Category Archives: U.N

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

‘A pandemic of abuses’: human rights under attack during Covid, says UN head

Composite: Wires agencies

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”.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, increased attacks on journalists and moves to curb free speech, censor the media, roll out invasive tracking apps and put in place extreme surveillance measures, many of which are likely to far outlast the virus.

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.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/human-rights-in-the-time-of-covid-a-pandemic-of-abuses-says-un-head

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Pandemic woes seen swelling global ranks of child soldiers

ARCHIVE PHOTO: South Sudanese children released by armed groups attend a ceremony in the western town of Yambio, South Sudan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Dumo

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.

FIRST PERSON: In South Sudan, a former child soldier fights to rebuild her life

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.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210212035937-fkzaw/

Human destruction of nature is ‘senseless and suicidal’, warns UN chief

A sign protesting the IMF and World Bank investments in fossil fuels.
A sign protesting against investments in fossil fuels. The UN report says trillions of dollars of ‘perverse’ subsidies must be diverted to green energy. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

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 UN assessments 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.

It says current measures to tackle the environmental crises are far short of what is needed: the world remains on track for catastrophic warming of 3C above pre-industrial levels, a million species face extinction and 90% of people live with dirty air.

“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.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/18/human-destruction-of-nature-is-senseless-and-suicidal-warns-un-chief

‘There is no vaccine for climate change,’ U.N. environment chief says

A sign in Medford, Oregon, advertises new homes amid the wildfire destruction Sept. 20, 2020. (CNS photo/David Ryder, Reuters)
A sign in Medford, Oregon, advertises new homes amid the wildfire destruction Sept. 20, 2020. (CNS photo/David Ryder, Reuters)
  • The planet is set to warm by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels just this century, but the world remains unprepared for climate change, a U.N. report says.
  • More than a quarter of countries still don’t have a single national-level adaptation plan, and financing for adaptation measures falls far short of what is needed.
  • By mid-century, adaptation costs could total up to $500 billion for developing countries, which will be disproportionately impacted by climate change despite contributing least to it.
  • Less than 5% of adaptation projects have yielded any real benefits in terms of boosting resilience to date, according to a survey of 1,700 projects cited in the report.

The world is not prepared for climate change, a new U.N. report warns, highlighting how far behind countries have fallen in implementing adaptation measures.

“The hard truth is that climate change is upon us,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), said at a press briefing Jan. 14. “Its impacts will intensify and hit vulnerable countries and communities the hardest — even if we meet the Paris Agreement goals of holding global warming this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Even the 2C (3.6F) goal enshrined in the global climate agreement may seem like wishful thinking at the moment. The planet is set to warm by 3C (5.4F) above pre-industrial levels just this century, with 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record.

Yet more than a quarter of the countries still don’t have a single national-level adaptation planning instrument.

There isn’t just a lack of adequate policies and planning, but also major financing shortfalls.

By mid-century, adaptation costs could total up to $500 billion for developing countries alone. Developed countries are responsible for a majority of the historical carbon emissions and should play a bigger role in mitigating the climate crisis, experts at the UNEP press briefing agreed.

Reports like UNEP’s “Adaptation Gap Report 2020” do more than raise alarm; they are also a call for action. The Paris climate treaty signed in 2015 is a voluntary agreement, which relies on global advocacy to pressure countries into honoring their commitments.

Adaptation financing is currently far short of what experts say is needed, at $30 billion per year, or only 5% of the total fund set aside to tackle climate change. The latter itself is deemed too little to ward off the risks posed by climate change.

COVID-19 has also pushed planning for climate change down the list of priorities for most countries. “There is no vaccine for climate change,” Andersen said.

Though some progress has been made, it has not translated into actual resilience against climate change impacts ranging from wildfires, droughts and floods to sea-level rise. Fewer than five out of 100 adaptation projects have yielded any benefits to date, a survey of 1,700 projects found.

While everyone agrees that climate change presents a global challenge, experts emphasize that adapting to these changes will have to happen at many levels. Adaptation measures include installing climate information and early-warning systems, safeguarding people in affected areas, and green investments.

At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on employing nature-based solutions that simultaneously improve the environment and human well-being.

Investing in adaptation initiatives could yield returns that are three times the cost, the Global Commission on Adaptation has estimated.

The new report complements UNEP’s “Emissions Gap Report 2020,” which tracks how countries are faring in keeping global temperature rise below 2C. “The more we mitigate, the less we have to adapt, and the costs of adaptation are going to be much, much lower,” said Henry Neufeldt, head of impact assessment and adaptation at UNEP.

However, unlike the emissions reduction targets that are part of the Paris Agreement, there are no comparable targets for adaptation.

“We don’t know exactly how much adaptation finance is needed because the goals are not clear, the targets are not clear, there is no agreed-upon goal on adaptation at national and global levels,” Neufeldt said.

Despite this, U.N. officials stressed there is a massive shortfall in funding and that there is a need to distribute the funds available to reflect the gravity of the threats.

“We need a global commitment to put half of all global climate finance towards adaptation in the next year,” Andersen said. “This will allow a huge step up in adaptation — in everything from early warning systems to resilient water resources to nature-based solutions.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/there-no-vaccine-climate-change-un-environment-chief-says

An overview on the UN Declaration of Peasants and Rural Workers Rights

The UN United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas was adopted by the United Nations (UN) at the end of 2018 by a large majority (121 votes in favour, 54 abstentions, 8 votes against). This Declaration marks the culmination of a historic process: it is the result of nearly 20 years of mobilization of La Via Campesina and its allies, and 6 years of negotiation at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger has shown that 80 % of the world’s hungry people live in rural areas. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the one billion people living in extreme poverty in the world today live and work in rural areas. The global food crises of 2008 and 2009 and the corona virus that has been shaking the world since the end of 2019 have worsened the situation. Half of the people suffering from hunger are smallholders who depend mainly or partly on agriculture for their livelihood. Some 20 % are landless families who survive as sharecroppers or as low-paid farm labourers who often have to move from one precarious and informal job to another; 10 % live in rural communities with traditional fishing, hunting and herding practices. Women account for as much as 70 % of the world’s hungry people and the vast majority of them work in the agricultural sector.

Despite the existence of several international instruments for the protection of the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of individuals, the above figures indicating the number of people affected by hunger in rural areas have been increasing steadily. Discrimination against this category of the population continues. Studies on human rights violations committed against rural populations show that existing human rights instruments are not sufficient to protect them and that certain specific aspects of the condition of peasants are not sufficiently taken into account. The UN Human Rights Council therefore considered the need for a specific legal instrument to explicitly strengthen the rights of people living and working in rural areas very important. The result of this consideration is the “Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other people working in rural areas”.

In 2010, the Human Rights Council mandated the Advisory Committee to undertake a preliminary study on ways and means to further promote the rights of people working in rural areas, including women, in particular smallholders engaged in the production of food and/or other agricultural products.  In 2011 and 2012, the Advisory Committee presented this study identifying five main causes of hunger that particularly affect peasants and other people working in rural areas: Expropriation of land, forced evictions and displacement; Gender discrimination; Absence of agrarian reform and rural development policies, including irrigation and seeds; Repression and criminalization of movements protecting the rights of people working in rural areas Lack of a minimum wage and social protection. The recent phenomenon of global “land-grab” has added another dimension to these concerns as Governments and companies seek to buy and lease large tracts of productive land in other countries, for food to be exported back to their countries, or to grow biofuels to fill the petrol tanks of those in the global north. Supermarkets buy their products primarily from large producers who are able to supply larger quantities. Because of their market power, supermarkets often dictate discount prices. These low prices in turn lead to poor wages and a lack of protection for farm workers.

An important outcome of this declaration is a major step forward in the protections of the rights of peasants and other rural workers. The rights stipulated therein are conditions for the realization of the right to food of the target groups, including: the right to land; the right to seeds; the right to means of production such as water, credit and tools; the right to food sovereignty. Most of these rights are new and do not appear in any other human rights instrument. This is the case, for example, of the right to land, seeds and means of production.

States have a great responsibility to ensure that peasants and others working in rural areas fully enjoy their rights. In the context of the declaration, States have, inter alia, the obligation to respect and protect: they must not interfere with the realization of the rights of peasants; they must refrain from expelling peasants by depriving them of the resources they need to lead a dignified life; they must refrain from adopting laws that allow private actors to abuse the rights of peasants; they must avoid issuing environmental permits knowing that the authorized activity will pollute the land and water and affect the right to water or to food and nutrition. The declaration obliges States to adopt all necessary measures to prevent private persons, such as landowners or transnational and national companies, from interfering with the realization of these rights.

An overview on the UN Declaration of Peasants and Rural Workers Rights

United Nations at 75: Sisters and their reps discuss its feats, failures

Flags of member states fly in front of the United Nations Secretariat building in New York in 2018 (United Nations photo)

New York — The United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary today at the U.N. General Assembly in New York during a crucial and perplexing moment.

As the world body acknowledges, “the UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impacts.”

Formed in the aftermath of World War II, the 193-member United Nations acts as an international forum where issues are debated and solutions to global challenges like poverty, gender inequality and climate change are weighed and developed. Its various humanitarian arms, such as the World Food Program, administer large-scale efforts to feed people in war- and drought-stricken countries.

Today’s ceremony — held to coincide with the annual meeting of the General Assembly rather than the actual anniversary date, which is Oct. 24 — cannot encompass all of the complexities and controversies surrounding the United Nations’ history.

In an assessment of the global body for the 70th anniversary in 2015, the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian noted that Dag Hammarskjöld, the second U.N. secretary-general, said the United Nations “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.”

But even that aim has sometimes bumped up against harsh realities. As The Guardian noted, the U.N. has “been dismissed as a shameful den of dictatorships. It has infuriated with its numbing bureaucracy, its institutional cover-ups of corruption and the undemocratic politics of its security council. It goes to war in the name of peace but has been a bystander through genocide. It has spent more than half a trillion dollars in 70 years.”

Members of sister congregations or representatives of sister congregations who engage in advocacy work at the U.N. tend to take a nuanced view of the global body, finding in it both strengths and weaknesses.

“For all its accomplishments and failures, the U.N. is still the global arena that peoples of the world and their leaders can dialogue about world issues on an equal footing: one nation, one vote,” Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas, representative of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns at the U.N., told GSR.

Misolas said the U.N.’s greatest accomplishments during the past 75 years include raising the visibility of human rights as a global concern and shepherding peace, nuclear disarmament and climate change agreements, as well as developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, “the U.N. over the years has failed to sanction states that have continued to have repressive and corrupt regimes; failed to make the superpower nations “walk the talk” — in terms of environmental and economic equity in relations to human rights and respecting national boundaries,” she said.

Beth Blissman, the U.N. representative for the Loretto Community, takes an equally expansive view: “Much in our world has changed over the past 75 years. There are more people, more countries, more challenges but also, hopefully, more solutions,” she said.

Amid all of this rapid change, she asks: “Does the United Nations need to be a more responsive, nimble and accountable organization that can build trust and consensus? Yes. Does it need to deliver better in the field and adapt more quickly to global challenges? Yes, definitely. Is there any other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact as the United Nations? No.”

To mark the 75th anniversary, Global Sisters Report asked Misolas, Blissman and others representing sister congregations about the milestone anniversary, to reflect on the U.N.’s accomplishments and failures and the difficulties and challenges it faces now and in the future.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/news/news/united-nations-75-sisters-and-their-reps-discuss-its-feats-failures

Refugees at risk of hunger and malnutrition, as relief hit in Eastern Africa

© UNICEF/Kate Holt: Women and children stand outside temporary tents at a refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border. (file photo)

According to WFP, over 2.7 million refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Djibouti have been impacted, with food or cash transfers reduced between 10 to 30 per cent, as the socio-economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic reduces vital funding from donors.

“Refugees are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps with weak or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation,” said Michael Dunford, WFP Eastern Africa Regional Director. 

In addition to COVID, the refugees, especially women, children and elderly, are also at risk of becoming malnourished, which can in turn impact their immune systems and increase their risk of being infected by disease, a tragic vicious cycle in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“With COVID yet to peak in East Africa, we cannot turn our backs on people forced to flee and stuck in remote camps,” added Mr. Dunford.  

Hard-won development gains at risk 

COVID-19 restrictions closed schools in refugee camps, meaning children missed out on vital school meals in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. In these countries except in Rwanda, funding shortages meant that WFP was unable to provide take home rations to refugee children to help them study at home and stay nourished. 

Extended school closures can also expose children to additional challenges, including, teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, early marriage, violence at home, child labour and high school dropouts, eroding hard-won development gains made over several years. 

Women and girl refugees are also at heightened risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, in addition to resorting to having sex for payment in order to survive. People with disabilities and unaccompanied or separated children are the most vulnerable, said the UN food relief agency. 

World cannot let the most disadvantaged suffer 

“Sadly, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most,” said Mr. Dunford, adding, “We simply cannot let this happen. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for the world to turn its back on refugees at this terrible time.” 

Given the pressing situation, WFP is appealing both to traditional donors and new would-be donors, such as international financial institutions, to step forward and assist refugees precisely because their vulnerability only increased with COVID-19. 

The UN agency needs some $323 million to assist refugees in the East Africa region over the next six months, about 22 percent greater than during the same period in 2019. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1071062

‘Momentous milestone’ as Africa eradicates wild poliovirus

UNICEF Angola: Angola polio vaccination campaign.

The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication officially declared that the 47 countries in the UN World Health Organization (WHO) African Region are free of the virus, with no cases reported for four years.

“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

Polio is a viral disease that can cause paralysis, and mainly affects children under five.  

The virus is transmitted from person to person, mostly through contact with infected faeces, or less frequently through contaminated water or food. It enters the body through the mouth and multiplies inside the intestines. 

While there is no cure for polio, the disease can be prevented through a simple and effective oral vaccine, thus protecting a child for life.  

‘A historic day for Africa’ 

The ARCC certification entailed a decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity, as well as field verification visits to each country in the region. 

The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in Nigeria in 2016. 

“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson, announcing the certification. 

 A commitment by leaders 

The journey to eradication began with a promise made in 1996 by Heads of State during the 32nd session of the Organization of African Unity held in Yaoundé, Cameroon,  where they pledged to stamp out polio, which was paralyzing an estimated 75,000 children annually on the continent. 

That same year, the late Nelson Mandela jumpstarted Africa’s commitment to polio eradication by launching the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign, supported by Rotary International, which mobilized nations to step up efforts to ensure every child received the polio vaccine. 

Nearly two million spared  

Since then, polio eradication efforts have spared up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis, and saved approximately 180,000 lives, WHO reported. 

“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists,” said Dr. Moeti.  

“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.” 

Always remain vigilant 

However, Dr. Moeti warned that Africa must remain vigilant against a resurgence of the wild poliovirus.  

Keeping vaccination rates up also wards against the continued threat of vaccine-derived polio, or cVDPV2. 

WHO explained that while rare, vaccine-derived polioviruses can occur when the weakened live virus in the oral polio vaccine passes among populations with low levels of immunization.  Over time, the virus mutates to a form that can cause paralysis.  

Adequate immunization thus protects against wild polio and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, the UN agency said. 

Learning from polio eradication 

WHO officials in Africa believe that the experience in eradicating wild poliovirus has other benefits for health on the continent. 

Despite weak health systems, and significant logistical and operational challenges, countries collaborated effectively to achieve the milestone, according to Dr. Pascal Mkanda, Coordinator of WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the region. 

“With the innovations and expertise that the polio programme has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2,” he said. 

The experience also will inform response to other challenges, both new and ongoing, Dr. Moeti added. 

“The expertise gained from polio eradication will continue to assist the African region in tackling COVID-19 and other health problems that have plagued the continent for so many years and ultimately move the continent toward universal health coverage,” she said. “This will be the true legacy of polio eradication in Africa.” 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1071022