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FROM THE FIELD: Adapting to survive and thrive in Ghana

Women across Ghana are learning how to process their crops into food stuffs that can be sold in markets., by UNDP/PraiseNutakor

Programmes supported by the UN are helping, especially, women to acquire new skills, and adapt to an increasingly uncertain world.

They’ve been learning how to process soy beans, shea and rice, turning them into more profitable products, such as soy milk, soy flour, and shea butter.

Selling these processed goods at the local market, can help them to live through lean times, for example when drought and other climate change-related events hit.

Read more here  about how across northern Ghana, thousands of women are benefiting from similar projects, financed by The Adaptation Fund, which was set up to support programmes in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Myanmar: UN rights office condemns escalating violence in deadliest day of protests so far

More than 30 demonstrators have been wounded as police and military forces used live rounds together with less-than-lethal force against crowds nationwide protesting the month-long takeover, according to OHCHR, citing “credible information”.

The military has claimed, without evidence, that the ruling party of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – fraudulently won parliamentary elections. Arrested on 1 February, she and other leaders have remained in detention and according to news reports she is due in court on Monday.

On Friday, the UN Ambassador to Myanmar denounced the coup in a General Assembly meeting in New York, calling on the international community to take the “strongest possible measures” against the military junta to restore civilian rule. The top diplomat was reportedly fired from his post on Saturday.

Right to peaceful protest

“The people of Myanmar have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy”, said OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, in a statement issued on Sunday.

“These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violent and bloody repression.”

The people of Myanmar have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy. These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violent and bloody repression.

According to OHCHR, police and military confronted peaceful demonstrators using disproportionate force with deaths reported in the largest city Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myiek, Bago and Pokokku. “Tear gas was also reportedly used in various locations as well as flash-bang and stun grenades”, said Ms. Shamdasani.

‘Never justifiable’

“Use of lethal force against non-violent demonstrators is never justifiable under international human rights norms”, she said. “Since the beginning of the coup d’état…the police and security forces have targeted an ever-increasing number of opposition voices and demonstrators by arresting political officials, activists, civil society members, journalists and medical professionals.

“Today alone, police have detained at least 85 medical professionals and students, as well as seven journalists, who were present at the demonstrations. Over 1,000 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the last month – some of whom remain unaccounted for – mostly without any form of due process, simply for exercising their human rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.”

The Spokesperson reiterated OHCHR’s call for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained by the military authorities, “including members of the democratically elected government.

“The international community must stand in solidarity with the protestors and all those seeking a return to democracy in Myanmar”, Ms. Shamdasani concluded.

First Person: Yemen ‘cannot even afford to worry about the coronavirus’

UNHCR’s Jean-Nicolas Beuze meets a Syrian woman at a refugee camp in Zarqa Governorate, Jordan in 2017., by © UNHCR/David Azia

Famine, conflict and widespread poverty mean that Yemen is one of the toughest countries in the world in which to live, both for internally displaced people and refugees who have arrived from countries like Somalia.

Ahead of a major international conference to raise funds for humanitarian aid initiatives in Yemen, UNHCR’s Jean-Nicolas Beuze has been speaking to the head of communications for the UN, Melissa Fleming, as part of the podcast series Awake at Night.

“The situation in Yemen is really dire. I’ve worked in some pretty tough places including Syria, Sudan, Libya and Afghanistan, but this is one of the worst and most desperate places I’ve experienced.

Probably two-thirds of the population relies on our humanitarian assistance for their daily survival. Half of the health facilities have been destroyed by five years of conflict. One person in eight has been displaced by conflict. There is cholera, malaria, chikungunya, and dengue fever and, on top of all this, we now have coronavirus, which is not even the main concern in terms of communicable diseases.

So, it’s a combination of all those factors that means people are barely keeping their heads above the water. I see that on a daily basis, when I go and meet families who have been displaced by the conflict.

Dignity in suffering

I recently visited a shelter in Hudaydah. I was playing with the kids, asking questions to the parents and in the corner, there was a woman who had a beautiful dress with an African print. But I noticed she had a disfigured face.

She had been entirely burned by an explosion, from a bomb which had dropped next to her. She was going to the market to buy food for her kids and she told me how her entire body had caught fire. This is the kind of image which stays with you.

There was something extremely elegant and dignified about the way she interacted with me. She didn’t beg for anything. She was not appealing for help. She probably knew that there was very little we could really do, except perhaps help with some cash assistance to provide a little more comfort.

She would need treatment in another country, because the medical facilities here do not have the services she required.  She was resigned to her suffering, and like any mother in the world and a widow, she was concerned more about the survival of her kids.

UN OCHA/Giles Clarke
Yemen has been devasted by five years of conflict.

COVID-19 scapegoats

Somali refugees in Yemen have been here for decades. The situation now of refugees specifically in Yemen is one of discrimination, of scapegoating. It was quite worrisome at the beginning of the pandemic to see this, despite the fact that refugee communities have been relatively well integrated.

The Yemeni people needed to find an explanation or a scapegoat for COVID-19. So, they pointed fingers at the refugees coming from Africa. There was an element of racism.

There were allegations that they were not as healthy and focused on hygiene as the Yemeni population. And there was prejudice related to the migratory status of these people, as we saw the same reaction to internally displaced Yemenis who were on the move.

Survival comes first

Most people live in one room probably with an extended family with two or three generations, with maybe cousins, because people can simply not afford rent. So, everybody gathers in the same room to cook and sleep. So, it is very interesting to engage with them on what it means to take preventative measures against COVID-19.

You cannot be two metres apart from a family member, who may show symptoms, because there’s only one room. You cannot wash your hands regularly because there is no tap water, and children have to be sent five kilometres to find water. You don’t wash your hands because if it’s a choice between buying rice and soap, you choose rice.

You don’t stop going out to beg on the street or to work a job for meagre wages because the money you get in the morning is the money which allows you to buy lunch.


Many Yemeni families are forced to live in very close contact to each other

It was fascinating how even the UN was obsessed about saying you need to empower people to take the preventative measure and I responded, ‘come on, let’s wait a minute. This is not realistic for any of the people I meet’.

Yes, the Western world worries about coronavirus, but Yemen cannot even afford to worry about the coronavirus because we have other communicable diseases which can kill you. All that. Plus, there is a famine.

I met a little girl, Fatima, who was 14 months old, and she weighed five kilos, half of what she should have weighed; she was suffering from severe malnutrition. And it was really sad because her father explained she was not able to hold in her food, that she had diarrhea. It was very difficult for him to understand that his child was malnourished or maybe he had just blocked the fact from his mind.

Somebody once asked me, ‘What are the hopes and dreams of Yemeni people’? I was really taken aback because I cannot really respond to this question. The conversations with Yemeni displaced families, and even my colleagues, reveal that although they may have dreams of moving away or studying, most of them are just concerned about their daily survival.

Listen to the audio interview here

Pandemic pushing people ‘even further behind’, UN rights chief warns

Delivering a global update to the Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet said people everywhere were being excluded from not only development, but also opportunities.  

At the same time, civil society activists were being denied the right to voice opposition to government. 

“This makes us all weaker”, she told the virtual meeting. “It heightens grievances that are destabilizing. It means we miss perspectives and expertise that could inform and strengthen our initiatives. It shields corruption and abuses, by silencing feedback.” 

Engage the public 

While acknowledging the major health and financial challenges facing governments in the pandemic, the rights chief underlined that “a country’s people are its leader’s finest and most important resource” and must be involved in policy making. 

“Participation is a right – and it is also a means that ensures better, more effective policy,” she said.  “To help heal harms, bridge deep fractures, and lead change that meets expectations, every society, and every leader, needs to engage the public’s participation, fully and meaningfully.” 

The High Commissioner’s speech addressed human rights issues in some 50 countries. 

Improve social protection 

She welcomed the cessation of hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, announced in November by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Russian Federation, and called for investigations into all alleged violations that occurred during fighting there. 

Moving to Asia and the Pacific, Ms. Bachelet encouraged governments to improve social protection systems as the pandemic has shown their value. On average, countries devote less than two per cent of GDP to social protection, compared with the global average of 11 per cent, she said.  

The UN rights chief addressed the “serious concentration” in civic space across Southeast Asia, including what she described as “the alarming situation” in Myanmar, where the military seized power at the beginning of the month. 

Turning to India, she said ongoing protests by thousands of farmers in India highlight the importance of having laws and policies based on consultations with concerned parties. 

“Charges of sedition against journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on the protests, and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media, are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles”, she added. 

Tackle remaining issues 

In the Americas, Ms. Bachelet welcomed “broad new measures” to tackle structural inequalities and racism in the United States, which include action to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies.  

“We also welcome new steps to end several migration policies that violated the human rights of migrants and refugees, including executive orders to end the family separation policy. I encourage further measures to tackle remaining issues, such as the massive detention of migrants, through the implementation of alternatives to detention”, she added. 

A decade on from the “Arab Spring”, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa continue to suffer very serious inequalities, as repressive policies have been strengthened in some cases.  

“Despite these setbacks, I remain optimistic that justice and human rights can be realized across the Middle East and North Africa – and that progress in this direction will ensure deep and lasting progress for development and peace,” Ms. Bachelet said. 

© UNICEF/Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Children stand outside the tent where they live in a remote desert camp in southern rural Homs, Syria.

Syria’s ‘grim anniversary’ 

Next month will mark 10 years since the start of the Syrian crisis, which the High Commissioner called a “grim anniversary”. She expressed hope that the Constitutional Committee will realize “tangible progress” and that the international community will work to bridge divides while also putting the needs of Syrians first.   

Ms. Bachelet underscored that humanitarians and human rights workers must have immediate access to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where government and regional forces have been clashing since November. She said credible investigations into allegations of violations such as mass killings, extrajudicial executions and other attacks on civilians are critical. 

The human rights chief warned that the conflict in Tigray, coupled with rising insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights, underlining the need for a peaceful solution.

FROM THE FIELD: Humanitarian crises of concern in 2021

A woman survivor of gender-based violence in Kalemie, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. , by UNOCHA/Alioune Ndiaye

Syria and Yemen are probably the best known long-running conflict zones. A decade of fighting in Syria has seen millions of people displaced, many requiring humanitarian assistance. Yemen, meanwhile, remains the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, where the risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute.

Insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has compounded the country’s economic decline, and DRC now has the world’s second highest number of people who are classified as severely food insecure, and the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa. 

And in the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, a perfect storm of climate change, weak governance, poverty and chronic underdevelopment have combined to create an unprecedented security and humanitarian crisis. 

Read more here about these, and other crises of major concern.

Palestinian elections raise hopes for two-State solution, Middle East Coordinator tells Security Council

“The depth of the task is daunting, but not insurmountable”, said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. “We must seize emerging opportunities.” 

With the upcoming elections offering just such an occasion, he pointed to the “extraordinarily high” registration rate among Palestinians as a “resoundingly positive” response. 

The elections will provide a crucial step towards re-establishing Palestinian national unity – and renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, including a democratically elected Legislative Council and Government in Palestine, he assured.

Palestinian Progress

He said Palestinian factions are making progress towards holding legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections.  Earlier this month, they met in Cairo, reaching agreement on several outstanding issues and emphasizing that elections must be held throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, without exception.

Meanwhile, on 17 February, the Central Elections Commission announced 421,000 new registrants during the period, he said, raising the total registered voters to over 2.6 million – 93 per cent of all eligible voters, according to estimates from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. “It is encouraging to see such strong public participation in the democratic process”, he said.

International support

For its part, the international community is focused on helping the parties return to the negotiating table, he said.  On 8 February the League of Arab States reiterated its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet – the Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations – met virtually on 15 February to discuss the political developments, with all agreeing to meet on a regular basis. And a Chair’s summary of a 23 February virtual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee highlighted that the parties expressed renewed commitment to enhance cooperation.

For its part, the UN is working with the parties and international partners to address the pressing socioeconomic needs of Palestinians, including in the context of the pandemic.  It is also advancing the goal of ending the occupation and realizing a negotiated two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law and prior agreements.


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Vaccine Roll-out

On COVID vaccination prospects, he welcomed the announcement of the Palestinian vaccination strategy and the initial allocation to the Palestinian Ministry of Health of 37,440 doses of vaccines by the COVAX-AMC facility.  In February, 30,000 doses of vaccines were delivered to Palestinians, including in Gaza, by the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates. 

He said this is in addition to Israel’s earlier transfer of 5,200 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, vaccination of 5,000 Palestinian educational and health workers working in Israel, and efforts to vaccinate the population in East Jerusalem, which is 50 per cent complete.

Home demolitions

He went on to describe developments on the ground, expressing concern over Israel’s demolition or seizure of 170 Palestinian structures in Area C and 10 in East Jerusalem.  The demolitions were carried out due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Regional tensions simmer

Turning to the region as a whole, on the Golan, he said the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has been generally maintained. However, the security situation continues to be volatile, with continued violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement by the parties.

In Lebanon, the population faces increasing hardship, due to deteriorating economic conditions and impact of COVID-19. In the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations, incidents of weapons pointing between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces across the Blue Line contributed to heightened tensions.

UN Security Council demands COVID-19 vaccine ceasefires; WHO pushes for more action to speed up inoculations

While welcoming the historic resolution and upholding the importance of vaccine equity, he said that “concrete steps should be taken” to waive intellectual property rights to increase vaccine production “and get rid of this virus as soon as possible”. 

“The virus has taken the whole world hostage”, Tedros said. “The UN Security Council can do it, if there is political will”. 

The Council resolution calls for review of specific cases raised by the UN, where access to vaccinations is being hampered and to “consider what further measures may be necessary to ensure such impediments are removed and hostilities paused.” 

Vaccine deliveries 

Tedros noted that Côte d’Ivoire had received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with more to be shipped to other countries in the days and weeks ahead – with the goal of getting vaccination underway in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. 

Crediting the UN-led vaccine initiative COVAX, he said that fragile progress has been made, but that vaccine supplies and distributions must be accelerated. 

However, he warned against bilateral deals with manufacturers producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on. 

“I understand full well that all governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But the best way to do that is by suppressing the virus everywhere at the same time”, underscored the WHO chief. 

“Now is the time to use every tool to scale up production, including licensing and technology transfer, and where necessary, intellectual property waivers. If not now, then when?”, he added. 

Yemen: ‘Opportunity for peace’ 

In a bid for more funding, the WHO chief said that Yemen remained the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people desperately needing assistance. Some five million are at risk of famine, while half a million children under-five risk death without urgent treatment and the continuing spectre of COVID-19. 

“This current crisis comes at a time, after years of conflict, when there is now a real opportunity for peace in Yemen. We have to act on it”, he said, urging donors to generously support the 2021 Response Plan for $3.85 billion during a High-Level Pledging Event next Monday. 

Strategic Preparedness  

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, WHO officially launched its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for 2021.  

It builds on achievements, focuses on new challenges, such as mitigating risks related to new variants, and considers the road towards the safe, equitable and effective delivery of diagnostics and vaccines as part of the overall strategy to successfully tackle the pandemic, according to the WHO chief. 

“The 2021 SPRP outlines how WHO will support countries in meeting these objectives, and the resources we need to do it”, he said.   

Proud son of Ethiopia  

During a separate ceremony, Tedros said he was “deeply humbled” to receive the African Person of the Year award.  

“I do not accept this award only on my own behalf, but on behalf of my colleagues at WHO, who work every day, sometimes in difficult and dangerous situations, to protect and promote the health of Africa’s people, and the world’s”, he said.

UN chief returns to the Bronx for second coronavirus shot

The Secretary-Generally has repeatedly called for the vaccines to be “a global public good”, accessible to all people, everywhere.

All UN staffers at UN Headquarters are waiting their turn for the vaccine based on the local rollout plan, and Mr. Guterres is among the first in the Big Apple-based UN family to receive a jab, based on his eligibility – he’s over the standard UN retirement aged of 65.  

The UN chief spoke to the site manager, Yaeshea Braddock, while getting his second innoculation about the importance of fair access to all. 

Mr. Guterres said he was privileged to be receiving the vaccine, when “so many areas of the world” were, so far, without access. 

Ms. Braddock told the UN chief that sites such as theirs were providing important access to minority communities, but “it’s not everything we need”, she added, and she said some visitors were hesitant about taking the vaccine.

“Because of misinformation, because of historical mistrust” on the part of African-Americans, she explained, who had been used for testing “without our knowledge” in previous decades. 

Inclusive process in New York City

“For African-Americans – I am one myself – I think it’s particularly important for me to be vaccinated, to show my community that’s it’s safe and that I believe in it, and that this vaccine process was one of the most studied, with our involvement, in proportion to society…We were included in this process.”

New York school workers, first responders, public transit workers and grocery workers join the over-65s in the current list of those eligible for shots within the five boroughs of the city.

In December, Mr. Guterres declared that he would happily receive the vaccine in public, and said that, for him, vaccination is a moral obligation: “Each one of us provides a service to the whole community”, he said, “because there is no longer a risk of spreading the disease.”

Condemnation over new attack on Nigeria school, ‘more than 300’ girls missing 

The agency’s representative in the country, Peter Hawkins, urged the assailants to let the teenagers go immediately, after the latest in a recent spate of outrages perpetrated against youngsters, this time in Zamfara state. 

“We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria,” Mr. Hawkins said. “This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being.”  

Way of life 

Such incidents have become “a way of life” to many in Nigeria, Mr. Hawkins told UN News in an exclusive interview, recorded before Friday’s development. 

Bandits hoping to make quick cash by forcing the families and authorities to pay ransom money their hostages, often target institutions just out of reach of State control and usually in rural areas, he explained. 

It comes after dozens of boys and teachers were taken from a college housing borders, in central Nigeria’s Niger state last week; they have yet to be released. 

Night assault 

According to reports, Friday’s incident attack happened in the middle of the night at the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state. 

“We utterly condemn the attack and call on those responsible to release the girls immediately and for the government to take steps to ensure their safe release and the safety of all other schoolchildren in Nigeria”, Mr. Hawkins said. 

“Children should feel safe at home and at school at all times – and parents should not need to worry for the safety of their children when they send them off to school in the morning.” 

After acknowledging the efforts of the Government of Nigeria to secure the release of kidnapped schoolchildren in Nigeria, the UNICEF official urged the authorities “to make schools safe”. 

Boko Haram threat 

In addition to these armed gangs operating in Nigeria’s northwest, north-central and northern states, Boko Haram extremists still control vast areas of the northeast. 

Nearly seven years ago, Boko Haram – whose name is usually translated as “western education is forbidden” – took 276 girls from their school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria. Many of them remain missing. 

Access to schooling is key 

Despite the dangers – and because of them – humanitarians believe that education should remain a priority for governments, who should also boost access to lessons for the most vulnerable. 

Highlighting how progress is being made against the extremists in the former Boko Haram stronghold of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, UNICEF’s Peter Hawkins happily described how “thousands of children, tens of thousands of children” have now returned to the classroom – something that not have been imagined during the extremists’ insurgency, which began in 2009. 

Miraculous change is possible 

“If you went to Maidiguri in 2015-2016, there was nothing happening, no schools”, he said. “If you go there now…there are traffic jams of KKs – the three-wheelers around the city transporting children…girls and boys. It’s a miraculous change that has taken place.”  

Friday’s school attack comes just over a week after a similar attack in Niger state on a school for boys. UNICEF is working with partners to confirm the exact number of kidnapped students, currently estimated to be more than 300. 

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