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Keep raising your voices, UN chief tells young climate leaders

Hundreds of delegates from across the world are taking part in the meeting, which is a precursor to the UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

‘Code red for humanity’

“Young people have been in the forefront of putting forward positive solutions, advocating for climate justice and holding leaders to account. We need young people everywhere to keep raising your voices,” he said in a video message.

The Secretary-General described the climate emergency as a “code red for humanity”, with the poorest and most vulnerable already hardest hit.

“The window of opportunity to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis is closing quickly. We know what needs to be done and we have the tools to do it,” he said.

Deliver on promises

Mr. Guterres urged the young climate leaders to keep speaking up “for a breakthrough in building resilience and ensuring that at least 50 per cent of climate support is for adaptation to protect lives and livelihoods.”

He outlined why their voices are needed now, including to get developed countries to finally deliver on their decade-old promise to provide $100 billion dollars annually in climate finance to developing nations.   

Meanwhile, Governments, businesses and investors still have yet to reduce their emissions in line with the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement, another area for youth advocacy.   

The target means countries must commit to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, and clear plans to achieve them.

‘A powerful example’

The Secretary-General commended the Italian Government – which holds the co-presidency of COP26 with the United Kingdom – “for providing this global stage for young people to engage directly with policy-makers.”

He thanked young people for contributing ideas and solutions in advance of the UN climate conference.

“Your solidarity and demands for action set a powerful example,” he said. “We need national leaders to follow your example and ensure the ambition and results we need at COP26 and beyond.”

‘We are one’: musical performance ‘King Clavé’ reveals that we are ‘interconnected’   

“Rhythm is at the center of humanity. One who knows rhythm knows the world”, said American percussionist Mickey Hart, best known as one of the two drummers of the Grateful Dead. 

He is at the center of the special performance and video feature, along with legendary percussionists Sikiru Adepoju, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, and a posthumous appearance by the West African drummer Babatunde Olatunji.  

Born from a collaboration between Playing For Change and Planet Drum, “King Clavé” is supported by the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, to mark the Durban Declaration commemorations, the 1996 document inked in South Africa, that is considered a milestone in the global fight against racism.  


The musical production was part of the special opening to the UN General Assembly high-level meeting, which too place on 22 September to commemorate the 20th anniversary, on the theme, Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent.  

Set to one of the most referenced and universally used rhythms known as the ‘clavé’, “King Clavé”, invokes a skeletal rhythmic figure, around which various drums and percussion are played in most African, Caribbean, South American and New Orleans music, from the southern US.  

According to its creators, through the rhythm, “hearts are connected, and differences disappear, illuminating how deeply humanity is interconnected and revealing that we are one”.  

Arts for social justice  

The new piece follows on from the unprecedented success of Peace Through Music: A Global Event for Social Justice in 2020, a collaboration between Playing For Change and UNFPA, who decided to continue on their journey, to unite the world through the power of music.  

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peace Through Music was set as a virtual event and concert to inspire people to act for peace and justice, everywhere for everyone. The global event called for equality, human rights, and an end to discrimination, and reached 4 million views within 48 hours of its exclusive Facebook premiere, connecting and inspiring millions of people in 193 countries. 

The history behind the creators 

Mickey Hart was one of the more than 200 musicians that made Peace Through Music 2020 possible, who created Planet Drum with tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussain.  

Planet Drum members have a long history with the UN and activism—the late Babatunde Olatunji’s drums were displayed during the “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum” exhibit in 2009, as part of the commemoration for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and he had previously performed at the UN General Assembly, and Zakir Hussain performed at the UN for the first International Jazz Day in 2012. 

Nigerian percussionist Sikiru Adepoju performing "King Clavé", a collaboration between Playing For Change and Planet Drum.

Nigerian percussionist Sikiru Adepoju performing “King Clavé”, a collaboration between Playing For Change and Planet Drum.

Planet Drum was founded in 1990 with the intention of illustrating how the power of rhythm can connect people from all different cultures and geographical backgrounds. 

Musicians then joined Mickey Hart in his studio for a one-week session of improvised rhythmic composition, and took turns creating specific grooves, then passing the rhythm around, with each track representing a different strand of traditional music – finally blending it together.  

Playing for Change has been recording and filming musicians and uniting them through “Songs Around the World” for the past 20 years. 

The Foundation established 15 music schools celebrating art and culture in under-served communities around the world.  

According to Mark Johnson, Playing For Change Co-Founder, “King Clavé is a celebration of rhythm around the world, and with music, we reconnect heart beats through shared humanity.”  

Later this year, a long version of the project will be shared. Stay tuned.

Afghanistan: Rapid decline in public health conditions, WHO warns

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 response has also declined and almost half of the country’s children are at risk of malnutrition.

Moreover, the agency pointed out that only 17 per cent of the over 2,300 health facilities previously supported by the World Bank, are fully functional, two-thirds of which have run out of essential medicines.

Help on the ground

Despite the rapidly deteriorating health situation, WHO is working with donors to sustain health facilities to prevent outbreaks, and rising illness.

And as the coronavirus continues to be a significant challenge, the UN health agency is boosting surveillance and testing capacities within the country.

“Recently, we have airlifted 50,000 COVID-19 tests that are being distributed to 32 labs across the country”, WHO said, adding that 10 more labs are also being planned. 

Several humanitarian partners on the ground reiterated their commitment to continue working together with the UN to support the nation’s ailing health system. 

UN agencies stand firm

Speaking at a regular news briefing in New York, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists that the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will be scaling up their work in the country, with up to 100 new mobile health and nutrition teams. 

He also relayed that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that midwives throughout Afghanistan are continuing to operate, bringing critical life-saving care to women and girls in need.

UNFPA’s midwifery helpline has been providing uninterrupted remote support to midwives facing complicated deliveries, dangerous pregnancies and other critical concerns.

Financial resources forthcoming

A Flash Appeal launched on 7 September by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) aims to help 11 million people survive as food is running out and the country’s basic services are on the verge of collapse.

Requesting $606 million in the remaining months of this year, Mr. Dujarric reminded that the appeal is only 22 per cent funded, which according to OCHA’s calculation, represents just $135 million.  

The UN is asking donors to fast-track funding to prevent avoidable deaths, prevent displacement and reduce suffering”, he said. “We are also asking our donors to ensure that funding is flexible enough to adapt to the fast-changing conditions on the ground”.  

Transform food systems to avert $400 billion annually in loss and waste

Not only is preventing food loss and waste crucial for the world’s people, it is also essential for the future of the planet, they stressed in remarks to an online commemorative event.

“We cannot continue to lose 14 per cent of food produced globally and to waste 17 per cent of total food in households, retailers, restaurants and other food services.  This amounts to a loss of $400 billion a year in food value,” said Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In his video message, Mr. Qu spoke of the need to step-up global cooperation to transform food systems, from farm to fork, in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Goal 12, on ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns, includes a specific target to halve per capita global food waste by 2030.

Triple crisis, multiple benefits  

Our food systems and consumption practices, which use up precious water and land resources, are major contributors to the triple crises afflicting the planet: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

She listed some of the multiple benefits of reducing the “heavy” burden of food waste and loss

“Food security, obviously”, she began.  “Cost savings at all levels. Climate mitigation. A reduced burden of pollution, and reduced use of water and land. Protection for biodiversity by using existing agricultural land more efficiently, and so, reducing the push for expansion is also critical.”

Third biggest emitter

In Africa the value of lost food exceeds the annual value of grain imports, according to Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme (WFP).

These losses exacerbate food insecurity and affect the environment through the waste of precious land, water, farming inputs and energy to produce food that is not eventually eaten.  

 “In fact, current levels of food loss caused more than three billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to be emitted, meaning that if food waste were to be a country it would be the third biggest emitter of carbon emission,” he said in a pre-recorded message.   

“This is really important for us all to remember as we head to the UN climate conference COP 26 in Glasgow.”

Sustainable food systems

The event marking the International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, was held one week after the UN Food Systems Summit and shortly after countries took stock of progress towards meeting the SDG 12 target.

Achieving it by the 2030 deadline will require collective action, and rapidly, said Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

He outlined priorities for Governments and the private sector, such as integrating food loss reduction into national agricultural policies and development plans, and improving access of smallholder farmers to rural financial services.  

“This International Day is one way for us all to come together to promote interventions that reduce food loss and contribute to achieving more sustainable food systems. Together, we can scale up solutions for reducing food loss,” said Mr. Houngbo.

New FAO report highlights urgent need to restore Africa’s degraded landscape

Launched during Africa Climate Week, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Review of Forest and Landscape Restoration in Africa 2021, shows, that more needs to be done to tap the continent’s opportunity to return land to sustainable production, protect biodiversity, and shield livelihoods in the battle against climate change.

“Despite our efforts, every year more forest disappears, costing the continent a three per cent loss of GDP”, said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.

The analysis has been published by FAO together with the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD. 

A grim assessment

Up to 65 per cent of productive land is degraded, while desertification affects 45 per cent of Africa’s land area, according to the review.

And while the overall trend is moving downward, net loss of forests is still increasing in Africa, with four million hectares of forest disappearing every year.

Moreover, Africa’s drylands are increasingly more vulnerable to climate change and their restoration is a priority for adaptation and building resilient and sustainable food systems.

“Degraded forest landscapes intensify the effects of climate change and are a barrier to building resilient and prosperous communities when 60 percent of Africans depend on their land and their forests”, said the FAO official.

Local engagement is key

Most of the projects assessed in the Review have a strong climate change dimension that not only aims to sequester carbon but also to create jobs and reduce the vulnerabilities of rural people to food insecurity.

A quick glance

Africa has one billion hectares of drylands, 393 million hectares of which need restoration in Africa’s Great Green Wall areas.

AFR100 has committed 31 African Governments to restoring 100 million hectares by 2030 – a challenge already exceeded. 

Africa has an estimated additional 132 million hectares of degraded cropland, which combined with climate change, makes millions more vulnerable.

Around 45 percent of Africa’s land is impacted by desertification, 55 per cent of which is at very high risk of further desertification.

    The report identifies local ownership as being fundamental for success, while high-level political support and access to finance are also crucial.  

    “Extending well beyond tree-planting, forest and landscape restoration is an all-encompassing approach to returning trees and forests to landscapes where they have been lost and is of great benefit to sustainable food production, building resilience and disaster risk reduction”, said Nora Berrahmouni, FAO Senior Forestry Officer covering Africa, and one of the review’s lead authors.

    Trials ahead

    Difficulties with longer-term finance, land tenure and property rights are major challenges, according to the assessment.

    Other roadblocks include insecurity and conflict, lack of technical capacity and restricted access due to poor infrastructure. 

    “African countries and their partners need to continue to scale-up their efforts in forest and landscape restoration as a viable solution to climate change and building forward better in response to COVID-19, while also protecting their natural capital”, said Ms. Berrahmouni.

    “It’s a long-term process but it is a sustainable, forward-looking solution”, she added.

    Extreme weather like widespread drought is causing economic losses amongst farmers in Africa.

    UN Photo/Albert González Farran
    Extreme weather like widespread drought is causing economic losses amongst farmers in Africa.

    Somalia: ‘Sustained focus, investments’ needed to boost women’s political participation

    Briefing ambassadors under the Women, Peace and Security agenda, she said that her most recent trip, earlier this month, was aimed at boosting women’s involvement, including in upcoming parliamentary elections.

    “I made this second visit to Somalia because women’s political participation is a game changer in our efforts to achieve sustainable peace, development and more resilient and inclusive societies”, said Ms. Mohammed, stressing that a 30 per cent quota is a crucial first step towards the equal representation of women in all sectors of life – from business to public service, and from elections to appointments.

    Election roadblocks

    She said there was real concern that women’s representation in the current elections will decrease.

    The deputy UN chief painted a picture of an array of roadblocks for female candidates, which she observed are often impeded by rural tribal leaders, all of whom are men.

    She highlighted that Somalia’s political environment is not conducive to women, with many male leaders promoting male candidates through political networks and connections that their female counterparts lack.

    Somali women also struggle to access financial support to run campaigns – challenges compounded by violence and discrimination, she added.

    Promises fall short

    The Deputy Secretary-General cited the country’s 2016 milestone that nearly a quarter of parliamentary seats were occupied by women, noting that those figures “demonstrate that progress is possible even in the most difficult circumstances”.

    While expressing confidence in recent commitments by Somali leadership to maintain parliamentary quotas, Ms. Mohammed expressed concern over the general conditions.

    She stressed that the Organization must “redouble” its efforts to support their participation.

    “Keep a sustained focus, investments and partnership for the women of Somalia”, the deputy UN chief appealed to the Ambassadors.

    Putting country first

    Meanwhile Shukria Dini, Co-founder and Executive Director of Somali Women’s Studies Centre, noted that Ms. Mohammed’s visit left many women “more encouraged and energized” to pursue participation issues, which have democratic and human rights origins.

    She spoke of “straightforward demands” regarding parliamentary seats, protection for women candidates and the rejection of male candidates who sought seats reserved for women candidates.

    “Women’s participation in elections and political processes is critical to realizing an inclusive society” with more women in decision making roles and with the authority to allocate resources, said Ms. Dini.

    And because Somalia’s national election should be seen as promoting peace, security, women have been appealing to all parties to “set aside their political rivalries…for the sake of the country”.   

    Families of missing migrants, forced to search alone

    Despite human rights obligations, their perspectives are being ignored in government debates about safe migration. This results in persistent exclusion and marginalization, which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Smuggling investigations 

    A study by IOMs’ Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), found that authorities often frame missing migrant cases as investigations into migrant smuggling, rather than about the disappearance itself. 

    Yet, families’ testimonies indicate the devastating psychological anguish, as well as legal, financial and administrative impacts of the disappearance of their relatives, the report said, highlighting the case of a farmer in Ethiopia whose missing sons had been his hope for the future. 

    ‘My life is becoming hell’ 

    “They used to help me till and farm the land and now I am getting older and weaker and can’t work”, he said. “I rely on my relatives for agricultural labour but my farm is ploughed late and cannot produce much. My life is becoming hell. I cannot even pay the moneylender.  My wife is already bedridden.”  

    The report revealed how inequalities shaped by factors such as gender, age, class, race, and migration status impede search efforts

    The Centre’s Missing Migrants Project compiled the report based on research with 76 families of missing migrants in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

    IOM recommended that States and relevant international actors establish specific roadmaps for managing cases of missing migrants and also implement safe and accessible ways for families to report their missing relatives

     “The study aims to amplify the voices of people with loved ones missing on migration journeys, and to better understand their challenges,” Frank Laczko, GMDAC Director said. 

    “Sharing these findings with the public is but a first step in improving the support mechanisms for migrants and the people they leave behind.”  

    Missing migrants project 

    The report and policy briefing are part of the project, Assessment of the needs of families searching for relatives lost in the Central and Western Mediterranean, funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. 

    A revamped Missing Migrants Project website now includes the project’s country reports and final report, as well as other resources to learn more about the experiences of families of missing migrants. 

    Alleged reprisals and intimidation against 240 who cooperated with UN 

    That’s according to data from a new report presented on Wednesday to the Human Rights Council by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris.  

    Many cases were reported anonymously, because of fear of reprisal.  There were also around 50 individuals who experienced detention, while others were subjected to house arrest. 

    Despite some push-back, Ms. Brands Kehris said the report “makes clear” that “the scope and severity of cases of intimidation and reprisal persist and in unacceptably high numbers.” 

    From surveillance to restrictive legislation 

    Based on the findings of the report, she highlighted four main trends.  

    First, in close to half of the countries, there are allegations of monitoring and surveillance, both online and offline, of individuals and groups. Numerous cases include hacking of accounts, travel bans and other movement restrictions. 

    Second, several UN actors have addressed repeated or similar allegations of intimidation and reprisals to those raised in this and earlier reports. Ms. Brands Kehris highlighted signs of a possible pattern in several countries including China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam, where there are serious issues with the detention of victims of reprisals and intimidation, as well as India, Israel, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Venezuela.    

    Third, she highlighted restrictive legislation, usually on grounds of national security, including counter-terrorism measures, or based on laws governing activities of civil society organizations. 

    False ‘threats’ 

    “Let me be clear,” Ms. Brands Kehris said. “Claiming women’s rights before a UN body is not an act of terrorism and speaking up in UN fora on the rights of minorities or indigenous peoples is not a threat to national security.” 

    Fourth, and lastly, she described “increasingly challenging, or even at times repressive, environments for victims, human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors.” 

    For the Assistant Secretary-General, there is “a worrisome trend” where the organization is asked to report on a case where the alleged victim seeks anonymity. Out of the 240 individuals referred to in the report, more than 100 are not mentioned by name, due to protection issues. 

    A UN priority 

    These victims continue to be subjected to serious human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and detention, but also torture and ill-treatment, and even death in custody, killing and enforced disappearances.  

    In the digital sphere, activists and journalists have been attacked on social media after speaking at UN meetings, and victims targeted for submitting information or communicating electronically with the organization.  

    Ms. Brands Kehris also pointed out some examples of good practice by Member States, such as considering and preparing for the risks or any backlash that civil society briefers to the Security Council may face. She also called States’ responses to allegations presented to them in the preparation of the report overall, “encouraging.”  

    She concluded saying that the Member States should not “tolerate those who bring critical perspectives to us, being silenced.” 

    “We need to do more and better to provide safe and open spaces for interaction, where those who speak up can be heard without fear of any sort of retribution,” she added.

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