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From fighting with guns to fighting the pandemic

“Before I did not have a trade but, thanks to this training, I am becoming a valuable asset to my country”, says Nassira Zakaria, from Kaga Bandoro, a northern market town in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Ms. Zakaria, a trainee seamstress in a Community Violence Reduction programme, run by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, says that she is glad to be able to turn away from armed conflict, learn new skills and, above all, be of use to her community. “By making face masks, I can contribute to the fight against COVID-19”.

COVID-19 protection training. Part of a CVR program in Kaga-Bandoro run by MINUSCA, by MINUSCA

Preventing a return to conflict

Just over a year ago, a peace agreement was signed by the CAR Government, and officially armed groups in the country. Since then, progress has been slow, and the situation in CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, remains fragile.

Community Violence Reduction programmes are one of the tools used by the UN to prevent a return to conflict, and support communities. The peace process has been marred by a lack of political will from some of the armed groups, but MINUSCA has still managed to disarm and demobilize over 1,300 ex-combatants.

Projects involve vocational training in trades such as plumbing, electrical work and construction: in CAR, some 3,124 people have learned new skills. Today, the focus of these programmes has shifted to COVID-19 prevention: trainees are sewing masks for the local population, making soap, constructing handwashing facilities, converting buildings into COVID-19 isolation wards, and learning more about the virus.

“I now know a lot more about COVID-19, thanks to this training”, says Nabayo Rosine, a member of a CVR programme in the south-eastern city of Bangassou. “Now I know how to protect myself and teach those around me about the pandemic. Health comes first: someone who is not healthy cannot be at peace”.

For Pierre Ubalijoro, chief of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration initiatives in MINUSCA, the communities involved in CVR programmes are seeing life improving: “I think our presence really has an added value, because of the toll that the war has taken. I believe that our presence has contributed to the alleviation of the people’s suffering.”

“And the projects that we’re focusing on are designed to be sustainable, and make a long-term difference. For example, we’re building wells in areas where there is less water available. A lack of water is often a source of inter-communal conflict, so these projects will make a positive impact on the community, long after the COVID-19 crisis is over”.

Construction of a COVID-19 isolation centre in Bria, CAR. Part of a MINUSCA CVR project

Mali: rebuilding under fire

Similar efforts to improve life for civilians are underway in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), where the security situation is fraught, both for the local population and peacekeepers. The Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali has seen some 1,000 newly integrated soldiers deployed to Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Ménaka, as part of the first reconstituted Malian Defence and Security Forces in the North. Violence continues and, in May, three UN peacekeepers were killed in northern Mali when their convoy hit a roadside bomb.

Because of the security situation, not all parts of the country are accessible to the UN teams, as Tahir Ali – the head of a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) team in Gao, northern Mali – explained.

“In the north, infrastructure is very bad, so it can take one and half hours to travel 15 kilometres, and an armed escort is needed. There is also the risk of improvised explosive devices, so you have to deal with a lot of challenges. We will have to visit the project site two or three times during implementation, and then revisit it after the project has been completed to see what impact it has made. So, accessibility has to be a top priority”.

Meeting the needs of the population

Despite the uncertainty, Community Violence Reduction programmes are helping participants to gain vocational training in agriculture and gardening, electrification and security, construction, and other areas designed to meet the basic needs of the population.

Sam Howard, one of the UN officials running the programmes, told UN News that providing temporary job opportunities to young people, is helping them to stay out of trouble: “these jobs keep them busy, and help to prevent them from being recruited by criminal or armed groups. They also help our efforts to enhance dialogue and reconciliation in various communities”.

UNAMI personnel distrubute COVID-19 prevention kits in Gao, Mali., by MINUSMA

Some projects are, literally, bearing fruit, and having a positive impact: “In the region, we successfully handed over a project, run by women and youth, to create a vegetable garden”, said Mr. Ali, who explained that, to ensure that all parts of the community are involved, each initiative in the programme is managed by a representative of the local women, and a representative of the youth.

“We provided water, training and seeds in December of last year, and they began cultivating the land. When I went back in February, the land was full of vegetables. Thanks to this project, they are now able to meet their own needs, and earn money by selling the surplus”.

Mr. Ali and Mr. Howard agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused problems for their projects, with some postponed until the next fiscal year. Others have been repurposed, as in CAR, to involve community members in improving hygiene measures (for example, the production of face masks). UN personnel are also distributing “anti-COVID kits”, which include soap, hand sanitizer and masks.

As in many other regions where the UN has a presence, the effect is also being felt by the staff of MINUSMA. Regular UN flights in and out of regional bases have been suspended, said Mr. Ali, and many staff are working remotely. Despite these measures, positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the bases.

Peacekeepers exemplify ‘service, sacrifice and selflessness’, in face of pandemic

At a related event, he upheld that while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything the Organization does, it has not inhibited the powerful sense of “service, sacrifice and selflessness”, of the more than 95,000 women and men serving in 13 peacekeeping operations worldwide.

“Every day, our peacekeepers continue to protect vulnerable local populations, support dialogue and implement their mandates while fighting COVID-19”, said the UN chief. “They are doing everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to this crisis while keeping themselves – and the communities they serve – safe”.

Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix noted their “tremendous contributions towards peace”, and paid tribute to “the service of those peacekeepers who paid the ultimate sacrifice”, saying in a tweet that it was “their memory that we continue to carry our work forward”.

Saluting women in blue helmets

Under this year’s theme, “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace”, Mr. Guterres emphasized how women help improve all aspects of UN peacekeeping, saying it is “more effective for everyone when we have more women peacekeepers at all levels, including in decision-making”.
“We will continue to do everything we can…to reach this goal”, he stated. 

During an awards ceremony, the Secretary-General formally bestowed the ‘2019 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award’ on Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian naval officer serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and to Major Suman Gawani from India, who served in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). 

Diversity in peacekeeping 

As UN peacekeeping has evolved to better reflect the populations it serves, women have become increasingly more involved, generating positive impacts in areas ranging from servicing in a police or military role, as well as civilian.  

In all areas, women have proved that they can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts, bolstering women’s rights at the same time.

Women ‘blue helmets’ have greater access to communities, help promote human rights and the protection of civilians, and encourage women to become a meaningful part of peace and political processes.

They help to build trust and confidence with communities and support local women, such as by interacting with those who are prohibited by custom from speaking on equal terms with men.

These peacekeepers also work to mitigate the disproportionately negative effect that conflict has on women by addressing the needs of women in conflict and post-conflict settings – including those of women ex-combatants and child soldiers during the process of demobilizing and reintegration into civilian life –  and serve as mentors and role models, setting examples for affected women and girls to advocate for their own rights and pursue non‐traditional careers.

In short, “more women in peacekeeping means more effective peacekeeping”, the department said.

UN human rights office welcomes moves to curtail spread of hatred and violence online

The statement comes in the wake of a decision by Twitter to flag tweets by United States President Donald Trump earlier this week, which warned against potential electoral rigging this year, through states’ extending voting by mail.

In response, President Trump on Thursday signed an Executive Order aimed at preventing online censorship, upholding free speech as “the bedrock of American democracy”, and protected by the country’s Constitution.

On Thursday evening, he posted another tweet which the social media company flagged for violating  its rules against “glorifying violence”.

In commenting on ongoing protests in the city of Minneapolis following the death this week of George Floyd, an African American man, while in police custody, the President tweeted that “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

‘No simple fixes’ 

Asked by a journalist about the developments involving the President and Twitter, Mr. Colville responded that OHCHR has repeatedly called for action to address how social media platforms have contributed to human rights violations, including through hate speech, incitement to violence and misinformation.

“Efforts by social media companies to better ensure their platforms address these concerns are, of course, welcome”, he said, noting, however, that there were no “simple fixes” to remedy the issue.

“We have seen first-hand that overbroad regulation can stifle freedom of expression and be used to target human rights defenders in some countries. The digital environment has never been more essential to our daily lives…but these issues, obviously, deserve thoughtful consideration and effective responses.”

While Twitter normally removes tweets that violate its rules and policies, President Trump’s tweet relating to the unrest in Minneapolis was flagged, but not removed, because it is in the public interest to keep the message accessible.

“At present, we limit exceptions to one critical type of public-interest content—Tweets from elected and government officials—given the significant public interest in knowing and being able to discuss their actions and statements”, according to the company.

Long line of killings

Mr. Floyd, who was unarmed, died on Monday after being apprehended by police officers responding to a report of forgery. The incident in which an officer placed his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes, was captured on video by bystanders.

The incident has since sparked protests in several cities across the United States.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner issued a statement on Thursday condemning his killing.

“This is the latest in a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public”, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said. 

“I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police — as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public.”

The UN human rights office plans to arrange an “in-depth press conference” on a range of digital issues related to human rights sometime within the coming weeks.

The measure will add to other specific action the UN is taking to address misinformation and hatred online, including the spike in hate speech related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More ‘can and must be done’ to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, referring to the couple at the centre of the tragedy.

Last Saturday, a 21-year-old man from the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste, known as Nawaraj BK, and his friends, traveled some 32 km from Jajarkot district, to Western Rukum district, the home of the man’s girlfriend, who belongs to a higher social caste.

They intended to escort the young woman back to their home district, reportedly at her request, but were attacked and chased into a river. Five men, four of whom were also Dalits, were later found dead, while another is still missing.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life”, lamented Ms. Bachelet. 

Dalits under attack

Nawaraj’s case is not an isolated one.

Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, have suffered for generations of public shaming at the hands of upper-caste Hindus and continue to face widespread atrocities across the country, with any seeming attempts at upward social mobility, violently shut down.

In a similar case, disturbing reports have also emerging about a 12-year-old Dalit girl who was killed in a separate attack in the village of Devdaha, in the Rupandehi district in southern Nepal.

She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly left hanging from a tree on Saturday.

The High Commissioner called for an independent investigation into the attacks, underscoring that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

Searching for justice

The killings have triggered outrage in Nepal, prompting the federal Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a five-member “high-level investigation committee” to look into the incident. 

On Tuesday, police reportedly filed a complaint against 20 alleged perpetrators. 

“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal”, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). 

And while the country has taken “big strides to address this scourge”, she maintained that “so much more can and must be done, to eradicate this blight on society”.

The Nepali Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee has asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.

Although Nepal is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee tasked with monitoring the treaty observed that despite the abolition of “untouchability” in Nepal, Dalits continue to face deep-rooted discrimination, including issues surrounding inter-caste marriages.

Discrimination at every turn

And the risks for this vulnerable caste has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, the parliamentary committee directed the Government to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Dalits in Nepal and other countries experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry, says OHCHR.

Structural barriers and discrimination force Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products.

UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Cartographic Section
Nepal: Map No. 4304 UNITED NATIONS, January 2007 (Colour)

COVID-19: Countries support ‘one-stop shop’ to share science and research

They have signed up to support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a “one-stop shop” for sharing scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property in efforts to beat back the disease.

“Tools to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19 are global public goods that must be accessible by all people”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking at the virtual launch held on Friday.

Equal access to technology critical

C-TAP is a sister initiative to the ACT Accelerator, established last month, to speed up development of vaccines and other tools against the pandemic.

It was first proposed in March by President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica.

“The promise of sure and safe and effective affordable health care solutions, such as treatments and vaccines, must be the guide for our actions, and it will allow us to overcome a crisis which has left behind so much pain in so many communities throughout the world”, he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“Nevertheless, there is no point in achieving these amazing technological developments if we cannot guarantee affordable access to technology.”

Voluntary ‘one-stop shop’

The UN health agency has described C-TAP as “a one-stop shop” that will be voluntary and based on the principle of solidarity.

WHO said it builds on the success of the Medicines Patent Pool in expanding access to treatments for HIV and the debilitating inflammatory liver disease, hepatitis.

There are five key elements to the initiative, starting with public disclosure of gene sequences and data, as well as clinical trial results.

Governments and research funders are also encouraged to include clauses in contracts with pharmaceutical companies that stress equitable distribution and publication of trial data.

Additionally, treatments and vaccines should be licensed to both large and small producers.

C-TAP also promotes open innovation models and technology transfers that increase local manufacturing and supply.

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“Through C-TAP, we are inviting companies or governments that develop an effective therapeutic to contribute the patent to the Medicines Patent Pool, which would then sub-license the patent to generic manufacturers”, said Tedros.

WHO, Costa Rica and all the countries that have sponsored the initiative also issued a ‘Solidarity Call to Action’ urging other stakeholders to join C-TAP.

Nine in 10 smokers start before they are 18 years old, warns WHO

For this year’s World No Tobacco Day – marked on 31 May – the agency is focusing on protecting teenagers, who are a key target sector. More than 40 million young people today aged 13-15, have already started to use tobacco, it estimates.

Smoking suffocates the lungs and other organs, starving them of the oxygen they need to develop and function properly, the WHO warned in a statement.

“Educating youth is vital because nearly nine out of 10 smokers start before age 18. We want to provide young people with the knowledge to speak out against tobacco industry manipulation”, said Ruediger Krech, Director for Health Promotion at WHO.

In a bid to help prevent addiction among 13-17-year-olds, the agency has highlighted commonly used tactics to watch out for.

E-cigarettes are harmful

It points out that smoking e-cigarettes and hookah pipes – marketed as “safer” alternatives to conventional cigarettes – is harmful, addictive, and increases the risk of developing heart and lung disease.

The WHO also notes that most of the 15,000 flavours on offer – such as bubble-gum and candy – are there to attract youngsters who at least double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.

Other marketing strategies during the COVID-19 have included the offer of free branded masks and a home delivery service during quarantine.

The tobacco industry has also lobbied for its products to be listed as “essential”, the health agency noted.

And in its call to all sectors, including film studios, to keep children and young people out of the industry’s reach, the WHO points out that the streamed hit youth series, Stranger Things, has almost twice the number of tobacco product placements (182) than cult tv show, The Walking Dead.

WHO calls on all young people to join the fight to become a tobacco-free generation.

#TobaccoExposed quiz

To reach more young people and amplify its message, WHO has also launched the #TobaccoExposed challenge on popular youth online platform TikTok, and welcomed social media partnerships with other platforms including Pinterest and YouTube.

WHO has also launched a classroom activities kit that puts the students in the shoes of the tobacco industry to make them aware of how the industry tries to manipulate them into using their products.

For more information on where to find the school kit, go to who.int and search for World No Tobacco Day.

Security Council: Paralysis and ‘political infighting’ must end, to boost COVID-19 fight: EU foreign affairs chief

Josep Borrell said the novel coronavirus crisis – like climate change – shows the need for collective action and that the rules-based international order, with the UN at its core, must be upheld and strengthened.

“At a time of global crisis, we need a Security Council able to take the necessary decisions and not one that is paralyzed by vetoes and political infighting”, said Mr. Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Revitalized system needed

He added: “The world needs a revitalized multilateral system, but this will only happen if we all invest in it.  This, the EU is doing.  We count on those who sit on the Security Council to do their part.”

In a wide-ranging briefing at the start of a Council debate on UN-EU cooperation, Mr. Borrell said that the 27-nation bloc is doing “whatever it takes” to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

But he emphasized that the battle at home can only succeed if the virus is defeated in every corner of the world.

He expressed agreement with Secretary-General António Guterres, that socio-economic recovery packages must aim to “build back better” by investing in sustainable and resilient societies, emphasizing that human rights must also be fully respected.

“The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the fragilities of a hyper-globalized and interdependent world”, he said.

“We must learn the wider lessons and take seriously how human health and planetary health are linked and how existing inequalities are making us more vulnerable.”

In that regard, he supported efforts by Germany, which assumes the Council presidency in July, to put the climate and security nexus on the Council’s agenda.

‘Beating heart’ of multilateralism

On UN-EU cooperation, he said that the bloc remains a staunch supporter of a strong United Nations “as the beating heart of the multilateral system” and that its member nations – who are collectively the biggest contributor to the UN budget – fully support the Secretary-General’s blueprint for reforming the Organization.

Describing Africa as Europe’s “sister continent,” he warned that the situation in the vast Sahel region, is deteriorating “at an alarming pace” and that the UN, the EU, the African Union and the Group of Five Sahel countries, must do more and do better.

Masked warfare

Libya represents a major crisis at Europe’s doorstep, he added, describing as surreal images of combatants shooting at each other while wearing masks to protect themselves from the deadly coronavirus.

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“There is no alternative to an inclusive political solution (in Libya), but to find a political solution, we need to stop the flow of weapons into Libya and create space for real dialogue,” he said.

In that regard, he said that the EU’s newly launched Operation Irini in the Mediterranean – tasked with implementing the UN arms embargo – is already sharing valuable information with the UN Panel of Experts on Libya while also deterring oil smuggling.

Turning to the Middle East, Mr. Borrell urged the Council to renew authorization of cross-border humanitarian operations into north-west Syria and not to “play political games” with Syrian lives.

Syria on the agenda in Brussels

The fourth Brussels Conference on Syria on 29 and 30 June, will be an opportunity to demonstrate continued support to the Syrian people while also consolidating international support for a political solution to the crisis, he added.

He went on to underscore the EU’s support for Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and unfulfilled Minsk commitments.

Hong Kong concerns

Mr. Borrell also expressed “deep concern” with China’s approval of national security legislation for Hong Kong, saying it does not conform with international commitments nor with the Special Administrative Region’s Basic Law.

COVID-19: Act now or risk ‘unimaginable devastation’ globally, warns UN chief

 Painting a picture of 60 million pushed into extreme poverty; famine of “historic proportions”; some 1.6 billion people left without livelihoods; and a loss of $8.5 trillion in global output – the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s – he called for a response with “unity and solidarity”.

“We are asking for immediate, collective action in six critically important areas”, Mr. Guterres said at the online event to leverage more funds for sustainable development.

Beginning with the global liquidity crisis, he said that this was where the health and economic crises meet; “a dangerous nexus that could prolong and deepen both”, calling for extending Special Drawing Rights to supplement public spending reserves.

Noting that the economic fallout from the pandemic threatens a wave of defaults in developing countries, stymieing the effort to reach the 2030 SDGs, the UN chief’s second call was for “durable solutions on debt, to create space for investments in recovery and the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Next, he urged private creditors holding a growing share of developing countries’ sovereign debt to find incentives to encourage more creditors to provide debt relief.

Mr. Guterres then drew attention to external funding, saying that aligning incentives in global financial systems with the SDGs would boost confidence “to relaunch investment in sustainable development”.

Turning to illicit financial flow, such as tax evasion and money-laundering, which deprive developing countries of hundreds of billions of dollars annually, he said that “we must plug the leaks” by revising national systems and international frameworks.

The UN chief’s final point was the overarching need to “recover better” from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay the development course

COVID-19 has exposed and is exacerbating deep inequalities and injustices that need to be tackled, including for women, who, with typically fewer savings and lower incomes, experience economic impacts worse than men.

“All our efforts must go towards building sustainable and resilient pathways that enable us not only to beat COVID-19, but to tackle the climate crisis, reduce inequality and eradicate poverty and hunger”, underscored the UN chief.

He upheld that we must face these challenging and the corresponding dangers, with “all urgency, seriousness and responsibility”.

“Getting through COVID-19 and recovering better will cost money. But the alternative will cost far more”, concluded the Secretary-General. “This is a global crisis, and it’s up to all of us to solve it”.

New financial architecture

Even before COVID-19, financial constraints posed challenges for developing countries to meet the SDGs. Today, economic and financial shocks triggered by the coronavirus have left many struggling to respond to the pandemic and its social and economic consequences.

President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, maintained that to achieve the SDGs by 2030, “we have to rethink our economic systems”, requiring “leadership, political will and collaborative efforts among a wide variety of actors to safeguard the future for generations to come”.

He highlighted the need to mobilize public, private and external financial resources, for both rapid recovery and for longer-term progress in achieving the 2030 development agenda.

Noting that many developing countries are financially ill-equipped to halt the spread of COVID-19 as well as its social and economic consequences, the Assembly president maintained that “concrete proposals and timely action” were needed to prevent them from “sliding into disorderly defaults”.

“Now is the time to revise the international financial architecture”, he said, arguing that plans must “not only address current liquidity shortages, but also provide durable solutions that create vital fiscal space for investments in sustainable development for countries in need”.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande stressed that COVID -19 and its related economic and social fall-out cannot be addressed in a vacuum, but instead integrated into broader discussions on financing for sustainable development.“The United Nations provides us with a forum to convene all actors and specialised policy communities to address these challenges”, he reminded the meeting.

Our interconnected world

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, called the pandemic “a stark reminder” of how interconnected our world has become, spelling out that “to keep our citizens safe and healthy, we must defeat COVID-19 wherever it is found”.

This requires a global, coordinated plan that will also facilitate global and domestic economies to bounce back.

Jobs and businesses in every country depend on “the health and stability of economies elsewhere” – all of which is hinged on the success of the global economy in weathering this storm, said the co-convener of the high-level summit.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for our modern world, but it’s also a unique opportunity to build a better future, to create a safe and prosperous world”, he added.

‘Wake-up call’

Sharing the gavel, Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, called the pandemic “a wake-up call” for the international community to reinvigorate a comprehensive system of global economic governance “that can cope with global disruptions while promoting inclusive development”.

He said a big challenge for the international financial system, was to channel public and private credit flows, into productive, inclusive developmental capital flows:

“The work streams on global liquidity and financial stability as well as debt vulnerability, should inform our response to the financial dimensions of this crisis”, endorsed the Jamaican Prime Minister.

Global response actions

•    Safeguard development gains by expanding liquidity in the global economy and maintaining financial stability.  
•    Save lives and livelihoods of people worldwide by addressing debt vulnerabilities for developing countries.  
•    Create a space for private sector creditors to engage in timely solutions.
•    Enhance external finance for inclusive growth and job creation.
•    Prevent illicit financial flows by expanding fiscal space and fostering domestic resource mobilization.
•    Align recovery policies with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

    WFP Video Screenshot
    Special Rapporteur Maya Kaqchikel, from Guatemala, urged Governments worldwide to ensure that indigenous peoples have access to information about COVID-19 in their languages.


    Latin America and Caribbean: Millions more could miss meals due to COVID-19 pandemic

    The UN agency estimated that 10 million additional people could join the 3.4 million across the region who were already unable to meet their basic food needs.

    “It is vital and urgent that we provide food assistance to the growing number of vulnerable people in the region, as well as those who depend on informal work”, said Miguel Barreto, WFP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

    “We still have time to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a hunger pandemic.”

    The WFP projections cover Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and small island developing states in the Caribbean.

    Solidarity with vulnerable people

    COVID-19 is expected to result in a -5.3 per cent economic contraction for the region, according to the UN’s Economic Commission there, ECLAC.

    This is among factors that risk aggravating the already precarious situation of vulnerable people, along with the inability to work due to movement

    restrictions, job losses, and falling income from remittances – cash sent home by workers abroad.

    In line with World Hunger Day, observed on Thursday, WFP has launched the #MissingThisMeal campaign to show solidarity with affected communities.

    The agency also urged countries to provide additional support to people who benefit from national social protection programmes, and to expand coverage to include groups such as migrants, pointing out that some authorities might need assistance from international financial institutions and the international community.

    Millions more children at risk of poverty

    Meanwhile, the pandemic could also push nearly 90 million more children into household poverty, data from the Save the Children NGO, and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has revealed.

    The partners warn that without urgent action, the number of children living below the poverty line in low- and middle-income countries could reach 672 million by the end of the year.

    Nearly two-thirds of these youngsters can be found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

    The most significant increase, 44 per cent, could be seen in countries across Europe and Central Asia, while Latin America and the Caribbean could see numbers rise by 22 per cent.

    Progress at risk of rollback

    “The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services”, said UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore.

    “Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades.”

    Expand social protection

    Save the Children and UNICEF also are calling for expansion of social protection systems and programmes, such as cash transfers, school meals and child benefits, as well as universal healthcare.

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    Governments are also advised to invest in family-friendly policies, for example paid leave and child care.

    Some countries have already taken action in the face of the pandemic, according to the partners.

    They include Indonesia, where a programme that provides monthly cash assistance to families has been expanded to reach 20 million, while Argentina has upped its Universal Child Allowance programme by $3,100 pesos, or just under $50. South Africa has also increased top-ups for its child support grant and other social protection schemes.

    Yemen: Humanitarians seeking $2.41 billion to keep aid flowing amid COVID-19 pandemic

    The heads of 17 organizations representing the international humanitarian community issued a statement on Thursday, saying “we are running out of time” to keep operations in the war-torn country functioning through the end of the year.

    Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in early April. Since then, there have been 260 cases and 54 deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

    However, the partners said further testing and analysis are needed to gain a true picture of the epidemic’s toll.

    “Official figures indicate that COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 10 of the country’s 22 governorates, demonstrating widespread transmission. But testing and reporting remain limited and it is likely that most areas of the country are already impacted, if not all”, they said.

    Pledging conference ahead

    The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been driven by more than five years of fighting between government troops, supported by international allies, and Ansar Allah rebels, also known as Houthis.

    The UN continues to work on bringing the warring sides to reach a lasting peace.

    The aid partners hope a virtual pledging conference next Tuesday will shore up financial support for their operations, which reach 10 million people each month.

    Through donor funding in recent years, they have prevented widespread famine and rolled back the largest cholera outbreak in history, while also assisting families uprooted by the fighting.

    “Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work”, they said.

    “Of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds. This means many more people will die.”

    Health system strained

    Yemen’s embattled health system has been buckling under the additional strain of COVID-19.

    Only half of all facilities are functioning, and many lack masks, gloves and other equipment, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the disease.

    Meanwhile, sanitation and clean water are in short supply, and scores of health workers and frontline aid workers are operating without protective gear, most of whom are not receiving salaries.

    Women and children worst affected

    The conflict has been particularly devastating for Yemen’s women and children.

    More than 12 million children and six million women of childbearing age need some kind of humanitarian assistance, the humanitarians reported, while more than one million pregnant women are malnourished. 

    The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) outlined the impact the fighting has had on education.

    “Before COVID, two million children were out of school. Now because of the pandemic, schools have been closed around the country, leaving an additional five million children out of school.  And we know that in countries blighted by poverty and conflict, the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” said Henrietta Fore, the agency’s Executive Director, in a separate statement.

    The ongoing fighting means Yemenis are forced to flee their homes, with nearly 100,000 uprooted this year alone.

    Overall, the conflict has displaced some 3.6 million people. They are living in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions which make it impossible to practice physical distancing and other measures to contain COVID-19. Again, most of those affected are women and children.

    Running out of time

    Amidst the mounting challenges, the UN and its humanitarian partners continue to provide protection and support that prioritizes the most vulnerable citizens in Yemen.

    Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

    Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

    Their COVID-19 strategy focuses on scaling up early detection and testing, isolation and treatment of cases, and contact tracing: all proven public health measures to combat the disease.

    They are also mobilizing life-saving supplies and equipment while still delivering the world’s largest relief operation.

    “Humanitarians have been remarkably successful in mitigating some of the worst consequences of the Yemen crisis for civilians. But only a political solution can end the crisis altogether. We need a cessation of hostilities across the country to address the ever-mounting humanitarian needs”, they said.

    “If the political process has any chance of success, the humanitarian situation must be kept stable. We have the skills, staff and capacity to do this. What we don’t have is the money. We are running out of time. We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly.”

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