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UN agency urges Jordan to allow 12,000 desperate Syrian refugees stranded at border

INTERNATIONAL – Amid worsening conditions inside Syria, the United Nations refugee agency today expressed grave concern for nearly 12,000 people trying to flee the country who are now stranded in remote areas along the north eastern Jordanian border, and urged the Government of Jordan to allow them entry, prioritizing admission for the most vulnerable.

The population includes about 11,000 people in Rukban (about 8 kilometres to the west of the point at which the Iraq, Syria, and Jordan borders meet) and 1,000 people in Hadalat (some 90 km further west), and has been growing in recent weeks, according to the UN.

“It includes elderly people, others who are sick or wounded, children, women, and others who are vulnerable and need help, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the regular press briefing in Geneva.

Ms. Fleming added that the refugees are gathering near an earthen wall or 'berm' on Jordanian territory in a rocky area devoid of shade, water or vegetation and that the number of people congregating at these locations rose sharply from 4,000 to 12,000 in November, following the recent intensification of conflict in Syria.

The spokesperson added that women have had to give birth at the berm, in unsanitary and unhygienic conditions. Moreover, common medical complaints are on the rise such as respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, and skin diseases such as scabies.

Ms. Fleming underscored that the health situation is deteriorating, with increasing signs of diarrhoea, vomiting and acute malnutrition among children and stressed that if refugees are not admitted to Jordan and substantial assistance are not provided, the lives of refugees will be at risk in the coming winter months.

“We appeal to the Government of Jordan to allow refugees stranded at the border to enter the country, prioritizing entry for the most vulnerable adults and children, including serious and emergency medical and surgical cases, pregnant women, children below six months together with their families and the severely disabled,” said Ms. Fleming, highlighting the “excellent working relationship” the UN agency shares with the Government.

At the same time, she acknowledged the serious impact of the Syria conflict on Jordan’s security and said that UNHCR recognizes the tremendous contribution of Jordan in hosting over 630,000 refugees, which has put a heavy strain on its infrastructure and economy.

Additionally, Ms. Fleming said that the Azraq camp, located about 320 kilometres from Rukban has capacity to receive additional people and added that UNHCR has provided considerable support in recent months to improve the capacity of the Ruwaished transfer facility to allow the proper screening and processing of newly arrived refugees from the Berm.

Ms. Fleming reiterated that UNHCR recognizes the legitimate security concerns of Jordan, which “can be manged through proper assessments of the circumstances of individuals.”

“We believe this can best take place, after an initial screening by the Border Guards, in the Government of Jordan/UNHCR facility at Raba’a Al Sarhan, in Mafraq governorate, where authorities and necessary security and registration equipment is present,” said Ms. Fleming.

Lastly, she said that UNHCR stands ready to upgrade the security of the registration area at Azraq camp to allow for the comprehensive screening of the entire border population there.

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UN health agency outlines global trends and looks ahead to 2030 targets

INTERNATIONAL – The World Health Organization (WHO) today issued a comprehensive analysis of global health trends since 2000, and laid out actions that should be prioritized over the next 15 years to achieve the newly-agreed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), saying that universal health care is the “linchpin of development in health.”

Health in 2015: from the MDGs to the SDGs, identifies the key drivers of progress in health during 15 years under the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and lays out actions that countries and the international community should prioritize starting 1 January 2016.

The report contains “snapshots” on 34 different health topics that outline trends, achievements made, reasons for success, challenges and strategic priorities for improving health in the different areas. These “snapshots” range from air pollution to hepatitis to road traffic injuries.

Although the health MDGs missed a number of global targets, according to the report, the overall results were impressive, with the past 15 years witnessing major declines in child and maternal mortality, and progress in the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in developing countries.

Saying the world now stands on “the threshold of a new era,” WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said in the report’s preface the new report is a first step in a series of actions she is taking to make her organization fit to fully support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Even though almost all the SDGs are directly related to health or will contribute to health indirectly, one goal (SDG 3) specifically sets out to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.’

“Universal health coverage cuts across all of the health-related goals,” according to Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation. “It is the linchpin of development in health and reflects the SDGs strong focus on equity and reaching the poorest, most disadvantaged people everywhere.”

“As the global agency with the mandate to cover the whole health agenda, WHO will take a leading role in supporting countries to set their own national targets and strategies, advising on best-buy interventions, defining research priorities and monitoring progress in achieving the health-related SDGs,” according to Dr. Kieny. The WHO report presents the analysis for the key areas outlined in the health SDGs:

  • reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health;
  • infectious diseases including HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis and neglected tropical diseases;
  • noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including heart disease, cancer and diabetes;
  • mental health and substance use including narcotics and harmful use of alcohol;
  • injuries and violence; and
  • universal health coverage.

“One of the biggest challenges will be measuring progress across a staggering number of targets, particularly with the lack of health data in developing countries,” according to Dr. Kieny. SDG monitoring requires regular, high-quality data, for example on the causes of death, from all population groups so that we know where we need to target resources.”

WHO is working with partners to establish a Health Data Collaborative in early 2016 that aims to support countries to build better health data systems.

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COP21: UN chief tells private sector 'how we do business today will determine if we can do business in the future'

INTERNATIONAL – Speaking at the United Nations climate change conference (COP21) today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a room full of business leaders that the global gathering will serve to share progress made in important areas and to establish even greater ambition for the future.

“The collective momentum among the private sector for climate action is growing daily,” said Mr. Ban alongside the United States Secretary of States, John Kerry, and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, at a high-level meeting of the UN Global Compact's Caring for Business Forum.

Held over two days on the sidelines of COP21, the third annual meeting of the Forum aims to provide a platform for dialogue and action among business, investors, civil society, the UN and government officials.

Since 30 November, the conference site in the north-east of the French capital has been at the heart of climate-related discussions, with thousands of people from all corners of the globe coming together to push for a new universal climate change agreement that will limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius.

“Across the world, businesses and investors are standing up for a strong agreement in Paris that sends the right market signals,” Mr. Ban underlined. “They are asking for a clear message that the transition to cleaner, low emissions energy sources is necessary, inevitable, irreversible and beneficial.”

With “business” as one of the central themes of COP21 on Tuesday, the UN chief stressed that it should be clear “there is no turning back,” and that all parts of society – CEOs, cities and citizens – must be part of the solution.

“Just over a year ago at my Climate Summit in New York, I called on business to make their voices heard and to demonstrate that green business is good business. Companies from around the globe have responded. Leading companies are showing that they can address climate change and thrive financially,” he insisted.

He noted that more companies and investors are leading on climate action than at any time in history, and that they are doing so “because they understand the risks of climate change, and the opportunities inherent in addressing it.”

“We have seen the power of collaboration first-hand through our UN Caring for Climate initiative. This is now the largest coalition of businesses actively engaging on climate,” he explained, adding that one hundred companies are setting ambitious emissions reduction goals through the science-based targets initiative.

On the issue of carbon pricing, he indicated that companies have been “instrumental” in ensuring that a price on carbon is recognized as a necessary and effective tool. According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, more than 1,000 companies now say that they have set an internal price or plan to in the future. This reportedly compares to just over 100 companies a year ago—nearly a ten-fold increase.

“In the past year alone, over 2,000 companies and 500 investors have registered climate commitments through the UNFCCC NAZCA portal. But to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees we must go much further and faster,” he warned.

Finally, Mr. Ban addressed all the private sector leaders in the room, telling them that as they leave Paris, he hopes they will carry with them a clear message to their consumers, employees, peers – and Governments – “that how we do business today will determine if we can do business in the future.”

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UN agency deploys artificial fish habitats along Somali coast to boost sustainable fishing

INTERNATIONAL – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), working with the European Union has completed the deployment of 25 Fish-Aggregating Devices (FADs) – or ‘fish magnets’ – along Somalia’s 3,300 km coastline, aiming to boost the nation’s small-scale artisanal fisheries and tackle food insecurity and malnutrition to some extents by sustainable usage of the devices.

In a statement issued today, FAO explained that the devices consist of a floating buoy and so-called ‘habitat mat’ a few metres across. “Plant life quickly grows under the mat, attracting large numbers of fish – in essence crating new high – density fishing grounds where none existed before,” the statement said.

These ‘fish magnets’ will attract many different fish species, including tuna, that normally small – scale fishers cannot easily catch, making fishing more safe and efficient, while also encouraging fishers to switch their fishing efforts away from habitats such as coral reefs and sea grasses that are vulnerable to overfishing.

“The FADs initiative is at the heart of the work by FAO and our partners to boost coastal livelihoods, strengthen resilience, and tackle the underlying causes of piracy – illegal fishing, degradation of local fisheries, high levels of youth unemployment, and food insecurity,” said FAO representative in Somalia, Richard Trenchard.

The effort has been funded by the governments of Japan and Switzerland, while the European Union Naval Forces (EUNAVFOR) – which has a regional role in combatting piracy and monitoring fisheries – has provided critical protection and logistical support for the vessel that deployed the FADs.

According to FAO, the European Union Head of Delegation and Ambassador to Somalia, Michele Cervone d’Urso, commended the programme as a crucial addition to efforts aimed at creating employment in Somalia’s piracy-affected areas.

“This is an integrated approach to creating long-term, sustainable employment opportunities to youth and women as alternatives to piracy and migration, by developing the value chains of the fishery and livestock sector within the coastal communities of Puntland, Galmudug and Banadir where traditionally communities have combined seasonal fishing and pastoral activities,” said Mr. d’Urso.

FAO has worked with 20 communities as well as federal and regional ministries in Somalia to identify the deployment locations and ensure that the FADs would be accepted and well used.

“Just over one million people in Somalia currently face severe food insecurity, while an estimated 307,800 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished,” FAO noted, pointing to sustainable fisheries as a key element of tackling food insecurity in the country.

In addition, Mr. Trenchard explained that the devices should help kick-start further longer-term development support to these communities, most importantly, investment to strengthen market linkages.

“As well as expanding the FADs programme to other areas,” he said, “we will be working with the ministries and the fishing communities to attract further investment for ice machines, cold storage and processing facilities, improved landing sites and, of course, better roads to bring fresh fish to markets as quickly as possible.”

Related FAO activities in Somalia include boat building, fish preservation training, distribution of solar fridges, construction of jetties and the registration of fishers, much of which has been supported by generous funding from Norway and the United Kingdom. Additionally, with European Union funding.

FAO plans to launch a broader programme to stimulate further growth across the fisheries sector and further reduce the chances of piracy re-emerging in the future.

While FADs can have negative environmental impacts when used unwisely, FAO has been at the forefront of developing guidelines for their sustainable use, building on lessons learned elsewhere.

In Somalia, the FAO devices have been deployed in carefully targeted deep-water locations and are anchored to the seabed.

Further, FAO has been actively engaging with women, youth and fishers, as well as relevant authorities to develop local management best practices and agreed rules that will reduce the chance of local conflict and ensure sustainable use of each FAD. These rules are enshrined in local agreements, signed by village elders, co-op leaders as well as government ministries.

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Latin America faces huge task to reverse discrimination against Afro-descendants – UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, saying he was struck by the “enormity of the task” over the next decade to reverse five centuries of discrimination against the 150 million people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, has urged the region to draw on “the untapped potential in hitherto invisible communities.”

The top UN human rights official made those remarks in a speech to the first Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean on the International Decade for People of African Descent(2015-2024) held in Brasilia, Brazil, last week and which bought together States, regional organizations, national human rights institutions, equality bodies and civil society, particularly those of people of African descent, as well as UN bodies from the region.

“I am struck by the enormity of the task before us,” Mr. Zeid said.

“Ten years to reverse five centuries of structural discrimination? Racial discrimination that has deep roots grown in colonialism and slavery and nourished daily with fear, poverty and violence, roots that aggressively infiltrate every aspect of life – from access to food and education to physical integrity, to participation in decisions that fundamentally affect one’s life,” he said.

“A decade is such a short time,” he noted.

Mr. Zeid called on States to honour their commitments and obligations under international human rights law and use all the tools at their disposal to make concrete progress in advancing the rights of Afro-descendants. The tools include international human rights treaties, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) on eradicating racism and xenophobia, as well as the framework provided by the UN General Assembly for the International Decade. The themes for the Decade are: Recognition, Justice and Development.

“Today, there are more than 150 million people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean – about 30 per cent of the population. Yet Afro-descendants throughout much of the region are almost invisible in the halls of power – economic, academic, professional or political, at local or national levels. High rates of inequality persist,” he said.

At the end of the meeting on Friday, the delegates adopted a declaration which recalls the UN General Assembly’s Programme of Activities of the International Decade and reaffirms their commitment to the full implementation of the Durban Declaration at national, regional and global levels.

States also pledged to adopt affirmative action policies to alleviate and remedy inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights in access to education and employment, in line with the particularities of each country.

“Let us seize this chance to tap the untapped potential in hitherto invisible communities. Let us pledge to use these 10 years to turn a corner,” the High Commissioner said.

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Desperate farm families in eastern Ukraine forced into ‘difficult choices’ to survive – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL – The absence of financial, physical, social and human resources has left some 700,000 farm households extremely vulnerable in conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, the results of a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) household survey revealed today, and also warned of food insecurity among those families due to “skyrocketing” commodity prices.

Painting “a bleak picture” for small-scale farming families in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the FAO survey noted that to cope with the dire circumstances, people are skipping meals, migrating to find work, borrowing to pay for necessities, selling household goods and vehicles, killing their livestock for lack of feed, and even planting less for lack of seed and fertilizer.

“Family farms in the conflict area have shown resilience in the face of very difficult conditions, but this cannot last,” said Farrukh Toirov, FAO emergency response coordinator in Ukraine, stressing that while “difficult choices” may make sense in the short term, “it means we can expect to see consequences.”

The FAO household survey also warned of “skyrocketing” prices for animal feed and agricultural inputs such as seed, fertilizer and tools, among others.

“We believe there is a significant and urgent need to support the subsistence production needs of the affected populations and stabilize their agricultural activities,” said Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia.

FAO has carried out the timely distribution of potato seed, animal feed, and live broiler-layer chickens to needy farm households in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the agency is boosting operations to reach more families and enabling them to continue production.

Immediate-term solutions to tackle food insecurity such as providing agricultural inputs and animal feed to ensure crop and livestock production are recommended in the report.

The majority of survey respondents produce crops for their own consumption. While there is a growing trend of migration, the capacity to self-sufficiency is declining for those remain on the land, according to the survey.

“People should not become dependent on food hand-outs in a land that can produce most of the population's food needs,” said Mr. Rakhmanin.

In late February 2014, the situation in Ukraine transcended what was initially seen as an internal Ukrainian political crisis into violent clashes in parts of the country, later reaching full-scale conflict in the east. Nevertheless, despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreed in Minsk, the situation has since deteriorated, with serious consequences for the country’s unity, territorial integrity and stability.

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Confronting conflicts, disasters, UN launches largest ever humanitarian appeal at $20.1 billion

INTERNATIONAL – Warning that global suffering has reached levels not seen in a generation, the United Nations and its partners today launched their largest ever humanitarian appeal, calling for 20.1 billion life-saving dollars for 2016, even as the 2015 appeal posts the largest funding gap on record - $10.2 billion.

“Conflicts and disasters have driven millions of children, women and men to the edge of survival. They desperately need our help,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Briensaidas he launched theGlobal Humanitarian Overview 2016in Geneva, calling the outlook for next year grim.

The amount of the appeal, five times that of a decade ago, even tops the revised total appeal for 2015 of $19.9 billion, for which international donors have provided only $9.7 billion, just 49 per cent. The new appeal seeks to deliver life-saving aid to over 87.6 million people across 37 countries, most of which are in conflict.

The “brutal, extended” conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen will remain among the greatest drivers of prolonged humanitarian needs in 2016, fuelling new displacement within countries and across borders, the appeal said.

Worldwide, the number of people forced to flee their homes has already reached 60 million, a level previously unknown in the post-World War II era, half of them children.

“UN agencies and our partners are committed to do everything we can to respond quickly and effectively to the urgent needs of affected people, families, and communities,” said Mr. O’Brien, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “They count on us all today for their tomorrow. I urge the international community to respond generously again to our call for funding to allow us to do the job.”

The appeal is the culmination of a global effort in which hundreds of organizations delivering food, shelter, medicine, protection, emergency education and other basic assistance to people in conflict- and disaster-affected regions come together to assess needs, decide response strategies and present their plans to donors.

“Mass movement of people, be it refugees or people fleeing within their own countries, has become the new defining reality of the 21st century,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told the launching ceremony.

“The international humanitarian system is all too often the only safety net that exists for people fleeing wars. It has to be funded on a scale that’s realistic and commensurate with today’s immense challenges. It is clear that with the present level of resources, we are not able to provide even the very minimum in both core protection and life-saving assistance.”

UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan stressed the disastrous effects conflict and natural disasters are having on global health.

“The number of people now affected by conflicts and other crises is unprecedented, with an unprecedented impact on their health,” she said. “WHO and its partners are committed to ensuring that everyone - especially women and children – get the health care they desperately need. But we urgently require more funding in order to do so.”

In a foreword to the appeal, Mr. O’Brien gave an overview of the conflicts wracking the world from Syria and Yemen to Ukraine and Nigeria.

“The level of violence is unspeakable,” he wrote. “Millions of people are trapped in conflict zones and subjected to flagrant human rights abuses.”

Looking ahead, he said humanitarian needs are expected to increase, especially as the ongoing El Niño weather pattern is already causing severe hardship in East Africa, notably in Ethiopia, where some 10 million people currently need food aid, and in Central America where one of the most severe droughts on record disrupted agricultural production, putting 2.8 million people in need of immediate food assistance, health care and livelihood support.

“We count on your usual generous support for our work to meet these urgent life-saving needs and restore dignity and humanity to millions of people,” he concluded.

The appeal’s Executive Summary stressed that addressing underfunding requires a range of measures, including adjusting the approach to protracted crises and disasters, leveraging diverse funding sources, using the right mix of financial instruments for each situation and investing more in preparedness.

“Faced with ever-growing needs, we rely on the international community, Governments and the public to give their support and resources – financially and in kind – to allow us to continue humanitarian action,” it concluded. “Our shared aims are to end suffering, meet the immediate needs of crisis-affected people, keep them safe from harm and enable them to live in dignity.”

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COP21: 'we have the unique opportunity to define our own destiny', says Ban at UN climate change conference

INTERNATIONAL – Calling climate change a defining issue of our time, United NationsSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon today told top government officials that the opportunity exists “to define our own destiny” at the UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris.

“In rising to the climate challenge, we can set the world on a sustainable footing for generations to come, and lay the foundation for prosperity and security for all,” he said one week into COP21, which kicked off at the Paris-Le Bourget site last Monday in the north-east of the French capital.

Today, the second week of negotiations begins, with the aim of reaching a new universal climate agreement to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.

“A week ago, 150 world leaders stood here and pledged their full support for a robust global climate agreement that is equal to the test we face,” Mr. Ban recalled. “Never before have so many Heads of State and Government gathered in one place at one time with one common purpose.”

The UN chief underlined that leaders have assured him they will work to remove any roadblocks.

“They have called for strong ambition and re-affirmed their support for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening resilience to changes to come,” he stressed, calling on leaders to translate “this historic call for action into a durable, dynamic, credible and fair climate agreement.”

Noting that outside the negotiating halls there is a “rising global tide for a strong, universal agreement,” he voiced what the people of the world expect from those working towards its achievement.

“First, we need an agreement that will limit temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. For many, including low-lying and least developed countries, even a 1.5 degree rise will have grave consequences,” he insisted.

“Second, the private sector needs a clear signal that the low-emissions transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial and already under way. Third, developed countries must agree to lead, and developing countries need to assume increasing responsibility in line with their capabilities. Fourth, the agreement must ensure sufficient, balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Finally, he said the agreement must provide a single framework for measuring, monitoring and reporting progress in a transparent manner.

“The decisions you make here will reverberate down through the ages,” he declared.

The Secretary-General also recounted a conversation he had with a young Norwegian explorer yesterday, named Erika. While visiting the Tara research vessel currently banked on the Seine, she told him: “We are the future. Your decisions today will be our future.”

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Chad: Ban condemns triple suicide attacks, urges region to address scourge of Boko Haram

INTERNATIONAL – Following the triple suicide attacks carried out on the island of Koulfoua on the Chadian side of Lake Chad yesterday, which left more than 30 dead and many more injured, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon condemned the brutal attacks stating that these “despicable acts demonstrate yet again the brutality of Boko Haram.”

In a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson, the UN chief reiterated his call for the countries affected by Boko Haram to address the root causes of this scourge in a holistic and integrated manner.

Mr. Ban extended his condolences to the families of the deceased and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

“The Secretary-General reaffirms his solidarity with the people of Chad and reiterates the United Nations' support for the Government in its fight against terrorism, which must be conducted in full respect of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law,” the statement concluded.

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