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World can end ‘downward humanitarian spiral’ of Afghanistan

Despite persistent humanitarian needs sparked by years of conflict and recurring drought, the current situation in Afghanistan is unparalleled, with more than 24.4 million people requiring humanitarian assistance to survive, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Food security levels have plunged at an alarming rate, leaving half the population facing acute hunger, including nine million in a state of emergency food insecurity – the highest number in the world.

Moreover, malnutrition is on the rise, and livelihoods have been destroyed.

Appealing for help

To help mitigate the situation, the Secretary-General António Guterres is on Thursday, launching online a High-level Pledging Event, Supporting the Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan – co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany and Qatar.

Last year, as the country faced profound turmoil and international isolation, donors showed remarkable generosity for Afghans.

A $1.8 billion disbursement to aid groups was able to assist 20 million people with life-saving food, clean water, healthcare, shelter and education.

International donors are asked to keep the funds flowing and growing again this year.

The UN-coordinated relief operation – the largest but not the only one in Afghanistan – is appealing for $4.4 billion, three times the amount requested in 2021.

We have the power to stop the downward humanitarian spiral in Afghanistan and it is our moral duty to use this power by pledging generous, flexible and unconditional funding today,” said UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.

The World Food Programme is distributing food to vulnerable familes during the harsh winter in Kabul, Afghanistan.

© WFP/Sadeq Naseri
The World Food Programme is distributing food to vulnerable familes during the harsh winter in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Making a difference

As fund-raising has so far secured only 13 per cent of the requirements of the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, pledges of support – which will continue for the remainder of the year – are urgently needed to ramp up deliveries.

In the first eight weeks of 2022, humanitarian partners reached 12.7 million people with life-saving assistance, prioritizing women, girls and minority groups.

Deliveries have included nutritious food for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding women; healthy meals for schoolchildren; seeds and tools for farmers; and trauma treatment and reproductive healthcare.

Participants are encouraged to pledge generously to send out a strong signal of solidarity that the world stands with the Afghan people. 

Negotiating ‘fault lines’

Before the conference, the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Achim Steiner, made a two-day trip to the country, where he underscored the importance of girls’ and women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Recent decisions barring girls from secondary school from Grade 6 onwards is of great concern, he said, upholding that UNDP is committed to working with UN agencies to defend and promote their access to education and work.

“UNDP’s partnerships are often multidimensional, and sometimes we are faced with challenges that, like girls’ education in Afghanistan, can become fault lines,” he said.

Both boys and girls must be allowed in the classrooms because the future of Afghanistan must be for all Afghans, not just a selected few”. 

Soaring poverty

The UNDP chief likewise flagged the urgent need for action to prevent rocketing poverty and economic instability.

“We reported late last year that an estimated 97 per cent of Afghans could be living in poverty by mid-2022, and regrettably, that number is being reached faster than anticipated,” he said.

“And with commodities pricing skyrocketing globally, we know that people here cannot afford to meet their basic human needs like food, healthcare, and education”.

Support women business owners

In Mazar-e-Sharif, Mr. Steiner met with women business owners and members of the Chamber of Commerce who spoke of their struggles to keep businesses afloat.

“The women small business owners I spoke with are tenacious in their determination to continue to earn an income and provide for their families and communities against all odds,” he Mr Steiner, pushing the international community to help prevent further economic hardships for them.

“This year alone, we aim to support more than 50,000 small and medium enterprises, many of which are led by women.”

Swimming in debt

Following the Taliban takeover last August, Afghanistan is facing a potentially non-reversable economic collapse, a frozen banking system and a liquidity shortage that may leave some 80 per cent of people in debt.

“We must get the economy back up and running from the ground up, and that means support to individuals, their families and their businesses,” said the UNDP chief, advocating for generosity at the pledging conference.

While the world’s attention is turned to Ukraine and the ripple effect from that war, we must also stand in solidarity with the Afghan people”.

Ukraine war: Russia used cluster weapons at least 24 times, says UN’s Bachelet

“For more than one month now, the entire population of Ukraine has been enduring a living nightmare,” she said. “The lives of millions of people are in upheaval as they are forced to flee their homes or hide in basements and bomb shelters as their cities are pummelled and destroyed.”

Probe investigators named

In a related development, the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday announced the names of the three investigators who are to carry out the work of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which the forum voted to establish on 4 March.

They are Erik Møse of Norway, Jasminka Džumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Pablo de Greiff of Colombia.

The panel’s mandate includes investigating all alleged rights violations and abuses committed during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine, along with related crimes.

Convoys rolling

Nearly five weeks into the conflict, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has provided emergency assistance to one million people inside Ukraine – no small achievement, considering that the agency had no presence inside the country until a month ago – “no staff, no network of suppliers or partners”.

The agency said on Wednesday that it has also established logistics hubs across the country to provide support to deliver food “at scale” to communities in need.

Trucks, trains and minivans are today delivering food supplies to the most vulnerable people across the country and more convoys are expected in coming days,” WFP said in a statement.

In total, WFP aims to help three million of the most vulnerable, in a country where more than four in 10 people are worried about finding enough to eat.

To do so, it has appealed for $590 million to assist 3.1 million crisis-affected people, for the next three months.

In Kharkiv, WFP has provided 330,000 loaves of bread to families; in Lviv, people who’ve fled fighting have received cash assistance and ready-to-eat food, which has also been distributed in other parts of the country.

Four million refugees, 2 million are children

To date, more than four million people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries, according to the UN Refugee Agency portal, with 2.3 million now sheltering in Poland and 608,000 in Romania and hundreds of thousands more in Moldova, Hungary, Russia and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, warned that two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine, as the war rages on. More than 2.5 million youngsters have been internally displaced inside the country.

“The situation inside Ukraine is spiralling”, said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “As the number of children fleeing their homes continues to climb, we must remember that every single one of them needs protection, education, safety and support.” 

An apartment building that was heavily damaged during escalating conflict in Ukraine

© UNICEF/Anton Skyba for The Globe and Mail
An apartment building that was heavily damaged during escalating conflict in Ukraine

50 hospitals targeted

In her update to the Geneva forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also told the Human Rights Council, that her Office had verified dozens of incidents in which medical facilities have been damaged, including 50 hospitals.

Where are you from? His reply, ‘I am from Izium, a city that no longer exists’

Echoing calls from the UN Secretary-General for an end to the fighting, Ms. Bachelet insisted that “the hostilities must stop, without delay”.

And in a direct appeal to the Russian Federation, she urged the country’s leaders “to heed the clear and strong calls of the General Assembly and of this Council, and immediately act to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory”.

WHO safe passage plea

WHO continues to work with local and international partners to deliver medical supplies to the hardest hit areas across Ukraine, and has now delivered 160 metric tonnes of supplies, said the World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday.

We continue to urge for guarantees of safe passage to deliver supplies to Mariupol and other besieged cities…We are outraged that attacks on healthcare are continuing. 

Since the start of the Russian invasion, he said there had now been 82 attacks on healthcare, resulting in at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, including patients and health workers. 

“Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law, and must stop immediately.”

Dire shortages

In many areas across the country, people urgently need medical supplies, food, water, shelter and basic household items,” Ms. Bachelet said, before noting that it is still proving difficult to assess just how many people have been killed in places of constant shelling and intensive fighting, such as Mariupol and Volnovakha.

“Every day, my colleagues are listening to the heartbreaking stories of Ukrainians whose lives have been shattered by this conflict,” she said. “Just last week, they asked a simple question to a displaced man from a town in eastern Ukraine, ‘Where are you from?’ His reply, ‘I am from Izium, a city that no longer exists‘”.

Work ‘in concert’ to help bring Yemen closer to a peaceful future

According to news reports, Houthi rebels, who have been battling the coalition in support of the internationally-recognized Government, since 2015, refused to take part in the talks, given the summit venue.

In addition to calling for the talks to be held in a neutral country, the Houthis (formally known as Ansar Allah) wanted the coalition to allow the re-opening of Sanaa’s airport and lift restrictions on the country’s ports.

“I am a firm believer in strengthening the United Nations’ cooperation with regional organizations to advance peace and security,” Special Envoy Hans Grundberg told the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – a six-nation organization consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He welcomed “all diplomatic initiatives” supporting the UN’s efforts to resume an intra-Yemeni political process and “bring an end to the suffering” caused by the conflict.

Crumbling social structures

Yemenis from different sides of the conflict have not engaged in face-to-face discussions for a comprehensive political solution since 2016, in Kuwait.

And over the years, the harm caused by the war has continued to accumulate.

Mr. Grundberg painted a picture of state institutions eroding, citizens living without basic services and Yemenis suffering from severe restrictions on their movements.

The war has killed, injured and displaced civilians and decimated the national economy, he said.

“The younger generation is being deprived of its future. The worsening economic and humanitarian conditions have a disproportionate impact on women, children and marginalized groups”.

The longer the conflict goes on, the more severe the impact, and the more difficult it will be to reverse the damage.

Forging a path forward

To help the Yemeni people chart “a clear path” out of the crisis, the UN envoy is developing a Framework that outlines “a multitrack process,” covering economic, military and political priorities as well as an inclusive political settlement.

“Earlier this month, I launched a series of structured consultations to identify the short- and the longer-term priorities for this multitrack process,” he said, adding that he was “encouraged by the enthusiastic participation” of Yemeni political parties, components, experts and civil society representatives during the process.

A common message

Across the plurality of voices, a common message emerged: Yemenis want the war to end and a just and durable peace to prevail.

Mr. Grundberg relayed that the parties all wanted “an immediate end to hostilities, and measures to mitigate the impact of the conflict on civilians”.

Moreover, they welcomed his Office’s launch of an economic track to address widespread humanitarian suffering and economic conditions.

“I will resume my consultations in the coming weeks, and I hope representatives of all major Yemeni groups will participate,” he stated.

Internally displaced family in an IDP site in Al-Dhale’e Governorate, Yemen.

© UNOCHA/Mahmoud Fadel-YPN
Internally displaced family in an IDP site in Al-Dhale’e Governorate, Yemen.

Ramadan truce

In parallel to consultations and conflict escalation, the UN official spotlighted a positive development.

Yemen needs a truce,” he asserted, informing the participants that for over two months he has been engaging the parties “with a sense of urgency” to reach an agreement, ahead of Ramadan.

The peace proposal includes easing the fuel crisis and facilitating freedom of movement – bringing some immediate relief to Yemenis, especially during the holy month of fasting.

Commenting on the Saudi-led coalition’s temporary ceasefire, Mr. Grundberg said that “the recent unilateral announcements by the parties on temporary halts to military operations are a step in the right direction”.

Finding solutions

He expressed his hope that throughout the GCC meetings, which will continue until 7 April, “solutions can be found” to some of the dire economic challenges facing Yemenis and for improvements in State institutions.

“Yemen needs more support, including from its GCC neighbours, to improve basic services, including access to electricity, ensure security and stabilize the economy,” he said.

And he supported discussions to help increase momentum toward bringing the Yemeni parties back to the negotiating table under UN auspices.

Two women collect wood for cooking in Mokha, Yemen.

©WFP/Hebatallah Munassar
Two women collect wood for cooking in Mokha, Yemen.

Looking to the future

In closing, Mr. Grundberg shared his desire for discussions to convey “a genuine sense of urgency” on the need for dialogue, compromise and commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict as well as for a future in which Yemenis can “coexist with equal citizenship” and begin the process of national reconciliation.

He wished for a future of accountable governance, state institutions that serve citizens equitably and a place where Yemenis’ human rights are respected, and social and economic justice ensured.

By working in concert, the international community can help bring Yemen closer to such a peaceful future,” concluded the UN Special Envoy.

A third of the world remains totally unvaccinated against COVID: Tedros

“This is not acceptable to me, and it should not be acceptable to anyone”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “If the world’s rich are enjoying the benefits of high vaccine coverage, why shouldn’t the world’s poor? Are some lives worth more than others? 

He announced that to tackle future threats on a par with the virus that has now taken well over six million lives, and infected more than 483 million people, he said WHO was launching a new strategy to scale up genomic surveillance, for deadly pathogens that had “epidemic and pandemic potential”.

He also unveiled the updated Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan for COVID-19.

The COVID end game?

“This is our third strategic plan for COVID-19, and it could and should be our last”, he said, laying out three possible scenarios for how the pandemic could evolve this year. 

The most likely scenario is that the virus continues to evolve, but the severity of disease it causes reduces over time as immunity increases due to vaccination and infection, he stated. 

“Periodic spikes in cases and deaths may occur as immunity wanes, which may require periodic boosting for vulnerable populations. In the best-case scenario, we may see less severe variants emerge, and boosters or new formulations of vaccines won’t be necessary.”

But, in the worst-case scenario, a more virulent and highly transmissible variant could emerge, sooner or later, and against this new threat, people’s protection against severe disease and death, from prior vaccination or infection, “will wane rapidly”, Tedros warned.

Addressing this situation would require significantly altering the current vaccines and making sure they get to the people who are most vulnerable to severe disease, he said. 

A health worker wears PPE at a COVID testing clinic in Mauritius.

© UNDP Mauritius/Stephae Bellar
A health worker wears PPE at a COVID testing clinic in Mauritius.

The UN health agency chief laid out five strategic areas governments need to focus on, and invest in:

  • Surveillance, laboratories, and public health intelligence
  • Vaccination, public health and social measures, and engaged communities 
  • Clinical care for COVID-19, and resilient health systems
  • Research and development, and equitable access to tools and supplies
  • And finally, coordination, as the response transitions from emergency mode to long-term respiratory disease management. 

“We have all the tools we need to bring this pandemic under control: we can prevent transmission with masks, distancing, hand hygiene and ventilation; and we can save lives by ensuring everyone has access to tests, treatments and vaccines”. 

Equitable vaccination remains the single most powerful tool at the world’s disposal, to save lives, Tedros reminded. 

Striving to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country remains essential for bringing the pandemic under control, with priority given to health workers, older people and other at-risk groups. 

The World Health Organization is helping countries boost testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

WHO/Nana Kofi Acquah
The World Health Organization is helping countries boost testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Crisis hotspots

Over 24 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year in Afghanistan, said Tedros, and they face displacement, drought, food insecurity and malnutrition, COVID-19, and many other health challenges. 

Women and girls are especially at risk, he added, from lack of access to health services, and lack of access to education, describing last week’s failure to backtrack on opening middle and high schools for girls as “very troubling”. 

For the millions whose lives and basic healthcare is at risk due to the raging conflict in northern Ethiopia, Tedros, whose family roots are in Tigray, welcomed last week’s declaration of a humanitarian truce in the region – between Tigrayan leaders and Government forces, in order to allow in vital aid – saying he hoped it would lead to the rapid restoration of public services, including electricity, telecommunications, banking and healthcare.

Tigray aid held up

“However, a week has passed since the truce was announced, but no food has been allowed into Tigray yet, he said. “Every hour makes a difference when people are starving to death. No food has reached Tigray since mid-December, and almost no fuel has been delivered since August of last year.

“The siege of six million people in Tigray by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces for more than 500 days, is one of the longest in modern history. Sustaining WHO’s response to all of these emergencies, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and more, requires the generosity of donors.” 

Under WHO’s Global Health Emergency Appeal for 2022, he noted that $2.7 billion was needed “to save lives and alleviate suffering around the world”.

Ukraine: UNESCO’s response to children’s education needs

After a month of war, local authorities have reported that more than 733 educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed.

Beyond learning, education offers a protective environment that is even more relevant to crisis-affected populations, particularly children, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a press release.

UNESCO has also announced that it is mobilizing support for learning continuity. Through its Global Education Coalition. Created in 2020 to facilitate distance learning solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organization will provide computer hardware and digital learning tools to young refugees.

Temporary protection

Every humanitarian crisis is also an education crisis, but one unprecedent factor of the war in Ukraine, is that the European Union (EU) decided early on to activate its temporary protection scheme, which allowed the millions fleeing the wartorn country, to enjoy equal rights to benefits.

The EU countries directive grants access “to persons under 18 years-old benefiting from the temporary protection status under the same conditions as their own nationals and EU citizens”, UNESCO notes.

Adopted on 4 March, less than two weeks after the Russian invasion started, the directive had an immediate impact, and prompted a dynamic influx of refugees, with Ukrainian nationals able to move freely into EU countries.

The move, according to the UN agency, “calls for increased coordination of host countries, both within and outside the EU, to assist and integrate Ukrainian learners, teachers and education staff in national education systems”.

Mapping the response

UNESCO’s response includes mapping how host countries are supporting the educational needs of Ukrainian refugees.

This includes transitional measures for integrating learners into mainstream education; language and curriculum considerations; psychosocial support, teacher training and accreditation, among other practical steps related to governance, registration, certification, and financial support.

In a first review, UNESCO analysed 29 countries’ provisions, and divided the findings into the following categories: transition vs direct mainstreaming, teaching and teachers, credits and examinations, and financial resources.

On 9 March 2022 in Medyka, southeast Poland, children play in the corner of a school gymnasium set up to host refugee families who have fled the war in Ukraine.

© UNICEF/Joe English
On 9 March 2022 in Medyka, southeast Poland, children play in the corner of a school gymnasium set up to host refugee families who have fled the war in Ukraine.

Students’ inclusion

Many countries mentioned existing programmes and protocols to include foreigners in their national education systems. In Portugal, for example, international students can enroll in pre-K (pre-kindergarten) classes directly, while older students get assessed or go through a transition process. The goal is to integrate Ukrainian students as soon as possible.

As such, Portugal introduced extraordinary measures for speedy integration, including simplified procedures granting equivalence to foreign qualifications. Similarly, Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain, mentioned ‘bridging’, ‘reception’ or ‘adaptation’ classes.

These transition classes provide language classes, familiarise students with their local education system, provide counsellors for psychological support, and evaluate competencies. As the students strengthen their language skills and get evaluated, they can then be integrated into regular classes.

Some countries offer public education with instruction in a minority language. In Romania, for instance, there are 45 schools and ten high schools offering instructions in Ukrainian.

Some initiatives also include connecting Ukrainian refugee students with distance learning options in Ukrainian.

A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl holds a drawing of her family as she sits in a learning hub with her mohther and cat (in blue basket) in Romania.

© UNICEF/Adrian Holerga
A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl holds a drawing of her family as she sits in a learning hub with her mohther and cat (in blue basket) in Romania.

Many countries are also declaring they will allow Ukrainian students to access their higher education institutions, such as Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, as well as offering to waive tuitions or provide extra financial support.

The UK for instance is launching the Homes for Ukraine Scheme for visa applications from Ukrainians who have people willing to sponsor them.

People arriving under this scheme will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years, access healthcare, benefits, employment support, and their children will be able to attend local schools and receive English language lessons.

Language barriers

According to UNESCO, the large influx of Ukrainian refugee students will pose particular challenges, such as the obvious language barrier. Teachers will need support dealing with that, as well as how to gradually incorporate students into a welcoming classroom; how to discuss the Russian invasion and the state of the war in their homeland; and how to provide them cultural and psychological support.

Besides providing material and training on handling the language barrier -provided by several countries’ education ministries already in some cases – other options include experimenting with bilingual material, learning basic Ukrainian, using translation apps, and using interpretation services for more complex communication struggles. 

UNICEF has provided early childhood education (ECD) kits for Ukrainan refugee children in Poland.

© UNICEF/Agnieszka Sochon
UNICEF has provided early childhood education (ECD) kits for Ukrainan refugee children in Poland.

In addition to language support, an often-mentioned measure across education ministry websites is providing materials and direction to teachers on how to discuss the war with students, including webinars and podcasts.

For instance, Croatia, Czechia (the Czech Republic), and Slovakia have handbooks on how to protect pupils’ mental health, prevent conflict in classes, and talk about sensitive topics.

In Paris, a Ukraine ‘crisis unit’ was created, and one of its services is to provide teachers with an online pamphlet outlining how to welcome pupils who have suffered trauma. 

Policy gaps and available resources

In the crucial policy area of how host countries tackle final exams, transfer of credits in higher education and teaching accreditation, UNESCO found that understandably, very little has been prepared to help Ukrainian students so far.

Furthermore, in the resources area, some governments have developed financial measures to support the education response, such as extra-budgetary allocation.

That was the case of France, Italy, Poland, and Romania. In Italy, for example, €1 million will be used specifically to include Ukrainian students in national education systems.

In terms of direct financial support, most measures focus on students in higher education. Austria for example has waived the tuition fees for Ukrainian university students currently enrolled in its higher education institutions. In Lithuania, depending on the institution’s capacity, studies for Ukrainian citizens will be State sponsored.

Some countries are also providing support at early stages, such as Romania, where Ukrainian students can be accommodated free of charge in boarding schools, and will receive allowances for study and bedding items, for example.

Strengthening distance learning

According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics data, Ukraine’s total school-age population stands at more than 6.84 million students, from pre-primary to the tertiary education level.

Two girls stand in a schoolyard in Sloviansk, Ukraine. (file)

© UNICEF/Pavel Zmey
Two girls stand in a schoolyard in Sloviansk, Ukraine. (file)

In order to respond to the needs on the ground, UNESCO said it is in permanent contact with the local authorities, and all relevant partners, to protect and restore education in the country, with a focus on distance learning.

In line with UNESCO recommendations, Ukraine had an effective system in place in response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the All-Ukrainian School platform”, said UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini, adding that the UN agency is working with the Government to adapt it to the current needs.

Mapping methodologies

In a dynamic way which can quickly evolve as the war continues, and the influx of people on the move increases and spreads, UNESCO is adopting an incremental approach to its data project.

The data and analysis will occur in waves with an incremental number of countries, increasingly detailed content, and evolving ways of filtering and visualizing information.

The first wave of mapping of 29 countries, is based on a desk review of the information found on host countries’ Ministries of Education websites.

Refugees from Ukraine wait for a bus to continue their journey after crossing the Polish border to Medyka.

© UNICEF/Tom Remp
Refugees from Ukraine wait for a bus to continue their journey after crossing the Polish border to Medyka.

Next steps

The mapping will also specify if any non-EU country relies on existing legislation for access to education or is also issuing special directives for the Ukraine crisis.

In doing so, it will also allow host countries to take stock of concrete steps taken to integrate and support Ukrainian learners and teachers fleeing the war, including international students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutions.

UN Dubai Forum closes with calls for focus on women entrepreneurs, innovation and sustainable development for all

Youth and innovation were the highlight of the Forum’s closing ceremony, as the three top winners of the ‘Arab Rally’ for Entrepreneurship and Innovation were announced.The entrepreneurship competition for university students from the Arab Region was taking place on the sidelines of WEIF 2022.

Sustainable development through entrepreneurship

The closing day of the WEIF 2022 saw the participants, partners and co-sponsors, including the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)-ITPO, as well as the Arab League, Arab Chambers of Commerce, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), express their strong commitment to achieving the 17 Global Goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Further, the UAE Declaration stated: “We recognize that entrepreneurship and innovation are the driving force to the creation of jobs, spurring of economic growth and the realization of social gains; We recommend that all efforts are focused towards achieving sustainable development through entrepreneurship and innovation that can be accomplished via strong, inclusive, sustainable and resilient economic growth.”

Summing up the three-day Forum, Dr. Hashim Hussein, the Executive Director of WEIF, said: “This is the closing session. But WEIF never closes. Every WEIF we have a declaration to summarize what has happened. This year, the declaration is being read by an African and an Arab entrepreneur because this year, this global forum is focussing on the Arab region and Africa.”

“We are here connecting minds and brains, under the umbrella of the Arab League.”

Gender parity ‘a must’ for entrepreneurship

The Forum’s participants devoted special attention to the empowerment of women at all economic levels towards achieving the SDGs through innovation and entrepreneurship. “We encourage the active involvement of women in all sectors through entrepreneurship and innovation,” the Declaration read.

Also emphasized was the need to develop and implement sound economic policies, legislation and programmes as important strategies for sustainable development and to ensure women’s empowerment at the national, regional, and global levels.

The Declaration also stressed the need to build strong partnerships between entrepreneurs – women and men alike – to share best practices in line with linking financial and non-financial services that could improve the stakes of entrepreneurs and bolster Micro- Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs).

Addressing the closing session, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said that the young men and women of Arab countries, who numbered more than 100 million, are the mainstay of the Arab region.

He also stressed the importance of providing an enabling environment for Arab youth to succeed, “because their success means the success of the nation and the Arab society.”

Mr. Gheit detailed three tips for young people in the Arab region: “First, work to the last moment of your life; second, read to the point of blindness; and third, have hope that your aspirations will come true.”

A group photo of the participants in World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022).

A group photo of the participants in World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022).

The way forward and the role of UNIDO

The UAE Declaration also called for exploring and expanding new investment sectors, namely ‘green’ and renewable energy, the blue economy, the ‘orange’ (creative) economy, with a focus on trade and heritage,  special programmes and initiatives that economically empower person with disabilities.

Increasing synergies between governments, the private sector, philanthropists, civil society, financial institutions, think tanks, universities, schools, chambers, non-governmental organizations, media, and international organizations to cooperate in facilitating the promotion of resilient entrepreneurs and innovative enterprises towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was also stressed.

The role of UNIDO, towards fostering inclusive and sustainable industrial development and the considerable achievements of previous editions of WEIF were also lauded.

UNIDO’s Managing Director for Programs & Partnership, Ciyong Zou said: “I am pleased to see this great innovation and advancement that takes place in WEIF. As you are all aware, post-COVID events are playing a crucial role in achieving economic growth and WEIF has seen how we can create resilience to help the global economy grow and thrive. Yet at the same time, we have to collectively work towards attaining the Sustainable development goals.”

The Declaration urged the international community, United Nations, UNIDO, and other relevant international and regional organizations, think-tanks, civil society, among other stakeholders, to take the recommendations into account when shaping their policies and strategies to support entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable development.

The three winners of the Arab Rally for Innovation. From left to right: Yara Haydar from Lebanon, Hassan Elharaki from Syria, Abdelfattah Shehadeh from Palestine.

UN News/Abdelmonem Makki
The three winners of the Arab Rally for Innovation. From left to right: Yara Haydar from Lebanon, Hassan Elharaki from Syria, Abdelfattah Shehadeh from Palestine.

Supporting youth entrepreneurs and innovation

The ceremony ended with an air of excitement with the announcement of the winners of the second Arab Rally for Innovation.   
The competition targeted university students in the Arab region and featured 20 teams from throughout the region. 
The students and university professors worked hard to find innovative solutions for many of the challenges the region is facing, in areas such as water, agriculture, renewable energy, environmental pollution and recycling environmental waste.  
The first prize went to a Syrian company called BEVOL, which designed an unprecedented and interactive international social media platform to promote the culture of volunteerism and enhancing the performance of social responsibility by using motivational means.

Second place went to WALTER from Palestine, which is a company providing technology solutions for greywater treatment to reduce water consumption in public and private facilities. The company’s special water treatment system is based on the filtration of greywater, implicit storage and treatment to be ready for later pumping into the toilets.

The third awardee was CLOUD, a company that offers a disposable menstruation pad that is body-friendly, mind-friendly, nature-friendly, using 100 per cent healthy, organic and biodegradable materials.

2019 Arab Rally winner, Wadah Malaeb from Lebanon.

UN News/Anshu Sharma
2019 Arab Rally winner, Wadah Malaeb from Lebanon.

The Forum’s Impact

Over the years, WEIF has supported these young entrepreneurs through their journey to become business leaders. 

Addressing the gathering, last year’s Arab Rally winner, Wadah Malaeb, of Lebanon, said that the competition helped him grow and put him on the global map.

“In 2019, I won the Arab Innovation Rally, which [led to] a pivotal change in my career. Since then, we have patented our technology, expanded our team, set up the manufacturing facility to our chips. We established collaborations with academia, with the faculty of Medicine at the University of Beirut,” he explained.

He went on to say: “We are currently growing, giving different organ and disease models on our chips to create a human model to test drugs on. We have started conversations with pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca to set up studies to introduce our concept to the drug discovery process.”

Mr. Malaeb won the first prize for his unique invention: Ductal Organoid-on-a-Chip, based on growing organ chip technology. The chip provides an environment in which cells can grow and reorganize into tissue imitating the human body, providing the perfect atmosphere to conduct drug testing efficiently, and saving money and ordeal of human trials.

About WEIF

The World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF), through its secretariat at the UNIDO ITPO/AICEI Bahrain and various partners, has managed to position itself as a leading pavilion of knowledge on entrepreneurship, innovation and impactful investments.

Over the previous editions of the Forum in 2015, 2017 and 2019, WEIF has been able to achieve major milestones and become the main dedicated Entrepreneurs Investment Forum by the UN system.

The main theme of WEIF Achieving the SDGs through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Investment was a crucial factor in its success.

WEIF 2022, which opened on Monday at the Dubai Expo Pavilion, 28 March, focused on addressing what is needed at the level of governments, multinational organizations and the private sector to achieve entrepreneurial and economic resilience post-COVID-19 in the Arab Region, Africa and the world.


Find here our news stories and audio interviews on all the activities at WEIF 2022.

‘Staggering number’ of unintended pregnancies reveals failure to uphold women’s rights 

“This report is a wakeup call”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, adding that the “staggering number of unintended pregnancies represents a global failure to uphold women and girls’ basic human rights.”  

The ground-breaking Seeing the Unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy, warns that this human rights crisis has “profound consequences for societies, women and girls and global health”. 

This report is a wakeup call – UNFPA chief

‘No choice at all’ 

Over 60 per cent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion and an estimated 45 per cent of all abortions are unsafe, accounting for five to 13 per cent of all maternal deaths recorded, according to the UNFPA’s flagship State of World Population 2022 report. 

This is also having a major impact on the planet’s ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 target date.  

Moreover, the war in Ukraine and other conflicts and crises, are expected to drive an increase in unintended pregnancies, as access to contraception is disrupted and sexual violence increases.  

For the women affected, the most life-altering reproductive choice – whether or not to become pregnant – is no choice at all,” said the UNFPA chief. 

Pushed into pregnancy 

The report outlined that gender inequality and stalled development, drive high rates of unintended pregnancies. 

For example, an estimated 257 million women around the world who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe, modern methods of contraception.  

And where data is available, nearly a quarter of all women, feel unable to say no to demands for sex.  

A range of factors also contribute to unintended pregnancies, including a lack of sexual and reproductive healthcare; contraceptive that does not suit women’s circumstances; harmful norms surrounding women controlling their own bodies; sexual violence and reproductive coercion; and shaming in health services. 

These all reflect the pressure that societies place on women and girls to become mothers.  

A lack of information or awareness about sexual and reproductive health led to an unintended pregnancy for an 18-year-old girl in Timor Leste.

© UNFPA/Ruth Carr
A lack of information or awareness about sexual and reproductive health led to an unintended pregnancy for an 18-year-old girl in Timor Leste.

Pregnancies surge during crises  

Crisis and conflict rob women of their agency at all levels, drastically increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy. 

Women often lose access to contraceptives and sexual violence increases, according to the report, which cites studies showing that over 20 per cent of refugee women and girls will face sexual violence.  

If you had 15 minutes to leave your house, what would you take? Would you grab your passport? Food? Would you remember your contraception?” asked Dr. Kanem.  

After a crisis starts, sexual and reproductive health and protection services save lives – UNFPA chief

“In the days, weeks and months after a crisis starts, sexual and reproductive health and protection services save lives, shield women and girls from harm and prevent unintended pregnancies. They are as vital as food, water and shelter.”  

Take action  

The report shows how easily the most fundamental rights of women and girls are pushed to the backburner in both times of peace and during war.  

It calls on decision-makers and those in charge of health systems to help prevent unintended pregnancies by improving accessibility, acceptability and contraception choices – while also urging policy makers and community leaders to empower women and girls to make affirmative decisions about sex, contraception and motherhood. 

If this is done, women and girls will be able to contribute fully to society with the tools, information and power to decide for themselves whether or not to have children. 

“By putting the power to make this most fundamental decision squarely in the hands of women and girls, societies can ensure that motherhood is an aspiration and not an inevitability,” concluded the UNFPA chief. 

UN highlights human cost of transatlantic slave trade

In a commemorative event in the General Assembly Hall that included remarks from Member States from around the world, top UN officials denounced racism and discrimination.

In his opening remarks, the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, called for greater commitments to social justice, and the celebration of all communities, irrespective of caste, creed or skin colour.

Standing in solidarity

He also spoke personally about his visit to the island of Gorée, off the coast of Senegal, which from the 15th to the 19th century, was the largest slave-trading centre on the Africa.

Standing in solidarity with victims is the bare minimum we can do,” President Shahid said. “We must act to address these inequalities.”

Secretary-General António Guterres also spoke about the ongoing obstacles faced by people of African descent, who “are often among the last in line” for quality healthcare, education, justice and other opportunities.

He noted that ending racism is imperative for justice, adding that “This imperative implicates us all – we are all responsible to stand up and speak out in solidarity against racism wherever, whenever we encounter it.”

Stories of courage

This year’s theme for the commemorative event is Stories of Courage: Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism.

Some of them were recounted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the keynote speaker at the event, who is also the creator of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which aims to place the consequences of slavery in the United States, and contributions of Black Americans, more at the centre of the national narrative.

A descendent of slaves whose family went on to be sharecroppers in the southern US, Ms. Hannah-Jones told how her grandmother fled to “plant the seed of freedom that she would never see herself.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones noted that “as we remember our brutal enslavement by people who saw themselves as civilized, we must remember the fierce black tradition of resistance.”

She noted Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil, Queen nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica and the independence of Haiti as some of the examples, stressing that “resistance remains the legacy of slavery.” 

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, addresses the UN General Assembly commemorative meeting marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, addresses the UN General Assembly commemorative meeting marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


Resistance is also the theme of Equiano.Stories, a film based on the memoir of Olaudah Equiano, who, after decades of slavery, was able to buy his freedom. He wrote about his life in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African.

His story is told through first-person video, still images, and text, as if Equiano had a cell phone in 1756. The result is an Instagram feed of a little boy growing up in a West African village, who is then kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Equiano Stories connects us to the past in a way that is often hard to achieve, particularly as we are prone to see the past as something long ago, distant and unrecognizable,” President Shahid said.

The film was introduced by producer Mati Kochavi, in a special event organized by the Office of the President of the General Assembly, with participation from the Permanent Missions of Israel, Jamaica, Senegal, the United States, and the African Union.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams attended the event, in his first visit to the United Nations Headquarters since taking office in January 2022.

Addressing participants, Mayor Adams drew parallels between the evils shows in the film and global ills today, such as accelerating climate change, hunger and conflicts.

Urging multilateral action, he said “the UN must be more than a symbolic building, it must be a rallying cry.”

UN Dubai Forum: Women entrepreneurs call for greater access to financing

Along with this headline event focused on women, the Forum, taking place in Dubai, also held a ministerial panel on the importance of Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, known as MSMEs, for post-COVID recovery. Discussions also highlighted the power of Africa’s youth generation as crucial to attracting future foreign investment in the continent’s development.

Let Arab women shine

Addressing the panel on uplifting women’s entrepreneurship, Farida Al Awadhi, the Chairperson of Emirates Businesswomen Council, said: “Unfortunately, women in Middle East and the Arab countries have been undermined or media has misrepresented them.”

Sonya Janahi, CEO of RA’EDAT Arab Woman Portal, agreed, and added: “Arab women have been unprecedented in many things, but unfortunately, there’s a lack of international knowledge [about what they are doing]. So let us focus on letting Arab women shine, creating opportunities together to work and collaborate, and focus on how to train and develop women so their entrepreneurship journey can also be an investment journey.”

However, all the participants agreed that boosting entrepreneurship and achieving gender parity in the business world required that women have more opportunities and better access to financing, with the aim of putting women entrepreneurs on par with their male counterparts.

Farida Al Awadhi, Chairperson of the Emirates Businesswomen Council of UAE, speaks at the Discussion Panel on Uplifting Women Entrepreneurship at the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum in Dubai, UAE.

Farida Al Awadhi, Chairperson of the Emirates Businesswomen Council of UAE, speaks at the Discussion Panel on Uplifting Women Entrepreneurship at the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum in Dubai, UAE.

Involve women in the conversation

“There are many initiatives to bridge this gap, but we are not there yet,” said Dr. Louiza Chitour, the HealthTech Programme Manager, Plug and Play Abu Dhabi – a CSR initiative that helps female founders globally acquire funding for and thrive in their businesses.

“So, it’s more important for us to be involved in those investment conversations – how to get women to invest, how to educate them – to give them the confidence that they also can be a part of this investment world that’s escaping us.”

Moderator of the session and the President of the International Women Entrepreneurs Challenge, Ibukun Awosika, pointed out that the challenges of being a woman in the entrepreneurial world are even tougher for African female entrepreneurs.

Speaking later to UN News he said: “There are challenges based on our cultural system, there are challenges common to all men and women entrepreneurs, based on our infrastructure, financial [systems], the perception of a female as opposed to a male, and sometimes the opportunity and the limitation.”

Although there have been significant achievements in the last few decades, women’s socio-economic disadvantage is still reflected in pervasive gender inequalities in earned income, access to productive resources such as credit cards and assets, education, liberty to pursue a profession and access to financing.

Tackling unequal power dynamics

Jessica Neumann, an Investment and Technology Promotion Expert and Gender focal point at the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) said that the agency is in the process of finalizing its gender lens investing and training e-learning course.

“We decided to design [this] virtual e-learning course with free access to really stop focusing on women and trying to fix them because we are beyond the conversation on what women should do to raise funding for the business, and rather raise awareness [about] the [unfair] power dynamics that exist in the finance industry,” she explained.

UNIDO, she continued, had long been focused on gender analysis “and in every project we do, we look at the power dynamics as to where women are excluded, and we take steps and measures to see that they are equally benefitted from our projects. So, this time we are not doing another woman accelerator, we are talking to the men now and trying to make them understand that there is a real business in investing in women.”

Governmental support was seen as crucial in achieving gender parity and having more women helm their own businesses.

As Chairperson of Emirates Businesswomen Council of UAE, Farida Al Awadhi summed up: “Yes. We can do it. But the journey is much faster if governments put in place rules, regulations and policies to support women.”

Ibukun Awosika, President of the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge, speaks at the Discussion Panel on Uplifting Women Entrepreneurship at the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum in Dubai.

Ibukun Awosika, President of the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge, speaks at the Discussion Panel on Uplifting Women Entrepreneurship at the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum in Dubai.

Ministerial Panel: take small and medium enterprises seriously

Providing government support to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also echoed among the speakers during the Ministerial level discussion on Tuesday.

Among the panelists were: Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director-General of the African Risk Capacity Cluster (ARC), Dr. Ahmed bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi; Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises in the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Abdul Rahim Younes Ali Minister of State, Economy, Development Planning and International Cooperation of Chad.

The Ministerial Panel highlighted the Role of SMEs in developing the world economy, especially at a time of multiple severe global challenges. With the pandemic creating unprecedented disruptions to global economies and labor markets at all levels, supply chains grounding to a halt and lockdowns resulting in the forced closure of many businesses, it is unsurprising that SMEs were the most heavily impacted.

Mr. Diong spoke about the challenges that Africans face in terms of investment, and what needs to be done to support small and medium-sized enterprises on the continent.

He added that when addressing the SME sector in Africa, one thing on which all agreed was that 80 per cent of jobs on the continent are provided by African SMEs. “So, it’s imperative to take the small and medium enterprises seriously.”

The UN official pointed to some of the challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises in the African continent: First, access to markets, he said, noting that “it is not possible to establish projects in the absence of markets”; second, enabling small and medium enterprises to access finance; and third, providing the necessary resources for capacity-building.

Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director-General of the African Risk Capacity Cluster, speaks at the ministerial level discussion that discussed providing government support to small and medium-sized enterprises, on the second day of the Entrepreneurship and Investment Forum in Dubai.

Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director-General of the African Risk Capacity Cluster, speaks at the ministerial level discussion that discussed providing government support to small and medium-sized enterprises, on the second day of the Entrepreneurship and Investment Forum in Dubai.

Africa: The continent of future investment

After the session, Dr. Abd al-Rahim Younes on the Minister of State, Economy, Development Planning and International Cooperation of Chad told UN News that Africa is the “continent of future investment” and noted that young people made up more than 60 per cent of over the population. This massive young cohort was now beginning to form companies or to find work in the private sector.

He pointed out that African governments support young people, whether through local, regional or international funding, and stressed that the continent is rich in natural resources such as water, petroleum, minerals and all sources of energy.

“Chad has more than 120 million head of livestock, and more than 25 million hectares of arable land, as well as newly discovered oil fields, in addition to gold in large quantities. We look forward to the future and [the] investment that will come from Arab, European and Asian countries,” he stated.

Economic empowerment of Arab women

The conclusion of the Advancement of Women’s Entrepreneurship workshop also saw the graduation of a number of Arab women entrepreneurs from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who were trained on how to develop, sustain and grow their projects.

This training course, entitled ‘Economic Empowerment of Arab Women’, was conducted virtually online by the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Office.

Held under the aegis of Dubai Exhibition Centre at Dubai Expo 2020, the bi-annual World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF 2022), which is co-sponsored by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)/Investment and Technology Promotion Offices (Bahrain), will continue on Wednesday 30 March.

COVID-19: Education risks becoming ‘greatest divider’

And as 23 countries have yet to fully re-open schools, many children are at risk of just dropping out.

“When children are not able to interact with their teachers and their peers directly, their learning suffers,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “When they are not able to interact with their teachers and peers at all, their learning loss may become permanent.

“This rising inequality in access to learning, means that education risks becoming the greatest divider, not the greatest equalizer. When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer.”

2 trillion hours, gone 

The report entitled, Are children really learning?, features country-level education data on the impact that COVID-19 school closures are having on children along with an updated analysis of the state of learning before the pandemic.

The study points out that 147 million children missed more than half of their in-class instruction over the past two years – amounting to two trillion hours of lost in-person education, globally. 

Africa case study

In addition to data on learning loss, the report highlights emerging evidence that many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened, including in Liberia, West Africa, where 43 per cent of public-school students remained out of the classroom after schools reopened in December 2020.

And between March 2020 and July 2021, the number of children out of school in South Africa, tripled from 250,000 to 750,000. Around one in 10 Ugandan students did not report back to school in January 2022 after two years of school closures.

Meanwhile in Malawi, the dropout rate among girls in secondary education increased by 48 per cent, between 2020 and 2021, and in Kenya, a survey of 4,000 adolescents aged 10-19 years found that 16 per cent of girls and eight per cent of boys did not return when schools reopened.

 “When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer,” said the senior UN official.

Pupils attend class at a pirmary school in Kasese District, Uganda.

© UNICEF/Maria Wamala
Pupils attend class at a pirmary school in Kasese District, Uganda.

Vulnerable and marginalized

Out-of-school children are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized youth in society – least likely to read, write or do basic math.

Moreover, they are cut off from the school safety nets – putting them at even greater risk of exploitation and a lifetime of poverty and deprivation.

“Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind,” reminded Ms. Russell.

“As the pandemic enters its third year, we can’t afford to go back to ‘normal’. We need a new normal,” the UNICEF chief spelled out, “getting children into classrooms, assessing where they are in their learning, providing them with the intensive support they need to recover what they’ve missed, and ensuring that teachers have the training and learning resources they need.”

“The stakes are too high to do anything less”.

We need a new normal – UNICEF chief

Learning slowdown

Although out-of-school children suffer the greatest loss, pre-pandemic data from 32 countries and territories highlighted an already desperately poor level of learning that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-triggered education crisis.

In the countries analysed, the current pace of learning is so slow that it would take seven years for most schoolchildren to learn foundational reading skills that should have been grasped in two years, and 11 years to learn foundational numeracy skills.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that schoolchildren have learned the basics at all, in many cases.

A quarter of eighth graders, who are around 14-years old, did not have foundational reading skills and more than half lacked the numeracy skills expected of seven-year-old in second grade, according to the data.

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