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Top UN envoy 'encouraged’ by recent engagement of Israeli and Palestinian officials 

But Tor Wennesland also asked for a greater effort by the international community to address the “worrying situation on the ground”, including negative trends in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and fragile conditions inside the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. 

“We must re-energize efforts now to establish a legitimate political horizon that will end the occupation in line with relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements in pursuit of achieving the vision of two States,” the Special Coordinator said. 

Mr. Wennesland was presenting his briefing on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), covering the period from 12 June to 27 September.  

Settlements and violence 

According to him, during the reporting period, there were no new settlement housing plans advanced, approved or tendered, but demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

In the report, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, says this pause in settlements “must become permanent.” 

Unfortunately, the Special Coordinator informed, daily violence continued. Overall, 27 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces and 1,445 were injured. One Israeli soldier was killed by Palestinians, and 41 Israelis were injured.  

Mr. Guterres in the report, says he is “deeply troubled by the continued loss of life and serious injuries in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and “appalled that children continue to be victims of violence.”  

In Gaza, Israel eased access restrictions imposed during the May escalations of violence across the border with the enclave. In addition to key humanitarian assistance, access was progressively made easier for commercial goods and materials for international projects. 


The Special Coordinator highlighted a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, on 30 August, the first between both sides in years. 

During the meeting, Israel said it would provide a loan to the Palestinian Authority and announced plans to issue ID cards for thousands of undocumented foreign nationals in the occupied West Bank, and grant an additional 15,000 permits for Palestinian workers to enter Israel. 

It also plans on issuing an additional 1,000 building permits for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank.  

On the humanitarian front, on August 16, the UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) opened schools for over 300,000 girls and boys, but the agency is once again struggling to obtain funding to operate in the last months of the year. 

Also on Wednesday, the Security Council approved a resolution renewing for one year the authorisation for Member States, acting nationally or through regional organisations, to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya that they have reasonable grounds to believe are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking. 

Yemeni humanitarian organization wins Nansen Refugee Award 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced the laureate this Wednesday. Every year, the prize recognizes a person or group, that goes above and beyond the call of duty, to help displaced or stateless people.

In a statement, Mr. Grandi said that “Jeel Albena does this in an extraordinary way helping people on all sides of Yemen’s conflict.” 

“Its staff and volunteers have stayed put, working quietly on the ground throughout the conflict, in the face of the harshest adversity, at a time when many others have left,” he said.  

Frontline work 

Their work, often near the frontlines, has included constructing 18,000 emergency shelters for internally displaced people and their host communities. Their work has also allowed thousands to make a living, and been a vehicle to restore basic human dignity. 

Mr. Grandi noted that Jeel Albena’s motto is “By Yemenis, for Yemenis” and that it “exemplifies its spirit of local community action.” 

“Always, they seek solutions together with the communities where they are active,” he explained. 

Established in June 2017, the association started with only fifteen staff and now has more than 150 employees, over 40 per cent of them, recruited from within displaced communities.  

The organization operates in Hudaydah, Hajjah, Al Mahwit and Raymah; four governorates which between them host 25 per cent of all internally displaced people in Yemen. 

A personal story 

The organization’s founder, Ameen Jubran, will collect the award on behalf of the organization. 

Mr. Jubran first started working with displaced people while he was at university and he has never stopped. He was nearly killed in the conflict and, like many of his team, have experienced displacement first-hand.  

“But he did not give up. In fact, he says the experience of being forced to flee his home only increased his determination, in the true spirit of Nansen,” Mr. Grandi recalled. 

For the High Commissioner, the award “puts a much-needed spotlight on Yemen, a country where the suffering faced by civilians does not receive the attention it deserves.”  

Since the beginning of the conflict, four million people have fled their homes in order to find safety. Around 80 percent of those people have been displaced for more than a year, straining their capacity to cope as well as that of their hosts. 

“But it’s not just about Jeel Albena,” Mr. Grandi said. “The award also highlights the extraordinary work done by many local NGOs on the ground in Yemen” 

Besides the UNHCR, the Nansen Refugee Award is given by a committee led by the Governments of Norway and Switzerland. 

“It is my profound hope this award draws international attention to Yemen and that Jeel Albena’s extraordinary work will inspire more action for the people there who have suffered,” concluded the High Comissioner.

2021 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award winner, Jeel Albena, provides a lifeline to displaced Yemenis.

© UNHCR/Abdulhakeem Obadi
2021 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award winner, Jeel Albena, provides a lifeline to displaced Yemenis.

New approach needed to make digital data flow beneficial for all 

This should help maximize development gains and ensure that they are equitably distributed, said the agency, launching its Digital Economy Report 2021. 

A new approach should also enable worldwide data sharing, increase the development of global digital “public goods”, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy, UNCTAD added. 

The report stressed that the new global system must help avoid further fragmentation of the internet, address policy challenges emerging from the dominant positions of digital platforms, and narrow existing inequalities. 

“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his preface to the report. 

“The current fragmented data landscape… may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks” he added.   

New governance 

Digital data play an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says. 

For example, sharing health data globally is of “critical importance” as it can help countries fight disease outbreaks, and for research purposes, in the development of effective vaccines: “The issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said.  

“The global data economy calls for moving away from the silo approach towards a more holistic, coordinated global approach,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant added.  

New data body  

UNCTAD is proposing the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, focused on assessing and developing global digital and data governance. 

The body should seek to remedy the underrepresentation of developing countries and provide sufficient policy space to ensure countries with different levels of digital readiness and capacities, can truly benefit. 

Differing approaches 

The report notes that now, there are widely diverging approaches to data governance, with three leading players – the United States, China and the European Union (EU). 

In essence, the US approach focuses on control of data by the private sector, the Chinese model emphasizes control of data by government, while the EU favours control of data by individuals, based on fundamental rights and values. 

“The absence of a global data governance framework hampers countries’ ability to reap benefits from the digital economy,” UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said. “It also hinders their ability to protect the privacy of people from both private sector and government use of data and to address concerns related to law enforcement and national security”. 

The new approach would allow countries to better harness data for public benefit, agree on rights and principles, develop standards and increase international cooperation. 

The report also highlighted that the governance of cross-border data flows is at an impasse due to diverging views and positions on their regulation. 

The proposed new global data governance approach could contribute towards developing a middle-ground solution, it said pointing out that the current regional and international regulatory frameworks tend to be either too narrow in scope or too limited geographically.  

Data divide 

The report warned that a data-related divide is emerging, resulting in many developing countries becoming mere providers of raw data to global digital platforms while having to pay for the digital intelligence generated from their data. 

Only 20 per cent of people in the least developed countries (LDCs) use the internet, and when they do, it’s typically at relatively low download speeds and with a relatively high price tag attached, the report said. 

It also noted that the average mobile broadband speed, is about three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while up to eight out of 10 internet users shop online in several developed countries, only less than one out of 10 do so in many LDCs, it added. 

US, China dominate 

The US and China are the frontrunners in harnessing data, according to the report. They account for 50 per cent of the world’s hyper-scale data centres, the world’s highest rates of 5G adoption, 70 per cent of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, and 94 per cent of all funding for AI startups. 

The two countries also make up about 90 per cent of the market capitalization of the world’s largest digital platforms, and during the pandemic, their profits and market capitalization values have surged tremendously.   

Corporate growth 

The report warns that it has become increasingly difficult to consider regulations of cross-border data flows without also considering the governance of the digital corporations. 

These platforms continue to expand their own data ecosystems and increasingly control all stages of the global data value chain. 

The largest digital platforms, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba, are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, the report said. 

Amazon for example, has invested some $10 billion in satellite broadband, while Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were the top acquirers of AI startups between 2016 and 2020. 

Four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67 per cent of global cloud infrastructure services revenues in the last quarter of 2020.  

The report’s findings will feed into discussions during UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference to be held online from 3 to 7 October. 

Guterres calls for accelerated action on jobs, poverty eradication 

The Secretary-General warned that the pandemic has not only confirmed but deepened existing inequalities. 

Investment in jobs, social protection and a just transition to a net-zero emissions future, particularly in low and middle-income countries, could prevent a further deepening of the inequalities. 

“Global solidarity so far has been completely inadequate,” Mr Guterres said. “A renewed social contract…should be central to the recovery”.  

Deeply diverging recoveries 

 According to the policy brief, extreme poverty increased by between 119 and 224 million people between March and December 2020 – the first such increase in over 21 years. 

More than three-quarters of these ‘new poor’ are in middle-income countries. At the same time, the wealth of billionaires increased by over $ 3.9 trillion. 

The report noted that because of the pandemic, there are an estimated 75 million fewer jobs in 2021 than there were before the crisis, and 23 million fewer projected in 2022. 

It also estimates that 8.8 percent of total working hours were lost in 2020 – equivalent to the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers. 

This corresponds to a loss of $3.3 trillion in labour income before government support. 

To achieve “a job-rich recovery” and a “just transition,” at least $982 billion is needed to respond to the immediate labour market shocks of the crisis, the report said.  

Achieving universal social protection  

The Secretary-General called for universal social protection by 2030, including universal health care, income protection, education and skills training, particularly for women and girls. 

The many ad-hoc and temporary measures that have been implemented over the past year “provide a starting point” Mr. Guterres noted. 

A homeless family in Yangon in Myanmar has few social support structures it can call on.
A homeless family in Yangon in Myanmar has few social support structures it can call on., by ILO Photo/Marcel Crozet

To achieve this we must mobilize significant public and private investments – some $1.2 trillion to achieve universal social protection coverage for low and middle-income countries, he said. 

Investments must also be ramped up to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address the risks from climate change that could jeopardize 1.2 billion jobs, equivalent to 40 percent of the global labour force.  

Accelerating job creation 

During the presentation, Mr. Guterres announced the creation of a new Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for a Just Transition, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

The aim of the Accelerator is to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies, and extend social protection floors by 2025 to 50 percent of people currently not covered, he said. 

The Policy Brief recommended several measures to achieve this: 

  • Integrated national and inclusive recovery strategies, expanded investment in Social Protection. 
  • Policy measures to extend social protection to workers in the informal economy, and to formalize employment in the care economy. 
  • Policies should be introduced to help workers upskill and re-skill. 
  • Sound financial architecture must be developed to mobilize investments. 
  • Collaboration with the private sector should be made to scale up investments in strategic sectors and strategies must be aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Mobilizing action 

The upcoming meetings of international financial institutions, the G20, and COP26 will be “a pivotal moment to put the world on a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive path,” Mr. Guterres said. “Global cooperation is indispensable to building resilience to future shocks, through economies that work for everyone.”  

The UN Secretary-General presented his brief at the High-Level Meeting on Jobs and Social Protection for Poverty Eradication, that gathered, virtually, world leaders, heads of major international organizations, finance institutions, civil society, private sector and academia.

Speaking at the event, Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), warned that the differences between developed and developing countries are growing, “the contrary of building back better.”

He said that “the world was not prepared for COVID-19”, but now “must be ready to deliver a recovery that benefits all.”

For him, this means injecting the necessary finance to support all countries.

“The Global Accelerator for Jobs & Social Protection is designed to channel national and international, public and private financial flows to provide social protection floors for the 4 billion people who fall outside any existing coverage and to the creation of decent jobs, above all in the green economy and in the care economy om the scale now urgently needed,” he said.

For Mr. Ryder, “the level of ambition is high, because it would be irresponsible to be less ambitious.”

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) pointed to the fight against tax evasion and illicit financial flows, speaking to correspondents in New York.

Alicia Barcena said these were “fundamental obstacles to the mobilization of internal resources” in her region and have a value of about $325 billion a year.

She also mentioned the illicit financial flows resulting from the manipulation of the international trade in goods, saying they have an estimated value of about $85 billion, or 1.6% of the GDP.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the most indebted region in the developing world, with the highest debt service, representing 59% of its exports of goods and services.

For Ms. Barcena, debt relief is one of the measures that must be implemented, especially in the Caribbean. ECLAC proposes the relief of 12% of the total debt of the regional and the creation of a Caribbean Resilience Fund.

She said the region “faces inequality, underfunded health systems and accumulated structural gaps in social protection.”

Guinea: Justice for 2009 massacre must be at heart of political transition

Pramila Patten called for accountability for the 28 September 2009 incident to be at the heart of the country’s political transition.

The massacre occurred when security forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators attending an opposition rally at a stadium in the capital, Conakry.  At least 156 people were killed or disappeared, and at least 109 women and girls were subjected to sexual violence.  

Commit to justice

In a statement on the anniversary of the massacre, Ms. Patten said the ongoing political transition offers a unique opportunity to place justice and the rule of law at the centre of a new chapter in the country’s history.

She recalled that following the military coup earlier this month, the Comité National du Rassemblement et du Développement (CNRD) issued a statement which said justice will be the compass that will guide every Guinean citizen.

“With the conclusion of national consultations aimed at determining the priorities of the transition and yesterday’s announcement of the adoption of a Transitional Charter, I urge the CNRD to abide by its commitment towards impartial and independent justice, including in relation to the 28 September 2009 events”, she said.

Survivors’ needs unmet

The UN expert noted that her Office has been promoting accountability for the atrocities committed in Guinea. Despite some progress over the years, she regretted that trials have yet to take place.

“The needs of victims of sexual violence and other grave crimes remain unmet”, she said.

Meanwhile, survivors continue to demand justice and redress, while suffering physical and psychological trauma, which has been compounded by stigmatization and rejection by their families and communities.

“I call on all relevant actors to place accountability for the 28 September 2009 events at the heart of the transition, to ensure that trials are expedited, perpetrators are held accountable, and victims receive justice, support and reparations,” said Ms. Patten.

“It is only by upholding justice and accountability that overall rule of law, unity and social cohesion will be enhanced, and contribute to ensuring that the horrors of the 28 September events are never repeated.”

DR Congo: Abuse allegations amid Ebola outbreak ‘a sickening betrayal of the people we serve’

An independent panel commissioned by WHO identified more than 80 alleged cases of abuse during the outbreak, including allegations implicating 20 WHO staff members. 

The release of the findings represented a “dark day for WHO,” Tedros said, adding that it was also a betrayal of “our colleagues who put themselves in harm’s way to serve others”.  

Inquiry launch 

The Independent Investigation into the tenth Ebola outbreak in DRC began in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in October 2020. 

The epidemic was declared over on 25 June that year, after persisting for nearly two years in an active conflict zone. It led to 2,300 deaths and was declared the world’s second-largest outbreak of the deadly and highly transmissible virus on record.  

Forced abortions 

Malick Coulibaly, a panel member, said during a briefing on the 35-page report, that the commission interviewed dozens of women who were offered work in exchange for sex. 

They also interviewed some who were alleged victims of rape, with nine such cases identified. 

The women interviewed said the perpetrators used no birth control, resulting in some pregnancies. Some of the victims said the men who had abused them, forced them to have an abortion, Mr. Coulibaly added.  


The review team identified 83 alleged perpetrators, both Congolese nationals and foreigners. 

In 21 cases, it was able to establish with certainty that the alleged perpetrators were WHO employees. The majority of the alleged abusers, were Congolese staff, hired on a temporary basis. 

They are accused of taking advantage of their authority to obtain sexual favours, the report said. 

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the agency was “humbled, horrified and heartbroken” by the findings of the inquiry. 

A ‘perception of impunity’  

The 35-page report states that “the scale of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, all contributed to the increased vulnerability of alleged victims”, who “were not provided with the necessary support and assistance required for such degrading experiences”. 

Belated training of staff to prevent sexual abuse or exploitation, as well as a refusal by managers to consider verbal reports and other “structural failures”, were found in nine separate cities or villages in the region. 

The investigators underscored a “perception of impunity of the institution’s staff on the part of alleged victims.” 

Need to ‘rebuild trust’ 

WHO chief Tedros said there would be “severe consequences” for perpetrators and all leaders would be held “accountable for inaction”. 

Apologising for the victims “ongoing suffering” he said he was acutely conscious of the “need to rebuild trust”. 

But “by shining a light on the failures of individuals and the Organization, we hope that the victims feel that their voices have been heard and acted on,” he added.

New global meningitis strategy aims to save 200,000 lives a year

The first-ever roadmap to defeat bacterial meningitis, aims to reduce deaths by 70 per cent and halve the number of cases by 2030, in addition to reducing disability caused by the disease.

The strategy was launched by a broad coalition of partners involved in meningitis prevention at a virtual event, hosted by WHO in Geneva.

Its focus is on preventing infections and improving care and diagnosis for those affected by bacterial meningitis. “It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all – by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Long-lasting damage 

Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, predominantly caused by infection with bacteria and viruses.

The most serious form of the disease tends to be caused by bacterial infection. It leads to around 250,000 deaths a year and can cause fast-spreading epidemics, killing one in ten of those infected who are mostly children and young people.

It also leaves one in five with long-lasting disability, such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, neurological damage, and cognitive impairment. 

‘Anybody can be affected’

Over the last ten years, meningitis epidemics have occurred in all regions of the world, though most commonly in the so-called ‘Meningitis Belt,’ which spans 26 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, the report notes.

These epidemics are unpredictable, can severely disrupt health systems, and fuel poverty – generating catastrophic costs for households and communities.

“The suddenness, severity and dire consequences of meningitis remain a challenge for all countries of the world,” Dr Marie-Pierre Preziosi, Lead for Meningitis and the R&D Blueprint at WHO, said at the Roadmap’s launch in Geneva.

“An epidemic can strike anywhere. In recent years [there has been an] epidemic in Kyrgyzstan, in the Philippines, in Chile, to name a few. So this is a global problem, not only in the belt of Africa.”

She added that “people living in close proximity, are at a higher risk of this disease, for example, at mass gatherings, in refugee camps, in overcrowded households or in student, military and other occupational settings.

However, “anybody can be affected”, Dr. Preziosi warned. 

Major ‘burden in Africa’

“Meningitis remains a major burden in Africa”, reiterated Dr. Andre Founda, Medical Officer for meningitis at WHO’s Regional Office for Africa, who was also speaking at the launch.

Dr. Founda called for an adjustment in “risk factors”: first of all, “human factors” he said, noting that epidemics occurred in his area because of people working “to extract gold and diamonds”. This leads to “overcrowding and people arriving from other countries and provinces”. Secondly, he added, “the effects of climate change should be documented”.

Following the rainy season, the incidence of the disease in the meningitis belt is low. “We are waiting for a rainy season, but now the dry season still continues”, he warned.

The meningitis A vaccine for Africa, MenAfriVac, costs less than US$ 0.50 a dose and wherever it has been rolled out, meningitis A has disappeared. The vaccine also boosts protective immune responses to tetanus. Photo: WHO/R. Barry

WHO/R. Barry
The meningitis A vaccine for Africa, MenAfriVac, costs less than US$ 0.50 a dose and wherever it has been rolled out, meningitis A has disappeared. The vaccine also boosts protective immune responses to tetanus. Photo: WHO/R. Barry

‘Dangerous disinterest’

The success of many vaccination programmes has “led to a perception in some organisations that the problem of meningitis was over”.

But “the numbers and the consequences” show that “this is not the case” Dr Preziosi warned.

Several vaccines protect against meningitis, however, not all communities have access to them, and many countries are yet to introduce them into their national programmes.

While research is underway to develop vaccines for other causes of meningitis, there remains an urgent need for innovation, funding and research.

Efforts are also needed to strengthen early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for all those who need it after contracting the disease, the report stressed. Dr. Preziosi also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a complex effect on many infectious diseases, including bacterial meningitis.

“There has been a reduction in the spread of many pathogens due to lockdowns and other control measures,”. But she warned that “these short-term positive situations could lead to a dangerous disinterest” in the fight against meningitis. 

Roadmap priorities

The new Roadmap’s priorities for meningitis response and prevention, include achieving high immunization coverage, the development of new affordable vaccines, and improved prevention strategies and outbreak response.

Speedy diagnosis and optimal treatment for patients is also a priority, as well as good data to guide prevention and control efforts, care and support for those affected, and advocacy and engagement, to ensure high awareness of meningitis, accountability for national plans, and affirmation of the right to prevention, care and aftercare services. 


Food waste: a global problem that undermines healthy diets

The call comes as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that 17 per cent of all food available to consumers in 2019, ended up being thrown away.

An additional 132 million people face food and nutrition insecurity today because of the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO said, ahead of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, on Wednesday 29 September.

Global problem

The problem of food waste is a global one and not limited to wealthy nations alone, said Nancy Aburto, Deputy Director of FAO’s Food and Nutrition Division Economic and Social Development Stream, speaking at a press conference in Geneva.

“Food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition are impacting every country in the world and no country is unaffected; 811 million people suffer hunger, two billion suffer micronutrient deficiencies – that’s vitamin and mineral deficiencies – and millions of children suffer stunting and wasting, deadly forms of under-nutrition.”

The FAO official warned that the high cost of “healthy” diets, meant that they were now “out of reach” of every region in the world, including Europe.

She also said that more countries needed to embrace innovation to reduce waste, such as new packaging that can prolong the shelf-life of many foods, while smartphone apps can bring consumers closer to producers, reducing the time between harvest and plate.

Repercussions of food waste

Reducing food loss and waste would improve agri-food systems and help towards achieving food security, food safety and food quality, all while delivering on nutritional outcomes.

According to FAO, it would also contribute “significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as pressure on land and water resources”.

With less than nine years left to reach Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption, and target 12.3 to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels, there is an urgent need to accelerate action, up to the 2030 deadline.

    Takeaways for action:

    • Reducing food loss and waste, strengthens the sustainability of food systems and improves planetary health.
    • Increasing the efficiency of food systems and reducing food loss and waste, requires investment in innovation, technologies and infrastructure.
    • Composting food waste is better than sending it to a landfill, but preventing waste in the first place, lessens its impact on the environment.
    • Maximizing the positive impacts of reducing food loss and waste, requires good governance and human capital development.

    However, this requires national and local authorities along with businesses and individuals to prioritize actions in this direction and contribute to restoring and improving agri-food systems.

    Fruit and veg

    And with just three months to go, during this International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, FAO has reminded that produce provides human nutrition and food security while working to achieve the SDGs.

    “In the current health crisis we are facing around the world, promoting healthy diets to strengthen our immune systems is especially appropriate”, FAO chief QU Dongyu said, kicking off the year last December.

    He also noted that food loss and waste in the fruits and vegetables

      sector remain a problem with considerable consequences, pointing out that “innovative technologies and approaches are of critical importance”, as they can help maintain safety and quality, “increasing the shelf life of fresh produce items and preserving their high nutritional value”.

      COVID-19 caused ‘shocking’ inequalities: human rights chief Bachelet

      At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Bachelet maintained that the inability of countries to uphold fundamental liberties – such as justice, quality education, decent housing and decent work – had “undermined the resilience of people and States”.

      Multiple shocks

      This had left them exposed to what she called a “medical, economic and social shock”, highlighting that an additional 119 to 124 million people had been pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, before citing Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data indicating that food insecurity rose to an unprecedented 2.38 billion people.

      Vital gains are being reversed – including for women’s equality and the rights of many ethnic and religious minority communities and indigenous peoples,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, adding that “cracks in the social fabric of our societies are growing wider” with “huge gaps between rich and poorer countries (that) are becoming more desperate and more lethal”.

      “We must ensure that States’ economic recovery plans are built on the bedrock of human rights and in meaningful consultation with civil society,” she said. “There must be steps to uphold universal health care, universal social protections and other fundamental rights to protect societies from harm, and make all communities more resilient.”

      ‘Crisis of vaccine inequity’

      On the issue of glaring coronavirus vaccine and therapeutic shortages in many developing countries, the High Commissioner urged States to “act together, in solidarity”, to distribute the jabs.

      “Today, hospitals in some regions have essentially collapsed, with patients unable to find the care they need, and oxygen almost completely unavailable,” she said, pointing to “a crisis of vaccine inequity (that) continues to drive deeper divides into the heart of the international community”.

      Zooming in

      Echoing those remarks, Nobel Laureate and economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, described how COVID-19 had barely affected those at the top end of the global economy, while those at the bottom have suffered massively in respect of their jobs, health and their children’s education.

      The coronavirus has not been “an equal opportunity virus”, he insisted; “it has had a devastating effect on the bottom parts of our economy, our society. While those at the top, many of them have done very well. Most of them have been able to carry on, continuing their jobs on Zoom, continuing their incomes, almost without interruption.”

      On the issue of COVID-19 vaccines, Professor Stiglitz reminded the Human Rights Council that access to them “is almost part of a right to life, and yet, access to the vaccines, while is very easy in the United States and another advanced countries, is extraordinarily difficult in emerging economies and almost impossible in most developing countries”.

      As a basic human right, “there is no right more important than the right to life”, he continued,  insisting that access to medicines was a basic human right “and that basic right today is being violated by the failure to give equal access or even any access to the vaccines”.

      In a related debate at the Geneva forum, Member States heard that indigenous children and those with disabilities continue to be hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

      Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, also said that indigenous women and elders have been badly affected, in an annual discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples.

      Victims of unequal health-care access

      The pandemic had “exposed and exacerbated” the inequalities and systemic racism that they faced, Ms. Kehris said, adding that many indigenous people had died amid “unequal access to quality health care”.

      The top human rights official noted that the pandemic had also impacted the resilience of indigenous languages and traditional knowledge.

      This was concerning, she said, given the objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) to “leave no-one behind”.

      Lack of consent

      Echoing that message, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, José Francisco Cali Tzay, expressed concern that post-pandemic recovery efforts by many States were continuing to have “negative impacts” on indigenous peoples.

      “Nationwide measures to stop the pandemic are being applied to indigenous territories without their free, prior and informed consent and without taking into account the systemic barriers faced by recipients,” the Special Rapporteur said.

      Some indigenous communities had set up their own COVID-19 resilience solutions, however.

      Indigenous solutions

      These include Brazil’s, Kuikuro people, who have formed partnerships with hospitals, set up their own health centre and hired doctors and nurses to stay with them and help with prevention, said Mr Tzay.

      In Thailand, he continued, iKaren people have performed rituals by shutting down their villages and not allowing anyone to enter and in Bangladesh, the Mro people have put up a bamboo fencing at the entrance of their territory to isolate their villages.

      “Rather than relying solely on government aid, indigenous peoples are coordinating community-level responses that include reconnecting with scientific knowledge and managing humanitarian and mutual aid networks,” he said.

      “States must fulfil their obligations to provide support for protection plans elaborated by indigenous peoples in an autonomous manner.” 

      Now is the time to push for political resolution in Syria: UN envoy

      “The Syrian people desperately need a Syrian-led and owned political process to deliver,” he said, urging sustained international support towards ending the brutal conflict, and ensuring the country’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, in line with a 2015 Council resolution.

      Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reported that more than 350,000 people have been confirmed as killed in the Syrian war, though the actual number is likely to be higher.

      Mr. Pedersen added to this “grim announcement”, noting that 12 million Syrians are displaced and tens of thousands remain detained, abducted or missing.   

      Ceasefire and political process linked

      Syria is also facing impacts from the economic collapse in neighbouring Lebanon, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and sanctions.  The country is also divided into several “de facto zones, with international players jostling in the theatre”, with skirmishes peppering more than a year of relative calm.

      “With military frontlines largely frozen for 18 months, and concerns from parties regarding the status quo, the time to push for a political process is now,” he said.  

      “Resolution 2254 recognizes the close link between a nationwide ceasefire and a parallel political process, and I continue to call for this – particularly given episodes of violence and the dangers of this spiraling into all-out confrontation.”

      Mr. Pedersen reported on “multiple sources of concern” in Syria.   

      Appeal to stakeholders

      In Idlib, sustained shelling, rocket fire and increased airstrikes have forced some returnees to again be displaced. Confrontations have occurred between non-State armed groups and Turkish military in northwest Syria and northern Aleppo, and there have reports of an increase in Turkish drone strikes inside Syrian territory.  

      Additionally, airstrikes on targets near Damascus have been attributed to Israel, while “multiple” terrorist groups continue to operate the country.  

      “I am sure that the situation on the ground in Idlib and elsewhere will be an important issue when Presidents Putin and Erdogan meet tomorrow, and I continue to appeal for those with influence to promote calm. So much depends on that,” said Mr. Pedersen.

      Meanwhile, efforts by Russia and the United States on cross-border humanitarian aid delivery from Turkey have continued.

      Constitutional Committee update

      Turning to the Syrian Constitutional Committee, established two years ago, Mr. Pederson said while the Committee has not yet made steady progress on its mandate, there has been some movement towards its next meeting.

      Following eight months of negotiations with the two co-chairs, agreement on methodology has been reached, and invitations for the sixth session have been sent.

      “While we are still in the process of confirming logistics, the Small Drafting Body will convene in Geneva as of 18 October, and the Co-Chairs will for the first time meet the day before, together with me, to prepare the session,” he said.

      “In short, we should all now expect the Constitutional Committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting – not just preparing – a constitutional reform. If it does that, then we will have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that if we are to build a modicum of trust.”

      Women’s participation crucial

      The UN Special Envoy stressed the importance of achieving a genuine intra-Syrian political dialogue that will lead to genuine process of political reform, and emphasized that women must participate in the process.

      “Without this no solution in Syria can be complete,” he stated, adding that his office has continued to consult with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board (WAB), whose 17 members come from different backgrounds and affiliations.

      The WAB, established in 2016 by the Office of the UN Special Envoy, ensures diverse women’s perspectives, as well as gender equality, are reflected throughout the political process and in peace talks.

      Amplifying women’s voices

      Ambassadors were also briefed by Rouba Mhaissen, Founder and Director of the civil society group Sawa for Development and Aid.  She said there can be no talk about peacebuilding in Syria, when people’s rights, specifically women’s rights, are being breached daily.

      “A lot remains to be done so that women are truly participating and that women at all levels are included. The everyday contributions of women at the community level remain unseen, and their demands remain unheard at the peace process level,” she said.

      Even amid the most dire circumstances, Syrian women have unified, rising above their affiliations and ideologies, and put their country first, she said. Ms. Mhaissen further stated that building resilience and supporting Syrians, especially women, will be integral to any successful political settlement.

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