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Breastfeeding link to COVID-19 is negligible, says World Health Organization

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Health - The risk of COVID-19 infection from breastfeeding is negligible and has never been documented, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, in a call for greater support for the practice. 

The appeal, during World Breastfeeding Week, comes as WHO warned that not using mother’s milk is linked to 820,000 child deaths a year, at a cost to the global economy of $300 billion.

“WHO has been very clear in its recommendations to say absolutely breastfeeding should continue,” said Dr. Laurence Grummer-Strawn, head of the World Health Organization’s Food and Nutrition Action in Health Systems unit. “We have never documented, anywhere around the world, any (COVID-19) transmission through breastmilk.” 

No substitute

Exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many benefits for the infant and mother which far outweigh any risk from the new coronavirus pandemic, according to WHO.  

These advantages include the fact that breastmilk – including milk which is expressed - provides lifesaving antibodies that protect babies against many childhood illnesses.  

This is only one of the reasons why new mothers should initiate “skin-to-skin contact” and “room-in” with their babies quickly, as “the risks of transmission of the COVID-19 virus from a COVID-positive mother to her baby seem to be extremely low”, added Dr. Grummer-Strawn. 

Having tested the breastmilk of “many” mothers around the world in a variety of studies, the WHO official explained that although a few samples had contained the virus, “when they followed up to see whether the virus was actually viable and could be infective, they could not find any actual infective virus”. 

Underscoring the WHO’s longstanding support for using mother’s milk over substitutes, Dr. Grummer-Strawn also warned that the pandemic had weakened essential breastfeeding support usually provided to families with newborns. 

COVID ‘undermining essential support’ 

“The interruption of services has been tremendous around the world providing the kind of support mothers normally would get with breastfeeding,” Dr. Grummer-Strawn told journalists.

“Oftentimes, the health services that would provide maternal child health have been diverted to take care of the COVID response; sometimes families do not feel comfortable in going into the health services, because they’re afraid that they might get COVID and so they don’t come for the routine kinds of support.” 

According to the WHO, “about 820,000 children’s lives are lost every year because of a lack of breastfeeding”,  Dr.  Grummer-Strawn continued, in reference to deaths among under-fives. “Economically, there are losses of about $300 billion a year in economic productivity, lost because of a lack of breastfeeding,” he added.   

Numerous good things come from breastfeeding – for the child and their mother in developing and industrialized countries – WHO has long maintained. 

It has insisted that “it is not safer to give infant formula milk”, together with UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). 

Benefits for baby and mother 

The three organizations have united in their call to Governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling, for World Breastfeeding Week 2020 (1-7 August). 

“Breastfeeding provides benefits during the time of breastfeeding, and those that are most recognised are protection against diarrhoea, which is one of the top causes of mortality in low-income countries, protection against respiratory infections, against obesity – childhood obesity later on – as children get older, protection against leukaemia,” said Dr. Grummer-Strawn.  

Breastfeeding also protects the mother against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes later on, the WHO official said, “so there are benefits for both the mother and the baby, and when we added these up it comes out to about 820,000 lives around the world, even in high-income countries”. 

In addition to the pandemic, breastfeeding is under pressure from what WHO and UNICEF have described as harmful promotion of breast-milk substitutes. 

Countries could do more to protect parents from misleading information, the UN agencies believe. “We continue to be very concerned about the practices of the formula industries, both the big multinational corporations as well as in many countries there are local manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes that are trying to get mothers to get on to their products,” said Dr. Grummer-Strawn. “They use a number of tricks, sometimes it’s not as blatant advertising as it once was, because they know that they can get caught.” 

According to WHO, of 194 countries analysed, 136 have legal measures related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly (known as the Code).  

Tricks of the trade 

However, only 79 countries prohibit the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health facilities, and only 51 have provisions that prohibit the distribution of free or low-cost supplies within the health care system, WHO said in a report published in May.  

Only 19 countries have prohibited the sponsorship of scientific and health professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula, and growing up milks marketed for use by infants and children up to 36-months old, the UN health agency study found. 

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

“The aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, especially through health professionals that parents trust for nutrition and health advice, is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health worldwide,”  said  Dr.  Francesco  Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety. “Health care systems must act to boost parent’s confidence in breastfeeding without industry influence so that children don’t miss out on its lifesaving benefits.” 

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UN chief outlines ‘bold steps’ for education in the face of COVID-19 disruption

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Culture and Education - The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption to education in history and prolonged school closures could further entrench inequalities in access to learning, the UN Secretary-General said on Tuesday, underlining the need for “bold steps” to address the crisis.

Describing education as “the key to personal development and the future of societies”, António Guterres issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief launched alongside a new global campaign called Save our Future.

“As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education – the great equalizer – more than ever,” he said in a video message.

“We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.”

COVID-19 and the classroom

The UN estimates that the pandemic has affected more than one billion students worldwide.

Despite efforts to continue learning during the crisis, including through delivering lessons by radio, television and online, many are still not being reached.

The UN chief said learners with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind.

Even those students who can access distance learning face challenges, as success depends on their living conditions, and other factors such as fair distribution of domestic duties.

Looming potential catastrophe

A learning crisis existed even before the pandemic, the Secretary-General said, as more than 250 million children were out of school.

Furthermore, only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills.

“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” said Mr. Guterres. “The knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality, among others, are deeply concerning.”

© UNICEF/Daniele Volpe
Children work from home in Guatemala following guidelines received from the Ministry of Education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back to school

The policy brief calls for action in four key areas, starting with the re-opening of schools once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control.

The UN chief also called for greater investment in education, as low- and middle-income countries had already faced an annual funding gap of $1.5 trillion prior to the pandemic.

“Education budgets need to be protected and increased,” he said.

“And it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance.”

Education initiatives must also seek to reach those at greatest risk of being left behind, he continued. They also should be sensitive to the specific challenges faced by girls and boys, and women and men, while also addressing the digital divide.

Quality education for all

For his final recommendation, the UN chief highlighted what he sees as the “generational opportunity” to deliver quality education for all children, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

 

The 17 goals, which world leaders adopted five years ago, provide a pathway to a more sustainable future that benefits both people and the planet.

“To achieve this, we need investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education,” said Mr. Guterres.

“And we need to draw on flexible delivery methods, digital technologies and modernized curricula while ensuring sustained support for teachers and communities.”

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Philippines: UN and partners launch major COVID-19 response plan to aid 5.4 million

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Prioritizing the safety and well-being of women and girls, the UN and partners launched on Tuesday a COVID-19 humanitarian response plan to assist some 5.4 million of the poorest and most marginalized people in the Philippines. 

According to the UN, the Humanitarian Country Team, the COVID-19 Response Plan aims to provide "critical health interventions and multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance" to those in epidemic hotspots and will be the largest response since 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda ravaged the country and claimed  some 7,800 lives.

“The pandemic is challenging the capacity of response of any single country in the world”, said Gustavo Gonzalez, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines.

“Our role is to make best use of our global knowledge and resources to join Government’s efforts to contribute to the safety and well-being of the Filipino people”, he added.

Building resiliency

Some 50 UN and local and international non-Government partners are involved in the programme. And with a price tag of about P6 billion – $122 million – 23 per cent of the response plan has already been mobilized, the UN said.

The plan is being kicked off as the epicenter of Manila and surrounding provinces have returned to lockdown after eased quarantine measures saw a surge in cases. 

Millions remain out of jobs, while the already crippled economy face bleak forecasts, according to news reports.

The response plan to COVID-19 concentrates on supporting the Government in addressing its immediate challenges, including health, food security, water and sanitation.

And while it spans until the end of the year, the plan will be updated according to needs as they arise throughout the deadly pandemic.

The response plan is also a steppingstone to the UN’s mid- and long-term support to COVID-19 recovery, which will be developed in the upcoming UN Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework.

“As we work together to support Government efforts to contain the virus against the demand to restore the economy, the UN and humanitarian partners will continue to seize opportunities to build greater resiliency, equity and inclusivity, in short, to build forward better,” Mr. Gonzalez explained.

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Across Sudan, heavy rains and flash floods destroy houses, wash away crops – UN relief wing

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and vital infrastructure damaged due to riverine and flashfloods after heavy rains across large parts of Sudan, the United Nations relief wing has reported. 

According to an update issued by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Monday, Khartoum, Blue Nile and River Nile states are among the hardest-hit, while damage has also been reported in El Gezira, West Kordofan and South Darfur regions.

More than 1,200 houses are said to have been damaged or destroyed,;and several hundred people rendered homeless.

“According to preliminary information from local authorities, several hectares of crops might have been lost and over 150 livestock washed away, increasing the risk of heightened food insecurity in the months ahead,” noted the update.

In addition, the collapse of the Bout Earth Dam in Blue Nile state, after it exceeded its full capacity, risks compromising access to water for over 84,000 people living in its vicinity.

The heavy rainfall has also increased the risk of disease outbreaks and could pose obstacles to efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, said the update. 

There are fears that the situation could worsen in the days to come, with higher-than-average rainfall forecast throughout August in at least three quarters of the country. 

Humanitarian needs and response 

According to the UN, Government and humanitarian organizations are supporting affected families with life-saving assistance, and the Flood Task Force, led by the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, has been activated at the federal level to coordinate the response. Assessments are ongoing in all affected areas. 

“Currently, partners are using the propositioned supplies and identifying possible gaps, as well the need for replenishing the material deployed for the response,” said the update. 

Logistics are the most critical challenge to meet the immediate needs, especially in Blue Nile state, as roads are impassable and the area can only be reached via helicopter. 

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South Sudan refugee, athlete, Olympian is newest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Migrants and Refugees - A track and field athlete from South Sudan who was forced to flee conflict as a child was on Tuesday named a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Yiech Pur Biel was a member of the first Refugee Olympic Team that competed at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since then, he has travelled to 26 countries as an athlete and advocate for refugees, and has been actively involved efforts to bring peace to his homeland.

“It is a huge honour for me to be able to use my status as an athlete to help refugees and displaced people, to share my own story and those of other refugees like me and make sure that refugees all over the world have a voice,” he said.

“I want to be an ambassador for refugees everywhere and I am so happy to be able to continue my commitment to working with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, helping refugees not only to survive but also to thrive. This work is incredible and vitally important to so many people all over the world.”

Always on the run

Following conflict in South Sudan in 2005, Mr. Pur journeyed alone to Kakuma refugee camp in neighbouring Kenya. He was only 10 years old at the time.

While at the camp, Mr. Pur devoted himself to athletics and trained at the Tegla Laroupe camp in Nairobi, established by the award-winning runner. He began running competitively in 2015 before being part of the historic Refugee Olympic Team a year later.

Mr. Pur has supported UNHCR since 2016, attending and speaking for campaigns in New York and Paris.

As the agency’s newest Goodwill Ambassador, he will continue to advocate for the rights of displaced people while continuing his training to be on the Refugee Olympic Team at the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Worldwide, nearly 80 million people are forcibly displaced, according to a recent UNHCR report. The study cited South Sudan’s long history of displacement, both before and after independence in July 2011, as a major crisis which has contributed to global displacement.

A voice for refugees

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, welcomed Mr. Pur as the agency’s newest Goodwill Ambassador.

“This new role will help formalise and amplify his advocacy even further. At a time when forced displacement has reached unprecedented levels, with one percent of humanity now uprooted by conflict, persecution and violence, his contribution is more critical than ever,” he said.

Mr. Pur’s contributions towards peace in South Sudan includes representing refugees at peace talks held in Addis Ababa and Khartoum in 2018, and at committee meetings at the African Union in 2019.

He worked with the International Olympic Committee following Rio, and joined the Board of the Olympic Refuge Foundation.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee characterized Mr. Pur’s “extraordinary journey” from the refugee camp to the Rio Games as an inspiration for all.

“Today, Pur is also a strong voice within the Olympic Refuge Foundation, providing access to safe sport for forcibly displaced young people across the world,” he said.

“I am sure that in his new role as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, he will continue to act as a role model and demonstrate that sport can not only bring hope but change lives, empower young people and drive positive change in our society.”

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UN censures ‘heinous attacks’ in Lake Chad Basin

INTERNATIONAL, 4 August 2020, Peace and Security - The Secretary-General strongly condemned “heinous attacks” against civilians in the Lake Chad Basin, a UN spokesperson said on Monday.

“The attacks led to the killing and abduction of many civilians, including women, children and displaced people who had fled violence”, Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement, referring to assaults in the Lac Province of Chad and the Far North Region of Cameroon on 31 July and 2 August, respectively. 

News reports pinned responsibility for this most recent aggression in the troubled region on Boko Haram jihadists.

Mr. Haq spelled out that “those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable”. 

“International human rights law and international humanitarian law must be fully respected and all civilians in Cameroon and Chad must be protected”, he stressed on behalf of the UN chief.

In conclusion, the spokesperson upheld the UN’s “steadfast” support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in their efforts “to overcome the scourge of terrorism, and address the security, political, humanitarian and socio-economic challenges in the region”.

Internally displaced targeted

In separate coverage on Tuesday morning, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed outrage over an “unprovoked and brutal attack” on 800 internally displaced people (IDPs) in a makeshift camp in Cameroon’s Far North region.

“At least 18 people were killed and 11 injured in the incident during the early hours of Sunday 2 August”, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

While some of the wounded were evacuated to Mokolo district hospital, an hour’s drive from Nguetchewe, another 1,500 people, including terrified residents of the hosting village, fled to the nearby town of Mozogo for safety.

“UNHCR is deploying an emergency mission to assess the situation and evaluate the protection and health needs of those affected, Mr. Baloch updated.

Spiraling situation

This attack follows a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far-North Region in July, including looting and kidnapping by Boko Haram and other armed groups active in the region.

The Far North region, tucked between Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa states and Lake Chad, currently hosts 321,886 IDPs and 115,000 Nigerian refugees.

The UNHCR spokesperson called this incident “a sad reminder of the intensity and brutality of the violence in the wider the Lake Chad Basin region that has forced more than three million people to flee”.

“UNHCR calls on all actors to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of IDP camps, and to respond promptly to the urgent needs of people who have fled violence and suffered multiple displacements”, concluded the UN refugee agency’s spokesperson.

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‘No silver bullet’ to combat COVID-19, says UN health agency head

INTERNATIONAL, 3 August 2020, Health - There is “no silver bullet” to combat COVID-19, the head of the UN health agency told journalists on Monday, adding, “and there might never be”.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met Friday to review the current coronavirus pandemic at what chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called “a sobering moment”.

At a regular press briefing on Monday in Geneva, he recalled that when the Committee met three months ago, WHO had received reports of three million COVID-19 cases and more than 200,000 deaths.

“Since then”, he updated, “the number of cases has increased more than five-fold to 17.5 million, and the number of deaths has more than tripled, to 680,000”.

Rippling effects

In addition to the direct toll of the virus, the Committee noted the impact disrupted services is having on a range of other diseases, which are compounding reduced immunization coverage, cancer screening and care, and mental health services.

And on top of the health impact, COVID-19 is causing social, economic and political damage, according to the WHO official.

Mitigation measures

The Committee suggested a range of proposals for countries to bring the virus under control, including enhanced political commitment and leadership for national strategies and localized response activities driven by science, data, and experience.

They also acknowledged that Member States have “tough choices” to make to turn the epidemic around.

While recognizing that “it’s not easy”, the WHO chief maintained that “when leaders step up and work intensely with their populations”, the disease can be “brought under control”.

“It’s never too late to turn this pandemic around”, Mr. Tedros upheld, adding that “if we act together today”, we can save lives and livelihoods.

Recommendations

The Committee recommended that countries engage in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, participate in relevant clinical trials, and prepare for safe and effective therapeutics and vaccine introduction, the WHO Director-General told reporters.

He also informed them that some vaccines are currently in phase three clinical trials, sharing his hope of having “a number of effective vaccines”.

“For now”, Mr. Tedros explained, “stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control”, including testing, isolating and treating patients, along with tracing and quarantining their contacts. 

Meanwhile, individuals must keep physical distance, wearing a mask, clean their hands regularly and cough safely away from others. 

It’s never too late to turn this pandemic aroun -- WHO chief

“The message to people and Governments is clear: do it all”, he stated, “and when it’s under control, keep going!”

Masking up

This week, WHO is also launching a so-called “mask challenge”, by encouraging people to send in photos of themselves wearing a protective mask.

In addition to being a key tool to stop the virus, masks have come to represent solidarity.

“If you’re a health worker, a frontline worker, wherever you are – show us your solidarity in following national guidelines and safely wearing a mask – whether caring for patients or loved ones, riding on public transport to work, or picking up essential supplies” Mr. Tedros urged.

Breastfeeding during COVID

In closing, the UN official reminded that this is breastfeeding awareness week.

He reiterated WHO’s recommendation that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged, the same as all other mothers, to initiate or continue to breastfeed, saying that the “many, many benefits of breastfeeding for newborn babies and children substantially outweigh the potential risks for COVID-19 infection”.

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Storms, coronavirus pose ‘double threat’ for children in Central America and Caribbean – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 3 August 2020, Health - Across Central America and the Caribbean, the more than 70 million children impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic could soon face another threat – catastrophic hurricane storms, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Monday. 

“In the coming days and weeks, children and families will be at risk of being hit simultaneously by two disasters, COVID-19 and hurricanes,” cautioned Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Roadblocks ahead

While acknowledging that displacement, infrastructure damage and service interruptions caused by storms – particularly in coastal areas – could render individuals more vulnerable to the disease and its impacts, the UN children’s agency expressed special concern that a powerful storm could severely undermine ongoing efforts to stem COVID-19. 

The coronavirus could spread easily in crowded emergency shelters or displacement sites where physical distancing would be difficult to ensure, according to UNICEF. 

At the same time, existing control measures like handwashing could falter if water, sanitation and health infrastructure were to be damaged or destroyed.  

“This is the perfect storm we fear for the Caribbean and Central America,” said the UNICEF official.

Hampered efforts

In addition to straining national and local health systems in the region, the pandemic is also raising serious questions about the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane, including movement restrictions and budget shortfalls, which may hinder national hurricane preparedness efforts.

“As we continue to take precautions to keep families safe from COVID-19, efforts to prepare for hurricane now are vital to mitigate the spread of virus among the most vulnerable communities”, Mr. Aasen explained.

Danger on the horizon

As UNICEF reported in a recent Child Alert, over the coming years the Caribbean region is expected to experience intensified storms and subsequent population displacements. 

In late May, tropical storm Amanda caused flooding and landslides in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. At least 33 people were killed in the region and thousands were displaced. All three countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

And in the 10-year period from 2010 to 2019, storms caused 895,000 new displacements of children in the Caribbean and 297,000 in Central America, according to the UN children’s agency.

Stepping up

Across the region, UNICEF is working to support hurricane preparedness efforts and public health responses to COVID-19 through education, community outreach and technical support. 

In collaboration with Governments and other partners, the agency is working to build disaster resilience among communities in the region, including by adjusting hurricane preparedness and response plans to reflect COVID-19 risks with a focus on vulnerable groups, like children, pregnant women and single-headed female families. 

Moreover, UNICEF is also working to improve coordination mechanisms and tools for timely needs assessments and response based on evidence and with Governments on climate change adaptation policies to ensure that they are child sensitive and informed by the long-term perspectives of youth and adolescents.

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Six years after genocide, international community must prioritize justice for Yazidi community

INTERNATIONAL, 3 August 2020, Peace and Security - Six years after ISIL launched a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq, the international community must live up to its promise to deliver justice, survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Nadia Murad told a virtual event on Monday marking the anniversary.

The young human rights activist, who was among thousands of Yazidi women forced into sexual slavery by the terrorist group, reminded countries that the impacts of its atrocities endure to this day.

Outrage and inaction

Ms. Murad said although 100,000 Yazidis have returned to their homeland in Sinjar, in northern Iraq, they lack vital services such as healthcare and education.

Meanwhile, scores more remain in camps, nearly 3,000 kidnapped women and girls are still missing, and dozens of mass graves have yet to be exhumed.

“The world watched in outrage and demanded that tangible action be taken to end the genocide. But six years later, the international community has failed to keep its commitments to protect those most vulnerable, especially women and children,” said Ms. Murad, who now lives in Germany.

Justice is possible now

The commemorative event was held to ensure the world never forgets how ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Da’esh, tried to erase the Yazidi community through sexual violence, mass executions, forced conversion and other crimes.

It was co-hosted by Nadia’s Initiative, an organization founded by Ms. Murad, alongside Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

ISIL committed “heinous crimes” against all Iraqis, the country’s Ambassador, Mohammad Hussein Ali Bahr Aluloom, told the gathering.

“Da’esh tried to wipe out Yazidis in an attempt to destroy Iraqi diversity and peaceful coexistence that is guaranteed by our constitution,” he stated.

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney recalled that the international community established tribunals for genocides in Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda, while the International Criminal Court is currently investigating crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar.

She told diplomats Yazidi survivors deserve no less.

“Doing nothing is not only wrong, it is dangerous because these fighters are not going anywhere and their toxic ideology continues to spread,” said Ms. Clooney.

“And justice is possible now, just as it has been possible before, if only it is made a priority.”

Resolve differences now

The UN’s top official in Iraq urged the authorities in Baghdad and in the autnomous Kurdish region in the north to resolve their differences to better support the Yazidis.

“Stable governance and security structures are crucial foundations for the community to rebuild and thrive,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

“So, once again, I call on the governments in Baghdad and Erbil to urgently resolve this file, placing Sinjaris’ interests first and foremost.”

Support Iraqi draft law

Two years ago, the United Nations established an Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL, known by the acronym UNITAD.

Special Adviser Karim Khan outlined some of its activities, which include helping with exhumations, collecting evidence, and working with various authorities in Iraq to better understand Da’esh criminal networks.

However, he explained that UNITAD is “an investigative team on the lookout for a court” so that fair trials for crimes against the Yazidis can be held.

Mr. Khan commended a draft law presented in November which would allow Iraq to prosecute acts committed by Da’esh as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

“In my respectful view, this is critically important. If we don’t call it for what it was; if we don’t label the crimes correctly, we are doomed, or at least there is a real risk they may reoccur,” he said.

“And I think in terms of giving confidence to the Yazidi community, the courage and the stamina of the international community to create that piece of legal architecture would go a long way.”

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First Person: Turning ‘apathetic people into climate activists’; a young person’s view

INTERNATIONAL, 3 August 2020, Climate Change - An 18-year-old environmental campaigner from the United States has told UN News how she wants to “turn apathetic people into climate activists”. Sophia Kianni, whose family originally comes from Iran, is one of seven young people from across the world who have been selected to participate in the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. The group which was launched at the end of the July aims to engage young people in “an open and transparent dialogue” about climate issues.

“I first became interested in the effects of climate change as an Iranian-American when I visited my relatives in Iran as a 12 or 13-year old. I noticed how polluted the sky was; I couldn’t see the stars at night. I realized this was a symptom of the climate crisis that was particularly bad in the Middle East, where temperatures are rising at a rate of more than twice the global average.

I talked to my relatives about the pollution and was startled they knew pretty much nothing about climate change even though they were adults and so it became my pet passion to educate them about the climate crisis. 

I understood that Iran as a country is facing many challenges and recognized that climate change was maybe not at the forefront of people’s minds, but I still thought that my Iranian family deserved to know about the climate crisis. 

Awareness growing

When I told them what that actually meant, and that I was worried about my future, they were pretty shocked. And following those conversations they have tried to be more conscientious about the impact of their daily activities, for example driving less and switching off lights. These are small steps to minimize their carbon footprint but if everyone took these steps it would make a huge difference.

I also realized there was no information in their language Farsi, so decided to translate information for them from English sources with the help of my mum.

This experience with my relatives in Iran inspired me to establish my international nonprofit organization, Climate Cardinals, which has just launched, and which has over 5,000 volunteers translating climate information into more than 100 languages and dialects, including everything from Spanish to Haitian Creole, or Farsi to an Indonesian dialect. 

These volunteers have an average age of 16-years-old. We started by translating 3,000 pages of a sustainable fashion glossary as well as a forest climate glossary for which we are now awaiting feedback. 

UNsplash/Ali Barzegarahmadi
Pollution obscured the stars in Iran, when Sophia Kianni visited as a child

One-person show, to ‘gigantic’ project

So, a small one-person show of educating my family has turned into a gigantic project with over 5,000 people involved and now I am helping to educate thousands and thousands of people. I am very excited about our partnership with Radio Javan (Persian language internet radio station based in the United States) which has a reach of 11 million people on social media. So, I moved from educating 11 family members to 11 million people and it made me realise that small actions are the gateway for gigantic visions to develop. Everyone has a power to affect change in their own way.

Most young people I talk to believe the climate crisis is a big deal but their passion to change depends on how much information they have; the more we talk, the more we raise awareness, the more people understand how pressing this is. For me, this is about turning apathetic people into climate activists.

Message to UN Secretary-General

Our group has been meeting online and we are due to talk the UN Secretary-General in the next couple of weeks. We will be giving him feedback on his climate strategy and how the UN can better engage young people in the process. Personally, I would like to tell him that we need climate information in more than just the UN languages. 

The UN should also be engaging even younger people. At 18, I am the youngest in the group, but there are also many activists who are between the ages of 14 and 17, and their voices are very important. If more younger people are engaged in the climate discussion it is more likely they will become climate activists. 

The Individual v the political process 

Ultimately, I am optimistic that we can reverse climate change, but a lot of this will fall into the political process as no matter how much I or other individuals do on a personal level, it is really up to the government to pass comprehensive climate legislation. I really hope people become more engaged in the political process and educate themselves on which candidates support climate change policies.

The younger generation is more progressive so I am hopeful in the future we will be able to elect more politicians who care about climate change issues, and who will pass aggressive legislation."

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