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FROM THE FIELD: Planning a route to green cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered extensive flooding in 2014., by UNDP/Sulejman Omerbasic

With one of the world’s highest levels of air pollution, the central Bosnian city of Zenica, an industrial hub, is now attempting to turn around its fortunes, with the backing of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

A host of projects are underway in Zenica, including river-bed cleaning (to avoid flooding), ending the use of coal for municipal heating and, as part of UNDP’s Go Green Initiative, tree-planting. 

UNDP-supported initiatives are also designed to have a beneficial effect on surrounding rural areas, which have suffered from severe flooding in recent years. 

On World Cities Day marked annually on 31 October read more here about urban transformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Guterres urges continued dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Secretary-General António Guterres condemns the violence and reiterated that “both sides have the obligation, under international humanitarian law, to take utmost care to spare and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military operations”, according to a statement issued by Stéphane Dujarric.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since they fought a war in the 1990s as the Soviet Union was dissolving.

The latest conflict between the two countries, which began on 27 September, marked the worst escalation of fighting since the war’s end and heightened fears of instability in the South Caucasus, a region that provides crucial transit routes for gas and oil to world markets.

Still no humanitarian ceasefire

In an effort to mediate the decades-long conflict, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Geneva on 30 October for talks brokered by Russia, the United States and France – co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

News media reported that the talks concluded close to midnight with both sides agreeing not to deliberately target civilians or non-military objects, however, shortly after the pledge was announced, the truce was broken. 

“The Secretary-General fully supports the call of the co-chairs OSCE Minsk Group for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, as agreed in Moscow on 10 October, and confirmed subsequently in Paris on 17 October and in Washington D.C., on 25 October”, the statement continued, noting that the call was again echoed by the co-chairs in Geneva.

The UN chief called on the sides to “implement, in good faith and on an urgent basis, the concrete steps they agreed to take through the facilitation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, as well as their previous commitments”.  

He also urged the warring parties to continue engaging in “substantive dialogue” and, with the co-chairs, to intensify their efforts to “reach a peaceful and sustainable settlement of the conflict”.

UN ‘stands ready to assist’ in Aegean Sea earthquake tragedy – Guterres

At least 28 people in Turkey and Greece have perished after a fierce quake struck off the shore of a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea – also leaving more than 800 injured, according to news media. 

The tremor triggered tidal waves that hit coastal areas and islands in both countries.

In a message through his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN chief extended his condolences to “the bereaved families and to the Governments and people of Greece and Turkey” and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

Rescue efforts

Rescue efforts continued throughout the night, searching for survivors under mounds of crushed concrete from damaged buildings in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir.

Turkey’s Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum told journalists that some 100 survivors had been pulled out alive from the rubble so far, as another 180 remained trapped.

State-run media cited Turkey’s national disaster agency Afad in reporting that rescue workers are being hampered by nearly 400 aftershocks, 33 of which are greater than 4.0 magnitude.

The Secretary-General commended the local response efforts underway and said, “the United Nations stands ready to assist if required”.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder

Meanwhile, Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, reminded that “natural disasters don’t respect borders”.

“That’s why we have to remember each other’s humanity and shared history and work together to combat such threats”, he said.

And the UN refugee agency, UNHCR expressed its solidarity with the people of Greece and Turkey, saying: “Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected”.

Sustainable urbanization critical to COVID-19 recovery, better quality of life

The World Cities Report 2020, released on Saturday, showcases the value of sustainable urbanization and how it can contribute to global efforts to build back better after the crisis. 

“The World Cities Report 2020 convincingly affirms that well-planned, managed, and financed cities and towns create economic, social, environmental and other unquantifiable value that can vastly improve the quality of life of all”, said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the UN-Habitat Executive Director. 

“Urbanization can be leveraged for the fight against poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change and other pressing global challenges”, 

Cities drive transformative change 

Globally, around 55 per cent of all people live in urban areas: a figure that is expected to rise to nearly 70 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations. 

Cities have been at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, UN-Habitat said, with 95 per cent of cases found in urban areas. 

The report emphasizes the role of the New Urban Agenda, the UN’s 20-year plan for sustainable urbanization, as a road map to achieving sustainable development and combating climate change. 

It analyzes the value of urbanization from an economic, social and environmental perspective, as well as what the authors called “the unquantifiable value” that gives cities their unique character. 

When combined, they can drive transformative change, the report argues. 

The value of urbanization 

UN-Habitat explained that cities generate economic value when they function efficiently, for example by providing transport options that reduce traffic congestion and shorten travel times, thus allowing for more productive employment. 

Environmental value is generated in the case of compact cities that have walkable urban centres, thus leading to a reduction in their overall carbon footprint, the agency added. 

Meanwhile, urban policies can reduce social inequalities.  Providing housing for low-income residents, or creating safe spaces for marginalized groups such as migrants and LGBTQ+ individuals (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer), are just two examples. 

Furthermore, when cities are well-planned and managed, they also create intangible value by instilling civic pride and serving as centres of cultural traditions, the report added. 

Empowering the cities of the future 

The UN-Habitat report was launched on World Cities Day, commemorated annually on 31 October. 

In his message marking the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for putting communities at the heart of the cities of the future. 

“When urban communities are engaged in policy and decision making, and empowered with financial resources, the results are more inclusive and durable”, he said. 

UN Habitat underscored that the value of sustainable urbanization can only be unlocked provided that various planning, finance and governance conditions are in place. 

The report calls on Governments to create an environment that empowers local authorities to raise revenue, regulate land use, plan for urban growth, limit urban sprawl and relieve overcrowded housing.

Similarly, local governments also should collect revenue to improve municipal services and public spaces. 

Long-term symptoms of COVID-19 ‘really concerning’, says WHO chief

“Although we’re still learning about the virus, what’s clear is that this is not just a virus that kills people.  To a significant number of people, this virus poses a range of serious long-term effects,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva on Friday during the UN agency’s latest virtual press conference. 

The situation also underscores how herd immunity is “morally unconscionable and unfeasible”, he added. 

Vast spectrum of fluctuating symptoms 

The WHO Director-General described the vast spectrum of COVID-19 symptoms that fluctuate over time as “really concerning.” 

They range from fatigue, a cough and shortness of breath, to inflammation and injury of major organs – including the lungs and heart, and also neurological and psychologic effects. 

Symptoms often overlap and can affect any system in the body. 

“It is imperative that Governments recognize the long-term effects of COVID-19 and also ensure access to health services to all of these patients,” he said. 

“This includes primary health care and when needed specialty care and rehabilitation.”  

Seven months ‘evaporated’ 

Three patients – an epidemiologist, a nurse and a 26-year-old software engineer – shared their experiences with COVID-19 and its long-term consequences. 

Professor Paul Garner, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England, was “fit and well” when he fell ill with the disease in March.  

For four months, he battled cyclical bouts of fatigue, headaches, mood swings and other symptoms, followed by three months of complete exhaustion. 

“When I overdid things, the illness would echo back, it would come back. And it was completely unpredictable,” he said, speaking via videolink. 

Professor Garner reported that his health has only begun to improve within the past two weeks. 

“I never thought I would have seven months of my life wiped out by this virus,” he said. “It has just gone, evaporated.”

Against herd immunity 

Stories like this underline how people facing the long-term effects of COVID-19 must be given the time and care they need to recover fully, according to the WHO chief. 

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“It also reinforces to me just how morally unconscionable and unfeasible the so-called ‘natural herd immunity’ strategy is,” he said, adding, “not only would it lead to millions more unnecessary deaths, it would also lead to a significant number of people facing a long road to full recovery.”

He explained that herd immunity is only possible when a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine has been distributed globally, and equitably. 

“And until we have a vaccine, Governments and people must do all that they can to suppress transmission, which is the best way to prevent these post-COVID long-term consequences,” he stated. 

Côte d'Ivoire: Conduct election in ‘a peaceful manner’ – UN chief

The people of Côte d’Ivoire head to the polls tomorrow for an election that is laden with tension over 78-year-old incumbent President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term after having gone on record as saying that he would step down after two. 

As protesters demonstrate up and down the country, the two main opposition parties are calling for a boycott on the grounds that the incumbent’s bid to run is unconstitutional, according to news reports.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the UN chief has urged all political and opinion leaders and their supporters to “refrain from inciting violence, spreading misinformation and using hate speech”. 

Uphold human rights throughout the electoral process — UN chief

Moreover, he strongly encouraged political leaders and their parties to “resolve any disputes that may arise through dialogue”. 

Mr. Guterres reiterated the UN’s commitment to support the country’s efforts in consolidating democratic gains and national cohesion and advocated that the authorities, including the security forces, “provide a safe and secure environment and to protect and uphold human rights throughout the electoral process”. 

The scuttlebutt

Côte d’Ivoire is the largest economy of French-speaking Africa and home to the African Development Bank.
In addition to Mr. Ouattara, on the ballot is Aimé Henri Konan Bédié, who was ousted in the country’s first coup in 1999 but remains the President of the nation’s Democratic Party-African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA).

Also running are former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, President of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), and independent candidate Kouadio Konan Bertin, a former member of parliament who was ousted from the PDCI when he threw his hat in the ring. 

News sources recalled that in August, 15 people were killed in widespread protests.

‘High time for accountability’, UN expert says as Israel approves highest rate of illegal settlements 

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, pointed out that while “Israeli settlements continue to devour the land that is meant for the independent Palestinian State, the international community observes, it sometimes objects, but it does not act”.

Against the backdrop that earlier this month, a defense ministry planning committee approved plans for 4,948 more homes, he spelled out: “It is high time for accountability”. 

Expansion deteriorates human rights

The latest announcement means that the Israeli government has approved more than 12,150 settlements this year, said the independent UN expert.  

According to the advocacy group Peace Now, this would be the highest number of annual approvals by Israel since the group began recording figures in 2012.

“While Israel may have shelved its plans for the de jure annexation of the settlements in August, it is continuing with its de facto annexation of the Palestinian territory through this unrelenting settlement growth”, discerned Mr. Lynk, who was appointed as a Special Rapporteur by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016.  

“Both are clear violations of the Charter of the United Nations and the 1998 Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court” and he warned that the acceleration of settlement growth “worsens an already precarious human rights situation on the ground”. 

Since 1979, the Security Council has said on at least six occasions that the Israeli settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law” and have “no legal validity”, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Despite Resolution 2334 of 2016, whereby the 15-member organ demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities”, since 2017 the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has reported to the Council 14 times that no compliance steps had been taken.

Abiding agreements

The UN expert also expressed deep concern that three days ago the United States amended its existing agreements with Israel to allow joint funding for projects in illegal Israeli settlements. Previously, this was only permitted to projects within Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders. 

Mr. Lynk stressed that changes to bilateral agreements between the US and Israel “fly in the face of Resolution 2334, which calls upon all Member States to recognize the illegality of the settlements, and to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.  

Moreover, he underscored the importance of  the international rule of law, saying “if we are to avoid the rule of the jungle, it must be obeyed”. 

“If the rule of law matters, then so must accountability”, Mr. Lynk said pointedly. “If the Security Council is to speak with authority, then the disobedience of Council directions must have consequences”.

The disobedience of Council directions must have consequences — UN independent expert

Accountability on the agenda

Meanwhile, new settlement approvals are accelerating as Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and properties is increasing, according to the UN expert.

The demolitions not only violate international humanitarian law but also “contribute to the coercive atmosphere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, Mr. Lynk explained, upholding that “accountability must be on the agenda”.

The Special Rapporteur advocated for the prohibition of settlement products in the international marketplace and maintained that “agreements, existing and proposed, with Israel, should be reviewed” and the UN Database and current investigations at the International Criminal Court “be supported”.

Special Rapporteurs 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.

Standing up for vulnerable South Sudanese: UN woman police officer of the year

Ms. Malambo, who is Zambian, and spent 24 years with her country’s police service, has been posted with UNMISS since 2019, where her role involves participating in community consultations, and mobilization on crime prevention/reduction. 

A swift impact

In previous postings with the UN, Chief Inspector Malambo was deployed with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) from 2008 to 2009, where she assisted the Liberia National Police in preventing and investigating sexual and gender-based and domestic violence. 

Shortly after she arrived in South Sudan, Ms. Malambo swiftly made an impact, seeking out partnerships with UN bodies that resulted in innovative collaboration with men at the grassroots level, aimed at improving the rights of women and girls. 

Working with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), she was involved in establishing the Stand Up for Rights of Women and Girls initiative that has helped to reduce and prevent sexual and gender-based crime in South Sudan.

As part of this project, Ms. Malambo created a network of groups led by male local police officers to engage other men in the community to disseminate information and promote the protection and advancement of the rights of women and girls. She has also supported military counterparts, in their efforts to establish Women’s Networks.

“Knowing that I am making a difference by working to empower women and promote their active inclusion and participation in society motivates me”, said Chief Inspector Malambo. “Women’s empowerment is the key to increasing the visibility of their interests, concerns, needs and contributions”.

‘The best of UN policing’

The Award will be presented by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peace Operations, at a virtual ceremony to be held on 3 November. 

In a statement released on Friday, Mr. Lacroix said that Ms. Malambo “exemplifies the best of United Nations policing”, through her ideas and actions.

“Greater women’s participation in peacekeeping sends a strong message to our host populations”, he added. “This message is amplified when women police officers like Chief Inspector Malambo take the lead to empower and protect others, even more so in a pandemic context”.

UN Woman Police Officer of the Year award

  • The UN Woman Police Officer of the Year award was established in 2011 to recognize the exceptional contributions that women police officers make to UN peace operations and to promote the empowerment of women. 
  • The award carries special significance this year, as 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; and 60 years since the first deployment of UN Police, to the UN Operation in the Congo.
  • About 11,000 UN Police, 1,300 of whom are women, are deployed in 16 United Nations peace operations today to enhance international peace and security by supporting host countries in conflict, post-conflict and other crisis situations.

Women the ‘driving force’ for peacebuilding in Colombia: Deputy UN chief

At the end of a two-day virtual visit to the Latin American country, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed also highlighted the need to ensure a focus on rural areas hit hard by both violence and COVID-19.  

“It is essential to create renewed development opportunities, improve security and emphasize the presence of the State in a country that suffered from conflict and is now suffering from the effects of the pandemic,” Ms. Mohammed said at a virtual press conference at the end of the visit. 

“This is the time to think about measures to rebuild better, to leave no one behind and to achieve sustainable peace.” 

In this enormous task, the role of women is vital, she added, noting that four years after the signing of the peace agreement, women continue to be the driving force behind its implementation. 

Women peacebuilders 

The deputy UN chief also paid a virtual visit to Vista Hermosa (literal translation: beautiful view), a region in south-east Colombia that was badly affected during the conflict.  

“We had the opportunity to visit Vista Hermosa to meet with young women peacebuilders, deeply affected by armed conflict and committed to find peace and dignity for their communities,” said Ms. Mohammed.   

“The UN stands with you in solidarity toward implementation – which we recognize is not without challenges – to support the growing momentum for economic and social reintegration for all.”  

Ms. Mohammed also met with women human rights defenders and women leaders, and discussed the progress and challenges in implementing the peace agreement. She was inspired by the courage and resilience of by women’s organizations and women leaders who continue to be a driving force for peacebuilding amid insecurities. 

Gender equality in COVID-19 recovery 

The Deputy Secretary-General held a meeting, via videoconference, with President Iván Duque where they discussed the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country, protecting the most vulnerable, and promoting inclusive, green and sustainable recovery. 

Ms. Mohammed commended Colombia’s commitment to promoting gender equality, and its efforts to ensure women are at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery and in implementing the peace agreement.  

The virtual visit also showcased the work of the United Nations in Colombia, as well as its collaboration with national and local authorities and civil society organizations – including in the response to the pandemic, development challenges and peace consolidation. 

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed takes part in a virtual visit to Colombia. Pictured here, she meets officials, via videoconference, from her office at UN Headquarters in New York.

First virtual visit since COVID-19 outbreak 

The virtual trip on 28 and 29 October was the first such visit since the outbreak of the pandemic.  

The visit also highlighted the importance of the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which marked its twentieth anniversary this year. 

The Deputy Secretary-General was accompanied by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN-Women; Rosemary DiCarlo Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs; and Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  

The last time the Ms. Mohammed visited Colombia in person was in 2015 for the launch of the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Kenya relief bid begins to avert ‘hunger crisis’ among poor workers hit by COVID 

“COVID-19 has caused untold suffering especially to families living in the poor urban areas who normally rely on informal day-to-day employment; many families in the coastal region are struggling just to feed themselves”, said Lauren Landis, WFP’s Kenya Country Director. 

With the help of local and national authorities in Kenya, the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun rolling out aid for more than 400,000 urban poor in COVID-19 hotspots. 

In addition to the 300,000 people in Nairobi receiving aid for the next four months, around 100,000 more in Mombasa will receive three months’ assistance in the coastal city.

“WFP’s support complements other social protection programmes run by the national and county governments”, Ms. Landis explained. “Together, we can avert a hunger and nutrition crisis among poor communities living in urban areas”. 

Monthly support 

Throughout Kenya, some 1.7 million people living in informal settlements have been affected by the COVID crisis amidst surging infection numbers, according to WFP. 

The unemployment rate has doubled to 10.4 per cent, from 5.2 per cent in March when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to the national statistics office. 
Once a month, each selected family in need will receive around $40 in local currency, enough to cover half of the monthly food and nutrition needs for a household of four.

Coastal crash 

Travel restrictions and partial lockdowns have devastated Mombasa’s coastal economy, which relies heavily on tourism. 

Mombasa County, which is Kenya’s second largest urban area, accounts for 12 per cent of the number of coronavirus infections in Kenya, the second highest number after the capital, Nairobi, WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri said. 

“As a result of rising infections, most of the tourism sector was forced to cut its workforce and many businesses either closed entirely or are struggling to stay afloat”, he told journalists via an online briefing in Geneva.  

The UN agency is also partnering with the national and local government to support malnutrition treatment for some 6,000 children and women in Mombasa. This involves providing a nutritious peanut-based paste for children and fortified flour for malnourished mothers.   

Tough neighbourhood 

Outside Kenya, which is Africa’s third-largest economy, WFP warned that countries with large numbers of urban poor living in crowded slums were also vulnerable. 

These included Nigeria, Africa’s wealthiest nation, where the agency only recently announced measures to help struggling families to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic in the three urban pandemic hotspots of Abuja, Kano and Lagos.  

In Somalia, where WFP already supports 125,000 in urban areas, the agency plans to assist up to 450,000 internally displaced people who are likely to be impacted by COVID-19. 

WFP has also increased its overall relief plan in response to the triple shock of COVID-19, the desert locust invasion and flooding. 

In South Sudan, on top of regular assistance provided to five million people a month, WFP intends to assist an additional 1.6 million individuals in mainly urban settings who face rising food needs linked to COVID-19. 

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