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‘Humanity remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation, says UN chief on International Day

INTERNATIONAL, 26 September 2021, Peace and Security - “Now is the time to eliminate nuclear weapons from our world , and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace”, declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday, marking the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Addressing the threat of nuclear weapons, said Mr, Guterres, has been central to the work of the United Nations since its inception; the first General Assembly resolution in 1946 sought “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” 

The UN chief pointed out that, although the total number of nuclear weapons has been decreasing for decades, some 14,000 are stockpiled around the world, which is facing the highest level of nuclear risk in almost four decades: “States are qualitatively improving their arsenals, and we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race.” Humanity, continued the UN chief, remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation.

Comprehensive ban in ‘state of limbo’

On Thursday, the UN chief called for all countries holding nuclear technology to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was adopted in 1996, and has been signed by 185 countries.

However, for the CTBT to enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, eight of which have yet to ratify the Treaty: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

“We have remained in this state of limbo for too long,” he said.  

Signs of hope

However, Mr. Guterres said that he sees the decision by Russia and the United States to extend the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and engage in dialogue, as a sign of hope. He added that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January, also constitutes a welcome step.

The responsibility to build on these developments, said the Secretary-General, falls on Member States. He described the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, scheduled to take place in January 2022, as a window of opportunity for all countries to take practical steps to comprehensiely prevent the use of, and eliminate, nuclear weapons. 

“Now is the time to lift this cloud for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world”, exhorted Mr. Guterres, “and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace for all people”.
 

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UNICEF’s women Goodwill Ambassadors, give voice to the voiceless

INTERNATIONAL, 25 September 2021, Women - Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the world has continued to watch anxiously, as the fate of women and girls throughout the country hangs in the balance.

“It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council.

Women are not just half of the global population, it has been shown that their full participation in public life “enhances economic results, prompts greater investment in social protection, leads to more sustainable peace and advances climate action”, according to the UN chief.

UNICEF has long acknowledged and brought this to the fore, through the work of its many women Goodwill Ambassadors.

Africa          

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo listens to mothers in Mozambique as they tell her of their dreams for their children.
©UNICEF/Alexandre Marques
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo listens to mothers in Mozambique as they tell her of their dreams for their children.

Renowned West African singer and songwriter, Angélique Kidjo, has since 2002 used her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to passionately campaign for girls’ education.

The Benin native believes that “music is a language beyond the colour of skin, country or culture” and wants to “inspire people to work to help educate, nourish and protect our children”.

The three-time Grammy Award winner has travelled widely to advocate for UNICEF-supported programmes and has received the 2015 Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum for her commitment to improving the state of the world, and in 2016 was honoured with Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award for using her voice to confront global injustice.

Earlier this year, she joined others, including fellow star performer Katy Perry, in demanding that G7 leaders commit to donating doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.

Asia   

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas watches a football game between Eritrean refugee children and children from Ethiopia in the country's Hitsats refugee camp.
©UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas watches a football game between Eritrean refugee children and children from Ethiopia in the country's Hitsats refugee camp.

Global talent Priyanka Chopra Jonas had served for 10 years as a National Ambassador to UNICEF India before joining the global Goodwill Ambassador team in 2016.

The entertainer works to protect children’s rights and promote the education of girls in India, including through her namesake charity, The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, and as a UN Foundation Girl Up Champion.

“Along this journey with UNICEF, I have experienced firsthand the transformative power of empowering young girls with opportunities that are rightfully theirs”, said the actress/singer/film producer.

Last year, on World Children’s Day, she spoke with 16-year-old youth activist Aditya about his quest to eliminate single use plastics in India and discussed a more sustainable world for every child.

“I am proud to stand with UNICEF to help build a world where children’s rights are respected and protected”, upheld the Indian superstar.

Europe        

UNICEF supporter Millie Bobby Brown in New York on the set of a video produced for World Children's Day 2018.
UNICEF/UN0248272/Clarke
UNICEF supporter Millie Bobby Brown in New York on the set of a video produced for World Children's Day 2018.

At just 14, actor Millie Bobby Brown was appointed in 2018 as UNICEF’s youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador.

“It’s a dream come true to become a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador”, she said. “I am looking forward to meeting as many children and young people as I can, hearing their stories, and speaking out on their behalf”.

Starring as Eleven in Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, the British national has supported the launch of UNICEF’s One Love global campaign, to help fundraise and protect children and families from the effects of COVID-19.

Among many other initiatives, the Screen Actors’ Guild Award winner was also a major player in UNICEF’s global partnership with the jewelry brand Pandora, who donated $1 million towards the activation and fundraiser.

Latin America      

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira talks with Nipa, an 11-year-old Bangladeshi cyclone survivor.
©UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira talks with Nipa, an 11-year-old Bangladeshi cyclone survivor.

Grammy-winning artist and devoted advocate for early childhood education, Shakira Mebarak, has supported UNICEF’s work and helped raise awareness for the world’s most vulnerable children since 2003.

Seven years ago, she became a member of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s International Commission on Financing Global Education, and was honoured in 2017 at the World Economic Forum, receiving the Crystal Award for her humanitarian work.

Reminding that “today's babies will drive tomorrow's business”, the Colombian singer/songwriter has said that “their capacity to contribute will shape tomorrow's societies, will solve tomorrow's problems”.

North America     

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Katy Perry gives her scarf to Ka Da Khang while visiting the Phuoc Thanh Commune Health Centre in Ninh Thuan Province where many children show signs of nutrient deficiencies.
UNICEF/UN020186/Quan
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Katy Perry gives her scarf to Ka Da Khang while visiting the Phuoc Thanh Commune Health Centre in Ninh Thuan Province where many children show signs of nutrient deficiencies.

One of the bestselling music artists of all time, UN Goodwill Ambassador Katy Perry has put into action her commitment to improving the lives of children since she assumed her role in 2013.

The United States-born artist has traveled extensively to highlight the needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable, raise awareness of UNICEF’s emergency relief efforts and use her voice to advocate for children across the globe.

“UNICEF works to ensure that every child, urban or rural, rich or poor, has a chance to thrive, to grow and to contribute to their families and communities – as well as to have the opportunity to shape the world that we live in”, according to the superstar.

Also a social media luminary, who was the first to surpass 100 million followers on Twitter, last year she announced the birth of her child with UNICEF Ambassador Orlando Bloom via UNICEF’s Instagram account, encouraging donations to the agency to ensure every mother and newborn get the care they need.

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Syria: 10 years of war has left at least 350,000 dead

INTERNATIONAL, 24 September 2021, Human Rights - A decade of war in Syria has left more 350,200 people dead, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council on Friday, noting that this total was an “under-count of the actual number of killings”.

These are a result of a war that spiralled out of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

Based on the “rigorous work” of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), she said that the tally, which includes civilians and combatants, is based on “strict methodology” requiring the deceased’s full name, the date of death, and location of the body.

People behind the numbers

In the first official update on the death toll since 2014, Ms. Bachelet informed the Council that more than one in 13 of those who died due to conflict, was a woman – 26,727 in all – and almost one in 13 was a child – a grim total of 27,126 young lives lost.

The Governorate of Aleppo saw the greatest number of documented killings, with 51,731 named individuals.

Other heavy death tolls were recorded in Rural Damascus, 47,483; Homs, 40,986; Idlib, 33,271; Hama, 31,993; and Tartus, 31,369.

Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights”, reminded the High Commissioner.

“We must always make victims’ stories visible, both individually and collectively, because the injustice and horror of each of these deaths should compel us to action.”

More accountability needed

Her office, OHCHR, is processing information on alleged perpetrators, recording victims civilian or combatant status and the type of weapons used, Ms. Bachelet said.

To provide a more complete picture of the scale and impact of the conflict, the UN agency has also established statistical estimation techniques to account for missing data.  

The High Commissioner explained that documenting deaths complements efforts to account for missing people and that her office has been helping the families of the missing, to engage with international human rights mechanisms.

Given the vast number of those missing in Syria, Ms. Bachelet echoed her call for an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to “clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives”.

No end to the violence

Today, the daily lives of the Syrian people remain “scarred by unimaginable suffering”, the UN human rights chief said, adding that they have endured a decade of conflict, face deepening economic crisis and struggle with the impacts of COVID-19.

Extensive destruction of infrastructure has significantly affected the realization of essential economic and social rights, and there is still no end to the violence.

It is incumbent upon us all to listen to the voices of Syria's survivors and victims, and to the stories of those who have now fallen silent for ever”, the High Commissioner concluded.

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Afghanistan: Girls’ education must be a given, urges deputy UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 24 September 2021, Human Rights - Ensuring all Afghan girls can be educated must be “a zero condition” for the Taliban, before international recognition of their de facto authority, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on Friday.

Ms. Mohammed was speaking during a panel discussion on supporting a future for girls’ education in Afghanistan, held on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

Prominent women advocates from Afghanistan and the international community also participated in the discussion, held both online and in person, and moderated by BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan from UN Headquarters in New York.

‘Front and centre’

Asked if international aid to Afghanistan could be conditional on education for women and girls, Ms. Mohammed responded “absolutely”, stating that the issue “continues to remain upfront” in ongoing discussions with the de facto authorities.

“This is where we have to have resolve: that recognition comes with your ability to be part of a global family. That has a certain set of values and rights that must be adhered to.  And education is up front and centre, especially for girls and for women.”

The deputy UN chief urged the international community to draw on Afghan women’s expertise and support them in preventing a reversal of two decades of gains in girls’ education.

A ‘zero condition’

Ms. Mohammed also reminded Afghan women that the UN is still on the ground, delivering for the people.

“You can be assured that we will continue to amplify your voices and make it a zero condition that girls must have an education before the recognition of any Government that comes in,” she said.

Education is ‘everything’

The Taliban seized power in August and recently confirmed that while secondary schools were reopening, only boys would be returning to the classroom. Women teachers in the country are also unable to return to work.

This week, the administration’s spokesperson said a “safe learning environment” would need to be established before girls could go back to high school, according to media reports.

For engineer Somaya Faruqi, captain of the Afghan girls’ robotics team that has competed worldwide, education means “everything”.   

“My generation grew up with a dream: achieving great things for our country by pursuing an education. The world will have everything to gain by standing with us,” said Ms. Faruqi, who left Afghanistan in the wake of the takeover.   

Education is both a right and an investment in a country’s future, said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.   

‘Important moment’

Prior to the Taliban takeover, UNICEF was operating in areas of Afghanistan under the group’s control. She said the agency learned that many Taliban members believed education was important for their boys and girls. 

Even though UNICEF tripled the number of schools open in Afghanistan, with 10 million children attending, four million of them girls, the country was already falling behind in educational provision. COVID-19 has further impacted progress.  

“Girls and boys in many of the provinces are starting to return to school, but we are not seeing the girls returning to secondary school,” said Ms. Fore.

“So, this is a real important moment for the de-facto authorities to be thinking about in every region, in every rural village: how to get the children - all the children, girls and boys - to school.”

Both Ms. Fore and the UN Deputy Secretary-General spoke of the promise of digital technology and distance learning as a solution for expanding educational opportunities.

"Out in the rural communities, there is skills-building and there are community-based programmes, and we can do more with distance education and remote learning," the UNICEF chief said.  "We need to have women teachers going back to schools, and we need more women teachers."

No compromises on women’s rights

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and UN Messenger of Peace, Malala Yousafzai, famously survived a Taliban assassination attempt while a teenager campaigning for girls’ education in her native Pakistan.   

Ms. Yousafzai feared the return of atrocities targeting women, as well as terrorism and extremism, both in Afghanistan and the region, and urged the international community to ensure women’s rights are upheld.

We cannot make compromises on the protection of women's rights and on the protection of human dignity.  This is a commitment that the UN has made, that they are there to work for the protection of human dignity,” she said.

“So now is the time that we stick to that commitment and ensure that their rights in government are protected.  And one of those important rights is the right to education.”

'Listen to the people'

Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first woman Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was also the first girl in her family to go to school.

She believes other predominantly Muslim countries in the region could press the Taliban on girls’ education, because what is happening in Afghanistan differs from the rest of the Islamic world.

“Within the Taliban there might be individuals who have a different interpretation of Islamic principles, or even a self-made interpretation, which cannot become part of the government's policy,” said Ms. Koofi.

“When they were fighting, probably they had a different policy. But when they are in the government, they have to listen to the people of Afghanistan.”

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Human rights in Belarus continue downward spiral, warns Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 24 September 2021, Human Rights - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that she continues to be alarmed by “persistent allegations” of “widespread and systematic torture” of protesters in Belarus. 

Gender-based violence is of serious concern, with reports that approximately 30 per cent of those arbitrarily detained were women and girls, Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Freedoms under assault 

Severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms have also continued since the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August last year, Ms Bachelet said. 

She highlighted ongoing police raids against civil society groups and independent media, and the politically motivated arrests and criminal prosecutions of activists and journalists. 

More than 650 people are believed to be in prison because of their opinions – including the head of the well-known human rights group, Viasna. 

Suppressing dissent 

Ms Bachelet noted that the Belarusian authorities primary aim, was suppressing criticism and dissent of Governmental policies, rather than any protection of human rights law. 

She added that she regretted that the request for a meeting with the Belarus Ambassador had been rejected, preventing a working visit to the country. 

The UN rights chief said that as of 10 August, 27 journalists and media workers remain in detention, including the high profile blogger Roman Protasevich, who was arrested in May along with his Russian partner, after his flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus, sparking worldwide condemnation. 

Belarusian response 

Responding to statements at the Council, Belarus said its Government had restored order in the country and “people were working and leading their normal lives”. 

It insisted that the actions of the authorities of Belarus are aimed at preserving order and protecting the rights of all citizens. 

Reiterating its disagreement with resolution 46/2,  which condemns “ongoing grave violations of human rights in Belarus”, it stated that the position of the Government had been ignored and the main goal of protests was a revolutionary transition of power. 

Appeal for country access 

Ms. Bachelet told the meeting that a range of accountability measures could be considered by the Council, however, only 50 per cent of the resources available for the mandate had been approved. 

She said she hoped this would be increased in 2022. The UN rights chief also insisted that direct access to the country was important, for example, to physically access detention facilities. She noted however, that “much could be achieved even without physical access”. 

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WHO backs Regeneron COVID-19 drug cocktail - with equal access, price cut

INTERNATIONAL, 24 September 2021, Health - The Regeneron antibody drug cocktail – casirivimab and imdevimab – has been added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of treatments for COVID-19 patients, the UN agency said on Friday, before underscoring the need for lower prices and equitable distribution. 

“This is a major breakthrough in the care of COVID-19 patients”, said Dr. Janet Diaz, WHO head of clinical care. “This is our first recommendation for a therapeutic for those patients with mild, moderate disease,” she said, because it reduces “the need for hospitalisation if they are at high risk”. 

Effective ‘reduction in mortality’  

WHO’s conditional recommendations are for use of the drug combination on patients who are not severely ill, but at high risk of being admitted to hospital with COVID-19, or those with severe cases of the disease and no existing antibodies.  

“Giving them this additional antibody seems to show an effect. And what effect is that? A reduction in mortality” Dr. Diaz told a briefing in Geneva. 

The antibody therapy was granted emergency use authorization in the United States November last year after it was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he was admitted to hospital with the virus. The United Kingdom has also approved Regeneron, while it is under review in Europe. 

COVID-19 frontline workers wear personal protective equipment at a hospital in Thailand. (file)
COVID-19 frontline workers wear personal protective equipment at a hospital in Thailand. (file), by UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

‘Meaningful’ benefit 

The WHO recommendations were largely based on data from a British study of 9,000 patients in June which found that the therapy reduced deaths in hospitalised patients whose own immune systems had failed to produce a response. 

“We are taking the information (from the UK study) and generalizing it to other persons,” said Dr. Diaz. “We saw there was a benefit we thought was meaningful.” 

The treatment has been on the market for decades to treat many other diseases, including cancers. It is based on a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which mimic natural antibodies produced by the human body to fight off infections. 

Equity, price cut call 

Swiss drugmaker Roche, has been working in partnership with Regeneron, which holds the patent, to produce the antibody treatment. 

Dr. Diaz urged Regeneron to lower the drug’s price and work on equitable distribution worldwide: “We know that the life-saving benefits and the benefits for patients with COVID-19 is significant and requires action.” 

She added that WHO-hosted health agency UNITAID, has been negotiating directly with Roche for lower prices and equitable distribution across all parts of the world, “including low and middle-income countries”. 

WHO has also been in discussions with the company for a donation and distribution of the drug through UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, following an allocation criteria set by the health agency. “We are working together with the company so we can address these very important issues so we can have equitable access” she said. 

Call to manufacturers 

In a statement, WHO said in parallel it had “launched a call to manufacturers who may wish to submit their products for pre-qualification, which would allow for a ramping-up of production and therefore greater availability of the treatment and expanded access. 

ACT-A partners are also working with WHO on an equitable access framework for recommended COVID-19 therapeutics”. On that subject, Dr Diaz added that “there are bottlenecks and we are aware of those. 

WHO has launched the pre-qualification expression of interest call so that the manufacturing companies can start to submit their dossiers to WHO”. 

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Deadly ‘invisible shipwrecks’ plague migrants bound for Canary Islands

INTERNATIONAL, 24 September 2021, Migrants and Refugees - A sharp increase in the deaths and disappearances of migrants at sea heading to Spain’s Canary Islands, along the West African coast, is a cause for “extreme concern” the UN’s migration agency, IOM, said on Friday.

By the end of last month, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOMMissing Migrants Project recorded 785 people, including 177 women and 50 children, who had died or disappeared this year. 

Frank Laczko, Director of IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Centre noted that the actual numbers are likely much higher.

“Invisible shipwrecks, in which there are no survivors, are believed to be frequent occurrences on this route but are nearly impossible to verify”, he said.

Deadly August

August was the deadliest month in terms of documented fatalities – with 379 lives lost – accounting for nearly half of the total number of deaths recorded this year, according to IOM.

These figures reveal a two-fold increase compared to the recorded deaths during the same period last year, when about 320 people lost their lives on the Western Africa-Atlantic Route.

Migrant deaths soar

In all of 2020, 850 migrant deaths were recorded on this route – the highest documented number of lives lost in a single year since 2014, when IOM first began collecting data. 

Even when boats are reported in distress, it is difficult to determine the number of lives lost.

In the first eight months of this year, 9,386 people had arrived in the Canary Islands by sea, a 140 per cent increase over the same period in 2020 (3,933).

Deadly days at sea

Survivor testimonies have indicated that these journeys are becoming ever riskier. 

One of seven survivors from a vessel carrying 54 passengers that drifted for two weeks - before capsizing close to the Mauritanian coast in mid-August - told IOM that after three days at sea, their engine was lost, and they ran out of food and water.

People were already starting to die”, the survivor said, describing bodies “thrown into the sea” to lighten the load of the boat, to prevent everyone from dying.

“There were people who looked like they had gone mad, sometimes they bit each other, they shouted, and they threw themselves into the sea”, she added.

There were people who looked like they had gone mad, sometimes they bit each other, they shouted, and they threw themselves into the sea -- Survivor

Without a trace

Reports of remains washing ashore along the Atlantic coast or frequently being caught up in the trawl nets of fishing vessels, are further indications of “invisible shipwrecks.”

“The lack of concerted efforts to recover migrant remains on this and all routes means that hundreds of families are left bereaved”, said Mr. Laczko.  In the first six months of 2021, the Spanish civil society organization Caminando Fronteras, estimated that 36 boats heading to the Canary Islands disappeared without a trace.

Comprehensive response needed

Conflict and poverty – exacerbated by measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with limited regular migration channels – continue to compel people to undertake extremely perilous journeys at sea.

Ending this senseless loss of life on all maritime migration routes to Europe requires a comprehensive response, enhanced State-led search and rescue capacities and pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration”, the IOM official stated. 

 

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Food’s a human right, not just ‘a commodity to be traded’: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, UN Affairs - Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Two billion are overweight or obese and yet 462 million, are underweight. Nearly a third of all food that is produced, is lost or wasted.  

These are just some of the problems and contradictions laid bare by the UN Secretary-General on Thursday at the opening of the landmark UN Food Systems Summit, that is bringing together farmers and fishers, youth, Indigenous Peoples, Heads of State, governments and many more, in an effort to transform the sector and get the world back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

For António Guterres, “change in food systems is not only possible, it is necessary”; for the people, for the planet and for prosperity.  

The UN chief warned, though, that COVID-19 has made the challenge much greater. 

The pandemic has deepened inequalities, decimated economies, plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries.  

At the same time, Mr. Guterres said, the world is “waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest”, with ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems. 

Food systems also generate one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, he added. And they’re responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.  

Solutions 

Over the last 18 months, through national dialogues, governments gathered businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems across 148 countries. Over 100,000 people came together to discuss and debate solutions.  

From those discussions, came many proposals. Mr. Guterres chose to highlight three key areas of action.  

Support health and well-being 

First, there’s a need for food systems that support the health and well-being of all people. 

Recalling that nutritious and diverse diets are often too costly or inaccessible, Mr. Guterres said he is pleased to see many Member States rallying around universal access to nutritious meals in schools. 

Protect the planet 

Second, he argued that the world needs food systems that protect the planet.  

“It is possible to feed a growing global population while also safeguarding our environment. And it takes countries coming to COP26 in Glasgow with bold, targeted plans to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “The war on our planet must end, and food systems can help us build that peace.” 

Support prosperity 

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks
Farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks, by © FAO//Fredrik Lerneryd

Third, and finally, food systems need to support prosperity.  

“Not just the prosperity of businesses and shareholders. But the prosperity of farmers and food workers, and indeed, the billions of people worldwide who depend on this industry for their livelihoods,” argued the UN chief.  

Highlighting the selfless workers who have toiled in the fields and transported food during the deadly pandemic, he said “these women and men have been the unsung heroes of the last 18 months.”  

Despite that, “too often, these workers are underpaid, even exploited.”  

COVID-19 recovery 

These systems represent 10 per cent of the global economy and, because of that, Mr. Guterres believes they “can be a powerful driver for an inclusive and equitable recovery from COVID-19.” 

To make that a reality, though, he said governments need to shift their approach on agricultural subsidies, and employment support for workers.  

They also need to re-think how they see and value food, “not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares.” 

The Secretary-General assured that the UN would continue towards this end, together with the international community. The organization is convening a follow-up summit, in two years, to take stock of the progress.  

In the meantime, the UN chief said more businesses need to join in the work and the voice of civil society needs to continue pressing for change.  

“And throughout, we need the engagement of the people at the centre of our food systems. Family farmers, herders, workers, Indigenous Peoples, women, young people. Let’s learn from each other, and be inspired by one another, as we work together to achieve the SDGs,” he concluded. 

In his Chair Summary and Statement of Action, the Secretary-General also pointed to five action areas emerging from the Summit: provide nourishing food for all, boost nature-based solutions, advance equitable livelihoods, decent work and empowered communities, build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses, and, finally, accelerating the means of implementation.

Speaking at the opening of the event, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Food System's Summit, Agnes M. Kalibata, said "food systems have incredible power to end hunger, build healthier lives, and sustain our beautiful planet." 

'Priceless piece'

The President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said it was crucial to change the way we produce and consume food "by shifting to methods that are resilient to shocks, more environmentally friendly, and enhance individual health and well-being.

"Every nook of this planet has its own microclimate, its own unique growing conditions", the first Maldivian to hold the top job in the Assembly added. "Through a combination of natural selection and trial-and-error, farming communities all over the planet have, over the course of centuries, developed varieties uniquely suited to their locale. The diverse food of the planet, and the seeds they come from, are a priceless piece of our humanity."

Experts show concern 

Highlighting the intense level of debate over the issue of food production, on the eve of the Summit, three independent UN human rights experts said they were deeply concerned that the event would not be a “people’s summit” as promised. 

They voiced concerns that it could leave behind the most marginalized and vulnerable. 

According to the Human Rights Council-appointed experts, who were involved in the Summit preparation, the event “claims to be inclusive, but it left many participants and over 500 organizations representing millions of people, feeling ignored and disappointed.” 

In a joint statement, they say “the Summit may unfortunately present human rights to governments as an optional policy instead of a set of legal obligations.” 

The experts fear that there is a risk the Summit would serve the corporate sector “more than the people, who are essential to ensuring our food systems flourish, such as workers, small producers, women, and Indigenous Peoples.”  

The statement is signed by Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. 

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UN chief: Window to avert devasting climate impacts ‘rapidly closing’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Climate and Environment - No region is immune to climate disasters the UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday, warning that “our window of opportunity” to prevent the worst climate impacts is “rapidly closing”.

Drawing attention to the “deeply alarming” report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month, Secretary-General António Guterres spelled out that “much bolder climate action is needed” to maintain international peace and security.

He urged the G20 industrialized nations to step up and drive action before the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in early November.

‘Risk multipliers’

Against the backdrop of wildfires, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather events, the UN chief said that “no region is immune”.

And he pointed out that the climate crisis is “particularly profound” with compounded by fragility and conflict.

Describing climate change and environmental mismanagement as “risk multipliers”, he explained that last year, climate-related disasters displaced more than 30 million people and that 90 per cent of refugees come from countries least able to adapt to the climate crisis.

Many of these refugees are hosted by States also suffering the impacts of climate change, “compounding the challenge for host communities and national budgets”, Mr. Guterres told ambassadors, adding that the COVID pandemic is also undermining governments’ ability to respond to climate disasters and build resilience.

Prioritizing actions

Maintaining that “it is not too late to act”, the top UN official highlighted three “absolute priorities”, beginning with capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To avert catastrophic climate impacts, he urged all Member States to up their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – plans through which countries commit to increasingly ambitious climate action – before COP26 and to translate those commitments into “concrete and immediate action”.

“Collectively, we need a 45 per cent cut in global emissions by 2030”, he said.

‘Forgotten half’

To address the dire impacts of climate disruption, Mr. Guterres stressed the need for adaptation and resilience, which he maintained requires committing at least half of global climate finance to build resilience and support adaptation.

“We simply cannot achieve our shared climate goals – nor achieve hope for lasting peace and security – if resilience and adaptation continue to be the forgotten half of the climate equation”, he said.

Mutual reinforcement

Climate adaptation and peacebuilding “can and should reinforce each other”, he said, highlighting cross-border projects in West and Central Africa that have “enabled dialogue and promoted more transparent management of scarce natural resources”.

And noting that “women and girls face severe risks from both climate change and conflict”, he underscored the importance of their “meaningful participation and leadership” to bring “sustainable results that benefit more people”.

The UN is integrating climate risks into conflict prevention, peacebuilding initiatives and its political analysis, the Secretary-General explained.

“The Climate Security Mechanism is supporting field missions, country teams and regional and sub-regional organizations…[and] work is gaining traction in countries and regions where the Security Council has recognized that climate and ecological change are undermining stability”, he said.

Recurrent drought and the resulting competition over resources has led to conflict in Somalia in recent decades.
UNDP Somalia
Recurrent drought and the resulting competition over resources has led to conflict in Somalia in recent decades.

Treading lightly

Acknowledging that 80 per cent of the UN’s own carbon emissions come from its six largest peacekeeping operations, Mr. Guterres said the Organization had to do better.

He assured that the UN is working on new approaches to shift to renewable energy producers, which will continue “beyond the lifetime of our missions”.

We are all part of the solution. Let us all work together to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption to build peaceful and resilient societies”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Moment to act

Chairing the meeting, Ireland's Prime Minister, Micheál Martin underscored the importance for the 15-member body to take a greater role in climate assessment and mitigation, including through peacekeeping operations and mandates.

“People affected by climate change-driven conflict depend on this Council for leadership”, he said. “Now is the moment for the Council to act”.

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Call to action: Prevent gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2021, Women - Top UN officials met in the margins of the 76th General Assembly on Thursday,  with a strong call to action to stamp out gender-based violence (GBV), amid a rise in forced displacement and other humanitarian emergencies around the globe.

GBV includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm – or other forms of suffering, coercion and limits on personal freedoms - and has “long-term consequences on the sexual, physical and psychological health of survivors”, according to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA).

These are being driven increasingly by conflict, climate change, famine and insecurity, heightening vulnerabilities for girls and women.

‘Willingness to act'

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem told the meeting on Localizing GBV in humanitarian crises, that peace, justice and dignity are the “birthright of every woman and girl”.

She spoke of the agency’s “clear and ambitious” 2021-2025 Roadmap, which reflects a shared vision and underscored the need to create new pathways to ensure those rights.

Emphasizing the need for accountability “to ourselves and each other”, Ms. Kanem said that as the lead UN agency on the issue, “UNFPA is committed to standing strong”.

She said there was a strong will to act, “to do something about gender-based violence”, she added, stressing the importance of putting the voices of women “at the heart of what we do”

Ms. Kanem pledged to funnel 43 per cent of UNFPA’s humanitarian funding to national and local women’s organizations, saying “now more than ever, they need us”.

Afghanistan: ‘Important reminder’

Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called the situation in Afghanistan “an important reminder of the primary vulnerability of women and girls in crises”.

He highlighted the vital role of women-led local communities, pointing out that they act as first responders to crisis.

Recalling a recent trip to Ethiopia, where he heard first-hand accounts of the traumas suffered by women in Tigray, he said that it was the local communities who first responded to the atrocities, which underscores the “absolute importance” of listening to women, protecting women and girls, and “protecting local communities to do what they naturally want to do”.

The protection of women is one of the least-funded parts of the humanitarian programme, Mr. Griffiths said.

Getting the word out

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said to deliver on “the ambitious call to action”, it is important to “get the word out” to the girls and women on the ground about the services available.

After a short, informal marriage, a transient 15-year-old Ethiopian girl was severely stabbed when the man  who had deserted her after promising to see her to Yemen, flew into a jealous rage.

“This has not been clear at all”, Ms. Fore stated.

She spoke of the UNICEF report We Must Do Better, which provides a global feminist assessment of the experiences of women and girls, and the organizations they lead, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report highlighted that the needs of women and girls are either ignored or treated as an afterthought; and that despite being on the front lines of humanitarian crises, women are not taken seriously enough.

And although the demand for GBV services has increased during COVID, the resources have not, said Ms. Fore, calling for greater support for local women’s groups, including financially.

Bureaucratizing assistance

Fighting GBV is an important priority for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), High Commissioner Filippo Grandi assured participants, especially in situations of forced displacements, which are “rife” with opportunities.

He acknowledged that during humanitarian crises as everyone is moving quickly, too often the critical role of local women’s organizations are overlooked.

The top UNHCR official said that providing “substantive, flexible, direct and rapid” resources to women-led, community-based organizations without undue red tape is “one of the most important” ways to empower them.

He conceded however, “this is a difficult call” as humanitarian funding is follow the trend of being “bureaucratized”.

Click here to watch the the meeting in its entirety. 

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