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UN chief calls for ‘green and clean’ development in message for Africa Industrialization Day

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2019, Economic Development - As African countries gear up to implement an historic free trade agreement, the UN Secretary-General is urging leaders to pursue economic growth that benefits both people and the planet.
 
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António Guterres made the appeal in his message for Africa Industrialization Day, observed annually on 20 November.

The UN chief said industrial development is “of critical importance” for sustained and inclusive economic growth in African countries.

While manufacturing on the continent has been growing faster than the world average, he said it will need to speed up.

Launched last year, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is expected to usher in a market of least $3 trillion and a consumer base of more than one billion.

At the same time, the manufacturing sector is projected to double by 2025, creating millions of jobs.

“I call on African countries to adopt a holistic approach to industrial policy, pursuing, through stronger multi-stakeholder partnerships, green and clean industrialization strategies that promote equitable economic opportunities and take into account the urgency of addressing the climate crisis,” said Mr. Guterres.

The Secretary-General underscored international commitment to Africa’s sustainable development, with the UN General Assembly proclaiming the period from 2016-2025 the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa.

As a result, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will scale up technical assistance to countries on the continent.

The agency also will partner with other UN entities on initiatives in areas such as technology transfer, agribusiness value chain development, renewable energy and development of special economic zones and industrial parks.

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US pardons for accused war criminals, contrary to international law: UN rights office

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Human Rights - A presidential pardon for two United States soldiers accused of war crimes, and a sentence reduction for a third, “run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations”, the United Nations human rights wing said on Tuesday.

“While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness”, Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters at a regular press briefing in Geneva that these cases showed no circumstances to suggest anything other than “simply voiding the otherwise proper process of law in the cases”.

“These pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world”, he added.

The accused

According to news reports, Lieutenant Clint Lorance was tried and convicted for ordering the shooting of Afghanistan civilians in 2013 and handed down a 20-year prison sentence. Last Friday, he was given a full pardon.

Major Mathew Golsteyn was charged with executing an unarmed Afghan man who was a suspected Taliban bombmaker in 2010. He was scheduled to be tried in February.

And Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was charged with murdering a captive in Iraq. He was acquitted but received a demotion for posing with the corpse for a photograph. President Trump on Friday vowed to restore his rank.

“These three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, both proven and alleged, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group”, said Mr. Colville.

Some US news outlets applauded President Donald Trump’s reprieves, while others saw them as a sign of disregard for the decisions of military juries as well as for the judicial process itself.

“International Humanitarian Law establishes the obligation to investigate violations and prosecute war crimes”, reminded Mr. Colville.

He pointed out that by investigating the allegations, and initiating and completing criminal proceedings, the US military justice system had been in compliance with international law. 

Underscoring that “victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law have the right to a remedy”, Mr. Colville maintained that the pardon terminating further criminal proceedings in the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, was “particularly troubling”.

He elaborated that remedies include equal and effective access to justice, the right to the truth, and to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, “rather than see them absolved of responsibility”. 

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‘Three-country crisis’ across central Sahel puts whole generation at risk, warns UN food agency

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Humanitarian Aid - Violent attacks by extremists “almost every day” in the Sahel nations of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have displaced nearly one million people and caused emergency levels of malnutrition, UN humanitarians have said.

Warning of an impending humanitarian crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday said that if nothing is done to tackle hunger in the region, a whole generation could be at risk.

 
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A third of Burkina Faso now a conflict zone

Burkina Faso is worst hit, with one-third of the country now a conflict zone.

On Monday, just over the border in eastern Mali, more than 20 soldiers were killed in an attack on their patrol by militants, the latest in a series of deadly attacks linked to extremists who have exploited ethnic tensions and poor infrastructure.

According to Government data, nearly half a million people have been displaced in Burkina Faso in less than a year, but that figure is likely to reach 650,000 before the end of 2019.

“A dramatic human crisis is unfolding in Burkina Faso that has disrupted the lives of millions. Close to half a million people have been forced from their homes and a third of the country is now a conflict zone,” said WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley. “Our teams on the ground are seeing malnutrition levels pushed well past emergency thresholds – this means young children and new mothers are on the brink. If the world is serious about saving lives, the time to act is now.”

Civilians fleeing, leaving everything behind

David Bulman, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso, said with extremists moving freely across borders, it was now a “three-country crisis” leading civilians to flee. “And for those populations that don’t particularly notice the border, they just see their safest route away from insecurity and they take it…When they’re displaced it means that they basically leave everything behind, and most of them are doing farming and some animal raising so they are really very dependent.“

While WFP has helped some 2.6 million people with food and nutrition assistance in the three Sahel countries, it has warned that in some areas, severe acute malnutrition is skyrocketing and affecting “thousands” of children, Mr. Bulman said.

Among those displaced in Burkina Faso, levels of severe acute malnutrition are more than three times the emergency threshold of two per cent of the population, at 7.8 per cent, he explained.

For general acute malnutrition, the highest level registered by WFP was 19.7 per cent, exceeding the 15 per cent emergency threshold.

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UN ‘regrets’ new US position on legality of Israeli settlements

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Peace and Security - The longstanding position of the UN regarding Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory – that they are in breach of international law – is unchanged, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said during a press briefing on Tuesday in New York, reacting to the policy reversal announced by the United States.

Mr. Dujarric added that the UN “very much regrets” the announcement of the new US position on Monday and remains “committed to a two-State solution based on the relevant UN resolutions”.

Earlier on Tuesday, at a press briefing in Geneva, Spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters that a change in the policy position of one Member State does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Security Council.

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Announcing the policy change, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said that “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace”.

Mr. Pompeo’s comments –which were reportedly condemned by Palestinian politicians, and the Jordanian Government, and welcomed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – have been interpreted in press reports as a rejection of UN Security Council resolution 2334.

This resolution reaffirmed, in 2016, that Israel’s establishment of settlements on Palestinian land occupied since 1967, have “no legal validity”, and constitute a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders”. The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour, with the US abstaining.

On the same day that Mr. Pompeo delivered his remarks, the US Embassy in Jerusalem released a security alert, advising US citizens travelling to, or through, Jerusalem, to maintain a high level of vigilance and increase their security awareness.

Tensions in the region were already high before Mr. Pompeo’s announcement: on October 28, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council that “new dangerous flashpoints” were emerging in the region, and described the growing number of Israeli settlements as a substantial obstacle to the peace process.

‘Nail in the coffin’ for two-State solution

Independent UN rights expert Michael Lynk, officially Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, characterized the US move as a “decisive break with international consensus”, which will “further entrench the perpetual Israeli occupation”, in a statement released on Tuesday.

The US decision to ‘jettison international law” had, said Mr. Lynk, legitimized the illegal Israeli settlements, driving “the very last nail in the coffin of the two-State solution” of two nations living side-by-side, which is the UN-backed outcome for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

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Reconciliation helps ‘repair fractures’, enable lasting peace, Security Council hears

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Security Council this Tuesday has been debating what one activist labeled “the toughest and arguably most important part of the peace-building cycle”: reconciliation.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the gathering, reconciliation processes have played a crucial role in resolving ethnic, religious and political differences in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, and Northern Ireland, enabling periods of sustained peace.

“Reconciliation helps to repair fractures caused by an absence of trust between state and people, when institutions and individuals acknowledge their role in past crimes, and both victims and perpetrators muster the courage to face the truth. It is a process through which societies can move from a divided past to a shared future,” he said.

Inclusion comes first

Though vital, the UN chief believes reconciliation processes must evolve to be broader, deeper and more inclusive to keep pace with the changing nature of conflict.

They must first be based in the communities and societies affected by conflict, and involve participation from all sectors, including women, religious leaders and young people.

Ilwad Elman from Somalia, an advisor to the UN Secretary-General, underlined the importance of inclusion.

As a programme director for a peace centre named after her late father, who was assassinated in 1996, she welcomed the Council’s debate on what she described as “the toughest and arguably most important part of the peace-building cycle”.

“We know a reconciliation process that almost exclusively involves political parties, with voters left out of the talks, will most likely not succeed”, she said.

“We know that to achieve true reconciliation, then the process must embrace a long-term nationwide solution and the most urgent task is often rebuilding public trust in the institutions: formal and informal.”

The United Kingdom has long advocated for faith leaders to be part of the solution, said Foreign Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who chaired the meeting.

“In a world where more than three-quarters of people say directly their faith is important to them, there can be very little doubt that faith leaders have the ability to influence individuals and communities in a way governments simply cannot”, he stated.

No reconciliation without justice

The UN Secretary-General also stressed that there cannot be reconciliation without justice. He highlighted examples of countries such as Guatemala, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste, which implemented truth and reconciliation commissions following conflict.

He added that reconciliation cannot be a substitute for accountability or pave the way for amnesties for serious crimes under international law.

“And while rendering justice, successful reconciliation mechanisms must advance equality and human rights – even when these did not exist prior to conflict. Human rights violations impact women differently. Transitional justice must be transformative justice that addresses gender imbalances, is rooted in local realities and based on broad consultation,” he said.

But with many societies divided along ethnic, racial, religious and even economic lines, perhaps reconciliation needs to occur before conflict breaks out, according to Alpaslan Ozerdem, Dean of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in the United States.

He called for people everywhere to fight against prejudice and stereotyping.

“We need to support peace and reconciliation at the every day level,” he said. “Our activities as politicians, diplomats, civil society workers, academics, media and the private sector should engender trust, compromise and cooperation.”

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UN updates guidelines to ensure successful return to civilian life for former combatants

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Peace and Security - Increasing hurdles which prevent former combatants from returning to a peaceful civilian life have prompted the UN to update its standard practices, in an effort to ensure they remain “fit-for-purpose for years to come”.

In recent years, the practitioners of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) have faced increasing challenges, particularly where armed conflict is ongoing and where multiple and diverse armed groups continue to thrive.

“In some cases, violent extremist armed groups refuse to come to the negotiating table”, Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Viotti said on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres, on Tuesday, at a high-level event launching the UN’s revised Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS).

“In others, local armed conflict continues even as national peace agreements are signed and are being implemented”, she added.

The new standards are aligned with the UN’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, launched last year to help strengthen peacekeeping for today’s challenges.

Moreover, IDDRS acknowledges the important role that DDR plays across the peace continuum, including by recognizing that practitioners make invaluable contributions to sustaining peace; support mediation efforts; prevent recruitment in ongoing conflict; and provide reintegration assistance to voluntary armed group defectors.  

“The range of activities that now fall under the heading of DDR underscore that its scope is far from a merely technical, sequenced intervention”, asserted Ms. Viotti. “The new IDDRS recognize the highly political nature of DDR and the need to firmly anchor it in overall political processes”.

From then to now

Since 1990, DDR has been a key component in the UN’s efforts to build peace in the aftermath of war.

“From that time, DDR practitioners have helped members of armed groups to lay down their weapons and return to civilian life in DDR processes across the globe”, said Ms. Viotti.

Today, the UN provides DDR support to more than 200,000 people in five peacekeeping missions, 10 special political missions and eight non-mission settings.

For more than a decade, DDR practitioners both within and outside the UN system have been guided in their work by the 2006 Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards.

This repository of best practices and lessons learned has provided for a collective UN approach with a common set of policies and guidelines to facilitate coordination and the efficient delivery of support.

However, as challenges arise, the revision of DDR Standards has become “even more essential”, maintained the Chef du Cabinet.

The updated UN policy and guidance for designing and implementing DDR processes, Journey for Peace and Development, also outlines interlinkages with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Human rights, development and disarmament

Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) Tatiana Valovaya, stressed that the Organization’s overarching approach to DDR should promote the “human rights of participants and the communities in which they integrate”.

Successful approaches to regulating arms necessitates integration into broader conflict prevention and sustainable development  – UN High Representative Nakamitsu

“Support must be conducted in line with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law”, and this requires being “vigilant, flexible and well prepared”, she stressed.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, shone a light on the link between disarmament and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), citing SDG 16 as specifically recognizing that there is no development without peace.

“Successful approaches to regulating arms necessitates integration into broader conflict prevention and sustainable development”, she underscored.

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Iran protests: Live ammunition reportedly used, says UN human rights office

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Human Rights - Reports indicating that dozens of people have been killed in continuing protests across Iran – some by live ammunition - are of deep concern, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said on Tuesday.

Citing Iranian media coverage since demonstrations began last Friday sparked by a rise in fuel prices, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had acknowledged some of the fatalities.

“We are deeply concerned by reported violations of international norms and standards on the use of force, including the firing of live ammunition, against demonstrators in Iran”, Mr. Colville said. “It would suggest that it is not simply the immediate trigger to the protest which was a rise in fuel prices, but…much deeper-seated problems persisting in the country.”

More than 1,000 protesters have also been arrested, the OHCHR official added, although details were difficult to verify as OHCHR does not have an office in the country.

“Overall, protests have reportedly been held in 40 or more towns and cities across the country, but again details have been hard to verify because of the shutdown of the internet late on Saturday”, Mr. Colville explained.

‘Alarming situation is widespread across country’

“There are increasing reports suggesting the numbers killed are certainly in the dozens, in at least two figures, some reports (are) even higher. So, it would be very useful to have a better, clearer picture but it is clearly very significant, very alarming situation and widespread across the country.”

According to the UN humanitarian coordinating agency OCHA, around half of Iran’s 81 million strong population is under-30. People between the ages of 15 and 29 comprise one-third of the population, and nearly three in four people live in towns and cities.

In his second report on the country published in July, the UN independent human rights expert on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, noted that the people of Iran faced rising inflation, late or unpaid wages and lack of access to work, food, health care and water “among other challenges”.

These had been exacerbated by the re-imposition of sanctions, the independent expert insisted, noting also that the most vulnerable members of society -including minorities – had been seriously affected by the deteriorating situation.

Appeal to avoid excessive force

In an appeal to security officials to avoid using excessive force, Mr. Colville called on the authorities to issue clear instructions that they should abide by international norms and standards.

Firearms should only be used in cases of an imminent threat to life or of serious injury and only when less extreme measures are insufficient to address such a threat when dispersing peaceful assemblies, he said.

Protesters should for their part carry out demonstrations without resorting to physical violence or the destruction of property, he insisted, while also calling on the Government to re-establish web access immediately, as well as other forms of communication.

“We would encourage States to maintain the flow of information; if there’s false information they can rebut it, but let’s see the information”, he told reporters, noting that Iran was a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

And in reference to sanctions “imposed by the United States” that were among the serious economic challenges gripping the country despite its huge oil and gas reserves, the UN human rights office spokesperson urged the authorities to “engage in meaningful dialogue” with Iranians.

“Simply responding with harsh words and an iron fist” risked violating international norms and seriously aggravating the situation to everyone’s disadvantage - including the Government’s”, he warned.

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UN strengthens ties with Eurasia regional body to tackle terrorism and crime

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2019, Peace and Security - Improving understanding of the nexus between terrorism, transnational organized crime and drug trafficking is essential, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday in his address to a high-level meeting involving the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a leading player in diplomacy in Eurasia.

The UN chief said these interconnected issues are important to the stability and security of SCO member states

“Breaking up trafficking organizations and addressing the criminal use of fixed routes is crucial to countering movements of foreign terrorist fighters and arms, including to and from Iraq and Syria”, he said.

“Our two organizations are also committed to promoting peace in Afghanistan and supporting the Afghan people as they build a more stable and prosperous future. Addressing the cultivation of opium, which provides revenue to the Taliban, can play a part in undermining the Taliban’s ability to destabilize communities and to wage war.”

The SCO was established in 2001 and comprises eight member states: India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Ten other countries are observer states or dialogue partners.

The organization represents more than three billion people—the largest combined population of any regional grouping in the world.

Joint plan of action

Mr. Guterres outlined how the UN is strengthening links between the two partners, including in the area of counter-terrorism.

“I am particularly proud of our engagement with SCO on the United Nations Joint Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia – the first regional initiative of its kind,” he said.

“The Joint Plan of Action contributes to strengthening the capacities of Central Asian Member States to enhance border security, prevent violent extremism conducive to terrorism, and foster dialogue with religious leaders.”

Action to address root causes of terrorism

While security measures are vital, combating terrorism and its links to transnational crime takes many forms.

The Secretary-General said the UN is working with SCO countries to support efforts that address root causes.

“Terrorist and extremist groups often share a misogynistic ideology that subjugates women and girls. Our work to promote gender equality and the rights of women and girls is central to efforts to tackle extremism, organized crime and the trafficking of people and drugs,” he added.

Additionally, both the UN human rights office, OHCHR, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have supported countries in areas including the handling of digital evidence.

Mr. Guterres looked forward to further cooperation between the two “natural partners.”

“I am confident that in joining our efforts, the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can make a positive contribution to the lives of people in Eurasia, strengthening regional cooperation at all levels,” he said.

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Sustainable fishing staying afloat in developed world, sinking in poorer regions

INTERNATIONAL, 18 November 2019, Climate Change - More people than ever rely on fisheries and aquaculture for food, and income, but the seafood industry is facing a “dangerous” sustainability divide when comparing trends in the developed world versus those in poorer regions, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed on Monday.

“Fisheries are facing an important crossroad and the world needs a new vision in the 21st century”, the UN agency lead with in a press statement, echoing the main message by it’s Director General, Qu Dongyu, at the opening of a major conference on the matter, which opened Monday.

By 2050, humans will be nearly 10 billion in number, and “land alone will not feed us”, Mr. Donguy explained, thus, the world will need to increasingly rely on aquatic species to eat.

The International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability, taking place from 18 to 21 November at FAO’s Rome headquarters, convenes researchers, business people and members of various other sectors to identify how to maximize food from the world’s rivers and oceans, without compromising the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Noting a “dangerous trend” in the fishing industry, the FAO chief said that while fisheries in developed regions are increasingly sustainable, meaning fished populations are being replenished, and conditions for industry workers are improving, developing regions lagging behind.

The great provider of life

Achieving global sustainability in the seafood sector looks murky. With the concerning state of the world’s oceans and increasing demand for freshwater species keeping best practices at bay, FAO noted.

Plastic pollution, the effects of climate change, habitat degradation, and overfishing are draining marine fish stocks, with one in every three stocks overfished, compared to one in ten 40 years ago. In addition, inland fisheries (in rivers or fish farms), are feeling the pressure of a growing demand on freshwater species.

Worldwide, one billion people rely on fish as their main source of animal protein, according to the UN N World Health Organization (WHO), and in some small island states, people meet their protein needs exclusively from seafood.

A person derives, on average, 20.3 kilograms of top-quality protein and essential micronutrients from fish every year, with a rise in 3 percent of global fish consumption since the 1960’s, according to FAO.

As far as economies go, around the world, one in ten people depend on fishing for their livelihoods and are often the poorest in society.

From the mid-1970’s, developing countries have increased their net trade benefits from fish from almost zero to over 40 billion dollars each year, FAO’s Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Manuel Barange, pointed out at the Conference.

Some 95 per cent of people hinging on seafood for their livelihoods live in Africa and Asia, many struggling to make ends meet despite the degree of danger involved in the work. Commercial fishing was rated the second deadliest profession on earth in 2019.

The FAO Director-General put forward three solutions to guide fisheries toward sustainability, including re-investing in marine and freshwater sustainability programmes, investing in ocean growth, and ensuring protection measures are met with effective management.

“Treat the ocean with the respect it deserves, and it will forgive our foolish ways, and it will replenish  itself and do what it has done in the past - be the great provider of life on planet earth”, Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Oceans, urged at the Sympsonium’s opening.

2020: ‘A new deal with nature’

Four of the ten targets under the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to protect oceans, will mature come 2020, including illegal fishing, which the UN’s Special Envoy said begs cooperation from countries who haven’t signed FAO’s Agreement to stamp out the problem.

Moreover, the coming year will be one “in which we create a new deal with nature” he highlighted, as a host of environmental protection events will take place: The UN Ocean Conference to scale up ocean action, the UN Biodiversity Conference , the IUCN World Conservation Congress, and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

By the Sympsonium’s end, participants are expected to present a technical document that synthesized the information and debate in each of the event’s sessions, to be table at the 34th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, set for July 2020.

The document will form the platform for a high-level policy statement on the role, value and sustainability status of global and regional fisheries.

“If we focus on our science, our innovation spirit, our technologies, we will secure and protect one of the oldest and most undervalued food industries,” the FAO chief said, urging for delegates to “aim big” and take “concrete” steps toward change.

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‘Transformational benefits’ of ending outdoor defecation: Why toilets matter

INTERNATIONAL, 18 November 2019, Health - Ending the practice of defecating in the open, rather than in a toilet, will have “transformational benefits” for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, says the UN’s partner sanitation body, the WSSCC (Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council). 

Ahead of World Toilet Day, which is marked annually on 19 November, WSSCC’s acting Executive Director, Sue Coates, has been speaking to UN News about how to end open defecation.

What is open defecation and where is it mostly practiced?

Open defecation is when people defecate in the open – for example, in fields, forests, bushes, lakes and rivers – rather than using a toilet. Globally, the practice is decreasing steadily, however its elimination by 2030, one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires a substantial acceleration in toilet use particularly in Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

UN agencies report that of the 673 million people practicing open defecation, 91 per cent live in rural areas. An increase in population in countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, Madagascar and Niger, but also in some Oceania states, is leading to localized growth in open defecation.

Why is open defecation such a serious problem?

Open defecation is an affront to the dignity, health and well-being, especially of girls and women. For example, hundreds of millions of girls and women around the world lack privacy when they are menstruating. Open defecation also risks exposing them to increased sexual exploitation and personal safety and is a risk to public health.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria and one thousand parasite cysts. Poor sanitation and hygiene practices (for example, not handwashing with soap after defecation and before eating) contribute to over 800,000 deaths from diarrhoea annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO): that’s more people than who die from malaria.

Why has it been so difficult to stop it?

Open defecation has been practiced for centuries; it is an ingrained cultural norm in some societies. Stopping it requires a sustained shift in the behaviour of whole communities so that a new norm, toilet use by all, is created and accepted. Ending open defecation requires an ongoing investment in the construction, maintenance and use of latrines, and other basic services.

How are people’s lives improved once they have a toilet to use?

In Bangladesh, latrines provide women and girls privacy when they are menstruating. © WSSCC/Pierre Virot

On a day-to-day basis, the ability to use a toilet – at home and work, and in public places such as schools, health centres and markets – is a basic human right. Sanitation has transformational benefits supporting aspects of quality of life, equity and dignity for all people.

To what extent is sanitation a central part of overall development?

A lack of at least basic sanitation and hygiene services, including a lack of informed choice about menstrual health and hygiene, is a violation of the human rights to water and sanitation, as well as the rights to health, work, adequate standard of living, non-discrimination, human dignity, protection, information, and participation.

WHO and UNICEF report that in 2016, 21 per cent of healthcare facilities globally had no sanitation service, directly impacting more than 1.5 billion people, and over 620 million children worldwide lacked basic sanitation services at their school.

WHO estimates that every $1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of US $4 in saved medical costs, averted deaths and increased productivity. Hygiene promotion is also ranked as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions. Conversely, a lack of sanitation holds back economic growth.

How is the UN contributing to ending open defecation?

Member States and UN agencies are committed to ending open defecation and have urged the provision of financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer to help developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), on clean water and sanitation, requires access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and an end to open defecation, with special attention paid to the needs of women and girls, and those in vulnerable situations.

Increasingly, governments and their UN agency partners have roadmaps to tackle the issue, and WSSCC has been providing grants for community-based solutions for a decade. However, the SDG target is not on track.

The UN and Sanitation

  • Ensuring sanitation and water for all is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG6) that make up the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • An end to open defecation is a specific target within SDG6
  • The UN’s Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), is hosted by UNOPS, the UN Office for Project Services
  • WSSCC advocates for improved sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the world
  • WSSCC and its partners have recently released a Global Call to Action, urging governments, donors, development partners and every other stakeholder to reaffirm their commitment to rural sanitation and hygiene and scale up their ambitions and investments.

It’s estimated that the global annual cost for providing even basic sanitation services is   $19.5 billion, but right now not enough funding is forthcoming. The UN Sustainable Development Goals Report in 2019 warns that while progress is being made in many SDG areas, the collective global response is not enough, leaving the most vulnerable people and countries to suffer the most. 

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