Soualiga (7778)

Health must come before the economy, insists top UN official for Latin America and the Caribbean

INTERNATIONAL, 31 July 2020, Economic Development - In Latin America, where much of the region has dealt with years of sluggish growth, the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing millions more into poverty, says Alicia Bárcena, the head of the UN regional body for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

In an extensive interview with the UN communications chief, Melissa Fleming, Ms. Bárcena expressed concern at the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on indigenous people in the region, in terms of both the health risks they face; shared her fear that the wisdom and knowledge held by these communities is disappearing; and her dismay at rising inequality and poverty, following a period in which progress has been made on both fronts.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

(Alicia Bárcena) “This is a bad time for this region: we are the epicentre of the pandemic, and extreme poverty rates are going up. Poverty is expected to affect almost 230 million people in this region, and almost 95 million of those are going to be in extreme poverty. When you look at who these people are, we're talking mainly about indigenous peoples, and more than half are women, who are also very affected by the crisis.

We are also confronting a lack of leadership in the world, to focus on this ‘public bad’: we need leadership, we don't need each country focusing on its own problems. We need cooperation, we need collective action.”

(Melissa Fleming) You are from Mexico, and you grew up there. Where does your particular concern for indigenous people come from?

(Alicia Bárcena) “I am a biologist by training, a botanist, and I started my career working with an indigenous people’s community in the Maya region. I learned from them the names of the plants, and what they were using the plants for. They have a perception of the world that is totally different from ours, by which I mean that of the Western world. They have a very clear vision that we are part of nature, and not here to conquer nature.

Antonia Benito
A group of Mayan Poqomam women in Guatemala.

I'm afraid that by not protecting indigenous peoples, we are going to lose their knowledge, their wisdom, their vision of the biodiversity of the world, of the future, and their respect for the past of the ancestors.

And I worry about the communities of the Amazon region, where we are losing so many hectares of forest, and where the communities are at risk. They do not have access to health care or clean water, and they have been marginalized from the best land. 

(Melissa Fleming) In your region, you had been celebrating a tremendous amount of progress in poverty reduction, and then COVID-19 hit, reversing these gains. How does that make you feel?

(Alicia Bárcena) “Frankly, very frustrated. This region started to see a reduction in inequality, for the first time, in 2002. 

This was partly because there was progressive leadership, with governments that really looked into the process of reducing poverty. And we made a lot of progress. The region was able to pull some 60 million people out of poverty.

The current problems didn’t begin with the pandemic. We saw the trend in poverty reduction begin to reverse, in 2014. We had very mediocre growth, with fiscal austerity programmes to stop this region getting further into debt. 

And now, with the pandemic, we are faced with a very delicate situation and, I think, a crisis that is even worse than the one we confronted in the 1980s: we're going to see many more falling into poverty than ever before, probably around 230 million people.”

FAO/Ubirajara Machado
Children eat a meal at their school which is taking part in a school feeding programme in Latin America and the Caribbean.

(Melissa Fleming) In many countries in your region, the science around the pandemic is being distorted, including by political leaders. As somebody who trained as a scientist, I'm curious, how do you react to this?

(Alicia Bárcena) “There are many things about this pandemic that we don't know, and, in a way, this pandemic has brought back the importance of scientific evidence and knowledge. I try to read as much as I can about this virus, and how the pandemic is behaving. 

Science has to be the basis of our decision-making when, for example, we want to reopen our economies. There is no health/economy dilemma: health concerns have to come first. That's why we need to support people’s basic incomes, because this is not going to be a short-term crisis.”

(Melissa Fleming) Are there any sort of silver linings? Is there anything that gives you some hope?

(Alicia Bárcena) “I hope that it will possible to build a new social contract, a different conversation between the state, the private sector and civil society. I really believe that we need people to stand up and speak.

I have a lot of faith in local communities, how they are showing solidarity. I think that there's a lot of hope that we can come together to engage in more cooperative and collective action. Because that's the only way we're going to get out of this.”


Young people ‘not invincible’ in COVID-19 pandemic: WHO chief

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2020, Health - Although older people are among those at highest risk of COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has reminded younger generations that they are “not invincible” when it comes to the disease.

Evidence suggests that the spike in cases in some countries is partly due to younger people “letting down their guard during the northern hemisphere summer”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

“We have said it before and we’ll say it again: young people are not invincible”, he told journalists.

“Young people can be infected; young people can die; and young people can transmit the virus to others.”

He stressed that the world’s youth “should be leaders and drivers of change” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protect yourself and others

Tedros further advised that people everywhere must learn to live with the virus, and to take steps necessary to protect themselves and others, including those who are most at risk, such as the elderly and people in long-term care.

Many countries have reported that more than 40 percent of COVID-19-related deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities, and up to 80 per cent in some high-income countries.

In response, WHO has released a policy brief on preventing and managing COVID-19 in those facilities.

It lists key actions such as integrating long-term care in national response plans to counter the pandemic, ensuring strong infection prevention and control, and providing support for family and voluntary caregivers.

The brief also suggests ways to transform long-term care services so that older people can receive quality care that respects their rights, freedoms and dignity, Tedros added.

Experts to advise on behavioural insights

Twenty-two international experts in fields such as anthropology, psychology, neuroscience and health promotion will help WHO understand how people make decisions that support their health and well-being, including during the pandemic.

The newly established Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health, announced aon Thursday, will support WHO’s ongoing work in this area.

Tedros explained that while having reliable information about health is important, people make decisions based on a variety of factors, influenced by culture, beliefs, economic circumstances, or the status of national health systems.

“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are using a range of tools to influence behaviour: information campaigns are one tool, but so are laws, regulations, guidelines and even fines”, he said.

“That’s why behavioural science is so important – it helps us to understand how people make decisions, so we can support them to make the best decisions for their health.”

American legal scholar and former top US Government official Cass Sunstein chairs the Technical Advisory Group, whose members come from 16 countries.

“Our starting point…is that health involves behaviour. And whether we’re speaking of COVID-19, or sexual and reproductive health, or smoking, or other non-communicable diseases, human behaviour is at the root of it”, said Professor Sunstein, who is founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School.

“We know that habits are persistent, even if they aren’t healthy. And we know from a great deal of work that habits can be altered – and that can save lives.”

Eid al-Adha and a safe Hajj

Tedros also extended best wishes to all Muslims celebrating the annual Eid al-Adha festival, which falls on Friday.

He commended Saudi Arabia for implementing measures to make this year’s Hajj pilgrimage as safe as possible.


“This is a powerful demonstration of the kinds of measures that countries can and must take to adapt to the new normal”, said the WHO chief.

“It’s not easy, but it can be done. The pandemic does not mean life has to stop."


World Day against Human Trafficking spotlights essential role of first responders

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2020, Law and Crime Prevention - The UN commemorated World Day against Human Trafficking on Thursday spotlighting the essential – but often overlooked - role of first responders who identify the millions of victims worldwide, helping them secure justice, and rebuild their lives.

“These are the people who work in different sectors - identifying, supporting, counselling and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of the traffickers,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message on the Day, which is observed annually each 30 July.

‘True shift’ needed

Their role has only become more important in the context of COVID-19, particularly as travel restrictions have forced new dangers upon victims, who are often sold into sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced begging, forced marriage and organ removal, among other activities.

“A true shift is needed in the prevention of and fight against trafficking, which should be genuinely inspired by a human rights agenda to be really effective,” said Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, who said many of those exploited in the sex trade are being left to starve by their captors during the lockdowns.

Further, she said workers considered essential during the COVID-19 crisis have been obliged to work under pressure, for long hours without proper safety measures.  “The impact of the pandemic confirms that the trend is still - and even more today - towards increasing severe exploitation,” she confirmed.

As 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the “Palermo Protocol” to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime - the main international anti-trafficking instrument – she drew pointed attention to the massive exploitation going unnoticed in many sectors.  It is becoming a “systemic component of our economies, worldwide.” 

A new vision

She called for a human-rights approach, which would require reforms to international and national legislation, starting with the due diligence obligations of States and businesses, which should be made binding - including in their supply chains.

Trafficked and exploited persons meanwhile should be allowed to appeal negative decisions on residence status and assistance, she said, with the non-punishment principle applied to any illicit activities these persons have been involved in as a direct consequence of their being trafficked.  And immigration laws should provide for regular and accessible channels, firewalls between social services, labour inspections and regulation of recruitment and intermediation agencies.

Criminals exploit pandemic, adapt tactics

The Day featured a high-level virtual event highlighting people engaged in the response to human trafficking. 

In a video message to participants, Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said more than 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims are women and girls, while nearly one third are children.

“COVID-19 has amplified trafficking dangers,” she said, with job loss, poverty, school closures and a rise in online interactions opening new opportunities for organized crime groups.

At the same time, she said the crisis has overwhelmed social and public services, impacted the work of law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and made it harder for victims to seek help.

For its part, UNODC is providing protective equipment to shelters and helping Governments mitigate COVID-19’s impact on anti-trafficking responses, she said.  It also manages the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which helps non-governmental groups assist 3,500 victims a year in more than 40 countries.

Just two trafficking convictions this year

Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) said a global survey of 100 survivors from 40 countries, and 400 frontline stakeholders, found that survivors face greater difficulties accessing all essential services than they did before the pandemic:  food, water, safe accommodation, and now, COVID-19 testing, when needed.

In the few places where these services are available, survivors are “very poorly” informed about them, she said.  From the start of the pandemic, every third survivor reports being targeted by an offer related to potential exploitation.  “I don’t need to underscore just how dire this problem is,” she said, stressing that perpetrators have been very agile in adapting their tactics to COVID-19.

Without corrective actions, this trend will likely continue beyond the pandemic.  International legal frameworks must be strengthened.  “Impunity has always been very high, and with pandemic, it has just gotten worse,” she said, noting that only two trafficking convictions have been made globally since start of 2020.

‘Plague’ of COVID no excuse for slavery to flourish - Mira Sorvino

Mira Sorvino, UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for the Global Fight against Human Trafficking, described that statistic as “absolutely chilling to the bone”, given that, at the lowest estimates, there are 30 million people living in conditions of human trafficking.

With so much attention on COVID-19, there must be a scaled response by Governments and civil society to place the focus back on slavery.  “Just because we have a plague doesn’t mean that, under our watch, slavery can just proliferate - and the traffickers win,” with control over their traumatized and brutalized subjects.

She pressed Governments to announce targeted actions, establish task forces, organize events that allow victims to speak to these horrors and allocate much more of their budgets to tackle this problem. 

Many countries have legal frameworks, but the political will to enact them has been “completely absent” - even before the pandemic.  “I have been dismayed at how little the importance of exploited people has meant to the budgeting of national economies,” she said, and how weakly slavery is fought compared to the war on drugs, particularly in the United States, where more is spent on that fight in a few hours than on trafficking domestically and abroad.  “It’s shockingly apparent when we see how little money we put into disbanding the organized crime enslaving people”.

To be sure, there are cheap ways to elevate capacities to respond, she said.  A UNODC study found that training for judges, lawyers and first responders in the medical community drastically increases the discovery of victims.  Laws can be rolled into existence and judicial proceedings – which ground to a halt under the COVID-19 crisis - can be switched online.

Survivor voices

Above all, raising survivor voices is paramount to increasing the outcry that will ultimately push Governments into action.  “Hearing what they need for a change engaged me at a soul level,” she said. “It made me not able to turn my back.”

Driving that point home, Michael Brosowski, Founder and Co-CEO, Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Viet Nam, said that while today’s event has been underway, his organization had brought home a 15-year-old from China who had been sold into the sex trade, a process that has been “thrown into disarray” by COVID-19. 

“When we look back on this period, we’ll see that traffickers have still found ways to get their victims across the borders,” he said, citing a “massive” uptick in trafficking of young people in Viet Nam, including from karaoke bars and the fishing sites that would normally be unusual.  He appealed for support.  “Service providers can do nothing without funding.” 


Ravages of acute hunger will likely hit six in 10 in Zimbabwe: WFP

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The World Food Programme (WFP) is urgently seeking more international support to prevent millions of Zimbabweans plunging deeper into hunger. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated an already severe hunger crisis in Zimbabwe, UN humanitarians warned on Thursday.

In an appeal for an additional $250 million to support emergency relief for millions of vulnerable people, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that by the end of the year, the number of food-insecure people in the southern African nation, is expected to surge by almost 50 per cent, to 8.6 million.

Triple shock

That represents around 60 per cent of the population, the agency said in a statement, blaming drought, economic recession and the coronavirus pandemic as the main drivers of the crisis.

Galloping hyperinflation has meant that few families can now afford even basic food, WFP said, with the price of maize, the staple cereal, more than doubling in June.

Lola Castro, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, said that many Zimbabwean families were suffering “the ravages of acute hunger”, before appealing to the international community to help prevent “a potential humanitarian catastrophe.”

Unemployment rife

Zimbabwe’s food insecurity has been compounded by a nationwide lockdown which has caused massive joblessness in urban areas.

In rural areas, hunger is accelerating, as unemployed migrants return to their villages, without the vital remittances they once provided.

According to WFP, subsistence farmers make up three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population and produce most of its food.

They are hurting because of a third successive drought-hit harvest this year which yielded only 1.1 million tonnes of maize, the staple cereal.

Harvest short by half

This amount is well down on last year’s already poor harvest of 2.4 million tonnes, and less than half the national requirement.

As a result, WFP has warned that that there will “even more severe hunger” in early 2021, at the peak of the next “lean” season.

With sufficient funding, the agency intends to assist four million of the most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe this year: those suffering “crisis” and “emergency” levels of hunger.

It intends to scale up this aid to five million people from January to April next year, the peak of the lean season.

This month, amid serious funding shortages, WFP will only reach 700,000 of 1.8 million intended recipients.


Five things you should know about disposable masks and plastic pollution

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2020, Climate Change - The fight against plastic pollution is being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars, but UN agencies and partners insist that, if effective measures are put into place, the amount of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut, or even eliminated.

1) Pollution driven by huge increase in mask sales

The promotion of mask wearing as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 has led to an extraordinary increase in the production of disposable masks: the UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimates that global sales will total some $166 billion this year, up from around $800 million in 2019.

Recent media reports, showing videos and photos of divers picking up masks and gloves, littering the waters around the French Riviera, were a wake-up call for many, refocusing minds on the plastic pollution issue, and a reminder that politicians, leaders and individuals need to address the problem of plastic pollution. 

2) A toxic problem

Manta rays in Bali, Indonesia navigate through plastic pollution., by UN World Oceans Day/Joerg Blessing

If historical data is a reliable indicator, it can be expected that around 75 per cent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. Aside from the environmental damage, the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fisheries, is estimated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at around $40 billion.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that, if the large increase in medical waste, much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics, is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result. 

The potential consequences, says UNEP, which has produced a series of factsheets on the subject, include public health risks from infected used masks, and the open burning or uncontrolled incineration of masks, leading to the release of toxins in the environment, and to secondary transmission of diseases to humans.

Because of fears of these potential secondary impacts on health and the environment, UNEP is urging governments to treat the management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service. The agency argues that the safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response.

“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”

3) Existing solutions could cut plastics by 80 per cent

© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
A woman sorts through bags of discarded plastic in Côte d'Ivoire.

However, this state of affairs can be changed for the better, as shown by a recent, wide-ranging, report on plastic waste published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and sustainability thinktank Systemiq.

The study, “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution”, which was endorsed by Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment agency UNEP, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple by 2040, from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.

But around 80 per cent of plastic pollution could be eliminated over this same period, simply by replacing inadequate regulation, changing business models and introducing incentives leading to the reduced production of plastics. Other recommended measures include designing products and packaging that can be more easily recycled, and expanding waste collection, particularly in lower income countries.

4) Global cooperation is essential

In its July analysis of plastics, sustainability and development, UNCTAD came to the conclusion that global trade policies also have an important role to play in reducing pollution. 

Many countries have introduced regulations that mention plastics over the last decade, an indicator of growing concern surrounding the issue, but, the UNCTAD analysis points out, for trade policies to be truly effective, coordinated, global rules are needed.

“The way countries have been using trade policy to fight plastic pollution has mostly been uncoordinated, which limits the effectiveness of their efforts, says Ms. Coke-Hamilton. “There are limits to what any country can achieve on its own.”

5) Promote planet and job-friendly alternatives

Whilst implementing these measures would make a huge dent in plastic pollution between now and 2040, the Pew/ Systemiq report acknowledges that, even in its best-case scenario, five million metric tons of plastics would still be leaking into the ocean every year.

 A dramatic increase in innovation and investment, leading to technological advances, the report’s study’s authors conclude, would be necessary to deal comprehensively with the problem.

Furthermore, UNCTAD is urging governments to promote non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable alternatives, such as natural fibres, rice husk, and natural rubber. These products would be more environmentally-friendly and, as developing countries are key suppliers of many plastic substitutes, could provide the added benefit of providing new jobs. Bangladesh, for example, is the world’s leading supplier of jute exports, whilst, between them, Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire account for the bulk of natural rubber exports.

“There’s no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave,” said Tom Dillon, Pew’s vice president for environment. As the organization’s report shows, “we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature”.


COVID-19: UN chief outlines path to sustainable, inclusive recovery in Southeast Asia

INTERNATIONAL, 30 July 2020, SDGs - Tackling inequality, bridging the digital divide, greening the economy, and upholding human rights and good governance will be critical for Southeast Asia to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Secretary-General said on Thursday.

António Guterres has released his latest policy brief on the crisis, which examines impacts on the 11 countries in the subregion and recommendations for the way forward that put gender equality at the centre of response efforts.

“As in other parts of the world, the health, economic and political impact of COVID-19 has been significant across Southeast Asia - hitting the most vulnerable the hardest”, he said in a video accompanying the launch.

Sustainable development off track

Southeast Asia comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Viet Nam.

Prior to the pandemic, countries were lagging behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline.

Despite strong economic growth, the policy brief reveals that the subregion was beset by numerous challenges including high inequality, low social protection, a large informal sector, and a regression in peace, justice and robust institutions.

Furthermore, ecosystem damage, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and air quality were at “worrying” levels.

Inequalities revealed, tensions surfacing

“The pandemic has highlighted deep inequalities, shortfalls in governance and the imperative for a sustainable development pathway. And it has revealed new challenges, including to peace and security”, the Secretary-General said.

The current situation is leading to recession and social tensions, while several long-running conflicts have stagnated due to stalled political processes.

“All governments in the subregion have supported my appeal for a global ceasefire - and I count on all countries in Southeast Asia to translate that commitment into meaningful change on the ground”, he added.

Regional cooperation praised

The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, and the pandemic was declared in March. Globally, there have been more than 16.5 million cases, with nearly 657,000 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Wednesday.

While the disease arrived in Southeast Asia earlier than in the rest of the globe, the UN chief commended governments for acting swiftly to battle the pandemic.

On average, they took 17 days to declare a state of emergency or lockdown after 50 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, according to the policy brief.

“Containment measures have spared Southeast Asia the degree of suffering and upheaval seen elsewhere,” said Mr. Guterres, who also praised cooperation among the countries.

Four critical areas for response

The Secretary-General underlined four areas that will be critical to ensuring recovery from the pandemic leads to a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for Southeast Asia.

The first – tackling inequality in income, health care and social protection – will require short-term stimulus measures as well as long-term policy changes, he said.

Mr. Guterres also advised countries to bridge the digital divide so that no one is left behind in an ever-more-connected world.

Due to the over dependence on coal and other industries of the past, he encouraged “greening” the economy, including to create future jobs.

Upholding human rights, protecting civic space and promoting transparency are all intrinsic to an effective response, he concluded.

Advance gender equality

“Central to these efforts is the need to advance gender equality, address upsurges in gender-based violence, and target women in all aspects of economic recovery and stimulus plans,” the UN chief said.

“This will mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on women, and is also one of the surest avenues to sustainable, rapid, and inclusive recovery for all.”


Though the challenge is formidable, the Secretary-General underlined the UN’s strong commitment to helping Southeast Asian countries achieve the SDGs and a peaceful future for all.



SINT MAARTEN (SIMPSON BAY-AIRPORT) - Sint Maarten is faced with a new and seemingly more severe outbreak of the Covid-19 respiratory virus. This time, however, more and more people and businesses are prepared, and have already implemented safety measures to prevent infection and to minimize the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, a prevention and mitigation system is as strong as its weakest link. The key element of a successful safety management system is to create a culture whereby the entire society shares the same safety values, upholds the measures and the commits to individual responsibilities.

Global successes, or failures, of safety management systems are becoming more and more clearer, whereby we have seen in the United States how inconsistent policies and messages (a broken chain), affects an entire society.

In stark contrast to the latter, East Asian countries like Taiwan, have successfully stopped the spread of the virus. Their society proactively protect one another from disease and understand the value of the overall safety management system.

It also helps that cultures in most Asian countries, are collectivist in orientation, and although the virus in Taiwan is under control and there are no signs of new community outbreaks, most people are still wearing facemasks in public. Their mentality is that the society must protect each other, it’s not only to protect yourself but also to protect others in case you are carrying the virus.

In the beginning of the outbreak health officials where against public use of facemasks, because scientists did not yet know how easily COVID-19 spreads between people without symptoms, and how long the virus can linger in the air. Further to that, there was a shortage of respiratory masks among health care workers, which caused a push back from health officials towards public use.

Today, most scientists and health officials are emphasizing that we must wear masks if we want to save lives and the economy. The Director of the Center for Control and Disease and Prevention (CDC) has stated that ‘’if all wore face coverings for the next 12 weeks across the nation, this virus transmission would stop.”

The main reason facemasks are so effective is that it protects other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected and doesn’t have symptoms, which happens about 80% of the time.

Recent studies also indicate that wearing a mask also protects you as an individual. The less virus load you get in, the less sick you are likely to get, and you get what is called an asymptomatic infection. In some cases, you may not have any symptoms at all, or a very mildly.

To mask or not to mask? PJIAEs Covid-19 prevention and Mitigation Taskforce is very clear about this question. Early facemask policies in many East-Asian countries curbed the spread of Covid-19 and saved many lives.

Early in March, PJIAE committed to a $300k investment in upgrading its safety measures, protecting staff, the airport community and Sint Maarten’s visitors. A considerable amount of investment has gone to different types of Facemasks.

Today, it can be concluded as undoubtedly proven that Facemasks are the most effective personal protective equipment. PJIAE also made it mandatory that all airport users must wear a mask once entering the airport. PJIAE also received backing on the enforcement of this rule by formal instruction of the Minister VSA, Richard Panneflek, based on article 44 section 1 of the Public Health Ordinance (Lv0 Publieke Gezondheid AB 2016 no. 42), and further supports the Minister’s decision to make it mandatory for persons to wear masks in public places.

Other than the investments PJIAE made in Facemasks, PJIAE also trained all its staff and its airport community members with proper usage guidelines. It is important that everyone educate themselves on the importance of wearing Facemasks and how to use them.

For those who are interested in the proper usage of Facemasks and other safety measures, as well as PJIAE’s prevention and mitigation measures, please follow PJIAEs online training at

virus filter

Research shows that the Facemasks, when used, can filter particles smaller than the virus.



Revealed: A third of world’s children poisoned by lead, UNICEF analysis finds

INTERNATIONAL, 29 July 2020, Health - Lead poisoning is affecting children on a “massive and previously unknown scale”, according to a ground-breaking new study launched on Thursday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and international non-profit organization focused on pollution issues, Pure Earth

The report, the first of its kind, says that around 1 in 3 children - up to 800 million globally - have blood lead levels at, or above, 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), the amount at which action is required. Nearly half of these children live in South Asia.

“With few early symptoms, lead silently wreaks havoc on children’s health and development, with possibly fatal consequences”, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warned. “Knowing how widespread lead pollution is – and understanding the destruction it causes to individual lives and communities – must inspire urgent action to protect children once and for all.”

The report - The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential - is an analysis of childhood lead exposure undertaken by the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation and verified with a study approved for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives. It features five case studies in Kathgora, Bangladesh; Tbilisi, Georgia; Agbogbloshie, Ghana; Pesarean, Indonesia; and Morelos State, Mexico.

The report notes that lead is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreparable harm to children's brains. It is particularly destructive to babies and children under the age of five, causing them lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical impairment.

Childhood lead exposure has also been linked to mental health and behavioural problems, and to an increase of crime and violence, the report says. It is estimated to cost lower- and middle-income countries, $1 trillion in lost economic potential of these children over their lifetimes.

Sub-par battery recycling, slack regulation to blame

Informal and substandard recycling of lead-acid batteries is a leading contributor to lead poisoning in children living in low and middle-income countries, the report finds, where an increase in vehicle ownership and a lack of vehicle battery recycling regulation, has resulted in nearly half of lead-acid batteries being unsafely recycled in the informal economy.

Other culprits: Pipes, paint, consumer products

Other sources of childhood exposure include lead in water from the use of leaded pipes, lead from active industry - such as mining - lead-based paint and pigments, and leaded gasoline.

Lead solder in food cans, as well as in spices, cosmetics, ayurvedic medicines, toys and other consumer products, are also to blame. Parents whose occupations involve working with lead often bring contaminated dust home on their clothes, hair, hands and shoes, inadvertently exposing their children to the toxic element.

Education, public awareness campaigns critical

“The good news is that lead can be recycled safely without exposing workers, their children, and surrounding neighbourhoods, said Richard Fuller, President of Pure Earth, adding that “lead-contaminated sites can be remediated and restored.”

Further, people can be educated about the dangers and empowered to protect themselves and their children. “The return on the investment is enormous: improved health, increased productivity, higher IQs, less violence, and brighter futures for millions of children across the planet,” he said.

The report recommends that Governments in affected countries take a coordinated approach to building monitoring and reporting systems and installing prevention and control measures.

Equipping health systems to detect, monitor and treat lead exposure among children is essential, the report says. Continuous public awareness campaigns targeted at parents, schools, community leaders and health care workers are needed, as is legislation to enforce environmental, health and safety standards for lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling sites.

A global metric needed

Globally, the report advocates the creation of global standard measurement units to verify the results of pollution intervention on public health, the environment and local economies. An international registry of anonymized results of blood lead level studies could also foster better detection. The study follows a major push by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 to sound the alarm. The Geneva-based agency launched the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, from 20-26 October, advocating for laws, regulations or enforceable standards to stop the manufacture, import and sale of paints that contain lead.


Security Council: Poverty deepens, along with need, across Syria

INTERNATIONAL, 29 July 2020, Peace and Security - Humanitarian operations across war-shattered Syria are reaching 6.8 million people a month, but a worsening economic crisis is deepening poverty and pushing more and more Syrians into humanitarian need, the Security Council heard Wednesday.

UN humanitarian affairs chief Mark Lowcock said that the United Nations and its partners are working to address operational challenges arising from the Council’s decision following weeks of division, on 11 July, to reduce to just one, the number of border crossing through which food, medicine and other forms of aid can pass from Turkey into Syria.

The UN is also helping to tackle COVID-19 in Syria, where the number of confirmed cases remains in the hundreds, but the true number is certainly higher, Mr. Lowcock told the Council’s monthly meeting on the humanitarian aspects of the conflict in Syria that erupted in 2011.

Time of ‘extreme fragilty’

“The Syrian economy, devastated by nearly a decade of conflict, has entered a period of extreme fragility,” he added, marked by exchange-rate volatility, high inflation, dwindling remittances from Syrians working abroad, and lockdown measures to contain the novel coronavirus.

This year, the economy is expected to contract by more than 7 per cent, he said. Unemployment is close to 50 per cent, compared with 42 per cent last year and food prices are 240 per cent higher than in June 2019.

“What this means is that families across the country can no longer afford the very basics”, he said, noting that 9.3 million people in Syria are living with food insecurity – with over two million more, at risk of joining them.

Respect and protect

On the need to respect and protect civilians, Mr. Lowcock said that the ceasefire in northwest Syria - reached in March between the Russian Federation and Turkey - is largely holding, despite periodic shelling, airstrikes and bomb attacks that have killed or injured dozens of people, including children.

Elsewhere in Syria, the lack of regular humanitarian assistance is creating a critical situation for 12,000 civilians thought to be still in Rukban, near the Jordanian border.  Mr. Lowcock added that his team is also monitoring with concern an uptick in violence in the southern city of Dara’a.

Water, school woes

Water is another worry, with the Euphrates river at low levels and disruptions involving the Alouk water station affecting 460,000 people in Al-Hasakeh governorate, in northeast Syria, he said.

Meanwhile, a third of Syria’s school-aged children – some 2.5 million youngsters – are out of school, with another 1.6 million at risk of dropping out. Yet thousands of students are crossing frontlines to take national exams, hoping their future will take a turn for the better.

Mr. Lowcock reported that the fourth Brussels Pledging Conference on 30 June generated $7.7 billion in pledges for humanitarian, resilience and development activities in Syria and the region.  The biggest pledges came from the European Commission, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, France and Denmark.

$384 million still needed

This year’s $3.4 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is 32 per cent funded so far, “making it one of our better funded operations,” Mr. Lowcock said, adding however that another $384 million is required for Syria under the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan – of which 28 per cent has been received.

COVID, a crisis within a crisis

Also briefing the Council today was Amany Qaddour of Syria Relief and Development, a non-governmental aid agency, who described the COVID-19 pandemic as a crisis within a crisis that has exposed how fragmented the health sector in Syria is.

“We know that negative health outcomes don’t emerge in a vacuum,” Ms. Qaddour told the Council, which has been meeting via video-teleconference since mid-March when UN headquarters in New York closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the initial focus has been on trauma and emergency services, healthcare must be seen as a continuum that includes provisions for primary and community health, rehabilitative care for persons with disabilities, and mental health, she said.


Forced labour, prostitution and child marriages: rescuing victims of trafficking in Malawi

INTERNATIONAL, 29 July 2020, Human Rights - Human trafficking is a problem in Malawi, with teenage boys forced to work as farm labourers, and young women to sexual exploitation in nightclubs or bars. The UN is supporting the Malawian governments to end the practice and protect vulnerable people.

The six men from Nepal believed they were heading to the United States for work. Instead, after a long journey which took them through six countries, they arrived in Malawi. They were locked in a house and their passports were taken away.

A husband and wife were offered lucrative jobs on a tobacco estate in neighbouring Zambia. Once there, they were treated badly, deprived of food and not paid at the end of their contract. 

But the job turned out to be very different from what they expected - they were forced into prostitution.
All these people were victims of human trafficking.  

World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski
A shopping district in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Malawi: a transit country for trafficking

Malawi is also a transit country for victims of trafficking who are taken to other African countries, including South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique, and to parts of Europe.

“The Government of Malawi accepts that more needs to be done to tackle this crime and there are gaps in the current approach,” says Maxwell Matewere, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) National Project Officer on Trafficking in Persons. “It also appreciates the expertise that we can offer,” he adds.

Following a request from the Ministry of Homeland Security for support in the implementation of the national Trafficking in Persons Act, which was developed with the assistance of UNODC, Mr Matewere recently spent three weeks mentoring law enforcement officers.

“The on-site coaching took place in Blantyre, Phalombe and Mchinji. These are the regions of the country with the highest prevalence of trafficking,” he says.

During the sessions, the UNODC expert reviewed cases to establish whether the law enforcement and protection officers had followed the correct procedures.

Frontex/Francesco Malavolta
Migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are rescued by a Belgian ship

Positive results

“We did discover that in many cases this had not happened, but it was encouraging to see the commitment of the participants,” says Maxwell Matewere. “They are all determined to improve on the areas of weakness we identified and learn from our expertise.”

Officials who are responsible for responding to human trafficking, investigating cases, supporting victims and prosecuting the perpetrators took part.

“I learnt about the required standards and procedures we must follow when providing assistance to the victims of trafficking,” explains Stephano Joseph, the District Social Welfare Officer for Blantyre. “So, I will follow these now in my work.”

Caleb Ng’ombo, Coordinator for the Blantyre District Inter-agency Committee against Trafficking in Persons, says there are a number of lessons he learnt during the mentoring including the significance of putting the needs and rights of the victims at the forefront.

“I heard about the importance of supporting the victims to minimize the risks of retraumatizing them, which can happen during criminal proceedings.”

Advice on ongoing cases was also provided, which has already led to positive results.

‘Basically working as slaves’

“I’m receiving reports from some participants who have managed to successfully and properly identify victims of trafficking based on the learnings from the mentorship,” says Mr. Matewere. “Based on the guidance I gave, 52 Malawian victims of human trafficking have been rescued and five suspects have been arrested. There are five different cases. Three of the cases of trafficking were detected during my coaching and with my technical support”.

“In the other two, the police were not sure if the people involved were actually victims of human trafficking.  I helped them with information how similar cases have been interpreted in other jurisdictions to confirm that they were indeed victims.”

“One case involves 28 victims of sexual exploitation. In another case, there are eight victims of forced labour. They were made to work on a farm for many months without any payment and also working for long hours. They were basically working as slaves. Six further people were rescued in transit to a destination where they would have been exploited in the commercial sex industry.”  

“The other two cases involve trafficking for forced or arranged marriage. One girl who was rescued is 13 and pregnant. She is now living in a shelter.  Other vulnerable victims are also in shelters, while others have been returned to their homes.”

Over the past two years, UNODC, through its Global Programme against Trafficking in Persons and with the support of the United Kingdom, has assisted Malawi in its efforts to combat human trafficking. 

National strategies have been strengthened, legal frameworks brought in line with international standards and the country’s system to assist and protect victims has been improved. 

The mentoring has had an immediate impact as the officials who took part are already using their newly acquired skills and knowledge.

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