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Five reasons Costa Rica is winning plaudits for fighting COVID-19: a Resident Coordinator’s blog

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2020, Health - Costa Rica is winning plaudits for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alice Shackleford, UN Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica, and WHO Representative María Dolores Pérez-Rosales, explain why the small Central American country is managing to keep the number of cases down, and its population healthy.

Recognized worldwide as a strong democracy that promotes human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection, Costa Rica abolished its army, and dedicated those resources to public education. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed perhaps the greatest challenge to those historic achievements in the nation’s history, which is why, despite the low numbers and the good news, the authorities are not claiming victory.

Nevertheless, the data and facts are extremely promising: Costa Rica has the lowest COVID-19 case fatality rate in the region, and the country currently has more recovered cases than active cases. There is no registered community transmission, and daily infections have fallen significantly (they have remained below 10 cases in recent weeks). At the beginning of May, there were less than half a dozen infected patients in Intensive Care Units throughout the whole country.

How has Costa Rica achieved these impressive results? Here are five key reasons.

1. Putting health first

The country has historically had a robust, universal health system, which covers approximately 95% of the population. This has contributed to the life expectancy in the country being one of the highest in the world (79.6 years, as indicated by the World Health Organization).

Costa Rica has nearly 30 hospitals and clinics, and more than a thousand basic comprehensive care teams at the community level. The country also established a specialized center for people with COVID-19 in a matter of a few weeks, with all the equipment and supplies necessary to care for these patients. Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 are issued an order to isolate in their homes for 14 days, and receive daily telephone follow-up (or face-to-face where necessary) by a medical team.

2. A rapid response, based on facts and scientific evidence

From the beginning of the pandemic, Costa Rica based its decisions and actions on scientific evidence, putting the preservation of life and the protection of health before other issue, including politics, and the President of the Republic, Carlos Alvarado, positioned his Minister of Health, Daniel Salas, an expert in epidemiology, as the leader in the country’s preparation and response to the crisis.

UN Costa Rica
UN visits Salitre indigenous territory in Buenos Aires, Puntarenas.

Costa Rica already had care and preparedness plans for possible pandemics, based on previous experiences with avian influenza, AH1N1 influenza, and SARS, in which the minister himself had participated as coordinator and part of the technical teams of the Health Surveillance Directorate of the Ministry.

He, along with the President of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, Roman Macaya, became benchmarks and authorities for the entire population, on the measures to follow in order to prevent infections and stop the spread.

The country applied staggered measures that included sanitary vehicle restrictions, restrictions on the gauging and operation of commercial premises, closure of educational centers in communities with infections and, at the national level, the closure of borders, beaches, and national parks, among others.

Importantly, the authorities decided to always place the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization as a reference and international leader in its response, and to apply their guidelines and recommendations (for the early detection of cases, testing, their isolation, traceability of contacts, as well as providing care and carrying out the necessary public health interventions) in a firm and sustained manner. 

3. Strong institutional support

Alice Shackelford., by UN Costa Rica

Many of Costa Rica’s institutions were mobilized to respond to the pandemic. Here are some important examples.

Production at the National Liquor Factory was switched to the production of alcohol gel, to meet the growing demand. The Post Office was put in charge of its distribution throughout the country.

Public universities concentrated on developing respirators, to equip and strengthen the intensive care units in the country, and the National Learning Institute produced thousands of items of hospital clothing to deal with the pandemic.

The Ministry of Labor and the Mixed Institute of Social Aid launched an initiative to support people whose jobs have been affected by the crisis, and Congress passed legislation quickly, to allow the application of emergency sanitary measures, the relaxation of labor contracts to avoid layoffs, as well as the relaxation of banking conditions for debtors, and a tax relief plan that establishes a moratorium on the payment of some tariffs.

4. A society that follows official instructions, and acts responsibly

The sum of all the measures described above generated a strong sense of responsibility, and mutual trust between the authorities and the population.

In general terms, people have respected the call to adopt basic hygiene measures (hand washing, sneezing and coughing protocol, not touching your face with dirty hands, not going out if you are sick or having contact with sick people), staying at home , physically distancing, and avoiding public places as much as possible.

Hundreds of companies, foundations, and community organizations are distributing food and aid to those who affected by the economic slowdown, with others collaborating with the authorities in the distribution of medicines. There are also countless examples of support and solidarity from members of the public.

5. Avoiding complacency

Every day Daniel Salas, Minister of Public Health, delivers the same warning at his evening press conference: "we cannot get too comfortable, we need to be very careful and follow all the health and physical distancing regulations."

Little by little, and with confidence based on the results achieved so far, the government has made the decision to relax some of its measures: certain shops can open up, with limited capacity, and some individual sports can already be practiced in open areas. It is expected that in the next few days new evidence-based measures will be announced.

No economic immunity

Costa Rica has not won the battle yet. It is not claiming victory, and it knows that there are still great challenges ahead.

The authorities acknowledge that some 500,000jobs could be lost due to the pandemic, and the World Bank has said that the economy will suffer a recession in 2020, with GDP contracting by around 3.3 per cent. The fiscal deficit is expected to go up significantly, with sharp increases in unemployment and poverty.

At the United Nations, we are supporting the country in urgently facing key challenges. These include the ongoing need to prioritize health; focus the response based on science and evidence; promote gender equality, and eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination; and start the process of socioeconomic recovery as soon as possible, whilst ensuring that no-one, including the most excluded groups, is left behind.

From donating thousands of screening tests and personal protective equipment, to supporting the creation of diagnostic tests, the United Nations is also fully accompanying Costa Rica in this process.

The battle is far from over, but the results so far show that the example of Costa Rica must be studied, and taken into consideration, as an example of how to face down and tackle this unprecedented global health crisis.

(a Spanish-language version of this blog was originally published in the newspaper El Pais)

The UN Resident Coordinator

The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level.

In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve

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UN welcomes three-day ceasefire announcement by Afghan government and Taliban during Eid al-Fitr

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2020, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General has welcomed the announcement by the Afghan Government and the Taliban of a ceasefire to mark the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims around the world.

Hours before the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr was due to begin, Taliban militants made the unexpected declaration that they would attack only if their positions were hit, leading President Ashraf Ghani to welcome the move shortly afterwards, and release a statement saying security and defence forces would comply.

Deborah Lyons@DeborahLyonsUN
Reason to hope! A welcomed move by Taliban. Well responded by Afghan government. Echos also UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for ceasefire to focus on the new enemy, COVID virus. Let wisdom and compassion of EID convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks. https://twitter.com/unamanews/status/1264282625193267201 
UNAMA News@UNAMAnews

UNAMA welcomes Taliban & #Afghanistan government statements of a 3-day ceasefire over Eid. The Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting & urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start.

It marks just the second time during the nearly 20-year period since Taliban extremists were removed from power, following the US-led invasion of the country, that a brief ceasefire has been agreed. There was widespread rejoicing on the first occasion – again to mark the end of Ramadan – in 2018, as Taliban fighters mingled in the capital and elsewhere, some hugging and posting for selfies with security forces.

But this time, Taliban fighters have been ordered not to enter government-controlled territory.

The truce comes after an escalation in attacks in recent weeks by the Taliban against the backdrop of stalled peace efforts, and violence from other extremist elements, including ISIL.

In an address to the nation following Eid prayers on Sunday, President Ghani announced a further “step forward”, to accelerate the release of Taliban prisoners; something which has been a stumbling block in efforts to finally bring the Taliban and government into direct talks, following a US-Taliban deal signed in February.

‘Seize this opportunity’

“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process” said the statement on Saturday night from UN chief António Guterres.

“Only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan. The United Nations is committed to supporting the people and Government of Afghanistan in this important endeavour”, he continued.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also welcomed the move, saying on Twitter that “the Afghan people deserve a respite from violence. The UN urges parties to respect the halt to fighting and urgently look to make it permanent. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations need to start.”

Powerful ‘reason to hope’

The head of the mission, and UN Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, who took up the top job just last month, declared the announced a “reason to hope” and a welcome move.

She noted that it also echoed the call from the UN Secretary-General for a ceasefire to focus on “the new enemy”, the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Cases in Afghan, according to latest World Health Organization figures, stand at more than 9,860, with 211 recorded deaths.

“Let wisdom and compassion” during Eid, “convince all to make this permanent and move to peace talks”, she tweeted.

Just on Friday, she conveyed the UN’s warm wishes to all Afghans on the occasion of Eid, hoping that “every family can celebrate this auspicious and important time in peace.”

“I urge all those in positions of power to do everything possible to stop the violence and to respect this time of reflection and tolerance. This year COVID-19 presents a new challenge for the country, including events during Eid when extended families would normally gather in celebration”, she said, encouraging everyone “to take the necessary preventative measures to protect yourselves, your loved ones and community.”

Make it permanent

The UN’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, also added her voice on Twitter: “I fervently hope the parties can make it permanent and move decisively towards a political settlement.”

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Guterres commends India and Bangladesh for life-saving work in face of deadly Cyclone Amphan

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The UN chief António Guterres commended the governments and people of India and Bangladesh on Saturday, for their life-saving efforts ahead of devastating Cyclone Amphan, and for the effective relief effort, wishing those survivors injured and affected by the disaster, a speedy recovery.

In a statement, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the loss of dozens of lives due to the most powerful storm to form in the Bay of Bengal, that packed powerful winds, slamming into the vulnerable coastal area along the border between the two nations, compounding the on-going COVID-19 crisis, and compromising efforts to maintain physical distancing.

Bangladesh is dealing with the devastating impact of while also facing the socio-economic fallout of .

WFP is supporting the needs of the community and also conducting an assessment, collecting data on damages incurred.

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Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA), said on Friday that Cyclone Amphan had impacted some 10 million people in Bangladesh, killing at least 25 there, and more than 70 in India. Half a million families may have lost their homes, he added.

Deadly mix of cyclone, COVID-19

The storm caused unprecedented damage across the historic India city of Kolkota, cutting off power supply to cities and towns, many of which are working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, where there are more than 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh and 432 deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Bangladesh government evacuated around two million people before the storm hit, Mr. Laerke said, and more than 12,000 cyclone shelters had been set up with COVID-19 prevention equipment, including masks, sanitizers, soap and handwashing facilities.

About one million people had also been evacuated in India. According to WHO figures, there are more than 125,000 coronavirus cases there, with 3,720 deaths reported.

On Friday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a $132 million emergency relief package, after travelling to the region to survey the damage.

First responders, communities praised

“The Secretary-General commends the governments, first responders and communities for their pre-emptive work to make people safe ahead of the storm and to meet their immediate needs afterwards”, said the statement from the UN Spokesperson’s Office. “The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts.”

The Secretary-General expressed his “solidarity with the people of India and Bangladesh as they face the impact of a devastating cyclone while also responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

WFP team conducting assessment

Elisabeth Byrs, from the World Food Programme (WFP), told journalists on Friday a team was conducting a Rapid Needs Assessment. While most crops had been harvested already, early reports suggest that there was damage to fisheries, particularly smallholder shrimp farmers.

WFP had prepositioned food stocks, including high energy biscuits for 90,000 families, in affected areas and extra food stocks could also be made available and ready for distribution, if needed.

The Rohingya camps had been largely spared from damage when Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Bangladesh and India on 20 May, however a direct hit from a cyclone had the potential to be devastating, said the agency.

The UN refugee agency’s Charlie Yaxley (UNHCR) said that in Cox’s Bazar, home to around a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 118 shelters had been destroyed and 1,423 had been damaged, affecting just over 7,000 Rohingyas refugees in the settlement. Of that number, 555 had been moved to temporary shelters or were staying with relatives while their homes were repaired.

‘Textbook example’ of good preparation

Clare Nullis, for WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, said the disaster mobilization for the cyclone had been “a textbook example of how it should be done. The forecast provided by the Indian Meteorological Department, which served as WMO’s regional specialized meteorological centre and provided forecast for the entire basin, “had been spot on”.

The information that it provided had been the basis for the massive evacuation and the community response, Ms. Nullis added.

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Policing the pandemic: how UN Police are maintaining law, order, and public health

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2020, Peace and Security - In several countries afflicted by years of armed conflict, The UN assists with law and order issues, including policing expertise. This work is being challenged, as never before, by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview with UN News, Luis Carrilho, head of the UN Police Division, describes how the virus is affecting the ability of his colleagues to keep the peace.

The COVID-19 outbreak is posing unprecedented challenges to police and other law enforcement agencies worldwide, such as ensuring public safety, while taking care of police officer health and well-being. The challenge is even greater in peacekeeping contexts, where both police and public health systems are either weak, or wrecked by the years of armed conflict.

Current UN Police Adviser and former MINUSCA Police Commissioner, Commissioner Luis Carrilho (center), greets a child during his foot patrol through the streets of Bangui.., by UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

Luis Carrilho, whose official title is UN Police Advisor, started by explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the work of his officers.

"Like medical staff, police officers can’t telecommute, so they are also on the frontline. Our first responsibility is to stay healthy and safe, so we need to have, not only the equipment, but also the attitude to protect ourselves.

This is because, by protecting ourselves, we can protect others. We need to make sure that we aren’t contaminating others and that we are protecting the most vulnerable, alongside the host police force.

If you think of the virus as a storm, not everyone is riding it out in the same kind of boat. Some people have better protection, access to better goods. The most vulnerable don’t. Our goal is to protect those people – children, the elderly, victims of crimes, ethnic minorities – who are always more affected by this kind of crisis. We also try to provide the space to act for other colleagues, particularly humanitarian workers, who are playing a key role in assisting communities in need.

With travel now restricted, our police officers are spending longer periods away from their family, and the risk to their safety has increased. Some officers have been infected, recovered, and returned to the frontline. This shows that, for them, it is an honour to serve under the flag of the United Nations and make a difference, particularly to the most vulnerable.

To what extent are UN Police officers enforcing lockdown restrictions?

MONUSCO/Marylene Seguy
MONUSCO Police, together with the Congolese National Police, train 61 road traffic police officers in North Kivu on preventive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19..

In the countries where we work, we have a set of principles that we always abide by, and we respect the law: no one is above the law. We also implement measures that contribute to the protection of communities, whilst always respecting human rights.

We always take a strong community policing approach, and the populations we work with understand that the measures are being put in place for security reasons. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, United Nations Police work side by side with the Congolese police, on awareness raising campaigns, but also distributing masks, and sanitizers to those who are in need. 

Sadly, this is not the first virulent disease that we have had to deal with. During the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were part of the task force set up to cope with it, alongside the Congolese authorities and UN agencies. Of course, when the police are called, it is often because there is a conflict taking place, and there will always be someone who is not happy. But our job is to be prepared for these situations, and provide communities with the answers they need.

The pandemic is predicted to worsen in in Africa: are you concerned?

We are all concerned, because if health systems are weak, there is the potential for more people, particularly the most vulnerable, to lose out on health care. That is why awareness and prevention are key: ensuring that people wash their hands, physically distance, wear masks and take other precautionary measures. 

This is why we need to work closely with state authorities, UN agencies, funds and programs, and members of the international community, to prevent further spread of disease.

I believe that our work is contributing to slowing down, and ‘bending the curve’ of COVID-19. However, we continue to monitor the situation, and meet regularly with the police contributing countries, and our peace operations”. 

What is UN Police?

The United Nations Police is composed of some 11,000 police officers from 94 contributing countries. They are deployed in nine peacekeeping operations and five political missions.
UN police officers are involved in aspects of community policing, such as patrolling, maintaining public order, helping in criminal investigation, and addressing sexual gender-based violence. They also train and mentor the host state’s police force.
The goal of the UN police is to make sure that the population feel safe, establish peace and security, ensure that human rights are respected, support the host state, and make sure that the host state police has the trust of the population.
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Experts underscore COVID-19 threat to global progress on child immunization

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2020, Health - Global experts in health and child welfare have again highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting access to routine immunization services worldwide, putting millions of young lives at risk of killer diseases such as diphtheria, measles and pneumonia.

“As the world comes together to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, we must not forget the dozens of lifesaving vaccines that already exist and must continue to reach children everywhere”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking in Geneva on Friday.


At least 80 million children under one at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as...

COVID 19 is disrupting life-saving immunization services around the world, putting millions of children – in rich and poor countries alike – at risk of diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio....

who.int

The WHO chief was addressing journalists listening in to his latest virtual briefing on the crisis, where he was joined by the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, and a top official from the global vaccine alliance, GAVI.

Decades of progress at risk

Child mortality rates have dropped by half over the past 20 years, largely due to safe, effective vaccination.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic means routine immunization services are now substantially hindered in nearly 70 countries, with roughly 80 million children under a year old, likely to be affected.

As UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore explained, vaccination campaigns have dwindled for several reasons, including implementation of measures to contain coronavirus spread, redeployment of health personnel to treat COVID-19 patients, and “serious disruption” to supply chains and transport routes.

Parents have also been reluctant, or unable, to go to vaccination sites due to fears surrounding transmission, or because of movement restrictions.

“However, we cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases”, she said.

“We cannot exchange one deadly outbreak for another. We cannot afford to lose the decades of health gains that everyone has worked so hard to achieve.”

Preparing for ‘mass vaccine catch-up campaigns’

Despite the dire news, some countries such as Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire and Laos, are forging ahead with vaccine programmes, according to Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer at GAVI.

The Vaccine Alliance has helped lower-income countries save more than 13 million lives since its inception in 2000.

Mr. Berkley underscored the importance of immunization.

“Recent modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that if you were to try to avoid getting COVID by stopping routine immunization, for every COVID death prevented you would have more than 100 deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases”, he said.

Summit seeks to raise $7.4 billion

Globally, there were more than five million COVID-19 cases as of Friday, and more than 320,000 deaths.

GAVI stands ready to support what Mr. Berkley called “the mass vaccine catch-up campaigns”, to protect children unable to be immunized because of the pandemic.

 

The United Kingdom will host the Global Vaccine Summit on 4 June with the goal of securing $7.4 billion to cover GAVI’s work over the next five years.

The funding will be enough to vaccinate 300 million additional children worldwide, preventing at least another seven million deaths.

Pledges have been received so far from numerous countries including the UK, the United States, Norway, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Spain.

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Victims of intercommunal violence in South Sudan deserve ‘justice, truth and reparations’: Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2020, Human Rights - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday condemned a fresh wave of intercommunal violence in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, that has left hundreds dead across 28 villages in Jonglei State, according to local authorities. 

Three aid workers were among those killed.

: We condemn a new outbreak of intercommunal violence in Jonglei State that has reportedly left hundreds dead according to local authorities.

"This recurring pattern of violence, which continues to claim lives... has to stop" - @mbachelet https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25902&LangID=E 

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“The reports from Jonglei State are appalling”, Michelle Bachelet said of fighting that broke out between 16 and 17 May, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

‘Recurring pattern’

“This recurring pattern of violence, which continues to claim lives in South Sudan, has to stop,” she said.  “I urge the Government to ensure measures are in place to investigate this violence and to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted, and that victims and their families have access to justice, truth and reparations.”

Intercommunal fighting has been on the rise across South Sudan.  In the first quarter of 2020, it was the main source of violence affecting civilians, having led to 658 deaths, 452 injuries, 592 abductions and 65 cases of sexual violence.

In Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, a series of attacks from mid-February to early March, left 22 civilians dead.  Most of the 266 women and children abducted during the fighting have not been released from captivity.

Years of setbacks

The region has suffered years of food insecurity and was severely hit by flooding in 2019.

Ms. Bachelet – a former Head of State, leading Chile’s Government for two terms – has been vocal about what it will take to ensure durable peace.  She most recently pressed South Sudanese authorities in mid-March to address escalating tensions.

The nature of intercommunal fighting – long driven by tensions over access to water and grazing land for cattle – has taken on a militarized character in recent years, with military style tactics and military-grade weapons.

“State authorities must act to end these cycles of retaliatory violence, including by holding those responsible to account and promoting peacebuilding between individual communities”, Ms. Bachelet stressed.

Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, reported that a Médecins San Frontières staff member, and two staffers from another humanitarian organization, were killed during intense fighting in and around the town of Pieri, in Jonglei.  Several aid workers are still unaccounted for. 

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of three aid workers in Pieri and call for those responsible to be brought swiftly to justice,” he said.  “The Government, all parties and communities, must step up efforts to protect humanitarians who are taking great risks to their safety in order to provide much needed assistance.”

Intercommunal clashes and armed conflict are hampering humanitarian efforts to pre-position food, medicine and other supplies in the final weeks before the rains grow heavier and cut off road access to vulnerable communities, the Coordinator said. “Humanitarians must be able to reach affected communities freely and without fear.”

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Shrinking forests need bold action to safeguard their biodiversity

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2020, SDGs - Amidst alarming rates of deforestation and land degradation, urgent action is needed to safeguard the biodiversity of the world's forests, according to a new United Nations report, released on Friday.
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Published on the International Day for Biological Diversity, The State of the World's Forests 2020, highlights that since 1990, some 420 million hectares of trees have been lost to agriculture and other land uses.

And the COVID-19 crisis has thrown into sharp focus the link between peole's health and that of the ecosystem, underscoring the importance of conserving and sustainably using nature.

"Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity", Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, QU Dongyu, and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, said in the foreword.

Working with nature

Protecting the world's biodiversity is entirely dependent on the way in which we interact with the world's forests. And as they harbour most of our terrestrial biodiversity, safeguarding woodland holds the key. 

The report shows that forests contain 60,000 different tree species, 80 per cent of amphibian species, 75 per cent of bird species, and 68 per cent of the earth's mammal species.

Conservation and sustainable use can work together to protect plants, animals and livelihoods.

Within the report, a special study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the US Forest Service, found 34.8 million patches of forests in the world, ranging in size from one to 680 million hectares – illustrating that greater restoration efforts are urgently needed to reconnect forests that have fragmented over time.

Turning the tide

As FAO and UNEP prepare to lead the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in 2021, both UN agency heads expressed their commitment to increased global cooperation in the race to restore degraded and damaged ecosystems, combat climate change and safeguard biodiversity.

"To turn the tide on deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, we need transformational change in the way in which we produce and consume food", said Mr. QU and Ms. Andersen. "We also need to conserve and manage forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach, and we need to repair the damage done through forest restoration efforts."

The report notes that the target to conserve at least 17 per cent of the earth's terrestrial areas by 2020 has been achieved for forests, but acknowledges that progress is still required to ensure that protection. 

One study conducted for this report shows that the largest increase in protected forest areas were in broadleaved evergreen forests, typically found in the tropics. Furthermore, over 30 per cent of all tropical rainforests, subtropical dry forests and temperate oceanic forests, are now located within protected areas.

Jobs and livelihoods

Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs to the millions of people around the world who count on them for food security and their livelihoods.

Of those living in extreme poverty, over 90 per cent are dependent on forests for wild food, firewood or part of their livelihoods, including eight million extremely poor, forest-dependent people in Latin America alone.

The report was produced by FAO in partnership, for the first time, with UNEP, and technical input from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

©UNEP/José Sabino
Forests are the most diverse habitat on land.
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Build back better and preserve biodiversity after COVID-19 pandemic: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2020, Climate Change - Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must also lead to countries uniting to preserve the natural world, in line with global commitments to achieve a better future for all people and the planet, top officials with the United Nations said on Friday, the International Day for Biological Diversity.

In a video message for the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres focused on the symbiotic relationship between humans and all other life on Earth, stressing that preserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is necessary for mitigating climate disruption, guaranteeing water and food access, and even preventing pandemics.

As we encroach on nature and deplete vital habitats, increasing numbers of species are at risk - including humans.

Let us work together to preserve biodiversity and achieve the as we seek to build back better from the crisis.

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COVID-19 - which emanated from the wild - has shown how human health is intimately connected with our relationship to the natural world. As we encroach on nature and deplete vital habitats, increasing numbers of species are at risk. That includes humanity and the future we want”, he said.

“As we seek to build back better from the current crisis, let us work together to preserve biodiversity so we can achieve our Sustainable Development Goals. That is how we will protect health and well-being for generations to come.”

Fragile way of life threatened

The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, provide a blueprint for global peace and prosperity by a deadline of 2030. They show why tackling global challenges such as poverty and inequality must be done in tandem with addressing climate change and preserving the natural environment.

For the UN General Assembly president, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified “the fragility of our way of life, our health systems and our global economy”, thus heightening inequalities and threatening the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande insisted that these issues are interconnected. He said hunger was already on the rise before the crisis, with more than 820 million worldwide not getting enough to eat. Food security was also being undercut by biodiversity loss, desertification and climate-related shocks, while one million animal and plant species are facing extinction.

Nature has the solution

With the pandemic as a backdrop, the International Day for Biological Diversity is being commemorated under the theme ‘Our solutions are in nature’.

“Nature-based solutions have the capacity to protect, sustainably manage and restore both natural and modified ecosystems”, said Mr. Muhammad-Bande. “They can address the challenges posed by climate change, natural disasters, and food and water security.”

Still time for action

The General Assembly president stressed that there is still time to reverse biodiversity loss, but action must be taken now. He described the UN Summit on Biodiversity, due to take place for now in September, as “the key moment” to build political momentum.

In the interim, the UN’s educational and scientific organization, UNESCO, has been identifying solutions to ward against further species loss.

 

The agency is hosting a virtual meeting on Friday to share knowledge that has been developed across the world, including through its various networks and indigenous communities.

“This disappearance threatens us directly: the living fabric that is biodiversity is not foreign to us; our food, health and well-being depend upon it”, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

“The pandemic must therefore compel us to think within this web of interdependence and to intensify mobilization, so that we turn away from the destructive trajectory we are on.”

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Yemen: Coronavirus transmission likely widespread, decimating ‘collapsed’ health system, UN warns

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - War-torn Yemen’s health system has ‘in effect, collapsed” under the strain of a widening COVID-19 outbreak, with epidemiologists estimating that the virus could spread faster and more widely than in many other countries, the UN warned on Friday.

Speaking at a virtual press conference in Geneva, Jens Larke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Yemen was “really on the brink right now”, with teams on the ground “talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough oxygen, they do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)”.

: COVID19 cases increased by 325% over a week w/ an alarming fatality rate of 15.9%.

Aid agencies are scaling up the response on the basis that community transmission of COVID-19 is taking place across the country.
Read more in our snapshot: https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-covid-19-preparedness-and-response-snapshot-16-may-2020 

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He warned that the numbers of infections being reported were worrying, but the UN is now “working on the assumption that there is widespread communal transmission going on”.

The civil war in Yemen metastasized in 2014 when rebel Houthis, known officially as the Ansar Allah movement, took control of Yemen’s north and captured the capital Sanaa, forcing the UN-recognised government there to flee to Aden. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab countries has been battling the Houthi rebels to reinstate full Government control, drawing in other nations to the conflict.

More funding crucial to repel virus

With only half of Yemen’s health facilities fully functioning, funding for the country’s aid operation is crucial, with up to $2 billion required until the end of the year. The UN and Saudi Arabia will co-host a virtual pledging event on 2 June to support fund raising.

“We are heading towards a fiscal cliff”, said Mr. Laerke. “If we do not get the money coming in, the programs that are keeping people alive and are very much essential to fight back against COVID-19, will have to close”, he warned.

“And then, the world will have to witness what happens in a country without a functioning health system battling COVID-19, and I do not think that one will see that”.

More than 30 key UN programmes risk closing in the coming weeks due to lack of funding. Coronavirus Rapid Response Teams are funded only for the next six weeks.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest figures, Yemen has 184 cases and 30 deaths.

Cases ‘almost certainly much higher’

However, “the actual incidence is almost certainly much higher”, said the OCHA spokesperson. “Tests remain in short supply, aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country, and only half of the health facilities are fully functioning. Yemen’s health system needs significant assistance to counter the threat. Humanitarian aid agencies are scaling up outreach, prevention and case management. “

 

Some 125 metric tons of supplies have arrived, while over 6,600 metric tons of tests, personal protective equipment and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) supplies are in the pipeline.

However, oxygen and PPE are more urgently needed. Preserving large-scale existing aid programmes in health, water and sanitation, nutrition and other sectors also offers an essential defence against infection for millions of people.

A UN flight arrived in Yemen’s capital Aden on Thursday, with more international staff on board.

Laerke said that UN staff “both in and out of the country” are working together to deliver critical programmes, including some international staff working remotely as well as international staff in Yemen and Yemeni nationals on staff.

“Yemeni national staff remain the large majority of aid workers in Yemen”.

Spirit of Eid

In a message to all Yemenis as the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, the UN Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, passed on his heartfelt wishes: “May the spirit of Eid guide us all to achieve sustainable peace and stability for all men, women and children in Yemen, redirect the country toward reconciliation and recovery, and pave the way for a better future”, he said.

“Today, I urge the parties to forgo war and division and build on points of convergence. I call on them to join efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and turn the tide for the sake of the people of Yemen.”

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Cyclone Amphan’s trail of destruction in Bangladesh and India

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - UN humanitarians and partners are working hard to assist the people of Bangladesh and India suffering from the impact of Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall on Wednesday, wreaking havoc, causing high tidal surges, flooding and embankments to collapse. 
 
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“It is believed that around 10 million people in Bangladesh are impacted by the cyclone, with half a million families potentially having lost their homes”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters during a regular virtual briefing on Thursday, from New York.

The cyclone, which lashed coastal areas with brutal winds and rain, left at least 84 people across India and Bangladesh dead, according to news reports.

“Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the storm has damaged houses and crops in Bangladesh”, he continued. “Power has been cut off to cities and towns, many of which are working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Noting that while the cyclone had been downgraded to a tropical depression, he asserted that “it is still expected to bring heavy to moderate rain over the next 24 hours”.

The Bangladesh Government has already evacuated nearly two million people to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters that are supplied with, among other things, masks and sanitizers, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Refugees sheltering in Bangladesh

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh flagged that preliminary reports indicate that damage is minimal in Cox’s Bazar - home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar - with some 300 shelters damaged, approximately 60 of which were fully destroyed. 

Flooding and small landsides have been reported in several refugee camps, as well as blocked drains and damaged stairs, latrines, and bridges – but no word of casualties or deaths. 

Humanitarian partners are on standby to ensure access to information, temporary shelter, food, safe drinking water and other vital services for affected refugees according to need.

Damage in India 

Meanwhile, the UN Country Team in India reported that Cyclone Amphan, which caused widespread damage around Calcutta is now considered even more destructive than Cyclone Aila, which slammed the region in May 2009. 

Amphan hit seven districts badly, namely South 24 Paraganas, North 24 Paraganas, East Medinipur, West Medinipur, Howrah, Hooghly and Kolkata, with damages also reported in the district of Birbhum. 

OCHA
Situation overview and anticipated impact of Cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh.

Power and telecommunications have been affected across the cyclone-affected districts and North and South 24 Parganas are facing water scarcity. 

Massive damage is also expected to standing crops and plantations. 

Kolkata

While fires have maimed transformers and telecommunications in Kolkata, uprooted trees and damaged electric poles have caused power cuts. 

Moreover, several roads have been blocked, shops damaged, and streets waterlogged from the heavy rainfall during high tide.

Embankment breaches have occurred throughout the state while water inundation and wind have damaged Kolkata airport. 

As the Chief Minister closely monitors the situation, road clearance and restoration work are underway both in the districts and city of Kolkata. 

Meanwhile, the power supply was cut off in vulnerable districts of West Bengal and its Chief Minister has estimated $13.2 billion in losses for the state.

Response

Currently, the National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Fund, Kolkata police, fire services and West Bengal state police are in the throes of relief and restoration efforts. 

And the state and district-level Interagency Group coordination mechanism has been activated in West Bengal. 

UNICEF, which is closely monitoring the situation with state departments, expressed concern that the COVID-19 could deepen the cyclone’s humanitarian consequences in both the countries.

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