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A few ‘green shoots’, but future of global trade remains deeply uncertain

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Economic Development - Although global trade is making a frail recovery, the outlook remains uncertain, UN trade and development body UNCTAD said on Wednesday, in announcing its latest COVID-era update

Estimates show that world trade will drop by five per cent this quarter, compared with the 2019 level. While this is an improvement over the nearly 20 per cent decline in the second quarter of the year, it is still not enough to pull trade out of the red. 

Furthermore, UNCTAD expects the value of all good traded to contract by seven to nine percent compared to last year, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves in the winter months. 

Uncertainty aggravating trade 

“The uncertain course of the pandemic will continue aggravating trade prospects in the coming months”, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. 

“Despite some 'green shoots' we can't rule out a slowdown in production in certain regions or sudden increases in restrictive policies.” 

While the projection represents a decrease, the figure is a more positive result than previously expected, as UNCTAD had projected a 20 per cent year-on-end drop for 2020, back in June. 

Trade trends have improved since then, the agency added, primarily due to the earlier than expected resumption of economic activity in Europe and east Asia. 

China leads recovery 

The report points to China, which has shown a notable trade recovery. 

Chinese exports had fallen in the early months of the pandemic and stabilized in the second quarter of the year, before rebounding strongly in the next quarter, with year-over year growth of almost 10 per cent. 

“Overall, the level of Chinese exports for the first nine months of 2020 was comparable to that of 2019 over the same period”, the report said. 

Within China, demand for goods and services has also recovered.  Imports stabilized in July and August, and grew by 13 per cent in September.   

Growth and decline in Asia 

India and South Korea also recorded export growth last month, at four per cent and eight per cent, respectively. 

UNCTAD reported that as of July, the fall in trade was significant in most regions except east Asia.  

West and south Asia saw the sharpest declines, with imports dropping by 23 per cent, and exports by 29 per cent. 

The report also includes an assessment of trade in different sectors, with the energy and automotive industries hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, sectors such as communication equipment, office machinery, and textiles and apparel, have seen strong growth due to the implementation of mitigation responses such as teleworking and personal protection measures. 

Wealthy nations benefit from COVID-19 medical supply trade 

The report also gives special attention to COVID-19 medical supplies, which include personal protective equipment, disinfectants, diagnostic kits, oxygen respirators and related hospital equipment. 

Between January and May, sales of medical supplies from China, the European Union, and the United States, rose from $25 billion to $45 billion per month.  Since April, trade has increased by an average of more than 50 per cent. 

However, the authors found wealthier nations have mainly benefited from this trade, with middle and low income countries priced out from access to COVID-19 supplies. 

Residents of high income countries have on average benefited from an additional $10 per month of imports of COVID-19 related products.  This compares to just $1 for their counterparts in middle income countries, and 10 cents for those in low income nations. 

 UNCTAD warned that if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the access divide between wealthy and poor countries could be even more drastic. 

The report urges governments, the private sector and philanthropic organizations to continue mobilizing additional funds to fight the pandemic in developing countries and to support financial mechanisms that will provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries

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Environmental factors behind 15 per cent of deaths across Mediterranean, new UN report reveals

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, SDGs - Around 15 per cent of deaths in the Mediterranean are attributable to preventable environmental factors, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report released on Wednesday has revealed.

In 2016, more than 228,000 people died prematurely from exposure to air pollution, according to UNEP’s State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED).

Rising inequality, biodiversity loss, climate change and unrelenting pressure on natural resources, could lead to irreversible environmental damage in the Mediterranean basin, the report warned.

Moreover, unless urgent and resolute action is taken to halt current trends, environmental degradation could have serious and lasting consequences for human health and livelihoods throughout the region. 

A bleak picture

With hundreds of millions of visitors each year, the Mediterranean is one of the world’s most coveted tourism destinations and busiest shipping routes.

Every day it is polluted by an estimated 730 tonnes of plastic waste, which threatens biodiversity along with the more than 1,000 non-indigenous species that live below the water, said ILO.

Furthermore, the overall region is warming 20 per cent faster than the global average.

SoED also indicates that the region, which is home to more than 512 million people, is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

Solutions at sea

To tackle environmental degradation, the report identifies several actions, including phasing out harmful subsidies - such as those for non-renewable fuels, and groundwater extraction - and recommends instead, incentivizing sustainable options.

It calls for all sectors of Mediterranean economies to prioritize development, not just those directly concerning the environment, and implement degradation preventation measures – noting that they cost less, and lead to better environmental and social outcomes than clean-up and curative action.

Harnessing nature-based solutions is also recommended to build resilience, which requires action and investment.

And finally, SoED advocates for enforcing national legislation provisions on accountability and legal action if necessary, as well as strengthening legal enforcement mechanisms, including those under the region’s Barcelona Convention, on protecting the marine environment, and its Protocols.

‘Green renaissance’ possible

“By shedding light on the mistakes of the past, the report’s findings can guide a green renaissance in the Mediterranean”, said Gaetano Leone, Coordinator of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat.

“Embarking on greener development paths now can halt the environmental degradation trends and salvage hard-won achievements in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, he added. 

Inner workings

Last published in 2009, SoED provides a comprehensive assessment of the environment and development in the Mediterranean region. 

It was produced by Plan Bleu, a regional centre of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), involving 21 coastal countries of the Mediterranean and the European Union, so they can cooperate in protecting marine and coastal environments for sustainable development. 

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Kosovo: Show solidarity in face of COVID, UN Mission chief urges

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Peace and Security - The top UN official in Kosovo, briefing the Security Council on Wednesday, called for solidarity as its new Government grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of other challenges.

“For places such as Kosovo, still suffering the consequences of past conflict, cooperation, unity of political voice and vision, dialogue and preventing extreme polarization should be the highest order priorities”, Zahir Tanin, head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told the 15-member organ.

Difficult balance

Such solidarity, especially during the current pandemic, should focus intensively on attaining the difficult balance between public health, economic recovery and human rights – “a conundrum presently defying Governments the world over,” Mr. Tanin said.

Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, broke away from Serbia in a bloody conflict which began in 1998, with the Security Council authorizing temporary administrative powers to the UN, in 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence a decade later, backed by the United States and United Kingdom, among others. But Serbia, backed diplomatically by Russia, has never accepted the split, and Kosovo has not achieved full member status at the United Nations.

Different stages

Mr. Tanin, discussing the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK,  said that the COVID-19 crisis in Kosovo has gone through different phases, from stringent measures and lockdowns towards a more relaxed approach aimed at economy recovery, as a new government led by Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti took the reins in June.

Despite insufficient capacity to deal with a pandemic, Kosovo’s healthcare system – and frontline health workers in particular – worked heroically to make the best use of limited resources.  The socio-economic consequences have been severe, however, with the psychological fallout also widely felt across society, he said.

For the UN presence in Kosovo, the focus on directly helping people, institutions and communities in the framework of the Mission’s strategic support for dialogue and trust-building, amid reports of a growing number of security incidents against vulnerable and non-majority communities as well as significant increases in domestic violence and violence against children, he said.

News reports in Kosovo, citing local health authorities, on Wednesday put the number of active COVID-19 cases at 1,944, with the highest number of new cases in Pristina municipality.

Negotiations resume

Vaccination programmes have resumed in Kosovo after the COVID-19 outbreak., by © UNICEF/Samir Karahoda

On relations between Pristina and Belgrade, Mr. Tanin commended the two sides for resuming negotiations - after Kosovo lifted 100 per cent import tariffs on goods from Serbia – and called on them to pursue a process of constructive dialogue.

Recent meetings in Brussels and Washington demonstrated the potential for progress when international resources and leadership on the ground come together to move difficult issues forward, he said.

“Of course, the most important conditions to be met in order for negotiations to succeed are political unity, strong commitment and goodwill among leaders, both in Pristina and in Belgrade, and sustained international support,” he said.

Countering misinformation

Mr. Tanin went on to urge Kosovo’s leaders to do more to counter misinformation and to ensure that the work of the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers receive “unambiguous institutional and political support” going forward.

It is unfortunate, he said, that some political leaders “did not always help to rectify false narratives” – including by attempting to question the legitimacy of the Specialist Chambers – after the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office said in June that it was filing indictments against President Hashim Thaçi, among others.

Three individuals now re in pre-trial detention, with one facing war crimes charges and the other two held on suspicion of intimidation, retaliation, violating the secrecy of proceedings and unlawful disclosure of protected information, following the publication of allegedly leaked prosecution-related documents.

Mr. Thaçi, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who went on to become Kosovo’s first prime minister after its 2008 declaration of independence, has indicated that he will step down from office if and when his indictment is publicly confirmed by pre-trial judges, Mr. Tanin said.

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UN chief calls for end to reported police brutality in Nigeria

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General on Wednesday said he was closely following recent developments across Nigeria, in the wake of reports that protesters had been shot dead and wounded, and called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses.” 

António Guterres said in a statement issued by his Spokesperson, that he condemned “the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos which resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries.” 

According to witnesses, Nigerian security forces opened fire on Tuesday night in Africa’s largest city, as protests continued over a now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. 

The Government has pledged to carry out further police reforms, and improve police accountability.  

A curfew has been imposed on Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, with reports that tensions continued into Wednesday, with police across the city firing shots in the air, in an effort to disperse protesters who were defying the order to stay off the streets. 

The UN chief expressed his condolences to the families of the bereaved, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  

Act with ‘maximum restraint’, demonstrate peacefully 

He called on Nigerian authorities “to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.” 

Mr. Guterres also urged security forces “to act at all times with maximum restraint while calling on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.” 

“The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation”, the statement continued. “He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support national efforts towards finding a solution.”

‘Root and branch’ examination of security forces needed: Rights chief

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday, also strongly condemned the excessive and disproportionate force by Nigerian armed forces in Lagos, in a statement issued by her office, OHCHR.

She called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by security forces, and make a far stronger effort to bring police and army personnel guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.

“While the number of casualties of yesterday’s shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protestors was premeditated, planned and coordinated.”

Unsplash/Gideon Oladimeji
Street scene, Papa Ajao, Lagos, Nigeria.

'Already at boiling point'

The High Commissioner noted that the country “was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion and other violations, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

“While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both Federal and State levels, there have still been few if any charges levelled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army.”

She said the continued protests are several weeks of demonstrations, was evidence that there was no public trust in the authorities’ response thus far:

“I appreciate that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the protestors’ demands,” Ms. Bachelet said. “However, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS - without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations - has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.”

‘Immediate concrete steps’

She added that the authorities needed to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.

“There need to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into last night’s killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces…Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial, but must be widely perceived as such. And, where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers – including senior officers - suspected of committing serious crimes, should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations.”

She said now was the time for “a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector, and of its civilian oversight…This should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods.”

Ms. Bachelet also called for immediate investigations into reports of violent and provocative attacks on peaceful protestors by unidentified groups armed with cudgels, cutlasses, sticks or guns, in some cases apparently with the overt backing of police or other security forces.

Fundamental rights

“Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest,” the High Commissioner said.  “The Government has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realization of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully. The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s Government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.”

“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include - but are far from confined to - police brutality and violations.”

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Collapsing consumer demand amid lockdowns cripple Asia-Pacific garment industry

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Economic Development - The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered government lockdowns, collapsed consumer demand, and disrupted imports of raw materials, battering the Asia Pacific garment industry especially hard, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The UN labour agency highlighted that in the first half of 2020, Asian imports had dropped by up to 70 per cent.

Moreover, as of September, almost half of all garment supply chain jobs, were dependent on consumers living in countries where lockdown conditions were being most tightly imposed, leading to plummeting retail sales.

ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, pointed out that the research highlights “the massive impact COVID-19 has had on the garment industry at every level”. 

Ripple effect

In 2019, the Asia-Pacific region had employed an estimated 65 million in the sector, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide, the report reveals.

Although governments in the region have responded proactively to the crisis, thousands of factories have been shuttered – either temporarily or indefinitely – prompting a sharp increase in worker layoffs and dismissals.

And the factories that have reopened, are often operating at reduced workforce capacity.

“The typical garment worker in the region lost out on at least two to four weeks of work and saw only three in five of her co-workers called back to the factory when it reopened”, said Christian Viegelahn, Labour Economist at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Declines in earnings and delays in wage payments were also common among garment workers still employed in the second quarter of 2020”.

Women worst impacted

As women comprise the vast majority of the region’s garment workers, they are being disproportionately affected by the crisis, the report tracked.

Additionally, their situation is exacerbated by existing inequalities, including increased workloads and gender over-representation, as well as a rise in unpaid care work and subsequent loss of earnings

Moving forward

To mitigate the situation, the brief calls for inclusive social dialogue at national and workplace levels, in countries across the region.

It also recommends continued support for enterprises, along with extending social protection for workers, especially women. 

The ILO’s recent global Call to Action to support manufacturers and help them survive the pandemic’s economic disruption - and protect garment workers’ income, health and employment - was cited as “a promising example of industry-wide solidarity in addressing the crisis”.

“It is vital that governments, workers, employers and other industry stakeholders work together to navigate these unprecedented conditions and help forge a more human-centred future for the industry”, upheld Ms. Miyakawa.

Nuts and bolts

The study assessed the pandemic’s impact on supply chains, factories and workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

It is based on research and analysis of publicly available data together with interviews from across the sector in Asia.

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Secretary-General underscores value of UN partnerships in Southeast Asia

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Peace and Security - At a time of global challenge and uncertainty, partnership between the United Nations and regional bodies remains indispensable, the UN Secretary-General told foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during a virtual meeting on Wednesday. 

António Guterres underscored the importance of working together to address pressing issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate response and rising geopolitical tensions.  

He thanked countries for their firm commitment to multilateralism, and for backing his call for warring parties to lay down their arms during the pandemic. 

“I welcome your support of my appeal for a global ceasefire, which I renewed in my address to the General Assembly last month.  I look forward to your further advocacy to help end hostilities around the world, including ongoing conflicts within your region”, he said. 

Pandemic recovery and climate action 

The Secretary-General was heartened that like the UN, ASEAN members agree that a COVID-19 vaccine should be a global public good and accessible to all people. 

He stressed the need to work together to protect lives and jobs, and to keep businesses and economies afloat, while highlighting that building back must be inclusive and sustainable. 

“Pandemic recovery has the potential to advance climate action for a carbon-neutral world by 2050. Investment in renewable energy remains more cost-effective than the continued reliance on fossil-fuel subsidies and coal power plants”, he said.   

“We also need to reverse declining trends of biodiversity, deforestation and land degradation, and end the unsustainable exploitation of marine resources.” 

‘Intensified geopolitical competition’ 

Turning to peace and security, the Secretary-General expressed concern over “intensified geopolitical competition” in the region and beyond. 

Mr. Guterres said increasing tensions in the South China Sea require dialogue and refraining from any escalation.  

“I reiterate my hope for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct. I also call for peaceful dispute resolution, in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”, he said. 

“In the Korean Peninsula, ASEAN’s Foreign Ministers have an important role to play in calling for the parties, especially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to continue what was started.  The United Nations stands ready, including in cooperation with ASEAN, to support the process and key parties in their efforts.” 

Solve the Rohingya crisis 

The Secretary-General also focused on the ongoing displacement of Rohingya and other communities in Myanmar. 

Nearly one million Rohingya have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, most of whom arrived after escaping a violent crackdown by security forces in August 2017. 

OCHA/Vincent Tremeau
Young Rohingya boys look out of their shelter at the Hakimpara refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Mr. Guterres recalled his previous appeals for action to address the root causes of the crisis and to create conditions for the voluntary repatriation of refugees. 

 “Beyond solutions for the immediate humanitarian suffering, accountability is an imperative for long-term reconciliation,” he said, underlining the UN’s readiness to cooperate further on the issue. 

Scale-up sustainable development 

On Wednesday, the UN and ASEAN adopted a new five-year Plan of Action that expands cooperation in areas such as youth, peace and security agenda, cyber-security and action to prevent hate speech. 

Other priorities covered are building resilience, including to climate disasters, and dramatically increasing social protection. 

As this year marks the start of a Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN chief urged countries to meet this challenge. 

He said, “In this Decade of Action, we must scale up our efforts across all dimensions of the new Plan of Action, including through advancing gender equality and decarbonizing economies.”

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UN urges people to #PledgetoPause before sharing information online

INTERNATIONAL, 20 October 2020, Health - With the COVID-19 pandemic sparking a “communications emergency” caused by false information disseminated on social media, the UN Secretary-General is encouraging people everywhere to take a breath before sharing content online. 

António Guterres will on Wednesday launch the #PledgetoPause campaign as part of wider efforts to create what the UN hopes will be “a new social media norm” to help combat the impact of viral misinformation. 

The campaign is based on research which indicates that taking a brief pause before sharing information can significantly lessen the inclination to share shocking or emotive material, and slow the spread of misinformation. 

Deadly consequences 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the wrong information can be deadly. Take the pledge to pause and help stop the spread of misinformation”, the UN chief said in a video message recorded for the campaign. 

The message, which begins with a five-second pause, will be shared on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, and is designed to be replicated by other leaders, influencers and members of the public. 

#PledgetoPause aims to increase media literacy so that social media users can spot misinformation and stop themselves from passing it on. 

Break the chain of misinformation 

The new campaign is part of Verified, a UN initiative launched in May to share science-backed health information and stories of global solidarity around COVID-19. 

The UN describes it as the first global behaviour-change campaign on misinformation, to mobilise experts and researchers, governments, influencers, civil society, businesses, regulators and the media, under a single message: #PledgetoPause. 

 “COVID-19 is not just a health crisis, but a communications emergency as well. When misinformation spreads, the public loses trust and too often makes decisions that hamper the public response and even their own lives”, said Melissa Fleming, head of the UN’s Department for Global Communications.  

“It is increasingly clear that we cannot successfully tackle the pandemic without also addressing online misinformation. Each and every one of us can help break the chain of misinformation by pausing before we share.”  

Ms. Fleming added that the UN is also working with social media platforms to recommend changes. 

Civil society support 

The #PledgetoPause campaign aims to reach a global audience of one billion, online and through partnerships, by the end of December.  

Civil society collaborators supporting Pause include organizations from around the world that are fighting misinformation, such as Chequeado, Newschecker.in and First Draft. 

African media organizations such as MultiChoice and Yuvaa also are helping to distribute campaign messaging. 

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UN chief appeals for urgent action to reverse ‘downward spiral’ in Central Sahel

INTERNATIONAL, 20 October 2020, Humanitarian Aid - The world must act now to reverse the situation in Africa’s central Sahel region, where humanitarian needs are at “a breaking point”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level conference on Tuesday to address the burgeoning crisis. 

UN agencies report that needs in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have reached record levels due to rising violence, insecurity and now the COVID-19 pandemic, creating one of the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crises. 

They are appealing for $2.4 billion to provide aid assistance through the coming year. 

“We need to reverse this downward spiral with a renewed push for peace and reconciliation,” the Secretary-General said in a video message for the event.  

“And we need to make space for vital humanitarian assistance and investments in development and people.” 

Rising hunger, poverty and displacement 

The Central Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world, and the humanitarian situation there has deteriorated sharply over the past two years, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.  

Violence between armed groups, widespread poverty and the impacts of climate change mean that a record 13.4 million people, half of them children, require aid assistance. 

Some 7.4 million people are now facing acute hunger, while nearly 1.6 million have been displaced.  Women and girls 

A ‘warning sign’ for all 

More recently, lockdowns and other measures to prevent COVID-19 spread have pushed an additional six million people into extreme poverty. 

 “The Sahel is a microcosm of cascading global risks converging in one region”, said Mr. Guterres.  “It is a warning sign for us all requiring urgent attention and resolution.” 

The high-level event on the Central Sahel was organized by Denmark, Germany, the European Union and the UN. 

Ceasefire and aid crucial 

The Secretary-General reminded participants of his appeal for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as “crucial” for the people of the region. 

“We also need much more humanitarian aid”, he stressed.  “It is no solution to the violence, but it saves lives.” 

While UN agencies and non-governmental agencies are on the ground, and have protected and saved millions of lives, the Secretary-General said better funding would allow them to do more. 

He urged strong support for the $2.4 billion appeal, which will cover the remaining months of this year, and provide emergency assistance through 2021. 

“Long-term solutions will come through sustainable development, good governance, and equal opportunities for all, especially young people.  That will not happen overnight”, said Mr. Guterres. 

“But we can prevent the crisis from growing deadlier and costlier in the future.  We must act - and act now.”

Donors step up

The humanitarian ministerial roundtable concluded with 24 governments and institutional donors pledging more than $1.7 billion to scale-up humanitarian aid in the central Sahel region.

The funding will support some 10 million people with nutrition and food, health services, water and sanitation, shelter, education and protection.

“There's enormous potential in the Central Sahel, but people and progress are held back by conflict, climate change, weak governance and gender inequality,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN Humanitrian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“We can help turn this around with more international support, which is better balanced between security, emergency relief and longer-term development. And investing in women and girls is the best thing we can do to move forward.”

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‘Work in unison’ to promote peace and security in the Persian Gulf region – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 20 October 2020, Peace and Security - Given the complex and multifaceted challenges in the Persian Gulf region, the UN chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that it is important to reflect more deeply on how everyone, particularly the Council itself, can “work in unison to promote peace and security”. 

At the virtual ministerial-level debate, Secretary-General António Guterres stressed repeatedly his call for “an immediate global ceasefire”. 

Millions devasted in Yemen

He expressed his extreme concern over the situation in Yemen, where six years of war have “devastated the lives of millions” and undermined regional confidence.  

While more than 1,000 prisoners were released last week in what he called “a ray of hope”, Mr. Guterres underscored that “the security situation remains fragile”.

Over recent weeks, the conflict has escalated in Al Jawf, Ma’rib and Hudaydah governorates, with the latter being of significant concern as it risks undermining the 2018 Stockholm Agreement, the historic but fragile UN-brokered accord between the internationally-recognized Government and the Houthis, who are fighting for control of the country. 

At the same time, Yemen remains the largest humanitarian emergency where looming famine is compounded further by the continued spread of COVID-19.  

The top UN official called the conflict a reminder that “urgent and immediate regional challenges” must be addressed, to stem “farther and wider” instability. 

“We need an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to work out a political settlement to end the war”, spelled out the UN chief.  “Nothing less will suffice”. 

Pandemic respects no borders

Recalling his appeal for “an immediate global ceasefire to focus on the one true fight:  the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic”, the UN chief reiterated the need to step up efforts.  

“The clock is ticking - and people are dying”, he attested.

See here for recent UN News coverage on the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire as the world battles COVID-19.

Mr. Guterres commended the Gulf countries that supported his call and urged others to rise “in a spirit of solidarity” to “waive any sanctions” blocking access to vital humanitarian and medical assistance amid the pandemic. 

High tensions, low confidence 

Looking at the wider Persian Gulf region, the UN chief said, “it is clear that tensions are running high.  Confidence is low”.

He pointed to numerous security incidents since May 2019 that have heightened frictions to “new levels” and noted that they have served to underscore the urgent need to “work collectively to lower tension and prevent conflict”.  

“These are a stark reminder that any miscalculation could quickly escalate”, said the Secretary-General.  

De-escalation needed

According to Mr. Guterres, the first step towards de-escalation is to identify “viable confidence-building measures” to address issues of mutual concern.  

The clock is ticking - and people are dying - UN chief

However, consensus from all the key actors involved has yet to be achieved.

In the longer term, he advocated for “a new regional security architecture” to address the legitimate security concerns of all involved. 

The UN chief commended the efforts of all in the region who have worked to help resolve tensions and offered to convene “any forms of regional dialogue that may have the necessary consensus of all the relevant parties involved”. 

Intensive collective efforts

In closing the UN chief told ambassadors that “the enormity of the challenges ahead should not deter us”.

He encouraged everyone to move beyond destructive rivalries and “recognize what unites us” to “create a climate of trust” and improve the prospects for regional dialogue.

“Let us keep the interests of the region’s people front and centre – their aspirations for freedoms, opportunities, better standards of life and peace”, upheld the Secretary-General. “This, above all, should compel us to intensify our collective efforts”. 

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New UN gender study: Women ‘far from having an equal voice to men’

INTERNATIONAL, 20 October 2020, Women - The COVID-19 pandemic is “interrupting efforts” to achieve gender equality and threatening to “reverse hard-won gains” over the past decades, a senior UN official said on Tuesday.

Introducing the 2020 edition of The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics, Liu Zhenmin, chief of the UN’s economic and social affairs department (DESA), said that over the last two decades, “attitudes of discrimination are slowly changing” and women’s lives have improved with regard to education, early marriage, childbearing and maternal mortality, all while progress has stagnated in other areas.

“Women are far from having an equal voice to men”, spelled out the DESA chief. “And, in every region of the world, women are still subjected to various forms of violence and harmful practices”. 

Beijing still pending 

Overall, progress continues to fall far short of what Member States committed themselves to, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres
“No country has achieved gender equality”.

To effectively measure progress in that regard, reliable, timely and disaggregated, data are critically needed and closing data gaps requires regular collection and use of gender statistics. 

Pushing a boulder uphill

Mr. Liu pointed out that while the coronavirus pandemic is having “devastating social and economic impacts” across the world, women are fighting “on the front lines…in healthcare settings, in home care, in the family and in the public sphere”.

With less internet access, particularly in developing regions, women also face difficulties maintaining valuable personal connections and carrying on day-to-day activities during lockdowns. 

“Many may also have been trapped in unsafe environments…and at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence”, Mr. Liu stated.

Moreover, he pointed out that women face reduced access to sexual and reproductive health services; and need more time to care for the elderly, sick and children, including home-based education; adding that they are also at higher risk of infection than men in the workplace.

Glass ceiling intact

In terms of power and decision making, World’s Women 2020 revealed that last year, women held only 28 per cent of managerial positions globally – almost the same proportion as in 1995.

And only 18 per cent of enterprises surveyed had a female Chief Executive Officer in 2020. 

Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries, need to be improved -- Liu Zhenmin

Among Fortune 500 corporate rankings, only 7.4 per cent, or 37 CEOs, were women.

In political life, while women’s representation in parliaments worldwide has more than doubled globally, it has yet to cross the 25 per cent barrier of seats and although representation among cabinet ministers has quadrupled over the last 25 years, it remains at 22 per cent, well below parity.

Call to action

Mr. Liu called on all countries to “accelerate efforts” in empowering women and girls, towards improving data gaps in covering key gender topics. 

“Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries, need to be improved, and data disaggregation and dissemination by age, sex, location and other key variables, need to become a priority in order to fully measure and address intersecting inequalities, respond to crises, and ensure gender equality by 2030”, he upheld. 

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