because he saw it as pointing to the anointing of his body after his crucifixion.
“Jesus was reminding them that he is the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor, because he represents all of them. It was also for the sake of the poor, the lonely, the marginalized and the victims of discrimination, that the Son of God accepted the woman’s gesture,” the pope wrote.
“With a woman’s sensitivity, she alone understood what the Lord was thinking. That nameless woman, meant perhaps to represent all those women who down the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moments of Christ’s life: his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.”
The pope continued: “Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”
“Jesus’ then goes on to associate that woman with the great mission of evangelization: ‘Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mark 14:9).”
The pope lamented what he said was an increasing tendency to dismiss the poor against the background of the coronavirus crisis.
“There seems to be a growing notion that the poor are not only responsible for their condition, but that they represent an intolerable burden for an economic system focused on the interests of a few privileged groups,” he commented.
“A market that ignores ethical principles, or picks and chooses from among them, creates inhumane conditions for people already in precarious situations. We are now seeing the creation of new traps of poverty and exclusion, set by unscrupulous economic and financial actors lacking in a humanitarian sense and in social responsibility.”
Looking back to 2020, the year that COVID-19 swept the world, he continued: “Last year we experienced yet another scourge that multiplied the numbers of the poor: the pandemic, which continues to affect millions of people and, even when it does not bring suffering and death, is nonetheless a portent of poverty.”
“The poor have increased disproportionately and, tragically, they will continue to do so in the coming months.”
The World Bank estimated in October that the pandemic could push as many as 115 million additional people into extreme poverty by 2021. It said that it expected global extreme poverty — defined as living on less than $1.90 a day — to rise in 2020 for the first time in more than 20 years.
The pope wrote: “Some countries are suffering extremely severe consequences from the pandemic, so that the most vulnerable of their people lack basic necessities. The long lines in front of soup kitchens are a tangible sign of this deterioration.”
“There is a clear need to find the most suitable means of combating the virus at the global level without promoting partisan interests.”
“It is especially urgent to offer concrete responses to those who are unemployed, whose numbers include many fathers, mothers, and young people.”
Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in his apostolic letterMisericordia et misera, issued in 2016 at the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need,” the pope wrote in his first World Day of the Poor message in 2017.
The Day is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Feast of Christ the King. This year, it will fall on Nov. 14.
Coronavirus restrictions forced the Vatican to scale down its commemoration of the World Day of the Poor in 2020. It was unable to host a “field hospital” for the poor in St. Peter’s Square as it had in previous years. But it distributed 5,000 parcels to Rome’s poor and gave 350,000 masks to schools.
Pope Francis followed his custom of marking the day by celebrating a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Presenting the papal message at a Vatican press conference on June 14, Archbishop Rino Fisichella noted that the pope highlighted the example of St. Damien of Molokai.
The Belgian priest, canonized in 2009, ministered to leprosy sufferers in Hawaii.
“Pope Francis calls to mind the witness of this saint in confirmation of so many men and women, including hundreds of priests, who in this COVID-19 drama have been willing to share totally in the suffering of millions of infected people,” the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization said.
In the message, signed on June 13, the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, the pope argued that nowadays people in prosperous countries “are less willing than in the past to confront poverty.”
“The state of relative affluence to which we have become accustomed makes it more difficult to accept sacrifices and deprivation. People are ready to do anything rather than to be deprived of the fruits of easy gain,” he argued.
“As a result, they fall into forms of resentment, spasmodic nervousness and demands that lead to fear, anxiety and, in some cases, violence. This is no way to build our future; those attitudes are themselves forms of poverty which we cannot disregard.”
“We need to be open to reading the signs of the times that ask us to find new ways of being evangelizers in the contemporary world. Immediate assistance in responding to the needs of the poor must not prevent us from showing foresight in implementing new signs of Christian love and charity as a response to the new forms of poverty experienced by humanity today.”
The pope said he hoped that this year’s commemoration of the World Day of the Poor would inspire a new movement of evangelization at the service of disadvantaged people.
“We cannot wait for the poor to knock on our door; we need urgently to reach them in their homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, on the streets and in the dark corners where they sometimes hide, in shelters and reception centers,” he wrote.
Concluding his message, the pope cited the influential 20th-century Italian priest Fr. Primo Mazzolari, who he honored in 2017.
He wrote: “Let us make our own the heartfelt plea of Fr. Primo Mazzolari: ‘I beg you not to ask me if there are poor people, who they are and how many of them there are, because I fear that those questions represent a distraction or a pretext for avoiding a clear appeal to our consciences and our hearts… I have never counted the poor, because they cannot be counted: the poor are to be embraced, not counted.’”
“The poor are present in our midst. How evangelical it would be if we could say with all truth: we too are poor, because only in this way will we truly be able to recognize them, to make them part of our lives and an instrument of our salvation.”
JOHANNESBURG, – From brick kilns to carpet factories, COVID-19 has pushed children as young as eight years old into dangerous and abusive jobs, rights groups said on Wednesday, urging governments to roll out cash allowances to reduce child labour.
Human Rights Watch and advocacy organisations in Ghana, Nepal and Uganda interviewed 81 children working in often risky settings, including gold mines, fisheries and construction sites, during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The most shocking finding for me was the exploitation … some children were paid in alcohol at stone quarries,” said Angella Nabwowe Kasule, programmes director for the Ugandan charity Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, which was involved in the study.
“Due to extreme hunger, some ate the residue of the local brew for survival, they needed to put something in the stomach,” Kasule told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
The number of child labourers worldwide has dropped significantly to 152 million children from 246 million in 2000, but the United Nations (U.N.) fears job losses and school closures caused by the coronavirus will reverse these gains.
Ghana, Nepal and Uganda have all made progress in reducing child labour in recent years and are working to eradicate it by 2025 to meet the U.N.’s global development goals.
But in Ghana and Uganda, children shared stories with researchers of breathing in noxious dust at mines, carrying loaded bags of ore, using toxic mercury to extract the gold from the ore and being injured by flying rocks.
In Nepal, children reported working 14 hours a day in carpet factories. In all three countries, more than a third of interviewees worked at least 10 hours a day and more than a quarter said employers sometimes withheld wages.
Human Rights Watch said that cash transfers have historically proven effective in reducing child labour in poor families, but some 1.3 billion children globally, mainly in Africa and Asia, do not have access to such support.
“For many families with children, government assistance in response to the pandemic has been far too little to protect their children from dangerous and exploitative work,” said Jo Becker, the group’s children’s rights advocacy director.
“Governments and donors should scale up cash allowances to families to keep children out of exploitative and dangerous child labour.”
Kasule added that providing free school meals to all students in Uganda could also prevent children dropping out of school and turning to dangerous employment.
Solomon Kusi Ampofo, programme coordinator at the Ghanaian charity Friends of the Nation, also involved in the research, said despite the findings of the study he was hopeful because “awareness around child labour is growing”.
“(The research findings are) a lesson for us to really address the socio-economic issues in our country and improve access to healthcare, education and economic relief,” he 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.
Officials from the United Nations and Red Cross have visited the besieged Gaza Strip to review the destruction from Israel’s 11-day bombardment, including damage to homes, schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
Israeli attacks on the enclave that began on May 10 killed at least 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to health authorities in Gaza. At least 12 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by rocket attacks carried out by armed groups based in Gaza.
In a statement on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of “staggering health needs” across the occupied Palestinian territory, saying the conflict sparked further population displacement and exacerbated a prolonged humanitarian crisis.
“Over 77,000 people were internally displaced and around 30 health facilities have been damaged,” it said.
The WHO said it was “scaling up its response to provide health aid for almost 200,000 people in need”, across the occupied Palestinian territory, including the occupied West Bank.
“The situation is volatile. WHO remains concerned … and calls for unhindered access for humanitarian and development-related essential supplies and staff into Gaza and referral of patients out of Gaza whenever needed,” WHO’s Rik Peeperkorn said.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed for more than $16m to help the people in Gaza.
“Fear, anxiety and stress were the key words I heard repeatedly today,” ICRC head Robert Mardini told Al Jazeera after touring Gaza areas devastated by the Israeli bombardment.
“Even if the escalation was shorter than in previous situations, it will take years to rebuild what was damaged only in 11 days,” he said, calling for “a meaningful political solution to [end] this longstanding conflict”.
“In the meantime, we need to really step up our support in order to beef up the humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip in the short term.”
Protests after UN official’s comments
Meanwhile, the Gaza director of the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees has been called in for consultation with his bosses after angering Palestinians through saying he did not dispute Israel’s assertion that its air strikes were “precise”.
The comments by Matthias Schmale in an interview with Israel’s N12 television on May 22 have prompted Palestinian protests.
The recent Israeli attacks on Gaza destroyed 1,800 residential units and partially destroyed at least another 14,300, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinians to take shelter in UN-run schools.
The bombing also struck some 74 public buildings, including local municipalities, according to figures released by Gaza’s information ministry.
Israeli officials and Hamas officials have recently held separate permanent truce talks with Egyptian officials.
Israel enforced a land and sea blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control in 2007 of the impoverished and densely populated territory that is home to about two million Palestinians.
Egypt’s heavily secured Rafah crossing is Gaza’s only passage to the outside world not controlled by Israel.
When we travel with Christine of the Tucson Samaritans into the desert, she implores us to please, please tell people what the border wall has done. She asks that we show them and tell them the damage that it has caused.
Into a 4×4 vehicle we pack gallon jugs of water, a backpack filled with water and food, and Samaritan signs for the truck. Though it is unlikely, she tells us if we meet a migrant, we will offer the bag and talk with the person about what they need. The migrant may want to give up the journey or continue. They make their own decision; we do not influence them.
The Tucson Samaritans are volunteers who put water into the desert and educate groups who come to Tucson to learn about the border. The Jeep we travel in is named Joe, after former county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was particularly inhumane in his treatment toward immigrants. Proceeds from a U.S. Justice Department civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio’s office benefited community groups that support immigrants; the Jeep named for Arpaio was paid for by the settlement.
Christine says 258 people have died this year in the desert. I understand over the last 10 years, there have been almost 6,000 deaths in the desert.
As we drive, Christine notes that migrants walk along this road hoping someone their coyotes have paid will pick them up. We pull over at a mile marker indicating 38 miles from the border checkpoint. There is a cross. We stand in solidarity, acknowledging the effects of the border wall and the severity of our immigration policy. I ask Christine why she does this work with Tucson Samaritans. She says she knows what it is like to be thirsty when hiking in the desert; it is a humanitarian thing.
She adds that the United States has signed on to international law, which allows people to come to your border to ask for asylum. Given the number of families sending their children alone, it seems we are truly only giving children a chance for refuge. She and others I have met report that men are often separated from their families, put in detention or returned to distant border towns.
We return to the truck and head toward the border wall. The stories unravel as we drive. As Christine shares, I remember Diego, who works at Casa Alitas. He described the organization as grassroots and volunteer-led. He shares this in a way that is touching, noting that it is the community volunteers who are truly the ones who make the difference. When I asked Diego why he does this work, he asked me what I would do if it were my family.
The wall comes to an end and begins again at various stops where the steel slats did not match. At the end of the wall, two water jugs are placed. I think in this way, we leave our mark. We then drive in the opposite direction, leaving jugs of water near where there are other gaps in the steel construction.
On this journey through the desert, I witnessed many who remain standing in solidarity, just as there are many who continue to seek a better life for their families in this country. Equally, I witness the many dreams lost in crossing the desert.
Near the end of our journey, at mile marker 19, we kneel and stand at the cross of an infant who was born and died in the crossing. We mark her life and her mother’s life with our tears and our prayers. Through this encuentro, we walk away with our heart and conscience pricked. Hopefully, we are provoked with a clearer sense of mission and forthcoming action.
Mercy SistersPeggy Verstege and Carmelita Hagan paused in the airport in Laredo, Texas, on their way back from the border to write a reflection, “Shoes for the Journey”:
The young mothers and children come.
Young fathers come with children, too.
They come miles, believing that life will be better in this country.
They come tired but trusting us to help them go forward.
They come hungry and hot.
They come each day.
Most need clothes.
Many need shoes for the journey.
Each day is busy, busy … Long and hot … Sometimes chaotic … but real.
¿Tiene camiseta? ¿Pantalones? ¿Zapatos? [Do you have a T-shirt? Jeans? Shoes?]
¿Bolsa? ¿Banar? ¿Por favor? Yo tengo hambre. ¿Comida? ¿Agua? Por favor [Bag? Bath? Please? I am hungry. Food? Water? Please]
They wait in line to be processed.
They wait for food, clothing, and a place to sleep.
They wait with patience in the Texas heat.
They live in hope, a precious thread for life.
What more must we be and do for the journey?
Will the seekers be welcomed?
We can only hope and act in love, prepare food, find water and get the clothes and shoes for their journey.