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UN envoy warns against ‘worrying and dangerous’ military escalation in Syria

Mr. Pedersen feared the ramp-up in military operations has the potential to unravel a strategic stalemate in the war that has brought relative calm for almost three years. 

‘Escalatory dynamics’ 

“In repeated briefings, I have warned of the dangers of military escalation in Syria. I am here in person today to tell you that escalatory dynamics are taking place, and this is worrying and dangerous,” he said. 

He reported that in recent months, mutual strikes have slowly increased in the north between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on one side, and Türkiye and armed opposition groups on the other, with the violence spilling over the border. 

Following a deadly bombing in Istanbul earlier this month, Türkiye launched airstrikes on what it said were terrorist targets across northern Syria and Iraq.  SDF strikes on Turkish forces, and armed opposition-controlled areas and inside Turkish territory, also were reported. 

‘Deeply worrying’ trend  

Meanwhile, deadly pro-Government air and ground-based strikes have occurred in Idlib, in northwestern Syria – the last area where rebel groups hold sway – hitting camps that host internally displaced persons. 

Reported terrorist attacks also were carried out against Syrian forces in Government-controlled areas. 

Furthermore, strikes attributed to Israel hit Damascus, Homs, Hama and Latakia, prompting Syrian Government anti-aircraft fire in response.  There also were reports of airstrikes on the border between Syria and Iraq, among other incidents. 

“The trend lines are deeply worrying, and carry real dangers of further escalation,” Mr. Pedersen told the Council. 

“Let me therefore call loudly and clearly on all actors to restrain themselves and engage in serious efforts to reinstate the calm, move towards a nationwide ceasefire and a cooperative approach to counter-terrorism in line with international humanitarian law.” 

A mother in Raqqa city, Syria, collects medicine for her children suffering with diarrhoea and also receives instructions on how to sterilize water to guard against cholera.
© UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

A mother in Raqqa city, Syria, collects medicine for her children suffering with diarrhoea and also receives instructions on how to sterilize water to guard against cholera.

Building stakeholder confidence 

In the interim, Mr. Pedersen continues to work with stakeholders to promote what he called “step-for-step confidence building measures” towards a Syrian-led political process. 

He also will further engage with the Government during a visit to Damascus next week. 

However, the UN envoy lamented that the Syrian Constitutional Committee has not met for six months, noting that it is the only process that brings together representatives nominated by the Government, opposition, and civil society. 

“The longer it lies dormant, the harder it will be to resume. And the absence of a credible political process can only promote further conflict and instability,” he remarked. 

‘A fork in the road’ 

Addressing the overall situation in Syria, Mr. Pedersen worried that “we are at something of a fork in the road”, given the potential for a resumption of major military operations. 

“I fear what this would mean for Syrian civilians, and also for wider regional stability. And I equally fear a scenario where the situation escalates in part because there is today no serious effort to resolve the conflict politically,” he said. 

He outlined steps for the way forward, which include stepping back from escalation and restoring relative calm on the ground, as well as resuming the Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva. 

Surge in needs 

This approach also calls for action on the humanitarian front. More Syrians need aid relief each year to survive, according to UN relief chief Martin Griffiths, who also briefed the Council. 

“We expect to see a surge in the number of people needing humanitarian assistance from 14.6 million this year to over 15 million in 2023,” he said. 

Building on the Special Envoy’s remarks, Mr. Griffiths reported that the recent hostilities in the north have had a detrimental impact on civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. 

“Like Geir…I am equally horrified by the most recent murders reported in Al Hol camp of two girls, who were 12 and 15 years old. Life there is a misery, but their death there is a tragedy,” he added. 

Struggling to survive 

Mr. Griffiths reminded ambassadors that northern Syria continues to face a water crisis brought on by factors such as insufficient rainfall, severe drought-like conditions, damaged water infrastructure, and low water levels in the Euphrates River. 

“The current rapid spread of cholera, a waterborne disease, should therefore come as a surprise to no one. Nor should the fact that cholera has also seeped into Lebanon since, as we know only too well, diseases know no borders,” he said. 

Spiralling global food prices have also hit Syrians hard, and they are struggling to put food on the table, while another harsh winter is on the way, with millions of families living in tents. 

Syrians need peace 

The UN humanitarian chief underscored the importance of maintaining aid delivery to northwest Syria through cross-border operations from Türkiye, which will expire by the end of the year. 

He emphasized the greater need for peace, highlighting the critical work of the UN Special Envoy. 

“What the people of Syria want is to see me go, and him arrive; to see the need for aid to disappear, and the arrival of peace to be celebrated among them, and shared by them,” said Mr. Griffiths. 

“And that, of course, is the principal task and raison d’etre of this Council, and we must hope that we will soon see these things happen.” 

Large parts of world drier than normal in 2021: WMO

According to the agency’s first report on global water resources, areas that were unusually dry included South America’s Rio de la Plata area, where a persistent drought has affected the region since 2019.

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In Africa, major rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-average water flow in 2021. The same trend was observed in rivers in parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.

On the other hand, there were above-normal river volumes in some North American basins, the North Amazon and South Africa, as well as in China’s Amur river basin, and northern India.

In Africa, rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-normal discharge in 2021, along with parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.

WMO said that 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year and that this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.

Climate crisis

“The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives”, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

“And yet, there is insufficient understanding of changes in the distribution, quantity, and quality of freshwater resources”.

The State of Global Water Resources report “aims to fill that knowledge gap and provide a concise overview of water availability in different parts of the world”, he added.

“This will inform climate adaptation and mitigation investments as well as the United Nations campaign to provide universal access in the next five years to early warnings of hazards such as floods and droughts”.

The waters of the Logone River have flooded in Kousseri district in Far North Cameroon.
© UNHCR/Moise Amedje Peladai

The waters of the Logone River have flooded in Kousseri district in Far North Cameroon.

Water, water everywhere

Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that a staggering 74 per cent of all natural disasters were water-related.

The recent UN climate change conference,  COP27, in Egypt, urged governments to further integrate water into adaptation efforts, the first-time water has been referenced in a COP outcome document in recognition of its critical importance, noted WMO.

The first edition of the report looks at streamflow – the volume of water flowing through a river channel at any given time – and also assesses terrestrial water storage – in other words, all water on the land surface and sub-surface and the cryosphere (frozen water).

The report highlights a basic problem: a lack of accessible verified hydrological data.

WMO’s Unified Data Policy seeks to accelerate the availability and sharing of hydrological data, including river discharge and transboundary river basins information.

Terrestrial cover

Aside from river flow variations, overall terrestrial water storage was classified as below normal on the west coast of the United States, in central South America and Patagonia, North Africa and Madagascar, Central Asia and the Middle East, Pakistan and North India.

It was above normal in Central Africa, northern South America – specifically the Amazon Basin – and northern China.

“Overall the negative trends are stronger than the positive ones”, warned WMO, with several hotspots emerging including Patagonia, the Ganges and Indus headwaters, as well as the southwestern US.

Glaciers in Chile and Argentina have retreated significantly over the last two decades.
WMO

Glaciers in Chile and Argentina have retreated significantly over the last two decades.

Cryosphere

The cryosphere – namely glaciers, snow cover, ice caps and, where present, permafrost – is the world’s biggest natural reservoir of freshwater.

“Changes to cryosphere water resources affect food security, human health, ecosystem integrity and maintenance, and lead to significant impacts on economic and social development”, said WMO, sometimes causing river flooding and flash floods due to glacier lake outbursts.

With rising temperatures, the annual glacier run-off typically increases at first, until a turning point, often called ”peak water”, is reached, upon which run-off declines.

The long-term projections of glacier run-off and the timing of peak water, are key inputs to long-term adaptation decisions, WMO added.

@WMO published its first State of Global Water Resources report to assess the effects of climate, environmental and societal change on the Earth’s water resources. #Water4Climate

🔗 https://t.co/cTOCnyB0Y6 https://t.co/q01YgNcrAY

Numbers forced to flee passes 100 million; many displaced for decades: UNDP

For the first time ever, the number of people forced to flee their homes surpassed 100 million this year. Most, 59.1 million, are displaced within their own countries, often for years or even decades. 

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These internally displaced persons (IDPs) struggle to cover their basic needs, find decent work, or have a stable source of income, among other challenges. 

UNDP described their plight as an “invisible crisis” because it rarely makes the news. 

End marginalization of IDPs 

As climate change could force more than 216 million to move elsewhere within their homelands by mid-century, the report advocates for longer-term development solutions to reverse internal displacement. 

“More efforts are needed to end the marginalization of IDPs who must be able to exercise their full rights as citizens including through access to vital services such as healthcare, education, social protection and job opportunities,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.  

“In tandem with critical humanitarian assistance, this stronger development-focused approach will be vital to set the conditions for pathways to lasting peace, stability and recovery.” 

Governments must act 

The report – Turning the tide on internal displacement: A development approach to solutions – calls for placing this “invisible crisis” on the international agenda.

It cites sample data from a survey of some 2,653 IDPs, and people from host communities, in eight countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Somalia and Vanuatu.  

A third of the IDPs said they had become jobless, while nearly 70 per cent do not have enough money to meet their household needs. One third also reported that their health had worsened since fleeing their homeland. 

The data was collected by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) between January 2021 and January 2022.

The report underscored that overcoming internal displacement depends on governments implementing key development solutions, including ensuring equal access to rights and basic services, promoting socio-economic integration, restoring security and building social cohesion.  

UNDP also highlighted the need for better data and research. 

The agency underlined its commitment to bridging this gap through a Solutions to Internal Displacement Index, that will monitor progress and help governments shift from humanitarian to development responses. 

Only long-term development actions can reverse the record levels of #InternalDisplacement resulting arising from conflict, violence, climate change and disasters.

@UNDP presents development solutions needed to turn the tide for #IDPs in new report. 👉

https://t.co/qZWEjb91Aw https://t.co/MXp89pImBo

Accelerated action needed to save 12,000 lives a day due to injury, violence

“People living in poverty are significantly more likely to suffer an injury than the wealthy”, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

“The health sector has a major role in addressing these health inequities and in preventing injuries and violence, through collecting data, developing policies, providing services and programming for prevention and care, building capacities, and advocating for greater attention to underserved communities”. 

Injuries overview 

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In Preventing injuries and violence: an overview, WHO reveals that road traffic injuries, homicide and suicide, are three of the top five causes of death among people aged five to 29. 

Other injury-related killers include drowning, falls, burns and poisoning. 

Of the 4.4 million injury-related deaths annually, the report shows that roughly one in three is a result of road traffic crashes, one in six a suicide, one in nine due to homicide and one in 61, from war and conflict. 

Putting up guard rails 

But these can be mitigated with many available effective and low-cost interventions.  

For example, in Spain, setting the default speed limit for cities at 30 kilometres per hour, is improving road safety. In Viet Nam, providing more swimming training to communities is helping to cut down rates of death by drowning.  

Meanwhile, in a bid to protect minors from sexual violence in the Philippines, legislation to raise the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16, has already made a positive difference. 

Political will needed  

However, most countries lack or have insufficient measures in place to protect lives, which requires political will and investment. 

“Accelerated action is needed to avoid this unnecessary suffering of millions of families every year”, noted Etienne Krug, WHO’s Director of the Department for the Social Determinants of Health.  

“We know what needs to be done, and these effective measures must be brought to scale across countries and communities to save lives”. 

Advocating for change 

The WHO report was being released during the 14th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, currently taking place in Adelaide, Australia. 

The event provides an opportunity for the world’s leading injury and violence prevention researchers and practitioners to continue to advocate for evidence-based measures to prevent injuries and violence. 

The report also highlights prevention measures and available WHO technical guidance that can support decisions for scaling up prevention efforts. 

12,000.
🚗 12,000 people.
🔪 12,000 people die from injuries & violence.
🌊 12,000 people die from injuries & violence around the world.
☠️ 12,000 people die from injuries & violence around the world every day.

These deaths can be prevented https://t.co/TRbCFKUcdu https://t.co/DtIyLBat3y

Ports, shipping need to go green to resist future global crises: UNCTAD

“Ships carry over 80 per cent of the goods traded globally, with the percentage even higher for most developing countries; hence the urgent need to boost resilience to shocks that disrupt supply chains, fuel inflation and affect the poorest the most,” the UN agency said in a new report on maritime transport.

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Between 2020 and 2021, UNCTAD also noted that carbon emissions from the world’s maritime fleet increased by almost five per cent. At the same time, data indicated that the average age of the ships in service has increased, to almost 22 years.

Straitened times

Replacing these ageing vessels is key to ensuring the maritime industry’s transition to a low-carbon future, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan, who also called for “predictable global rules” to support the industry, ports and shipowners.

“In terms of green and climate regulation we must move from the many and messy rules we have now, to one system that is good for all,” she told journalists in Geneva. “This is critical given the highly uncertain environment, with conflict risks…and unknown price of carbon in the future.”

Inflationary setting

UNCTAD warned that “surging borrowing costs” will likely hamper the replacement of old ships, while also calling for increased support for developing countries in making the switch to low or zero-carbon fuels.

“Ports, shipping fleets and hinterland connections need to be better prepared for future global crises, climate change and the transition to low-carbon energy,” UNCTAD said.

Investing in shipping logistics would prevent the kind of inflationary pressures that continue to hold back the industry, the UN agency continued.

In 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, a shortage of containers combined with surging demand for consumer goods and e-commerce “pushed container spot freight rates to five times their pre-pandemic levels”, UNCTAD said.

A ship passes through a section of the Panama Canal, one of the busiest trading routes in the world.
UN News/Jing Zhang

A ship passes through a section of the Panama Canal, one of the busiest trading routes in the world.

Price spike

Prices for containers reached record highs in early 2022 which translated into sharply higher consumer prices, the UNCTAD report continued. Although these rates have dropped since the middle of this year, “they remain high for oil and natural gas tanker cargo due to the ongoing energy crisis” linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022, freight costs for dry goods such as grain have also increased this year because of the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions. The result is likely to be a 1.2 per cent increase in consumer food prices, which will hit low and middle-income countries worst.

“If there is one thing we have learned from the crisis of the last two years it is that ports and shipping greatly matter for a well-functioning global economy,” said Shamika Sirimanne, Director of UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division. “Higher freight rates have led to surging consumer prices, especially for the most vulnerable. Interrupted supply chains led to lay-offs and food insecurity.”

@UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022 calls for greater sustainability & resilience in maritime supply chains.

It urges to invest in infrastructure, digitalization & decarbonization, protect competition & increase support to developing countries.

➡️https://t.co/n3G0MRm93T https://t.co/visMjkE1HL

‘Intense diplomatic efforts’ continue to ensure food and fertilizers reach those in need

Stéphane Dujarric reiterated that the UN welcomed the donation of 260,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer which has been stored in European ports and warehouses, “which will serve to alleviate humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss in Africa, where it is currently planting season.”

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The first shipment of 20,000 tonnes left the Netherlands on a World Food Programme (WFP-chartered vessel, MV Greenwich on Tuesday, and is due to dock in Mozambique, when it will then be transported to landlocked Malawi.

More shipments coming

It will be the first of a series of shipments of fertilizer destined for a number of other countries on the African continent in the coming months”, added Mr. Dujarric.

WFP said in a statement issued earlier in the month, when the deal stemming from an agreement in July, alongside the successful Black Sea Grain Initiative, was first announced, that the world urgently needed “concerted efforts” to solve the global food supply crunch, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries are key food and fertilizer exporters to developing world markets, and WFP said that smallholder farmers have been particularly hard hit by rising costs, inflation and supply chain blockages.

“We cannot allow global fertilizer accessibility problems to become a global food shortage”, said WFP. “Reconnecting fertilizer markets is critical.”

‘For global food security’

In the statement from his Spokesperson, UN chief António Guterres thanked Russia, Malawi and the Netherlands – in close coordination with the European Union – “for their willingness to enable this first critical humanitarian shipment of fertilizer by WFP, for global food security.”

Mr. Dujarric said the UN was “continuing intense diplomatic efforts with all parties to ensure the unimpeded exports of critical food and fertilizers from Ukraine and the Russian Federation, exempt from sanction regimes, to the world markets.”

‘Half of humanity’

Some 50 per cent of the world’s population depends on agricultural products that involve fertilizers. Since 2019, prices have shot up by around 250 per cent, pricing many farmers out of production.

Mr. Dujarric used the example of nitrogen-based fertilizers, where this year’s shortages could result in a production loss next year, of a staggering 66 million tonnes of staple crops, such as maize, rice and wheat.

That’s enough to feed 3.6 billion people, “almost half of humanity, for a month”, he said.

Reconnecting fertilizer markets is a critical step to ensure global food security for 2023 and the United Nations will continue to make every effort, with all parties, to achieve this goal.”

The @UN welcomes the donation of 260,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer from Russian Federation fertilizer producers stored in the European ports and warehouses, which will serve to alleviate humanitarian needs and prevent catastrophic crop loss in Africa. 👇
https://t.co/2tioUmWxak

Gender inequalities hampering global efforts to end AIDS

The study shows how gender inequalities and harmful gender norms are blocking the end of the AIDS pandemic, with rising new infections and continuing deaths in many parts of the planet.

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Last year, 650 000 people died from AIDS and 1.5 million acquired HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

The way out

“The world will not be able defeat AIDS while reinforcing patriarchy,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, who called for addressing the intersecting inequalities that women face.

“The only effective route map to ending AIDS, achieving the sustainable development goals and ensuring health, rights and shared prosperity, is a feminist route map,” she said.

“Women’s rights organizations and movements are already on the frontlines doing this bold work. Leaders need to support them and learn from them.” 

‘Dangerous Inequalities’ affect women

In areas of high HIV burden, women subjected to intimate partner violence face up to a 50 per cent higher chance of acquiring the virus, according to the Dangerous Inequalities report.

During the period from 2015 to 2021, only 41 per cent of married women aged 15-24 in 33 countries could make their own decisions on sexual health.

The effects of gender inequalities on women’s HIV risks are especially pronounced in sub- Saharan Africa, where women accounted for 63 per cent of new HIV infections in 2021.

Furthermore, adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years in the region are three times more likely to acquire HIV than their male counterparts.

Investing in education can protect women and girls from HIV (file photo).
UNAIDS

Investing in education can protect women and girls from HIV (file photo).

A question of power

The driving factor is power, UNAIDS said, citing a study that showed how girls’ vulnerability to HIV infection is reduced by up to 50 per cent if they are allowed to stay in school and complete secondary education.

“When this is reinforced with a package of empowerment support, girls’ risks are reduced even further,” the agency said.

“Leaders need to ensure all girls are in school, are protected from violence which is often normalized including through underage marriages, and have economic pathways that guarantee them a hopeful future.”

Meanwhile, “harmful masculinities” are discouraging men from seeking care.  Only 70 per cent of men living with HIV were accessing treatment in 2021, compared to 80 per cent of women.

“Increasing gender-transformative programming in many parts of the world is key to halting the pandemic,” said the report.

Young lives at risk

Inequalities in access to treatment between adults and children is also holding up AIDS response but closing the gap will save lives.    

Although over three-quarters of adults living with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy, just over half of children are receiving this lifesaving medicine.  

Last year, children accounted for only four per cent of people living with HIV, but 15 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths.

Discrimination, stigmatization and criminalization of key populations are also costing lives, UNAIDS added.

New analysis shows no significant decline in new infections among gay men and other men who have sex with men, both in the western and central Africa region, and in the eastern and southern region of the continent. 

“Facing an infectious virus, failure to make progress on key populations undermines the entire AIDS response and helps explain slowing progress,” the agency warned.

Progress is possible

The report also reveals that progress against inequalities is possible.

For example, even though surveys often highlight lower service coverage among key populations, three counties in Kenya have achieved higher HIV treatment coverage among female sex workers than among women overall. 

Countries know what to do to end inequalities, said Ms. Byanyima.

She listed actions that include ensuring all girls are in school, tackling gender-based violence, and supporting women’s organizations.

Promote healthy masculinities—to take the place of the harmful behaviours which exacerbate risks for everyone. Ensure services for children living with HIV reach them and meet their needs, closing the treatment gap so that we end AIDS in children for good,” she continued.

“Decriminalize people in same-sex relationships, sex workers, and people who use drugs, and invest in community-led services that enable their inclusion — this will help break down barriers to services and care for millions of people.”

Equalizing benefits everyone

The report further shows that donor funding is helping to spur increased funding by governments. However, new investments to address inequalities are urgently needed, particularly at a time when many richer countries are cutting back aid for global health. 

Stepping up support is critical to getting the AIDS response back on track.

“What world leaders need to do is crystal clear,” said Ms Byanyima. “In one word: Equalize. Equalize access to rights, equalize access to services, equalize access to the best science and medicine. Equalizing will not only help the marginalised. It will help everyone.”
 

Inequalities have put the AIDS response in danger.

Our new #WorldAIDSDay report shows how world leaders can tackle these inequalities, and calls on them to be courageous to follow what the evidence reveals.

It’s time to #Equalize!

Three years of flatlined progress on HIV treatment and prevention affect 2.7 million youth  

Three years of flatlined progress on HIV treatment and prevention affect 2.7 million youth  

Some 110,00 youth under age 19 died last year from AIDS-related causes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday, noting that coupled with 310,000 newly infected, the total number of young people living with HIV stands at 2.7 million. 

Ahead of World AIDS Day on Thursday, UNICEF warned in its latest global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS that progress in HIV prevention and treatment has nearly flatlined over the past three years, with many regions still not at pre-pandemic service coverage.  

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“Though children have long lagged behind adults in the AIDS response, the stagnation seen in the last three years is unprecedented, putting too many young lives at risk of sickness and death,” said UNICEF Associate Chief of HIV/AIDS Anurita Bains. 

Collective failure 

This comes on top of an existing and growing gap in treatment between adults and children, adolescents, and pregnant women. 

“Children are falling through the cracks because we are collectively failing to find and test them and get them on life-saving treatment”, she continued.  

“Every day that goes by without progress, over 300 children and adolescents lose their fight against AIDS.” 

Numbers tell the story 

Despite accounting for only seven per cent of overall people living with HIV, children and adolescents comprised 17 per cent of AIDS-related deaths, and 21 per cent of new HIV infections last year.  

Unless the drivers of inequities are addressed, UNICEF warns, ending AIDS in children and adolescents will continue to be a distant dream. 

However, the snapshot points out that longer-term trends remain positive.  

New HIV infections among children under age 14 dropped by 52 per cent from 2010 to 2021, and new infections among 15- to19-year-olds also dropped by 40 per cent.  

Similarly, coverage of lifelong antiretroviral treatment (ART) among pregnant women living with HIV increased from 46 per cent to 81 per cent in a single decade. 

Growing treatment gap 

While the total number of children living with HIV is on the decline, the treatment gap between children and adults continues to grow.  

In UNICEF’s HIV-priority countries, ART coverage for children stood at 56 per cent in 2020 but fell to 54 per cent in 2021. 

Several factors were responsible for the decline, including the pandemic and other global crises that have increased marginalization and poverty. 

However, the failure also reflects waning political will and a flagging AIDS response in children.  

Globally, only 52 per cent of children living with HIV had access to treatment, which has only marginally increased over the past few years. 

Among all adults living with HIV, meanwhile, coverage at 76 per cent was more than 20 percentage points higher than among children.  

And there was an 81 per cent gap between children and pregnant women living with HIV.  

Moreover, the percentage of children living with HIV under age four who are not on ART climbed to 72 per cent last year – as high as it was in 2012.

A twenty-year-old pregnant woman who was born with HIV, takes medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
© UNICEF/UN0640796/Dejongh

A twenty-year-old pregnant woman who was born with HIV, takes medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Regional lens 

During 2020, pregnant and breastfeeding women in Asia and the Pacific; the Caribbean; Eastern and Southern Africa; Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and West and Central Africa all experienced treatment coverage drops. 

And in 2021, coverage in Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East and North Africa declined further.  

Except for West and Central Africa, which continues to see the highest burden of mother-to-child transmission, none of the regions above have recovered to 2019 levels, putting the lives of newborn babies at increased risk.  

In 2021, more than 75,000 new child infections occurred because pregnant women were not diagnosed and initiated on treatment. 

“With renewed political commitment to reaching the most vulnerable, strategic partnership and resources to scale up programmes, we can end AIDS in children, adolescents and pregnant women”, Ms. Bains said. 

In the lead up to #WorldAIDSDay on 1 December, let’s unite to end the inequalities holding back the end of AIDS.

To keep everyone safe, to protect everyone’s health, we need to #Equalize!

https://t.co/RAceTA3yKb https://t.co/i3oQnSilc9

‘We cannot give up’ on the millions suffering in drought-stricken Horn of Africa, urges WFP official

In an interview with UN News, Mr. Dunford said: “Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis. If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023. What that means, is that we need to continue to engage. We cannot give up on the needs of the population in the Horn.”

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He warned that famine is still a threat, and while WFP was watching the situation closely, “we may see before the end of this year, or perhaps early next, a declaration of pockets of famine in parts of Somalia. What scares me most is that until we have serious rains, the drought will continue, and we could see a situation [of possible famine] replicated in some of the neighboring countries as well.”

Yet, despite this bleak outlook, Mr. Dunford praised the resilience of communities in the “very dynamic” region, as well as innovative ideas coming from WFP, other UN agencies, and donors, to help improve access to financing and new advances in agriculture. He believed that investing in the communities themselves was also critical, including, among others, in areas such as nutrition and girls’ education.

“We are looking for African solutions to the challenges, and WFP is both the catalyst and [conduit] to enable local economies and the agricultural sector [to] use those resources to meet the immediate needs in the region,” he said, and beyond that: “We’re already starting to think, how do we build resilience? How do we help these populations adapt to…a climate has changed?  How can [they] adapt to their new circumstances and what can WFP and other partners do to support these new livelihoods?”

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

UN News: We are doing this interview at a time where millions of people in the Horn of Africa are facing food insecurity because of drought. Can you paint us a picture on the situation?

Michael Dunford: Thanks very much for the question. And in fact, the situation in the region of Eastern Africa, particularly The Horn of Africa, has never been so bad. This time last year, there were 51 million people hungry, [or] acutely hungry. Today that figure stands at 82 million. So, we’ve seen a dramatic increase, almost 60 per cent over the course of just 12 months. And what’s driving it is conflict, climate, the effects of [the COVID-19 pandemic] and now this dramatic increase in costs. People are on the brink. We have situations in Somalia, Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and South Sudan where it’s the UN World Food Program (WFP) and others that are the difference between life and death. And the situation, unfortunately, is going to get worse before it improves.

Michael Dunford, WFP's Regional Director for Horn of Africa in an interview with UN News.
UN/ Leah Mushi

UN News: For people who have never been there, just hearing this or watching reports about it on TV, can you tell them what women and children have to go through if they want to survive? You said it’s the choice between life and death. What do they have to do if they want one meal a day?

Mr. Dunford: So currently The Horn is experiencing the worst drought in over 40 years. Until recently, there were four failed rainy seasons. The current rains are also failing, so that’s creating huge displacement of populations, loss of livestock; people simply unable to meet their requirements. So, people are moving, people are on the move. There’s over a million internal displaced peoples (IDPs) created through the drought itself, and they are coming into centers where humanitarian actors, WFP and others, are able to provide essential lifesaving support. In the WFP’s case, we’re providing in Somalia cash transfers to over 4.7 million people. And in addition, we’re running nutrition programmes and supporting the broader humanitarian scale-up to ensure they have the logistics capacity and the telecommunications capacity necessary to be able to meet the needs of the population.

UN News: So, is famine still a threat in the region?

Mr. Dunford: Unfortunately, it is. The analysis continues, and we may see before the end of this year, or perhaps early next, a declaration of pockets of famine in parts of Somalia. What scares me most is that until such time that we have serious rains, the drought will continue. And we could see this situation replicated in some of the neighboring countries as well.

I met a woman recently when I was in Somalia. She’d walked for 28 days with seven children. When I talked to her, she had a child on her hip, clearly malnourished, and the woman herself, Amina, was registering so that she could access humanitarian assistance through WFP, and we were then referring her on to the nutrition centers so that she would be able to get the treatment necessary to ensure that her child survives. The situation is as bad as I have seen and of course it’s exacerbated by the conflicts and the insecurity, [which also] makes humanitarian access that much more difficult.

A one-year-old girl is treated for malnutrition at a WFP-funded clinic in Dolow in Somalia.
© WFP/Samantha Reinders

UN News: WFP had earlier requested $418 million to meet the urgent needs of crisis affected families through the rest of the year in the four drought-affected countries in the Horn of Africa. Is the amount still the same? And what has been the response so far?

Mr. Dunford: Fundraising for this operation, particularly at the front end when we knew this disaster was on the horizon, was challenging. We were competing with other operations and interests across the globe, the conflict in Ukraine being a very good example. By April we were able to raise the lion’s share of the funding that we needed, and we were able to go from 1.5 million beneficiaries to 4.7 million in Somalia alone. Across the region we’re now responding to the drought, supporting upwards of 9 to 10 million people. So, we have been able to scale up.

The key, however, is that we need to be able to sustain this operation, and hence, we will continue to require additional funding. Across the entire region, WFP needs $2.1 billion for the next six months. Huge numbers. Fortunately, the United States Government and others have come in substantially with much needed funding. But this now needs to be sustained until such time that the rains come, the drought is broken, and the population can return to where they came from.

UN News: Are there other options that you may use to reach out to donors because now you’re talking about the sustainability if funding is not forthcoming in the way that you had thought?

Mr. Dunford: So, we work closely with the IFIs, the international financial institutions – the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and others – and they are making funds available often through the host governments, so WFP can expand its operations accordingly. It’s also very important that we’re meeting the needs of the population today, the humanitarian needs. But we’re already starting to think, how do we build the resilience? How do we help these populations adapt to the changing climate? In fact, it’s not about changing climate: it’s the fact that the climate has changed. It’s unlikely we’re ever going to go back to where we’ve come. So, how can these populations adapt to their new circumstances and what can WFP and other partners do to support these new livelihoods?

World Food Programme (WFP) convoys loaded with relief and nutritious foods stand by to deliver to communities in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Afar.
WFP Ethiopia

UN News: You mentioned the resilience of the communities. Can you highlight any projects or strategic support that WFP, perhaps in collaboration with the other donors, may be carrying out in the region to ensure that some communities will be self-reliant instead of depending 100 per cent on humanitarian support? Are there any positive stories?

Mr. Dunford: There are lots of examples where WFP and others are investing in these populations, helping them better meet their future needs. We’re working with small holder farmers, introducing new farming techniques, addressing issues of postharvest loss. We’re working to enhance the education of the populations. We’re trying to ensure that young girls get the opportunity to go to school. We’re investing in nutrition: it’s much more important to address nutritional needs and prevent undernutrition than having to treat it. And then, of course, there’s large-scale resilience infrastructure programmes, giving access to waters, giving access to different types of technologies. We’re even investing in innovation, trying to introduce new innovative solutions, either originating from the region, which, as you know, is very rich and dynamic, or alternatively, offering ourselves as a conduit so innovations that come from abroad can be applied on the ground across the region.

UN News: What sorts of innovations? Could you give us some examples?

Mr. Dunford: Sure. So, it’s [things like] giving populations access to [tools to help them] better understand what the climate is going to be doing0, the weather forecasting. We’re giving them access to micro insurance products [and] we’re giving them an understanding of how better savings and loan programs can work. We’re looking to see how we can enhance or diversify agricultural practices, so they don’t all need to be [so] high tech. It’s more about introducing new approaches to populations who are eager to learn and benefit from the expertise that the World Food Programme and others have to offer.

UN News: And have the populations been responding positively to such innovations?

Mr. Dunford: Very positively. This is a very rich and dynamic region, particularly from [the perspective] of human capital. It’s about how can we, at the UN, support them [and] maximize the opportunities that exist.

Severe drought is killing livestock in the Adadle district in Ethiopia.
© WFP/Michael Tewelde

UN News: So, in the same vein, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has contributed to the drop in commodity prices in Africa. Has there been a positive repose to that as well?  

Mr. Dunford: Very positively. That is why it is essential that [the Initiative] continues, not only for the availability of commodities but also for the fertilizer. You know that region is a huge producer of fertilizer, much of which is destined to [other parts of] the region. A reduction in fertilizer costs translates into increase in yields for the farmers, and in turn an increase in food security. So, all these factors need to be to be considered by decision-makers. We certainly do not want to see a situation where that Initiative, after so much negotiation, is allowed to slip away.

UN News: There are reports from other countries, especially in Africa, that farmers have an excess supply of food that could be procured to avert famine in the Horn of Africa. Does WFP see any possibility of using that surplus as an option to bolster supplies?

Mr. Dunford: We are one of the biggest procurers of commodities across the region. In Eastern Africa last year, WFP in Eastern Africa bought over 744 thousand metric tonnes [and] spent $250 million procuring for our humanitarian operations. But the benefit is providing markets to farmers. We have recently done some analysis with University of California, Davis, we have quantified that every dollar WFP is spending on either procurement or logistics, is multiplying its value as it works towards the economy by 2.3 times. It is estimated that WFP is making a 1.42 per cent contribution to GDP across the region, and importantly, we are creating over 330,000 jobs to satisfy our needs to purchase locally and regionally and then direct those commodities back to our operations. This is one of the best stories I have to offer coming out of 2022 as to how WFP is having an impact on the economic development of the region.

UN News: In light of this, what is your message to governments in the region that are able to provide food that WFP can procure to avert famine in other areas?

Mr. Dunford: We are looking for African solutions to the challenges, and WFP is both the catalyst and [conduit] to enable local economies and the agricultural sector [to] use those resources to meet the immediate needs in the region.  

UN News: What is your message to donors and residents of the Horn of Africa?

Mr. Dunford: Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis. If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023. This means that we need to continue to engage. We cannot give up on the needs of the population in the Horn. This is a population that has not contributed to climate change. They are not producers of greenhouse gases, but they are on the frontline experiencing the direct impact and shock [of climate change]. So, there is the issue of equity. All of us, irrespective of where we come from, need to address those needs.

We are excited, and we are hopeful that, COP27 [in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt] will address first and foremost the release funding, be it through the Green Climate Fund, or others, to meet immediate humanitarian needs, but also to ensure long-term investment in the effort of vulnerable countries and regions to deal with climate change.

#Somalia is currently experiencing the worst drought in 40 years.

How is WFP supporting farmers to keep food on the table🍠🌿🌾 ? https://t.co/ET2tQrHTI9

‘Critical opportunity’ to protect against biological warfare, countries hear

In a speech to the Biological Weapons Convention, Izumi Nakamitsu explained that the issue of verifying whether biological toxins are being made has been deadlocked for 20 years. 

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“While bringing biosafety and biosecurity to a much higher prominence, the pandemic also demonstrated the disruption that could be caused if biological agents were to be used in a deliberate manner as weapons of war or terror,” Ms. Nakamitsu said. 

Biosafety first 

Novel ideas need to be found to leverage “the tools of modern science to develop a politically acceptable verification protocol”, the UN disarmament official maintained, as countries gathered for three weeks of meetings – a once in every five-year review of the Biological Weapons Convention, that was delayed by a further year, because of COVID-19. 

“No topic should be off the table in the quest to strengthen the Convention,” she continued, urging support for peaceful scientific cooperation, enhanced transparency in research and the promotion of emerging technologies for good. 

“This Review Conference therefore presents a critical opportunity for States to come together to strengthen this vital Convention,” Ms. Nakamitsu insisted. 

Consensus-building 

Although it is deemed unlikely that consensus will be achieved on restarting negotiations on legally binding protocols in the coming weeks in Geneva, the designated President of this Ninth Review Conference, Italy’s Leonardo Bencini, said that that there might well be agreement on “the way forward to restart discussions on the issue of verification and compliance”. 

Experimental risk 

Ambassador Bencini further explained that unlike nuclear weapons development “in theory you have hundreds of thousands of facilities, establishments, that could be weaponized”. 

To help to prevent this, some Member States are pushing for an “open and transparent” code of conduct for scientists working within the remit of the Convention, the Ambassador said. 

This would “make it more difficult for anybody to develop programmes without other colleagues knowing this”, he added.  

“We need to have something which is not just concerns the ethical commitment of scientists, to behave in a certain way and to share information among the scientific community but within the scientific community, but also something that could be implemented at the national level.” 

Coronavirus factor 

Ambassador Bencini noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had also highlighted the need for the Biological Weapons Convention to be updated, to take into account the danger of a global pandemic-like threat to humans, animals and plant life. 

The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention is the primary international framework for tackling the threat of biological warfare. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxic weapons. There are currently 184 States Parties to the international treaty. 

“Rising tensions around the globe are instigating a geopolitical crisis, which is putting multilateral disarmament under great stress,” Ms. Nakamitsu said. “Multilateral processes have been stalled or curtailed. The international community should remain vigilant as we have seen norms against other previously prohibited weapons eroding in recent years.” 

“No topic should be off the table in the quest to strengthen the Convention” – in her opening remarks for the #BWCRevCon @UN_Disarmament HR @Inakamitsu called the States Parties to 1 -operationalize 2- institutionalize 3 – fund the BWC & 4 – explore options for verification https://t.co/CY2TsboZkD

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