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UN praises resilience and vision of younger generation, marking International Youth Day

INTERNATIONAL, 12 August 2020, SDGs - Commemorating International Youth Day, top UN officials have called on leaders around the world to “do everything possible” to enable young people to reach their fullest potential.

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended young peoples’ lives and aspirations and heightened their vulnerabilities, UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised the younger generation’s resilience, resourcefulness and engagement.

“They are the young people who have risen up to demand climate action. They are mobilizing for racial justice and gender equality and are the champions of a more sustainable world”, he said in a message marking International Youth Day.

“Many are young women who have been on the frontlines in mobilizing for justice and climate action — while also serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.”

The Secretary-General also underscored that realizing the promise of the young generation requires investing far more in their inclusion, participation, organizations and initiatives.

“I call on leaders and adults everywhere to do everything possible to enable the world’s youth to enjoy lives of safety, dignity and opportunity and contribute to the fullest of their great potential,” he added.

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day, “Youth Engagement for Global Action”, highlights the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels is strengthening national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be enhanced.

Also this year, through the #31DaysOfYOUth social media campaign, UN celebrates young people throughout the month of August, leading up and following International Day, to help spread the word and strike up a conversation surrounding youth engagement for global action. 

‘Young people are the trail-blazers of progress’ – UN General Assembly President 

Echoing the Secretary-General’s call, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the President of the UN General Assembly, also underlined a “global responsibility” to ensure that young people everywhere have access to just and equitable opportunities to fulfil their rights and aspirations.

“The potential for humanity to create a peaceful, prosperous future will not be reached as long as inequities and discrimination against youth remain commonplace, and young people lack opportunities to have their voices heard,” he said in a separate message on the International Day.

The Assembly President applauded young people for their “amazing contributions” towards a better future. Their movements in their communities and countries, he said, are already improving societies and raising global ambitions, every day.

“In the era of COVID-19 and the long-lasting social and economic negative effects it has on youth – and with only 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – [their] vision and commitment are paramount to creating a more sustainable and inclusive world,” he added.

“With your innovation and ambition, and guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, I am sure that your generation will effectively transform the world into a more sustainable, inclusive and just place for all,” Mr. Muhammad-Bande urged all young people, inviting them to take part in the virtual UN75 Youth Plenary, to be held in September to add their voice to shaping the United Nations for decades ahead.

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Pandemic ‘inflicting multiple shocks’ on the young, threatens entire generation

INTERNATIONAL, 11 August 2020, Human Rights - Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 70 per cent of students have been shut out of schools, universities and training centres, according to a new report issued on Tuesday by the UN’s labour agency.

The International Labour Organization’s (ILOYouth and COVID-19: impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being report, revealed that 65 per cent of young people have reported learning less since the pandemic began, citing the transition from classroom to online and distance learning, during lockdown.

“The pandemic is inflicting multiple shocks on young people”, said, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “It is not only destroying their jobs and employment prospects, but also disrupting their education and training and having a serious impact on their mental well-being."

Inequalities exacerbated

Despite their efforts to continue studying and training, half of the students surveyed believed their studies would be delayed while nine per cent feared that they might fail altogether.

And for those in lower-income countries with limited internet access, a dearth of equipment, and sometimes a lack of space at home to work effectively, the situation is even worse.

The report shines a light on the large digital divides between regions.

While 65 per cent of youth in high-income countries were taught classes via video-lectures, only 18 per cent in low-income countries were able to maintain their studies online.

“We cannot let this happen” going forward, the ILO chief said.

Futures hang in the balance

Against the backdrop of further obstacles in the labour market and a lengthened transition from school to work due to the pandemic, the report flags that 38 per cent of young people feel deeply uncertain over future career prospects.

Moreover, with one-in-six having had to stop work since the onset of the pandemic, some have already been directly impacted, suffering lost income.

At the same time, 42 per cent of those who have continued to work have seen their incomes reduced, ILO said, maintaining that this also affects their mental well-being. 

The survey found that half of all young people have been feeling some degree of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. 

Listen to youth

Despite the setbacks, young people have continued to mobilize and speak out about the crisis. According to the survey, a quarter of young people have done some kind of volunteer work during the pandemic.

Ensuring that their voices are heard is critical for a more inclusive COVID-19 response, said ILO, adding that giving youth a chance to articulate their needs and ideas during decision-making procedures improves the effectiveness of policies and programmes.

To protect an entire generation from having their employment prospects permanently scarred by the crisis, Youth and COVID-19 calls for urgent, large-scale and targeted policy responses, including by re-integrating back into the labour market those who have lost jobs, ensuring youth access to unemployment insurance benefits, and instituting effective measures to boost mental health.

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Somalia: Draft law a ‘major setback’ for victims of sexual violence

INTERNATIONAL, 11 August 2020, Law and Crime Prevention - The UN official working to end rape during wartime is urging authorities in Somalia to scrap a proposed law that allows for child marriage, among other “very disturbing provisions”.

Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, wants the Somali Federal Parliament to withdraw the Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill as it breaches international and regional standards relating to rape and other forms of sexual violence.

“If adopted, it would not only represent a major setback for victims of sexual violence in Somalia but would also delay the delisting of any of Somalia’s armed forces from the Secretary-General’s annual report to the Security Council”, she said.

Ms. Patten recalled that Somalia signed a 2013 Joint Communiqué with the UN, pledging to strengthen laws on sexual violence, and the draft law falls short of stated obligations and commitments.

‘Serious breaches’ – UN rights chief

The UN High Commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Monday called for legislators not to enact the law, saying that provisions in the draft “constitute serious breaches of international human rights norms and standards.”

The rights chief said that if passed, it would represent “a serious step backwards for the rights of victims of sexual violence in Somalia, in particular women and girls”, as well as sending a worrying signal to other States in the region.

Flaws in Draft Bill

The Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill contains substantive and procedural provisions “which grossly contravene international human rights law and standards to which Somalia is a party, and which would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe”, Ms. Patten said in a statement.

They include flawed definitions of offences, a lack of clearly defined terms, as well as inadequate protection of victims, witnesses and accused.

In addition to the provision that allows minors to marry based on reproductive maturity, independent of age, “it also establishes criminal penalties for forced marriage only if a woman is ‘strongly’ forced into the marriage without the knowledge and consent of her family.”

Act on 2018 Bill

Ms. Patten expressed hope that the Somali Government would instead reintroduce another draft law from 2018 that is centred on survivors.

The Sexual Offences Bill was developed following five years of wide-ranging consultations with women, civil society, and the international community, she recalled.

It was unanimously endorsed by the Somali Council of Ministers and sent to Parliament.

“Special Representative Patten deplores that in 2019, in a process that may have deviated from established law and legislative procedures, the Sexual Offences Bill was returned to Cabinet by the Speaker of the House of the People requesting Cabinet to make several substantive amendments,” the statement said.

“Although, in response, 15 Members of the House of the People brought a motion requesting the return of the Cabinet-approved Sexual Offences Bill to Parliament for first reading, the motion was not considered.”

Ms. Patten has joined others in Somalia and across the globe who are requesting that the Government take immediate action to reintroduce the Bill.

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Refugees also affected by Beirut blast as UN relief efforts continue

INTERNATIONAL, 11 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Dozens of refugees were among the victims of the deadly explosions at Beirut’s port a week ago that destroyed large areas of the Lebanese capital, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported on Tuesday.

So far, at least 34 refugees were among the more than 200 people reportedly killed in the blast, though the fear is that the number could rise further. Another 124 refugees were injured, 20 of them seriously, while seven are still missing.

Explosion affected everyone

“We continue to work with the rescue teams and other humanitarian partners to identify the victims and are extending support to the families who have lost their loved ones. This includes counseling, emergency cash and help with burial arrangements”, said Babar Baloch, UNHCR Spokesperson in Geneva.

Lebanon hosts roughly 200,000 refugees, mainly Syrians and Palestinians.

Mr. Baloch told journalists that the catastrophe has affected everyone, regardless of their nationality or status.

Thousands now homeless

It is estimated that more than 5,000 people sustained injuries in the blast, while hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes.

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, reported that a rapid assessment of 55 primary healthcare centres found that nearly 40 per cent sustained moderate-to-serious damage, while less than half can still provide full routine health services.

“Thousands of affected people now, many of them are homeless, require food assistance after the explosion”, said Jens Laerke, OCHA Deputy Spokesperson.

“And there is concern that the damage to the Beirut Port will exacerbate food insecurity, which was already growing due to the socio-economic crisis in Lebanon and compounded by COVID-19.”

Support for mothers-to-be

An initial door-to-door assessment is currently underway in the most heavily affected neighbourhoods, and aid distributions have commenced as of Sunday.

Humanitarian partners also are working to identify households that require emergency weatherproofing against the elements, and to restore a level of safety, privacy and dignity.

Additional maternal health support will be necessary to ensure the safe delivery of some 400 babies who are due to be born in the coming month, OCHA’s latest update on the crisis has revealed.

Children in the crisis

Although figures on child casualties are still being determined, at least three children were killed in the explosion and 31 required hospitalization, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Aid partners reported that some 1,000 children were among the wounded.

UNICEF is providing precautionary tetanus vaccination shots for the injured, and delivering water to port workers, first responders and victims, among other support.

Supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), including millions of masks and gloves, are also on the way to Lebanon, with the first flight expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The UN agency has also mobilized more than 300 young volunteers who are helping to clean, cook, distribute food and water, and perform minor repairs on homes and shops. Some 4,000 households have been reached so far.

Fouad Fouani
In Beirut, young volunteers receive last-minute instructions from Nadine Abi Zeid Daou before they enter damaged buildings.

Ensuring ‘learning never stops’

The devastation from the explosion also threatens to disrupt the start of the academic year, the UN educational and cultural organization, UNESCO, has warned. Around 70 public schools and 50 private schools in and around Beirut were either partially or totally damaged, impacting some 55,000 students.

UNESCO will rehabilitate damaged schools and coordinate rehabilitation efforts among partners. As some schools may opt for distance learning due to the crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN agency also will provide technical and financial support to the Ministry of Education to develop remote learning solutions.

“We stand ready to harness all our capacities to ensure that learning never stops and to guarantee all students’ right to education”, said Dr. Hamed Al Hamami, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States.

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Polio vaccination campaigns restart in Afghanistan and Pakistan after COVID-19 hiatus

INTERNATIONAL, 11 August 2020, Health - Polio vaccinations campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, months after having been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday. 

Programmes are expected to be rolled out across Pakistan and almost half of Afghanistan this month, after vaccination drives in July reached some 780,000 children and three provinces in the two countries, respectively. 

Critical, to avoid fresh emergency

“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency”, said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. 

“As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe”, she added.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two polio-endemic countries in the world and the coronavirus pandemic had almost 50 million children without their polio vaccines, an easy protection against the highly infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.

Curbing transmission

Child vaccination drives, including polio campaigns, were halted in both South Asian countries in March to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission to children, caregivers and vaccinators themselves. 

As a result, reported polio cases rose to 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free areas, according to UNICEF.

The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely.

‘Committed to reaching every child’

According to UNICEF, while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, there are concerns that up to a million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations which are not possible in some remote areas, and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated.

Nonetheless, Ms. Gough said that although new challenges could compound the coronavirus disruption, “the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach.” 

“Together with the respective governments and other partners including the WHO (UN World Health Organization), Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - and with the dedicated work by frontline health workers - we are committed to reaching every child”, she said.

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Violence in Sudan’s Western Darfur forces 2,500 into Chad: UN refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL, 11 August 2020, Migrants and Refugees - Recent clashes in Sudan’s Western Darfur region has driven more than 2,500 people across the border into neighbouring Chad, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported.

According to UNHCR, more than 80 per cent of those arriving in the Chadian border town of Adré are women, children and elderly – many of whom have witnessed extreme violence.

Attacks, said to have been carried out by armed nomads in the town of Masteri in Western Darfur, killed 61 people from the Masalit ethnic community and injured at least 88 on 25 July. Houses were also reported to have been burned to the ground in the town and the surrounding villages.

“A 25-year-old woman told UNHCR staff that her husband was stabbed to death in front of her eyes and she had to run for her life with her three children, making the journey to Chad riding a donkey for one full day”, Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the agency said at Tuesday's regular media briefing, in Geneva.

About 20,000 affected within Sudan

In addition to those who fled into Chad, an estimated 20,000 people within Western Darfur in Sudan have been affected by the unrest – the majority of whom are women and children.

Mr. Baloch said that the situation has stabilized since the attacks but “remains unpredictable” and those displaced are still hesitant to return home and are demanding better security.

Federal authorities in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, have reportedly deployed additional forces to control and calm the situation. A delegation from the Masalit community and Arab tribal leaders arrived in El Geneina, the capital of Western Darfur, from Khartoum on 4 August and is conducting peace talks between both sides, added the UNHCR spokesperson.

Response hit by heavy rains

In Chad, UNHCR, in collaboration with the Government and humanitarian partners, is relocating the refugees from the border areas to the Kouchaguine-Moura refugee camp further inland, where they will be provided with food, shelter, water and emergency relief items.

The camp will also provide access to hygiene and health, including isolation units, as part of the response to COVID-19, said Mr. Baloch.

The relocation, however, has been slow due to heavy rains and poor road conditions, with about 443 refugees arriving at the camp last week. The Kouchaguine-Moura camp is already hosting more than 6,000 Sudanese refugees who had arrived in February 2020.

Rains have also hampered efforts to assess the situation and organize a response to assist those affected in Sudan.

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Guterres pledges continued UN support for Lebanon ‘in every possible way’

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The United Nations and humanitarian partners are working around the clock to support and mobilize emergency assistance in the aftermath of the deadly explosion in Beirut Port last Tuesday. 

At a virtual briefing on Monday, high-level UN officials detailed how the situation is unfolding on the ground and what the Organization is doing to assist.

“The legendary strength of the Lebanese people now faces an additional test”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Almost a week after the blast produced “a colossal toxic cloud that was visible for miles”, he lamented that “many people remain missing”. 

In an instant, the explosion “flattened vital infrastructure and shattered windows near and far”, he stated. “Surrounding neighborhoods were levelled. Many thousands are now homeless”. 

And three hospitals were left inoperable, while two others sustained substantial damage. “The shock waves were felt across the city – and indeed across the Mediterranean”, the UN chief said, adding that “the economic, social and other reverberations” will continue for some time. 

According to news reports, Lebanon’s Prime Minister took to national television late on Monday, to announce his resignation along with that of the Government, citing endemic political corruption. 

A difficult time

Against the backdrop of economic hardship, COVID-19 and multiple other challenges, Mr. Guterres lauded the Lebanese people for remaining “generous hosts” to large Palestine and Syrian refugee communities.  

In the past few days, the UN chief said he’d seen “that spirit yet again”, as neighbours help neighbours clear the streets of broken glass, “opening their homes to those who have lost theirs.”

“I call for robust international support for all people in need in Lebanon, especially women and girls who are most vulnerable in times of crisis”, he underscored.

And while thanking those countries that are already providing “tangible financial, material and specialized assistance”, he urged donors to give “speedily and generously”. 

Listen to the people

At a time of both sorrow and prolonged frustration, the UN chief maintained that “the anger of the Lebanese people is palpable” and “their voices must be heard”.  

He called for a “credible and transparent investigation” to determine the exact cause of the explosion and bring about the accountability “demanded by the Lebanese people”. He said long-term political reform was also needed.

Profound loss

Noting that profound sense of loss and disbelief, he noted that Lebanon was resilient. “Lebanon has immense spirit and will”, he said, while also underscoring that it is not alone.  

He pledged the Organization would continue its support for Beirut and the people of Lebanon “in every possible way” and vowed that the UN would stand in unity to help “alleviate the immediate suffering and support its recovery” .

Three phases of response

Chairing the meeting, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said the the “swift and wide-ranging” humanitarian response was in its first of three phases. 

He said that the second, recovery and reconstruction, would “cost billions of dollars and require a mix of public and private finance”, while the third will be to respond to the Lebanon’s pre-exciting socioeconomic crisis, which is already exacerbated by COVID-19. 

“Tuesday’s blast will have repercussions far beyond those we see in front of us now”, he warned, encouraging donors to “come together and put their shoulder to the wheel” for collective response to the Lebanese people.

In closing, he said that the blast “ripped through any pretence that all is well in Lebanon”.

“The Lebanese people…are telling us they’ve had enough”, declared the Humanitarian Coordinator.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder

Meanwhile, President of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande upheld that the devastating impact of last week’s explosion makes it “imperative for the international community to stand beside the [Lebanese] people”.

Stressing that their needs are enormous and great”, he evoked the need for a multilateral approach, building consensus, and for providing “the necessary help and support to prevent crises of this magnitude in the future”.

“The people of Lebanon have shown us the true spirit of their proud country”, said Mr. Muhammad-Bande. “It is upon us to band together and ensure that they will not have to shoulder this burden alone”.  

© UNOCHA
Young man stares out from his apartment after a blast at Beirut Port ripped through the city, Lebanon.

‘Heart full of sorrow’

UN Resident Coordinator Najat Rochdi spoke passionately about the Lebanese people and the country for which she is also the Humanitarian Coordinator.

“I am addressing you today, with a heart full of sorrow, from a small country in the Middle East…that has struggled a lot and yet still has the will, beyond all odds, to survive and strive”, she said.

She recapped the events of 4 August when a warehouse at the Beirut Port exploded shattering the city and pushing the people “further to the brink”. 

More than 200 had now reportedly died, and around 6,000 or so have sustained injuries caused by the blast. Ms. Rochdi painted a picture of “apocalyptic images of destruction, fear and sorrow” and damage so extensive that it has affected the city at its economic heart, destroying swathes of commercial and residential neighborhoods. 

In this “challenging context”, she commended the work of the UN and non-governmental organizations which have been involved in the response from the very first moment, “demonstrating a remarkable sense of service and dedication to save lives”.

Ms. Rochdi elaborated on the response to date and reaffirmed that the UN and its partners “are here to stay and deliver” in the country. “We owe it to the people of Lebanon”.

Food delivery

Speaking from Beirut, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley confirmed that the damage is “as bad as you can possibly imagine”.

Explaining that 85 per cent of the country’s food is imported and that it came through Beirut Port, he maintained the urgency of quickly getting the port up and running, saying that he believed it could be temporarily operational in two to three weeks.

He informed that within two weeks, WFP will have 17.5 thousand metric tonnes of wheat flour to put bread on Lebanese tables for roughly 20 days; a 30-day supply of about 30 thousand metric tonnes that will be brought in after that; and then another 100 thousand metric tonnes over the subsequent 60 days.

However, as this requires an operational port, he appealed to donors to “step up now”, saying there was no time to waste. 

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‘You are not alone, we are in this together’, declare UN staffers in Lebanon

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Last Saturday was another scorching August day in Lebanon’s shattered capital of Beirut, but UN staff members who had gathered outside UN House – itself damaged during the deadly port explosion - were determined to get straight to work, and stand in solidarity with the country they call home.

Wearing hats, masks and gloves, and carrying shovels, buckets and burlap bags, UN staff members from the various agencies across the country, began to put the staff unions’ #UN4Beirut initiative into action, to clean up glass, debris and rubble from the bomb-stricken streets and help vulnerable residents clear their damaged houses.

Most staffers were joined by family members and friends. Even some young children took part. Devastated by the tragic explosion that ripped through Beirut Port on 4 August, reportedly killing more than 200 and wounding 6,000, hundreds of thousands were also rendered homeless.

Mindful of the city-wide turmoil, staff members checked in on each other, recounting stories of how they miraculously survived the explosion and how some of them lost their homes, resigned for now, to living in hotels.

Clean-up mission

Staff members divided themselves into groups and took to the streets covering three major areas within Beirut, that were badly destroyed by the blast.

“It is heartbreaking to see the amount and magnitude of destruction in this city of exceptional beauty”, said Deputy Special Coordinator and Resident and Humaniarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, who had just arrived in Beirut to take office, only a few days before tragedy struck.

“Undoubtedly, the trauma caused by this catastrophe will not only be felt by those who heard and were injured by this horrific explosion, but also by all Lebanese who witnessed this massive destruction. The impact of this tragedy has also shaken the whole world that came together to support Lebanon,” 

Here ‘to stay, and deliver’ for the people

“I am putting my heart, my energy my time in, and I am not going to give up on anything to help the Lebanese people. We are here to stay and to deliver. We are here to support and assist, and we will overcome this tragedy altogether”, Ms. Rochdi added, while joining the teams working hard to help clear the streets.  

She is convinced that the solidarity and perseverance of the Lebanese - demonstrated throughout the years - will help them recover and emerge stronger.

Wearing a mask and holding his shovel, Mohamad Saleh, Programme Officer at UNICEF, was determined to offer assistance on the ground. He stood in awe at the scene of destruction all around, and struggled to describe how he felt. “We are all in this together, no matter where we live in this country.” 

Small but resilient

Lebanon, a founding member of the UN in 1945, is one of the smallest recognized sovereign states in Asia, at just 10,452 square kilometers.

“The capital is ours and we should stand by our people amidst this humanitarian crisis. One small shovel can bring a change and can help people recover at a very fast pace”, he added.

Leading this initiative was Mona Fattah, Chairperson of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Staff Council, a Sustainable Development Officer at the Commission. 

“The ESCWA Staff Council mobilized the #UN4Beirut campaign in coordination with all staff unions in Lebanon. This is one campaign of many initiatives that will follow, beginning wih the cleaning of debris, to the fundraising campaign that is taking place in other duty stations by staff unions in solidarity with Beirut and its people”, he said. 

‘Heartbreaking’ hunger and homelessness

Staffer Gorges Abi Sleiman, an Urban Planning Assistant with UN-Habitat, who has been working tirelessly in the aftermath of the blast supporting a coordinated recovery and response, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see the majority of Greater Beirut residents hungry and homeless, especially after already struggling from the crippling socio-economic crisis and rising COVID-19 cases. 

We are witnessing a huge catastrophe and I am literally devastated by the chaos and destruction that hit the neighborhoods of Beirut and adjacent areas. I hope we will be able to recover.”

The explosion hammered a nation already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases. Much of the population had already been living in survival mode. Since October 2019, anti-government protesters have been rallying and calling for a political overhaul as socio-economic and financial crises worsened in the country.

Kindness and solidarity

UNIC Beirut Director, Margo Helou, praised the acts of solidarity and kindness demonstrated by the UN staff in Lebanon in support of the families of victims and the Lebanese people. 

She hailed the UN staff unions’ initiative as a great show of empathy and solidarity that is gravely needed in these challenging times and commended the overwhelming participation of youth in this intiative. “I cannot express my pride and joy seeing all UN staff, and my staff from UNIC Beirut, standing shoulder to shoulder to assist in relief work, and demonstrating such a humane spirit”, Ms. Helou said. 

Friends and family

Once he felt the shockwaves of the explosion all the way from his hometown in South Lebanon, Mohamad Nassif, a Lebanese architect, immediately knew that people in the city would need help: “I learned from a neighbor that the UN was leading a cleaning operation and I felt encouraged to participate. 

Later, two of my friends found out from social media that I was helping and they got motived too, because we feel safe with this organization.”

Malek Wahidi, a 19 year-old student who was with a relative that works at the UN, said in his view, “the youth are the only hope for Lebanon.”

He urged all his friends to join him on the ground, “because Beirut is bleeding and it needs everyone’s support.”

“I’ve seen people, young, old, homeless, broken and shocked, coming together to clean their streets, look for their loved ones, offering each other shelter and support”, said Laeticia Mitri, a new graduate volunteering in the street clearing operation. 

Choking while talking, as tears ran down her cheeks, said that she was helping despite the fact that she’s now unemployed, and with the country facing an uncertain future. “Do you really think there’s still any hope left?” 

Beirut has long been compared to a phoenix that always rises from the ashes. Throughout history, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt seven times. While still mourning the dead and the missing, Lebanese citizens are determined to rebuild their shattered homes and businesses with the hope of bringing their Beirut, back to life. 

For them, it is time to rebuild better, and return stronger than before.

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Political crisis in Guinea-Bissau: UN Representative urges political leaders to enact reforms

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Peace and Security - Entrenched political divisions in Guinea-Bissau pose a serious threat to stability in the West African country, the top UN official there told the Security Council on Monday, as she called for continued international engagement and for reforms outlined in a four-year old agreement, to be enacted.

That accord known as the Conakry Agreement, includes a related political road map set out by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, Special Representative and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), described a “hostile” atmosphere of mistrust following last November’s Presidential election and December re-run, with mutual accusations and acts of intimidation reported against those opposing the new political order.

Parliamentary paralysis

Competing priorities are fuelling tensions between President Sissoco Embaló, announced the winner of the run-off on New Year’s Day, whose new Government is focused on consolidating power, and efforts by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) to contest a 29 June parliamentary vote that approved the programme of the Nuno Nabiam Government.

While the President has offered to form a broad-based Government with Nuno Nabiam as Prime Minister, the top UN official said the prospects of a breakthrough are low, given PAIGC’s strong opposition to joining the Government under the current circumstances.

Concerns over the 26 July raid on Radio Capital FM, considered allied to the opposition, as well as arbitrary arrests, intimidation and detention of those perceived as opposing the administration, have also compounded the divisions.

Amid such paralysis, the UNIOGBIS mandate is unlikely to be fully implemented before the Office draws down by 31 December, she said.

Drawdown efforts continue

Nonetheless, she said efforts are ongoing to reconfigure the UN presence in a way that would allow the Country Team to continue the critical peacebuilding activities of political dialogue, confidence-building measures, reforms and combatting drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.

In addition, a comprehensive action plan is being defined to extend technical support to specialized commissions towards achieving cross-party consensus.

“My plan to establish a high-level platform bringing together relevant international partners and national authorities to discuss, sustain momentum and accompany the country’s reform efforts is progressing”, she assured. Following the Office’s closure, the platform would continue under the leadership of the resident coordinator.

International attention needed

“Continuing our efforts in support of the country will remain crucial”, she stressed adding that serious funding will be needed to avert a financial cliff. 

The Peacebuilding Commission’s role in maintaining international attention on Guinea-Bissau will also be of utmost importance.  “The recent political crisis linked to the electoral dispute is self-explanatory of the structural weaknesses of the country”, she said.

Drug traffickers exploit porous borders

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), agreed that urgently coordinated action is very much needed, as organized crime networks have exploited border management challenges for trans-Atlantic cocaine trafficking. 

Hard-won achievements in 2019 – in particular, the “CARAPAO” and “NAVARA” operations, which led to the seizure of roughly 3 tonnes of cocaine – are proving difficult to advance.

Noting that security sector reform is essential to resolving the chronic problem of instability, she said UNODC assistance will focus on strengthening institutions to fight corruption and enhance criminal justice.  These efforts will be carried out under the national strategic plan on drug trafficking, which provides an integrated approach to reforming the entire security system. 

Close monitoring

Going forward, she said Guinea-Bissau needs renewed international commitment.  “Political will and long-term assistance, backed by sufficient funding, are needed more than ever”, she said.  UNODC will continue to closely monitor the drug trafficking and organized crime situation, delivering technical assistance supported by an extensive team on the ground and maintaining its readiness to offer more formal advisory services.

She said the UNODC regional office in Dakar will also provide technical support, in cooperation with the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).

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Belarus: UN chief following post-election developments ‘with great concern’

INTERNATIONAL, 10 August 2020, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General has appealed for restraint in Belarus, where ongoing clashes between police and demonstrators continue following disputed elections held on Sunday.

Protests broke out overnight in the capital, Minsk, and other cities, ahead of preliminary results announced on Monday, which showed longtime President Alexander Lukashenko had won 80 per cent of the vote, thus securing a sixth term in office.

Thousands were arrested in the protests, which continued for a second night, international media reported on Monday.

Show maximum restraint

Speaking later in the day in New York, UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the Secretary-General continues to follow the situation “with great concern”.

UN chief António Guterres has urged all relevant parties to avoid actions that would further enflame tensions, and to approach the issues in the spirit of dialogue.

“The Secretary-General calls on the Belarusian authorities to show maximum restraint and to ensure full respect for the rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association”, Mr Dujarric told journalists.

Respect citizens’ rights

“He emphasizes the importance of its citizens exercising their rights peacefully in accordance with the law. The Secretary-General urges all relevant actors to avoid actions that would further enflame tensions and to approach the issues in the spirit of dialogue.”

President Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994 and is Europe’s longest-serving leader.

His main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, accused the vote of being rigged, and has called on the President to step down, according to media reports.

The 37-year-old teacher and interpreter had no prior political experience before the election. She entered the race in July after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger, was arrested before being able to register as a candidate.

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