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UNICEF providing aid for children caught up in Syria prison siege

INTERNATIONAL, 27 January 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Boys and girls caught up in intense fighting which raged for six days around a besieged prison in northeast Syria, need protection and assistance, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Thursday.

ISIL fighters launched an assault on the Ghwayran/Sinai’i detention centre in the city of Hasakeh last week, in an attempt to free some of their counterparts, sparking fighting with Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) who control the facility. 

More than 5,000 men are being held inside the prison, including up to 700 boys. 

According to news reports, the US-led coalition-allied SDF fighters have now regained full control of the prison, after some ISIL-affiliated detainees reportedly used some of the boys as human shields during the stand-off.  

Fighting displaces thousands 

The fighting forced nearly 45,000 people in the area to flee, mostly women and children, UNICEF said.  Some have been displaced several times, having escaped violence in other parts of Syria over the years. 

The agency has been working with partners to provide displaced children and their families with life-saving assistance, including clean water and hygiene supplies.  

UNICEF volunteers helped people reach shelters and clinics and distributed food, blankets, mattresses, clothes, and medicine. They have also distributed materials on the risks of explosive ordnance to raise awareness among boys and girls in the shelters and keep them safe. 

Support to families 

Vulnerable children and their mothers have also received medicine and other services through a UNICEF- supported mobile health and nutrition team.   

Staff provided health consultations and free medicine, and has screened children, pregnant and lactating mothers.  Malnourished children were also given ready-to-use supplementary food. 

UNICEF has been providing information to families on how to prevent separation and access psychosocial support to children and caregivers.  

Children witness horrors 

Nine separated and unaccompanied children were identified as of Thursday.  They had become separated from their families along the way and did not know the whereabouts of their parents.  

“Children in shelters were frightened after the horrors they witnessed,” said  Bo Viktor Nylund, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “Families told us children were having nightmares and bedwetting. It has been a harrowing experience for them, and it is clear they urgently need protection and assistance.” 

UNICEF continues to call on all parties in northeast Syria to protect all children in the region at all times. 

 

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Food insecurity soaring across 20 hunger hotspots

INTERNATIONAL, 27 January 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Food insecurity is soaring across 20 countries and regions - “hunger hotspots”, where conflict, economic shocks, natural hazards, political instability, and limited humanitarian access, are putting millions of lives at risk, UN agencies highlighted on Thursday. 

According to the Hunger Hotspots Report from the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen remain the countries of highest concern.

According to the most recent assessments, all four countries had areas where people were experiencing, or projected to experience, starvation and death (IPC Phase 5), requiring the most urgent attention.

The report shows that the links between hunger and conflict are complex and far-reaching. In fact, many of the people that WFP supports are fleeing conflict and have been forced to abandon their land, homes, and jobs.

These trends are likely to continue in Myanmar, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Sahel, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the northern parts of Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mozambique.

Climate and food prices

Another worrying trend is the impact of climate extremes. For WFP and FAOclimate change “is no longer a glimpse into the future, but the daily reality for communities around the world.”

This can already be seen in Haiti, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, and recently in Afghanistan’s western region of Badghis.

At the same time, economic challenges post-pandemic, persist, and will continue to drive food prices higher.

Despite a brief decrease in mid-2021, world food prices have been rising since May 2020, with the areas of most concern, being the Near East, North Africa and Central and Eastern Asia.

Humanitarian access constraints and complex security environments, continue to pose a challenge to operations in Ethiopia, Mali, northern Nigeria, Niger and Syria, and are likely to linger in the Central African Republic and Colombia. 

South Sudan

In South Sudan, one of the four countries of highest concern, conflict and constrained humanitarian access, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic challenges, and elevated food prices, are worsening the situation.

Communities have also had to grapple with severe flooding that has caused widespread displacement, damage to agricultural production, the destruction of livelihoods and compounded existing issues in many regions.

Nigeria

A severely malnourished child at a clinic in Ethiopia
A severely malnourished child at a clinic in Ethiopia, by © UNICEF/Esiey Leul

In Nigeria, insecurity and high inflation rates are aggravating acute food insecurity.

The situation is of highest concern in conflict-affected Borno State, where around 13,500 people are projected to slide into catastrophic acute food insecurity if humanitarian and livelihood-building interventions are not sustained.

Ethiopia

There has been no update for Ethiopia since the July-September 2021 projection, when experts concluded that 401,000 people in the Tigray region would likely be facing famine-like conditions. For the agencies, this lack of data is of serious concern.

Acute food insecurity levels are likely to have increased and could further rise beyond the Emergency and Catastrophic levels already identified in the last report. 

Yemen

Hunger is also mounting in Yemen due to the toxic mix of conflict and economic decline. As a result, half of all Yemeni families are now consuming less food than what is required.

The cost of a minimum food basket in Government-controlled governorates has more than doubled. This decline is driven by the nearly depleted foreign currency reserves, which make it harder to import food.

Increased humanitarian assistance between April and July of 2021 helped stabilize food security levels, but key indicators show a deterioration in the second half of the year. 

Alarms elsewhere

A child is being screened in a clinic in South Sudan
A child is being screened in a clinic in South Sudan, by © UNICEF/Helene Sandbu Ryeng

The report also highlights the situation in Afghanistan, where projections show a record high of people facing critical levels of food insecurity.

There is also a serious risk that part of the population will face starvation and death (IPC Phase 5) if the crisis is not contained. 

There are 22.8 million Afghans facing acute food insecurity. By March, 8.7 million of those are expected to slide into critical levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4), more than double the number from the same time last year and a record high for the country.

The Horn of Africa, a region already prone to food insecurity, is now facing a third season of drought, driven by La Niña.

In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the worst affected countries, projections indicate that food insecurity will rise beyond the region’s already high levels by mid of the year. 

In the Sahel, a weak rainy season has severely affected crop and pasture development.

Over 10.5 million people are projected to be at a crisis level or worse (CH Phase 3 and above), a 20 percent increase compared to last year.

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UN report finds nature conservation funding must triple globally this decade

INTERNATIONAL, 27 January 2022, Climate and Environment - G20 leading industrialized nations must embrace their role as influential leaders against climate change, by aligning development and economic recovery with international nature and climate goals, according to a new UN report, published on Thursday.

 In its joint report on finance for nature in the G20 countries, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum (WEF)  and the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, examined how wealthy nations can better support nature-based solutions (NbS). 

In addition to promoting sustainable farming and supply chains, or intiatives such as creating green spaces in cities to tackle rising heat, G20 States - a group representing many of the world's most advanced economies - must address interrelated climate, biodiversity, and land degradation crises by increasing their annual investments in nature to $285 billion by 2050, said the State of Finance for Nature in the G20 report. 

Trillion-dollar gap 

The publication estimated that G20 spending, including large emerging economies, stood at $120 billion in 2020, which was directed towards official development assistance (ODA). 

It notes the spending gap in non-G20 countries, was even larger and more difficult to bridge. 

The report builds on the 2021 report, ‘State of Finance for Nature – Tripling Investments in Nature-based Solutions by 2030’, which called for closing a $4.1 trillion NbS financing gap between 2020 and 2050. 

The report findings show that at just 11 per cent, or $14 billion annually, private sector investments remained small, even though they contributed 60 per cent of the total national GDP in most G20 countries.  

It also reveals that G20 investments represented 92 per cent of all global NbS investments in 2020.  

Boost land restoration 

Moreover, 87 per cent - $105 billion - of those investments were distributed internally towards domestic programmes.   

The findings confirm the urgency to increase net-zero and nature-positive investments to close these finance gaps, as reflected in the Global Biodiversity Framework's Target 19 and in the Glasgow Climate Pact of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).  

The authors also reinforced the need to accelerate land restoration around the globe, as declared by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. 

Boost investments 

To meet all agreed biodiversity, land restoration and climate targets by 2050, the report underscored the need for annual G20 NbS investments to increase by at least 140 per cent. 

This means an additional $165 billion per year, especially in ODA and private sector spending.  

At the global level, future investments in nature must rise four-fold by 2050, equalling an annual investment of over $536 billion

As G20 country carry out most of the global economic and financial activity with fiscal leeway, the report maintained that they have the capacity to meet that target.  

Paradigm shift required 

State of Finance for Nature also called for G20 States to increase investment in non-G20 countries, which can often be more cost-effective and efficient than investing in similar nature-based solutions internally.  

A paradigm shift by governments, corporations and finance institutions is urgently required to effectively tackle the interrelated nature, climate, and land degradation crises on which many economies depend. 

“To scale up private finance, Governments can boost the investment case for nature, for instance by creating stable and predictable markets for ecosystem services like forest carbon or by using public money on below-market rates”, said Ivo Mulder, Head of UNEP’s Climate Finance Unit, adding that, “systemic changes are needed at all levels, including consumers paying the true price of food, taking into account its environmental footprint”.  

Meeting targets 

The report concluded that following the COVID-19 crisis, Governments must truly build back better.  

As many developed countries can borrow cheaply on international capital markets, the author’s are calling on policymakers to tie in nature and climate conditions when providing fiscal stimulus to sectors across their economies. 

This would ensure that international biodiversity, climate and land degradation targets are met.  

“Companies and financial institutions should fully disclose climate and nature-related financial risks, and governments need to repurpose agricultural fiscal policies and trade-related tariffs”, said Mr. Mulder. 

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UN assisting thousands affected by Tropical Storm Ana in Mozambique

INTERNATIONAL, 27 January 2022, Humanitarian Aid - UN teams are on the ground in Mozambique assisting thousands of people affected by Tropical Storm Ana, which made landfall in central and northern regions of the country earlier this week. 

More than 45,000 people, including 23,000 women and children, are likely to need humanitarian aid, UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Thursday. 

UNICEF is deploying staff and preparing medical and nutrition supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene kits, as well as setting up temporary learning spaces to support children and their families.  The agency estimates it will need $3.5 million to respond to the immediate needs. 

‘Blunt reminder’ of climate reality 

Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique, said they are working alongside the government and partners to ensure children and their families receive life-saving assistance. 

“This latest storm to hit Mozambique is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality and children are most impacted by climate-related severe weather events,” she said

Tropical Storm Ana has passed over several countries in eastern and southern Africa, affecting Mozambique but also Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Strong winds and heavy rains have caused floods, widespread destruction and fatalities, according to media reports. 

Homes destroyed 

In Mozambique, the storm hit the provinces of Nampula, Zambezia, Tete, Niassa, Sofala and Manica on Monday. More than 10,000 homes were destroyed, along with bridges, powerlines, schools, health facilities, water systems and other public infrastructure. 

Local authorities report 12 health facilities and 137 schools have been damaged or destroyed, UNICEF said, leaving more than 27,300 students without a place to learn just as a new school year is set to begin next week. Numbers are expected to increase as assessments continue. 

UNICEF emergency teams will soon begin distributing essential supplies such as buckets, soap and water purification tablets, and ready-to-use therapeutic food for malnourished children.  They will also set up temporary learning spaces for children whose schools were damaged or destroyed. 

Mozambique highly vulnerable  

Mozambique is currently in its rainy season, and the UN fears the situation could deteriorate quickly if another tropical depression or cyclone brings additional rains. 

Myrtha Kaulard, UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique – the top UN humanitarian official in the country – said the storm has highlighted the need for investment to mitigate against climate change. 

“This is the first climatic event of this rainy and cyclonic season, but the vulnerabilities are extremely, extremely high because we have this yearly cycle of extremely heavy destructive rains and cyclones. People simply do not have time to recover,” she told UN News

Mozambique ranks 9 out of 191 countries globally due to its high vulnerability to hazards, exposure to risks, and lack of coping capacity, UNICEF said, citing the disaster risk assessment tool, INFORM. 

Invest in climate mitigation 

From 2016 to 2021, the country has faced two severe droughts and eight tropical storms, including two major cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, that hit the country in 2019 within a six week-period and affected more than two million people.  

Ms. Kaulard said the UN is in “very close contact” with national authorities and has teams in all the affected provinces that are providing humanitarian assistance.  

“The authorities are really extremely well organized and present and alerting populations and assessing needs, providing immediate assistance,” she added.  “But this country, Mozambique, is really exposed so, so much to climate havocs that we absolutely need to do much, much, more for disaster risk reduction.”

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Madagascar: Deadly tropical storms cause flooding, landslides

INTERNATIONAL, 25 January 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Two separate tropical weather systems in Madagascar have left at least 34 dead and triggered flooding and landslides, particularly in the capital, Antananarivo, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Tuesday.

Over the last week intense rainfall has pummelled the African island country in the Indian Ocean, sparking multiple crises across the country’s central Analamanga Region.

“The Government, municipal authorities in Antananarivo and humanitarians are mobilizing assistance to people impacted by flooding in the capital”, OCHA tweeted, saying that “providing access to water, food and other vital items in displacement sites is the top priority”.

The rains were initially driven by an Intertropical Convergence Zone, around the equator, around 17 January and increased when a Tropical Depression, or cyclone, made landfall in the east of the country some three days later, exiting the other side of the island the following day.

Houses collapsed

Twenty-four lives were lost over the weekend, mostly in the capital where traditional houses collapsed, and others were swept away by landslides.

According to authorities, over 62,000 people have been affected in seven regions, including more than 58,000 in the Analamanga Region and its surrounding metropolitan area.

Meanwhile over 6,800 houses are under water and many others are at risk of flooding or collapsing.

Over 35,260 people have been forced to take shelter in 62 displacement sites established by the authorities, according to the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management.

Rippling effects

OCHA said that nearly 27,000 people were displaced or evacuated last weekend alone, and that the Government continues to carry out preventive evacuations in Antananarivo, which is on red alert for further flooding.

As river waters are increasing to emergency levels, the red alert has prompted the Ministry of Education to extend the suspension of classes, which was previously announced on 20 January, for 48 hours in Analamanga Region, until at least Friday.

The rains have also damaged roads and other infrastructure in that Region, including the water intake structure of the treatment station in Ambohidratrimosome District.

Some parts of the national road connecting the capital to Ambatondrazaka in the country’s east were also destroyed, impacting transport in and out of Antananarivo.

Looming famine

Meanwhile, one million people in the south are facing severe hunger.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently warned that the situation in southern Madagascar could become the first-ever famine caused by climate change. 

“The world cannot look away. People in Madagascar need our support now, and into the future,” said Issa Sanogo, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, noting the critical need to scale up a humanitarian response as the country is in its lean season, which runs until April. 

Persisting rainfall

Across Madagascar, heavy rainfall is expected to continue and could affect many regions in the days ahead, including Alaotra, Betsiboka, Mangoro, and Sofia, according to Meteo Madagascar and other weather services.

The Tropical Depression that left the country on 23 January has evolved into the Moderate Tropical Storm Ana and is still causing rains in Madagascar.

“Tropical Storm Ana made landfall yesterday in Nampula Province, northern Mozambique, bringing heavy rains and strong winds”, OCHA tweeted, warning that it could “affect thousands of people in the northern and central regions of the country in the coming hours and days”.

Meanwhile, Meteo Madagascar and the Red Cross Piroi Centre are monitoring other tropical weather systems currently in the southwest of the Indian Ocean, which could lead to the formation of tropical storms or even cyclones in the coming days.

A man transports people on a cart on the flooded main road in Ilanivato district, Antananarivo. Madagascar.
© UNICEF/Rindra Ramasomanana
A man transports people on a cart on the flooded main road in Ilanivato district, Antananarivo. Madagascar.
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Bachelet deplores military coup in Burkina Faso

INTERNATIONAL, 25 January 2022, Peace and Security - UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet deeply deplores this week’s military takeover in Burkina Faso, her office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday.

OHCHR has called for a swift return to constitutional order and urged the army to immediately release President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and other high-level officials who were detained in the coup on Monday.

Ms. Bachelet had visited Burkina Faso last November where she stressed the importance of preserving hard-won democratic and human rights gains.

During the visit, OHCHR had observed mounting frustration and impatience with the deteriorating security situation in the country, with increasingly vicious attacks by armed groups and others across the Sahel region, and the Government’s response.

Given the security threats, and the tremendous humanitarian challenges, OHCHR Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva it is more important than ever to ensure rule of law, constitutional order and international rights obligations are respected.

Preserve ‘democratic space’

“It is crucial for democratic space to be effectively protected, to ensure people are able to air their grievances and aspirations, and to participate in meaningful dialogue to work towards addressing the many crises in the country”, she said.

This latest coup in West Africa comes amid a “multifaceted crisis”, according to OHCHR’s Shamdasani – a crisis that ranges from “climate change that affects the ability of herders and pastoralists to carry out their daily work and conflicts erupt as a result of it, to violent extremist groups attacks on local populations, as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation”.

OHCHR estimates that three million people are food insecure in the country.

Those factors “generate a lot of frustration” among the population, Ms. Shamdasani said, adding that the High Commissioner believes that “the way to manage this frustration and to find a way out of this conflict, through dialogue, through the meaningful participation of people from all sectors of the society.”

Guterres urges generals to back democratic institutions

Reiterating his concern voiced on Monday over the coup, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters outside the Security Council on Tuesday that the role of the military “must be to defend their countries and their peoples, not to attack their governments and to fight for power.”

“We have, unfortunately in the region, terrorist groups, we have threats to international peace and security”, he said. “My appeal is for the armies of these countries to assume their professional role of armies, to protect their countries and re-establish democratic institutions.”

Asked about the apparent high level of popular support witnessed on the streets of the capital Ouagadougou. Mr. Guterres noted that public celebration was common:

“It's easy to orchestrate them”, he said, “but the values of democracy do not depend on the public opinion at one moment or another. Democratic societies are a value that must be preserved. Military coups are unacceptable in the 21st century.”

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UN mission calls for probe into deadly attack in South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 25 January 2022, Peace and Security - Authorities in South Sudan must investigate a report of deadly intercommunal violence in Jonglei State earlier this week, the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, said on Tuesday. 

The attack reportedly occurred on Sunday when armed youth from the Murle community carried out cattle raids in two villages in Baidit, UNMISS said, citing various independent sources, including the independent Human Rights Commission. 

Some 32 people from the Dinka Bor community were killed, according to preliminary information. 

Children drown while escaping 

The victims included three women who were killed by gunshots, and three children who reportedly drowned in the river while fleeing. At least 26 other people were wounded, and at least five houses were burned and other property looted. 

People also reportedly fled to nearby bush areas, some of whom are currently unaccounted for. 

UNMISS issued a statement saying it strongly condemns any attack on civilians and urges groups and individuals to take immediate action to avoid further escalations that will endanger vulnerable people. 

Restore calm, promote peace 

“The Mission further calls on authorities to carry out timely investigations and that the perpetrators be held accountable,” it said. 

UNMISS underscored its commitment to support the people and authorities in South Sudan, though noting that protection of civilians is the primary responsibility of the Government. 

“All efforts must be made to restore calm, refrain from engaging in further violence and to promote peace and reconciliation”, the statement said. 

“Any surge in subnational violence will have a devastating effect on communities that have already been impacted by flooding, the COVID-19 pandemic and recurring conflict.” 

UNICEF condemns violence 

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also responded to the attack. 

Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, said she was shocked and deeply saddened to learn children were among the victims. 

"UNICEF deplores such acts and urges that children and civilians are protected from all forms of violence,” she said in a statement issued on Monday. 

Ms. Lasseko added that reports of looting and burning of civilian properties, as well as disruption of humanitarian services, were “alarming”. 

"Children are paying the heaviest price of the continued Sub-National violence in South Sudan,” she said. 

UNICEF has urged all groups and individuals to respect that all children and their families are kept out of harm’s way and able to survive and thrive." 

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Guterres calls on Burkina Faso coup leaders to ‘lay down their arms’

INTERNATIONAL, 24 January 2022, Peace and Security - Following Sunday’s coup in Burkina Faso carried out by sections of the armed forces, the United Nations’ Secretary-General is following the developments in the landlocked West African nation with deep concern.

In a statement released by his Spokesperson, António Guterres says he is particularly worried about the whereabouts and safety of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who hasn’t been seen since the crisis began early on Sunday, as well as the worsening security situation that has rocked the capital Ouagadougou. 

The Secretary-General strongly condemns any attempt to take over a government by the force of arms”, the statement reads. 

According to news agencies, the military announced on Monday it had seized power and overthrown the President.

The announcement was made on state television by an army officer, who cited the deteriorating security situation for the military takeover.

According to news reports, civilians and military elements have voiced growing criticism for months over the Government’s inability to tackle a growing Islamist insurgency that has destabilized much of the country.

Restraint and dialogue

Calling on all actors to exercise restraint and opt for dialogue, Mr. Guterres asked the coup leaders to lay down their arms and to ensure the protection of the President “and of the institutions of Burkina Faso”.

Reiterating the UN’s full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the Organization’s support to the people of Burkina Faso in their efforts to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country.

Just last year, in May, a military coup was staged in Mali, and a wave of other coup attempts, and takeovers have occurred across West Africa and the Sahel, including the seizure of power in Chad, Sudan and Guinea. 

Earlier in the month, the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel told the Security Council this resurgence “is often the consequence of political practices that are completely out of step with the aspirations of the populations.”

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UN chief calls for Olympic Truce to build ‘culture of peace’ through sport

INTERNATIONAL, 24 January 2022, Peace and Security - Secretary-General António Guterres is urging the world to “build a culture of peace” through the power of sport, calling for nations to observe the Olympic Truce, endorsed last week through a resolution of the UN General Assembly.  

Amidst spreading conflict and rising tensions, he reminded that the appeal calls on all parties to observe a ceasefire throughout the course of the upcoming winter games.

‘A date with history’

In the spirit of “mutual understanding, hard work and fair play”, the top UN official noted that athletes competing from around the world “have a date with history”.

“In a few days, our human family will come together in Beijing for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games”, the UN chief said in his message encouraging everyone to strive for the Olympic ideal.

“This spirit inspires us all”, he said.

Beyond sports

Mr. Guterres said that the Olympic Truce represents “a chance to overcome differences and find paths towards lasting peace”.

As the world strives to end the COVID-19 pandemic, he urged everyone to “unite for a safer, more prosperous and sustainable future for all”.

During a recent press conference, he lauded the game Games as being “an extremely important manifestation in today's world of the possibility of unity”, mutual respect, and cooperation between different cultures, religions and ethnicities.

The United Nations and the Olympic flags raised at UN Headquarters. (file)

“I think the Olympic ideal is something that we have to cherish, and that is the reason why I am going…and it has nothing to do with my opinions about the different policies that take place in the People's Republic of China”, said the UN chief.

Above political dispute

The Olympic Truce has a 3,000-year-old history, dating from when the Ancient Greeks established the sacred truce of Ekecheiria to allow the participation in the Olympic Games of all athletes and spectators from the Greek city states, which were otherwise almost constantly engaged in conflict with one other.

General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid appealed to all Member States to demonstrate their commitment to the Olympic Truce and to undertake “concrete actions at the local, national, regional and world levels to promote and strengthen a culture of peace and harmony”.

I also call upon all warring parties of current armed conflicts around the world to boldly agree to true mutual ceasefires for the duration of the Olympic Truce, thus providing an opportunity to settle disputes peacefully”, he added.

Remaining neutral

UN resolution 76/13, entitled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”, was co-sponsored by 173 UN Member States and adopted by consensus.

It called for the observance of a truce during the 2022 Beijing games, beginning seven days before the start of the Olympic games, on 4 February, until seven days after the end of the Paralympics.

It also encouraged all Member States to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in using sport as “a tool to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”.

IOC President Thomas Bach described the resolution as “a great recognition” of the Games’ mission “to unite the best athletes of the world in peaceful competition and standing above any political dispute”.

“This is only possible if the Olympic Games are politically neutral and do not become a tool to achieve political goals”, he spelled out. 

Athlete prepares for the Winter Olympics
IOC/Thomas Lovelock
Athlete prepares for the Winter Olympics
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Senior humanitarian describes ‘horror scenes’ in Syria camps

INTERNATIONAL, 24 January 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Well below zero temperatures hitting Syria this week have turned camps for internally displaced people into disaster zones, the UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator warned on Monday. 

Speaking by videoconference to journalists in New York, Mark Cutts said humanitarians had seen “some real horror scenes” in the last few days, especially in the northwest, where he said the camps were “bad at the best of times”.

Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under collapsed tents”, he added.

Mr. Cutts described a scenario where many people do not have shovels or other equipment to clear the snow, so they have been doing it with their bare hands, while children walk in the snow wearing just sandals.

“It's really particularly difficult for the elderly people and people with disabilities, who are living in these torn and ripped and flimsy tents in thesesub-zero temperatures”, the coordinator said. 

Vulnerable populations

According to him, about 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow and about 150,000 have been battling the rain and freezing temperatures.

“That’s a quarter of a million people who are really suffering now the effects of this cold spell that is going across the entire region”, Mr. Cutts said. 

The area is home to 2.8 million displaced people, who are amongst some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. 

“These are people who been through a lot in the last few years. They have fled from one place to another, the bombs have followed them, and many of the hospitals and schoolsin the northwest have been destroyed during the ten years of war”, he said. 

In the last few days, humanitarian workers have been doing their best to clear the roads, deploy mobile clinics, repair or replace damaged tents and provide urgently needed items, such as food, blankets and winter clothing. 

Mr. Cutts concluded issuing an appeal to the international community, asking it to recognize the scale of the crisis and to quickly get the displaced out of tentsand into safer and more dignified temporary shelter. 

Escalation in fighting over prison break attempt

Following an attack on Sina’a prison in the Syrian city of Al-Hasakeh, last week, hostilities have escalated quickly in the region, with gunfire and explosions causing civilian casualties and pushing about 45,000 people out of their homes.

In a statement release on Monday, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, MuhannadHadi, expressed deep concern about the safety of civilians.

The attack was reportedly launched by ISIL extremist fighters who are trying to free more than 3,000 detainees affiliated with the terrorist group. They are being held by US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Most of the displaced have sought safety with family and friends in nearby areas. About 500 people are being hosted at two temporary shelters.

Humanitarian organizations are scaling their responses, but the two UN officials noted that “unhindered humanitarian access by all concerned parties is paramount to ensure emergency assistance reaches affected people.”

Mr. Riza and Mr. Hadi also reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligations, including avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Human rights

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council initiated its Universal Periodic Review of Syria.

Speaking to the Council, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bashar Ja’afari, said that, even though the country had experienced war, occupation, sanctions and COVID-19, it had managed to reform its human rights bureaucracy and judiciary and continued to subsidize health and social services.

Member States commended these efforts, highlighting a conference on women and peace that took place last year, and the participation in the review process. 

States recommended that the country ends enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture, publish official lists of people held or who have died in detention centers, and preserve mass graves.

They are also calling on Syria to amend legislation that identifies the political opposition as terrorists, rehabilitate child soldiers, strengthen protection of asylum seekers and refugees. 

The review also calls for the abolition of laws limiting ownership of property, strengthened access to drinking water and clean sanitation, abolition of the death penalty and allowing unhindered access to humanitarian aid.

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