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Business sector still far from reaching sustainability goals, UN report shows, 20 years on from landmark summit

INTERNATIONAL, 4 July 2020, Economic Development - A new UN report on tbe private sector, released by UN Global Compact, shows that progress on bringing about a sustainable future for people and the planet is patchy, and the majority of companies involved in the Compact, are not doing enough to help bring about the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The scale and pace of change, to date, to deliver SDGs has not been big enough or fast enough”, said Remi Erikson, who led the team that drafted the report, Uniting Business in the Decade of Action, which shows that just 39 per cent of companies surveyed believe they have targets that are sufficiently ambitious to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The scale and pace of change, to date, to deliver SDGs has not been big enough or fast enough Remi Erikson, CEO, DNV GL

“Only 46% of businesses surveyed are embedding the SDGs in their core business”, said Mr. Erikson, the CEO of risk management company, and Global Compact participant, DNV GL. “less than a third of businesses believe their industry is moving fast enough to deliver the SDGs by 2030”.

“Incremental change by individual companies will not deliver the business contribution needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, said Mr. Erikson. “Companies and the systems they are part of are moving broadly in the same direction, but not in a concerted effort. Achieving the needed change requires a ramping up of ambition among all companies, whether they operate within the energy, healthcare, food, finance, transport or other systems.
Policy is not enough

Mr. Erikson told UN News that, although 93 per cent of participants have embedded the Global Compact Ten Principles (on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption) into their policies, not enough is being done to put them into practice. “Policy is not enough to drive change, and we see a marked gap between having policies in place and implementing measures to act on the Principles”. 

ILO/Marcel Crozet
Factory workers in an assembly line in Cambodia.

In addition, whilst the vast majority of participating companies recognize the importance of sustainable development, says Mr. Erikson, they are not doing enough to significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment: whilst science-based targets are considered by many sustainable development professionals as an important indicator of a company’s willingness to reduce its carbon footprint and negative environmental impact, the report reveals that, whilst around a third of companies surveyed are developing a science-based carbon reduction target, only 15 per cent have already set one.

Reasons to be hopeful

Despite the slow progress, and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Eriksen insists that he is hopeful that a post-pandemic “new normal” will be an improvement, in terms of building a better future for all.
“I am slightly more optimistic about the future now than I was two months ago as I have seen how businesses have used their experience, creativity and determination to find ways to serve their customers and create new solutions to operate in an unprecedented environment.”

“The events of the past year, from school children protesting the lack of action on the climate, to the fear and economic meltdown caused by the pandemic and, most recently, the calls for justice and equality, have rocked the world. They underline that the Sustainable Development Goals are not just ideals to aspire to, but fundamentals in creating a just society, with equal opportunity for all on a planet that is habitable.”

Responding to the report, Lise Kingo, the former head of the UN Global Compact, highlighted the importance of a step-change in action: “the change we need to see in the Decade of Action will not happen through incremental improvements and adjustments to ‘business-as-usual.’ Now is the time for CEOs to speak up and ensure all companies fully integrate the Ten Principles and raise their SDG Ambition to meet the needs of society and the planet”.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs

  • The 2030 Agenda is the UN’s blueprint for a fairer future, for the planet and people.
  • Adopted in 2015, the Agenda laid out a 15-year plan, and proposed action in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drawn up in collaboration with governments, business, civil society and citizens.
  • 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first Leaders Summit of the UN Global Compact, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s initiative to enlist the private sector in its vision of a sustainable future of all. 
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UN rights office expresses alarm at Hong Kong arrests under new security law

INTERNATIONAL, 3 July 2020, Human Rights - The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has expressed alarm at the arrest of demonstrators in Hong Kong, following China’s adoption of a national security law for the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was continuing to analyze the new law after it came into force on Wednesday, regarding its compliance with international human rights obligations:

“I think several hundred people have been arrested since protests began on Wednesday, I think the last I heard, we understood 10 of those people have been charged under the new law, but I don’t have more details at this point on the nature of the charges at this point and so on.”

He added that colleagues are “very much actively counting, trying to get those kinds of details and we’ll see what kind of concerns we have about individual cases.”

Mr. Colville pointed to “vague and overly broad” definitions of some offences in the new law that had been adopted by China's National People's Congress.

“This may lead to discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement of the law, which could undermine human rights protection,” he explained.

Reiterating concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression highlighted by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, the OHCHR official insisted that such laws “should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law”.

Principle of legality

Offences created under the new national security legislation should comply with the principle of legality, which is enshrined in article 15.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mr. Colville added.

The development follows a joint declaration by dozens of UN-appointed independent rights experts alleging the repression of “fundamental freedoms” of Hong Kong protesters.

Citing the alleged use of chemical agents against demonstrators, the experts also alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations; together with the alleged harassment of health care workers.

The law had been drafted without meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong, they continued, adding that it risked undermining the right to a fair trial and could prompt a “sharp rise in arbitrary detention”.

The independent experts are neither UN staff nor paid by the Organization.

One country, two systems

The “one country, two systems” governance framework that was introduced at the end of British rule also risked being undermined, the experts insisted, enabling the Chinese Government to establish “agencies” in Hong Kong “when needed”.

Provisions governing the offence of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” contained in article 29 of the new law were also concerning, the OHCHR spokesperson added.

“This may lead to a restriction of civic space and of the possibility for civil society actors to exercise their right to participate in public affairs,” he said.

“These provisions could also lead to criminalizing human rights defenders and activists for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

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Protecting migrant workers in Kuwait: a Resident Coordinator’s blog

INTERNATIONAL, 3 July 2020, Migrants and Refugees - In Kuwait, the UN has played an important role in countering xenophobic rhetoric, falsely blaming the spread of COVID-19 on migrant workers. In this opinion piece, Tarek El Sheikh, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the country, highlights the efforts being made to safeguard the rights of foreign residents. 

The increase in xenophobic language directed towards migrants – who make up more than 70 per cent of the population of Kuwait – prompted a group of jurists, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Office of the Resident Coordinator, to launch a media campaign designed to help the authorities counter the problem, which they are beginning to see as a potential threat to a peaceful and stable society; we welcomed the Emir of Kuwait’s televised speech on the subject, in which he emphasized the need to heal divisions, and address misinformation.

This is one example of the role that the UN is playing in Kuwait, to address the consequences of the pandemic. Our response can be divided into four main areas. Firstly, we are helping to prepare the economy and society (for example, by strengthening supply chains, countering economic shocks and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises). Secondly, we are working to protect vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. Thirdly, we are creating educational content, via different media, and lastly, we are addressing developmental and health issues.

Unemployment and deportations 

Tarek Azmi Elsheikh, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kuwait., by Tarek Azmi Elsheikh

One of the big economic issues we are dealing with is unemployment. The vast majority of the migrant workers who travel to Kuwait have very limited means and, since the pandemic, many of them have found themselves without work. 
Large sums of money have been collected to help migrant workers, a sign of the generosity of many Kuwaitis, who have also donated food to help those affected by the downturn. Various UN bodies, such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) have been cooperating with the Kuwaiti authorities to find ways to cope with this crisis.

We have developed guidelines and recommendations for dealing with migrants, and mitigating the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, and we are pleased to say that many of these have been adopted by the authorities. The UN Development Programme and the World Bank have provided socio-economic advice to counter market instability.

Another consequence of the rise in unemployment, is that many migrant workers no longer have valid work permits, and face deportation to their countries of origin. The members of the UN Migration Network – comprised of IOM, ILO, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN Women, OHCHR and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) – are coordinating on this issue, to ensure that voluntary deportations take place in a manner that respects international human rights law. 

The IOM and UNHCR have also been working with partners to provide food and personal protection equipment (PPE) to migrants and people of concern, and inspecting centres for voluntary deporting workers, and the victims of domestic violence (including domestic workers).

‘Let us reject hatred’

My message to the citizens of Kuwait, migrant workers living in the country, and everyone who is contributing to dealing with this pandemic, is that this is a time for solidarity, action, humanitarian support, and respect for human rights.

We cannot defeat this new enemy without unity, and agreement on a basic strategy, with the United Nations working hand in hand with government, the private sector, and civil society.

Let us reject hatred, turn to humanity, and respect for human rights, and reiterate what the UN Secretary-General has said: the only way to survive, is to work together.

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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COVID-19 fast becoming protection crisis, Guterres warns Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 2 July 2020, Peace and Security - The COVID-19 pandemic is “profoundly affecting” peace and security across the globe, the Secretary-General told the Security Council on Thursday, pressing the 15-member body to use its collective influence to protect the millions of people either trapped in, or fleeing conflict, and already facing acute vulnerabilities.

“The health pandemic has fast become a protection crisis”, António Guterres warned.  With more than one billion children out of school, 135 million people facing starvation by year-end, and healthcare workers routinely being targeted by violence, "these wide-ranging risks require an urgent and united response.”

The high-level debate, convened by Germany as president for July, follows the Council’s passage on Wednesday of resolution 2532 (2020), which demands a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda.

The health pandemic has fast become a protection crisis...these wide-ranging risks require an urgent and united response - UN Secretary-General

Trust eroded

The risks are diverse, the UN chief said. Trust in public institutions is being eroded in places where people perceive that authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively or have not been transparent about its impact.  As grievances become more entrenched, the potential for instability and violence only grows.

In some places, fragile peace processes could be derailed if the international community is distracted, he said.  In Sudan’s restive Darfur region, the pandemic has led to repeated extensions of the deadline for completing the Juba peace process. 

Elsewhere, he said terrorist and violent extremist groups see the uncertainty created by the pandemic as a tactical advantage.  In Somalia, there is a risk that Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab, could increase its attacks while security forces, by necessity, focus on the pandemic.

COVID and the vote

Many countries have had to consider how to move ahead with elections slated for 2020 while trying to manage the health crisis.  In the Central African Republic, attempts to use the pandemic as a pretext to postpone elections planned for year-end are creating tensions.

Collective security and a shared wellbeing are under assault on many fronts, led by a relentless disease and abetted by global fragilities.  “Our challenge is to save lives today while buttressing the pillars of security for tomorrow,” he said, expressing his support for the Council in any way possible as it carries out its essential part of the response.

Needs are vast, growing

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said his organization sees first-hand how COVID-19 is deepening fragility, spiking humanitarian needs, accelerating the impact of violence in conflict and reversing hard-won development gains.

It is clear that pandemics cannot be addressed only as a health issue. 

Health care at gunpoint ‘futile’

Sharing lessons for humanitarian response, he said international humanitarian law must be respected in order to protect civilians from pandemics.  Countries where health services are destroyed, stand little chance of fighting COVID-19.

Healthcare workers - the first and last lines of defence - must be protected, he said, stressing that resolution 2286 (2016) will be “fruitless” if it does not result in meaningful behaviour change on the ground.

Assistance and protection must be available to all those in need without threat of intimidation or manipulation.  “People’s needs are the only reasonable basis on which to respond”, he insisted, and he called for the development of a “people’s vaccine” that will be equitably distributed to everyone.

Further, he said the secondary impacts of the pandemic must be mitigated through the creation of safety nets and livelihoods, and that humanitarian responses must reach the most vulnerable, as failure to do so will only nurture the cycle of exclusion. 

States also must guard against any rollback of civilian protections.  Exceptional measures taken to fight the coronavirus must be time-bound and proportional to public health needs. Overall, he said, responses will only be effective if there is community trust and engagement.  “Health care at gunpoint is futile”.

Broad understanding of peace, security

Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, underscored the urgent need for rapid and safe humanitarian access during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “The Council must finally embrace a broader understanding of peace and security” he said. 

While the UN’s founders may well have had artillery batteries in mind when they drafted the Organization’s charter, “today, we know a virus can be more deadly than a gun”, he said.  Today, climate change affects more people than conventional weapons.  “Closing our eyes to this reality means refusing to learn.” 

The United Nations must be equipped with effective capacities.  While resolution 2532 (2020) was “long overdue”, the Council nonetheless sent a sign of unity by endorsing the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.  “This is what maintaining peace and security means in the twenty-first century,” he observed.

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Helping youth enterprise take off, will bring sustainable returns, say UN economists

INTERNATIONAL, 2 July 2020, Economic Development - Young entrepreneurs who want their work to have a positive impact on their communities, urgently need more help from governments if they’re to succeed and resist the COVID-19-fuelled economic downturn, UN economists said on Thursday.

Amid worsening global employment prospects owing to the pandemic, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) maintained in a new report that unlocking business opportunities for young adults “could lower unemployment and bring social benefits”.

It said that socially-minded enterprises benefited 871 million people in just nine countries in Europe and Central Asia in 2016, providing services and products worth around $6.7 billion and creating employment, particularly among marginalized groups.

Sky’s the limit for start-ups

Young entrepreneurs who have already made a difference include Zaid Souqi, from Jordan, who created The Orenda Tribe: Art for Hope, in 2014.

His art and art therapy initiative empowers Syrian and Jordanian children in vulnerable situations.

In Malawi, business trainer Ellen Chilemba started Tiwale when she was 18; now 30, she now has trained more than 150 women as entrepreneurs.

And Pezana Rexha, a young architect from Albania, set up Pana Design: Storytelling Furniture, making furniture from reclaimed wood with people who normally face difficulties finding employment, such as older workers and those with disabilities.

Chief among DESA’s recommendations is the removal of obstacles to start-up funds for youngsters.

This is a common failing in “many” countries, where regulatory systems often prevent them from accessing the financial products and services they need to start a business.

In addition, lack of access to training, technical support, networks and markets, all combine to discourage the growth of such social enterprises, said DESA, which defines social entrepreneurship as “businesses that generate profits while seeking to generate social impacts”.

Joblessness hits youngsters hardest

According to the agency’s 2020 World Youth Report, unemployment among the world’s 1.2 billion young people (aged 15-24) is far higher than for adults.

 

The COVID-19 crisis has worsened their job prospects, the DESA report continues, although before the new coronavirus emerged in China late last December, before turning into a pandemic, labour experts estimated that 600 million jobs would be needed in the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs, the report noted.

Highlighting the multiple benefits that could come if Governments did more for their aspiring youngsters, the UN agency explained that new measures could also contribute to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 objectives to tackle everything from poverty to inequality.

“Creating pathways for youth social entrepreneurship can generate positive outcomes for everyone,” said Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “When supported by enabling policies and programmes, social entrepreneurship can represent a great way for young people to earn a living and improve the world around them.”

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Protect ordinary Afghans ahead of peace talks, urges UN Mission chief

INTERNATIONAL, 2 July 2020, Peace and Security - Ahead of hoped-for peace talks between Afghan Government and Taliban negotiators, UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan have urged parties to “redouble” their efforts to keep civilians safe.

The appeal from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also calls for a de-escalation of the conflict to save lives and facilitate discussions in Qatar.

It follows a recent spate of deliberate attacks against religious leaders, healthcare workers, members of the judiciary, civil society activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and journalists.

‘Shocking and criminal’ attacks

In the first six months of the year, more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks.

UNAMA attributed responsibility for approximately half of these civilian casualties to the Taliban.

These are “shocking and criminal” attacks, UNAMA said in a statement.

The Mission’s chief, Deborah Lyons, meanwhile, warned against “spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war.”

Ms Lyons, who is also the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that it had taken “enormous work and …brave decisions for Afghans”, to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations.

“No matter what tactics they employ to de-rail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed,” she insisted.

Catalogue of violence

UNAMA said it remains particularly concerned by the deliberate targeting of religious leaders, with 18 incidents verified this year (six in June); healthcare personnel, with 13 incidents verified this year (two last month); judiciary members, with 11 incidents verified this year (three in June); civil society activists, with six incidents verified this year; NGOs, with five incidents verified this year (one in June); and journalists, with three incidents verified so far during 2020.

June incidents that require further verification, said the Mission, include the 22 June attack in Kabul, when armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a vehicle, killing all five passengers inside, including one prosecutor, working in the Bagram detention facility; and the 27 June incident also in the capital, when an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission staff member and driver, were killed by an improvised device, when they were traveling to work.

Possible war crimes

The UN reiterates that attacks deliberately targeting Afghanistan’s civilian population are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

UNAMA also drew attention to the continued harm to civilians from the use of indirect fire during ground engagements, in civilian-populated areas, that has caused roughly 25 per cent of civilian casualties in the second quarter of 2020.

The Mission’s continued call for an end to violence is also immediately linked to the need for all parties to provide the necessary focus and resources to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, “a serious threat to everyone in Afghanistan”.

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‘Transfats’ from processed foods may increase ovarian cancer risk

INTERNATIONAL, 2 July 2020, Health - A likely link between processed and fried foods containing so-called “transfats” and ovarian cancer has been identified by UN scientists, they said on Thursday.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued the announcement at the end of a study of nearly 1,500 patients suffering from the disease, which is the eighth most common cause of cancer death in women.

Previous, smaller studies have suggested a link between these industrially manufactured fatty foods and ovarian cancer, but the evidence has been “inconclusive” until now, said IARC’s Dr Inge Huybrechts.

“This is the first Europe-wide prospective study showing a relationship between intake of industrial trans fatty acids and development of ovarian cancer,” added the scientist from IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Obesity and inflammation

Although there is limited research into the effect of transfatty acids on cancer development, previous studies have suggested that industrial trans fatty acids affect obesity and inflammation.

These are “known risk factors” for ovarian cancer according to IARC scientist and study co-author Dr Véronique Chajès.

This could explain, “at least partly, the positive association between these fatty acids and ovarian cancer”, she added.

There were nearly 300,000 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2018 and more than 184,000 deaths worldwide.

It is eighth most common cancer type and the eighth most common cause of cancer death in women.

Prevention strategies

Because the incidence of ovarian cancer is rising worldwide, prevention strategies are urgently needed; however, few preventable factors have been identified.

“These new findings are in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to eliminate industrial trans fatty acids from foods”, said Dr Marc Gunter, head of the Section of Nutrition and Metabolism at IARC.

“This study provides new evidence that reduction in the consumption of industrially processed foods, including fast food, could help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and many other chronic diseases, including other cancer types, that are related to higher consumption of industrial trans fatty acids.”

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Stalled Security Council resolution adopted, backing UN’s global humanitarian ceasefire call

INTERNATIONAL, 1 July 2020, Peace and Security - The Security Council on Wednesday echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a worldwide ceasefire, to combat the coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed more than half a million lives. The UN chief welcomed the long-awaited move, calling for countries to "redouble their efforts for peace".

Unanimously adopting resolution 2532 (2020) on Wednesday, the 15-member peace and security body demanded “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations, on its agenda.”

It also voiced its support for efforts by Secretary-General António Guterres – who first appealed for a global ceasefire on 23 March – towards that goal.

Endangering peace

The unprecedented extent of the novel coronavirus pandemic “is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”, it said, adding that it could also set back peacebuilding and development gains in countries emerging from conflict.

The two-page resolution – drafted by France and Tunisia - was adopted 111 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.

“It is a very strong signal of unity (within) the Council and a sign of hope that we send from the Security Council out into the world”, said Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN.

He announced the 15-in-favour vote on the first day of his country’s Council presidency.

‘Durable humanitarian pause’

Through the resolution, the Council called upon all parties to armed conflicts to immediately engage in a “durable humanitarian pause” of at least 90 days, to enable the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of lifesaving aid.

It affirmed, however, that no ceasefire would apply for ongoing military operations against the extremist group ISIL, otherwise known as Da’esh, Al Qaeda, the Al Nusra Front and other Council-designated terrorist groups.

It requested the Secretary-General to instruct the United Nations’ 13 peacekeeping missions to support host country efforts to contain the coronavirus, and to provide updates on UN efforts to address the pandemic in conflict zones and humanitarian crisis areas.

Guterres welcomes resolution

On Wednesday afternoon, UN chief António Guterres welcomed the adoption, “and the Council’s recognition of his efforts to respond to the crisis, in particular his appeal for a global ceasefire”, according to a note issued to correspondents in New York.

 “The adoption of this resolution will send an important signal to conflict parties and may help change calculations on the ground.

 “The Secretary-General continues to urge individual Member States to redouble their efforts for peace in the conflicts in which they have influence”, the statement continued. “He looks forward to working with all stakeholders to advance efforts towards concrete ceasefires and durable peace.”

 

Wednesday’s resolution makes no mention of the World Health Organization (WHO) which according to news reports was a bone of contention during lengthy negotiations on the text, notably between China and the United States, which announced its withdrawal from the UN health agency in April.

More to come on COVID

In its latest situation report, the WHO on Tuesday put the worldwide total of COVID-19 cases at 10,185,374, with 503,862 deaths.  Hardest hit are the Americas with 5,136,705 cases and 247,129 deaths.

Security Council resolutions are currently adopted through a written procedure vote under special temporary measures put into place by its members in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Council is planning an open video-teleconference on Thursday on the implications of COVID-19 on the maintenance of international peace and security. 

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‘Long, hard road ahead’ for countries taking piecemeal approach to COVID

INTERNATIONAL, 1 July 2020, Health - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that some nations battling the COVID-19 pandemic who have been taking a “fragmented approach” to suppressing the deadly virus, “face a long, hard road ahead.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the regular coronavirus press briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva, that “flare-ups are to be expected as countries start to lift restrictions.”

But he noted that countries with “systems in place to apply a comprehensive approach, should be able to contain these flare-ups locally, and avoid reintroducing widespread restrictions.”

‘It’s never too late’

However, he continued, “we are concerned that some countries have not used all the tools at their disposal and have taken a fragmented approach. These countries face a long, hard road ahead.

“But one of the lessons of the pandemic is that no matter what situation a country is in, it can be turned around”, he added, injecting a note of optimism for countries such as the United States which has seen cases rise steeply in Texas, Florida and Arizona in recent days.

“It’s never too late.”

More than half a million deaths

More than 10.3 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and over 506,000 deaths. For the past week, the number of new cases has exceeded 160,000 on every single day, the WHO chief said, adding the chilling perspective that 60% of all cases so far across the world, have been reported just in the past month.

“We will never get tired of saying that the best way out of this pandemic is to take a comprehensive approach”, Tedros added.

“Find, isolate, test and care for every case, trace and quarantine every contact, equip and train health workers and educate and empower communities to protect themselves and others.

“Not testing alone. Not physical distancing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not masks alone. Do it all.”

In March, Italy and Spain were the epicenter of the pandemic, but both “brought their epidemics under control with a combination of leadership, humility, active participation by every member of society, and implementing a comprehensive approach”, said Tedros.

“The fastest way out of this pandemic is to follow the science and do what we know works: the comprehensive approach.”

Forum for over 1,000 top scientists

WHO convened its second research and innovation forum on Wednesday, bringing together more than 1,000 scientists from all over the world to take stock of the progress made so far, discuss new research questions and knowledge gaps, and to define research priorities, going forward.

Research and innovation have played a vital role since the beginning of the pandemic – and even before, said the WHO chief: “We have a shared responsibility to ensure that all people have access to the tools to protect themselves, especially those who are most at risk.”

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Youth activist speaks up for environmental protection at Human Rights Council

INTERNATIONAL, 1 July 2020, Human Rights - At the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, a teenager from Côte d’Ivoire has explained why protecting the environment matters so much.

The rare and refreshing intervention came from 14-year-old activist Junior, who spoke out against alleged industrial pollution, including from the cocoa production sector, in his home town of San-Pédro, in the West African State.

Bachelet warning

At the child rights debate, Member States also heard from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who warned that environmental harm severely affects “the youngest children, indigenous children and those from low-income and marginalized communities”.

I want the authorities to take this question of the environment to heart. Because we children are suffering a lot – Junior, 14, from Côte d’Ivoire

This damage was being done, despite the fact that the effects of environmental degradation on children and their rights were “completely preventable”, Ms. Bachelet insisted.

At the same time, the High Commissioner warned that over-exploitation of the environment “increases the risk of infectious diseases like COVID-19 jumping from animal to human hosts”.

Air pollution threat

She also insisted that now was a key opportunity to discuss the rights of the child in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as 93 per cent of children live in environments where air pollution exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, making them more susceptible to air-borne infections, such as the new coronavirus.

Echoing that concern, Junior explained that children made up between 30-40 per cent of those suffering from respiratory and skin diseases, according to data from his town’s health authority.

“I want the authorities to take this question of the environment to heart. Because we children are suffering a lot,” he said via video message.

‘Burned by the sun, drowned by the rain’

“If nothing is done to protect the environment, then all your (the Council’s) efforts to realize children’s rights will be burned by the sun and drowned by the rain.”

Also participating in the debate, at the Council, WHO’s Dr Maria Neira said that one in four children globally is dying because of environmental factors, at home or elsewhere, and 570,000 children under five, are dying from respiratory infections every year.

These include pneumonia, which is attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke, said the head of the agency’s environment, climate change and health unit.

Common killers

Other common killers include poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, with diarrhoea responsible for the deaths of 297,000 under-fives.

By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, Dr Neira warned.

This is already a problem in least developed countries, where one in five health care facilities lacks water, sanitation service and waste management.

Climate change impact

Turning to climate change, the WHO senior official added that as temperatures and levels of carbon dioxide rise, this promotes pollen growth, which is associated with increased rates of asthma in children.

“We have been listening to the children marching and demanding we protect their future,” she said. “We no longer need to raise awareness; we need to act. Many in our audience are uniquely positioned to provide a leverage for these new greener healthier society to happen.”

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