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INTERVIEW: Turn the tide on water crisis with game-changing commitments, urge co-hosts of UN conference

Bringing together Governments, institutions, banks, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), youth, women, indigenous peoples and many other stakeholders from around the world, the UN 2023 Water Conference (22 to 24 March) will seek to find game-changing solutions to the multifaceted global crisis of ‘too much water’, such as storms and floods; ‘too little water’, such as droughts and groundwater scarcity; and ‘too dirty water’, such as polluted drinking water.

Ambassadors of the Conference co-hosts, Yoka Brandt, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN, and Jonibek Ismoil Hikmat, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Tajikistan to the UN, spoke about the issues at stake and discussed how the world can unite for water action.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

UN News: Why is water an issue so important to your country and the rest of the world?  

Yoka Brandt: For us, water is, has always been, and will always remain a priority issue. Our country, with its low-lying river delta on the North Sea and small islands in the Caribbean, was quite literally shaped by water. Over the past centuries, we have gained a lot of experience in dealing and living with water. And like others, we continuously face new challenges, such as droughts and floods, and the consequences of a rising sea-level both in Europe and the Caribbean. 

Despite these challenges, water can be a convener and connector, and, if managed well, even a catalyst for equity, prosperity and sustainability. More than 900 years ago, our country recognized the capacity of water to be a platform to bring us together across divides, vested interests and across the borders and barriers we created. This was institutionalized through our water governance model and cooperation with regional water authorities. Water security has been firmly embedded in our laws, policies and budgets. And we continue to explore with others new avenues and approaches on how to prepare and revalue water for the benefit of all and for our planet. 

Key interactions between groundwater and climate change showing how direct and indirect impacts of climate change affect groundwater systems.

Jonibek Hikmat: Water is close to our heart. Tajikistan is a mountainous country blessed with abundant water resources. For over two decades, it has been actively championing this noble cause through its water-related initiatives. To date, our Government has initiated eight water-related UN General Assembly resolutions. Our global initiatives on freshwater, international cooperation, water for life, and now water for sustainable development have been contributing immensely to advancing water-related goals. Indeed, partnership and cooperation are two great recipes for our success in this journey, which brought both the upstream and downstream countries as co-hosts to lead this important and ambitious Conference. 

UN News: Is the world on track to achieve internationally agreed water-related goals by 2030? 

Jonibek Hikmat: The progress on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and other Goals are lagging due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crises and conflicts. We must work up to four times faster to get on track to meet SDG 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The Water Conference is a good opportunity for all of us to review and assess the progress achieved and the gaps and constraints we faced in the implementation of these goals. It is also a good opportunity to strengthen cooperation and partnership to catalyze and accelerate water actions. 

Accelerated action is needed to ensure safe drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene for all.
© WHO/Rob Holden

UN News: In your vision statement for the Conference, you described water as a “dealmaker” for a more sustainable and inclusive world. Can you explain the linkages between water and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?  

Yoka Brandt: Without water, there is no life. Water is fundamental to our daily lives and has direct linkages with health, climate, economic development and so on. Water scarcity undermines food and health security, and negatively impacts our energy supply and our climate goals. Too much water makes our communities face storms, rain and floods. And pollution and lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities severely hamper opportunities, especially for women and girls, and puts lives at risk. Finding solutions for water can therefore make a substantial contribution towards achieving all the SDGs. 

Water links all the grave challenges of our time, from food and energy security to health and climate change. Last year’s floods, in Pakistan and Nigeria, or the enormous droughts and bushfires in the Amazon rainforest and Australia are a sobering reminder of water’s power to turn lives upside down and threaten our health, our safety, our food, and our living environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has also reminded us that lack of access to safe water and hygiene and sanitation facilities is creating unprecedented risks and vulnerabilities, with women and girls not having the opportunity to equally participate in society. 

A flooded area of Anambra State, Nigeria on 28 October, 2022
OCHA/ Trond Jensen

UN News: What are the main expectations for the Conference?  

Yoka Brandt: We need a Paris-moment for water. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently stated, we need to act decisively before it is too late. And we need to act with transformative commitments. This is what we aim to do at the Water Conference because we need more partnerships, more investments and more action. We need a Water Action Agenda filled with bold commitments to accelerate implementation of the Water Action Decade and the 2030 Agenda. 

Jonibek Hikmat: A successful Conference must be inclusive both in terms of the process and the results, leaving no one behind, with strong participation from the global South and across stakeholder groups such as women, youth and indigenous groups. A successful Conference must also be cross-sectoral, mobilizing all other sectors to improve the way they manage and utilize water resources. A successful Conference must be action-oriented. On 24 March, we will present a Water Action Agenda, filled with transformative and game-changing commitments that can truly accelerate progress towards the water-related goals. We do not need a Conference with bold statements. We need a Conference with bold commitments, and the boldness to put these commitments into action. We need commitments from Governments, civil society and the private sector from all over the world.

A young boy collects what little water he can from a dried up river due to severe drought in Dollow, Somalia.
© UNICEF/Sebastian Rich

UN News: What is needed to ensure a water-secure world for all?  

Yoka Brandt: Business as usual is not sufficient to reach the SDGs for water, water related goals and global water security. In the run up to the Conference, Governments, the UN, civil society organizations, businesses, investors, local communities, youth and so many other stakeholders are joining hands to make a difference by initiating commitments for the Water Action Agenda. As a UN Member State, we are also stepping up our national and international efforts. For example, we initiated the Global Commission on the Economics of Water that will look at new policies, approaches and collaboration that go beyond traditional economic thinking to radically change how we understand, value and manage water as a common good. We will also invest in better data to improve our responses to water related disasters, we will increase access to water and sanitation to reach those left behind, and we will invest more in solutions to tackle climate change, hunger and biodiversity loss.  

Jonibek Hikmat: We initiated both international Decades ‘Water for Life’, 2002-2015 and ‘Water for Sustainable Development’, 2018-2028. We also launched the Dushanbe Water Process – biennial international conferences on water. The second such conference held in our country in June 2022 adopted the Dushanbe Declaration, which includes important messages to unite global efforts, make new commitments, and intensify and accelerate actions and partnerships to achieve the goals of the Water Action Decade. 

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

UN News: What is the role of youth in addressing water-related challenges?  

Yoka Brandt: The Water Conference provides a unique opportunity to unite the world for water. We aim to bring everyone together, and have all different voices heard. Youth play a very important part in this. Their voices, ideas and solutions are crucial for solving today’s water-related challenges. The co-hosts are fully committed to include youth in the entire process: from preparation to follow-up.  

UN News: With the UN’s SDG Summit in sight for September 2023 and the Summit of the Future in 2024, what are the next steps to advance the global water agenda after the Water Conference?  

Jonibek Hikmat: The Water Action Agenda is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We want to use existing structures as much as possible, both in terms of implementation and monitoring and reporting. Therefore, follow-up of these commitments should be embedded into existing structures, such as the SDG Summit in September and the Summit of the Future in 2024. 

Armenia: Rights experts commend laws to curb use of mercenaries

The members of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries also called for greater oversight by the Government as well as stronger integration of human rights in domestic policies. 

“Armenia stands out in its efforts to integrate the 1989 UN Convention on Mercenaries in its domestic legislation, specifically in Article 147 of the Criminal Code which provides for a definition of mercenarism in compliance with international law,” they said in a statement. 

Still early days 

During the visit, the experts gathered information on the laws and procedures criminalising mercenary activities.  

They were informed that a regional court applied the legal framework to convict two Syrians charged with fighting alongside Azerbaijani forces during hostilities in 2020.   Both received life sentences following a May 2021 trial that lasted only one day.  

The experts noted that the application of the legislation is in its embryonic stage, and they encouraged the judiciary to guarantee that a victim-centred approach is applied in the future.  

Private security companies 

The Working Group also received information on the use of private security companies in Armenia. 

“We welcome the amended law on private security activities, which establishes a clear regulatory framework for licensing and operations of private security service providers, including in the monitoring of demonstrations and crowd control,” members said. 

Armenia has also initiated a reform on cyber security, and they urged the authorities to ensure that laws regulating the role of private security in cyber operations is human-rights compliant.  

Oversight mechanism recommended 

Noting the increased use of private security companies in the country’s mining industry, the experts also voiced concern over the alleged involvement of contractors, in dealing with concerns of local communities.  

They strongly recommended establishing an independent oversight mechanism to monitor and oversee the private security sector.  

“Regular trainings on the provision of human rights-compliant and gender sensitive security services should be systematically delivered to private security guards,” they added.  

Full report to follow 

While in Armenia, the Working Group held meetings in the capital, Yerevan, with governmental authorities, non-governmental organisations, and legal representatives. They also met with affected communities in the southern towns of Kapan and Goris. 

Their full report containing findings and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September. 

The Working Group receives its mandate from the Council, which is based in Geneva. 

The five members operate in their individual capacity and are not UN staff nor do they receive a salary for their work. 

UN and partners appeal for $4.3 billion for aid operations in Yemen

Despite a six-month truce last year, widespread suffering persists mainly due to the deteriorating economy and the collapse of basic services. 

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the truce “delivered real dividends for people” following years of death, displacement, destruction, starvation and suffering.

Funding and commitment 

However, humanitarian needs continue to soar as more than 21 million Yemenis, two-thirds of the population, still require assistance and protection. 

“The international community has the power and the means to end this crisis. And it begins by funding our appeal fully and committing to disbursing funds quickly,” he said. 

For nearly eight years, Yemen’s population has borne the brunt of fighting between Government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels. Severe drought and flooding are also threatening people’s lives, safety, and well-being. 

Furthermore, even though communities are overstretched, Yemen is hosting some 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers from other war-torn countries, mainly Somalia and Ethiopia. 

Secretary-General António Guterres delivers remarks at the High-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Secretary-General António Guterres delivers remarks at the High-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

‘Fragile’ gains at risk 

Last year, humanitarians secured $2.2 billion in funding, allowing them to deliver food, water, shelter, education and other life-saving assistance to nearly 11 million people each month

Mr. Guterres said their operations, together with the truce and other factors, meant that two million fewer Yemenis suffered acute hunger, while the number of people in famine-like conditions fell from over 150,000 to virtually zero

“But these gains remain fragile,” he warned.  “If support dries up now, aid agencies will be forced to scale back or suspend programming, at terrible human cost.” 

Humanitarians under fire 

Beyond support, humanitarians also need safe access to all civilians in need, he said, outlining obstacles to aid delivery such as bureaucratic impediments, interference and movement restrictions – particularly in Houthi-controlled areas. 

“Even worse, aid workers themselves are increasingly coming under attack,” he added. 

“I call on all parties to the conflict to facilitate the safe, rapid, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to all civilians in need, in line with obligations under international humanitarian law.” 

Peace remains crucial 

The UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, noted that the world was again convening to demonstrate its commitment to help Yemen emerge from the crisis. 

“That means continuing, and indeed redoubling, efforts to find a path to peace,” he said.  “It means funding the aid operation so life-saving programmes can continue to keep the worst at bay. And it means supporting aid agencies as they work to deliver a principled response across the country.”  

The pledging conference is being hosted by the UN Secretary-General and the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland.  

“Our support for the Yemeni people is more important now than ever,” said Ignazio Cassis, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland. 

“It is our collective responsibility to maintain our full support for the benefit of Yemeni women, men and children. Let us provide them the prospect of a better future.”  

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Johan Forssell, underlined his Government’s commitment to global humanitarian engagement. 

 “We cannot let life-saving operations in Yemen come to a halt. I hope that the international community will take the opportunity today to show continued solidarity with the people in Yemen now when they need it most,” he said. 

The international community has the power and the means to end the crisis in Yemen.

It begins by fully funding our humanitarian appeal and committing to disbursing funds quickly.

Together, let us give hope to the people of Yemen.

Libya: Bathily proposes election support body, as public frustration mounts

“The political process remains protracted and falls short of the aspirations of Libyans, who seek to elect their leaders and reinvigorate their political institutions,” said Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative for Libya and head of the UN’s political mission in the country, known as UNSMIL.

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In short, Libyans are impatient,” he stressed, noting that they are widely questioning the will and desire of political actors to hold inclusive and transparent elections in 2023, as planned.

Critical elections

Outlining his extensive engagement with Libyan actors over recent months – from civil society representatives to tribal leaders to senior national authorities – the Special Representative said he has also met with General Khalifa Haftar, head of the so-called Libyan National Army, a rival administration to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord. 

Libya has grappled with multiple crises since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, who had led the oil-rich nation since 1969, and the UN has been working to support a peaceful resolution ever since.

In December 2021, legal disputes and other challenges forced Libya to postpone, and later cancel, critical presidential and parliamentary elections, sparking disappointment both within and beyond the country’s borders.

Special Representative Bathily, appointed in September 2022, had aimed to help Libyan parties and international partners to agree on a constitutional basis for those elections by the end of February.

‘Crisis of legitimacy’

Meanwhile, Mr. Bathily said Libya’s political class continues to face a major crisis of legitimacy, and most State institutions lost their authority in the eyes of ordinary Libyans “years ago”. 

Citing the lack of progress on elections as a critical barrier to forward progress, he announced his decision to launch a new initiative aimed at enabling the organization and holding of presidential and legislative elections in 2023

The proposed “high-level steering panel” will bring together all relevant Libyan stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of a legal framework, as well as a time-bound road map, for the holding of elections this calendar year. 

It will also provide a platform to advance consensus around related matters, such as election security, and the adoption of a code of conduct for all candidates.

‘Fragile’ calm

Turning to Libya’s reconciliation process, the Special Representative praised strong support from the African Union and called for the holding of an inclusive conference to that end.

“Reconciliation is a long-term process that should be inclusive, victim-centred, rights-based and grounded on transitional justice principles,” he said.

Reporting that Libya’s ceasefire continues to hold – with no violations recorded since his last briefing, in December – he nevertheless cautioned that Libya’s security situation remains fragile, and recent strides must be protected.

Among those, he said the “5+5” Libyan Joint Military Commission, which has been working on the military track of intra-Libyan negotiations for several years, recently endorsed terms of reference for its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Joint Technical Sub-Committee – a key component of the country’s ceasefire agreement.

Mercenaries and foreign fighters

Another important event was a recent meeting between Libya’s neighbours – including Sudan and Niger – in which participants agreed to establish a coordination and information sharing committee, aimed at facilitating the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country.

Speaking last week at a meeting of the African Union’s High-level Committee on Libya, in Addis Ababa, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that external interference has fuelled Libya’s descent into conflict.

He welcomed the creation of a coordination committee as “an important step towards greater stability and peace in Libya and the wider region,” while emphasizing that there is “no alternative to elections” on the political track.

Today, I briefed the UN Security Council on my intention to launch a Libyan High-Level Panel for Elections, aimed at enabling the organisation and holding of presidential and legislative elections in 2023 https://t.co/6Pvzw3evVU

Human Rights Council: Russia responsible for ‘widespread death and destruction’ in Ukraine

Speaking only days since a large majority of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, the UN chief stressed that Russia’s decision to go to war against its neighbour on 24 February 2022 had unleashed “widespread death, destruction and displacement”.

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Also present at the opening of the 52nd session of the Geneva-based Council, the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, issued a stark warning that Russia’s actions had “effectively paralyzed” the Security Council in New York, the primary international forum tasked with maintaining peace and security.

The Security Council, like the General Assembly, was at a crossroads, he said.

Many countries are still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 70 countries are in debt distress amid a global cost of living crisis, Mr. Kőrösi continued, with women and girls “systematically marginalized” in many countries.

Amid such “unprecedented…interlocking” crises, the General Assembly President said that nothing less than a fundamental shift in the global response was needed, especially on tackling climate change, which is already an existential threat for many communities.

Confirmed abuses in Ukraine

In addition to “terrible suffering” caused by repeated shelling of Ukrainian cities and key infrastructure, Mr. Guterres added that dozens of cases of conflict-related sexual violence against men, women and girls, had been documented in Ukraine in the last year.

“Serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law against prisoners of war and hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of civilians” have been uncovered in the past 12 months, the UN Secretary-General told Human Rights Council Member States, as they gathered for an unprecedented marathon near six-week session in Geneva.

As part of the Human Rights Council’s scheduled work, its 47 Member States will hear an update from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on 20 March.

The probe was set up in March last year, after Member States adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. The  work of the three Commissioners complements that of the existing UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), which gathers together testimonies of possible war crimes, among other tasks.

The 52nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council gets underway in Geneva.
UN Photo/Violaine Martin

The 52nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council gets underway in Geneva.

Universal truths

Highlighting the enduring value of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted 75 years ago by the international community after the Second World War to avoid a repeat of that catastrophe – Mr. Guterres warned that although it should be humanity’s common blueprint, some governments “use it as a wrecking ball”.

Leading a call to “stand on the right side of history”, the UN chief insisted that now was the time “to stand up for the human rights of everyone, everywhere”. All of us should “revitalize” the Universal Declaration which sets out everyone’s right “to life, liberty and security; to equality before the law; to freedom of expression; to seek asylum; to work, to healthcare and education”, he said.

Linking a century of progress on human rights to “remarkable leaps” in human development, Mr. Guterres noted that in 1900, 80 per cent of people around the world lived in poverty, but that figure had fallen to less than 10 per cent by 2015. 

And although the average lifespan in the last 100 years ago has increased from 32 years to more than 70, the UN chief warned that numerous 21st century challenges confront us today.

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“Extreme poverty and hunger are rising for the first time in decades. Nearly half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, live in climate hotspots…Just yesterday, yet another horrific shipwreck in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of scores of people seeking a better future for themselves and their children,” the UN Secretary-General said, as he warned that antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the persecution of Christians, racism and white supremacist ideology were all “on the march”.     

UN rights chief’s call to nations

Echoing the Secretary-General’s strong appeal to all nations to stand by the Universal Declaration, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk insisted that people’s fundamental rights are far better understood today than ever.

Nonetheless, “oppression…can return, in various disguises”, the UN rights chief continued, as he pointed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as representative of “old destructive wars of aggression from a bygone era with worldwide consequences”.

Modern-day opportunities provided by digital innovation should be harnessed “to tackle our biggest challenges: poverty, climate change, and inequality, Mr. Türk insisted. “If there was ever a moment to revitalise the hope of human rights for every person, it is now.”

The very survival of humankind “depends on finding our way back to that common language”, the UN rights chief continued, as he urged Member States “to address your people’s rights to freedom from want and to freedom from fear on an equal footing”.

In a call for global solidarity and underscoring the Secretary-General’s observation that the Universal Declaration reflected the wisdom expressed in ancient texts, including the Hindu Vedas, the Ancient Chinese Analects of Confucius, the Bible and the Koran, High Commissioner Türk insisted that it “not only voices ancient wisdoms from all cultures but will ensure our survival”.

Human rights are not a luxury that can be left until we find a solution to the world’s other problems.

They are the solution to many of the world’s other problems.

Today I told the @UN_HRC that we must make human rights a reality in the lives of people everywhere. https://t.co/9EamZi4ju6

UN Human Rights Chief @volker_turk urges govts at #HRC52 to keep an eye to the past & future & revitalise solidarity that led to #UDHR. Human rights have & always will be our best chance to counter polarisation, injustice & crisis. But we must act now.
👉https://t.co/PHUvIXOn4T https://t.co/hTF01ZRZXQ

Avian flu reappears in Cambodia, UN health agency warns

These are the first cases of avian influenza, known as H5N1, reported in Cambodia since a widespread outbreak in 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The infection, which largely affects animals, has a 50 per cent mortality rate in humans.

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“The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world,” said Sylvie Briand, Director for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention at the UN health agency.  “We are in close communication with the Cambodian authorities to understand more about the outbreak.”

Further cases expected

Since the virus continues to be detected in poultry populations, further human cases can be expected, WHO said. Almost all H5N1 infection cases in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds or contaminated environments.

“WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urged heightened vigilance in all countries,” she said.

From 2003 to 25 February 2023, a total of 873 human cases of H5N1 and 458 deaths have been reported globally in 21 countries.

However, based on the current information, WHO advises against applying any travel or trade restrictions. To date, evidence shows that the virus does not infect humans easily and person-to-person transmission appears to be unusual.

Investigations launched

In Cambodia, a joint animal-human health investigation is already underway in Prey Veng province, where the case was reported. It aims at identifying the source and mode of transmission.

Meanwhile, a high-level government response is working to contain any further spread of the virus, and an outbreak investigation is aimed at determining the exposure of the two reported cases to the virus, WHO said.

Cambodian health authorities had notified WHO on Thursday of the first case and death. A young girl had contracted the avian flu and had died on Wednesday. By Friday, they had reported the second case, noting that one of the girl’s family members had tested positive with the virus but was asymptomatic.

In response to past outbreaks, veterinary efforts to contrast avian influenza strains were bolstered across Asia.
FAO/Hoang Dinh Nam

In response to past outbreaks, veterinary efforts to contrast avian influenza strains were bolstered across Asia.

Global response system

Through its Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, the UN health agency monitors the evolution of the virus and conducts risk assessments. For pandemic preparedness purposes, WHO can also recommend the development of additional new candidate vaccine viruses.

The agency underlined the importance of global surveillance to detect and monitor virological, epidemiological, and clinical changes associated with emerging or circulating viruses that may affect human or animal health.

Currently, there is no vaccine widely available to protect against avian influenza in humans. WHO recommends that all people involved in work with poultry or birds should have a seasonal influenza vaccination to reduce potential risks.

Past outbreaks

Almost a decade ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had issued an urgent warning of an outbreak in southeast Asia of a strain of avian influenza called H5N6.

In 2015, FAO again raised alarms about a dangerous outbreak of the highly virulent H5N1 strain, which had spread to five West African countries within six months. The agency had appealed for $20 million in emergency funds “to stop it in its tracks” before it affected humans.

At the time, FAO had said the H5N1 strain has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars.

Since then, the agency has worked to improve veterinary systems and the capabilities of local laboratories. By 2018, FAO had trained 4,700 veterinarians, who worked to protect farm animals against deadly viruses in 25 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

In Cambodia, a 2003 H5N1 outbreak had, for the first time, affected wild birds. Since then, and until 2014, human cases due to poultry-to-human transmission have been sporadically reported in the country.

As of 25 February, Cambodia has reported a total of 58 cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus have been reported since 2003, including 38 deaths.

The International Health Regulations (2005) set out agreed approaches and obligations for countries to prepare for & respond to disease outbreaks and other acute public health risk https://t.co/FgOh1JXNvX https://t.co/QcaT6lszAZ

Deadly shipwreck in Italy must trigger action to save lives, UN officials say

“Every person searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. “We need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees.”

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The UN refugee agency (UNCHR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a joint statement, expressed condolences for the victims and called on countries to increase resources and capabilities to effectively meet their responsibilities.

Death toll could rise

As of Sunday evening, 45 lifeless bodies had been recovered, but ongoing search and rescue teams fear the death toll could be worse, the agencies said. News reports said a newborn and small children were among the dead.

Reports indicate that at least 170 people were on board the small vessel, including children and families. The UN refugee agency said that information received shows that there may be as many as 80 survivors. Some of them have been hospitalized for treatment.

‘Unacceptable horrors’

“It is unacceptable to witness such horrors, with families and children entrusted to unseaworthy boats,” said Chiara Cardoletti, the UNHCR representative for Italy, the Holy See and San Marino. “This tragedy must prompt us to act and act now.”

The boat had left Turkey, with many passengers coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2022, people from Turkey accounted for around 15 per cent of total arrivals by sea in Italy, UNHCR said, noting that nearly half of the people arriving along this route were people fleeing Afghanistan.

‘Insufficient’ rescue capacities

The agencies said European Union mechanisms for rescue operations are “urgently needed”.

To avoid tragedies like this, Ms. Cardoletti said, it is “more necessary than ever before to strengthen the rescue capacity, which is still insufficient”.

Laurence Hart, director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean, said this shipwreck demonstrates how the phenomenon of migration by sea must be tackled by all European nations.

New approach needed

This requires humanitarian support and adopting an approach that considers the multiple drivers that are causing people to flee, she said.

The IOM Missing Migrants Project reports that at least 220 people, including those who perished on Sunday, have died or gone missing along the central Mediterranean route in 2023.

The tragic shipwreck off the coast of Crotone confirms the urgent need to strengthen the search and rescue system in the Med, and to open more regular migration channels.
This is not an emergency in terms of numbers,but a humanitarian emergency
@UNHCRItalia @UNmigration
⬇️ https://t.co/bgQjRbWtS4

UN special adviser denounces genocide denial in Bosnia

Raising concerns over such continuous reports of revisionism concerning atrocity crimes perpetrated during the three-year-long conflict that began in 1992, she also pointed to recent incidents reported following a decision to amend the Law on the Center for the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide.

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“The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia determined conclusively that a genocide was committed in Srebrenica,” she said.

Denial of the genocide is an affront to international law and justice and to the dignity of the victims and survivors whose loved ones were killed simply because of who they were.”

Civil society builds peace

Acknowledging the efforts of survivors and other civil society actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she said they are tackling the denial of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and promoting sustainable peace, and reconciliation across the country.

These stakeholders are working tirelessly to promote a future where division, hate, and denial has no place, she said, encouraging all political, religious, and community leaders to support such initiatives and to lead by example in using their voices to promote constructive dialogue based on trust, respect, and dignity.

Combatting hate speech

In this vein, she said the UN policy paper Combating Holocaust and Genocide Denial, launched in 2022, provides a framework for action.

“The most serious cases of genocide and Holocaust denial can constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence, and to genocide,” the policy paper noted. “Historical experience has shown us that such violence often includes denial of past violations and is almost always preceded by online and offline hate speech.”

The paper also contains targeted guidance and recommendations for addressing genocide denial for such key actors as governments, the UN system, and social media companies, she said.

Latest statement by the @UN USG and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, @WairimuANderitu on Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressing concern over continuous incidents of revisionism concerning atrocity crimes, incl denial of #Srebrenica genocide⤵️

🔗https://t.co/GrCtJNuSls https://t.co/kAmL59Rc9I

First Person: Hatching a plan for success in rural Gambia

Guidom Sabally’s high school education was cut short because his family could no longer afford school fees. For many years, he struggled to find work as an unskilled labourer.

Now in his 40s, Mr. Sabally was able to take up the opportunity of free technical training, provided by a UN-led training programme, in 2018; having completed the course, he found work as an engineer, supervising the construction of culverts – raised roads that allow his community to cross land that is inundated by floods, a consequence of climate change that is affecting many parts of the country.

He explained to UN News that, with the money he has saved, he has been able to branch out, and become a successful poultry farmer.

“I live in my family compound in Brikamaba village, where I was born, in the Central River Region of Gambia. There are 14 of us, my brothers and sisters, their children, and my father.

Life is difficult here. There aren’t enough jobs and, when there is work, it is usually only available for a short period of time. So, people here find it hard to feed their families.

When I dropped out of high school, I was sad. I knew that, without education, it would be very hard for me to learn the skills I would need to become a professional and advance in life. For many years it was difficult for me to find work.

Guidom Sabally received skills training as part of a UN-led programme in The Gambia
UN Video/ Hisae Kawamori

Guidom Sabally received skills training as part of a UN-led programme in The Gambia

Breaking ground on a new career

In 2018, a friend of mine heard a radio advertisement about a free technical training course, run by the UN, that would provide me with construction skills. He told me about it, and I applied.

It wasn’t difficult for me to go back to school, even though I was 38 at the time. The teachers knew exactly how to support me. I learned many useful skills, including masonry, carpentry, and painting and decorating.

At the same time, I was also able to earn money by going to work on a UN project to build road culverts. At first, I was employed as a labourer, getting gravel, moving rocks, doing anything that was needed.

After I graduated, I was able to work on the next culvert project as a trained engineer, and today I supervise a team of 50 workers.

A road culvert built with an EU-funded UNCDF programme in The Gambia
UN Video/ Hisae Kawamori

A road culvert built with an EU-funded UNCDF programme in The Gambia

‘The women can do anything the men do’

We have 25 men and 25 women, because gender equality is an important part of the project. When it started, people in the community would say that women cannot do this job but, today, they are seeing the benefits!

As well as the money they provide, women can now work with their husbands to improve their own homes, they can contribute to the decision-making process, planning, and construction.

The women can do anything the men do, from fixing steel reinforcements to masonry. We have to give them opportunities to show what they are capable of.

Adapting to the changing climate

Building culverts is very important, because of the changing climate. The rains in The Gambia have become more and more extreme and have caused the roads to erode. These culverts will allow the community to cross flooded areas during the rainy season.

This will make a big difference. Children will be able to get to school, we will be able to access health care, and businesses will be able to trade.

It will make everything easier because now, when there are heavy rains, everyone has to take a much longer route to cross the water. These higher roads will change our lives.”

A customer buys a chicken from Guidom Sabally's poultry farm in rural Gambia
UN Video/ Hisae Kawamori

A customer buys a chicken from Guidom Sabally’s poultry farm in rural Gambia

‘This belly is never full!’

The culvert-building projects are heavy jobs, and I’m not getting any younger! Also, they will be phased out soon, so it’s important to learn about entrepreneurship and business, so that you save some of the money you earn. My grandfather used to say “this belly is never full”; you always have to think about how you will get your next meal!

I decided to invest my earnings in starting a poultry farm, and it’s working well for me. I started with 50 chicks and, with the money I made from selling eggs and chickens, I was able to buy 100. It’s going well. I don’t even have to go to the market; people come to me, and I sell very easily.

I’m planning to rebuild the farm, and add more lights, so that I can house more chickens. I would like to have around 600, and employ some of the unemployed young people from my community.

I want to pass on the skills I have learned, so that they can start their own businesses. I can’t do it all on my own! More people need to understand the importance of saving and investing. Because, even when you have millions, if you spend millions, you will end up with nothing.

I’m very happy that I was able to get the skills to work on the culvert project, because I am now a professional mason, and a successful poultry farmer. I have been able to fund more technical training, and earn an advanced level diploma, and put my kids through school. My life is far better than it was before.”

UNCDF in The Gambia

  • Mr. Sabally’s training was provided as part of the Jobs, Skills and Finance (JSF) programme in The Gambia, the flagship programme of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), in collaboration with International Trade Center (ITC), and funding from the European Development Fund.

  • JSF addresses persistent challenges in The Gambia which include lack of job opportunities for youth and women, low levels of financial inclusion and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Over 1 billion in 43 nations at risk amid cholera outbreaks, WHO says

Three countries, this week alone, have reported outbreaks, WHO cholera team leader Philippe Barboza told reporters at a press conference on Friday.

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For the first time, WHO is asking donors for help to fight the outbreaks, he said.

Right now, 22 countries across the world are fighting outbreaks of the acute diarrhoeal infection caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Cholera cases climbed in 2022, following years of falling numbers of cases, and the trend is expected to continue into this year, he said.

He said cases have been reported in five of the six regions where WHO operates. The latest WHO global overview published in early February showed the situation has further deteriorated since 2022.

Poverty, disasters, conflict and climate change consequences continue to be driving factors alongside a lack of access to safe water and sanitation, Dr. Barboza said.

Limited vaccine supplies

“An unprecedented situation requires an unprecedented response,” he said, drawing attention to the limited availability of vaccines, medicines, and testing kits.

Only 37 million doses are available in 2023, he said. More doses are expected to be available by next year.

As a result of the current global surge, WHO is, for the first time ever, appealing to donors to support a $25 million fund to help to address cholera outbreaks and save lives, he said.

Prevention is key, he said, noting that nearly half of the world lacks access to safely managed sanitation.

“Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are internationally recognized human rights,” he said. “Making these rights a reality will also end cholera.”

Outbreak in Africa

An exponential rise in the number of cholera cases in Africa includes an outbreak in Mozambique, which is also grappling with severe storms brought on by cyclone Freddy. The first case of cholera in the current outbreak was reported to the Ministry of Health and WHO from Lago district in Niassa province in September.

As of 19 February, Mozambique reported a cumulative total of 5,237 suspected cases and 37 deaths. All six cholera-affected provinces are flood-prone areas, and WHO anticipates that more will be affected as the rainy season continues.

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Considering the frequency of cross-border movement and the history of cross-border spread of cholera during this outbreak, WHO considers the risk of further disease spread as very high at national and regional levels.

An estimated 26,000 cases and 660 deaths have been reported as of 29 January 2023 in 10 African countries facing outbreaks since the beginning of the year, WHO said. In 2022, nearly 80,000 cases and 1,863 deaths were recorded from 15 affected countries.

Multiple countries affected

Neighbouring Malawi is facing the deadliest cholera outbreak in two decades, and cases are being reported in other countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, WHO reported.

The UN health agency said challenges include climate change, which has led to drought or flooding in parts of Africa, resulting in increased population displacement and reduced access to clean water.

Worldwide, people in Haiti, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Syria, among others, are also affected by outbreaks.

Global threat

Cholera remains a global threat to public health, WHO said. In 2017, affected countries, donors, and partners of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control launched a renewed global cholera control strategy, Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030. It aims at reducing cholera deaths by 90 per cent over the next decade.

While the number of cases had been declining, WHO remains concerned about the current surge. Researchers estimate that every year, there are between 1.3 and 4 million cases and 21,000 to 143,000 deaths worldwide due to the infection.

✅ Your questions answered: What is #cholera, and what causes it?

#ViralFactsAfrica @viralfacts https://t.co/mEW85P81oj

This week, @WHO received another batch of tents, cholera kits and personal protective equipment, meant to support #Malawi🇲🇼’s efforts to curb the #cholera outbreak. 👩🏾‍⚕️🧑🏾‍⚕️

The supplies will be distributed to the most affected districts.
#EndCholera #TithetseKolera https://t.co/qKyafHMcD0

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