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The more you learn, the more you earn: education and poverty alleviation in Thailand

INTERNATIONAL, 10 April 2021, Culture and Education - A good education is often seen as a route out of poverty, but many disadvantaged children are unable to finish school. In Thailand, a project involving the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, is linking academic achievement to cash rewards, providing tangible benefits to marginalized families, and helping kids to stay in school.

Chaisri Taya, a teacher in the mountainous north-west province of Mae Hong Son, is a testament to the power of education. Born stateless, he completed a bachelor’s degree and obtained Thai citizenship. He has since become a role model in his community, sharing his experience with children and youth in a language they can relate to.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Chaisri Taya is teaching children from disadvantaged communities in the village of Ban Nai Soi, northern Thailand, using tools from UNESCO’s Learning Coin initiative

For children in the village of Ban Nai Soi village, four kilometres from the community learning centre where Mr. Chaisri teaches, barriers to education are almost insurmountable: to reach the centre, they need to take a gravel road, which is often difficult to navigate in the flood season and, at home, they have no internet access, and limited, off-grid, access to electricity.

In addition many of them are stateless, which hinders their potential. Although all children in the country are officially guaranteed education, regardless of their status, language barriers, discrimination, lack of access to resources, financial hardship and geography create barriers to full enrolment, with an unknown number of children out of school.

“Being stateless deprives these youth of learning opportunities. Because of their status, they were not confident in attending school.” says Mr. Chaisri. “They came to start studying with non-formal education and I saw them trying hard to learn.”

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Learning Coin student Arisa, 17, works with a tablet provided through the initiative.

The power of the Learning Coin

But Learning Coin, a UN-supported initiative, is giving them renewed motivation to embark on the difficult journey to meet their teacher. The Ban Nai Soi students travel to Mr. Chaisri’s house and the learning centre by motorbike for lessons and to download content onto digital tablets provided by the project, which they can read offline at home, advancing their education that previously might have hit, literally and figuratively, a roadblock.

Starting in July 2020, Learning Coin has expanded to support nearly 500 disadvantaged children across Thailand, from ethnic minority and stateless communities in Mae Hong Son, to disadvantaged Thai children in the southern Yala region.

The students can access multiingual content on their tablets, including lessons and reading materials. By logging data from the tablets on a daily basis, the Learning Coin app can work out how many hours each student has spent accessing the material, how consistently they have worked, and the answers they submit. Based on this information, students are awarded between 800 and 1,200 baht ($25-38) each month, accounting for as much as 10 per cent of average family income in these communities.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Learner Jaikham, 17, operates a Thai spicy salad food stall in Ban Nai Soi in Thailand that she opened during the pandemic.

Pandemic threatens permanent learning loss

“Whilst innovations such as Learning Coin are having a positive impact, they need to be matched at the policy level, with initiatives that address financial need and wellbeing and counter discrimination and lack of access to resources”, says Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand (the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level). “There are still considerable challenges facing equitable education for ethnic and linguistic minority learners, girls and young women, and the most marginalized communities”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to these challenges, affecting marginalized communities first and most severely, causing major disruptions to education systems, and threatening permanent learning loss. Girls and young women are disproportionately at risk of losing access to their education during the pandemic, as they tend to bear the burden of family duties.

“These children have the same potential and aspirations as any others”, says Ms. Sabharwal. “As they try hard to support their families, their dreams are varied and brimming with hope: to become a doctor, an athlete or an interpreter, to live full lives within and for their community. These are the dreams that build healthy and more equitable societies for all”.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Telephone and internet connectivity is extremely limited in the village.

Learning Coin

  • The Learning Coin project aims to help disadvantaged children to make reading habits ingrained, for lifelong learning,
  • The first Learning Coin pilot was launched in 2018, with the support of the POSCO 1% Foundation and True Corporation, in partnership with the Foundation for Rural Youth, for about 150 learners in Bangkok and Pathumthani,
  • The initiative is supported by the Ministry of Education, Equitable Education Fund, teachers at 53 Thai public schools and community learning centres, and student volunteers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education, together with Mercy Centre in Bangkok and the Foundation for the Better Life of Children,
  • The programme is scalable, to support low-income and marginalized learners not only in Thailand, but across the region,
  • UNESCO and UN Thailand’s role in developing the model is underpinned by deep partnerships with government, the private sector and civil society, furthering commitments to inclusive and equitable education through relatively modest investments, supporting the learners who are most at need.
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Low-income countries have received just 0.2 per cent of all COVID-19 shots given

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2021, Health - The vast majority of COVID-19 vaccines administered have so far gone to wealthy nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Friday. 

Although more than 700 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, richer countries have received more than 87 per cent, and low-income countries just 0.2 per cent. 

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanonom Ghebreyesus, speaking during the agency’s regular briefing from Geneva.   

“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500.  Let me repeat that: one in four versus one in 500.” 

Bilateral deals hurt COVAX 

The global solidarity initiative, COVAX, has also experienced a shortage of vaccines.  While the mechanism has distributed some 38 million doses so far, it was expected to deliver nearly 100 million by the end of March. 

“The problem is not getting vaccines out of COVAX; the problem is getting them in”, he said. 

“We understand that some countries and companies plan to do their own bilateral vaccine donations, bypassing COVAX for their own political or commercial reasons. These bilateral arrangements run the risk of fanning the flames of vaccine inequity.” 

Scaling up solidarity 

COVAX partners, who include Gavi, the vaccine alliance, are working on several options to scale up production to meet the goal of delivering two billion doses by the end of the year. 

Dr Seth Berkley, the Chief Executive Officer at Gavi, highlighted the need for continued solidarity. 

“What we are now beginning to see are supply constraints, not just of vaccines, but also of the goods that go into making vaccines”, he said. 

COVAX is in discussions with several high-income countries to get them to share surplus vaccine doses, he said. It is also developing cost-sharing mechanisms so that low income countries can buy additional doses through COVAX, funded by multilateral development banks. 

Dr Berkley added that financing is also needed as demand for vaccines has risen with the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. 

IMF/Raphael Alves
A man wearing a protective mask against Covid-19, circulates in the port area of ​​Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, on September 16, 2020.

Concern over the ‘raging inferno’ in Brazil 

WHO remains deeply concerned about what one of its experts labelled the “raging inferno of an outbreak” in Brazil, in response to a journalist’s question about scaling up vaccines to address the emergency there. 

South America’s largest country has recorded more than 340,000 deaths since the pandemic began, making it second only to the United States. 

Tedros said he has spoken with the newly appointed health minister, and officials at the federal level, which he hoped will “help with moving forward in our partnership.” 

Continue prevention measures

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a WHO Senior Adviser, described the situation in Brazil as “very, very concerning”.  Delivering more vaccines would have minimal impact, he said, emphasizing the need to continue measures that have proved to slow virus spread. 

“Even by the time you get vaccines into a country, by the time you get them into people – and you’re getting them to a relatively small proportion of the population – that will have a small effect in limiting the risk to some people”, he said. 

“But what you’re dealing with here is a raging inferno of an outbreak, and that requires population-level action in the rapid identification, isolation, quarantining, because you have to approach this at that scale to slow this thing down.” 

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, added that while vaccines are a powerful tool, they alone will not end the pandemic.   

“The trajectory of this pandemic around the world is going in the wrong direction”, she said, referring to six consecutive weeks of increased cases and rising deaths.  

“We have tools right now that can prevent infections and can save lives, so we need to find reasons why measures aren’t in place...and find solutions to actually get these in place.” 

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Without access to vaccines, COVID will continue widening inequality everywhere

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2021, Economic Development - The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented public health, economic and social crises, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions and exacerbating inequalities throughout the world, the World Bank said at the COVID-19: Vaccines for Developing Countries event on Friday. 

“Without access to vaccines, the gap will widen further”, warned the UN multi-faceted agency, calling for “strong partnership and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels”.  

Debt inequality 

World Bank President David R. Malpass, pointed out that inequality runs deep, encompassing not only vaccinations but also median income, interest rate differentials, bankruptcy processes and access to credit – all of which put poorer countries at a stark disadvantage. 

Fully recognizing “the debt problem facing the poorer countries”, he updated the event on his recent meeting with G20 leading industrialized nations, saying that they welcomed the acceleration of the International Development Association (IDA) 20 process, which he maintained is important because “it is the World Bank’s very effective platform to give concessional aid and grants to the poorest countries”. 

Pandemic recovery 

In response to COVID, Mr. Malpass said that the World Bank was making “some progress on debt transparency though collateralization of debt remains a problem”. 

He outlined the plan, on a country by country basis, to assist the developing world to be more resilient in the year ahead, including poverty reduction, addressing climate impacts, and working towards strengthening education and health systems. 

“We are trying to achieve transformative scalable change for people that live in poorer countries”, he underscored. 

Crisis preparedness 

The World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations, Axel van Trotsenburg, said the pandemic had triggered an “enormous reversal in progress” on whole societies and emphasized the need to focus on crisis preparedness. 

He advised against taking a “narrow view” on health only, but to consider the entire agenda as was “best summarized with the SDGs”, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

“We need to keep solidarity, not only in the health area, but across the development spectrum”, Mr. van Trotsenburg said, stressing that “only together” will we survive and prosper. 

Financing framework needed 

World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that developing countries that export commodities have faced plummeting prices and tourism has collapsed during the pandemic. 

She underscored that the world needs a financing framework to deal with preparedness and response in emergencies and that supply chains must be kept open to better safeguard economic systems. 

Women ‘torn in every direction’ 

Henrietta H. Fore, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), shone a spotlight on the plight of women and children during the pandemic. 

Noting that women are often the primary caregivers, both as healthcare workers and at home, she said that “they are really torn in every direction” and expressed concern that their participation in paid work is “in decline”. 

“We are very concerned about all of the services that women and children usually access in their normal lives”, she added, explaining that they are either inaccessible or often totally unavailable.  

The UNICEF chief shared some startling statistics, including that 140 million families are likely to fall below the poverty line; 168 million children have been out of school for more than nine months; and one-of-three students do not have access to remote learning. 

And while it is critical for children to keep getting these services, they are not always available, she said. 

“So, it is often the woman in the household becomes not just a parent but a teacher, and then it is very difficult for her to be out of the home” to hold down a job, she added. 

Balancing crises 

According to Ms. Fore, another concern was that many children may not return to school, particularly girls, because once they stop attending, their parents may see them as family caregivers and consider marriage to keep them safe. 

“It means that for every two boys returning to a classroom, maybe only one girl will”, she explained. 

Meanwhile, the lack of services is having “an enormous impact on women and children and we cannot trade one crisis, the pandemic, for another crisis in which we lose the women and the girls, and the children in our world”.

And Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General  of the World Health Organization (WHO), headlined a lack of political will and weak global solidarity as obstacles to equitablly distributing vaccines to low-income countries.

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UN chief welcomes IMF and World Bank measures to address COVID-related debt crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2021, SDGs - The UN Secretary-General on Friday welcomed steps announced by the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC) and the World Bank Group Development Committee, to address debt crises and other financial distress to economies arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, “as a sign of hope and renewed multilateralism.”

In a statement issued via his Spokesperson, António Guterres said developing economies had struggled to secure enough financial resources to cope with the onset of the coronavirus crisis, “let alone to recover from it.”

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Secretary-General has called for liquidity, the statement continued, through a large issuance of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) – an instrument created by the International Monetary Fund to help supplement cash reserves - for those most in need, and a reallocation of unused SDRs.

Mr. Guterres has proposed a “three-phased approach to address debt burdens: a debt standstill, targeted debt relief for the most vulnerable, and a reform of the international debt architecture.”

New funds pledge

The Secretary-General welcomed the IMF committee’s “concrete calls” for a new allocation of SDRs, and voluntary reallocations to countries in need. He said he was encouraged by the support given for the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which has provided $5 billion in temporary relief for vulnerable countries, and for the Common Framework for Debt Treatments, agreed by the G20 economies.  

“Debt standstills and relief must be extended to countries that need it most – including middle income countries, which are home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s poor – without creating stigma or compromising their sovereign ratings”, said the statement.

Rebuilding debt

Reforming the international debt architecture is also critical, said the UN chief noting that a debt crisis amidst the COVID-19 emergency, “would put the Sustainable Development Goals out of reach. This week’s discussions on the international debt architecture are a major step in the right direction”, he added.

The Secretary-General called on all countries and institutions to join in a global effort to “rethink the principles underpinning today’s debt architecture, and urged action to “complement existing instruments with more effective debt crisis resolution mechanisms.”

He expressed great encouragement over the IMF’s and World Bank’s emphasis on a sustainable, inclusive, smart and green recovery. 

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UN rights office urges protection, investigation, after latest clashes in West Darfur

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2021, Human Rights - The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has urged authorities in Sudan to protect citizens “without discrimination” in the wake of the latest resurgence of deadly violence in West Darfur. 

Clashes between Masalit and Arab communities in Al Geneina, which erupted last weekend, have killed nearly 90 people and injured more than 190 others, Spokesperson Marta Hurtado reported on Friday. 

She said the situation was reminiscent of previous violence in late 2019 and this past January, and that similarly, the authorities failed to stop the fighting despite the presence of security forces in the town. 

Obligation to disarm 

“We urge the authorities to fully uphold their role to protect the population without discrimination.  In this regard, we call on the Government of Sudan to accelerate the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians”, said Ms. Hurtado, speaking from Geneva. 

“All tribes responsible for violence in Darfur must be disarmed and the State must be able to maintain order and ensure the rule of law, including by preventing armed civilians from taking the law into their own hands.” 

The latest round of fighting in Al Geneina was sparked after unknown assailants shot at a group of Masalit men on Saturday, killing two and injuring a third.  Armed elements from the Masalit and Arab communities mobilized in the wake of the attack. 

By Monday evening, the streets of the town were strewn with bodies, OHCHR said.  Several structures were destroyed or damaged, including a hospital and a UN compound, while at least one ambulance was attacked and health personnel wounded. 

Ensure prompt investigation 

The Sudanese authorities have taken steps to contain the situation, and OHCHR has welcomed the Government’s commitment to address root causes of the conflict, which include disputes over land, pasture and water resources.  

“These commitments need to result in concrete actions”, said Ms. Hurtado. “Independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these acts of violence must be initiated without delay.  Effective accountability processes must be established to pave the way for genuine reconciliation and lasting peace.” 

Meanwhile, the Sudanese Attorney General has announced that 15 prosecutors have been sent to West Darfur to investigate the latest violence.  OHCHR also welcomed action related to the earlier incidents, including establishment of a committee to investigate the December 2019 clashes. 

“We urge the Government to ensure prompt, transparent and effective follow-up to these investigations”, Ms. Hurtado said.  “All those responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable. Grievances from both sides must be tackled after decades-long ethnic disputes stoked by the previous regime.”

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COVID-19 equitable vaccine scheme reaches more than 100 countries and economies

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2021, Health - More than 100 countries and economies have now received COVID-19 vaccines through the UN-partnered equitable coronavirus-busting scheme, COVAX.

The first delivery of lifesaving jabs arrived in Ghana on 24 February.

Announcing the news on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that more than 38 million doses of AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Serum Institute of India-produced shots (one of the AstraZeneca vaccines known as COVISHIELD) have been transported globally so far.

AstraZenica jabs have ‘saved millions’

The development comes as WHO and other health regulators reaffirmed the overwhelming value of the AstraZeneca (or AZ) COVID-19 vaccine, amid ongoing concerns about clotting events among a very small number who’ve had the jab.

WHO listed two versions of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, after careful consideration over four weeks of analysis, for emergency use on 15 February, to be rolled out globally through COVAX.

In statements on Wednesday evening, the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, the European Medicines Agency and the UK’s regulator all concluded that the benefits of taking the AZ vaccine “outweigh the very rare potential risks”.

190 million doses

More than 190 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered to date, but only 182 cases of clotting have been reported, WHO said, in its advice to countries to continue to vaccinate with the AZ vaccine, noting that it has “saved millions of lives and prevented serious illness”.

Despite reduced supply availability in March and April – the result of vaccine manufacturers optimising their production processes in the early phase of the rollout, as well as increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in India – COVAX “expects to deliver doses to all participating economies that have requested vaccines in the first half of the year”, said the press release issued by WHO.

“COVAX has given the world the best way to ensure the fastest, most equitable rollout of safe and effective vaccines to all at-risk people in every country on the planet,” said WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“If we are going to realize this great opportunity, countries, producers and the international system must come together to prioritize vaccine supply through COVAX. Our collective future, literally, depends on it.”

‘Time to accelerate’

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said that despite all that had been achieved in just a month and a half, “this is no time to celebrate; it is time to accelerate.

“With variants emerging all over the world, we need to speed up global rollout. To do this, we need governments, along with other partners, to take necessary steps to increase supply, including by simplifying barriers to intellectual property rights, eliminating direct and indirect measures that restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines, and donating excess vaccine doses as quickly as possible.”

“It is tremendously gratifying that the roll-out of COVAX doses has already reached one hundred countries,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

‘Daunting challenge’

“COVAX may be on track to deliver to all participating economies in the first half of the year yet we still face a daunting challenge as we seek to end the acute stage of the pandemic: we will only be safe when everybody is safe and our efforts to rapidly accelerate the volume of doses depend on the continued support of governments and vaccine manufacturers.”

According to its latest supply forecast, COVAX expects to deliver at least 2 billion doses of vaccines in 2021, which will mean having to continue adding new vaccines to its portfolio. New agreements with manufacturers are being announced “in due course”, according to WHO and partners.

Last month, it was announced that the United States would host a launch event – taking place next week - for what’s being called the Gavi COVAX AMC Investment Opportunity, referring to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which aims to ensure that the world’s poorest nations get access to the life-saving vaccines.

An additional $2 billion is required in 2021 to finance and secure up to a total of 1.8 billion donor-funded doses of vaccines. The COVAX partnership is also working to secure additional sourcing of vaccines in the form of dose-sharing from higher income countries.

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Paris goals still ‘long way off’, says President of UN climate conference

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2021, Climate and Environment - The world is “a long way off” from meeting the goals of the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the President of the crucial upcoming UN climate conference, COP26, said on Thursday.

British politician Alok Sharma was speaking during a global discussion on the ‘green’ transition in sectors such as energy, transport and food systems, held as part of the 2021 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

“Oceans are warming, storms are intensifying, and yet we are a long way off meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement”, he told the virtual meeting.  “Unless we act now, the human, economic and environmental cost will dwarf anything that humanity has seen before.”  

John Kerry: Last chance to get serious 

COP26, which will be held this November in Glasgow, Scotland, aims to accelerate action towards the Paris treaty goals, which centre around limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.   

John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, called the conference “the last best opportunity we have to get real and serious.” He particularly urged developed countries to step up efforts to reduce emissions. 

“It is essential we raise ambition; we make Glasgow the next step in defining not what we’re willing to do but what we really need to do in order to be able to get the job done.” 

Prince William: Invest in nature 

For Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, COP26 represents an opportunity to put nature at the heart of the climate fight.  He called for banks to invest in nature, noting that spending so far has been minimal.  

“We cannot recover sustainably from coronavirus, eradicate global poverty, achieve net-zero emissions, or adapt to climate change, without investing in nature”, he said. 

UN envoy on energy for all 

Energy access must also be part of the green transition, according to Damilola Ogunbiyi, Chief Executive Officer at Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), a UN partner.   

Globally, nearly 800 million people do not have access to electricity, while 2.8 billion lack access to clean cooking sources, she said, which is equivalent to the populations of Africa, Europe and China combined. 

To change their lives, she recommended that governments focus on policies in the areas of promoting renewable and sustainable energy, and on ease of doing business and regulations. Again, financing here is needed, together with commitment. 

“We all see that globally, when we come together, just the amazing work we can do, and the COVID vaccine is a perfect example”, said Ms. Ogunbiyi, who is also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. 

“We literally have to have a COVID vaccine response to help a lot of developing countries because it’s not that they don’t want to transition, or they don’t want to do the right thing. It’s a fact that if you do need to transition, there is a lot of funding that is needed.

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Humanitarian catastrophe in northern Mozambique ‘beyond epic proportions’

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2021, Humanitarian Aid - The UN and partners are “following with deep concern” new reports of violations against civilians in northern Mozambique, the UN Spokesperson said on Thursday. 

Citing reports of atrocities carried out by child soldiers, alleged beheadings during attacks by non-State armed groups, and clashes in the Cabo Delgado region, Stéphane Dujarric told journalists at the regular daily briefing that although verifying information was extremely difficult, “we are concerned about the situation of civilians who fled the violence and those who remain in Palma”. 

The coastal town just south of the border with Tanzania, was reportedly overrun by militant extremists on 24 March, but three days ago, Mozambique’s military reported that it had regained control. 

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), attacks in and around Palma uprooted many who had been sheltering there after having fled conflict in other parts of the province. 

Prior to that, nearly 670,000 – including some 160,000 women and adolescent girls as well as 19,000 pregnant women – were internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula provinces, the vast majority of them reliant on host families, whose scarce resources are being exhausted.  

On the ground 

The UN spokesperson said that nearly 12,800 people, 43 per cent of whom are children, have arrived in the districts of Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba since violence erupted.  

“Many more are expected to still be on the move in search of safety and assistance”, he added. 

Humanitarian partners in Mozambique are assisting displaced people at arrival points and scaling up the ongoing humanitarian response in Cabo Delgado. 

“So far in 2021, more than 500,000 people in the province have received humanitarian assistance”, he said. 

Humanitarians stretched 

On top of conflict in Cabo Delgado, in the first months of 2021 and prior to the Palma attacks, the humanitarian community in Mozambique was already stretched, having responded to multiple climate emergencies. 

Yet, the humanitarian appeal for the current crisis is currently just one per cent funded.  

“More resources are immediately required to meet the needs of people fleeing the violence in Palma”, underscored the UN spokesperson.   

“The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict in Cabo Delgado to protect civilians.” 

Trapped and displaced 

Earlier in the week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the insurgent attack on Palma had forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes and reportedly rendered thousands of others trapped as it “continues to work around the clock” to assist them. 

UNHCR said that its teams in Pemba were following up on worrying reports that more than 1,000 displaced people were prevented from crossing the border into Tanzania and called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and asylum for people escaping violence. 

This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions -- WFP Representative

‘Saving lives’ priority 

At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the deteriorating security situation has caused evacuation flights to be suspended and left UN agencies struggling to get into Palma with food assistance.  

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions”, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Representative and Country Director for Mozambique, on Tuesday.  

The UN food relief agency warned that hunger is rising in Palma, with some arrivals into Pemba saying they had not eaten for weeks. 

“People fleeing Palma are completely traumatized by the violence they've witnessed in the past few days, and now, more than ever, they need our help”, said Ms. D’Aprile. “Our priority is saving lives and making sure emergency assistance reaches those who need it most”.

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New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2021, Climate and Environment - A UN-backed initiative aims to turn the tide on marine litter, in line with the global development goal on conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources. 

The GloLitter Partnerships Project will support  30 developing countries in preventing and reducing marine litter from the maritime transport and fisheries sectors, which includes plastic litter such as lost or discarded fishing gear. 

The project was launched on Thursday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), with initial funding from Norway. 

Protecting oceans and livelihoods 

“Plastic litter has a devastating impact on marine life and human health", said Manuel Barange, FAO's Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture.  “This initiative is an important step in tackling the issue and will help protect the ocean ecosystem as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on it.” 

Protecting the marine environment is the objective of Sustainable Development Goal 14, part of the 2030 Agenda to create a more just and equitable future for all people and the planet. 

The GloLitter project will help countries apply best practices for the prevention and reduction of marine plastic litter, in an effort to safeguard the world’s coastal and marine resources. 

Actions will include encouraging fishing gear to be marked so that it can be traced if lost or discarded at sea. Another focus will be on the availability and adequacy of port reception facilities and their connection to national waste management systems.  

"Marine litter is a scourge on the oceans and on the planet”, said Jose Matheickal, Head of the IMO's Department for Partnerships and Projects. “I am delighted that we have more than 30 countries committed to this initiative and working with IMO and FAO to address this issue.” 

Five regions represented 

The nations taking part in the GloLitter project are in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. 

They will also receive technical assistance and training, as well as guidance documents and other tools to help enforce existing regulations. 

The project will promote compliance with relevant international instruments, including the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which contains regulations against discharging plastics into the sea.

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Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2021, Migrants and Refugees - Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.  

These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained. 

In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.  

In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Business as usual 

Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.  

By contrast, those who moved out of necessity - such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.  

Unequal restrictions 

As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”. 

This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants. 

Health risks 

Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.  

In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers. 

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