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‘The world sees you’ UN chief tells Ukrainians, pledging to boost support

“I am here to focus on ways on how the UN can expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reduce suffering and help find the path of peace”, Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters from across the world gathered in a stately room, with curtains drawn.

Shortly after the press conference, two missile strikes reportedly rocked the capital, a reminder that the war is far from over, despite the Russian withdrawal from the surrounding suburbs.

At least one person was killed, and several injured – with some buried beneath rubble as two high rise buildings caught fire – according to news reports, in the northwest of the city

‘Awe’ at Ukraine’s resolve

“I want the Ukrainian people to know that the world sees you, hears you, and is in awe of your resilience and resolve”, declared the UN chief.

“I also know that words of solidarity are not enough. I am here to zero in on needs on the ground and scale up operations.  

“This war must end, and peace must be established, in line the charter of the United Nations and international law. Many leaders have made many good efforts to stop the fighting, though these efforts, so far, have not succeeded.

“I am here to say to you, Mr. President, and to the people of Ukraine: We will not give up.”

‘Crisis within a crisis’: Mariupol

Mr. Guterres said the tens of thousands of civilians and fighters believed to be left in the besieged and destroyed coastal city of Mariupol, were in “desperate need” of a humanitarian corridor to escape the horrors of the last redoubt against the Russian invaders, of the Azovstal steel plant complex.

“Mariupol is a crisis within a crisis. Thousands of civilians need life-saving assistance. Many are elderly, in need of medical care or have limited mobility. They need an escape route out of the apocalypse.”

He recalled that in his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, there had been an agreement “in principle” to involve the UN and Red Cross, to aid the evacuation of civilians.

“Today, President Zelenskyy and I had the opportunity to address this issue”, he said, adding that “as we speak, there are intense discussions to move forward on this proposal to make it a reality.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres visits Irpin, Ukraine.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary-General António Guterres visits Irpin, Ukraine.

Failure in New York

Bearing in mind that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was a clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the UN Charter, Mr. Guterres expressed his categorical view, that the Security Council had failed to live up to its primary purpose to prevent or end the war.

This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and anger”, he said.

“But the men and women of the United Nations are working every day for the people of Ukraine, side by side with so many brave Ukrainian organizations. I salute the more than 1,400 staff of the UN — the vast majority of whom are Ukrainian nationals. They are on the ground in nine operational hubs and 30 locations.”

He said the complex aid mission had been “one of the fastest scale-up operations we have ever undertaken, and we are very much aware that not everything is perfect.  Whatever we can provide pales in comparison to the needs.”  

He pledged more action “across the board – coordinating with the Ukrainian Government every step of the way.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres addresses the media in Kyiv, Ukraine.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary General António Guterres addresses the media in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Support for millions

He said life-saving humanitarian aid had reached 3.4 million people inside Ukraine, adding that the UN was aiming to more than double that number to 8.7 million by the end of August.   

Mr. Guterres said cash assistance was being expanded, and the UN is distributing $100 million per month, aiming to reach 1.3 million people by the end of May, and covering two million by August.  

“This is not a typical humanitarian UN operation in a developing country, with lots of problems of governance and lots of difficulties. Ukraine is a country with a government and a system of support to its citizens, and so the role of the UN is not to replace that system, it is to support the Government to support the people of Ukraine.”

Food aid has reached 2.3 million people, said the Secretary-General, with the aim to help four million by May and six million by June.

He said the UN would increase capacity to meet the needs of the 7.7 million that have been displaced inside Ukraine, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is delivering medical supplies for trauma and emergency care for more than seven million.

“And we are advancing the work of accountability and justice by monitoring and reporting on human rights violations wherever they are detected.”

Ground zero for the future 

“Finally”, he told reporters in Kyiv, “in many ways, we are at ground zero for the world we need to build – a world of respect for international law, the UN Charter and the power of multilateralism, a world that protects civilians, a world that advances human rights, a world where leaders live up to the values that they have promised to uphold.”

Justice must prevail over alleged Libya war crimes, ICC Prosecutor tells Security Council

Outlining a new four-pronged investigation strategy to the Security Council on Thursday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) pledged his commitment to delivering justice against crimes committed in Libya.

This situation cannot be a never-ending story”, said Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  “Justice delayed may not always be justice denied, but justice that can still be arrived at.”

In his key prosecutorial role for under a year, Mr. Khan is having to reckon with multiple alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and war crimes, together with three unexecuted warrants of arrest, amid a politically divided nation that continues to suffer from widespread impunity, stemming from the overthrow of long-term ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

The internationally-recognized Government in Tripoli, is still at odds with a rival administration and parliamentary authority in the east, while a “deepening crackdown” on civil society is having a “chilling effect on human rights defenders”, according to the UN rights office, OHCHR, in a report last month.

New impetus

Presenting the 23rd report on the Libyan file, Mr. Khan said survivors and the families of victims are waiting for justice, and the report contains benchmarks for the first time to help move cases forward. 

“Our new approach prioritises the voices of survivors”, he said. “To do so we must move closer to them. We cannot conduct investigations, we cannot build trust, while working at arms-length from those affected”

He said the first pillar of the new approach is to prioritise the referrals made by the Council, by allocating additional resources and focusing on enhancing financial investigation, together with increasing capacity in investigating sexual and gender-based crimes.

To accelerate investigations, his team is also harnessing the power of new technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning to support the transcription and translation of Arabic language documentary, video and audio files.

The second is a commitment to empower witnesses and survivors to participate in the Office’s work.  The Hague, where the Court is based, is far from Libya. It is not possible to establish meaningful relationships with victims, by engaging at arms’ length. It is vital to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the affected communities, he told ambassadors.

More on-site investigation

We need to be more on the ground,” he said, adding that the Office is establishing an enhanced field presence.

The third is to strengthen engagement with Libyan authorities, focusing on supporting national accountability efforts based on the principle of complementarity.

Where national authorities can take forward genuine proceedings, his Office should be there to support, he said.

Focus on justice

But, if Libyan authorities appear unable to carry out investigations or prosecutions of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court, his Office will continue to do its work. He said he will visit Libya in the coming reporting period to deepen the Court’s relationships with the Libyan authorities. 

The fourth new approach, he said, was to increase avenues for accountability by enhancing cooperation with third States, international and regional organisations.

He said he does not want his Office to be only a recipient of cooperation from relevant national authorities, but a positive contributor to national accountability processes. This must be “a two-way street”, the ICC Prosecutor urged.


Guterres in Ukraine: War is ‘evil’ and unacceptable, calls for justice

The UN chief’s visit to the Kyiv suburbs of Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin comes nine weeks since the Russian invasion began. Mr. Guterres urged Russia “to accept to cooperate” with the ongoing investigation launched by the International Criminal Court, the ICC.

When we see this horrendous site, it makes me feel how important it is [to have] a thorough investigation and accountability,” Mr. Guterres said, speaking from Bucha, where disturbing images of dead civilians lying in the street sparked worldwide outrage earlier this month.

He added: “I fully support the International Criminal Court and I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.”

‘Absurd’ violence

Surveying destroyed buildings in Borodianka, northwest of Kyiv, the Secretary-General also called the war “an absurdity”.

“I must say what I feel. I imagined my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed and black,” he said. “I see my granddaughters running away in panic, part of the family eventually killed. So, the war is an absurdity in the 21st century. The war is evil.”

In Irpin, where Mr. Guterres visited the destroyed Irpinsky Lipki residential complex, he said that the “horrific scenario demonstrates something that is unfortunately, always true: civilians always pay the highest price”.

Earlier this month, UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet said that she had been “horrified” by images showing the bodies of dead civilians lying in the streets of Bucha, and in improvised graves.

“Reports emerging from this and other areas, raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law,” the High Commissioner said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

Life returning

Speaking to UN News after the Secretary-General had returned to the capital Kyiv, UN Spokesperson in Ukraine, Kris Janowski, said that it had been “a sad and shocking experience to visit these places, they are very damaged, and the people traumatized by what has happened to them.

“The Secretary-General was visibly affected – personally affected by it. He saw his own family hypothetically in this same situation. It’s a terrifying thought for us all.

You have villages, malls, mundane suburban scenery, suddenly disrupted by war, and littered with destroyed vehicles. There are signs of terror and destruction everywhere“, he added, but residents are clearly returning.

“You see little market stalls, the people are resilient, and life is returning as best it can. The future is unknown everywhere here, but life goes on, and people are going about their lives.

Mr. Janowski said that in Borodianka, the UN chief had spoken to the governor of the area, who said that although people were trickling back, they are still looking for bodies in some of the houses.

You find yourself in a quite ordinary suburban environment, but you don’t know how many are dead – it’s a very traumatic experience for everyone“, said Mr. Janowski.

“For me, what I saw, brought back memories of my time working in Bosnia for the UN (in the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s).

“The UN security driver who took us there (to the three suburban areas), also happens to be from Sarajevo, and it brought back all the bad memories for those of us who were there. After the war in Bosnia and various conflicts, I never thought I would see this sort of destruction happening again in my lifetime, so close to the heart of Europe.”

Residential buildings in Borodianka, north-west of the Ukrainian capital have been heavily damaged during the conflict with Russia.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Residential buildings in Borodianka, north-west of the Ukrainian capital have been heavily damaged during the conflict with Russia.

Global justice must be served

Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for justice for the victims of atrocities in Ukraine, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that he favoured neither Russia nor Ukraine, in the search for the truth.

“This is not really a time for talking, it’s a time for action. International law can’t be a passive spectator. It can’t be sedentary, it needs to move with alacrity and to protect and to insist on accountability,” said Karim Khan, speaking to journalists on Wednesday evening outside the Security Council at UN headquarters in New York.

The law is above us, and if the law is not above us, there’s nothing below us, except the abyss.”

ICC Prosecutor Khan launched an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity on 2 March, after referral of a request by 43 States Parties.

The focus of the investigation is “alleged crimes committed in the context of situation in Ukraine since 21 November 2013”. Since the investigation opened, a team of analysts, anthropologists and investigators has already examined several locations in Ukraine, including Lviv, Kyiv and Bucha, Mr. Khan said.

Learn from the pandemic to strengthen workplace safety: UN labour agency

Each year, nearly three million workers die due to occupational accidents and diseases, and hundreds of millions more suffer non-fatal injuries at work, the UN agency reported. 

Learning from the pandemic might help prevent millions of deaths, according to the report, which was issued on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. 

Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General, said occupational safety and health (OSH) remains at the forefront of national response even as countries continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-19, and uneven recovery. 

“The lessons learned from this crisis about the importance of social dialogue in strengthening safety and health at the national and workplace level, need to be applied to other contexts. This would help reduce the unacceptable level of occupational deaths and disease that occur every year.”  

Collaboration and action 

The report, titled Enhancing social dialogue towards a culture of safety and health, found that during the pandemic, Governments that prioritized active participation of employers’ and workers’ organizations in OSH governance, were able to develop and implement emergency laws, policies and interventions. 

Collaboration has been critical to ensuring these measures were both acceptable to, and supported by, employers and workers, meaning they were more likely to be effectively implemented in practice.   

As a result, many countries have adopted legal requirements covering areas such as measures to prevent and handle COVID-19 cases in the workplace, to teleworking arrangements. 

The report provided examples from countries such as Singapore, where changes to rules on vaccination took place after consultations and discussions among the partners. In South Africa, tripartite discussions led to amending measures targeting coronavirus spread in workplaces.  

People at work.

© UNSPLASH/Sigmund
People at work.

Value of tripartite dialogue 

In some countries, dialogue between Governments, employers and workers at the national level has been followed by further consultation at the regional or sectoral level, so that policies might be adapted to specific contexts. 

In Finland for example, trade unions and employers’ organizations worked with the government to develop measures for the tourism and restaurant sectors, while in Italy, dialogue led to the creation of detailed rules on telework in the banking sector, which outlined the right to privacy and the right to disconnect.

National tripartite OSH bodies have also played an important role in the fight against COVID-19, according to the report. These entities are usually composed of government representatives – for example, from the Ministry of Labour and other relevant ministries and institutions – as well as representatives from employers’ and workers’ organizations.

During the pandemic, many participated in the decision-making process at the national level.  They have also been involved in defining lockdown and restriction measures, return to work strategies, and other instructions or guidance aimed at mitigating impacts.

The report cited examples from countries, including the Philippines, where the two national tripartite bodies dealing with OSH were involved in the design and implementation of guidelines to ensure the quality of ventilation in workplaces and public transport as part of efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. 

Lula trial in Brazil violated due process, says UN rights panel

The Committee, whose members are independent rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, issued its findings after the former President – who’s commonly called by his nickname, Lula, filed a complaint to the panel.

Lula was Brazil’s President from 2003 to 2010 and a target in a massive corruption probe called Operation Car Wash.

Corruption investigation

Investigators uncovered corruption between the State-owned oil and petrol company, Petrobrás, several construction companies, and various Brazilian politicians, relating to secret campaign funds.

In July 2017, Lula was sentenced to nine years in prison; this was later increased to 12 years, effectively preventing him from standing in new presidential elections.

The Human Rights Committee noted that wiretaps of Lula and his family had been approved and released to the media before formal charges were made.

This and other incidents contravened his right to privacy and his right to the presumption of innocence, the Committee said.

Lacking due process

“While States have a duty to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption and to keep the population informed, especially when a former head of State is concerned, such actions must be conducted fairly and respect due process guarantees,” said Committee member Arif Bulkan.

The Supreme Federal Court quashed Lula’s sentence in 2021, ruling that former judge Sergio Moro – who had overseen the initial corruption trial – had no jurisdiction to investigate and try the cases, and annulled the investigation on the basis that the former judge, was not considered to be impartial.

“Although the Supreme Federal Court vacated Lula’s conviction and imprisonment in 2021, these decisions were not timely and effective enough to avoid or redress the violations,” Mr. Bulkan said.

While States have a duty to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption and to keep the population informed, especially when a former head of State is concerned, such actions must be conducted fairly and respect due process guarantees.Arif Bulkan

The committee found that the conduct and other public acts of former judge Moro violated Lula’s right to be tried by an impartial tribunal; and that the actions and public statements by the former judge, and the prosecutors, were also a violation of his right to his presumption of innocence.

These procedural violations rendered Lula’s prohibition to run for president arbitrary, the committee ruled, and therefore in violation of his political rights, including his right to run for office.

It urged the Brazilian Government, to ensure that any further criminal proceedings against Lula, comply with due process guarantees and to prevent similar violations in the future.

Small solutions, big impacts: 5 community-based projects tackling climate change

In early April, 29 countries pledged more than $5 billion to the UN-backed Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Fund said this was “record support, providing a major boost to international efforts to protect biodiversity and curb threats to climate change, plastics and toxic chemicals”.

But why such a major boost? Well, the GEF is a multilateral fund that serves as a financial mechanism for several environmental conventions including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

It has its own Small Grants Program (SGP) which grants of up to $50,000 directly to local communities including indigenous peoples, community-based organizations and other non-governmental groups investing in projects related to healing our planet.

The initiative is implemented in 127 countries by the UN Development Program (UNDP) which provides technical support to these selected local projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people’s wellbeing and livelihoods.

Here at UN News, we want to highlight just five of the over 25,000 projects implemented since 1992, the year the GEF started working. Though the Fund’s projects span the globe, this list features a few initiatives currently improving the future of humankind and wildlife in Latin-America and the Caribbean.

 1. Indigenous women solar engineers bringing light to rural Belize

The three Mayan solar engineers who are bringing electricity to rural villages in Belize.

The three Mayan solar engineers who are bringing electricity to rural villages in Belize.

For people living in cities is sometimes hard to believe that in 2022 there are still communities that don’t have electricity, but more than 500 million people worldwide don’t have access to this kind of service that many consider ‘basic’.

This is the reality for people in the District of Toledo, in Belize, where several rural villages lie far away from the national electricity grid making it hard – and costly – to electrify their communities.

However, thanks to a partnership funded by the GEF’s Small Grants Program (SGP), three Mayan women solar engineers are installing solar energy systems and contributing to sustainable development in small indigenous communities in Southern Belize.

Florentina Choco, Miriam Choc and Cristina Choc, were trained by the Barefoot College in India to build and repair small household solar systems as part of a South-South cooperation exchange (Countries from the Global South sharing technical knowledge with their counterparts, without a developed country involved).

These women are shattering the glass ceiling! They have installed solar systems to four indigenous communities impacting over 1000 residents,” says Leonel Requena, SGP Belize National Coordinator.

In 2021, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these solar engineers, along with national authorities and partners installed these solar energy systems to two of Belize’s most remote communities.

With the work in just one of these villages, Graham Creek, they powered 25 homes benefiting over 150 residents, as well as a primary school with 30 children.

The best of all, UNDP estimates they have helped avoid 6.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.

“Women are outstanding leaders in Belize driving the sustainable development agenda fostering harmony between nature and people for the benefit of both,” adds Mr. Requena.

2. Turning Barbados into a champion of Hawksbill turtles’ conservation

Sea turtle slowly swiming in blue water through sunlight.

Unsplash/Jakob Owens
Sea turtle slowly swiming in blue water through sunlight.

Did you know that extreme temperatures during heatwaves fuelled by climate change are literally cooking baby turtles in their nest?

Hawksbill sea turtles are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered as their population is decreasing around the world.

For ages, they have been hunted for their eggs and meat and now they are also at risk from coastal development and our changing climate, among other threats.

But a small grant 20 years ago turned into a big opportunity for this species to thrive in the Caribbean Island of Barbados.

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project, based at the University of the West Indies’ Campus, is the home of the regional Marine Turtle Tagging Centre and the wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network.

Tagging turtles helps scientists and conservationists to track their movements, calculate their growth rates, survival and reproductive output.

Barbados is currently home to the second-largest Hawksbill turtle nesting population in the wider Caribbean, with up to 500 females nesting per year. Turtle nesting occurs on most of the beaches around the island, which, like many in the region, is heavily developed with tourism infrastructure.

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project tags these creatures, measures them and archives and analyses the data for over 30 coordinated projects in the region. These research projects inform their conservation activities.

Each August when the baby turtles hatch, the project runners are on call seven days a week to respond to emergencies that might include hatchlings wandering off in the wrong direction or preparing for swells that can wash away nests during hurricane season.

The project runners also help communities promote ecotourism based on best practices, which provides a source of income for local communities.

Barbados is now well known for the success of its sea turtle conservation activities. The degree to which the Hawksbill population has recovered thus far allows trainees to work with large numbers of turtles and experience the challenges posed by extensive coastal development.

The widely renowned project recently received a new small grant from the GEF of $46,310.

“Thanks to this grant [this project has] been able to offer persons from other sea turtle projects in the region the opportunity to be trained alongside BSTP volunteers in a South-to-South Exchange… The ongoing work of the Project is integral to the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered sea turtles, their terrestrial and marine habitats,” said Karen Harper, Programme Assistant of SGP in Barbados.

3. Helping Venezuelan indigenous families mitigate the degradation of the Amazon Forest

Indigenous displaced families in Venezuela are learning to restore native forests while using their products to improve their livelihoods.

UNDP/SGP Venezuela
Indigenous displaced families in Venezuela are learning to restore native forests while using their products to improve their livelihoods.

Puerto Ayacucho is the capital and largest city of the State of Amazonas in the south of Venezuela, its inhabitants include a number of local indigenous tribes, including the Yanomami, the Panare, the Bari, Piaroa and Guajibo (also known as Jibis).

Many of these populations have been displaced from their lands due to the socioeconomic crisis in the country, as well as the presence of armed groups and illegal mining activities.

The project Amazonas Originaria is currently training a group of indigenous displaced families to sustainably use and care for the tropical forests in the vicinity of Puerto Ayacucho. They are learning how to manage crops of cocoa, cupuaçu, manaca and túpiro (all amazon native plants) as well as how to transform their fruits into pulp, chocolates, baskets and other products.

“This project, in particular, is interesting and inspiring, as it is led by women… it supports the fight against climate change, since its purpose is to conserve the Amazon Forest as the main carbon sink in southern Venezuela, working hand in hand with native communities, valuing their traditions and protecting their ancestral habitat,” explains national SGP coordinator Alexis Bermúdez.

According to the UN Environment Programme, or UNEP, in the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining tropical rainforest, deforestation is reducing carbon stocks and altering the regional climate. The effects of climate change, forest degradation and more forest fires could result in 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest disappearing by 2050.

The SGP-supported initiative not only trains members of the community to make Amazon-derived products and ecological packaging helping them to diversify their livelihoods, but at the same time it works to restore parts of the degraded tropical forest by re-planting native trees and other species.

“When families pass on this knowledge, we make indigenous communities gain the necessary strength and confidence to face the conservation of their culture and their environment, organize the community for the production and marketing of their products in more select markets and contribute directly to creating a sustainable economy,” Kenia Martinez from Amazonas Originaria notes.

4. Exchanging ideas to make tourism more eco-friendly and sustainable

Leaders of community tourism in Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica got together to exchange good practices.

UNDP/SGP Costa Rica
Leaders of community tourism in Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica got together to exchange good practices.

Clearly, climate change and environmental degradation can´t be tackled by a single community, instead, unity is strength when we talk about exchanging ideas that have already proven successful.

The project Dialogue of Latin American Knowledge around Community Tourism has brought together community tourism ventures from Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Mexico to exchange experiences and good practices.

Tourism is the backbone of some economies and the source of livelihood for many people, especially those living in developing countries, but if mismanaged, it often puts pressure on natural resources through overconsumption, induces stress on local land use, as well as increases pollution and natural habitat loss.

Community tourism, on the other hand, is an economic alternative that allows local communities to generate complementary income to their main productive activities and at the same time protect and value the natural and cultural wealth of their territories.

“Alone we go faster, but together we go further,” Beatriz Schmitt, SGP Panama National Coordinator highlights.

The SGP-supported dialogues consisted of virtual trainings and good practices exchanges with 23 rural organizations focusing on local development, collaborative working networks, marketing, institutional perspective and biosafety protocols.

At the end of the virtual training, participants visited community tourism experiences in Costa Rica where the programme has been promoting rural tourism for 20 years and has established a robust institutional framework.

“Community tourism is a local strategy that brings income to rural communities. This project is important because tourism is not approached only as a business but instead, it is derived from experiences of land conservation where these communities live,” Viviana Rodriguez, SGP Programme Assistant in Panama tells UN News.

She adds that by conserving these areas for tourism and reducing other activities such as large-scale agriculture, small communities are also contributing to the fight against climate change.

5. Saving the water-rich Colombian Paramos, with a gender twist

Páramo is a type of alpine moorland—cold, wet and windy—concentrated in the northern Andes above the treeline from Venezuela through Northern Peru.

Unsplash/Michael Lechner
Páramo is a type of alpine moorland—cold, wet and windy—concentrated in the northern Andes above the treeline from Venezuela through Northern Peru.

Colombia’s paramos, tundra ecosystems in the Andes mountains that are above the forest line but below the snowline, occupy just 1.7 per cent of the national territory, yet they produce 85 per cent of its drinking water.

Guardianas de los Páramos  (Paramos Women Guardians) is an Alliance between the GEF Small Grants Program and two other organizations that are supporting a variety of community projects focused on conservation and climate change adaptation in the Paramos Pisba and TotaBijagual-Mamapacha, about 280 km to the northeast of Bogotá.

The alliance puts special emphasis on women’s participation since historically, the intervention of women in environmental management has been diminished because of discrimination and inequitable access to resources.

A total of 37 projects were selected benefiting 2,400 families who had been working since 2020 to restore native plants, thus strengthening biological corridors and maintaining protected areas.

The initiatives also include aqueduct adaptation, as well as the implementation of homemade agroecological gardens to reduce the use of traditional productive systems that are harmful to the environment.

“It is necessary to implement actions aimed at controlling or reducing pressures on the paramo and to mitigate negative actions by extractive activities in the area, establishing conservation areas and measures to reduce risks associated with climate change”, says Catalina Avella, the alliance field coordinator.

Paramos are a unique Andean ecosystem, only found in high mountains of the north of South America, they are strategic not only due to their plant and animal biodiversity but also of their ecosystem services, including carbon sequestrations in the soil and water regulation.

The increase in temperatures and changes in rain patterns due to climate change poses a threat to these ecosystems, as well as mining and infrastructure projects.

Young climate activists take part in demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

UN News/Laura Quiñones
Young climate activists take part in demonstrations at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Great projects, right? So, how can you get involved?

If you have a project related to climate change mitigation, reversing land degradation, sustainable forest management, or protecting biodiversity, visit the Small Grants Program website where you can find out how to apply depending on your country.

SGP grants are made directly to community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations in recognition of the key role they play as a resource and constituency for environment and development concerns. The maximum grant amount per project is $50,000 but averages around $25,000.

West Darfur: Health workers, children, among 200 killed in ‘senseless and brutal attacks’

Nearly 200 civilians were killed over the past six days alone in renewed clashes between the Arab Rzeigat and African Masalit communities, around the town of Kereneik. 

Two health facilities were also attacked, and thousands of displaced people have sought refuge in the town’s military compound. 

“WHO joins the Special Representative of the Secretary General and other humanitarian agencies and partners in calling for an immediate end to these senseless and brutal attacks on civilians, healthcare workers and health facilities,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Respect health workers, facilities 

The two health workers were killed when armed gunmen attacked two hospitals in Kereneik and the state capital, El Geneina, this past weekend. 

WHO said these attacks were a major violation of international law, and called for the neutrality of health workers, health facilities and patients, to be respected. 

The UN agency added that during the holy month of Ramadan, parties to the conflict should respect the core values of mercy, respect, trust and solidarity. 

“Healthcare workers providing life-saving care to injured civilians are already overwhelmed and should not be at risk of intimidation or attack,” said Dr. Al-Mandhari. 

‘Children are not a target’ 

At least 21 children, including an 11-month-old baby, were reportedly killed in the violence, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday. 

Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, underlined that “children are not a target” in hostilities. 

“The killing of children is a grave violation of their rights. Nothing justifies killing children. We renew our appeal for peace and call on the authorities in Sudan to protect children in Darfur and across Sudan from harm and violence at all times,” she said.  

Investigate the attacks 

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for an investigation into the attacks and urged the Sudanese authorities to take urgent steps to prevent further outbreaks of communal violence in West Darfur. 

Michelle Bachelet was appalled by reports of the killings, injuries and displacement, according to a statement issued on Wednesday. 

“I am concerned that this region continues to see repeated, serious incidents of intercommunal violence, with mass casualties.  While initial measures taken by the authorities to calm tensions are welcome, I urge the authorities to address the underlying causes of violence in this region and fulfil their responsibility to protect the population,” she said. 

Ms. Bachelet called for immediate action, including to assist the wounded and to facilitate humanitarian assistance for the displaced. 

“I call on the Sudanese authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into these attacks and hold all those responsible to account in accordance with international human rights law. The victims and their families have a right to effective remedies,” she said. 

The human rights situation in Sudan has continued to deteriorate since the military coup in October 2021, according to her Office.  

The High Commissioner urged the Sudanese authorities to take credible steps to create an environment conducive to an inclusive political settlement that would put the democratic transition back on track.  

Ebola vaccination campaign begins in DR Congo to counter new outbreak

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that people have now been inoculated in Mbandaka, the capital city of Equateur Province west.

It follows the deaths of two people from Ebola since 21 April. More than 230 contacts of the deceased have been identified and monitored and three vaccination teams will work to reach those at highest risk, according to WHO.

Positive outlook

“With effective vaccines at hand and the experience of DRC health workers in Ebola response, we can quickly change the course of this outbreak for the better,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the UN agency’s Regional Director for Africa. “We are supporting the country in all the key aspects of Ebola emergency response to protect and save lives.”

The DR Congo has seen 14 Ebola outbreaks since 1976 – six just since 2018.

With support from WHO and other partners and donors, the country has become expert in mounting effective Ebola response, the UN agency noted.

Lifesaving delivery

Around 200 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine have been shipped to Mbandaka from the eastern city of Goma and further doses will be delivered in coming days.

The vaccination is injected according to the “ring strategy”, whereby the contacts – and the contacts of contacts – of confirmed Ebola patients, receive the jab, as well as frontline and health workers.

In addition to the vaccination campaign, a 20-bed Ebola treatment centre has been set up in Mbandaka. Disease surveillance and investigation of suspected Ebola patients are already underway to detect new infections, and WHO has also provided material support as well as six epidemiologists to assist in the response.

‘New strain’

National health authorities are also crucial to the effort, including the National Institute for Biomedical Research, which has completed an analysis of a sample from the first confirmed case, results of which show that the new outbreak indicates a new strain of Ebola, the result of a “spill-over event from the host or animal reservoir”, WHO said.

Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the new outbreak and how it came to infect the first confirmed person.

Kinder brand chocolates now linked to salmonella poisoning in 11 countries

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that there have been more than 150 suspected cases of salmonellosis – from Belgium to the US – after United Kingdom regulators flagged a cluster of Salmonella (S.) Typhimurium cases a month ago, leading to a global recall.

Children under 10 have been most affected – comprising some 89 per cent of cases – and available data indicates that nine patients were hospitalised. There have been no fatalities.

“The risk of spread in the WHO European region and globally is assessed as moderate until information is available on the full recall of the products,” the UN agency said in a statement.

In the genes

Genetic sequencing of the salmonella bacteria which sparked the food scare showed that the pathogen originated in Belgium.

“At least 113 countries” across Europe and globally have received Kinder products during the period of risk, WHO said, adding that salmonella bacteria matching the current human cases of infection were found last December and January, in buttermilk tanks at a factory run by chocolate makers Ferrero, in the Belgian city of Arlon.

According to media reports, the factory was ordered to temporarily close earlier this month.

In a statement, WHO said that the outbreak strain of salmonella is resistant to six types of antibiotics.

Symptoms of salmonellosis are relatively mild and patients will make a recovery without specific treatment, in most cases. 

However, the risks are higher for some children and elderly patients where dehydration can become severe and life-threatening.

Geographical distribution of reported Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak cases (n=151) and countries where implicated products have been distributed (n=113), as of 25 April 2022.

Geographical distribution of reported Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak cases (n=151) and countries where implicated products have been distributed (n=113), as of 25 April 2022.

Total recall

WHO’s statement notes that by 25 April, “a total of 151 genetically related cases of S. Typhimurium suspected to be linked to the consumption of the implicated chocolate products have been reported from 11 countries”: Belgium (26), France (25), Germany (10), Ireland (15), Luxembourg (1 case), the Netherlands (2), Norway (1 case), Spain (1 case), Sweden (4), the United Kingdom (65) and the United States of America (1 case).

Although there are approximately 2,500 strains of Salmonella bacteria, the majority of human infections are caused by two serotypes: Typhimurium and Enteritidis.

Fever, vomiting and worse

Salmonellosis is characterized by acute fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that can be bloody as in most of the current cases of infection.

Symptoms typically begin between six and 72 hours after ingestion of food or water contaminated with Salmonella, and sickness can last from two to seven days. 

Salmonella bacteria are widely found in domestic and wild animals, such as poultry, pigs, and cattle. Pets are not immune either and WHO notes that Salmonella “can pass through the entire food chain from animal feed, primary production, and all the way to households or food-service establishments and institutions”.

In humans, salmonellosis is generally contracted after eating contaminated food of animal origin (mainly eggs, meat, poultry, and milk).

‘We cannot afford greenwashing’: Guterres highlights key role of Net-Zero experts

In a video message, António Guterres thanked the group for taking up the crucial task, led by former Canadian Environmental Minister, Ms. Catherine McKenna.

“Your skills and experience can help to keep 1.5 alive. We know what we need — global emissions must decrease by 45 per cent by 2030, starting now. Or rather yesterday. We cannot overstate the urgency of our task”, he said.

The UN chief denounced that fact that fossil fuel interests are now ‘cynically’ using the war in Ukraine to lock in a high carbon future, noting that financial and technical obstacles to the deployment of renewable energy are hurting many developing countries.

“The world is in a race against time. We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers or any form of greenwashing”, Guterres highlighted.

Emissions from a power plant in Koln, Germany.

© Unsplash/Paul Gilmore
Emissions from a power plant in Koln, Germany.

Deficit of credibility

The Secretary-General reminded that he decided to establish the group due to a “deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion” over emission reductions and net-zero targets.

We need to ensure net-zero commitments are ambitious and credible, and that they align with the highest standards of environmental integrity and transparency.

“They must also be actionable and mindful of different circumstances”, he added, outlining the main task facing the Group.

The UN chief recognized the independence of the experts and said that the best protection against “special interests” will be the full transparency of their consultations and process.

Clean energy, like wind power, is a key element in reaching net zero emissions.

Unsplash/Appolinary Kalashnikova
Clean energy, like wind power, is a key element in reaching net zero emissions.

The group’s tasks

The Expert Group, consisting of 18 members from a range of different backgrounds, will meet in-person in May— a meeting that will be attended by the Secretary-General.

Their main task is to make recommendations promoting more ambitious climate action, and environmental integrity, addressing four specific areas:

  • Current standards and definitions for setting net-zero targets.
  • Credibility criteria used to assess the objectives, measurement and reporting of net-zero pledges.
  • Processes for verification and accounting of progress towards net-zero commitments and reported decarbonization plans.
  • A roadmap to translate standards and criteria into international and national level regulations.

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