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Tedros hails WHO ‘landmark resolution’ to accelerate COVID-19 response

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2020, Health - With  “unprecedented solidarity”, the World Health Assembly adopted a “landmark resolution” on Tuesday, which sets out a “clear roadmap” of the actions needed to sustain and accelerate the COVID-19 response at both national and international levels, the UN health agency chief told a press briefing on Wednesday, the day after the meeting concluded. 

“It assigns responsibilities for both the WHO [World Health Organization] and its member States, and captures the comprehensive whole of government and whole of society approach we have been calling for since the beginning of the outbreak”, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said

We saw unprecedented solidarity with Heads of Government from around the world beaming into to discuss lessons, challenges and collective next steps to tackle the pandemic.https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1263128185207734272?s=20 
 

“If implemented, this would ensure a more coherent, coordinated and fairer response that saves both lives and livelihoods”.

Among other things, the resolution underlines WHO’s key role in promoting access to safe, effective health technologies to fight the pandemic.

It also lifts barriers to effective vaccines, medicines and other health products. 

“We call on all countries to join this initiative”, he asserted. 

Tough road ahead

There is still a long way to go in battling the pandemic, according to Tedros. 

He pointed out that in the last 24 hours, WHO had received reports of 106,000 cases, “the most in a single day since the outbreak began”, with nearly two-thirds in just four countries.

“We’re very concerned about the rising numbers of cases in low and middle-income countries”, flagged the WHO chief.

He relayed that in the World Health Assembly, Governments outlined that their primary goal was to suppress coronavirus transmission, save lives and restore livelihoods.

In battling COVID-19, WHO underscores the importance of ensuring that health systems continue to function with all essential services, including child immunization. 

Invest in health

Closing on a note of hope, Mr. Ghebreyesus recalled that what it is hoped will be the last person treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) epidemic, recovered and was discharged on 14 May. 

“On that day, the DRC Ministry of Health announced the beginning of the 42-day countdown to the end of the outbreak”, he said. “We now have 36 days to go but new cases could still emerge, as we have seen before”.

According to the Director-General, the pandemic has taught and informed many lessons, including that “health is not a cost; it’s an investment”. 

“To live in a secure world, guaranteeing quality health for all is not just the right choice; it’s the smart choice”, concluded the WHO chief.

World Health Assembly resolution

  • Places a global priority on the fair distribution of all quality essential health technologies required to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Harnesses relevant international treaties where needed, including the provisions of the TRIPS agreement.
  • Classifies COVID-19 vaccines as a global public good for health in order to bring the pandemic to an end.
  • Promotes the collaboration of both private sector and government-funded research and development, including open innovation across all relevant domains. 
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Human development backslides, education at global levels ‘not seen since the 1980s’

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2020, Economic Development - School closures, to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, have left some 60 per cent of the world’s children without an education, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in its new report, launched on Wednesday.

Human Development Perspectives COVID-19: Assessing the impact, envisioning the recovery, estimates the percentage of primary school-age children who are not getting any schooling, adjusted to reflect those without Internet access, is now at “global levels not seen since the 1980s”.

With classrooms shuttered and stark divides in access to online learning, UNDP assessments show that 86 per cent of children in primary education are now effectively out-of-school in countries with low human development, compared with just 20 per cent in countries with very high levels of development. 

For the first time in 30 years, will decline due to the impacts of .

Social and economic inequalities aren't just widening, they're ripping at the seams. The poorest & most vulnerable will be hit hardest by the long-term effects: https://bit.ly/2Zi8EQI

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However, hope is within reach for countries to close the yawning education gap, by providing more equitable Internet access.

Risk of decline

Education is just one of the measurements used to assess global human development, combined with health and living standards.
UNDP pointed out that for the first time since the concept was introduced in 1990, the world teeters on the verge of going backwards, during the course of this year.

Noting that “the world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09”, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, stated that “each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year”.

COVID-19 – with its triple hit to health, education, and income – may change this trend”, he warned.

Declines in fundamental areas of human development are being felt across most countries, rich and poor, in every region. 

The global death toll of the coronavirus has exceeded 300,000, while the global per capita income this year is expected to fall by around four per cent.

The combined impact of these shocks could signify the largest reversal in human development on record.

Moreover, this does not include other significant effects, such as progress towards gender equality, where negative impacts on women and girls span economic, reproductive health, unpaid care work and gender-based violence. 

Magnifying inequalities

The coronavirus crisis not only magnifies inequalities in education. 

The drop in human development is expected to be much higher in developing countries that are less able to cope with the pandemic’s social and economic fallout than richer nations. 

“This crisis shows that if we fail to bring equity into the policy toolkit, many will fall further behind”, said Pedro Conceição, UNDP Director of the Human Development Report Office. 

“This is particularly important for the ‘new necessities’ of the 21st century, such as access to the Internet, which is helping us to benefit from tele-education, tele-medicine, and to work from home”.

Hope for the future

Implementing equity-focused approaches, is possible and affordable, the report says, flagging that it would cost just one per cent of the extraordinary COVID-19 fiscal support packages, which countries have already committed to, in order to close the Internet gap for low and middle-income countries.

Priority steps to tackle the complexity of the crisis

-    Protect health systems and services
-    Ramp up social protection
-    Protect jobs, small- and medium-sized businesses and informal sector workers
-    Make macroeconomic policies work for all
-    Promote peace, good governance and trust to build social cohesion 

The UN framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19 crisis emphasizes the importance of a green, gender-equal, good governance baseline, from which to build a ‘new normal”.

UNDP calls on the international community to rapidly invest in the ability of developing countries to tackle the complexities of the COVID-29 crisis.

UNFPA Costa Rica
Young mother and her son in Costa Rica.
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Stand in solidarity to preserve Africa’s hard-won progress, urges UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2020, SDGs - The coronavirus pandemic threatens the hard-earned gains Africans have made throughout the continent, the UN chief said on Wednesday, urging the world to stand in solidarity with the people, “now, and for recovering better”.

At the virtual launch of a UN briefing paper focusing on the impact of COVID-19 across Africa, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that citizens across the continent have done much to advance their own well-being, detailing strong economic growth, an on-going digital revolution, and a bold free-trade area agreement. 

Africa has responded swiftly to as it spreads across the continent.

But these are still early days & disruption could escalate quickly.

I am calling for international action to help strengthen Africa’s resilience against the pandemic & beyond. https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/global-solidarity-africa-imperative 

But, he added, “the pandemic threatens African progress”.

The UN chief elaborated on the coronavirus’ potential to aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease, saying “much hangs in the balance”.  

Demand for Africa’s commodities, together with tourism and remittances, are in decline, he observed.  “The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back – and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty”.

Moreover, the virus has taken more than 2,500 African lives: “Vigilance and preparedness are critical”, underscored Mr. Guterres.

‘Spectrum of urgent challenges’

Noting that while UN agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers continue to provide support, “a spectrum of urgent challenges”, require more urgent assistance.

“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings”, the UN chief spelled out.  

Mr. Guterres echoed his call for a global response package amounting to some 10 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and advocated for “across-the-board debt standstill”, followed by targeted debt relief.  

As African countries requires quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, Mr. Guterres recalled his appeal last month to support the Global Collaboration to Accelerate the Development, Production and Equitable Access to new COVID-19 Tools

“It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism”, he continued, noting that upcoming elections “offer potential milestones for stability and peace”.

Women and youth

The UN chief underscored that as women will be central to every aspect of the response, stimulus packages must prioritize increasing social protection and putting cash in their hands.

“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout”, Mr. Guterres said.Moreover, African youth must be empowered, and human rights respected.

Looking ahead

The UN chief underscored his message to the international community that “failure to respond quickly and adequately could jeopardize progress towards Silencing the Guns by 2020 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063”.

Meanwhile, various political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace. 

“Despite the impact of COVID-19, the African Union has demonstrated unwavering commitment for continued operations”, he  stated.

And on the part of the UN, Mr. Guterres said that its field presences continue to protect civilians, undertake community outreach while strictly adhering to host-countries’ COVID-19-related measures and remain actively engaged with parties to peace negotiations.

Key recommendations

The policy brief suggests specific actions in five targeted areas:
  • Health – Medical testing capacities and supply access must continue to expand and improve, along with deploying more community health workers.
  • Economy –  A “people-first” approach that requires scaled up support to government and protect livelihoods.
  • Food security – Prioritize agriculture as a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-related measures, with secure food corridors and uninterrupted supplies for farmers.
  • Peace and security – Silencing the guns is the top concern, including by implementing the Secretary-General’s and the African Union Commission Chairperson’s ceasefire appeal, and sustaining peace processes and critical peace operations. 
  • Recovery phase – Strategies must be devised to minimize inequalities and bolster health systems, social protection, cohesion, and inclusion.

In closing, he asserted that Africa was still in the early days of coronavirus infection, compared with other continents, warning that disruption could escalate quickly.  

“Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world”, concluded the Secretary-General.

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UN Middle East peace envoy warns against unilateral action on all sides, as Israel threatens West Bank annexation

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2020, Peace and Security - The UN’s Middle East peace envoy issued a stern warning on Wednesday against any unilateral action – including an Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank – that could undermine diplomatic efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that all sides must do their part in the coming weeks and months to preserve the prospect of a two-State solution, in line with internationally agreed parameters, international law and UN resolutions.

Security Council Briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question...

Mister President, Members of the Security Council, I brief you today three days after a new coalition government was sworn into office in Israel following a year of political uncertainty. I look...

unsco.unmissions.org

“These efforts must begin immediately. There is no time to lose”, said Mr. Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“The fate of the Palestinian and Israeli people must not be determined by destructive unilateral action that cements division and may put peace beyond reach in our lifetime.”

Ending ‘all agreements’

He addressed the Council – meeting via video-teleconference - just hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly announced that he is ending "all agreements" with Israel and the United States in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

His remarks also came three days after a new coalition Government was sworn into office in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to news reports, determined to declare Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the occupied territory.

Such a move would dovetail with US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” blueprint for the region, which he unveiled in January alongside Mr. Netanyahu - and which the Palestinians have rejected as a denial of their rights.

Annexation: ‘A most serious violation of international law’

Mr. Mladenov told the 15-member Council that annexation would represent “a most serious violation of international law” and deal a devastating blow to the two-State solution.

It would also slam the door on fresh negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional and international peace, he said.

The Palestinian reaction to annexation is “a desperate cry for help (and) a call for immediate action” from a generation of Palestinian leaders who have been preparing for full Statehood since the Oslo Accords signed in Washington, in 1993.

“The Palestinian leadership is not threatening.  It is calling for urgent action to preserve the prospect of peace”, said the Special Coordinator, who plans to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Thursday.

He added: “Whatever the future young Palestinians and Israelis decide to build, we have an obligation to prevent violence and protect the chance for peace.”

Council plea

He urged the Council to join Secretary-General António Guterres in his call against unilateral action, noting that recent opinion polls indicate that the Israeli public is split on the annexation question.

He also urged the Middle East Quartet – comprising the Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations – to quickly come up with a proposal that would enable it to take up its mediation role, and work jointly with countries in the region to advance prospects for peace.

Everyone must do their part

“Israel must abandon threats of annexation”, he added, “and the Palestinian leadership must re-engage with all members of the Quartet.  Everybody must do their part.”

For the moment, the situation on the ground remains dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Palestinian and Israeli authorities – despite growing political tensions – continuing to coordinate their efforts to limit the spread of the deadly virus while also carefully reopening economic life, Mr. Mladenov said.

However, while Palestinians are experiencing the same shock and uncertainty as the rest of the globe, their Government – the Palestinian Authority - cannot respond with the same agency as an independent and sovereign country, he noted.

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Just hoping coronavirus will bypass Africa, would be a deadly mistake: Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2020, Human Rights - Tens of millions of people in Africa could become destitute as a result of COVID-19 and its catastrophic impact on fragile economies and health systems across the continent, human rights chiefs from the United Nations and the African Commission warned on Wednesday. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Solomon Dersso, issued a joint call for urgent measures to mitigate the ripple effects of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable.

“We cannot afford to stand idly by and hope this most viral and deadly of diseases bypasses Africa, which is home to many of the world’s poorest countries who are simply not in position to handle such a pandemic”, Bachelet and Dersso said.

Cases in every country

As of 19 May, COVID-19 had reached all 54 African States, infecting 88,172 people – 16,433 of them in South Africa, which recorded the highest number of cases.  The continent had lost a total 2,834 people to the virus.

Poverty, lack of social protection, limited access to water, poor sanitation infrastructure, pre-existing disease burden, conflict and overstretched health systems, have created heightened risk for spreading the disease.

Ms. Bachelet and Mr. Dersso called for equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, urging creditors of African countries to freeze, restructure or relieve debt. 

“This health crisis - along with the debt burden of the continent and its already fragile economies - threaten to further drain reserves, cripple nascent job creation schemes and annihilate gains made in social development,” they said. 
Potential poverty explosion

Such losses could “throw millions more people into want and poverty,” they said, pointing out that the costs of water and basic commodities have already spiked in many countries.  People are facing hunger due to disrupted access to food and cooking fuel.  Recession in the region now looms large for the first time in more than 25 years.

“It is a matter of human rights necessity that there must be international solidarity with the people of Africa and African Governments,” they said.  Priority investments are needed in health, water and sanitation, social protection, employment and sustainable infrastructure.

Acknowledging the economic pain

The pair said that while measures to restrict movement and increase physical distancing were essential in the fight against the virus, they are now having a dramatic impact, in particular, on those who rely on informal daily work for their survival.

In addition, the human rights experts underlined the importance of preserving freedom of association, opinion and expression, as well as access to information during this critical time.  They called on Governments and businesses operating in Africa to consider making Internet tariffs more affordable so that information can reach broader audiences. 

Learning from Ebola, malaria

More broadly, the rights chiefs said Africa has learned from its experiences with Ebola and malaria about the need to take swift action in countering disease spread.  They reminded African Governments that it is a legal imperative - and a pre-requisite for success – that they protect the most vulnerable and stamp out any violations that emerge during the pandemic, including discrimination in all its forms, violence against women, food insecurity, excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings.

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Syria: UN relief chief appeals for renewal of lifesaving cross-border aid operation

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The UN’s top aid official has urged the Security Council to renew a mechanism that provides lifesaving assistance to millions of desperate people in northwest Syria, through cross-border deliveries from Turkey.

Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock made the appeal on Tuesday during a virtual briefing to ambassadors in which he outlined the pressing need to keep the trucks rolling, amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“An early decision by the Council will avoid disruption of this vital operation and help humanitarian organizations continue the scale-up that the current needs and the prospect of COVID-19 demand. A delay will increase suffering and will cost lives.”

Staggering rise in deliveries

The cross-border operation is the sole means for the UN to bring assistance to northwestern Syria, where the humanitarian situation has deteriorated since December following a government offensive to root out extremists.

Mr. Lowcock said deliveries continue at record levels, Last month, 1,365 trucks made the journey from Turkey: a more than 130 per cent increase over April 2019.

The scale-up was necessary, he added, not only because of the staggering humanitarian demands and the need to prepare for the pandemic’s impact, but also because the cross-border operation is set to expire in less than two months.

The UN Secretary-General has recommended that it be renewed for an additional 12 months, having submitted a review to the Council ahead of schedule to prevent the disruption of aid flows.

“This decision cannot be left to the last minute”, Mr. Lowcock told ambassadors. “Too many lives are at stake.”

Overland aid reaches northeast

Turning to northeast Syria, Mr. Lowcock reported that last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered some 30 tonnes of medical supplies to Qamishli by road.

This marked the first overland aid delivery by the UN health agency in two years.  Mr. Lowcock said while another 23 tonnes of aid is expected in the coming days, more needs to be done.

“The findings of the Secretary-General’s review of cross-line and cross-border operations are also clear with regard to the northeast”, he stated.

 

“A combination of more cross-border and cross-line access is required to sustain, and preferably increase, humanitarian assistance.”

UN boosts COVID-19 support

Meanwhile, the UN is supporting COVID-19 preparedness and response across Syria, where the authorities have so far confirmed 58 cases and three fatalities. While none have been in the northwest, the region remains at high risk of an outbreak.

The UN is also boosting efforts to expand testing capacity and case investigation, as well as infection prevention and control.

Although a UN humanitarian fund has already dispersed some $23 million for preventative measures, Mr. Lowcock said significant shortages in personal protective equipment and other medical items remain.

The UN Secretary-General recently called for the waiver of sanctions that could impede countries’ efforts to beat back the pandemic: a message echoed by his Special Envoy for Syria, who briefed the Council on Monday.

Mr. Lowcock has welcomed commitments to apply humanitarian exceptions to these measures.

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WHO countries agree 'equitable and timely access' to coronavirus vaccine, 'comprehensive evaluation' of response

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2020, Health - The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded the annual World Health Assembly on Tuesday, adopting a resolution that calls for an independent review of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the agency’s own performance.

The UN health agency's annual oversight convention, held for the first time ever by teleconference from Geneva on 18-19 May, was focused intensely on defeating the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.7 million people worldwide, caused more than 316,100 deaths and thrown the futures of even the most robust economies into jeopardy.

The event was punctuated by the assertion from the White House that WHO did not act quickly enough in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak to contain its spread.  In a letter sent via Twitter on Monday to the WHO chief, US President Donald Trump set a 30-day deadline for the UN health agency to make significant reforms or risk losing funding.

Resolution on vaccines, treatment, ‘comprehensive evaluation’

By the resolution, passed unanimously by the 194 WHO Member States, the Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was called on to rapidly identify and provide options for scaling up the development, manufacture and distribution capacities needed for providing access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines.

More broadly, international organizations were called on to work collaboratively to develop, test and scale-up production of safe, effective, quality, affordable diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines for the COVID-19 response – including in the licensing of patents to facilitate access to them.

In his closing remarks, Tedros said WHO’s focus remains fighting the pandemic with every tool at its disposal.  “Our focus is on saving lives,” he said.

He pledged to initiate an evaluation at the “earliest appropriate moment”, welcoming any effort to strengthen global health security - and the agency itself.  “As always, WHO remains fully committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” he assured.  “We want accountability more than anyone.”Neither he nor the Secretary-General responded on Tuesday directly to Mr. Trump’s letter, with the UN Spokesperson referring journalists in New York to opening remarks on the work and value of the WHO amidst the pandemic, António Guterres made to the Assembly on Monday.

Dr. Tedros also thanked the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee for its continuous review of WHO’s work in health emergencies, and in particular, its report on the COVID-19 response, published on Monday.  “Checking and learning our lessons is in WHO’s DNA”, Tedros said, noting that he was heartened at how countries had shared best practices during the Assembly.

‘We’ll never, ever give up’

For its part, WHO will continue to provide strategic leadership to coordinate the global response, he said, offering epidemiological information and analysis and keeping countries updated on ways to keep safe.

In addition, WHO will continue to ship diagnostics, personal protective equipment and medical supplies across the globe, convene experts to deliver technical advice based on the best science, and drive research to develop evidence about vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

COVID-19 has “robbed us of people we love”, he said, taken livelihoods and shaken the world’s very foundations.  It has also offered a reminder of the opportunity to forge a common future.  WHO will continue to work - day and night - to support the most vulnerable countries and populations.  “We’ll never, ever give up,” Tedros pledged.  “Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.”

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Guterres encourages three UN Member States to agree on Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2020, Economic Development - UN chief António Guterres is encouraging Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to persevere with efforts to overcome their differences and reach agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Through his spokesperson, the Secretary-General noted on Tuesday that “good progress” is being made in negotiations between the three countries in hopes of achieving a mutually beneficial agreement.

Going up along the Blue Nile near the border with Sudan, and under construction since 2011, the $4.5 billion dam – also known by its acronym GERD - will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant once completed.

Negotiations centre on the pace at which Ethiopia fills the 74 billion cubic metre reservoir behind the dam and the impact that could have on water supplies downstream in Sudan and Egypt.

Ethiopia is keen to start filling the reservoir in July.

The Secretary-General encourages progress towards an amicable agreement -- UN Spokesperson

“The Secretary-General underscores the importance of the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD, which emphasizes cooperation based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win, and the principles of international law,” the spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General encourages progress towards an amicable agreement in accordance with the spirit of these Principles,” he added.

Resolving differences

Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have all indicated their willingness to resume discussions, but differences linger over the appropriate mechanism for such talks.

UN experts say that Egypt wants to put international pressure on Ethiopia to agree to a proposal - put forward by the United States and World Bank - on the dam’s first filling and annual operation.

But Ethiopia is rejecting that idea as severely limiting the dam’s capacity to generate electricity and curtailing rights to future upstream development, among other reasons.

Egypt also insists that Ethiopia must not start filling the reservoir until an agreement is reached, in line with its interpretation of the Declaration that Ethiopia is contesting.

The Declaration, signed in March 2015, outlines the parties’ commitment to cooperation and to resolve differences through negotiations. It also states that if a dispute cannot be resolved, the matter can be referred to the heads of State and Government with an option for a joint request for mediation. 

Ethiopia favours resolving the dispute at the trilateral level and has historically been against internationalizing the issue, seeing no mediation role for the United Nations.

On 13 May, Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation said that the country could not agree to an Ethiopian proposal on the initial filling as it failed to address longer-term technical, legal and environmental issues.

According to news reports, Egypt also dismissed the Ethiopian proposal on the initial filling, writing a letter to the Security Council on 1 May calling on Ethiopia to respect its obligations and resume talks.

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'Alarming’ military build-up underway in Libya, as COVID-19 heightens insecurity

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2020, Peace and Security - The civil war in Libya is in danger of intensifying as foreign intervention grows and the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic adds to a deepening sense of insecurity, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Stephanie Williams, who is also Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, said on Tuesday that while the rest of the world adjusts to life with the novel coronavirus, Libyans have dealt with almost constant bombardment and frequent water and electricity outages during the holy month Ramadan.

Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Stephanie Williams' briefing to the @UN Security Council on the situation in - 19 May 2020: https://bit.ly/3g2Qqsp
View image on Twitter

At the same time, an “alarming” military build-up is underway as foreign backers send increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons to the warring sides – the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the so-called opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. The General’s forces began laying siege to southern parts of the capital Tripoli, more than a year ago.

Justice must prevail

The vast majority of the 58 civilians killed and 190 injured since 1 April are attributed to forces affiliated with General Haftar, she said, adding that those guilty of crimes under international law must be brought to justice.

“From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen - with devastating consequences for the Libyan people”, she told the Council.

“As the foreign intervention increases, the Libyans themselves are getting lost in the mix, their voices crowded out. We must not let Libya slip away. We must enable responsible Libyans to write their own future.”

Apply ‘credible’ pressure

She urged Council members to come together and apply “consistent and credible pressure” on those regional and international actors that are fuelling the conflict, which has left one million civilians in need of humanitarian assistance.

“We can collectively write a different ending to this so far sad tale but only if we demonstrate a collective will to do so”, she added as she presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNSMIL.

COVID impact

Stephanie Turco Williams, Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)., by UNSMIL

Discussing the impact of COVID-19 on Libya, she reported 65 confirmed cases and three COVID-related deaths across Libya up to Monday – a low count that reflects low testing capacity, limited contact tracing and fear of social stigmatization.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), however, the peak of the pandemic has yet to reach the country “and the risk of an intensification of the outbreak remains very high.”

She expressed particular concern about the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers, including at least 1,400 who have been expelled this year from eastern Libya in violation of the country’s international human rights obligations.

She went on to say that the fighting - compounded with the pandemic and an ongoing oil blockade that has cost Libya more than $4 billion – is aggravating an already fraught socioeconomic situation.

The weaponization of vital services is another worrying trend, she added, pointing to the cut-off of both water supplies from the Man-Made River and natural gas to electrical power plants.

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Coordination essential to beat coronavirus, keep development goals on track

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2020, SDGs - As the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis continues to wreak havoc across the world – with the most vulnerable suffering the most – the UN chief said on Tuesday that the task of eradicating poverty and achieving the development goals “has never been more challenging, more urgent and more necessary”.

“Our objective remains clear: to help countries navigate and accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fully respecting the principle of national ownership”, Secretary-General António Guterres said, opening the first-ever virtual session of the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Operational Activities for Development Segment.

 
View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
 

While a “renewed spirit of collaboration” and UN reforms have “put us on the right footing”, he flagged that the coronavirus pandemic has “raised the bar even higher”. 

“We now have a triple imperative”, the UN chief maintained, namely responding urgently to help stem the transmission and impact of the pandemic; to help people safeguard development gains and protect lives, working with partners to ensure that all recovery efforts follow the 2030 Agenda, and advance the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

Resident coordinators 

In 2018, the Organization reformed its development system, including by making UN Country Teams – under the independent leadership of Resident Coordinators, or RCs – better adapted to local needs.

In confronting this triple challenge, Mr. Guterres outlined that RCs are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) as they lead the health response; the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on socio-economic support involving all Country Team members; and Regional Economic Commissions on debt, trade and other macroeconomic dimensions. 

Noting the achievement of gender parity along with a significant improvement in geographic diversity, he maintained that they are being recognized as “the empowered and impartial leader of the UN development system at country level”
“Step by step, we are building an even stronger and more diverse cadre of Resident Coordinators”, the UN chief asserted.

UN Verification Mission in Colombia/Marcos Guevara
During the COVID-19 pandemic, former combatants farm in Colombia.

Working together

The Secretary-General shared tailored proposals for a better organized, more collaborative UN development system at regional levels, “one that is more able to tackle cross-border challenges and leverage regional policy expertise for SDG results”.

He set out a detailed plan to boost UN efforts across the SDG’s social, economic and environmental dimensions and underscored the need to “continue to step up cooperation in core areas” that have strong links and the greatest impact, such as rooting out poverty and leaving no one behind, as well as climate change, gender equality, economic transformation and employment and partnerships — including south-south cooperation.

The UN development system relies on “a strong coordination backbone”, stressed Mr. Guterres. 

“Working together - with our foot on the pedal and our eyes on the 2030 Agenda - we will get through this crisis and reach our destination — protecting hard-won development progress and accelerating our joint efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in this Decade of Action”, concluded the UN chief. “Thank you for your commitment”.

Deepening efforts

ECOSOC President Mona Juul stressed that this time of rapid re-prioritization, “is not about making a choice between COVID-19 response or the 2030 Agenda”. 

“On the contrary”, she stated. “Our commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has not changed, but the urgency to act, has”.

With the most vulnerable people and countries being hit the hardest, Ms. Juul called COVID-19 “a harsh reminder” of structural inequalites, arguing that the UN’s response to the crisis must be guided by the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development; “in short: leaving no one behind”. 

And on the ground, the UN provides resilience to “make a real difference in the lives of people” towards dignity and equality, she emphasized

“Together, we will deepen our efforts during this Decade of Action - to recover better, and build a healthier, greener, fairer and a more resilient world. A world of solidarity”, concluded Ms. Juul.

Rethink development

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed failures of economic structures, social protection systems and welfare schemes. 

“Hence”, she said, “a ‘new normality’ is not the way forward; we must rethink the development model and consolidate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, leaving no one behind, sustained”.

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