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Countries need to do more to stop harmful marketing of breast-milk substitutes, says UN

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Health - Despite efforts to stop the harmful promotion of breast-milk substitutes, countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information, according to a new UN report released Wednesday. 

Titled Marketing of Breast‐milk Substitutes: National Implementation of the International Code – Status report 2020, the study highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast-milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices, findings that take on increased importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
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The UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network collaborated in the report’s publication.

Impact of aggressive marketing

“The aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, especially through health professionals that parents trust for nutrition and health advice, is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health worldwide,” says Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

“Health care systems must act to boost parent’s confidence in breastfeeding without industry influence so that children don’t miss out on its lifesaving benefits.”

WHO and UNICEF encourage women to continue to breastfeed during the pandemic, even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19, as evidence indicate it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding. “The numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus,” the authors find.

Of the 194 countries analyzed, 136 have in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. While 44 countries have strengthened their regulations on marketing over the past two years, only 79 countries prohibit the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health facilities, and only 51 have provisions banning the distribution of free or low-cost supplies within the health care system.

Further, only 19 countries have banned the sponsorship of professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula and growing up milks marketed for use by infants and children up to 36-months old.

Trained healthcare professionals know best

WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies be fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until two years of age, or beyond.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not, the authors stress. Yet, only 41 per cent of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, a rate WHO Member States have committed to increase to at least 50 per cent by 2025.

Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, meanwhile hamper community counselling and mother-to-mother support services for breastfeeding - leaving an opening for the breast-milk substitute industry to capitalize on the crisis.

“We must, more than ever, step up efforts to ensure that every mother and family receive the guidance and support they need from a trained health care worker to breastfeed their children, right from birth, everywhere,” stressed UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Victor Aguayo.

The Code bans all forms of promotion of breast-milk substitutes, including advertising, gifts to health workers and distribution of free samples. Labels cannot make nutritional and health claims or include images that idealize infant formula. Instead, labels must carry messages about the superiority of breastfeeding over formula and the risks of not breastfeeding.

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On Peacekeepers Day, UN to spotlight vital role of women peace operations

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Peace and Security - In observance of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, on Friday, Secretary-General António Guterres will lay a wreath to pay tribute to all the UN blue helmets who have lost their lives since 1948.

“[We] honour more than one million men and women who have served as United Nations peacekeepers and the more than 3,900 who have lost their lives in the line of duty”, he said in a video message for the occasion. 

The UN chief will also award, posthumously, the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal to the 83 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who lost their lives in 2019.  

The Secretary-General’s message also expresses gratitude to the 95,000 civilian, police and military personnel currently deployed around the world, saying, “they are facing one of the greatest challenges ever: delivering on their peace and security mandates while helping countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Honouring women

Women in Peacekeeping, this year’s theme, highlights their central role in UN operations. 

“Women often have greater access in the communities we serve, enabling us to improve the protection of civilians, promote human rights and enhance overall performance” observed the UN chief, adding that “yet, women continue to represent only six per cent of uniformed military, police, justice and corrections personnel in field missions”.

The Secretary-General will also bestow the ‘2019 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award’, for the first time, to two peacekeepers.
Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian naval officer serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Major Suman Gawani, from India, who served in UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will receive the accolade.

Created in 2016, the Award recognizes an individual peacekeeper’s work in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

“As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, we must do more to achieve women’s equal representation in all areas of peace and security,” asserted the Secretary-General.

Women are ‘key’

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, pointed out that amidst the constraints of COVID-19, as peacekeepers continue to carry out their essential work, it is imperative to ensure women’s “meaningful, equal and full participation in peace operations… and political processes”, saying that they are “key to protecting civilians and building durable peace”.

“Women who serve in peace operations play an essential role in helping communities in the fight against COVID-19”, he added. “They must be a central part of all international, national and local responses”.

UN
“Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and effort of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
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WHO Foundation to broaden funding base for global health investment

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Health - A new foundation launched on Wednesday will generate funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners by tapping non-traditional sources, including the public.

The WHO Foundation, which is independent, will be an integral part of the UN agency’s resource mobilization strategy to broaden its donor base.

 
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WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the idea came from a staff member in response to a call made nearly three years ago for suggestions to transform the organization.

“It is well documented that one of the greatest threats to WHO’s success is the fact that less than 20 per cent of our budget comes in the form of flexible assessed contributions from Member States, while more than 80 per cent is voluntary contributions, from Member States and other donors, which are usually tightly earmarked for specific programmes,” he explained.

“In effect, that means WHO has little discretion over the way it spends its funds, almost 80 per cent of its funds.”

The WHO Foundation, which is legally separate from the UN health agency, will facilitate contributions from the public, individual major donors and corporate partners.

It will make grants that support WHO’s efforts to address pressing global health challenges, which include extending universal health coverage to one billion people.

Mr. Tedros added that the establishment of the WHO Foundation “has nothing to do with the recent funding issues”. Last month, the United States announced it was halting contributions to WHO pending a review of its response to the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is something that started with the transformation that can help the organization, or WHO, to improve the quality of funding, to increase the amount of funding, to serve the people we serve in a better way,” he said.

Building a better world after COVID-19

A WHO manifesto published this week lays out a blueprint for a greener future following the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the crisis has upended lives, and at a devastating human cost, it has also provided a glimpse into what the world could be like if countries take greater action to curb climate change and air pollution, according to Mr. Tedros.

“As some countries start to re-open their societies and economies, the question we must answer is whether we will just return to the way things were, or whether we will learn the lessons the pandemic is teaching us about our relationship with our planet,” he said.

“Building back better means building back greener.”

The manifesto offers six prescriptions, starting with protecting nature as the source of all that human life depends on, namely air, food and water.

 

It also calls for ensuring access to water and sanitation, as well as investment in clean energy and promotion of healthy, sustainable food systems.

WHO also envisions that health will be integrated into all aspects of urban planning, from transport systems to housing, and that authorities will stop subsidizing the fossil fuels behind pollution and climate change.

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COVID-19: A ‘new and deadly threat’ for civilians caught up in violence

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Peace and Security - Innocent civilians trapped in violence now face “a new and deadly threat” from COVID-19, the UN chief told the Security Council on Wednesday, warning that the pandemic is “amplifying and exploiting the fragilities of our world”.

Citing conflict as one of the greatest causes of that fragility, Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level videoconference on the protection of civilians in armed conflict that the coronavirus is causing “enormous human suffering” and additional stress to vulnerable health systems, economies and communities already been weakened by years of armed conflict.

Peacekeeper of the Day: 

As logistics, warehouse & inventory specialist w/ @UN_CAR, Noella Fatoumata's job is to collect, distribute & manage the flow of materials for smooth running of the mission in Central African Rep, esp. crucial during .

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COVID-19 is not only spreading sickness and death; it is pushing people into poverty and hunger,” he explained, adding that in some cases, “it is reversing decades of development progress”.

Meanwhile, as access to services is curtailed and repressive measures are adopted by some nations, protecting the most vulnerable, particularly in conflict zones, has become even more difficult.

Moreover, COVID-19 threatens refugees and internally displaced people crowded together in camps and communities that lack sanitation and healthcare facilities.

Global ceasefire

Mr. Guterres referred to his call in March for a global ceasefire to respond to the pandemic, saying that while well received, it “has not been translated into concrete action” and  maintained that in some cases, the pandemic may even create incentives for warring parties to press their advantage or strike while international attention is focused elsewhere.

“Both scenarios could lead to increases in violence. And civilians always pay the price,” stated the UN chief.

Turning to peacekeeping, he called UN blue helmets “one of the most effective means of protecting civilians in conflict zones around the world”, noting their support to national authorities by protecting healthcare and humanitarian workers and facilitating access to aid and protection.

Bleak prospects

Against the backdrop of little progress on international law compliance; more than 20,000 civilians casualties in just ten conflicts; tens of thousands of children recruited into hostilities last year; millions of displaced people; women and girls subjected to “appalling levels of sexual and gender-based violence”; the disproportionate impact on people with disabilities; and conflict as “the main driver of global hunger”, the Secretary-General painted a gloomy picture on the protection of civilians.  

“Violence against humanitarian workers and assets was widely reported”, the UN chief added.

“This month’s attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul, in the middle of a major global health crisis, makes it even more essential for Member States to take urgent measures to implement Security Council resolutions and protect the provision of medical care in conflict”, he underscored.

Political solutions are key

In closing, Mr. Guterres stressed the need to do more to prevent, reduce and resolve conflicts as well as ensure compliance with international law and accountability.

“Sustainable political solutions remain the only way to ensure that civilians are kept safe from harm”, concluded the Secretary-General.

A list of concerns

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, set out a detailed list of concerns to the Council, from the rising number of displaced people and the rapid spread of hate speech, to the shrinking space for neutral humanitarian work and the behavior of belligerents and those who support them.

In particular, he cited “the devastating impacts for civilians when explosive weapons with a wide impact area are used in populated areas”.

He called on the Council to ensure that its response in all situations are guided by “the utmost respect for the protection of civilians” and respect for “the dignity and rights” of people.

“We understand consensus is difficult, but human life and dignity cannot be the price of inertia”, concluded the ICRC president. “We ask that you are stronger in word and deed in improving behaviors on the battlefield and ensuring that human life and dignity are protected – without exception”.

‘Act with boldness’

Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the former president of Liba member of ‘The Elders’ and the former president of Liberia – urged the Council to “act with boldness” to protect those trapped in conflict and “end the cycle of immeasurable loss and human tragedy”.

“Unless we end these ongoing conflicts, any semblance…of addressing the inequities and injustices, which have often fueled the conflict, as prerequisites for development transformation, cannot be met”, she asserted.

Council reform

The Elder spoke at length about the need for the Security Council to be “broadened and strengthened” to reflect changes in the world.

“Where individual members are holding the Council back, by narrow self-interest and the…veto power, we must find a worldwide formula to preserve the collective interest”.

She upheld that the UN, “especially the Security Council” represents “hope for peace”.

“We must find the political commitment, long absent…and act now”, she told the 15-member organ.

While acknowledging that “a conflict averted does not make headlines,” Ms. Sirleaf echoed the Secretary-General in concluding that “the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent the outbreak”.

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‘Lockdown generation’ of young workers will need extra help after COVID-19, urges UN labour chief

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Economic Development - Further evidence of the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the global job market has emerged in a new study by the UN labour agency, which on Wednesday said that more than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the pandemic.

Those young people who still have a job have seen their working hours cut by 23 per cent, said the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, who also urged Governments to conduct widespread coronavirus testing and tracing of populations to help get economies back on their feet.

Countries such as the Republic of Korea and Iceland had invested in effective virus-hunting techniques which had cost less than one per cent of their economic output, according to ILO, and developing countries where most people worked in the informal sector should be helped to do the same, the Director-General insisted.

Testing and tracing appeal

“Where there is rigorous and intense testing in place, labour market outcomes have been more positive,” Mr. Ryder explained. “To put it with numbers, in the countries where there has been testing and tracing…(working) hours reductions have been around the seven per cent mark, whereas in the least intensive testing and tracing country, that figure goes up to 14 per cent; all this around that global average of around 10.7.”

According to the ILO, workers in the Americas have suffered most from the economic fallout of the pandemic in terms of working hours lost since April, at 13.1 per cent, followed by Europe and Central Asia (12.9 per cent).

Speaking via videoconference, the ILO chief noted that this data coincides with World Health Organization (WHO) indications that Latin America is the current infection epicentre.

Asked whether this might spark social unrest given that young people made up such a high proportion of the population – and where one in two young adults worked in the informal sector – Mr. Ryder noted that Africa and South Asia had a younger demographic.

All of these young workers were just as vulnerable, he insisted, pointing to data indicating that many risked being “permanently scarred” by the difficulty in finding a decent job.

“We have to be very concerned about this coincidence of a strongly youthful population, high informal economies, limited capacities of testing and tracing,” he said. “I don’t want to call it a perfect storm but it’s a combination of circumstances which I think combine to lead us to this concern that labour markets outcomes could be particularly damaging and long-term. We are in a particularly delicate situation here.”

Young women worst affected

According to the latest ILO Monitor //www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_745963.pdf">report, young women have been most affected by a rapid increase in unemployment since February. COVID-19 was hitting them “harder and faster than any other group”, Mr. Ryder said, noting that they were over-represented in the informal and care economies, both of which had been deeply impacted since lockdown measures took effect.

Even before the disease emerged in central China in December 2019, youth unemployment was worse than it was during the 2008-2009 global economic crisis, the ILO chief explained.

“If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades,” he said, pointing to data indicating that half of young adults think there will be a considerable delay in completing their professional training.

At 13.6 per cent, the youth unemployment rate in 2019 was higher than for any other group. In total, ILO estimates that there were around 267 million young people not in employment, education or training worldwide last year.

“If their talent and energy is side-lined by a lack of opportunity or skills it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to re-build a better, post-COVID economy,” Mr. Ryder insisted.

Permanent exclusion from work

Pointing to fears of “a lost generation” who face permanent exclusion from labour markets, the ILO chief cautioned that as the world recovers from the pandemic, “a lot of young people are going to be left behind”.

He added: “We see from everything we observe around the world that there are situations of tension, sometimes of considerable tension around the world. And I think this only must concentrate our attention and minds on getting these difficult policy responses right, getting the health response right, getting the social economic response right and building back better.”

According to the ILO Monitor, nearly five per cent of working hours were lost during the first three months of the year, compared with the last three months of 2019.

This is equivalent to approximately 135 million full-time jobs, based on a 48-hour working week, and represents a slight upward revision of around seven million equivalent job losses since the last edition of the ILO Monitor in April.

The estimated number of working hours lost between April and June remains unchanged, equating to around 305 million jobs.

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US states ‘manipulating’ COVID-19 pandemic to restrict abortion access, rights experts charge

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Human Rights - Independent UN human rights experts fear that some authorities in the United States are using the COVID-19 pandemic to restrict access to abortion, with at least eight states suspending procedures deemed medically unnecessary.

Members of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls issued a statement on Wednesday expressing regret that states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa, Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee “appear to be manipulating the crisis” to curb women’s reproductive rights.

 
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“This situation is also the latest example illustrating a pattern of restrictions and retrogressions in access to legal abortion care across the country. We fear that, without clear political will to reverse such restrictive and regressive trends, states will continue pursuing this pattern,” said Elizabeth Broderick, Vice-Chair of the Working Group.

Access critical now

Access to abortion services is crucial at this time, according to the five independent experts, as women are facing new restrictions on their mobility due to quarantines and other stay-at-home measures.

“We also express serious concern that, by denying access to time-sensitive abortion care, officials are placing women at risk, exacerbating systemic inequalities”, said Ms. Broderick.

“For many women in the US, bans on abortion during this pandemic will delay abortion care beyond the legal time limit or render abortion services completely inaccessible.”

The experts stressed that abortion care constitutes essential health care and must remain available during the crisis. Bans would also force women to travel out of state to obtain abortion services, thus undermining efforts to address COVID-19.

They said restrictions on access to reproductive health information and services, which includes abortion and contraception, constitute human rights violations.

Meanwhile, denying women access to information and services which only they require, is “inherently discriminatory” and prevents them from exercising full control over their bodies and lives.

A key part of pandemic response

The Working Group was also extremely concerned by the US insistence to remove references to “sexual and reproductive health and its derivatives” from the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) on COVID-19, as expressed through a letter on 18 May from USAID to the UN Secretary-General.

“We reiterate that sexual and reproductive health services, including access to safe and legal abortion, are essential and must remain a key component of the UN’s priorities in its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms. Broderick.

“Removing references to sexual and reproductive health from the HRP will have devastating consequences for women worldwide. It will seriously undermine the international community’s joint effort to respond to women’s health needs in this time of crisis,”

The UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls was established by the Human Rights Council in September 2020. Members are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization.

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UN agencies welcome donor pledges for Venezuelan refugees and migrants

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Migrants and Refugees - The UN refugee and migration agencies have welcomed $2.79 billion pledged by donors at a solidarity conference aimed at supporting Venezuelans who fled the protracted crisis in their country for host communities across the region. 

 The UN refugee and migration agencies have welcomed $2.79 billion pledged by donors at a solidarity conference aimed at supporting Venezuelans who fled the protracted crisis in their country for host communities across the region.

Some $653 million of those funds will be provided as grants. 

Governments, aid agencies and other stakeholders attending the International Donors Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean sought to mobilize support for those affected by one of the largest displacement crises in the world, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Millions of Venezuelan refugees and migrants have left their homes in search of safety and other opportunities.

Now more than ever, they need our support: http://bit.ly/2Xrgoxh

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The day-long event, held on Tuesday, was organized virtually by the European Union and Spain, with support from Canada, Norway, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).   

Attendees confirmed funding for refugees, migrants and host communities in countries across the region where Venezuelans have found safety, health care and jobs. 

“These contributions will make a real difference to the lives of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, who have been extremely hard-hit by the pandemic,” said UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative, Eduardo Stein. 

“Countries in the region have responded to this unprecedented displacement with remarkable solidarity and hospitality, while facing significant challenges to their own economies and the social fabric of their societies,” he added. 

Ray of hope for ‘families who have lost everything’ 

To date, more than five million refugees and migrants from Venezuela have sought safety and protection across the world – with 80 per cent of them sheltering in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The health and economic consequences of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on their lives and that of their hosts.  Venezuelan refugees and migrants have lost the daily incomes and livelihoods needed to cover shelter, food and health care.  Many are at risk of being exposed to gender-based violence, stigmatization, exploitation and abuse. 

“The commitments made today to support humanitarian efforts offer a ray of hope to many families who have lost everything they had,” Mr. Stein said.  

Tuesday’s pledging conference follows the commitment made during a solidarity conference in Brussels in October to mobilize humanitarian funding for refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities, as well as financial support for their socioeconomic integration in receiving countries. 

Earlier this month, humanitarian organizations involved in the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform – across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean - revised its refugee and migrant response plan established in 2019 to help regional Governments address the needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. 

The plan requires $1.41 billion in funding, one third of which to be used for COVID-19 activities.  Only 10 per cent – $142 million – of its requirements had been met before the conference. 

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‘Business as unusual’: How COVID-19 could change the future of work

INTERNATIONAL, 27 May 2020, Economic Development - Millions of people around the world have been working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic and now experts are asking whether this “business as unusual” could be the future of work, at least for those people whose job doesn’t require them to be tied to a particular location.

UN News spoke to Susan Hayter, a Senior Technical Adviser on the Future of Work at the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, about how COVID-19 could change our working lives.

A few large companies have said employees need not commute to work again Susan Hayter, Senior Technical Adviser on the Future of Work, ILO

What are the longer-term effects of the pandemic on the workplace in developed countries, once the immediate crisis is over?

Before the pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion on the implications of technology for the future of work. The message was clear: the future of work is not pre-determined, it is up to us to shape it. 

However, that future has arrived sooner than anticipated as many countries, companies and workers shifted to remote working in order to contain the transmission of COVID-19, dramatically changing how we work. Remote virtual meetings are now commonplace and economic activity has increased on a range of digital platforms. 

The ILO's Susan Hayter has been telecommuting during the coronavirus pandemic., by ILO

As the restrictions are lifted, a question that is on everybody’s mind is whether this ‘business as unusual’ will become the ‘new normal’. A few large companies in developed economies have already said that what has been a large and unplanned pilot – remote teleworking – will become the standard way of organizing work. Employees need not commute to work again, unless they choose to do so.  

Is this a good thing?

This may indeed be cause to celebrate, for people and the planet. But the idea of an end to “The Office” is certainly overblown. The ILO estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home. This does not mean that they will continue to work remotely. The question is how we can adapt work practices and reap the benefits of this experience with remote working – for employers and workers – while not losing the social and economic value of work as a place.   

In celebrating the innovations in work organization that have supported business continuity during the health crisis, we cannot forget that many will have lost their jobs or gone out of business as the pandemic has brought some industries to a standstill. For those returning to their place of work, the quality of work will be a key issue, in particular safe and healthy workplaces. 

What needs to happen next?

Post-pandemic, workers like these at a factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will want to be assured their workplace is safe, by Lin Qi

The degree of workers’ trust in the measures taken by employers to make workplaces safe, will no doubt have an impact on the return to work. Engagement with trade union representatives, where these exist, is a must. 

Everything from protocols for social distancing, monitoring and testing, and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) need to be discussed to make this work. 

For workers in the gig economy, such as food delivery and ride-hailing workers, work is not a place, but an activity performed for an income. The pandemic has revealed the false choice between flexibility and income security. These workers may have no or inadequate access to sick leave and unemployment-insurance benefits. We need to tap into the brave new world to ensure that their work is performed under conditions that are safe. 

How different do you expect the workplace in developing countries to look?

The ILO estimates a 60 per cent decline in the earnings of the almost 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy in the first month of the crisis.  These workers are simply not able to work remotely and face the impossible choice of risking life or livelihood. Some countries have adopted measures to shore up this essential income while also ensuring adequate hygiene and PPE for employees and customers, informal enterprises and workers. 

As companies begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the shift to remote work and their ability to tackle data security concerns, new opportunities may open up in services for developing countries with the necessary infrastructure. 

However, these off-shoring opportunities in activities such as software development and engineering to financial services, may be accompanied by the reshoring in of other jobs as companies seek to improve inventory management and the predictability of supply chains. 

This will have longer-term effects on employment in developing and emerging economies. The challenge is that while it will take time for new service sectors to mature, the negative impact of rising unemployment will be felt immediately. Inequalities in digital readiness may further inhibit countries from seizing these opportunities. 

What are the benefits and drawbacks of remote work?

There may be opportunities for developing countries, like Nepal, to benefit from a global move to remote working., by World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

The shift to remote work has enabled many companies to continue to operate and ensure the health and safety of their employees. Those able to make the transition to remote work during the health crisis have had the opportunity to share meals with their families. Work has become human-centred to accommodate homeschooling and child and elder care.  

Yet, the lines between working time and private time have become blurred for these individuals, causing an increase in stress and exposure to mental health risks

In the face of a dramatic economic downturn caused by the pandemic and surging unemployment figures, there are opportunities to leverage these changes in work organization to design new job-sharing schemes that allow for flexibility and save jobs. This may mean shorter work weeks or work-sharing arrangements to avoid furloughs in lean times, while reshaping working time arrangements to achieve better work-life balance in the longer-term.

The digital transformation of work and possibility to engage in remote work has also been accompanied by other benefits. It has presented possibilities for older, more experienced workers to prolong their working life on their terms and provided work opportunities for those in rural communities. However, for many others, it has compounded a sense of isolation and a loss of identity and purpose. The social value of work and the dignity and belonging we derive from it cannot be replaced by virtual rooms, no matter how casual our attire while we occupy them. 

To what extent will the pandemic entrench rising inequality?

 While the pandemic may represent a tipping point for the digital transformation of the workplace, it has also revealed deep fault lines. It is those in the upper income brackets who are the most likely to choose to work remotely, whereas those in the lowest have no choice; they will have to commute and are more likely to be time-poor as a result. 

Looking to the future, as digital and online work becomes the new normal, the demand for skilled workers is likely to rise along with their wages. The contributions of care-workers and other workers (e.g. teachers and staff in grocery stores) will be more highly valued than before. Yet, many low-paid workers whose wages have been stagnating in the face of declining union power and a shifting employment relationship are likely to see their incomes eroded even further as the ranks of the unemployed increase. 

Historically, economic shocks, pandemics and wars have exacerbated inequality. The remaining question is whether this one will be a tectonic shift with rising political and social instability, or a shock that leads us to reinforce the foundations of just societies and the principles of solidarity and democratic decision-making that move societies, labour markets and workplaces in the direction of equality. 

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Yemen aid lifeline near ‘breaking point’: UN food agency

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Humanitarian aid projects to war-torn Yemen are reaching breaking point, and some $870 million is needed to continue giving life-saving assistance to millions of vulnerable people for the next six months, the World Food Programme (WFP), warned on Tuesday.

The appeal for a fresh cash injection comes after more than five years of fighting in the Arabian peninsula country, between the Government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now based in the south, and the mainly Houthi-led opposition, which occupies the capital, Sana’a, in the north.

Yemen was already one of the poorest countries in the world before violence escalated in March 2015, and today millions of people lack access to sufficient food, fuel and medicine, almost all of which is imported. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, around 80 per cent of the Yemeni population need humanitarian assistance.

Workers stack food assistance in a warehouse in Lahj, Yemen. (file), by WFP/Saleh Baholis

At a press conference held remotely, Elisabeth Byrs, WFP senior spokesperson, noted the agency’s particular concern for over 20 million Yemenis who are food insecure, of which nearly 10 million are acutely food insecure, adding that WFP expects coronavirus “to push many more children in Yemen into acute malnutrition. Over two million children in Yemen are already acutely malnourished, and it’s a figure that WFP fears will increase”.

UN health fears for Yemeni population

As of Monday evening, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported nearly 50 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Yemen, but there are widespread concerns that the situation is much worse.

It is also widely feared that, with around half of the country’s health facilities shut, Yemen lacks the means to prevent this latest threat to an already weakened population that faces the ever-present threat of cholera and ongoing conflict that has displaced more than four million people.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, echoed concerns that the aid situation in Yemen threatens to spin out of control, describing it as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with unparalleled protection concerns.

Among the UNHCR projects most at risk are a cash-assistance programmes for internally displaced and impoverished host communities. Under the scheme, each eligible family receives around $170 in instalments over six months to help pay for rent, buy food, extra clothes and fuel, along with medicine and other urgent concerns. Up to one million people are at risk, if the projects stop unless funding is found.

A UN pledging conference for Yemen, hosted by Saudi Arabia, which heads an international coalition in support of President Hadi, is due to be held next Tuesday.

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First Person: The struggle to protect human rights in East Africa during the pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 26 May 2020, Health - Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in East Africa, the UN Human Rights regional office, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has been contributing to the COVID-19 response of UN country teams in the region, by ensuring that human rights protection for vulnerable people is included in their plans. The head of the office, Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, shared some of the challenges she and her colleagues are facing.

“These have been trying times for all of us on different levels, almost like a seismic change in the direction of our work, but we made the decision not to forget everything else, even as we focus on COVID-19.

 

Our work includes providing technical advice, and input to response plans, humanitarian appeals, development plans, as well as socio-economic analyses of the impact of COVID-19, in coordination with other offices UN in East Africa.

We provide advice for the prevention of stigmatization and discrimination, particularly in relation to healthcare access and testing for those suspected of having symptoms of COVID-19, and we organize webinars with human rights defenders – including women human rights defenders – on the impact of the pandemic on their work, and on self-care.

And we are monitoring state of emergency declarations in the East Africa region, to ensure that they do not infringe on rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of association and of speech, the right to life, the right to highest attainable standard of health, and the right to education.

COVID-19 protection measures have been put in place at an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya., by UN Habitat/Isaac Muasa

Challenges, and lessons learned

This pandemic reminds me of the saying, ‘Man plans and God laughs’ Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, head of the UN Human Rights East Africa Regional Office

I have been telling myself that this pandemic reminds me of the saying, "Man plans and God laughs": we will keep on planning, but we need to be agile. We have had to pivot immediately, to be able to respond to the needs of the people we serve.

The work we have all been doing on socio-economic analysis has opened my eyes to how much more we need, particularly in Africa, to get civil society organizations to look at the wider picture of rights: most organizations only focus on civil and political rights, which is vital, but there is a place for these organizations, and national human rights institutions to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights as well.

Once this pandemic started, it exacerbated all of the issues we had pointed out before it began, such as poverty, the lack of access to quality education, and the lack of access to health services. But it has also helped to confirm why the UN is here: to show Governments how to do better for those who could possibly fall through the cracks.

More data, for improved protection

Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, Head of UN Human Rights East Africa Regional Office., by Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor

The UN has a standard idea of vulnerability: women, children, internally displaced persons, migrants, refugees and the elderly. However, even for the elderly, we do not have data in Africa. For a long time, we have been pushing issues of persons with disability, but I have yet to see a proper analysis of disability data in Africa either, and there are groups of people on whom we never capture data in Africa, such as the homeless.

We do not have distinct categorizations on the urban poor either, even though the very people I have listed are the ones most prone to COVID-19 infection, because of their living conditions. We need to widen our definition of vulnerability, and produce more inclusive data.

I cannot think of a better example than this pandemic, to show us why it is important to stand up for everyone's rights. And we have to work towards ending the pandemic as a collective: if we don’t, it is more likely that it will happen again”.
A longer version of this interview was originally published on the website of the UN Human Rights Office.

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