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UN launches COVID-19 plan that could ‘defeat the virus and build a better world’

INTERNATIONAL, 31 March 2020, Health - The UN chief launched on Tuesday a new plan to counter the potentially devasting socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on everyone to “act together to lessen the blow to people”.

“The new coronavirus disease is attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people’s livelihoods”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, pointing out that the potential longer-term effects on the global economy and individual countries are “dire”.

The new report, Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic describes the speed and scale of the outbreak, the severity of cases, and the societal and economic disruption of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” underscored the UN chief. 
“This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”

As strong as weakest health system

Mr. Guterres called for “an immediate coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic” that “scales up health capacity for testing, tracing, quarantine and treatment, while keeping first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact.” 

He underscored that developed countries must assist those less developed, or potentially “face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed”.

“Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world”, he stressed. 

Focus on most vulnerable

In tackling the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis, the UN chief pushed for a focus on the most vulnerable by designing policies that, among other things, support providing health and unemployment insurance and social protections while also bolstering businesses to prevent bankruptcies and job losses. 

Debt alleviation must also be a priority he said, noting that the UN is “fully mobilized” and is establishing a new multi-partner Trust Fund for COVID19 Response and Recovery to respond to the emergency and recover from the socio-economic shock. 

“When we get past this crisis, which we will, we will face a choice”, said the UN chief, “we can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises”. 

Referencing the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he maintained that in recover from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to an economy focused on building inclusive and sustainable economies that are more resilient in facing pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges. 

“What the world needs now is solidarity,” stressed the Secretary-General. “With solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world”.

Measures to cope with coronavirus impacts

•    Global actions must include a stimulus package reaching double-digit percentage points of the world’s GDP, with explicit actions to boost the economies of developing countries. 

•    Regional mobilization must examine impacts, monetary coordination, fiscal and social measures, while engaging with private financial sector to support businesses and addressing structural challenges.

•    National solidarity needs to prioritize social cohesion and provide fiscal stimulus for the most vulnerable along with support to small- and medium-sized enterprises, decent work and education.

Grim 2020 socio-economic estimates 

The report includes estimates from a host of UN agencies.

According to the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), five to 25 million jobs will be eradicated, and the United States will lose $860 billion to $3.4 trillion in labor income.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) projected a 30 to 40 per cent downward pressure on global foreign direct investment flows while the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) saw a 20–30 per cent decline in international arrivals. 

Meanwhile, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) anticipated that 3.6 billion people will be offline and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) forecast that 1.5 billion students out of school.

The report calls for a large-scale, coordinated, comprehensive multilateral response that amounts to at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and warns that there is no time to lose in mounting the most robust, cooperative health response the world has ever seen.

In closing, Mr. Guterres called the pandemic “a defining moment for modern society”, saying the “history will judge the efficacy of the response not by the actions of any single set of government actors taken in isolation, but by the degree to which the response is coordinated globally across all sectors for the benefit of our human family”.

“With the right actions, the COVID-19 pandemic can mark the beginning of a new type of global and societal cooperation”, concluded the Secretary-General.

©UNICEF/JC McIlwaine
A playground at an elementary school in Ridgefield, in the US state of Connecticut, sits empty following temporary school closures.

Coronavirus poses latest threat to battered health system in DR Congo

INTERNATIONAL, 31 March 2020, Health - The looming threat of the new coronavirus disease COVID-19 is just the latest challenge to the beleaguered health care system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is struggling with deadly measles and cholera epidemics that have killed thousands of children over the past year, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

As the DRC has also been battling an Ebola outbreak in the volatile eastern region, UNICEF fears mounting cases of COVID-19 will further strain the public health system in a country that is among the most at risk in Africa.

Coronavirus will most likely divert the available national health capacity and resources, and leave millions of children affected by measles, malaria, polio and many other killer diseases,” said UNICEF Representative Edouard Beigbeder, speaking from the capital, Kinshasa.

While the DRC has so far recorded nearly 100 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, the measles epidemic has generated 332,000 cases and killed over 5,300 children since early 2019, making it the worst in the world. At the same time, 31,000 cases of cholera were reported during this period.

As the DR Congo works to contain Ebola, COVID-19 could strain an already battered health system that is struggling to protect children from measles and cholera.

To save lives, we urgently need more funds. 

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Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at risk from killer measles, cholera epidemics

And although the Ebola outbreak garnered international attention and has been contained, UNICEF said it had “unfortunate side-effects” as resources to fight childhood killers like measles, cholera and malaria, instead went towards stemming the disease.

Health system ‘on life support’

Strengthening the battered healthcare system in the DRC is vital to protect young lives, a new UNICEF report titled ‘On Life Support’ argues.

Medical services there are ill-equipped and underfunded, trained staff are in short supply, and around half of all facilities lack safe water and sanitation.

UNICEF estimates more than nine million children across the country require humanitarian assistance, including health care.

Most live in the three eastern provinces affected by the Ebola outbreak, where many doctors and nurses chose to take better-paying jobs in Ebola response.

Ongoing militia violence in these areas – including attacks against health centres –forced nearly one million people to flee their homes in 2019, thus making it harder for families to access health facilities.

“Unless health facilities have the means to deliver immunization, nutrition and other essential services, including in remote areas of the country, we risk seeing the lives and futures of many Congolese children scarred or destroyed by preventable diseases”, Mr Beigbeder warned.

Increase support for public health

UNICEF is calling on the Congolese Government to allocate more public funding for basic health care services that support pregnant women, newborns and young children, and to prioritise the strengthening of routine immunization.

Currently, less than six per cent of the annual budget goes towards healthcare, which must change, according to Xavier Crespin, the agency’s Chief of Health in the country.

“Instead of expending huge efforts and resources on an ad hoc response to individual health emergencies, those same resources should be directed towards strengthening the national health system,” he said.

“That means a big investment in routine immunization, in adequate staffing and salaries, and in equipment that is currently in extremely short supply, especially outside urban areas.”

UNICEF is also urging donors to support national efforts to improve routine health care services in order to better protect children against communicable diseases.


FROM THE FIELD: Humanitarians on the frontline in COVID-19 fight

INTERNATIONAL, 31 March 2020, Health - Humanitarian workers in developing countries are on the front lines and taking “urgent action” in the fight against the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, COVID-19, according to the United Nations.
Children at a primary school in Jordan take part in a handwashing demonstration., by ©UNICEF/Jordi Matas

The UN’s humanitarian office, OCHA, says health systems of the world’s poorest nations are expected to be put under enormous pressure if the virus takes hold. Most countries have now reported at least one case.

OCHA says many of the world’s most vulnerable people do not have access to clean water and soap to wash their hands, one of the most effective ways to ensure against infection.

Last week the UN launched a US$2 billion humanitarian response plan to beat back COVID-19.

Read more here about how the global humanitarian community is helping to keep people healthy and safe.


First Person: Humankind’s ‘modern mentality to tame’ the environment: A volcanologist’s view

INTERNATIONAL, 31 March 2020, SDGs - The 17 goals agreed by the global community to reduce poverty and create a sustainable planet are the responsibility of all people, wherever they are in the world, according to the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs represent a boundary-pushing blueprint for the future of the Earth and it’s anticipated they will be realized by 2030. UN News joined the International Labour Organization on a visit to Hawaii where many people are already living or studying aspects of the goals in their everyday work.

Ken Rubin is a professor of volcanology and geochemistry specializing in volcanoes and sea level change. Based in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hawaii, he travels the world to observe active and dormant volcanoes, both on the land and beneath the sea.

“In my work, I look at specifically at how volcanic eruptions impact populations. It doesn't have to be human populations; it could be marine communities that live in and around the submarine volcanoes. 

When I'm studying volcanoes on land, I focus mostly on understanding how frequently events happen and what hazards people face. Up until maybe a thousand years ago, humans were much more tuned into their environment and tended to stay away from the most dangerous places like volcanic areas, but it's our modern mentality that we can tame anything. So, we encroach much more closely on very dangerous environments.

This whole area that we're standing in was inundated in the 1940s by a tsunami created by a big earthquake in Alaska. It's part of the reason why this coastline is now protected and there are no buildings. A tsunami event like that only happens every several decades; the last one was in 1964 and we haven't had a big one since.  

Treating the water like a trash can

Living and working on an island, you understand quickly that there's a lot of reliance on the nearshore environment as a resource for marine life and the protection of the coastlines. A healthy coral ecosystem, for example, helps to protect coastlines from events like tsunamis. 

There's a legacy of people treating everything below the waterline with less direct regard than what is above water; for instance, the dumping of all types of trash. I do a fair amount of work in the submarine environment in manned submersibles and there are places around Hawaii that we can't go because of thousands of unexploded bombs and strings of bullets. 

The damaging effects of human activity

@kenhrubin is a volcanologist at Hawaii's @UH_EarthScience. He spoke to @UN News about the impact of on volcanic activity. Full story here:  CC: @ilo4USA
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The way I like to think about climate change is to recognize that the planet has been changing ever since it formed and that the climate fluctuates over different time scales. So, there's a long-term time scale, which has to do with the what we call the rock cycle, the forming of materials on the land and their subsequent breakdown which affects the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. So, over the course of Earth history, CO2 levels have naturally been slowly going down. 

Then we have factors like how the Earth orbits the sun which affects the cycles of ice ages and warm periods such as the warm period that we're in now. 

And there's of course the shorter-term damaging human-produced or anthropogenic effects resulting from human activity which picked up pace following the industrial revolution.

Volcanic eruptions and global cooling

There's always been a certain amount of volcanism. It waxes and wanes and affects climate in both positive and negative ways in terms of temperatures. Volcanoes can inject aerosols into the upper atmosphere which reflect light and can cause planetary cooling, rather than warming. But, it's really only the very big eruptions, the sort which occur once or twice a century, that have any kind of measurable impact on climate.

Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991 and caused a couple years of cooling afterwards which gave a lot of fuel to the anthropogenic climate naysayer types because they said, “look it's getting cool.” In Hawaii, our eruptions aren't so violent and don’t cause the same effect. But when volcanoes erupt in a big way, they affect climate in one place or another for a brief period of time.

What volcano eruptions mean collectively is the outgassing of the interior of the Earth which brings a lot of CO2 and water to the surface; those are the two things that modulate our atmosphere and temperature patterns. If we didn't have water vapour and CO2 in our atmosphere, if we didn't have the greenhouse effect, we wouldn't be able to live here. That atmosphere is provided by volcanism.

Climate change and increased volcanic activity

I'm looking specifically at the period after the last ice age, when we had a 140-metre sea level rise over about ten thousand years. It was the last period in our history where we had sea-level change of the magnitude we predict for the next several hundred years.

Climate change can also have an impact on volcanic activity, although we have to look at this from a geologists’ timeframe. In Iceland after the ice age, when the glaciers started to retreat, the amount of volcanism increased dramatically, but it didn't happen right away. It took several thousand years.

So, I wouldn't want to go out on a limb and say there's going to be more volcanism in a hundred or a thousand years as the full effects of anthropogenic climate change are felt, but that's what we would predict based on our observations from the past.

I would say that in all the myriad ways that anthropogenic climate change is going to affect us, volcanism is pretty far down the list of things we need to worry about. But it is one of the reasons why we like to study volcanic cycles.”


‘Immediate nationwide ceasefire’ needed for all-out effort to counter COVID-19 in Syria

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Peace and Security - Syria is at “high risk” of being unable to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Special Envoy for the country said on Monday, reiterating calls for a “complete, immediate nationwide ceasefire” to enable an all-out-effort to counter the march of the new coronavirus.

“We need the kind of sustained period of calm that a nationwide ceasefire would ensure because we need cooperation to take place across the front-lines that riddle Syria’s territory – and this is needed not tomorrow, but now”, Geir Pedersen said in a videoconference with Security Council members.

Years of conflict have degraded or destroyed the healthcare system, the UN envoy pointed out, stressing that that the virus does not care if you live in government-controlled areas or outside; “it endangers all Syrians”. 

Given large scale population movements, dangerously cramped conditions in multiple camps for the internally displaced, informal settlements, and places of detention, he voiced concern that “Syria is at high risk of being unable to contain the pandemic”.

Moreover, weak or absent governance, a hollowed-out health system, and shortages of health professionals, medical equipment and supplies, only add to the crisis. 

Working towards peace

Noting that agreements in the northeast broadly continued to hold, the UN envoy maintained that the current arrangements are far from ideal for the front-line response demanded by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mr. Pedersen expressed his readiness to work with the Syrian Government, the opposition, all relevant players on the ground, and key countries with influence, to support a scaling-up of action in a bid to ensure the ceasefire holds.

“It will not be easy, and there are no guarantees”, he said, “but the Syrian people desperately need everyone to focus on their welfare now”. 

He closed with the hope that if key players engage with UN appeals, everyone can “work urgently in a common effort”. 

“This, in turn, would definitely help in the effort on the political track to implement Security Council resolution 2254”, which calls for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria”.

“I am convinced this is the only way forward”, he concluded.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told Security Council members that as of Monday morning, ten cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Syria, including one death. 

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock -...

English News and Press Release on Syrian Arab Republic about Education, Food and Nutrition, Children, IDPs, Epidemic and more; published on 30 Mar 2020 by OCHA

“Judging from other places”, he said, this is the tip of the iceberg, with the virus having the potential to have a devastating impact on vulnerable communities across the country”.

He added that humanitarian needs remain “enormous”, with UN data showing clear evidence of deteriorating conditions since December. 

“We are for example seeing increased rates of stunting – a consequence of child malnutrition, from which it is rarely possible fully to recover”, said Mr. Lowcock, citing that almost three-out-of-ten displaced children in northwest Syria under the age of five are suffering in this fashion.

“They will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives”.

Grim anniversary

This month the conflict entered its tenth year. And, the UN relief chief pointed out that over the past nine years, half the population has been forced to flee their homes, more than 11 million people inside Syria require humanitarian assistance, including nearly five million children.

Nearly eight million lack reliable access to food; and people throughout the country are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. 

“An economic crisis, mostly a result of the war but in part also a consequence of developments elsewhere in the region, have led to price hikes…forcing people to resort to ever-more negative coping mechanisms”, he informed, adding that measures to stem COVID-19 will also affect the economic situation. 

“The UN-supported humanitarian response operation continues to respond to needs throughout the country”, updated Mr. Lowcock, enumerating that six million people each month were assisted last year, including 4.5 million with food aid; nearly eight million with emergency water, sanitation and hygiene; education assistance went to almost five million students and teachers; as well as roughly 26 million medical procedures.

Meanwhie, Karen Abuzayd, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, recorded the video below on the effects of COVID-19 in Syria.


Coronavirus necessitates global increase in protective equipment, medical supplies: UN health chief

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Health - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for stepped-up production of medical equipment and supplies as health facilities and health workers in many countries struggle with increasing and urgent demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in Geneva on Monday that he had spoken to trade ministers from the world’s leading economic forum, the G-20, about ways to address the chronic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential medical supplies.

"In the eye of a storm like , scientific and public health tools are essential, but so are humility and kindness.

With solidarity, humility and assuming the best of each other, we can – and will – overcome this together"-@DrTedros

The full briefing on by @DrTedros
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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 30 March 2020

“We call on countries to work with companies to increase production; to ensure the free movement of essential health products; and to ensure equitable distribution of those products, based on need”, Tedros said, placing specific emphasis on low and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The UN health agency also is “working intensively” with several partners to massively increase access to diagnostics, PPE, medical oxygen, ventilators and other life-saving products, he added.

Health care: A balancing act

Cases of the new coronavirus disease continue to mount globally, reaching nearly 700,000 on Monday, and more than 33,000 deaths.

The rapidly increasing demands of the pandemic are threatening health systems, Tedros said, because “even though we’re in the midst of a crisis, essential health services must continue”.

WHO has published guidelines to help countries balance the demands of pandemic response while maintaining essential health services which include routine vaccination, pre-natal care, and treating infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Tedros also welcomed the news that 20,000 healthcare workers in the United Kingdom have offered to return to work, while medical students and trainees in Russia are taking part in the emergency response there.

Countries coping with the COVID-19 surge can also consult a new WHO manual on setting up and managing treatment centres, including in repurposed buildings or tents.

“This is a life-saving instruction manual to deal with the surge of cases that some countries are facing right now”, the agency’s chief said.

“These facilities will also have longer-term benefits for health systems once the current crisis is over”.

Pandemic exposes inequalities

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the world’s inequalities and threatening to deepen them, the International Labour Organization (ILO), warned on Monday.

The UN agency finds that migrant workers and people working in the informal economy are particularly affected by the economic consequences of the disease, and women are especially exposed.

Two billion people worldwide work in in informal employment, while ILO also stressed that the policy response by government should ensure that support reaches low-wage workers, the self-employed and other vulnerable people.

An appeal for children in conflict

The UN expert on the plight of children caught in conflict has joined the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic.

Virginia Gamba said COVID-19 is compounding the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, especially those living in conflict zones.

“As borders are closing down and hostilities continue relentlessly, it is important to stand with those who are counting on us and to amplify our call for the protection of children affected by conflict; only together can we defeat this invisible threat”, she said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last Monday called on combatants everywhere to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world”.v


$2.5 trillion COVID-19 rescue package needed for world’s emerging economies

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Economic Development - The economic fallout from COVID-19 is likely to get “much worse” before it gets better for some six billion people living in developing economies, the UN said on Monday, in an appeal for a $2.5 trillion rescue package to boost their resilience to further hardship. 

According to new analysis from UNCTAD, the UN trade and development body, commodity-rich exporting countries will face a $2 trillion to $3 trillion drop in investment from overseas in the next two years. 

UNCTAD urgently calls for a $2.5 trillion aid package to help developing countries avoid worst-case scenarios and impacts.
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An economic downturn in these emerging economies was already evident in the last quarter of 2019 – before the new coronavirus outbreak emerged in central China last December - said Richard Kozul-Wright, UNCTAD director of globalization and development strategies. 

Crisis yet to come 

“The health crisis is still to come in many developing countries,” he told UN News. “Now, if that crisis comes as these countries have been significantly weakened by the economic shockwaves from the crisis. And that is a…very vicious combination of an economic crisis and a health crisis. So we’ve got to find ways of strengthening the healthcare system and services in developing countries and building up resilience on that front very quickly.” 

Rich industrial nations have already announced a $5 trillion global rescue package plan to provide an economic safety net to their businesses and workers. 

This unprecedented measure should reduce the extent of their shock - “physically, economically and psychologically” - said Mr. Kozul-Wright. 

It is also expected to create $1 trillion to $2 trillion of demand among the major G20 economies, boosting global manufacturing by two per cent, he writes in his latest report.  

Recession looms 

“Even so, the world economy will go into recession this year with a predicted loss of global income in the trillions of dollars - this will spell serious trouble for developing countries, with the likely exception of China and the possible exception of India”, Mr. Kozul-Wright warned.  

UNCTAD believes that part of the problem for many developing countries is that informal workers form the backbone of their emerging economies, which amplifies their difficulties in responding to the crisis. 

Four-point recovery plan 

Faced with a “a looming financial tsunami” this year, UNCTAD’s four-pronged strategy initially calls for a $1 trillion investment injection for weaker economies. 

This would come from so-called “special drawing rights” governed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which would need to “go considerably beyond” the 2009 allocation made in response to the global financial crisis, the agency’s report explains. 

The second measure is a debt freeze for distressed economies, involving an immediate standstill on sovereign debt payments, followed by significant debt relief.  

By way of example, UNCTAD cites how half of Germany’s debt after World War Two, was cancelled.  

Based on this precedent, around $1 trillion in debt should be cancelled this year, overseen by an independently created body, the UN agency maintains. 

The third measure targets $500 billion investment in poorer countries’ emergency health services and related social relief programmes. 

Finally, UNCTAD urges the implementation of State-led capital controls to curtail already surging capital outflows from these developing countries. 

This would help to reduce a cash shortage driven by sell-offs in developing country markets and to arrest declines in currency values and asset prices. 

UNCTAD package equals unpaid investment pledges 

The proposed package is similar in size to the amount that would have been delivered to developing countries over the last decade if countries in the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had met their 0.7 per cent Official Development Assistance target. 

“Advanced economies have promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop their firms and households from taking a heavy loss of income,” said Mr. Kozul-Wright. “But if G20 leaders are to stick to their commitment of ‘a global response in the spirit of solidarity,’ there must be commensurate action for the six billion people living outside the core G20 economies.” 


Release inmates in Yemen to avert nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, experts urge

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Health - An international panel of human rights experts called today for the immediate release of political prisoners and detainees in war-ravaged Yemen to help avert a nationwide outbreak of COVID-19.

Despite calls from the UN Secretary-General and others for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, fighting has continued between pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels in recent days.

In a statement, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said prisoners and detainees in Yemen are particularly vulnerable – and at high risk of death - if the novel coronavirus emerges in overcrowded prisons and other detention facilities.

Conditions in such places are “appalling,” it said, adding that the health system in Yemen is on the brink of collapse and that prisoners must cope with a lack of adequate food and minimum standards of hygiene that contravene standards set by international law.

 Immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities -- UN experts

“The Group of Experts urges all parties to the conflict in Yemen to immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities, official and secret alike, in order to prevent and mitigate the risks of COVID-19 contagion in the whole of Yemen, in line with their obligations under international law,” the panel said.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen is chaired by Kamel Jendoubi of Tunisia and also includes Melissa Parke of Australia and Ardi Imseis of Canada.

Global ceasefire call

UN chief António Guterres called last week for a cessation of hostilities in all corners of the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – an appeal echoed over the weekend by Pope Francis.

Fighting continues in Yemen, however, with the Saudi-led coalition reportedly carrying out air strikes in Sanaa on Monday, two days after Saudi Arabia said it intercepted two missiles allegedly fired by Houthi militia towards the capital Riyadh and the southern city of Jizan.

Yemen has seen a series of fits and starts in efforts to ends its bloody civil conflict, which began in 2015 and has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises.  Earlier this month, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, warned the Security Council that a fresh escalation in violence once again threatens the quest for a political resolution.


UN helps Pacific prepare for COVID-19 pandemic, warns that children are ‘hidden victims’

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Health - United Nations agencies are working together to provide vital support to Pacific Island countries as they rally to combat COVID-19 outbreaks across the region. 
Since the outbreak of , UNICEF has been supporting Pacific Island governments to help communities prepare and respond to the threat faced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: 

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been busy providing vital supplies to Pacific Island governments, including more than 170,000 essential medical and laboratory items. 

“UNICEF will continue working with governments and our partners throughout the Pacific to stop transmission of the virus, and to keep children and their families safe”, said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett.

Assistance has been delivered according to their current needs, along with communication materials to inform the public about the symptoms of COVID-19, how to treat someone feeling unwell and preventative actions to stem the spread of the virus.

Led by WHO and partners, UNICEF is supporting the COVID-19 Joint Incident Management Team response in the Pacific, along with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Japan and Global Partnership for Education.

‘Hidden victims’

Pointing out that in just a few months, COVID-19 has “upended the lives of children around the Pacific” along with most other regions of the world, Mr. Yett stressed that they are the “hidden victims of this pandemic”.

The UNICEF envoy painted a grim picture of closed borders, parents and caregivers losing their jobs and “thousands of children” out of school.

To mitigate the consequences, the gency is supporting all countries in the region by adapting the UN?? Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools for Pacific Island countries, to keep schools safe and help children continue their learning when schools are closed.

On the ground support

UNICEF is also providing medical items across the Pacific, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, swabs, thermometers, testing kits, gloves and medical gowns. 

In addition to providing medical and laboratory supplies to support governments in responding to virus outbreaks, UNICEF continues to reach out to communities to share crucial information on keeping children safe and on preventing the spread of COVID-19, such as washing hands, coughing into elbows and not touching faces, especially eyes, mouth and nose.

UNICEF action at the country level

  • Fiji: Provided tents to be used as fever clinics to treat patients.
  • Micronesia: Implemented community hand washing campaign and is working with partners to build 100 handwashing stations as part of a hygiene promotion campaign.
  • Solomon Islands: Distributed Water, Sanitation and Health dignity kits and developing training for Social Welfare officers on managing stress and self-care during the pandemic.
  • Vanuatu: Provided tents to treat patients and traiing, for community awareness outreach.
  • Kiribati: Developed SMS platform for COVID-19 text messaging, installed handwashing facilities at two hospitals and launched a community campaign on proper hand washing.

COVID-19 stoking xenophobia, hate and exclusion, minority rights expert warns

INTERNATIONAL, 30 March 2020, Human Rights - Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic must also include stamping out what one independent human rights expert has called the “darker sides” of the disease: verbal and physical attacks against Chinese and other minority communities, and excluding them from access to healthcare.

COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in a statement issued on Monday.

He reported that politicians and groups are exploiting fears surrounding the disease to scapegoat certain communities, leading to a rise in violence against them.

fears should not be exploited to attack & exclude minorities – @fernanddev says scapegoating minorities is leading to an alarming rise in verbal & physical abuses against Chinese & other .

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This has included physical attacks against Chinese and other Asians, hate speech blaming Roma and Hispanics for the spread of the virus, and calls by some political leaders for migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Safeguard human rights

Mr. de Varennes said countries need to show that the human rights of all people must be protected, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary”, he stressed.

More than 200 countries have reported cases of the new coronavirus disease, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.

There were 638,146 cases globally as of Sunday, and more than 30,000 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others”, said Mr. de Varennes.

He urged people everywhere to resist the rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities by using the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus on social media.

Protect people in prisons, detention centres

Meanwhile, authorities are being urged to consider measures to mitigate COVID-19 risk in places such as prisons, immigration detention facilities, closed refugee camps and psychiatric institutions.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture issued the advice on Monday, in a call to protect people deprived of their liberty during the pandemic.

“Governments have to take precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and to implement emergency measures to ensure detainees have access to appropriate levels of health care and to maintain contact with families and the outside world”, said Sir Malcolm Evans, the Committee Chairperson.

Measures include reducing prison populations by allowing early or temporary release of low-risk offenders, and extending the use of bail for all but the most serious cases.

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