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COVID-19: UN health agency advice informs decision to delay Olympic Games for first time since 1944

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Health - The International Olympic Committee declared on Wednesday that it is postponing the 2020 Summer Olympics which were due to take place in Japan, based on information provided by the UN health agency, WHO, on the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to delay the Games was announced in a joint statement from the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which is a partner with the United Nations, and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

The Joint Statement referred to the words of the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who warned on Tuesday that the virus pandemic is ‘accelerating’, with the number of confirmed global cases rising from 200,000 to 300,000 in just four days.

IOC President, Thomas Bach, and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, expressed concern for the effect that the pandemic is having on people’s lives, and the significant impact that it is having on elite athletes’ preparations for the Games.

The likelihood of the Games taking place on time receded in the days leading up to the decision, with Canada and Australia announcing that they would not send athletes to Tokyo this Summer, and a number of other countries openly called for a postponement, because of the spread of COVID-19.

Déjà vu for Tokyo

The leaders announced that the Games will be rescheduled to “a date beyond 2020, but no later than Summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community”. 

However, the Games, even though they have been moved to next year, will retain the official name “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020”. The Olympic flame will stay lit, and remain in Japan.

The decision to delay the event will mark the first time that the Games have not taken place as scheduled, since 1944. They were cancelled in 1916 due to World War One, and neither the 1940 nor the 1944 Olympics took place, because of World War Two.

This is the second time that a global crisis has affected Games due to be held in Japan: Tokyo would have been the venue of the cancelled 1940 Summer event.

The UN and the Olympics

Sport has been recognized by the UN as an “important enabler” of sustainable development, and is included in the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The UN and the International Olympic Committee have worked closely together for several years, in recognition of the contribution that sport plays in development and peace.

The IOC was granted Permanent Observer status by the UN General Assembly in 2009, enabling the IOC to be directly involved in the UN Agenda and to attend UN General Assembly meetings where it can take the floor, thus providing the possibility to promote sport at a new level.


UN in Nigeria strengthens COVID-19 containment and care, mobilizes $2 million for key support to Government

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Health - The United Nations system in Nigeria has mobilized $2 million to help the Government’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and care for those in the West African country stricken by the virus. 
Nigeria's Minister of Health @DrEOEhanire washing hands at the UN House, Abuja. @EdwardKallon @NCDCgov
View image on Twitter

The funds – to be used to procure essential medical supplies – was announced today by Edward Kallon, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, at a national conference in Abuja on the COVID-19 crisis.

“The United Nations system in Nigeria will support rapid procurement of disease commodity packages for surveillance, prevention and control, and clinical management,” he said.

He added that the UN will support the Government’s efforts to immediately set up a national response fund that will serve as a single national platform and financing framework, coordinating partnerships and mobilizing resources that can make an effective impact on the ground.

The gesture is part of a wider United Nations strategy to amplify efforts by Governments around the world to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Kallon said. It also underscores the urgent need for collaboration, given the multifaceted nature of the virus and its impact on Nigeria’s economy and society.

Nigeria’s Minister for Health, Osagie Ehanire, thanked the United Nations system for its support. He said the Government will ensure that resources are deployed where they are needed most, and that his Ministry is prepared for both worst-case and best-case scenarios.

The World Health Organization (WHO) office in Abuja has reported a total of 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria as of today, including one death.


COVID-19: UN chief calls for global ceasefire to focus on ‘the true fight of our lives’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Peace and Security - In an appeal issued on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against  COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. 

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, he said.  “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” 

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world - @antonioguterres

To warring parties: Pull back from hostilities. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. 

This is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, open windows for diplomacy & bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to - @antonioguterres

The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries. 

So far, there are nearly 300,000 cases worldwide, and more than 12,700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

As the UN chief pointed out, COVID-19 does not care about nationality or ethnicity, or other differences between people, and “attacks all, relentlessly”, including during wartime. 

It is the most vulnerable - women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees - who pay the highest price during conflict and who are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses” from the disease. 

Furthermore, health systems in war-ravaged countries have often reached the point of total collapse, while the few health workers who remain are also seen as targets.  

The UN chief called on warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, and “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes”.  

This is crucial, he said, “to help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy.  To bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.”   

While inspired by new rapprochement and dialogue between combatants to enable joint approaches to push back the disease, the Secretary-General said more still needs to be done. 

“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world”, he appealed.  “It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.” 

The Secretary-General’s appeal was broadcast live over the Internet from a virtual press conference held at UN Headquarters in New York, where most staff are now working from home to help curb further spread of COVID-19.

He answered questions from reporters which were read by Melissa Fleming, head of the UN Department of Global Communications, the parent office of UN News.

The UN chief said his Special Envoys will work with warring parties to make sure the cease-fire appeal leads to action.

Asked how he was feeling, Mr. Guterres responded that he is “strongly determined”, underlining that the UN must be active at this moment.

“The UN must fully assume its responsibilities first doing what we have to do    our peacekeeping operations, our humanitarian agencies, our support to the different bodies of the international community, the Security Council, the General Assembly but, at the same time, it’s a moment in which the UN must be able to address the peoples of the world and appeal for a massive mobilisation and for a massive pressure on governments to make sure that we are able to respond to this crisis, not to mitigate it but to suppress it, to suppress the disease and to address the dramatic economic and social impacts of the disease”, he said.

“And we can only do it if we do it together, if we do in a coordinated way, if we do it with intense solidarity and cooperation, and that is the raison d’etre of the United Nations itself”.


Water access critical to beating back COVID-19 spread in slum areas

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Health - As regular hand washing is a key tool in combating COVID-19, the UN and its partners are taking steps to ensure people living in informal settlements have access to running water at this critical time, according to the agency working to achieve more sustainable cities.

UN-Habitat said the impacts of the new coronavirus disease could be considerably higher on the urban poor living in slums, where overcrowding also makes it difficult to follow other recommended measures such as social distancing and self-isolation. 

UN-Habitat is based in Nairobi, home to the Kibera slum, where people live hand-to-mouth and water access points are hard to find. They are even harder to get to when movement restrictions are in place, in the hope of preventing further spread of the disease. 

As resident Anna Nyokabi put it: “We don’t have enough water to drink and cook our food, so where will we get water to wash our hands frequently?” 

More than two billion affected 

If the international community is to beat back COVID-19, then Governments must provide Ms. Nyobaki - and the more than two billion people worldwide like her - with continuous access to sufficient water. 

That’s the opinion of 10 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.   

Measures to prevent in informal settlements can be a little difficult to achieve. We are working in Mathare, Kenya, to set up hand washing stations to help fight . These wash stations are set up at the one stop resource centre there.
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“People living in informal settlements, those who are homeless, rural populations, women, children, older persons, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees and all other groups vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic need to have continuous access to sufficient and affordable water”, they said in a statement issued on Monday. 

“Only this will allow them to comply with the recommendations of health institutions to keep strict hygiene measures”. 

The experts, who are not UN staff nor are they paid by the Organization, called on Governments to immediately prohibit cuts to those people who cannot pay their water bill. 

“It is also essential that they provide water free of cost for the duration of the crisis to people in poverty and those affected by the upcoming economic hardship. Public and private service providers must be enforced to comply with these fundamental measures”, they added. 

UN-Water working with providers and communities 

To address water access in slums, a coalition of UN agencies under the banner of UN-Water is working with national and local governments, as well as civil society organizations, women, youth groups and community leaders. 

They are supporting a UN-Habitat-led global network of small-scale water and sanitation service providers, utilities and authorities.  The network offers peer-to-peer support on a not-for-profit basis, and can provide technical advice, online training and other support, in addition to sharing information and active learning on COVID-19 response. 

“Utilities can be encouraged to maintain water and sanitation service continuity and in ensuring affordability is not a barrier to access for the urban poor”, said UN-Habitat, which is a member of UN-Water. 

UN agencies, programmes and other entities are also putting emergency safe drinking water and handwashing facilities in key locations in informal settlements and high-density public places such as markets, and bus stations. 

They also are actively engaging community leaders and groups through existing slum networks, youth centres and networks, to train community leaders, to manage handwashing facilities, and to disseminate information about COVID-19.  

Finally, in their work they are prioritizing the elderly and people living with chronic medical conditions who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of the disease. 


UNICEF sounds alarm over water cuts in Syria as efforts ramp up to prevent COVID-19 spread

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its relief partners in Syria are warning that water disruptions in the country’s war-battered north-east could exacerbate risks posed by the global coronavirus pandemic. 

In statement from Damascus, Fran EquizaUNICEF Representative in Syria, said on Monday that the water supply from the Allouk station – the main source of water for some 460,000 people – has been interrupted

It is the latest in a series of pumping disruptions over the past weeks, he said.

“The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk. Handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

UNICEF mobilizes against pandemic

Around the globe, UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes are stepping up their fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The multisectoral response is being led by the World Health Organization (WHO) at the global level.

Water from the Allouk water station has been interrupted again putting 460k people at risk in northeast . Interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus disease puts children at unacceptable risk. 
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Interruption to key water station in the northeast of Syria puts 460,000 people at risk as efforts...

In north-east Syria, where many of the families reliant on the Allouk water station live in camps for displaced persons, UNICEF says access to uninterrupted, reliable access to safe water is essential to ensure that residents are not forced to resort to unsafe water sources.  

“UNICEF and partners are supporting families in the city of al-Hassakeh and camps for displaced families with water trucking, but this barely covers minimum needs if the water supply is interrupted again,” he said.  

Life without water amid COVID-19 outbreak 

The supply interruption to the Allouk station is one in a series of service disruptions related to ongoing fighting in northeast Syria. 

In an October 2019 statement, UNICEF reported that water from Allouk had been cut off for more than a week amid continued violence in the town of Ras Al-Ain, where the water station is located.   

According to the agency, the two main electricity lines supplying power to the Allouk station were damaged by fighting. While technical teams were able to reach the water station, they were not fully able to repair the damage.  

Today, Mr. Equiza emphasized the importance of safe water and handwashing – not just in the time of COVID-19, but every day. 

“No child should have to live even one day without safe water. Clean water and handwashing save lives.  Water and water facilities must not be used for military or political gains – when they do, children are the first and most to suffer,” he said. 

Virus threatens lives in conflict zones 

As humanitarian workers worldwide brace to shield the most vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19, the international community is demanding more action to protect women, children and others in the world’s conflict hotspots. 

Calling for a worldwide ceasefire in a virtual press conference earlier today, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that armed conflict continues to rage on despite the expanding risks posed by the pandemic.  

“The most vulnerable — women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced — pay the highest price. They are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19,” he said, adding that health systems in many conflict-affected countries have collapsed and people displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable. 

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the UN chief said. 


New global platform to keep information networks ‘safer, stronger’ throughout COVID-19 pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Health - The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) launched a new platform on Monday to help global networks under increasing strain and facing rising demand during the COVID-19 crisis to remain “safer, stronger and more connected”, according to the specialized agency’s chief.

“The new platform will assist governments and the private sector in ensuring that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all”, said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.

New @ITU Global Network Resiliency Platform to help countries + industry cope with the increasing stress put on global networks during the crisis 
Aerial photo of ITU HQ taken via drone

Telecommunication networks have never before been as vital to “our health and safety, and to keep our economy and society working” as they are during the current crisis, where millions are being encouraged to stay put at home, the ITU chief maintained.

He has asked instructed his team to “leverage without any delay” the new platform in aid of existing networks “to help countries and industry cope with the increasing stress being put on global networks”.

“At stake is our ability, as one human family, to give health workers everywhere, the tools they need to carry out their duties, to allow all those that can to work from home, to trade online, to ensure that hundreds of millions of children and young people keep up with their studies, and to keep in touch with loved ones, wherever they are”, he detailed. 

The Global Network Resiliency Platform will also share best practices and initiatives that have been put in place during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that telecommunication services are available to the maximum extent possible. 
Moreover, the portal will collect relevant information and expertise on actions that telecommunication policymakers and others in the regulatory community can use to ensure that their networks serve their country’s needs.

‘Relevant and trustworthy’ information

“This new ITU platform will provide countries struggling to find appropriate solutions to ensure their networks' resiliency with relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on how to cope with the stresses faced by their infrastructure”, assured the agency chief. 

“And because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere – from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use”. 

Serving initially as an informative tool, the portal will soon be expanded to provide an interactive and engaging platform for continuous sharing throughout the pandemic and beyond.

“The crisis we are in today calls for solidarity”, he spelled out. “In these uncertain times, we should not forget all those around the world who still lack access to the Internet”.

ITU has long promoted universal, reliable and affordable connectivity, and will continue to push on all these fronts and advocate until everyone is connected.

“I call on all ITU members, from the public and private sector alike, to come together to build the best platform we can so that information and communication technology can help defeat COVID-19 and make us safer, stronger and more connected”, concluded the Secretary-General.


‘Count every drop, every drop counts’: UN weather agency calls for better water data on World Meteorological Day

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Climate Change - Floods, extreme rainfall, droughts and melting glaciers…many of the major signs of climate change involve water. On this year’s World Meteorological Day, the UN weather agency (WMO) is reinforcing the message of World Water Day, by focusing on the links between climate and water, and calling for better water-related data.

In a message to mark the Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that climate and water are “inextricably linked. Both lie at the heart of global goals on sustainable development, climate change and disaster risk reduction”.

“Water”, he continued, “is one of the most precious commodities of the 21st century. National Meteorological and Hydrological Services will be central to efforts to ‘count every drop, because every drop counts’”.

We can’t manage what we can’t measure: the importance of data

The increasingly unpredictable, changing weather patterns are likely to lead to more “water stress” which, in turn, will affect sustainable development and security.

The effects of unpredictable weather were described, in detail, in the WMO’s flagship weather report, the Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019, released on 10 March. The study showed that climate change is having a major effect on all aspects of the environment, as well as on the health and wellbeing of the global population.

In 2019, extreme weather events, some of which were unprecedented in scale, took place in many parts of the world.

UNHCR helps thousands hit by monsoon storms in Rohingya refugee camps , by UNHCR

These included monsoon rains and deadly floods in India, the driest year on record in Australia, and the widespread devastation caused by cyclone Idai in Mozambique and the east coast of Africa.

This is why the WMO is urging for a ramping up of water forecasting, monitoring and management of supplies. This will help to tackle the problem of too much, too little, or too polluted water. 

Better data can help in the planning of water projects, such as hydroelectric plants; improved understanding of the impact that water resource management has on the environment, the economy and society; and can help us to better protect people, property and ecosystems from water-related hazards, particularly floods, droughts and pollutants.

Closer collaboration between weather and water services

Because of the likelihood that future water demands will require tough decisions to be made, when it comes to allocating resources, WMO is calling for closer collaboration between meteorological (weather) and hydrological (water) services.

The capacity to forecast, monitor and manage water is currently fragmented and inadequate, a concern for WMO and its chief, Petteri Taalas. “It is worrying to see that Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) which focuses on clean water and sanitation, is so far off track now. 

“The world needs to demonstrate the same unity and commitment to climate action and cutting greenhouse gas emissions as to containing the Coronavirus pandemic”, he said.

WMO is committed to working closely with UN Water and other key United Nations partners, towards enhanced implementation and acceleration of SDG6.


UN expert raises alarm over migrant, asylum seeker ‘pushbacks’ at Turkey-Greece border

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Human Rights - Greece must take immediate action to end the violence against migrants and asylum seekers at the border between Turkey and Greece, an independent UN human rights expert said on Monday, expressing alarm at reports of violence at the hands of some Greek security officers and unidentified armed men.

“I am very concerned about the reported pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants, which constitutes a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement,” said Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

View image on Twitter

On 1 March, Greece suspended for 30 days, asylum applications for anyone who crossed the border irregularly, which prompted the Special Rapporteur to urge the country to “immediately reverse its decision”, saying it “has no legal basis in international human rights law”.

Migrants who managed to cross into Greece were allegedly intercepted by Greek border guards, detained, stripped, looted and pushed back to Turkey. 

And alleged excessive use of force seems to have led to deaths and injuries, including the death of a Syrian asylum seeker.

“The right to individual assessment is the cornerstone of human rights and refugee protection”, warned Mr. González Morales. “It cannot be put on hold”.

He pointed out that returning people without due process “will inevitably result in cases of refoulement to situations where they may face the risk of death, torture, ill-treatment, persecution or other irreparable harm”.

Humanitarians in crosshairs

The Special Rapporteur also raised the alarm over an increase in hostility and violence against humanitarian workers, human rights defenders and journalists working at the border and in the Greek Aegean Sea. 

“Greece has the responsibility to ensure that migrants and those assisting them are protected from threats and attacks”, he said. “The authorities should condemn promptly and ensure accountability for any such acts.”

The independent UN expert has shared his concerns with the Greek Government along with the relevant European Union institutions and the Government of Turkey. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.


Coronavirus update: WHO and world football launch ‘kick out coronavirus’ campaign, as millions sign up to WhatsApp helpline

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Health - A new awareness-raising campaign, led by the world’s top football stars, called ‘Pass the message to kick out coronavirus’, was launched on Monday by the UN health agency, WHO, and international football’s governing body, FIFA. 

The campaign involves a video featuring many of the biggest names in football (soccer to those in the US), including Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, and former England team captain, and World Cup semi-finalist, Gary Lineker.

FIFA President Gianni Infanti, said that the organization is calling on everyone to follow the WHO’s five key steps to stop the spread of the disease, focusing on hand washing, coughing etiquette, not touching your face, social distancing, and staying home if you feel unwell.

10 million users for WHO Whatsapp helpline

During his Monday press briefing, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that, since its launch just four days ago, the agency’s WhatsApp Health Alert messaging service, has already attracted some 10 million users. The service delivers reliable, accurate health information directly to users’ mobile phones.

Anyone who has Whatsapp on their mobile phone can subscribe by texting “hi”, to +41 22 501 76 55. 

They will then receive a message from the UN health agency, inviting them to request further information on a range of coronavirus-related topics, including how to protect yourself from infection, travel advice, and latest news.

The service can send out replies to questions about coronavirus, 24 hours a day, and is designed to service government decision-makers by providing the latest WHO numbers and situation reports.

Currently sending out information in English, the free service will be launched in Arabic, French and Spanish-language versions later this week. Chinese and Russian versions are also being planned. To find out how to sign up, go to 

COVID treatments: avoid raising false hope

On the subject of treatments for COVID-19, Tedros reminded reporters that no treatment has so far been proven to be effective. The WHO chief noted that using untested medicines, without the right evidence, could raise false hopes, and even do more harm than good, in the short term.

“Small, observational and non-randomized studies will not give us the answers we need”, he said, adding that the use of untested treatments could also cause a shortage of essential medicines that are needed to treat other diseases.

We’re not ‘prisoners to statistics’

Research is underway to find a vaccine against the coronavirus., by UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Updating the press on the latest COVID-19 case figures, Tedros said that the pandemic is accelerating: whilst it took 67 days from the first reported case to the first 100,000 cases, it took 11 days to reach 200,000, and just four days for 300,000 cases to be reported.

However, the WHO chief insisted that “we are not prisoners to statistics”, and that it is still possible to change the trajectory of the pandemic – by flattening the curve - adhering more closely to the agency’s guidance, particularly by testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact.

Recognizing that some countries are finding it hard to carry out such measures, Tedros expressed his gratitude for the efforts that several nations have made, to send Emergency Medical Teams to care for patients and train health workers in countries that need support. “This is an incredible example of international solidarity”, he said.


Reaching ‘beyond the possible’ in Hawaii to meet sustainability goals

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2020, Economic Development - The people and government of the US state of Hawaii will reach “beyond the possible” to make the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality; The SDGs are a set of targets agreed by countries around the world to reduce poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity for all, by 2030. Hawaii introduced its own initiative, Sustainable Hawaii, in 2016 in support of the SDGs.

UN News travelled to the island archipelago, as part of an International Labour Organization (ILO) project, called Dignity at Work, and spoke to the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige

Why are the Sustainable Development Goals important to Hawaii?

Hawaii is the most isolated island community on the planet, 2,500 miles from the nearest landmass, and we see the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise in a real way. These impacts are happening virtually every day. In the last five years, we've had at least five “500-year events”; events that would normally occur only once every 500 years. In 2018, we had the most rainfall ever in a single 24-hour period, 51 inches, and this is the most that has ever been recorded in human history. 

In 2015, we actually had three Category 4 hurricanes surrounding the islands for the first time in recorded history. We've had four [coral] bleaching events. We've had “king tides” and rainstorms, so we know that climate change is real and impacts our weather and our communities. 

That’s all very concerning…

Governor David Ige of Hawaii (left) attends the opening of a solar energy plant on the island of O'ahu., by Clearway Energy Group

It certainly is. As the sea level rises, we see greater erosion of our road system, for example, which creates a physical cost to the state in the sense that we know that the relocation of those highways is essential to maintain our transportation system. 

So, we know that we have to begin planning for sea-level rises.

What mitigation measures are you taking now? 

‘Sustainable Hawaii’ is an initiative that we launched in 2016, which aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Hawaii has committed to reaching 100 per cent clean, renewable energy for electricity by 2045. The initiative also includes managing and protecting 30 per cent of our priority watersheds, because we know that fresh water starts in our watersheds. It means managing 30 per cent of our near ocean waters. 

Hawaii has committed to reaching 100 per cent clean, renewable energy for electricity by 2045 David Ige, Governor, Hawaii

And we've been aggressively looking at traditional and native practices, including streamlining our permitting process to allow for the restoration of traditional fish farms all around the state. We know that more than a thousand years ago, Hawaii was completely self-sufficient and that fish farms and managing ocean resources was a thriving part of that self-sufficiency. 

Sustainable Hawaii also includes protection against invasive species. Hawaii has more endangered species than anywhere else on the planet. We do have many species that are not found anywhere else in the world, and that’s partly due to our geographic isolation from everyone.

Papayas grow in abundance in Hawaii's tropical climate. , by ILO Photo/Kevin Cassidy

So, we certainly are committed to keeping invasive plants and animals out of our ecosystems and most importantly being able to respond when invasive species are introduced into our islands.

Hawaii is also aiming to double local food production by the end of this year. Hawaii, like many other island communities, has had to import food; more than 90 per cent of the food consumed here is imported from somewhere else, and we recognize again that if we can invest in our communities, we would be able to grow more of our food. 

Our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals is really a commitment to sustainable communities, to investing in ourselves. Rather than spending our dollars out of state to create jobs elsewhere, we believe that becoming a more sustainable Hawaii means that we will invest in ourselves and create jobs here in our local communities.  

It sounds as though traditional knowledge is going to play a very important role in that process…

A thousand years ago it’s estimated that the population of Hawaii was very similar to what it is today and at that time they were totally self-reliant. Neither energy nor food was imported. So, we are definitely looking at utilizing traditional and cultural resource management ideas in today's modern world to return to self-reliance. 

Is there one achievement that you could point to, towards building sustainability, that you're particularly proud of?

Our commitment to 100 per cent clean renewable energy for electricity. At the time we enacted the law to commit to that, no other community had done anything similar and at the National Governors’ Association, people were generally very surprised. They thought that it was so beyond possible that it was a foolish undertaking. 

Now, California has embraced the commitment to 100 per cent clean renewable energy and other states are contemplating doing the same. I’m proud that Hawaii has really inspired other states and communities. 

What are the new jobs that you're looking to create?

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii is generating a significant amount of the island's electricity from solar energy., by UN News/Daniel Dickinson

A lot of the clean renewable energy projects have focused on solar and we've had tremendous expansion of rooftop solar for individuals in Hawaii; 37 per cent of the single-family homes now have rooftop solar and are generating energy for themselves. I think that's the highest penetration in the country. We do know that that rooftop solar and utility-scale solar projects, have created jobs in the construction and support services tied to clean energy.  

And are you taking any steps to prepare workers for these new jobs?

We have made a commitment in our community colleges to educate and retrain individuals who are wanting to work in the clean energy fields. We know that education is the key to improving a family’s quality of life. We have focused on a wide range of education programmes that hopefully will provide the skills that our residents need to thrive in the jobs created in the sustainable economy.

What are the biggest challenges you face in creating jobs? 

Hawaii, for many years, was a leading sugar and pineapple producer and that spurred a lot of innovation. The last plantation closed in 2016, and now we want to support diversified agriculture.  We do see a lot more technology in farming, for example, smart greenhouses that can produce a wide range of food. 

We reinvested in our livestock industry so that we can produce more beef and pork, and we're getting very close to launching an egg farm, so Hawaii can once again be self-sufficient in egg production. 

Part of our commitment for doubling food production is focused on small-scale farmers and getting more young people interested in farming and this is a big challenge. We know that the farms of the future will rely on technology to be more efficient. if we can't attract a new generation of farmers, then it'll be very hard to increase local food production. 

How optimistic are you about the future of work for Hawaiians?

I'm very optimistic about the future of work. There have been dire predictions that many jobs will be eliminated because of technology. However, in every instance where technology has eliminated jobs, it also has created many new jobs. 

So, I am optimistic, as I think that our economies will change and the jobs of the future will be different from jobs in the past. But I also believe that there will be more work for our citizens, and it will be different work, but it would be just as challenging and rewarding.

We recognize as an island that we need to be committed to being more sustainable for the long-term benefit of the community. The overall majority of people in Hawaii feel the same way and they are willing to take on the challenge of sustainable development by investing in our communities.

The UN, SDGs and Hawaii 

  • •    In 2015, countries across the world launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.
    •    According to the UN, the SDGs provide “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”
    •    The goals recognize that ending poverty reduction “must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth.” 
    •    Those improvements have to be made whilst tackling climate change and working to preserve the world’s oceans and forests.
    •    The Sustainable Hawaii Initiative was launched in 2016 in response to the SDGs and focuses on food production, biodiversity, protecting watersheds, managing oceans and achieving 100 per cent renewable energy.
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