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FIRST PERSON: ‘You can’t get paid for staring out of the window’ – How I proved my teacher wrong

As a boy, Zack Martin’s school teacher told him, he couldn’t get paid for staring out of a window, but the former marine says he proved the teacher wrong by becoming a truck driver and building a successful heavy-load trucking business, Crawler Haulers, in the city of Lafayette in Louisiana. 

“I joined the US Marines when I was a young kid and it really made me who I am, as I was taught right from wrong, responsibility and having the focus to do something. The mentality of a Marine is to adapt and overcome. I found it challenging when I left and became an executive sous-chef in a restaurant as I realized that other people, civilians, did not have the same focus to get something done.  

Zack Martin says he always wanted to be a truck driver. ILO Photo/John Isaac

I realized I wanted to be a driver in my early twenties, as a way to be by myself. I fell in love with the job after moving a couple of big loads and then bought a couple of big trailers. My teacher told me I couldn’t get paid for staring out of the window, but that’s what I made career out of; I listen to the radio and stare out of the window and I really enjoy it. I get to travel and see the world. 

My customers recognize my work ethic and appreciate that I do things right, without cutting corners. I am patient and I also have to look outside the box, as I have to get a lot of crazy loads into crazy spots.  

Many people would say “man that’s impossible”, but there is always a way, you just need to figure it out. 

Truck drivers are really good time managers; they have to work out food, bathroom and refueling stops and if that is timed wrongly, it can cost a lot of time. A driver is paid for the miles driven every day, so making multiple stops will cost time and money. 

Now I have a great family of 11 employees, it’s a team which works well together and the business keeps on growing. I feel a strong responsibility towards my employees as I feel I’m providing jobs for them which support their families. As long as I can feed them and their families, I am happy. 

Technology has made this job easier and safer. When I started in 1997, I had a pager, there were no mobile phones, so when I was paged, I had to take a roll of quarters and search for a payphone and find out what was going on, whether I need to change my plan. We also only had paper maps, there was no Google Maps for planning routes for finding rest stops, for example.  

Zack Martin began driving trucks in 1997 and now he runs his own company with 11 employees. ILO Photo/John Isaac

Electronic logging devices (ELD) in the trucks means drivers are also taking rest breaks. In the future, I think driverless trucks could operate on dedicated lanes, say between Houston and New York, or between retail distribution centres. But I don’t think that will happen for a very long time for local trips or for what we do, the heavy loads. 

I no longer drive, I wish I did; I run the logistics side of the business. I look to my drivers to tell me what they think about a particular situation; for example, can you make this turning with this load?   So, teamwork is important, you need to trust other people. I started off driving because I wanted to be alone and now, I have learned to manage a team to listen to the problems of my employees and to understand people.   

2019: The UN News year in photos

Acting as a visual gateway for our readers, we carefully select the most eye-catching and powerful images to help tell the story before delving into the text.

As the year winds down, we have compiled below, 12 months of some of the most visually arresting images for our 2019 stories.

January

Graham Crouch/World Bank
As 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Periodic Table by Russian scientist Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev, the UN has launched a yearlong initiative to raise awareness of chemistry and its applications for sustainable development.

In January, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements at its headquarters in Paris, kicking off a series of events and activities to be held throughout the year, as the world celebrates the 150th anniversary since its creation by Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. Here’s our story.

February

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Internally displaced children in Bangui, Central African Republic.

Hailing the recent peace agreement signed by 15 warring parties in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed that “now is the time for action” and outlined concrete steps that armed groups, judicial authorities and the Government can take so the future of millions of children can be safeguarded.  Read our story here.

March

© UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
Nine-year-old Syrian refugee from Deir el Zor sits outside his flooded tent at Dalhamiya informal settlement camp in Lebanon. 9 January 2019.

Governments across the world have a “moral obligation” to help Syrians “unite around a vision for their common future”, finally bringing an end to eight years of brutal conflict, the UN Secretary-General  said as the conflict entered its ninth year. More on the story here.

April

Giles Clarke/UN OCHA
A building in Sana’a damaged by fighting in the war-torn country (file photo)

Further details have emerged about an attack on a school in the Yemeni capital Sana’a that killed 14 youngsters and critically injured 16 others. Read more here.

May

FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico
A participant at World Bee Day, held at FAO headquarters in Rome to raise awareness on the role of bees and pollinators in food and agriculture, captures a photo of a bee observation hive. (20 May 2019)

If you think you’re busy, then spare a thought for the world’s bees; for they, along with other insects and animals, are responsible for pollinating more than 75 per cent of the planet’s favourite food crops. Read more about it here.

June

UNICEF/Khudr Al-Issa
Eight-year-old Hanaa, who was paralysed by an exploding bomb and lost the use of her legs, sits in her wheelchair near her home in East Aleppo City, Syria (28 February 2018)

The Security Council adopted its first-ever resolution calling on UN Member States and warring parties to protect persons with disabilities in conflict situations and to ensure they have access to justice, basic services and unimpeded humanitarian assistance. Read more here.

July

UNMISS/Isaac Billy
Former child soldiers are released in Yambio, South Sudan.

A new UN report has found that 2018 was the worst year on record for children caught up in armed conflict; the year saw the highest numbers killed or maimed since the United Nations began monitoring the violation.  Here’s more on the story.

August

© UNICEF/Patrick Brown
A young boy carries water in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Access to safe drinking water is a right critical to a child’s survival, yet protracted crises have left some 420 million children without basic sanitation, and 210 million lacking access to safe drinking water, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Read more here.

September

UNOCHA/Mulugeta Ayene
Pastoralists moved to temporary sites close to permanent water point, as drought affected Ethiopia Somali region.

Ethiopia is beset by “persistent and multi-faceted humanitarian problems”, the United Nations relief chief said, calling for more international funding as well as support for the Government-led response to the country’s displacement crisis. Read more about the situation here.

October

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Two young unaccompanied Gambian migrants look at a map after crossing to Italy. (file)

A landmark UN migration study shows that 93 per cent of Africans making the journey to European countries along irregular routes, would do it again, despite facing often life-threatening danger.  Click here to read more.

November

© FAO/Xavier Bouan
Villagers grow rain-fed rice in Beung Kiat Ngong wetlands, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. (File)

To help ensure the most-consumed foods don’t disappear in the face of the climate crisis, farmers must cultivate crops able to resist environmental shocks and other stresses, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted in a new set of conservation guidelines. Read our coverage here.

December

OCHA/Giles Clarke
Displaced children stand in the shredded remains of tents in Abs settlement, Yemen, for internally displaced persons. Located just 40 km from the frontlines, the settlement is regularly damaged by passing sandstorms.

A record 168 million people worldwide will need help and protection in crises spanning more than 50 countries in 2020, the UN’s emergency relief chief has said, in an appeal for nearly $29 billion in humanitarian aid from donors.  Here’s more on the story.

 

 

 

Sub-Saharan Africa faces grave hunger challenges in 2020: UN food relief agency

According to the WFP 2020 Global Hotspots Report, millions of people in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel region will require life-saving food assistance in the coming months – the sheer scale and complexity of which will stretch the UN food relief agency’s capacity to the limit and require generous donor support for a ramped-up humanitarian response.

WFP is fighting big and complex humanitarian battles on several fronts at the start of 2020 – WFP chief

WFP Executive Director David Beasley spelled out: “WFP is fighting big and complex humanitarian battles on several fronts at the start of 2020”.

“In some countries, we are seeing conflict and instability combine with climate extremes to force people from their homes, farms and places of work”, he elaborated. “In others, climate shocks are occurring alongside economic collapse and leaving millions on the brink of destitution and hunger.”

Averting famine

Against the backdrop of an imploding economy and when Zimbabwe is entering the peak of its lean season and food is at its most scarce, WFP observed that the country has more hungry people now than it has had over the past decade.

And as concerns grow over the impact of a regional drought that could drag even more countries down in the first months of the year, WFP is planning assistance for some four million people in Zimbabwe.

“Last year, WFP was called upon to bring urgent large-scale relief to Yemen, Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, Burkina Faso and many other crises to avert famine,” said Margot Van Der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies. “But the world is an unforgiving place and as we turn the page into 2020, WFP is confronting new, monumental humanitarian challenges that we need to address with real urgency.”

In El Salvador, farmers have received training in soil conservation in order to improve crop yields., by Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

Hunger abounds

Turning to the Americas, Haiti is undergoing a rapidly evolving crisis with escalating unrest paralyzing the economy and driving food prices out of many people’s reach. 

And in Asia, insecurity and drought in Afghanistan is leaving over one-third of the population, or more than 11 million people, severely food insecure.

In the Middle East, WFP has had success in Yemen where it scaled up food assistance by 50 per cent and supported eight million people a month at the beginning of 2018 to 12 million by the end of the year.

Looking towards 2020, WFP remains alert to growing food needs in Iraq and Lebanon, where civil unrest and macro-economic crisis are leading to an increase in food insecurity.

WFP estimates it will require more than $10 billion to fully fund all its operations in more than 80 countries around the world in the coming year.

“Every year at WFP we plan ahead for the next 12 months and ask for support from the generous governments, private sector institutions and members of the public who help us reach our humanitarian and development goals,” said Mr. Beasley.

“As an agency that depends entirely on voluntary donations, we have a responsibility to show WFP can continue to be the most efficient and effective global organization delivering the kind of food assistance that saves lives and changes lives across the world”, concluded the UN food relief agency chief.

Israel/Palestine war crimes probe ‘momentous step forward’, says UN rights expert

“Accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action throughout the 52-year-old occupation,” said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

On 20 December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine”.

Mr. Lynk maintained that although the international community has adopted hundreds of UN resolutions condemning various features of “Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory…rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel”.

“Now, the possibility of accountability is finally on the horizon”, the UN expert said.

Ms. Bensouda has spent the past five years reviewing the initial evidence as part of a preliminary investigation in the 2014 war on Gaza, the IsraeIi settlements and, more recently, the killing and wounding of Palestinian demonstrators near the Gaza frontier.

Territory confirmation

The ICC prosecutor said that before initiating a formal investigation, she would ask for a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber to confirm that the territory over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

International law must be the basis for seeking justice for the victims of war crimes in this interminable conflict – UN expert

“In a world that proclaims its devotion to human rights and a rules-based international order, it is vital that the international community defend the decision of the ICC Prosecutor to advance her investigation and to seek a favourable ruling from the Pre-Trial Chamber on the issue of territorial jurisdiction,” said the Special Rapporteur.

“International law must be the basis for seeking justice for the victims of war crimes in this interminable conflict, and the international community must resolutely support the laws and the institutions that it has created and nurtured.”

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

The UN expert noted that the Prosecutor also intended to investigate whether members of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes in the period since June 2014.

“If the evidence gathered by the ICC Prosecutor leads her to make findings against these organizations, then her efforts must also be supported,” he continued, adding that the Rome Statute is meant to be applied “dispassionately”, as “the only way to build the necessary political and popular support for its mission.”

Addressing the long-standing concern about how slowly the wheels of justice have turned in this matter, Mr. Lynk urged that the Pre-Trial Chamber present and resolve territorial jurisdiction issue as expeditiously as possible.

“Justice delayed is justice denied”, he spelled out.

“Should the allegations of war crimes then proceed to the formal investigation stage, every effort must be made to advance the work of the Prosecutor’s office in a reasonably speedy manner consistent with legal fairness, so that the many victims of this conflict can realistically hope that justice might yet prevail within their lifetimes”, concluded the UN Special Rapporteur.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Mr. Lynk was designated in 2016.

New Year’s Day a reminder of need for action to prevent newborn deaths: UNICEF

The agency believes 2020’s first baby will be born in Fiji and that globally, over half of all births on 1 January will take place in eight countries: India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, the United States of America, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. 

“The beginning of a new year and a new decade is an opportunity to reflect on our hopes and aspirations not only for our future, but the future of those who will come after us,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.  

“As the calendar flips each January, we are reminded of all the possibility and potential of each child embarking on her or his life’s journey—if they are just given that chance.” 

However, UNICEF reported that in 2018, 2.5 million newborns died before reaching one month old, around a third of them on the first day of life. 

Most of these deaths were from preventable causes such as premature birth, complications during delivery and infections like sepsis. 

Additionally, more than 2.5 million babies are born dead each year.  

UNICEF pointed out that there has been tremendous progress in child survival over the past 30 years.  In that time, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been reduced by more than half. 

Unfortunately, progress for newborns has been slower.  Babies dying in their first month of life accounted for 47 per cent of all deaths among under-fives in 2018, up from 40 per cent in 1990. 

“Too many mothers and newborns are not being cared for by a trained and equipped midwife or nurse, and the results are devastating,” said Ms. Fore. 

“We can ensure that millions of babies survive their first day and live into this decade and beyond if every one of them is born into a safe pair of hands.” 

UNICEF believes that providing universal health care can help save more newborns. 

Through its Every Child Alive campaign, the agency is calling for immediate investment in midwives and other health workers who are equipped with the write medicines and equipment to ensure all mothers and babies are cared for safely. 

FROM THE FIELD: Nepal’s magic mushrooms

UNDP/Babu Raja Shrestha

Mushrooms are nutritious, do not require soil in which to grow, and represent a high value crop in the mountainous Asian country. However, the soil-free growing method does require a steaming process in a drum, using firewood.

The practice has led to deforestation and an increase in harmful climate change-inducing carbon dioxide. But now solar water heaters are being used as part of the process.

Read more here about how farmers are reaping the benefits of solar power.

And find out more about the oyster mushroom farming project, which was supported by the Small Grants Programme (SGP), funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by UNDP.

Sudan: UN mission envoy commends signing of Darfur framework agreement

The agreement helps to advance the peace process by outlining key issues and principles to guide ongoing negotiations and serves as a basis for a fair and comprehensive peace agreement.

“This is a very positive development confirming the political will and readiness of the parties to reach a comprehensive peace agreement”, said Jeremiah Mamabolo, who is also the Joint Special Representative for the Mission.

“We congratulate the Transitional Government of Sudan and the Darfur parties on this step and encourage them to continue in the same vein”.

Mr. Mambolo maintained that UNAMID will “continue to support the peace talks in Juba” in line with Security Council Resolution 2495 of 2019, which authorized the current mandate until 30 October 2020, and within its capability in order to assist all negotiating parties “to achieve the ultimate goal of lasting peace and a prosperous future for all the Sudanese people”.

The Mission was established in 2007, following a brutal civil war that broke out in 2003, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Darfuris and the displacement of nearly two million civilians, amidst allegations of ethnic cleansing of non-Arabs.

During the fighting between Sudanese Government troops, militias and other armed rebel groups, widespread atrocities, including murder and rape, were reported.

Deadly decade: UNICEF reports three-fold rise in verified attacks on children since 2010

“Attacks on children continue unabated as warring parties flout one of the most basic rules of war: the protection of children,” said Ms. Fore, noting that the number of countries experiencing conflict is the highest it has been since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. 

With dozens of violent armed conflicts killing and maiming children and forcing them from their homes, the UNICEF chief said that for every act of violence against children that creates headlines and cries of outrage, “there are many more that go unreported.” 

In 2018, the UN verified more than 24,000 grave violations against children, including killing, maiming, sexual violence, abductions, denial of humanitarian access, child recruitment and attacks on schools and hospitals. While monitoring and reporting efforts have been strengthened, this number is more than two-and-a-half times higher than that recorded in 2010. 

Attacks and violence against children have not let up throughout 2019. During the first half of the year, the UN has verified over 10,000 such violations against children – although actual numbers are likely to be much higher – in conflict zones from northern Syria to eastern Democratica Republic of the Congo (DRC), and eastern Ukraine. 

As 2019 draws to a close with “no letup in the attacks and violence against children in sight,” UNICEF is calling on all warring parties to abide by their obligations under international law and to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water infrastructure.  

The UN Children’s Fund is also calling on States with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children.

WFP calls for increased support as eight million in Zimbabwe face hunger

Nearly eight million people, or roughly half the population, are not getting enough to eat, the UN agency said on Monday. 

WFP plans to double the number of Zimbabweans that it assists, up to 4.1 million, but will require over $200 million to meet needs in the first half of 2020 alone. 

“As things stand, we will run out of food by end of February, coinciding with the peak of the hunger season – when needs are at their highest,” said Niels Balzer, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe.  

“Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables.” 

Declining harvests due to ongoing drought  

Zimbabwe, once known as an African breadbasket, has been hit hard by three consecutive years of drought. 

As a result, the maize harvest dropped by 50 per cent this year when compared to 2018. 

To meet increasing needs, WFP was forced to launch an emergency lean season assistance programme in August, months earlier than expected. 

Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, visited Zimbabwe in November where she witnessed how women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis. 

“In a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. As a result, school drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation are on the rise throughout Zimbabwe,” she said in a statement following her 11-day mission. 

Runaway inflation affecting food prices 

The hunger crisis comes as Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic downturn in a decade. 

Runaway inflation is just one of the symptoms, and it has put the price of basic goods beyond the reach of the average citizen. WFP reported that bread is now 20 times more expensive than it was six months ago. 

Increasing hardship is forcing families to skip meals, take children out of school, or sell off livestock, among other desperate measures. 

Gladys Chikukwa sells tomatoes at the second largest market in the country, Sukubva, and is finding it hard to survive. 

“Just because we are selling tomatoes in this market doesn’t mean that we have enough food for ourselves. We are seriously struggling,” she said.  

“Our produce is rotting in this market because of prices. Today, tomatoes will go for 250 Zimbabwe dollars, tomorrow 300 dollars, the next day 400 dollars and people don’t have that money.” 

Funding is essential 

The drought shows no signs of letting up, and forecasts indicate another poor harvest in April, according to WFP. 

The UN agency also faces challenges in scaling-up its operations in Zimbabwe as the shortage of local currency coupled with rapid inflation requires switching from cash-based assistance to food distributions. 

And with other southern African countries also gripped by drought, food stocks must be sourced outside the continent and then shipped to neighbouring South Africa or Mozambique before being transported to landlocked Zimbabwe. 

WFP will require nearly 200,000 metric tons of food to assist the 4.1 million Zimbabweans it plans to target.  Mr. Balzer, the agency’s Deputy Country Director, underlined why financial support from the international community is so desperately needed. 

“While WFP now has the staff, partners, trucking and logistics capacity in place for a major surge in Zimbabwe, it is essential that we receive the funding to be able to fully deliver,” he said. “The lives of so many depend on this.” 

FIRST PERSON: Louisiana alligator whisperer’s ‘dream job’

Tucker Friedman is known in the Louisiana swampland as the alligator whisperer. He set up his tour company Atchafalaya Basin Landing Airboat Tours 20 years ago and introduces visitors from around the world to the unique ecosystem of the swamps in the Mississippi River flood plain.  He entertains his customers by calling to the alligators in Cajun French, a Louisiana vernacular, and then tickles them on the chin. 

“People call me Captain Tucker in these parts. I’m a tour operator and alligator handler and have been running airboat tours in the Atchafalaya Basin for the past 19 years. I spend most of my days out here on the water; it’s a dream job, the environment is so beautiful. I also love working with the animals, so would not give up this job for any other. 

I spend most of my days out here on the water; it’s a dream job, the environment is so beautiful. I also love working with the animals, so would not give up this job for any other. – Tucker Friedman

Back in the 1960s, the alligator population was dying out in Louisiana; as a child I would catch baby alligators and take them home and put them in the bath. I would keep them until my mom told me they were too large and that I had to return them to the wild.  

In the 1970s, they were a protected species and commercial alligator farms were established for leather and meat production. The farmers still come into the swamps to collect eggs to hatch alligators, a proportion of which they return to the wild.  

Now, I’m convinced there are more than two million just in the Atchafalaya basin, which is 170 miles long and 24 miles across at its widest point. 

ILO/John Isaac
Alligators became a protected species in the 1970s in Louisiana after which commercial farms were established for leather and meat production.

The community here is very supportive in terms of protecting the environment and of helping tour companies. We all work together and contribute to the area. Customers come to me, but also stop at restaurants and grocery stores in the area, they buy fuel. It’s an economic circle. 

It’s a constantly growing business; we’ve seen a 15 per cent increase in visitors compared to last year and many of those are repeat customers, or new customers who have been told about the tour by people who have experienced it. 

I am working towards retirement, but this will remain a family business. My daughter who has worked with me for 17 years is in charge of the business end of the operation and my son is taking over leading the tours as well as the maintenance of the airboats.  

ILO/John Isaac
Tucker Friedman set up Atchafalaya Basin Landing Airboat Tours 20 years ago in Louisiana.

I started the business with just one boat and now there are five which we operate all year round apart from three days when we are closed. We are now planning to build a new welcome centre which will float on the water. It’s a seven day a week business.  

I have one other daughter and I would like to be able to build the business up to a level at which she and her family could eventually become involved.” 

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