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Violence in DR Congo Ebola hotspot leaves people ‘caught in crossfire’

Tensions in eastern Beni territory in DRC’s North Kivu province have been rising since the launch of a Government-led security operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on 30 October, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told journalists in Geneva.  

Armed groups have been targeting civilians and displaced populations in the region, killing scores of people and leaving others “caught in the crossfire”, he added. 

Aid teams’ security ‘can’t be guaranteed any more’ 

In a statement on Friday, Hervé Verhoosel, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that the agency had temporarily suspended aid distribution “because both our staff – and more importantly the staff of the partners who are working with us on the ground – the security was not guaranteed anymore, and the access was very difficult”. 

As a result, “thousands of people will not receive food assistance in the coming days,” he added. 

According to UNHCR, Beni town is home to around 500,000 people. “We understand there’s at least 275,000 people in the surrounding areas who’ve already been displaced, and conditions are quite dire and deteriorating,” Mr. Yaxley said. 

Armed groups preying on children 

Children need immediate support, he continued, as many “have lost their parents or have arrived unaccompanied. Forced recruitment by armed groups is a real threat to the safety of children and women also face widespread sexual violence, abuse and risk of exploitation.” 

The development comes as people in eastern DRC continue to be targeted by a multitude of armed groups, with at least 100 people reportedly killed in violent attacks in the Beni region and thousands displaced since 2 November, UNHCR said. 

Highlighting the impact of the insecurity in Beni and Oicha on frontline healthworkers tasked with tracing anyone who has come into contact with people infected with Ebola, Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said that surveillance levels had dropped from 86 to 59 per cent at the start of the week. 

According to WHO, around one-third of WHO’s Ebola response personnel in Beni have been temporarily relocated to Goma. 

Drop in frontline access ‘sure’ to hamper Ebola prevention  

“These are essential functions of the response that are well known to reduce the risk of spread of the virus and the fluctuations in performance following insecurity may enable – well, we’re actually pretty sure it will enable – new chains of transmission,” he explained. 

As of 26 November, a total of 3,304 cases of Ebola have been reported, of which 2,199 people have died since the outbreak was declared on 1 August 2018, WHO reported. 

In an appeal for an end to the violence in and around Beni, UNCHR’s Mr. Yaxley warned that humanitarian agencies needed “immediate access to support the affected population. Hundreds of households are currently sleeping in churches and schools.” 

Some groups of people were “trapped”, he said, noting that they were surrounded by armed forces and facing “ongoing attacks against schools (and) health centres. Even where people are known to be sheltering, they’re being displaced again because of these attacks by armed groups. At times, people are getting caught in the crossfire.” 

In its latest update on the outbreak, the country’s Ministry of Health noted the “disruption of activities in the sectors of Beni and Butembo, following popular demonstrations at the killing of civilians”. 

“Widespread violence” had erupted in the town of Beni nine days ago, the WFP official told journalists, precipitating the decision to temporarily move “non-essential staff” to Goma in the south of the country. 

‘Constant’ attacks must stop: WHO 

The development also follows attacks by armed groups on Wednesday at a camp in Biakato Mines and an Ebola response coordination office that claimed the lives of three responders and a police officer, injuring six others.  

Condemning the violence, the WHO appealed for the “constant” attacks to stop, the development risks reversing significant progress made against the epidemic, with  infections falling to just a handful in recent weeks. 

Earlier this month in the town of Lwemba, Ituri province, attackers killed an Ebola response community health worker and left his wife critically injured before burning down their home. The victim was also a reporter for a community radio station, helping to raise Ebola awareness. 

Is the world ready to end the coal era and embrace clean energy?

But, despite the United Nations calling urgently for an end to fossil fuels, hundreds of new coal-fired power stations are still being built, and hundreds more are in the pipeline. Is the world ready for a new era of clean, cheap and accessible energy for all?

Kick the coal habit, and put a price on carbon, urges UN chief

The UN is ramping up pressure on countries to end their reliance on coal, with Secretary-General António Guterres unambiguously spelling out the Organization’s position in his recent declarations.

The UN chief has called for taxes to be placed on carbon emissions, an end to the trillions of dollars’ worth of estimated subsidies for fossil fuels, and for the construction of coal-fired power stations to be halted by 2020, if we are to stand a chance of ending the climate crisis.

Many countries, particularly developed economies, are starting to heed the UN’s message. However, Southeast Asia, one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, appears to be stuck on fossil fuels as the answer to its energy needs: In November, Mr. Guterres told a meeting of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) group in Thailand that coal “remains a major threat in relation to climate change”, adding that countries in Southeast Asia are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.

Asian development still fueled by coal

According to studies by the International Energy Agency, the region is expected to become a key driver of world energy trends over the next 20 years. Millions of people in Southeast Asia have gained access to electricity since 2000, and the region is on the way to achieving universal access by 2030.

The UN-backed Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), has compiled data showing that the region has the third highest number of coal power plants in the pipeline after China and India. Indonesia, Viet Nam and the Philippines have the largest coal plant pipeline of all South East Asian countries, with Malaysia and Thailand not far behind.

The wealthier Asian countries are also bankrolling coal beyond their borders: State-owned financial agencies in China, Japan, and South Korea are now, respectively, the largest sources of funding for coal plants in other countries: research from SEforALL shows that China was the largest international source international source of finance for coal, committing more than $1.7 billion in 2015/2016.

Coal is losing power

Nevertheless, the world, as a whole, is slowly moving in the right direction, and the number of plants currently being planned is falling. The amount of permits of new coal plants has dropped to record lows, and over a thousand have been cancelled,  a reflection of a tougher economic climate for coal plant developers, and the growing consensus for the need to limit global warming, and protect human health.

In November 2019, four years after the Paris Agreement, a key UN climate conference at which countries committed to step up efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures and boost climate action financing, the UN Secretary-General convened a Climate Action Summit in New York, where many nations announced beefed-up measures to combat the climate crisis, including putting limits on the amount of electricity produced from coal-based sources.

The UK, for example, is expected to completely phase out coal in the next few years, Germany – one of the world’s biggest users of coal – has agreed to stop by 2038, and eight other European Union countries have announced that they will put an end to coal use by 2030. Chile has pledged to close all of its coal-fired power stations by 2040, and South Korea will close 10 plants by 2022.

A “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, made up of 32 countries, 25 regional, provincial and municipal level governments, and 34 business members,  announced new members, including Germany and Slovakia, at the conference, committed to speeding up the transition from coal-based to clean energy, and to lead global efforts to curtail coal use.

Here comes the sun

In addition, more and more countries, and businesses, acknowledge that the use of renewable energy is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it also makes economic sense.

Technology already exists to enable the world to transition away from coal, and other fossil fuels; and also to connect the 840 million people who still don’t have access to electricity to clean, renewable energy sources. And it’s affordable.

SEforALL research shows that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power – and, by 2030, wind and solar will undercut coal and gas almost everywhere.

Disconnect between words and actions

However, even with the decline in coal use, and growth in the use of renewables, the transition to clean energy is not taking place quickly enough, and there is still a big gap between countries’ climate commitments, and their planned production of fossil fuels, as demonstrated by the 2019 Production Gap report, the first of its kind, from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and research partners.

The gap is largest when it comes to coal: countries are currently planning to produce 150% more coal in 2030, than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and almost three times more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole, and we need to stop digging. Måns Nilsson, Executive-Director, Stockholm Environment Institute

“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” Måns Nilsson, head of the Stockholm Environment Institute, one of the organizations that produced the study, said in a press release. “This report shows that governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole, and we need to stop digging.”

In 2020, the UN launches a Decade of Action, to kickstart efforts to achieve the goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When it comes to energy, the goal is to ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all: the challenge for the UN, and the world, is to rapidly speed up the move towards renewables, and kick the coal habit once and for all.

UN rights chief calls for dialogue to prevent conflict, ease social unrest in Ecuador

Ms. Bachelet also said that after reviewing the information she has received from a UN Office of Human Rights (OHCHR) mission dispatched to the from 21 October to 8 November, there was a need for an independent, impartial and transparent investigations into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed during the protests from 3 to 13 October. 

OHCHR mission to Ecuador 

On the findings of the OHCHR investigative team, Ms. Bachelet that according to the data collected, during the 11 days of social unrest (from October 3 to 13), at least nine people died and 1,507 were injured, including 435 members of the security forces. The number of detainees amounted to 1,382. There are allegations that many of these people were arbitrarily detained.  

“Last month’s unrest had a high human cost,” the High Commissioner said. “People should be able to express their grievances without fear of being hurt or arrested. At the same time, it is important that protestors do not resort to violence.” 

According to OHCHR, the team received reports from victims and witnesses of use of force by law enforcement officials that was not in conformity with international norms and standards, including unnecessary and disproportionate use of force. Law enforcement officials included the police and the military, which was deployed following the declaration of a state of exception. 

Victims and witnesses informed the team that teargas and pellet rounds were regularly shot by the security officers directly at the protesters at very close range, causing hundreds of injuries, and possibly some of the deaths. 

While acknowledging that the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Police have opened 17 and 31 investigations respectively, Ms. Bachelet stressed the importance of investigating the circumstances of all deaths and serious injuries. She added that it is imperative that the internal protocols regarding the use of force for law enforcement officials are reviewed and that the authorities ensure they comply with international standards. 

Crisis ‘triggers’ in Ecuador 

Regarding the triggers of the crisis, the UN Human Rights Office strongly recommends that the Government promote a participatory approach to decision-making, ensuring the enjoyment by people of their right to participate in public affairs.  

Such a strategy of participation should be extended to economic and fiscal measures – including on proposals of austerity measures – and especially with the communities likely to be worst affected. This, Ms. Bachelet said, would be in line with the view of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recommended that Ecuador ensure that any economic decisions affecting people should be taken in a transparent manner and in consultation with the affected population. 

The historical and persistent discrimination against indigenous peoples should also be a matter of concern and priority for the Government. The High Commissioner urged the authorities to do their outmost to identify effective measures to deal with this problem, and to recognize that it is a barrier to overcoming structural economic inequalities. 

“Social and economic inequality remains a structural barrier for development for vast sectors of society, who have felt left behind for generations and do not see positive prospects for the future,” Ms. Bachelet said.  

“It is of paramount importance that society as a whole, with the Government as a guiding force, embark together in search of paths of mutual understanding with the aim of constructing an inclusive, multicultural and peaceful society.” 

 

COP25: UN climate change conference, 5 things you need to know

1.  We just had the Climate Action Summit in New York. How is COP25 different?

The Climate Action Summit in September was the initiative of the UN Secretary-General to focus the attention of the international community on the climate emergency and to accelerate actions to reverse climate change.  The Climate Conference (held in Madrid after the meeting was moved from Chile due to unrest there),  COP25, is the actual Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, which is tasked with making sure that the Convention, (and now the 2015 Paris Agreement, which strengthens the Convention), are being implemented.

2. But why all the UN attention on the climate?

There is more evidence of the impacts of climate change, especially in extreme weather events, and these impacts are taking a greater toll.  The science shows that emissions are still going up, not down. 

According to the 2019 WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached another new record high. This continuing long-term trend means that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned, in its 2019 Emissions Gap Report, that greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 7.6 per cent per year from 2020 to 2030 are needed to meet the internationally agreed goal of a 1.5°C increase in temperatures over pre-industrial levels. Scientists agree that’s a tall order, and that the window of opportunity is growing smaller.

3. So what did the September Climate Action Summit achieve?

The summit served as a springboard ahead of crucial 2020 deadlines established by the Paris Agreement, focusing global attention on the climate emergency and the urgent need to significantly scale up action. And leaders, from many countries and sectors, stepped up.

More than seventy countries committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, even if major emitters have not yet done so.  More than 100 cities did the same, including several of the world’s largest. 

Small island states together committed to achieve carbon neutrality and to move to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.  And countries from Pakistan to Guatemala, Colombia to Nigeria, New Zealand to Barbados vowed to plant more than 11 billion trees.

More than 100 leaders in the private sector committed to accelerating the green economy. A group of the world’s largest asset-owners, controlling $2 trillion, pledged to move to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050. This is in addition to a recent call by asset managers representing nearly half the world’s invested capital, some $34 trillion, for global leaders to put a meaningful price on carbon and phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide.

4. Hang on: UNEP, WMO, IPCC, UNFCCC, COP…why all the acronyms?

It’s true that the UN is a very acronym-heavy place. These ones all represent international tools and agencies that, under the leadership of the UN, were created to help advance climate action globally. Here’s how they fit together.

UNEP is the UN Environment Programme, the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. WMO stands for World Meteorological Office, the UN agency for international cooperation in areas such as weather forecasting, observing changes in the climate, and studying water resources.

In 1988 the UN General Assembly asked UNEP and the WMO to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is made of hundreds of experts, in order to assess data, and providing reliable scientific evidence for climate action negotiations.

All three UN bodies publish reports that, in recent years, have frequently made international headlines, as concerns about the climate crisis have grown.

As for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this document was signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system.

Today, 197 countries are parties to the treaty. Every year since the treaty entered into force in 1994, a “conference of the parties”, or COP, has been held to discuss how to move forward. Madrid will hold the 25th COP, therefore COP25.

5. And what’s important about this COP?

Because the UNFCCC had non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, and no enforcement mechanism, various extensions to this treaty were negotiated during recent COPs, including most recently the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries agreed to step up efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures and boost climate action financing.

COP25 is the final COP before we enter the defining year of 2020, when many nations must submit new climate action plans. Among the many elements that need to be ironed out is the financing of climate action worldwide.

Currently, not enough is being done to meet the three climate goals: reducing emissions 45 per cent by 2030; achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net zero carbon footprint), and stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century.

Because the clock is ticking on climate change, the world cannot afford to waste more time, and a bold, decisive, ambitious way forward needs to be agreed.

Friday’s Daily Brief: violence in DR Congo, protester deaths in Iraq, human rights in Colombia, climate change conference, ‘high human cost’ of Ecuador unrest  

Violence in DR Congo Ebola hotspot leaves people ‘caught in crossfire’

Attacks on communities in an Ebola outbreak hotspot in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have sparked a humanitarian crisis and threatened aid distribution, the UN said on Friday, amid reports of serious civil unrest.

Tensions in eastern Beni territory in DRC’s North Kivu province have been rising since the launch of a Government-led security operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on 30 October, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told journalists in Geneva.  

Armed groups have been targeting civilians and displaced populations in the region, killing scores of people and leaving others “caught in the crossfire”, he added. 

Full coverage here.

Iraq: UN ‘deeply concerned’ at continued protester deaths

UN chief António Guterres has expressed deep concern over reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators in Iraq.  

This has led to a rising number of deaths and injuries, Mr. Guterres said in a statement – including in the southern city of Nasiriyah.   

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Iraqi authorities to exercise maximum restraint, protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and swiftly to investigate all acts of violence,” said the statement, issued late Thursday evening. 

Find out more here.

UN-appointed panel urges Colombia to do more to stop human rights defender murders

A UN-appointed panel warned this week about high levels of violence against indigenous rights defenders and community leaders, linked to foreign mining companies, in Colombia.

In a review of Colombia, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination heard that more than 704 community leaders were murdered between January 2016 and mid-2019. Last month alone, 36 indigenous people were killed.

Rapporteur Maria Moreno told the Committee that every 72 hours, a human rights defender dies in Colombia, where there are more than 100 indigenous peoples and over 60 languages. Ethnic minorities lived in remote, mineral-rich parts of the country, which brought them into conflict with major development projects, the panel heard.

COP25: UN climate change conference, 5 things you need to know

Climate change is happening – the world is already 1.1°C warmer than it was at the onset of the industrial revolution, and it is already having a significant impact on the world, and on people’s lives. And if current trends persist, then global temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.4 to 3.9°C this century, which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts.

That’s the stark warning from the international community ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, which gets underway in the Spanish capital, Madrid, on 2 December. So, just two months after the Secretary-General convened a major Climate Action Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, what can be expected from COP25?

Learn more in our explainer here.

UN rights chief urges dialogue to prevent conflict, create inclusive society for Ecuador

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday said the recent unrest in Ecuador “had a high human cost” and urged all actors in the country to engage in dialogue to prevent new conflicts and forge an inclusive society.

Ms. Bachelet also said that after reviewing the information she has received from a UN Office of Human Rights (OHCHR) mission dispatched to the from 21 October to 8 November, there was a need for an independent, impartial and transparent investigations into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed during the protests from 3 to 13 October.

Our coverage here.  

Listen to or download our audio News in Brief for 29 November on SoundCloud:

 

Iraq: UN ‘deeply concerned’ at continued protester deaths

This has led to a rising number of deaths and injuries, Mr. Guterres said in a statement – including in the southern city of Nasiriyah.   

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Iraqi authorities to exercise maximum restraint, protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and swiftly to investigate all acts of violence,” said the statement, issued late Thursday evening. 

Mr. Guterres also reminded the Iraqi authorities of their obligation to protect diplomatic and consular facilities and personnel, as well as public and private property.   

Echoing the UN chief’s appeal to protect the lives of demonstrators, respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and investigate the violence, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Friday that United Nations staff in Iraq had confirmed that at least 24 people had been killed and more than 210 were injured in Nasiriyah.  

Others were also killed and injured in Naj af, the OHCHR spokesperson said, while the overall number of casualties verified by the UN since protests began at the beginning of October now stands at 354 dead and 8,104 injured.   

“Once again, we urge the Iraqi authorities to take much firmer and more effective action to ensure security forces do not employ excessive use of force, and in particular use of live ammunition, as they have been doing repeatedly since the protests began. There must also be investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for unlawful killings. 

Earlier on Friday, the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said on Twitter that the increasing numbers of deaths and injuries in the country cannot be tolerated. 

“The presence of spoilers, derailing peaceful protests, places Iraq on a dangerous trajectory,” warned Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who also announced that she will be in New York Tuesday, 3 December, to brief the UN Security Council on the latest developments. 

Armed groups kill Ebola health workers in eastern DR Congo

The violence killed four workers responding to the Ebola outbreak and injured five others, at a camp in Biakato Mines, and an Ebola response coordination office, WHO said in a statement. 

For the UN agency, which appealed for the “constant” attacks to stop, the development risks reversing significant progress made against the epidemic, with  infections falling to just a handful in recent weeks.

‘We are heartbroken’: WHO chief

“Attacks by armed groups in Biakato Mines and Mangina in DRC have resulted in deaths and injuries amongst Ebola responders,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter. “We are heartbroken that our worst fears have been realized. Our focus is caring for the wounded and ensuring staff at other locations are safe.”

Echoing that message, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said that her “heart goes out to the family and friends of the first responders killed in these attacks”. 

“We are doing everything possible to bring the injured and front-line workers in the impacted areas to safety,” she said in a statement, before insisting that “these constant attacks must stop”. 

On his Twitter account, UN Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator David Gressly expressed his sympathy for the families of the victims of the attacks in Biakato and Mangina, “but also to all the families of the recent escalation of violence in the region”.

According to WHO, the victims included a member of a vaccination team, two drivers and a police officer. No WHO staff were among those killed but one staff member was injured. Most of the other injured people are from the Ministry of Health, the agency noted. 

We are heartbroken that our worst fears have been realized. Our focus is caring for the wounded and ensuring staff at other locations are safe. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

Hundreds of attacks on health workers and communities 

Attacks on healthcare workers, treatment centres and communities have been a frequent feature of this latest Ebola outbreak in Ituri and North Kivu provinces that began in August 2018 and which is the second largest on record.

The latest violence comes as people in eastern DRC continue to be targeted by armed groups, with at least 19 people reportedly killed on Wednesday by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in a village in Oicha, near Beni.

In its latest update on the outbreak, the country’s Ministry of Health noted the “disruption of (health) activities in the sectors of Beni and Butembo, following popular demonstrations at the killing of civilians”.

On Tuesday, personnel were temporarily relocated from Beni, WHO said in its latest situation report, “though most remain in place to continue responding”.

Earlier this month in the town of Lwemba, Ituri province, attackers killed an Ebola response community health worker and left his wife critically injured before burning down their home. The victim was also a reporter for a community radio station, helping to raise Ebola awareness.

Since the start of the year, WHO has documented more than 300 attacks that have caused six deaths and 70 injuries to health care workers and patients.

Multitude of armed groups 

The insecurity has been attributed to the multitude of armed groups in eastern DRC – estimated at around 100 – and WHO has warned that it has significantly complicated the work of the authorities and partners attempting to eradicate the disease by tracing and vaccinating those who have come into contact with infected individuals.

According to DRC authorities, 2,198 people have died from the Ebola epidemic to date out of more than 3,300 confirmed cases, while more than 1,000 have recovered.

It is the country’s 10th outbreak of Ebola, and transmission is still occurring in Mandima, Mabalako, Oicha, and Beni health zones, albeit at a very low level compared with the peak of the outbreak in April, when there were over 120 cases a week.

“Ebola was retreating. These attacks will give it force again, and more people will die as a consequence,” said Dr Tedros. “It will be tragic to see more unnecessary suffering in communities that have already suffered so much. We call on everyone who has a role to play to end this cycle of violence.”
 

Zimbabwe facing man-made starvation, says UN expert

The independent UN human rights expert was presenting her assessment on the current situation in Zimbabwe, concerning all aspects related to the right to food, following a 11-day visit to the country.

Because of hyperinflation, which, said Ms. Elver, has reached some 490 per cent, more than 60 per cent of the population is now “food-insecure”, in a country once seen as the breadbasket of Africa: “In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are currently facing food insecurity, as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods”, she said. “In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services, including health and safe water”.

Ms. Elver described the figures as “shocking”, and warned that, due to factors such as poverty and high unemployment, widespread corruption, severe price instabilities, and unilateral economic sanctions, the crisis is getting worse.

Women and children ‘bearing the brunt’

Women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis, said the Special Rapporteur, adding that the majority of children she had met were stunted and underweight. According to Ms. Elver, child deaths from severe malnutrition have been rising in recent months, and 90 % of Zimbabwean children aged six months to two years are not consuming the minimum acceptable diet: “I saw the ravaging effects of malnutrition on infants deprived of breast feeding because of their own mothers’ lack of access to adequate food”.

The situation for women, as described by the human rights expert, is equally stark, with women (and children) increasingly forced to drop out of school, being forced into early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution, and sexual exploitation.

I saw the ravaging effects of malnutrition on infants deprived of breast feeding because of their own mothers’ lack of access to adequate food Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Urgent reform is needed 

Immediate reforms of the agricultural and food system were recommended by Ms. Elver, such as reducing the country’s dependence on imported food, and supporting alternative wheats to diversify the diet. The Government, she continued, should create the conditions for the production of traditional seeds to ensure the country’s self-sufficiency and preparedness for the climate shocks that hit the country.

The effects of the economic crisis are noticeable, said the Special Rapporteur, in both rural areas, and cities, including Harare. She recounted seeing people waiting for hours, in long lines, in front of gas stations, banks, and water dispensaries, and receiving information that public hospitals have been reaching out to humanitarian organizations after their own medicine and food stocks were exhausted. 

Ms. Elver called on the Zimbabwean Government, political parties, and the international community to come together to “put an end to this spiralling crisis before it morphs into a full-blown conflict”.
 

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Afghan child abuse, DR Congo measles deaths, Palestinian solidarity

UN Mission in Afghanistan supports child sex abuse allegations

The UN Mission in Afghanistan is calling for an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse committed against children. International media have published claims that a paedophile ring has been operating in schools in Logar province, allegedly involving more than 500 boys.

Reportedly, the two civil society activists who exposed the abuse, were initially detained by security forces, after attempting to meet with the EU ambassador in the capital, Kabul.

The UN Mission released a statement on Tuesday evening, calling for the immediate release of the activists and, on Wednesday, it was reported that the pair had been released and handed over to the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission.

President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday he was “deeply disturbed” by the allegations of sexual abuse, and that he had ordered the education ministry to undertake a thorough investigation, and report back to him as soon as possible.

Thousands of children killed by measles in DR Congo

More than 5,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have died of measles so far this year, and practically all of them are children under the age of five, says the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

The UNICEF Representative in DRC, Edouard Beigbeder, released a statement on Wednesday, citing violence and insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, and a shortage of vaccines and medical kits, as some of the reasons for the high death toll.

Cultural beliefs and traditional health care practices, said Mr Beigbeder, also contribute to children not getting the vaccinations, and other treatment, they need.

Full story here

Migrants send hundreds of billions back home

The number of international migrants in 2019 is now estimated at 270 million and the top destination remains the United States, at nearly 51 million, the UN migration agency said on Wednesday.

In its latest global report, IOM noted that the overall figure represents just a tiny fraction of the world’s population, although it is a 0.1 per cent increase on the level indicated in its last report, published two years ago.

“This figure remains a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3.5 per cent), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96.5 per cent) are estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born,” IOM’s Global Migration Report 2020 said.

According to the UN agency, more than half of all international migrants (141 million) live in Europe and North America.

An estimated 52 per cent are male, and nearly two-thirds of all migrants are looking for work; that’s around 164 million people.

Full story here

UN commemorates International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

The United Nations has underlined its unwavering commitment to the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle to achieve self-determination, independence and sovereignty.

Senior officials joined ambassadors and other representatives from the international community in New York on Thursday to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, officially observed each year on 29 November.

Established in 1977, it marks the day in 1947 when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State.

Full story here

Trust, security and stability in digital space ‘essential’, UN economic affairs chief

“The positive power of the Internet and ICTs can only be harnessed if people have a real sense of public trust, security and stability in the digital space’, Liu Zhenmin, the head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or DESA, said at the Internet Governance Forum on Wednesday.

The UN event, which is taking place in Berlin, is an annual meeting where issues of public policy relating to the Internet are discussed.

Addressing a meeting on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Digital Age, Mr. Liu expressed his confidence that new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things, can help bring about the Goals, and improve the lives of all.

The DESA chief underscored the importance of international cooperation in solving the problems of the digital space, such as rising inequality, uneven growth, climate change and fast-paced technological change.

Eat the Mediterranean way: UN food agency

As many parts of the world gear up for a season of feasting, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is promoting the benefits of traditional diets, which are healthier and better for the planet.

At an event held on Wednesday in Rome, the agency recommended the Mediterranean diet, which involves various vegetables, beans and pulses, fruits, herbs and olive oil; the New Nordic diet, which contains less sugar and fat than the average Western diet; the seafood-rich Japanese diet; and southern Chinese cuisine.

In a statement, the agency said that the diets help lower cholesterol, and prevent heart disease and diabetes; as well as creating food systems that advance sustainable development.

Listen to or download our audio News in Brief for 27 November on SoundCloud:  

UN commemorates International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

Senior officials joined ambassadors and other representatives from the international community in New York on Wednesday to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, officially observed each year on 29 November.

Established in 1977, it marks the day in 1947 when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
A view of the opening of the exhibit “Palestine: the most universal of national causes” at UN Headquarters. (L to R) are Ambassador Cheikh Niang of Senegal, USG Rosemary DiCarlo, Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine and Ambassador Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu of Turkey.

No alternative to two-state solution

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains one of the most intractable challenges facing the international community, UN Secretary-General António Guterres observed in his message for the day. 

As there is no viable alternative to the two-State solution, he called on both sides, and their supporters, to work towards restoring faith in the process.

“Only constructive negotiations between the parties, in good faith, with support from the international community and adhering to long-standing United Nations resolutions and long-agreed parameters, will bring about a just and durable solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states”, the UN chief said.

“What is needed, first and foremost, are leadership and political will. The efforts of civil society and those on all sides who seek to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians also need to be supported.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said his people have endured more than 70 years of tragedies and crises, yet remain steadfast.

“Despite decades of disappointment and setbacks, we remain committed to a multilateral order that respects and ensures respect for international law,” he said in a message read by Palestinian Permanent Observer to the UN, Riyad Mansour.

“The State of Palestine will continue engaging in efforts aimed to advance the rule of international law, including through the building of our national institutions, spreading the culture of peace and empowering our people, especially women and youth.”

Humanitarian support vital

The roughly eight million Palestinians live primarily in territory occupied by Israel, but also across the Middle East in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande called for action to ensure critical humanitarian support.

“This must be tackled by strengthening the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to ensure that it can meet the humanitarian needs of over 5.4 million Palestinian refugees. It is important that we collectively safeguard the Agency against the political and financial challenges it faces,” he said.

Niang Cheikh, Chair of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, maintains hope that the two-State solution will be realized.

“Despite all the contrary winds, this day will come and we will then celebrate the realization of a just peace in the interest of the Palestinians and indeed all the peoples of the region,” he stated.

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