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Thousands displaced by fighting in southern Afghanistan

INTERNATIONAL, 14 October 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Thousands of people have been displaced and critical health services interrupted, after fighting erupted last weekend between security forces and Taliban fighters in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, the UN humanitarian office has reported.   

There are also reports that 200 people have been killed or injured.

According to a flash update issued on Tuesday by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), several districts of Helmand, including areas near provincial capital Lashkargah, and parts of neighbouring Kandahar province have been affected. 

The highway between Lashkargah and Kandahar – Afghanistan’s second largest city – has been inaccessible due to the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the update added. 

‘Protect civilians’

Meanwhile, the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) called on the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) “to take all feasible measures to protect civilians” .

In a message posted on its official Twitter account, the UN Mission also urged them to provide safe paths for those wishing to leave area.

Assessment challenges

According to the OCHA humanitarian update, two humanitarian teams have been working in areas of displacement, since Monday, to assess needs and have so far verified about 500 internally displaced persons, some of whom may require immediate food, water and temporary spaces for living.  

Local authorities have reported that as many as 35,000 people – some 5,000 households – may have been displaced, while health facilities reported hundreds of casualties. 

However, verifying the figures and assessing the situation have been complicated due to disruptions of electricity and telecommunication links in affected areas. 

To respond, humanitarians are supplying food and non-food items, while health partners are providing trauma kits for up to 10,000 people for three months, to address trauma needs. 

Other partners are mobilising to meet needs following the escalating violence.

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Myanmar: ‘Shocking’ killing of children allegedly used as human shields

INTERNATIONAL, 14 October 2020, Peace and Security - UN agencies in Myanmar have expressed ‘sadness’ and ‘shock’ over the killing of two boys, allegedly used as human shields by security forces in the country’s northern Rakhine province, earlier this month. 

The two boys were killed in a crossfire between Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the separatist Arakan Army. The incident occurred on 5 October in Buthidaung township – a hotspot for army abuses against children for non-combat purposes, since mid-2019, the UN agencies said in a statement, on Wednesday.  

The children were part of a group of around 15 local farmers, all of whom were allegedly forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path towards a military camp was clear of landmines, and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire. 

On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds. 

‘Hold killers accountable’ 

The incident occurred within the 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted. 

In the statement, the UN agencies – co-chairs of the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) – called for a “full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident” and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable. 

“This egregious incident serves as a stark reminder that children are put at risk of being killed or injured whenever they are associated with armed forces and groups in any capacity or function, regardless of the duration of their association,” the agencies said. 

‘Alarming’ increase in violations

The UN agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar. 

More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018. 

“As Myanmar tackles the resurgence of COVID-19, we urge all parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to ensure children are protected from all grave violations, to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and services, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force where civilians are present,” they urged. 

‘Grave Violations’  

Adopted unanimously by the Security Councilresolution 1612 on children and armed conflict mandates the United Nations to establish UN-led taskforces in countries where there is verified evidence that grave violations against children are being committed by parties to a conflict, either by armed forces and/or by armed groups.  

Through a monitoring and reporting mechanism, the taskforce documents, verifies and reports to the Security Council on the six grave violations: killing or maiming; recruitment and use in armed forces and armed groups; attacks against schools or hospitals; rape or other grave sexual violence; abduction; and denial of humanitarian access. 

In Myanmar the the taskforce was established in 2007 and is co-chaired by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNICEF Representative to the country. 

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‘Time for global solidarity’ to overcome COVID’s health, social and economic challenges

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Health - The COVID-19 pandemic has not only led to a “dramatic loss” of human life but also constitutes an “unprecedented challenge” to public health, food systems and employment, a group of leading UN agencies said on Tuesday. 

In a joint statement, the International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted that tens of millions are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.

“Now is the time for global solidarity and support, especially with the most vulnerable in our societies, particularly in the emerging and developing world”, the statement said.

“Only together can we overcome the intertwined health and social and economic impacts of the pandemic and prevent its escalation into a protracted humanitarian and food security catastrophe, with the potential loss of already achieved development gains”.

Jobs decimated

The pandemic has decimated jobs and placed millions of livelihoods at risk, the UN agencies attested.

Pointing out that “millions of enterprises face an existential threat”, they indicated that nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion workforce risks losing its livelihood.

Unable to earn an income during lockdowns and without sufficient social protections or health care, informal economy workers are particularly vulnerable – many powerless to feed themselves and their families. 

Agricultural workers 

At the same time millions of wage-earning and self-employed agricultural workers face high levels of poverty, malnutrition and poor health.

With low or irregular incomes and no social support, many are spurred to continue working in unsafe conditions, exposing themselves and their families to additional risks. 

Moreover, amidst income losses, the agencies flagged that they may resort to unwise strategies, such as panic-selling of possessions, predatory loans or child labour. 

“Migrant agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable, because they face risks in their transport, working and living conditions and struggle to access support measures put in place by governments”, the statement detailed. 

Food systems

The pandemic has also laid bare the fragility of the entire food system. 

Border closures, trade restrictions and confinement measures have disrupted domestic and international food supply chains and reduced access to healthy, safe and diverse diets.

The UN agencies underscored that long-term strategies must be developed to “address the challenges facing the health and agri-food sectors” with priority given to underlying food security, malnutrition challenges, rural poverty and social protections, among other things. 

Coming back stronger, together

The UN is committed to pooling its expertise and experience to help countries respond to the crisis and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We must recognize this opportunity to build back better”, the statement stressed.

The only way to protect human health, livelihoods, food security and nutrition while ensuring a ‘new normal’, is to “rethink the future of our environment and tackle climate change and environmental degradation with ambition and urgency”, the joint statement declared.

WFP/Vanessa Vick
The World Food Programme (WFP) assists local farmers with maize crops in Kapchorwa, Uganda.
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IMF: ‘Less severe’ but ‘still deep’ recession predicted

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Economic Development - In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact, the global economy could see a “somewhat less severe, though still deep” recession through 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected in its latest global economic outlook. 

The revision is driven by better-than-anticipated second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) in large advanced economies, the IMF reported on Monday, noting also stronger than expected growth in China and signs of a more rapid recovery in the third quarter. 

Collectively these actions have so far prevented a recurrence of the financial catastrophe of 2008-09 – Gita Gopinath, IMF

“Out-turns would have been much weaker if it weren’t for sizable, swift, and unprecedented fiscal, monetary, and regulatory responses that maintained disposable income for households, protected cash flow for firms, and supported credit provision”, Gita Gopinath, Economic Counsellor and Director of Research at IMF, said in a foreword to the report. 

“Collectively these actions have so far prevented a recurrence of the financial catastrophe of 2008-09”, she added. 

Global growth forecast at -4.4% 

According to the report, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread, many countries have slowed reopening, and some are reinstating partial lockdowns. While recovery in China has been faster than expected, the global economy’s long ascent back to pre-pandemic levels, remains strewn with obstacles. 

Global growth is now projected at -4.4 per cent in 2020, a less severe contraction than forecast in IMF’s June update.  

In 2021, global growth is projected at 5.2 per cent, a little lower than in the June update, reflecting the more moderate downturn projected for 2020. 

Following the contraction in 2020 and recovery in 2021, the level of global GDP in 2021 is expected to be a “modest” 0.6 per cent above that of 2019, said the report, adding that the growth projections imply wide negative output gaps and increasing job losses this year and in 2021, across both advanced and emerging economies. 

After 2021, global growth is expected to gradually slow to around 3.5 per cent into the medium term, implying only limited progress towards projected growth for 2020-25 projected before the pandemic. 

ILO/E. Raboanaly
A woman runs a small shop selling prepaid telephone cards in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

‘Unusually large’ uncertainty level 

The report notes that the uncertainty surrounding the baseline projection is “unusually large”. 

The forecast rests on public health and economic factors that are inherently difficult to predict, it adds, noting the unclear path of the pandemic, the needed public health response, and how countries react, most notably in contact-intensive sectors of the economy.  

Sources of uncertainty also include the extent of global spillovers from soft demand, weaker tourism, and lower remittances; and uncertainty surrounding the damage to supply potential – which will depend on the level of pandemic shock, the size and effectiveness of the policy response. 

Considering the severity of the recession and the possible withdrawal of emergency support measures and social protections in some countries, rising bankruptcies could compound job and income losses. In addition, fears over financial recovery could trigger a sudden stop in new lending to vulnerable economies.

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Stand in solidarity with world’s poor, UN chief says in message for International Day

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, SDGs - The UN Secretary-General has called for solidarity with all people living in poverty, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

António Guterres issued the appeal in a video message to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, observed annually on 17 October. 

He highlighted how the pandemic represents “a double crisis” for the world’s poorest people.   

“First, they have the highest risk of exposure to the virus, and least access to quality healthcare”, said Mr. Guterres.  

“Second, recent estimates show the pandemic could push up to 115 million people into poverty this year – the first increase in decades. Women are at greatest risk because they are more likely to lose their jobs, and less likely to have social protection.” 

The UN chief underscored the need for extraordinary efforts to fight poverty at this time. 

As the pandemic demands strong collective action, he called for Governments to accelerate economic transformation by investing in sustainable recovery. 

Additionally, countries need “a new generation of social protection programmes”, that also cover people who work in the informal economy.    

“Joining together in common cause is the only way we will emerge safely from this pandemic”, said the Secretary-General.  

“On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, let’s stand in solidarity with people living in poverty, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.” 

The International Day was established by a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 1992. 

The theme this year is ‘Acting together to achieve social and environmental justice for all’. 

For the UN, this focus recognizes “the multi-dimensionality of poverty”, meaning that social justice cannot be fully realized without also working to address environmental injustices, including those due to climate change.

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Shift needed from what weather will be, to ‘what the weather will do’

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Climate Change - Extreme weather and climate events have increased in frequency, intensity and severity as a result of climate change, hitting vulnerable communities disproportionately hard, a new UN report has revealed, calling for greater investment in effective early warning systems. 

The State of Climate Services 2020 Report: Move from Early Warnings to Early Action, released on Tuesday by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), underscored the need to switch to impact-based forecasting – an evolution from “what the weather will be” to “what the weather will do” so that people and businesses can act early, based on the warnings. 

Being prepared and able to react at the right time, in the right place, can save many lives and protect the livelihoods – WMO Secretary-General

“Early warning systems constitute a prerequisite for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Being prepared and able to react at the right time, in the right place, can save many lives and protect the livelihoods of communities everywhere,” Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO, said in a foreword to the report. 

He also highlighted that while it could take years to recover from the human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to remember that climate change will continue to pose an on-going and increasing threat to human lives, ecosystems, economies and societies for centuries to come. 

“Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to move forward along a more sustainable path towards resilience and adaptation in the light of anthropogenic climate change,” added Mr. Taalas. 

Challenges in small islands, developing countries 

Globally over the past 50 years, some 11,000 disasters, attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards, claimed over 2 million lives and cost the world economy $3.6 trillion, according to WMO. 

In 2018 alone, storms, floods, droughts and wildfires left some 108 million people in need of international humanitarian assistance. By 2030, this number could increase by almost 50 per cent at a cost of around $20 billion a year. 

In spite of the alarming figures, one in three people are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, with communities in Africa, least developed countries and small island developing States most affected, the UN agency added, citing challenges such as weak dissemination of early warning, inadequate observing networks, and insufficient capacity to translate early warning into early action. 

Making early warning systems more effective 

The report outlines six key recommendations to improve the implementation and effectiveness of early warning systems, globally: 

  • Investing to fill the early warning systems capacity gaps, particularly in African least developed countries and small island developing States; 
  • Focusing investment on turning early warning information into early action; 
  • Ensuring sustainable financing of the global observing system that underpins early warnings; 
  • Tracking finance flows to improve understanding of where these resources are being allocated in relation to early warning systems implementation needs and what impact this is having; 
  • Developing more consistency in monitoring and evaluation to better determine early warning systems effectiveness; and 
  • Filling data gaps, particularly in small island developing States. 
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UN envoy outlines progress towards cooperation in Africa’s Great Lakes Region

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Peace and Security - Even as they confront the COVID-19 pandemic, countries in Africa’s Great Lakes Region continue to improve political, security and economic cooperation in line with a 2013 Framework agreement, UN Special Envoy Huang Xia told the Security Council on Tuesday. 

 “Despite the outstanding challenges, and the pandemic is not least amongst them, the peoples and countries of the Great Lakes Region continue to show great resilience and determination to move forward”, he said, briefing ambassadors via videoconference from Nairobi. 

Mr. Xia, who spoke in French, last briefed the Council in April.  He reported that over the past few months, the situation in the region has remained stable with encouraging progress. 

Resolving differences through diplomacy 

The UN envoy pointed to recent political developments, such as the peaceful transfer of power in Burundi following elections in May, and a mini summit earlier this month on security and economic cooperation held by the leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola, Uganda and Rwanda. 

“I also welcome the fact that the countries of the region are using diplomatic means and regional mechanisms to resolve their differences, as can be seen in the solving of the border dispute between DRC and Zambia”, he continued.  

“The commitment of Rwanda and Uganda to pursue the process of normalizing their relations through the good offices of Angola and DRC is another positive example of this.” 

‘Intolerable human suffering’ in the DRC 

However, Mr. Xia voiced concern over ongoing instability in the eastern DRC, where armed groups “continue to be the cause of intolerable human suffering”. He called for stepped up action from the Council. 

“The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these crimes traumatizes these populations and negatively affects relations between these countries”, he said. “We must therefore strengthen our efforts to fight impunity.” 

Mr. Xia also outlined initiatives to support implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework signed in 2013, aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict and recurring cycles of violence in eastern DRC and the Great Lakes Region. 

Supporting peace, security and cooperation 

His work here is centred around five priorities, including mobilizing international support in the wake of the pandemic. 

“The resources mobilized for the countries, or for the region, up until now have been significant but are still considered to be insufficient by the IMF (International Monetary Fund),” he reported. 

“In order to really relaunch the situation ambitiously, I would again call upon international partners to facilitate options to financial alleviation adapted to the needs of the countries including, but not being limited to, the initiatives for alleviating and restructuring the debt.” 

Mr. Xia also spoke of his other diplomatic efforts, which include fostering dialogue and promoting non-military measures on security, such as programmes for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.   

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a landmark Security Council resolution on women, peace and security.  The UN envoy remarked that some of the Great Lakes nations are among those countries with significant women’s representation in parliament, although challenges persist. 

UN Strategy for Peace 

Mr. Xia also updated ambassadors on the UN Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, which his Office has prepared.  

Countries and regional partners contributed to the development of the document, which has been submitted to the UN Secretary-General. 

The strategy sets out UN action in the region for the coming decade, structured around three pillars: Peace, Security and Justice; Sustainable Development and Shared Prosperity, and Resilience to Former and New Challenges. 

Action will be particularly focused in the areas of preventive diplomacy, security, cooperation, development, promotion of human rights and strengthening of the role of women and young. 

“Of course, the United Nations action can only be effective if everyone is on board. There needs to not only be full ownership of countries and organizations of the region, but also there needs to be ongoing support of the international community”, said Mr. Xia, again calling for the Council’s support. 

 

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FROM THE FIELD: Cultivating a response to disasters in Malawi

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Farmers in Malawi who are struggling with the dual threats of climate change and an economic crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, are learning how to more accurately predict the weather and prepare for the eventuality of natural disasters, thanks to a project supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Farmers in Malawi are are getting more information about localized climate patterns and are now able to better prepare for extreme weather., by UNDP

In recent years, East and Southern Africa have experienced an increase in floods, droughts and other severe and irregular climatic conditions which have wiped out crops and crippled the productivity of many farmers.

But the UNDP and government-backed project is now providing three million Malawians with life-saving climate information and early warnings of extreme weather, as well as techniques they can adapt to grow crops which are more resilient to the change in climatic conditions.

On the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction read more here about how farmers are cultivating a new approach to the land.

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Bad situations ‘only get worse’ without disaster risk governance, UN chief says on International Day

INTERNATIONAL, 13 October 2020, Humanitarian Aid - With nations facing multiple crises simultaneously and a dramatic rise in extreme weather events in recent decades, the UN Secretary-General has called for strengthening disaster risk governance, to build a safer, more resilient world. 

In a message commemorating the International Day for Disaster Risk ReductionSecretary-General António Guterres warned that without good disaster risk governance, “bad situations only get worse.” 

Noting that disaster risk isn’t the “sole responsibility” of local and national authorities, Mr. Guterres highlighted the need for political commitment at the highest level to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

“Good disaster risk governance means acting on science and evidence,” he added. 

COVID-19 and disaster risk reduction 

The Secretary-General also referred to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact, highlighting that lessons from the global crisis can be applied to strengthen disaster risk governance. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the importance of strengthening disaster risk reduction … COVID-19 has shown us that systemic risk requires international cooperation,” he said. 

“To eradicate poverty and reduce the impacts of climate change, we must place the public good above all other considerations,” he added. 

Multi-sectoral policies 

Meanwhile, Mami Mizutori, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, also highlighted the lessons from COVID-19. 

In a separate message, she explained that COVID-19 has underscored the need for “clear vision, plans and competent, empowered institutions acting on scientific evidence.”  

“We need to see strategies which address not just single hazards like floods and storms but those that respond to systemic risk generated by zoonotic diseases, climate shocks and environmental breakdown,” she urged. 

“Good national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction must be multi-sectoral linking policies in areas such as land use, building codes, public health, education, agriculture, environmental protection, energy, water resources, poverty reduction and climate change adaptation,” added Ms. Mizutori, who is also the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 

The International Day 

The theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is strengthening disaster risk governance – one of the Priorities for Action of the Sendai Framework – to build a safer and more resilient world. 

Disaster risk governance refers to the way in which the public authorities, civil servants, media, private sector, and civil society coordinate at community, national and regional levels in order to manage and reduce disaster and climate related risks. 

Held every 13 October, the International Day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face. The International Day was designated by the UN General Assembly in 2009. 

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Herd immunity, an ‘unethical’ COVID-19 strategy, Tedros warns policymakers

INTERNATIONAL, 12 October 2020, Health - Using the principle of so-called “herd immunity” to stem the COVID-19 pandemic is “unethical” and “not an option” countries should pursue to defeat the virus, the UN health agency chief warned on Monday.

“Herd immunity is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the agency’s regular press briefing in Geneva.

But, he explained, it is achieved by protecting people from the virus, “not by exposing them to it”.

“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak”, the WHO chief said, calling it “scientifically and ethically problematic”.

To obtain herd immunity from measles, for example, about 95 per cent of the population must be vaccinated. However, according to WHO estimates, less than 10 per cent of the global population has any immunity to the coronavirus, leaving the “vast majority” of the world susceptible.

“Letting the virus circulate unchecked, therefore, means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death”, Tedros said.

Cases on the rise

Tedros noted that in recent days, the world was seeing the most rapid rise in infections during the course of the whole pandemic, especially in Europe and the Americas. 

“Each of the last four days has been the highest number of cases reported so far”, he stated. “Many cities and countries are also reporting an increase in hospitalizations and intensive care bed occupancy”.

The WHO chief also reminded that, as an “uneven pandemic”, every country is responding differently, and stressed that outbreaks can be controlled using targeted measures, such as by preventing amplifying events, isolation and testing. 

“It’s not a choice between letting the virus run free and shutting down our societies” he declared.

Again: ‘No silver bullet’

WHO noted that many have harnessed their stay-at-home time to develop plans, train health workers, increase testing time and capacity, and improve patient care.

And digital technologies are helping to make tried-and-tested public health tools even more effective, such as better smartphone apps to support contact tracing efforts.

“We well understand the frustration that many people, communities and Governments are feeling as the pandemic drags on, and as cases rise again”, Tedros said.

However, there are “no shortcuts, and no silver bullets”, he added.

Only a comprehensive approach, using every tool in the toolbox, has proven effective. 

“My message to every country now weighing up its options is: you can do it too.” 

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