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Guterres welcomes creation of transitional council in Haiti to choose new leaders

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2024, Peace and Security - UN Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the establishment of a transitional council in Haiti tasked with choosing new political leadership and setting up elections in the crisis-torn Carribean country.

In a statement issued on Saturday by his Spokesman, the UN chief welcomed the publication on Friday, 12 April of a decree formally establishing the Transitional Presidential Council, which is tasked with choosing Haiti’s next prime minister and Cabinet.

“[He] urges all Haitian stakeholders to continue making progress in putting in place transitional governance arrangements, including the timely appointment of an interim Prime Minister and government, and the nomination of the members of the Provisional Electoral Council,” said the statement.

Further, the statement said Mr. Guterres takes note of the functions of the Transitional Presidential Council, including working with all members of the international community to accelerate the deployment of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission authorized last year by the UN Security Council.

“He reiterates his call on all Member States to contribute to the MSS,” the statement concluded.

Amid a political vacuum, Haiti’s powerful and well-armed gangs have launched coordinated attacks on various targets since February, including police stations, prisons, airports, and seaports, resulting in the resignation in March of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Even as the capital, Port-au-Prince, and much of the surrounding area remains in the grip of rampaging gangs, UN humanitarians are continuing to offer emergency aid to those impacted.

Recently, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided 19,000 meals to displaced civilians in Port-au-Prince, and school lunches to 200,000 children in other provinces.

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Rape, murder and hunger: The legacy of Sudan’s year of war

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Humanitarian Aid - Rape. Murder. Hunger. Corpses filling streets, making it impossible to walk. Sudan was plunged into an ongoing, devastating war one year ago on 15 April, leaving in its wake almost 15,000 dead, eight million civilians on the run, 25 million in dire need of assistance and warnings from humanitarians about famine, aid blockades and a growing list of atrocities on all sides.
Suffering is growing too and is likely to get worse, Justin Brady, head of the UN humanitarian relief office, OCHA, in Sudan, warned UN News.

“Without more resources, not only will we not be able to stop a famine, we’re not going to be help able to help basically anybody,” he said.

“Most of the rations that people receive from the likes of the World Food Programme (WFP) are cut in half already, so we can’t strip more off the bone to try and make this operation work.”

The grim conditions on the ground hit an emergency level soon after the rival Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces launched air and ground attacks in mid-April 2023, he said, as a tsunami of violence continues to surge across the country today, from the capital, Khartoum, and spiralling outwards. 

Not ‘at the bottom’ yet

“Our biggest concerns are around the conflict areas in Khartoum itself and the Darfur states,” he said from Port Sudan, where humanitarian efforts are continuing to get lifesaving aid to those most in need.

The entire aid community was forced to relocate from the capital just a few weeks into the fighting due to the dire security situation.

While a recent famine alert shows that almost 18 million Sudanese are facing acute hunger, the $2.7 billion response plan for 2024 is only six per cent funded, Mr. Brady said.

“It’s very bad, but I don’t think we’re at the bottom,” he said.

Conditions were bad even before the war, stemming back to the coup of 2021, with a drowning economy amid startling waves of ethnic-based violence, he explained.

Except today, although humanitarian supplies are available in Port Sudan, the key challenge is securing safe access to affected populations, currently stymied by looted aid warehouses and crippling bureaucratic impediments, insecurity and total communications shutdowns.

Khadija, a Sudanese internally displaced person in Wad Madani.
Ala Kheir
Khadija, a Sudanese internally displaced person in Wad Madani.

“Sudan is often referred to as a forgotten crisis,” he said, “but I question how many knew about it to be able to forget about it.”

Listen to the full interview here.

War and children

As hunger washes over the country, news outlets have reported that one child is dying every two hours from malnutrition in the Zamzam displacement camp in North Darfur.

Indeed, 24 million children have been exposed to conflict and a staggering 730,000 children are severely acutely malnourished, Jill Lawler, chief of field operations in Sudan for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told UN News.

“Children should not have to be experiencing this, hearing bombs go off or being displaced multiple times” in a “conflict that just needs to end”, she said, describing the first UN aid mission to Omdurman, Sudan’s second largest city.

More than 19 million children have been out of school, and many young people can also be seen carrying arms, reflecting reports that children continued to face forced recruitment by armed groups.

Too weak to breastfeed

Meanwhile, women and girls who have been raped in the first months of the war are now delivering babies, the UNICEF operations chief said. Some are too weak to nurse their infants.

“One mother in particular was treating her three-month-old little son, and she unfortunately did not have the resources to provide milk for her little son, so had resorted to goat milk, which led to a case of diarrhoea,” Ms. Lawler said.

The infant was one of the “lucky few” able to get treatment as millions of others lack access to care, she said.

 
People fleeing violence pass through a transit centre in Renk in the north of South Sudan.
© UNHCR/Ala Kheir
People fleeing violence pass through a transit centre in Renk in the north of South Sudan.

Death, destruction and targeted killings

On the ground, Sudanese who had fled to other countries, those who are internally displaced and some who are recording the ongoing suffering shared their perspectives.

“I have lost everything I ever owned,” said Fatima*, a former UN staff member told UN News. “The militias looted our house and took everything, even the doors.”

For 57 days, she and her family were trapped inside their home in El Geneina in West Darfur while militias systematically targeted and killed people based on their ethnicity, she said.

“There were so many bodies in the streets it was hard to walk,” she said, describing their escape.

‘No sign of a solution in sight’

Photographer Ala Kheir has been covering the war since violent clashes erupted in Khartoum one year ago, saying the “scale of disaster” is must greater than the media portrays.

“This war is very strange because both sides hate the public and they hate journalists,” he told UN News in an exclusive interview, stressing that civilians are suffering the brunt of the ongoing deadly clashes.

“A year later, the war in Sudan is still going very strong and the lives of millions of Sudanese have completely stalled and stopped,” he said, “with no sign of a solution in sight.”

Women and children collect water in eastern Sudan.
© UNICEF/Ahmed Elfatih Mohamdee
Women and children collect water in eastern Sudan.

‘Get off the sidelines’

While the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week, the fighting continues, OCHA’s Mr. Brady said.

“We need the international community to get off the sidelines and to engage the two parties and to bring them to the table because this conflict is a nightmare for the Sudanese people,” he said, explaining that a famine prevention plan is in the works leading up to a pledging conference for sorely needed funds, to be held in Paris on Monday, the day the war will enter its second year.

Echoing the call of many aid agencies, for the Sudanese people caught in the crossfire, the nightmare needs to end now.

* Name changed to protect her identity

WFP and its partner World Relief provide emergency food supplies in West Darfur.
© WFP/World Relief
WFP and its partner World Relief provide emergency food supplies in West Darfur.

Sudanese youth call for help to fill aid vacuum

Youth-led mutual aid groups are helping fill the aid gap in war-torn Sudan. (file)
© ERR
Youth-led mutual aid groups are helping fill the aid gap in war-torn Sudan. (file)

Community groups led by young Sudanese men and women are trying to fill the aid vacuum left after the war began one year ago.

Called “emergency response rooms”, these youth-led initiatives are assessing needs and taking action, from medical help to providing corridors to safety, Hanin Ahmed told UN News.

“We in emergency rooms cannot cover all the needs in conflict areas,” said Ms. Ahmed, a young activist with a master’s degree in gender and specialising in peace and conflict, who founded an emergency room in the Omdurman area.

“Therefore, we ask the international community and international organisations to shed light on the Sudanese issue and to put pressure to silence the sound of guns, protect civilians and provide more support to help those affected by the war.”

Read the full story here.

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Fishers in Madagascar adapt to deadly seas due to climate change

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2024, Climate and Environment - Fishing communities in the south of Madagascar are facing sometimes deadly sea conditions due to climate change, but with the help of the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) are finding ways to adapt to the new circumstances they face.
The large Indian Ocean island is amongst the poorest in Africa where the majority of people make their living off the land or sea.

Like many other countries in the region, it is suffering the effects of climate change.

UN News’s Daniel Dickinson travelled to the village of Mokala in Anosy region where he spoke to the president of the local association of fishers, Gaston Imbola and Valencia Assanaly, the National Coordinator of the ILO’s Project Eco-Langouste Sud.

Gaston Imbola prepares his nets ahead of a fishing trip.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Gaston Imbola prepares his nets ahead of a fishing trip.

Gaston Imbola: It is becoming more dangerous to fish in these waters because the winds are getting stronger and the weather is less predictable. People have died because their traditional wooden canoes have capsized out in the ocean. Just one week ago three fishers from a different village were rescued off our shores after getting into difficulty. Two were extremely weak. 

Valencia Assanaly: Climate change is impacting fishing a lot in this region. An increase in the temperature of the sea and a decrease in rainfall causes higher winds which translates into big waves and more treacherous conditions at sea for the fishers.

Gaston Imbola: We used to be able to fish around 20 days a month, but with stronger more challenging winds it is now between 11 and 15. I’m not very sacred of the conditions but sometimes I do take risks because I need to feed my family. 

Valencia Assanaly National Coordinator of the ILO’s Project Eco-Langouste Sud.
FAO Madagascar/Tojotiana Randrianoavy
Valencia Assanaly National Coordinator of the ILO’s Project Eco-Langouste Sud.

Valencia Assanaly: At the ILO we recognize that fishers like Gaston need support, so we are helping them to both diversify their income sources, but also to fish more safely, which includes collaborating on digital early warning systems which highlight dangerous sea conditions.

Gaston Imbola: In the past, our tradition was to listen to the wind and observe the sea the night before we set out on a fishing trip. But now we can get detailed information about the wind direction and the size of the waves by calling an information service dedicated to fishing folk. This helps us to make a decision about whether it is safe to fish or not. So, this morning, we will fish as there is an amber alert which urges caution, but this afternoon the conditions will worsen and there is a red alert which means it is too dangerous to go out.

Valencia Assanaly: The ILO has supported the digitalization of the early warning system so fishers can receive information via text messages. We are also providing expertise on the diversification of income resources including the strengthening of practices for fisheries sectors, other than lobster, which is currently the community’s main source of income. While, one of our main goals is to build the capacity, profitability and sustainability of lobster fishing, we recognize that diversification is important as it enables the fishers to be more resilient to the types of negative changes in the climate that we are seeing.

The weather in the south of Madagascar is becoming more unpredictable due to climate change.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
The weather in the south of Madagascar is becoming more unpredictable due to climate change.

Gaston Imbola: The lobster season runs from April to December which coincides with some of the worst weather at sea. There are 98 fishing families in this village which has a population of around 800 and together, during the last season we caught 10 tonnes in nine months. Lobster fetches a good price so this is a big benefit to the village.

Valencia Assanaly: The ILO is also supporting the fishers to organize so they have a decent working environment, that they know their rights and to ensure, as stakeholders, that they are part of the value chain for lobster.

Gaston Imbola: The biggest market for our lobster is Japan, where we send lobsters which are still alive. Customers in Europe take the prepared meat. I don’t know much about Japan, but I am proud that the Japanese people buy and enjoy our product and that my small village and my country is recognized on the other side of the world as producing excellent lobster.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has also supported the Mokala village fishing community providing seaworthy canoes, life vests, safety-at-sea training as well as nets and torches.          

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Nigeria first country to introduce ‘revolutionary’ meningitis vaccine

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Health - Nigeria has become the first country to roll out a “revolutionary” five-in-one vaccine against meningitis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Friday.  

The Men5CV vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria - A, C, W, Y and X - which cause the disease. 

Known by the brand name MenFive, it provides broader protection than the vaccine currently used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain. 

Defeating a ‘deadly foe’ 

Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.  

The rollout in Nigeria represents one step closer towards the goal of total elimination by 2030, he added. 

Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal. Symptoms often include headache, fever and stiff neck. 

There are multiple causes, including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens. The most serious - bacterial meningitis - can also result in blood poisoning and can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours after being contracted.   

Vaccination campaign 

Nigeria is among the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries of Africa, an area known as the African Meningitis Belt.  

WHO said 153 people died in an outbreak in Nigeria between 1 October 2023 and 11 March of this year. A vaccination campaign was launched in late March to reach more than a million people aged 29 and under. 

“Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi and Yobe were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis, and this vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak but also put the country on a path to elimination,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate of the Nigerian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. 

WHO said the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating the disease, which is especially important for countries like Nigeria where multiple serogroups are prevalent.  

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UN pays tribute to victims and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Peace and Security - The UN renewed its commitment to never forget the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda during a candle lighting ceremony on Friday to mark 30 years since the horrific events there unfolded. 

The commemoration in the General Assembly Hall was held to remember the victims and honour the survivors and those who tried to stop the genocide.

Focus was also on young people who have grown up in its shadow, and on countering hate speech which fuelled the killing and has become a growing global concern today. 

100 days of terror 

“The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda 30 years ago is a stain on our collective consciousness and a brutal reminder of the legacy of colonialism, and the consequences of hate speech,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his opening remarks. 

More than a million people - overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also Hutu and others who opposed the genocide - were slaughtered over 100 days, starting on 7 April 1994. Many were hacked to death with machetes. 

It was a period when “neighbours turned on neighbours, friends became murderous foes, and entire families were wiped out,” Mr. Guterres recalled. 

“The carnage was driven by an explicit intent to destroy members of a group simply because of their ethnic identity,” he said. 

Never again 

The President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, said the "horror born of a virulent and senseless level of hatred" that engulfed Rwanda three decades ago “should never be allowed to rear its venomous head again in the human conscience and heart.”

He urged people everywhere to learn about the dangerous consequences of hate speech, especially in the era of social media “where unguarded words we utter can spread like wildfire”, as well as the ramification of international inaction in the face of conflict.

“The genocide against the Tutsis had warning signs which were not fully heeded and it unfolded in full view of the global community – which dismally failed Rwanda by not taking swift action to prevent or stop it,” he said. 

“Let us always remember that peace requires an active effort – and most importantly, prevention.” 

Carrying the memories 

Rwandan song writer and author Claver Irakoze was just a child when the unspeakable violence began. His father taught at a secondary school in Kapagyi, located roughly 40 kilometres southwest of the capital, Kigali, and the family sought shelter there. 

Early on the morning of 28 April, soldiers came to the school and took away 61 men, including his father, loading them “like cargo” onto a truck.  

“That was my last time I saw my father,” he said. “I remember him faintly waving good-bye at me, so powerlessly. It is an image that still comes to my mind whenever I think about him.” 

Mr. Irakoze has since written two children’s books to teach lessons of hope and healing. He is also a husband and the father of a boy, 9, and a girl, 11 - the same age he was when the genocide began.

Our killers wanted us wiped out, but we are here," he said. "And through us and our children, we carry the memory of those we lost.” 

A 14-year-old Rwandan boy from the town of Nyamata, photographed in June 1994, survived the genocidal massacre by hiding under corpses for two days.

UNICEF/UNI55086/Press

A 14-year-old Rwandan boy from the town of Nyamata, photographed in June 1994, survived the genocidal massacre by hiding under corpses for two days.

Lighting the way forward 

Rwanda has risen from the ashes “becoming an outstanding example of what is possible when a nation chooses the path of reconciliation and renewal,” said Ernest Rwamucyo, the country’s Ambassador to the UN. 

He paid tribute to Mr. Irakoze and other survivors who illuminate the path to healing and reconciliation.  

“In acknowledging the sacrifices made by survivors, we reaffirm our collective resolve that the lessons of history are never forgotten. Their narratives compel us to redouble our efforts in the pursuits of justice, accountability and peace.” 

Remember. Unite. Renew. 

As part of the commemorative events, the UN Department of Global Communications has mounted an exhibit in the Secretariat lobby - Remember.  Unite.  Renew. - that highlights the power of post-genocide reconciliation, the potentially deadly impact of hate speech and what visitors can do to say #NoToHate. 

At the heart of the exhibit is the story of Laurence Niyonangira, who fled the killings in her community, led by former neighbours following targeted hate speech. She lost 37 family members in the genocide. 

As survivors, we can only heal our wounds with the people who created them,” she said on the reconciliation process with Xavier Nemeye, one of the men who killed her mother and sister.  

The exhibit includes an interactive panel where visitors can voice their support for tolerance and pledge to speak out against hate speech. 

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Wave of increased food insecurity hits West and Central Africa

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Humanitarian Aid - Almost 55 million people are facing further food and nutrition insecurity in West and Central Africa during the region’s three-month lean season from June through August, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
This is a four million increase in the number of people currently dealing with food insecurity in that region.

Mali is facing the worst situation – around 2,600 people there are presumed to be experiencing catastrophic hunger - IPC food classification index phase 5 (read our explainer on the IPC system here).

“The time to act is now. We need all partners to step up, engage, adopt and implement innovative programs to prevent the situation from getting out of control while ensuring no one is left behind,” said Margot Vandervelden, WFP’s Acting Regional Director for Western Africa.

Economic challenges and imports

The most recent data shows that economic turmoil including stagnated production, currency devaluation, increasing inflation and trade barriers have exacerbated the food crisis in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Mali.

These economic challenges as well as fuel and transport costs, regional body ECOWAS sanctions and restrictions on agropastoral product flows, have contributed to a sharp increase in staple grain prices across the region – a more than 100 per cent increase over the past 5 years.

To date, cereal production for the 2023-2024 agricultural season has seen a 12 million tonne deficit while the availability for cereals per person is down two per cent compared with the region’s last agricultural season.

Currently, West and Central Africa are reliant on imports to satisfy the population’s food requirements, but economic hardship has increased the cost of imports.

WFP’s Ms. Vandervelden said these issues call for a stronger investment in “resilience-building and longer-term solutions for the future of West Africa.”

Shocking highs

Malnutrition in West and Central Africa has risen to a shockingly high rate with 16.7 million children under five experiencing acute malnutrition.

More than two thirds of households are struggling to afford healthy diets and eight out of 10 children, ranging from six to 23 months lack the consumption of foods essential to their optimal growth and development.

"For children in the region to reach their full potential, we need to ensure that each girl and boy receives good nutrition and care, lives in a healthy and safe environment, and is given the right learning opportunities," said Gilles Fagninou UNICEF Regional Director.

Parts of northern Nigeria are also experiencing many cases of acute malnutrition in about 31 per cent of women aged 15 to 49.

Ms. Fagninou explained that strengthening “education, health, water and sanitation, food, and social protection systems,” can result in lasting differences in children’s lives.

Sustainable solutions

UN agencies the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and WFP,  are calling on national governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector, to establish sustainable solutions to strengthen and support food security and increase agricultural productivity.

These solutions should also alleviate the adverse effects of economic volatility, they said.

There is also an expectation that governments and private sectors should join forces to guarantee the human right to food for all.

UNICEF and WFP plan to extend national social protection programs to Chad and Burkina Faso, as millions of people in Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger have benefitted from such programmes. 

Additionally, FAO, agricultural development fund IFAD, and WFP have collaborated across the Sahel to expand "productivity, and access to nutritious food through resilience-building programmes."

Dr. Robert Guei, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa and the Sahel, said that when responding to these cases of food and nutrition insecurity, it is essential to promote and support policies that will encourage the “diversification of plant, animal, and aquatic production and the processing of local foods”.

He said this was “crucial not only to ensure healthy, affordable diets all year round, but also and above all to protect biodiversity, with the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change, and above all to counter high food prices and protect the livelihood of the affected population”.

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World News in Brief: Looming famine threat for Sudan, 3.3 million in need near Ukraine frontline, there’s a place for all in outer space

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Humanitarian Aid - UN humanitarians in Sudan issued a fresh alert on Friday about pervasive food insecurity and looming famine.
After nearly a year of brutal civil war between rival militaries, food production has been hit and communities face acute shortages of other essential resources such as water and fuel.

More than eight million people are believed to have been uprooted from their homes with tens of thousands killed or wounded.

The World Health Organization (WHO) meanwhile has warned that every seventh child under five is acutely malnourished and 70 to 80 per cent of health centres are no longer functioning.

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that five million people were “on the brink of famine” in areas affected by conflict:

“With the lean season expected to start soon and without unhindered access for aid, the situation will only worsen in the coming months”, he added.

Hundreds of thousands of lives at stake

He said around 230,000 children, pregnant women and new mothers could die in the coming months due to hunger unless urgent lifesaving funding can be provided.

New data from the UN Development Programme, UNDP, also highlighted the accelerating hunger crisis in Sudan on Friday, with famine expected this year.

Moderate or severe food insecurity already affects nearly six in 10 households, with West Kordofan, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states worst-hit.

UNDP urged immediate food aid assistance for the most vulnerable in Sudan where more than half of the rural households contacted for its research reported that farming work has been disrupted significantly in the states of Khartoum, Sennar and West Kordofan.

Ukraine war leaves 3.3 million in dire need on frontlines: IOM

Ukrainians remain under “constant attack” and 3.3 million living on the frontline need emergency assistance urgently, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Friday.

Days after rocket fire killed dozens in the east and south of the country, IOM chief Amy Pope warned that the situation is worsening for many in Ukraine.

Frequent power cuts

“Displaced people and host communities need urgent assistance as they continue to endure missile strikes, destruction of infrastructure and frequent power cuts” Ms. Pope said.

The agency estimates that some 800,000 children live on the frontlines, just some of the more than 14.6 million people in Ukraine who need humanitarian aid amid Russia’s continuing invasion.

The UN agency has helped thousands of displaced people near the frontline and elsewhere in Ukraine with immediate and longer-term needs, including restoring livelihoods and supporting community resilience.

World must move on from ‘space race’ and embrace outer space for all

Humankind must get away from the Cold War concept of a ‘space race’, even as commercial competition hots up to exploit the potential of the cosmos, the head of the UN agency for outer space affairs (UNOOSA) has told UN News.

Marking Friday’s International Day of Human Space Flight, when the former Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin reached orbit back in 1961, UNOOSA Director Aarti Holla-Maini told us that everybody has a role to play in the peaceful exploration of space – “it’s not just for the geeks and the nerds who like engineering.”

Boldly going

“Now, we’re really looking at space science and space exploration and looking for the most innovative and pragmatic approaches to that, and that is why we are seeing more commercial companies getting involved.”

She said the private sector allows national space agencies like NASA in the United States, to spread their risk, keep costs down, be bolder in their ambition and increase the chances of success.

The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is the birthplace of all space regulation and treaties, “which underpin everything that we see happening in the space economy today”, she said, urging a continuation of a “global convening dialogue” in both the public and private sectors.

She said as space debris increases in the Earth’s orbit and beyond, the UN will bring stakeholders together to discuss potential new guidelines for international oversight.

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Gaza: No improvement in aid access to north, insists senior UN aid official

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2024, Peace and Security - The situation for Gazans remains dire despite hopes stemming from recent commitments by Israel to boost assistance, the UN’s top aid official in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said on Friday.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator overseeing crisis relief in Gaza, pushed back at Israeli claims that more than 1,000 trucks had entered Gaza in the last few days, but only around 800 had been collected on the Palestinian side.

The veteran aid official also maintained that the deconfliction system in which humanitarians shared their coordinates with the warring sides was “consistently inaccurate”, but that he had raised these and other operational concerns with the Israeli military at their first meeting earlier this week.

“It’s very easy for Israel to say we’ve sent you 1,000 trucks so please deliver them inside Gaza,” he said, in a renewed appeal to the Israeli authorities to recognise that their responsibility as the occupying Power “only ends when…aid reaches the civilians in Gaza”.

Security vacuum

Describing long delays at checkpoints and a “security vacuum” inside the enclave that continues to hamper the delivery of aid where it is most needed, the UN official noted that the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) team, whose vehicle was hit by live ammunition on Thursday, had been held “for hours” at a checkpoint on Salah Al Deen Road.

So far this month, some 60 hours have been wasted in this way, Mr. McGoldrick insisted. “And then what happens sometimes, it’s too late in the day – because you can only travel in daylight hours – to go north and therefore sometimes the mission is cancelled. And then we get blamed by Israel for cancelling the convoy, cancelling the mission to the north.”

Only three roads are open to humanitarian relief in Gaza today: the middle route via Salah Al Deen Road, the coastal Al  Rashid Road and the military road on the east side of Gaza. “At no point in time in the last month and more have we had three or even two of those roads working at the same time simultaneously,” the UN aid coordinator maintained, adding that all of the highways were in “very poor condition”.

The consequences of “very limited” aid missions into the north of the enclave were already clear, judging by how underweight babies are when they are born, Mr. McGoldrick continued.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (centre) visits the Kamal Adwan hospital, the only paediatric hospital in northern Gaza.
© WHO
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (centre) visits the Kamal Adwan hospital, the only paediatric hospital in northern Gaza.

Life-threatening hunger

Speaking from Jerusalem, he described visiting Kamal Adwan Hospital two weeks ago, where “every single patient” in the children’s ward faced life-threatening hunger. 

“The last child I saw was in an incubator who was a two-day-old boy, but who wasn't prematurely born – he was born after nine months – but he was 1.2 kg. There are going to be long-term consequences, which will be felt in the development possibility of that child.”

Insisting on the need for a direct telephone line to the Israeli military “and the ability to speak to them”, Mr. McGoldrick noted that the targeting of the non-governmental organisation World Central Kitchen convoy two weeks ago was only recent evidence of the frequent dangers faced by aid teams operating in Gaza.

“We have to have handheld radios, VHF radios, all the things you have in any normal issue, in a normal crisis. We don't have them,” he said, maintaining that the Israeli authorities had not allowed them for fear that they might be used by Hamas fighters.

Evacuation call

Echoing concerns about the dire healthcare situation in Gaza, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) called for a structured medical evacuations system to treat patients, instead of the current “ad hoc” arrangement.

Damage to Al Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s biggest – during a two-week Israeli military raid had left a “huge crater” in the specialised surgery block, said Thanos Gargavanis, WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer.

Speaking from Gaza, Dr Gargavanis said that the hospital had been completely destroyed, including the oxygen plant, laboratory equipment and other critical equipment including a CT scanner and other machines required to provide lifesaving care. 

“The buildings themselves are burned down, walls are missing; there are holes of shrapnel and fire all along them,” the WHO officer noted, before describing how a recce of the hospital last week found open spaces littered with makeshift graves or with bodies lying either uncovered or with a plastic sheet over them.

The WHO and other UN agencies have ensured that the deceased found at Al Shifa can receive a dignified burial, after naming the bodies or making it possible for them to be identified by DNA testing in future.

“After this destruction, we feel that we are returning 60 years before when medical imaging was not available, where laboratory tests were not available,” Dr Gargavanis said. “We want to stress again that hospitals should never be militarized.”

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Ceasefire the only way to end killing and injuring of children in Gaza: UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 11 April 2024, Humanitarian Aid - Advocating for a ceasefire is the best way to support the people of Gaza, including children in the north who are dying of hunger, a Spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.  

Tess Ingram was part of a UNICEF team that was headed to northern Gaza on Tuesday when their vehicle was hit by live ammunition while waiting at a checkpoint.  

“Luckily, myself and my colleagues, we were all safe. But this just underscores how dangerous it is for humanitarian aid workers in Gaza at the moment: that incidents like this continue to happen when they absolutely shouldn't,” she told UN News, speaking from Rafah in the south.

‘Critical mission’ rescheduled 

The UN has repeatedly warned of looming famine in Gaza, where roughly 70 per cent of the population in the north is going hungry, and as access restrictions persist.

Ms. Ingram said the UNICEF team had hoped to proceed to the region “because it was such a critical mission with nutrition products for the children who were malnourished in the north of Gaza, among other things.” 

However, after waiting at the holding point for at least another two hours, they decided moving forward was no longer feasible as there would not be enough time to conduct all their activities, and returned to Rafah.

While another mission is being scheduled for the coming days, she stressed the critical need for more aid corridors and, above all, for the fighting to end. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Tess Ingram: It's tragic to see anybody suffering from malnutrition, which is such a painful condition, let alone in a place where malnutrition was almost non-existent before October. And it's now skyrocketed in the north of Gaza, because of disruptions to food production, but also because of restrictions on aid access to that area. We've really struggled to get up there with aid.  

And as a result, we know that children are dying of malnutrition there. At least 23 children have reportedly died at the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which is where we were trying to bring these nutrition treatments on Tuesday. 

UN News: Is there a particular story that you heard, a particular child that struck you, that that really resonated with you? 

Tess Ingram: There's a boy that I met, in the middle area at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Dier Al Balah. His name is Omar. He is seven years old.  I wasn't able to speak to him because he was in such a terrible condition, so much pain.  

But I talked to his grandmother, and she was telling me that they had just come down from the north 48 hours earlier, and that in the north they had access to barely any food, and they were relying heavily on grass to sustain them. And you could see how sick Omar is. I really hope that he's okay now.  

The director of pediatrics at the hospital told me that he hoped that Omar would make a full recovery. But concerningly, he said that 90 percent of the children that they're admitting at the moment have some level of malnutrition, which is just shocking. 

Seven-year-old Omar is being treated for malnutrition in Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al-Balah after fleeing northern Gaza with his grandmother

UNICEF

Seven-year-old Omar is being treated for malnutrition in Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al-Balah after fleeing northern Gaza with his grandmother

UN News: Israel said that it has the intention at least to open the Erez crossing into northern Gaza. Has this materialized yet? Were you able to get anything in to relieve the situation? 

Tess Ingram: No, not yet - and that is such a critical step. We really need that crossing to be open, so that we can increase the volume of aid, but also so that we have direct access straight into the north. And that's important for two reasons. One, it'll allow us to bring aid in faster, and at scale to these children and families in the north who desperately need food and nutrition supplies. But also, it will prevent us, as the UN, having to drive through the whole Gaza Strip with our aid, which is important in such a dangerous place. 

UN News: So, you've seen these children, you've seen the conditions there. Is there still time to avoid the famine that the UN has been warning about, or are we already too late? 

Tess Ingram: Look, it's really hard to know. We've said that a famine could happen at any moment between now and May, and I think that still holds in the north of Gaza. For the south, the risk of famine is there. But I think we can still prevent it if we can just flood the Gaza Strip with aid. There is still time to prevent a famine in the middle and south of Gaza. 

Soundcloud

UN News: We've been hearing many calls on the international stage for increased humanitarian access, increased humanitarian aid, in Gaza, but this has been to no avail. What needs to happen to make that happen? 

Tess Ingram: Well, the best way to make that happen is the ceasefire. It is the only way to end the killing and injuring of children. It is the best way to ensure that we can bring in more aid and to distribute that aid at scale, safely to all of the children and families in Gaza in need.

UN News:  You visited hospitals in Gaza, and we know that the healthcare system in the Strip is on the verge of collapse. Can you tell us what that means in practical terms, and in real-life terms?

Tess Ingram: In real-life terms, what that means is doctors are struggling to provide the care that they want to, and that they’re used to in Gaza. It means that supplies are running out. It means that staff are unable to be paid salaries, and many more of them are having to become volunteers. And that's not sustainable because they have to be able to support their families in such desperate conditions.  

It means that children are dying without the appropriate medical care, or they're unable to receive treatment that they need. For example, I met a girl at the European Hospital this week. Her name's Juri and she's nine years old. She is from Rafah, here, at the south of the Gaza Strip.  

And despite this being an area where there hasn't been a ground offensive yet, she was in a building, her grandparents’ house, that was struck. And Juri said the last thing she remembers is playing with birds in a cage at the house, and then waking up in European hospital.  

And she has so many broken bones - the right side of her face and her arm and her wrist. But on the left side of her body, where she was struck by the impact of the blast, she has enormous open wounds that haven't been able to be treated in Gaza.  

When I met her, it had been 16 days since the incident. And she was still lying in a hospital bed with very painful, large, open wounds, waiting, hoping that she might be able to be evacuated from Gaza to get the treatment that she needs. But this has to be unacceptable to the world that a nine-year-old girl who was just visiting her grandparents ends up with such a traumatic injury that cannot be treated, and she's still waiting for help. 

UN News: You spoke about the fact that Rafah currently doesn't have a ground offensive, and there are growing fears, of course, that this incursion is going to happen after the government announced that it actually has a date for that operation. How is UNICEF preparing itself to deal with that? 

Tess Ingram:  We're preparing contingency plans. We're trying to strategize about how we'll continue to do our job. We don't intend to go anywhere. We're going to stay and deliver and make sure that we can continue to provide support to the children and families of Gaza.  

A boy carries a large bowl on his head at the Al-Qastal School in the Gaza Strip.

© WFP/Arete/Abood al Sayd

A boy carries a large bowl on his head at the Al-Qastal School in the Gaza Strip.

UN News:  With regard to education, the UN notes that 100 per cent of children in Gaza are out of school. Do you think we lost a generation in Gaza? 

Tess Ingram: Look, 625,000 students haven't had access to education since October. And when I meet kids here, one of the first things they tell me is how much they miss school – miss learning, miss their friends, what their favourite subject used to be. 

These children want to learn. They want to go back to school. But the longer it goes, the harder it becomes. So, we really need to make sure that these children can go back to school as soon as possible in formal learning, but in the meantime have some sort of temporary learning. And that's what we're trying to set up at the moment as UNICEF. 

UN News: Of course, with the attention on the immediate catastrophe at hand, longer-term effects can sometimes be overlooked. What are some of those long-term effects that UNICEF is expecting on children in Gaza? Is there anything being done now to address them once the guns fall silent? 

Tess Ingram: I think something that's often overlooked is the mental health impact of this war. And we know that children are experiencing repeated trauma, which will certainly have long-term impacts

If you think about other conflicts around the world, a child may experience one or two incidences of trauma, but generally, then they're able to flee to safety.  

But in Gaza, children are trapped and they're not able to leave. And every day they're experiencing some form of trauma - whether that's, an explosion, losing a family member, not knowing whether somebody is okay - living with that fear day in, day out definitely impacts them. And it can have developmental impacts on their bodies as well. So, this is something that we're very concerned about. 

We're working now to try and mitigate it in the small ways that we can. We can't yet provide counselling because children aren't safe. But what we're doing at the moment is providing recreational activities and psychosocial support in groups so that children can come together and play, or do arts and crafts or drama, or simply counsel each other if they're a bit older, and just for a moment have a sense of community or a sense of childhood.  

I've seen it, and it's a really nice thing to witness - these children laughing and smiling amid the horror around us

UN News: Many people want to do something about this situation, but they feel helpless. What can they do to support Gazans? 

Tess Ingram: I think the most important thing that we need to do is to continue advocating for a ceasefire - through whatever channels you are able to - to continue to call for an end to the fighting, because that really is the only way that we're going to be able to end this situation, and end the fear and the death and the destruction for the children of Gaza. 

But until that happens, the other thing that's really important is support for the humanitarian agencies on the ground. We're all here doing our best to try and help the people of Gaza, and we need the international community's support to continue that work. 

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Myanmar: Middle class ‘disappearing’ amid uptick in brutal fighting

INTERNATIONAL, 11 April 2024, Economic Development - The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that poverty is surging and the middle class in Myanmar is “disappearing” amidst worsening insecurity and conflict.
In a new report published on Thursday UNDP said that the middle class has shrunk by half, compared with before the 2021 military coup, and that three quarters of the country’s population is either living in poverty or “perilously close” to the national poverty line.

“The new data show that less than 25 per cent of the population in Myanmar manage to secure steady incomes to live above the poverty line. Without immediate interventions to provide cash transfers, food security and access to basic services, vulnerability will keep growing, and impacts will be felt across generations” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

According to UNDP estimates, $4 billion per year is required to address ballooning poverty, via cash transfers and other means, to help families recover from the “L-shaped” recession amid plummeting economic activity and few signs of recovery.

“We call on all stakeholders – inside and outside Myanmar – to take action and preserve vulnerable households from slipping into irreversible poverty and despair” Mr. Steiner urged.

Zero spending on education

Polling over 12,000 households across Myanmar, the report also found that families and households have been forced to resort to various, often unsustainable, coping mechanisms.

Speaking to journalists at UN Headquarters in New York, Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, explained the dire situation.

“During the COVID-19 [pandemic], the spending on education was meagre - two to three per cent of household’s income - it is now close to zero,” she said, adding that families are pulling children out of school and unable to spend on healthcare and other basic services.

“We are going to see a whole generation that just has a learning and health deficit that is very scary,” she warned.

Regional picture

The report has also revealed an alarming picture at the provincial level.

The states with the lowest rates of per capita income are Kayah, Chin, and Sagaing – regions experiencing high levels of conflict between the junta forces and groups opposing.

In addition to heightened poverty levels, conflict-ridden were also marked by destruction of homes, restricted access to farmlands and an increase in internally displaced people (IDPs) – all leading to yet more hardship.

IDPs arriving in urban centres such as Yangon and Mandalay, both for safety and basic services, no longer have any safety net, Ms. Wignaraja said.

A poppy field in East Shan state, Myanmar.
© UNODC
A poppy field in East Shan state, Myanmar.

Proliferation of organized crime

The UNDP Regional Director also emphasized the challenges posed by skyrocketing criminality in the southeast Asian nation.

She cited recent findings by the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) that Myanmar is the largest producer of opium and the massive proliferation of organized crime, especially the so called “scam centres”.

“If these illegal economic activities – where there is a lot of money involved – are not curbed, and we cannot restart intensive international and regional mediation efforts to stop the ongoing war, the story of Myanmar is going to be of the disappeared middle [class],” Ms. Wignaraja said.

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