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‘Progress under threat,’ warns UN chief on twentieth anniversary of chemical weapons convention

INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today warned that progress made in eliminating the world’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons is threatened by belligerents in the Middle East.

“The recent attack in Syria was a horrific reminder of the stakes,” said Mr. Guterres in a video message to the commemorative ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held in The Hague, Netherlands.

The OPCW is the implementing body of the Convention, which entered into force in 1997. As of today OPCW has 192 member States, who are working together to achieve a world free of chemical weapons.

“Nearly all countries are party to the Convention – and the Organization has helped eliminate most of the world’s declared stockpiles,” Mr. Guterres noted.

“But progress is under threat. In the Middle East, belligerents are breaking the norm against chemical weapons,” he added.

The UN chief expressed hope that all States will support the OPCW’s critical fact-finding mission, as well as its joint investigative mechanism with the United Nations.

Noting that the Convention and the implementing body celebrate two decades of success, Mr. Guterres urged: “Now, let us renew our resolve to consign these diabolical weapons to the pages of history.”

The OPCW Member States share the collective goal of preventing chemistry from ever again being used for warfare, thereby strengthening international security. To this end, the Convention contains four key provisions:

  • destroying all existing chemical weapons under international verification by the OPCW;
  • monitoring chemical industry to prevent new weapons from re-emerging;
  • providing assistance and protection to States Parties against chemical threats; and
  • fostering international cooperation to strengthen implementation of the Convention and promote the peaceful use of chemistry.
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Six months into battle for Mosul, water and trauma care are key UN and partner priorities

INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 2017 – Safe drinking water is a major concern in Mosul, where a battle has been underway for the past six months to retake the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the United Nations humanitarian arm has said.

Some 450,000 people are currently displaced and the number continues “to increase rapidly,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Iraq said.

Humanitarian partners are trucking water to eastern Mosul at a rate of 2.3 million litres every day. Nearly 28 neighbourhoods now have access to clean drinking water in the east.

However, “in newly retaken areas of western Mosul city, water trucking has already begun on a small scale, but significant increase in scale is required,” OCHA said.

The UN is also working with partners to re-establish a functioning city-wide water network.

In addition to water, emergency food and hygiene supplies are being distributed to families close to the front lines. More than 2.1 million people received urgent aid since October.

As the fighting rages, ensuring that trauma casualties receive the specialized treatment they need in a timely manner remains a high priority, UN and humanitarian partners have said.

Since mid-October, more than 8,100 people have been referred to hospitals in Mosul and surrounding areas. New field hospitals have also been created, one for emergency reproductive and obstetric healthcare.

In addition, the UN and its partners are working to house families and provide protection, particularly to women and children.

More funding is needed. The 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq requesting $985 million is currently 17 per cent funded, according to OCHA. About $331 million of that is sought for the Mosul operation.

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Turning problems into progress: UN celebrates ‘risk-takers’ on World Intellectual Property Day

INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 2017 – On World Intellectual Property Day, the United Nations is spotlighting innovation – “future-shapers and risk-takers” – exploring how it is making our lives healthier, safer, and more comfortable, turning problems into progress.

Marking the Day at World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) headquarters in Geneva, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that while the world is facing enormous changes and challenges, including new technologies and shifting labour markets that will impact people’s lives, WIPO has an essential role to play.

“Your organization can be a central tool of the UN to be able to cope with these challenges, to provide us with the knowledge about what is happening, to give us the ideas, the suggestions of how we can organize ourselves at different levels to be able to cope with these challenges,” he said.

WIPO is the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. We are a self-funding agency of the United Nations, with 189 member States. The agency’s mission is to lead the development of a balanced and effective international intellectual property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all.

Mr. Guterres continued: “Your organization has an extremely important role, because you are in the frontier of knowledge and the frontier of knowledge is in the end what will determine the future of our international community.”

For his part, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said, this year’s campaign celebrates all those risk takers, those ‘future shapers,’ those innovators who develop a new technology, product or service that spurs us onward and makes us better.”

“On World Intellectual Property Day, let us reflect on and appreciate the energy, drive and dedication required to translate an idea into reality. And let us renew our commitment to building a global IP framework that makes innovation work for everyone, everywhere,” he said.

He noted that innovation – and the technological progress it represents – makes a significant contribution to economic growth and creates opportunities for new and better jobs.

“We often do not take enough time to think about the many ways in which innovation improves the quality of our lives. One only has to compare the way we live today with the way we lived 100 years ago,” he continued.

Over the past century, he said, the world had seen an extraordinary transformation in the quality of “our material lives, thanks to the introduction of countless new and improved technologies and products.”

Mr. Gurry went on to explain that intellectual property, such as patents, trademarks, industrial designs and copyright are a crucial part of a successful innovation system.

“It provides a return for those who take the risk to introduce the ‘new’ – in terms of products and services – into the economy. It provides a framework for the rather difficult and challenging journey that any idea has to undertake before becoming a commercially available product or service,” he stated.

Mr. Gurry concluded by inviting everyone to take advantage of this year’s campaign as “an opportunity for us all to think about what it actually takes to invent something and the challenges associated with that process. It is also a chance for us to consider how we can make innovation really work for the benefit of the whole of society.”

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Inequalities between rich and poor temper broad success of immunization – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 2017 – Even though billions of doses of vaccines for children across 100 countries around the world were supplied in 2016, millions of children – especially those in conflict zones – still miss out on life-saving inoculations, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

“All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, have the right to survive and thrive, safe from deadly diseases,” Robin Nandy, the Chief of Immunization at UNICEF, said in a news release.

Access to immunization has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under the age of five from vaccine-preventable diseases, and has brought the world closer to eradicating deadly scourges like polio and measles but despite this progress, 1.5 million children still die from diseases which can be prevented by vaccines.

According to estimates, 19.4 million children around the world still miss out on full vaccinations every year.

Around two thirds of all unvaccinated children live in conflict-affected countries. Weak health systems, poverty and social inequities also mean that one in five children under the age of five is still not reached with life-saving vaccines.

On top of this, persisting inequality between rich and poor children further exasperate the problem.

In countries where 80 per cent of the world’s under-five child deaths occur, over half of the poorest children are not fully vaccinated. Globally, the poorest children are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as the richest.

“In addition to children living in rural communities where access to services is limited, more and more children living in overcrowded cities and slum dwellings are also missing out on vital vaccinations,” said Dr. Nandy.

“Overcrowding, poverty, poor hygiene and sanitation, as well as inadequate nutrition and health care increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles in these communities; diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines,” he added.

Furthermore, given predictions that one in four people could be living in urban poor communities, mainly in Africa and Asia by 2030, the focus and investment of immunization services must be tailored to the specific needs of these communities and children, noted UNICEF.

This re-focusing of efforts is all the more important given that efforts in these communities would be crucial for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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DR Congo: UN seeks $64 million to tackle humanitarian crisis in Kasaï region

INTERNATIONAL, 26 April 2017 – The United Nations has appealed for $64.5 million to respond to the urgent needs of 731,000 people over the next six months in the Kasaï region, the latest “humanitarian hotspot” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“The Kasaï crisis is an acute crisis of massive proportions in a country that is already going through one of the world's most relentlessly acute humanitarian emergencies,” the Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC, Mamadou Diallo, said in Kinshasa.

“We are facing a new challenge that requires additional resources to respond to the needs of thousands of displaced people and host families as our current capacities are being outstripped,” he added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than one million people are estimated to be currently displaced as the violence started in Kasaï Central and rippled across neighboring Kasaï, Kasaï Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru provinces.

Currently some 40 national and international humanitarian organizations are working across the five provinces to respond to the crisis, which was borne out of armed clashes that erupted in August 2016 between the Congolese army and a local militia group.

The appeal launched today will provide water, food, medicines and health services, basic household items, and provide protection services, among others, to minors, women who have suffered sexual violence, and other civilians who have been victim of violence.

In Kasaï Central province alone, the current humanitarian needs are 400 per cent above what humanitarian actors had planned for earlier this year.

“An effective response requires that new and fresh funding be allocated as humanitarian actors cannot afford to take away from their current operations in the eastern provinces to support the Kasaï crisis,” Mr. Diallo said.

More than four months into the year, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan only received $66 million, or less than 10 per cent of the overall $748 million appeal.

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UN Commission celebrates 70 years of 'connecting countries and driving progress in Europe'

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2017 – The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is celebrating 70 years of bringing countries across the continent together to cooperate on a wide range of issues, including trade, transport, sustainable development and food safety, which impact the daily lives of its citizens.

“Throughout its 70 years, UNECE has been connecting countries, driving progress, really impacting the lives of citizens throughout the region,” Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach told UN News in an interview in the lead up to the Commission’s sixty-seventh session, which begins in Geneva on 26 April.

“And it has been done quietly; a little bit under the radar,” noted Mr. Bach, who previously served as the Minister of Development Cooperation in Denmark.

One of five UN regional commissions set up by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UNECE aims to promote economic integration throughout Europe through the definitions of norms, standards and conventions enhancing the lives of its people. It includes 56 Member States in Europe, North America and Asia.

For Mr. Bach, who has been leading the commission since July 2014, the UNECE is probably one of the UN organizations that people are most in contact with every single day of their lives. “When people get up in the morning, the fresh food or vegetables they eat are traded according to the agricultural standards in UNECE. When they are driving, the road signs and signals are defined and negotiated in UNECE,” explained Mr. Bach.

He went on to note that every single company is in contact with UNECE on a daily basis thanks to its many trade facilitation standards and norms, whether it uses law codes when shipping a package or uses electronic business standards when electronically trading.

“So citizens throughout our region are in contact with UNECE from when they wake up to when they go to bed and it positively impacts their lives,” said Mr. Bach.

Helping countries to implement the SDGs and the Paris Agreement
Take for example the target of SDGs on halving the number of deaths from road crashes. Our convention on road safety helps countries to have safer roads, and better signs and signalsChristian Friis Bach

UNECE has established hundreds of norms, standards and conventions that help countries to implement all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Take for example the target of SDGs on halving the number of deaths from road crashes. Our convention on road safety helps countries to have safer roads, and better signs and signals,” said Mr. Bach. “The vehicle regulations that are negotiated in UNECE make vehicles safer from everything like seatbelts to electronic stability controls.”

Climate change is another crucial area where UNECE is heavily involved. Over two thirds of the Commission’s Member States have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change which entered into force in November 2016. From energy efficiency standards and regulations for cleaner cars to the promotion of more sustainable mobility such as cycling and walking, the Commission has a number of activities to help countries implement the Paris Agreement.

UNECE has, for example, recently established energy efficiency standards for buildings. “This is a huge issue in our region where the energy consumption of the buildings is too high,” said Mr. Bach.

“And by this new work on energy efficiency we can help our countries to have more energy-efficient buildings, save on energy and implement the Paris Agreement,” he added, while also underlining UNECE’s engagement in the transition to a fossil-free economy and sustainable energy for all.

Maximizing synergies with other UN organizations

Since its creation, UNECE has been headquartered in Geneva – which has been a boon for the Commission, according to the Executive Secretary. “Geneva is the Silicon Valley of practical international cooperation,” said Mr. Bach. “We have so many synergies here, being so close to so many strong UN organizations.”

Throughout his mandate, Mr. Bach has worked towards strengthening the UNECE’s partnerships and cooperation with the many international organizations that make up what is dubbed ‘International Geneva,’ including working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) on road safety and with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on trade facilitation agreements, among others.

Putting differences aside and focusing on concrete cooperation

Although divisions and tensions exist in Europe, Mr. Bach remained optimistic about UNECE’s work and the future. “UNECE has proven throughout its 70 years that even in the most difficult times, we could get countries together, put some of … the high politics aside and focus on concrete practical cooperation that is going to benefit citizens,” he said.

In UNECE, countries came together, put their differences aside and said: let’s get the road connected. We have to make sure we have efficient railways. We have to make sure we can cooperate on water, have clean airChristian Friis Bach

He recalled, for instance, that the largest transport convention was framed and formed during the very difficult years of the Cold War. “In UNECE, countries came together, put their differences aside and said: let’s get the road connected. We have to make sure we have efficient railways. We have to make sure we can cooperate on water, have clean air,” said Mr. Bach.

“This was done regardless of the tensions and conflicts and that for me is the strength, legacy and beauty of UNECE and we still have it.”

Mr. Bach is aware of the current difficulties facing Europe and believes that countries must get back on the pathway for economic integration and cooperation throughout the continent.

“This is our historical mission. This why UNECE was established,” he stated. “To ensure economic integration and cooperation, to maintain peace in Europe, and this mandate is today as relevant as ever.”

Mr. Bach will pass on UNECE’s leadership to Olga Algayerova of Slovakia in June 2017.

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UN agency and Chinese bike-share firm team up to raise awareness about climate change

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2017 – The United Nations development agency is teaming up with ofo, a China-based bike sharing platform, to raise public awareness about climate change, it was announced today.

“This is an innovative partnership which will make real strides towards protecting our precious environment,” said Michael O’Neill, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of External Relations at the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Ofo, which is recognized by yellow bicycles in China, Singapore and the United States, will also donate its income on the 17th of the month to celebrate the universally approved 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a to-do list to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030.

The funding will be used to provide financial support “to innovative projects that address urban environmental challenges,” according to a press release.

The includes creating campaign messages about how each and every person can reduce CO2 emissions.

UNDP and ofo have also said that they will establish a scholarship program for environment research and start-ups offering green products and technologies.

In addition, ofo will share abandoned bikes with children in rural areas to improve their access to education.

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Ghana, Kenya and Malawi to pilot malaria vaccine trial – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2017 – The United Nations health agency’s regional office for Africa has announced that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi will take part in a breakthrough pilot programme to make the world’s first malaria vaccine available in selected areas, beginning in 2018.

“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine”, said Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, in a news release.

Announcement of the coordinated rollout comes as the international community marks World Malaria Day and the kick-off of World Immunization Week, 24-30 April, which celebrates the widespread use of vaccines that protect people against 26 diseases. Overall, vaccines prevent an estimated two to three million deaths each year, according to WHO.

The injectable RTS,S vaccine was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium parasites. It will be assessed in the pilot programme as a complementary malaria control tool to potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa,” Dr. Moeti added.

Africa bears the greatest burden of malaria worldwide. Global efforts in the last 15 years have led to a 62 per cent reduction in malaria deaths between 2000 and 2015, yet approximately 429,000 people died of the disease in 2015 – the majority of them young children in Africa.

The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the vaccine’s protective effect in children aged 5 – 17 months old during Phase III testing can be replicated in real-life. Specifically, it will assess the feasibility of delivering the required four doses of RTS,S, the vaccine’s potential role in reducing childhood deaths and its safety in the context of routine use.

Pilot implementation strategy

The three countries selected to participate in the pilot were based on the criteria of high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal-treated nets; well-functioning malaria and immunisation programmes – a high malaria burden even after scale-up of LLINs; and participation in the Phase III RTS,S malaria vaccine trial.

Each country will decide on the districts and regions to be included, with high-malaria-burden areas prioritized, as they are predicted to provide the broadest benefit. Information garnered from the pilot will help to inform later decisions about potential wider use of the vaccine.

The malaria vaccine will be administered via intramuscular injection and delivered through routine national immunization programmes. WHO is working with the three countries to facilitate regulatory authorization of the vaccine for use in the pilots through the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum. Regulatory support will also include measures to enable the appropriate safety monitoring of the vaccine and rigorous evaluation for eventual large scale use.

Malaria: Facts, figures and prevention strategies

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the International Drug Purchase Facility UNITAID, are partnering to provide $49.2 million for the first phase of the pilot programme (2017-2020), which will be complemented in-kind by contributions from WHO and the British pharmaceutical company GSK .

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Latin America loses billions of dollars to ‘double burden’ of undernutrition and obesity – UN study

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2017 – Undernutrition and obesity are the two sides of malnutrition, and together they contributed to the loss of billions of dollars for economies in Latin America, a United Nations-backed study has found, warning that unless more is done to mitigate this health burden, the region faces a “frightening” future.

The Cost of the Double Burden of Malnutrition, released yesterday, is the result of a partnership between the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and calculates losses in productivity, health and education in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.

While undernutrition undermines physical growth and impairs brain development, overweight and obesity can lead to non-communicable diseases such as type II diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Together, they inflict a ‘double burden’ on countries and people as they hinder the development of individuals, the well-being of communities and the goal of reaching Zero Hunger by 2030.

According to the study, gross domestic product (GDP) in each country shrinks every year as a result of losses is productivity caused by this double burden. Losses are estimated at $500 million in Chile, $4.3 billion in Ecuador and $28.8 billion in Mexico, which represent respectively 0.2 per cent, 4.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent loss of GDP.

“Over the last decade many middle income countries have made great inroads into reducing undernutrition. Yet the problem persists and we now witness a worrying trend among vulnerable communities with cases of undernourishment and overweight simultaneously within the same families,” said WFP Regional Director, Miguel Barreto.

“The double burden of malnutrition increasingly affects the poor and vulnerable population, thus becoming another cause for the current inequality in our region,” said ECLAC Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena.

The implications for the future of countries are frightening. According to the study, undernutrition is declining, but ‘overnutrition’ is expected to become the largest social and economic burden in the region. From 2014 to 2078, overweight and obesity are projected to cost on average $1 billion in Chile, $3 billion in Ecuador and $13 billion in Mexico per year respectively.

The study recommends measures to mitigate this burden; governments should promote consumer education through clear policies and incentives to ensure reliable food labelling, physical activity initiatives, and the support of community-based nutrition education programmes.

It encourages the food industry to work with governments to guarantee the production, availability, and accessibility of healthier food products, and to play a positive and responsible role in educating consumers on healthy food choices.

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Somalia: UN launches lifesaving vaccination campaign for children facing measles threat

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2017 – Almost 30,000 young Somali children, many of them displaced by a searing drought, are being vaccinated against measles this week in a United Nations-backed emergency campaign in one of the country’s hardest-hit towns.

“Among vaccine-preventable diseases, none is more deadly than measles,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative Steven Lauwerier in a news release.

Measles is a viral respiratory infection that spreads through air and contact with infected mucus and saliva, thrives in congested, unsanitary displacement camps.

Many children have never been immunized before as a decades-old conflict has made it difficult for health workers to reach remote areas from which they come.

So far this year, almost 5,700 cases of suspected measles have been reported across the country, more than the total number of cases in 2016.

More than 100,000 people have come to Baidoa, in Somalia’s south-western region, in search of assistance, including at least 70,000 in March alone.

The threat of famine once again looms large over Somalia. Up to a million children are, or will be, acutely malnourished this year, with one in five requiring life-saving treatment.

“And we know only too well from the 2011 famine that measles, combined with malnutrition and displacement, is an especially lethal combination for children,” said Mr. Lauwerier. “The only way to prevent sickness and death from measles is to make sure all children receive the vaccine.”

The Baidoa campaign is being conducted in partnership with Somalia’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), and several non-governmental organizations.

Children are also given a vitamin A supplement to boost immunity as well as de-worming tablets.

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