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IAEA chief outlines five principles to avert nuclear ‘catastrophe’ in Ukraine

Delivering his latest update, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi reported that the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) – the largest in Europe – remains extremely fragile and dangerous.

Military operations continue in the region “and may well increase very considerably in the near future,” he warned.

Rolling the dice

The Zaporizhzhya plant has come under fire during the war. It has lost off-site power seven times and had to rely on emergency diesel generators – “the last line of defence against a nuclear accident,” he said.

“We are fortunate that a nuclear accident has not yet happened,” Mr. Grossi told ambassadors.

“As I said at the IAEA Board of Governors last March – we are rolling a dice and if this continues then one day, our luck will run out. So, we must all do everything in our power to minimize the chance that it does.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), briefs members of the UN Security Council on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), briefs members of the UN Security Council on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

A specific request

Mr. Grossi recalled that the Ukraine crisis marks the first time in history that a war is being fought amid the facilities of a major nuclear power programme.  He said several of the country’s five nuclear plants and other facilities have come under direct shelling, and all nuclear plants have lost off-site power at some point.

The IAEA has maintained a presence at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant since September. The site was occupied by Russian forces in the early days of the conflict, with a “significantly reduced” Ukrainian staff carrying out operations.

Throughout the conflict, the IAEA chief has repeatedly promoted seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security, which include maintaining the physical integrity of facilities and ensuring secure off-site power supply.

“The time has come to be more specific as to what is required. We must prevent a dangerous release of radioactive material,” he said.

Five concrete principles

Following extensive consultations, including with the sides, Mr. Grossi developed five concrete principles essential for averting “a catastrophic incident” at the Zaporizhzhya plant.

“There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure, or personnel,” he said, outlining the first point.

The nuclear plant also should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons, such as multiple rocket launchers, or military personnel that could be used for an attack emanating from it.

Off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk, and all efforts should be made to ensure it always remains available and secure, he said. 

Furthermore, all structures, systems and components essential to the safe and secure operation of the plant should be protected from attacks or sabotage. Finally, no action should be taken that undermines the principles.

“Let me say something very clearly: These principles are to no one’s detriment and to everyone’s benefit. Avoiding a nuclear accident is possible. Abiding by the IAEA’s five principles is the way to start,” said Mr. Grossi.

Principles are aligned: Russia 

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said his country has made every effort to prevent threats to the safety of the Zaporizhzhya plant, which he attributed to Ukraine and its “Western backers”. 

“The shellings carried out by Ukraine of the power plant are absolutely unacceptable, and Mr. Grossi’s proposals to ensure the security of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant are in line with the measures that we’ve already been implementing for a long time, in accordance with decisions taken at the national level,” he said. 

He added that no attacks were ever carried out from the territory of the plant.  Additionally, heavy weapons or munitions were never placed there, nor are there any military personnel present who could be used to carry out an attack. 

“In the current conditions, Russia intends to take all possible measures to strengthen the safety and security of the power plant in accordance with our national legislation and our obligations under relevant international legal instruments to which our country is a party,” he said. 

Withdraw from the plant: Ukraine 

Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya also addressed the Council. 

He said Russia continues to use the nuclear plant for military purposes and has deployed roughly 500 military personnel and 50 units of heavy weaponry there, as well as equipment, munitions and explosives.  

“We reiterate that by illegally occupying ZNPP and making it an element of its military strategy, Russia has violated all key international principles of nuclear safety and security and the vast majority of its obligations under international treaties,” he said. 

Mr.  Kyslytsya recommended that the IAEA principles should also include withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel illegally present at the plant, guarantees of uninterrupted power supply to the facility, and a humanitarian corridor to ensure the safe and orderly rotation of staff. 

Belarus: ‘Unprecedented level of repression’ must end, say UN rights experts

“The practice of incommunicado detention of members of the political opposition and prominent figures sentenced to lengthy prison terms for voicing dissent increased in 2023,” the 18 Special Rapporteurs and Human Rights Council-appointed Working Group rights’ experts said.

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In their statement released by UN rights office OHCHR, they reported that according to the Viasna Human Rights Centre, 1,511 people have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2020, following the disputed presidential poll in August, which saw millions take to the streets.

Average of 17 arrests daily

The centre has also documented an average of 17 arbitrary arrests and detentions a day.

While Belarusian prisons are notorious for substandard conditions, civil society organisations continue to document the systematic discriminatory placement of persons detained on politically motivated grounds in even harsher conditions than the general prison population, the experts said.

“This arbitrary practice appears to have a systemic character,” the experts said.

The harsh conditions of detention have reportedly had a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the detainees, including dissident video blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, activist and campaign strategist Maria Kalesnikava, banker and opposition leader, Viktar Barbaryka, and senior opposition figure and lawyer, Maksim Znak, whose cases have been documented by the experts.

The prisoners were reportedly denied access to timely and appropriate medical examinations and treatment, adequate legal representation and also prevented from contacting their families.

Strategic punishment

“Incommunicado detention – with a risk of enforced disappearance – is indicative of a strategy to punish political opponents and hide evidence of their ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement and prison authorities,” the independent experts said.

They deplored the lack of independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these allegations of inhuman treatment and other human rights violations, as well as the failure to provide effective remedies to detainees and their families.

Demand compliance

“The unprecedented level of repression must stop,” the experts said. “The international community must demand that Belarus comply with its international human rights obligations to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims of human rights violations.”

Independent human rights experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, under its Special Procedures.

They are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN agencies warn of rising hunger risk in 18 'hotspots'

SudanBurkina Faso, Haiti and Mali have been elevated to the highest alert level, joining Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

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Additionally, a likely El Niño – a naturally occurring climatic phenomenon that has a warming effect on ocean surface temperatures in the central and east Pacific – is also raising fears of climate extremes in vulnerable nations.

Against ‘business-as-usual’

The report calls for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods, and to prevent starvation and death.

“Business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today’s risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind,” said Dongyu Qu, the FAO Director-General.

He underlined the need for immediate interventions in the agricultural sector “to pull people from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives, and provide long-term solutions to address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Worse than ever

Acute food insecurity is set to potentially increase in 18 hunger “hotspots”, comprising a total of 22 countries, according to the report.

“Not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever,” said Cindy McCain, WFP Executive Director.

The Sudan conflict is already driving mass displacement and hunger. More than one million citizens and refugees are expected to flee the country, while an additional 2.5 million inside its borders are set to face acute hunger in the coming months.

The report warned that a possible spillover of the crisis raises the risk of negative impacts in neighbouring countries.  If the conflict continues, it could spark further displacement and disruptions to trade and humanitarian aid flows.

Economic shocks continue

Meanwhile, economic shocks and stressors continue to drive acute hunger in almost all the hotspots, carrying over trends seen globally in 2022, largely due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen remain at the highest alert level for acute hunger.

Alongside Sudan, three other countries – Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali – also have been elevated to this level because of movement restrictions affecting people and goods.

“All hotspots at the highest level have communities facing or projected to face starvation, or are at risk of sliding towards catastrophic conditions, given they have already emergency levels of food insecurity and are facing severe aggravating factors. These hotspots require the most urgent attention,” the UN agencies said.

The report listed the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and Syria as hotspots with very high concern, along with Myanmar.

All of these countries have a large number of people facing critical acute food insecurity, coupled with worsening drivers that are expected to further intensify life‑threatening conditions in the coming months. 

The other hotspots are Lebanon, Malawi, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua

Sudan food distributions

Meanwhile in Sudan, WFP began distributing food assistance on Saturday to thousands of people trapped in the capital, Khartoum, since fighting broke out six weeks ago.

The distributions came in the last days of the seven-day ceasefire agreed by the army, which was set to expire on Monday evening, local time

This is a major breakthrough. We have finally been able to help families who are stuck in Khartoum and struggling to make it through each day as food and basic supplies dwindle,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director.

Staff have been working round the clock to reach people in the city since the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and rival military group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), erupted in mid-April.

“A window opened late last week which allowed us to start food distributions,” Mr. Rowe said, adding that  “WFP must do more, but that depends on the parties to the conflict and the security and access they realistically guarantee on the ground.”

Stepping up support

WFP is rapidly expanding distribution of emergency food assistance across Sudan.

Latest updates including distributions to some 12,445 people in locations controlled by both sides in Omdurman, part of the Khartoum metropolitan area.

More food assistance has been prepositioned to continue distributions in the capital for as long as the security situation allows, with the goal of reaching at least 500,000 people.

Food and nutrition distributions also began over the weekend in Wadi Halfa in Northern State to around 8,000 Sudanese who have fled Khartoum and are making the long journey to Egypt. Last week WFP also began distributions to 4,000 newly displaced people in Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea Coast.

The UN agency has rapidly scaled up support to reach 675,000 people so far with emergency food and nutrition assistance in 13 of Sudan’s 18 states since resuming operations earlier this month. Activities were halted after three staff were killed in North Darfur on 15 April, the first day of the conflict.

As hunger rises, WFP is expanding to support 5.9 million people across the country  and requires $731 million to reach them.

International Day of UN Peacekeepers honours 75 years of service and sacrifice

“United Nations peacekeepers are the beating heart of our commitment to a more peaceful world,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

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He called for continued support for these men and women, who help countries to transition from war to peace.

Hope and help

“They are also critical to the protection of civilians caught up in the chaos of these deadly conflicts, providing a lifeline of hope and help in some of the most dangerous contexts imaginable,” he added.

Mr. Guterres noted that many have paid the ultimate price as more than 4,200 peacekeepers have lost their lives serving under the UN flag.

“We stand in sympathy and solidarity with their families, friends and colleagues, and will forever be inspired by their selfless devotion to the cause of peace,” he said.

Support and recognition

Today, more than 87,000 peacekeepers from 125 countries serve in 12 UN operations located in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

They face rising global tensions and divides, stagnating peace processes, and more complex conflicts, the Secretary-General said.

“Despite these obstacles, and working with a wide range of partners, peacekeepers persevere,” he added

“To people living under the shadow of conflict, our teams of Blue Helmets represent hope.  As peacekeepers support humanity, let us always support and recognize them.”

‘Peace begins with me’

The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers has been commemorated annually on 29 May, in line with a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2002.

The date marks the start of the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), in Palestine in 1948.

The theme of the 75th anniversary of UN Peacekeeping is ‘Peace begins with me’, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of blue helmets, past and present. It also pays tribute to the resilience of the communities they serve, who continue to strive for peace despite many obstacles.

The annual ceremony marking the Day was held on Thursday at UN Headquarters in New York, where the Secretary-General noted that peacekeepers “are increasingly working in places where there is no peace to keep.”

The following day, the city played host to an interactive art installation in Times Square celebrating peacekeepers and all those who work together to build and maintain peace across the world, including community members and local influencers in places where UN missions operate.

Malaysia: ‘Everyone has a migration story’, now let’s eat

“I can’t think of a better way than using food to bring everyone to the table,” said Elroi Yee, an investigative reporter and producer of the Dari Dapur campaign. “We need shared stories that show migrants and refugees have a place in the Malaysian narratives.”

Tales and tastes of Tamil puttu, Cambodia’s nom banh chok, Kachin jungle food shan ju, Yemeni chicken mandy, and Rohingya flatbread ludifida flavour those narratives, telling their stories in Dari Dapur’s videos featuring Malaysian celebrities who sampled culinary history and heritage.

Launched by OHCHR in December 2022, the campaign partnered with untitled kompeni, a Kuala Lumpur-based social impact production team, with a view to putting these delicious stories at the heart of public discourse.

#DariDapur EP2: Chef Wan & Dr Hartini Menziarahi Keluarga Pelarian Pakistan Untuk Makan Tengah Hari

‘Food always brings people to the table’

Through seven short videos, celebrities visited the kitchens of migrant workers and refugees to share a home-cooked meal around the same table, hearing about each other’s lives, hopes and dreams, and learning what they have in common.

“Anytime you cook food and you bring your guests, everyone turns to smile and be happy because food always brings people to the table,” said Chef Wan in an episode with Hameed, who served up a scrumptious Pakistani ayam korma.

“Regardless of which culture, where we come from, everybody will need to eat,” he said.

#DariDapur EP1: Elvi dan Kavin Jay Makan Tengah Hari Di Perladangan Getah

Plantation day trip

Liza, a Cambodian plantation worker, shared more than just a meal with her guests, Malaysian comedian Kavin Jay and food Instagrammer Elvi. During a day trip to visit her on the plantation, Liza showed them how she cooks nom banh chok, a fragrant fermented rice noodle dish.

“To have someone come here to visit me, to see me and to see my friends, I’m so happy,” Liza said.

Exchanging jokes around the table, Mr. Jay said “everyone has a migration story”.

“It doesn’t matter what your race is, if you look back far enough, you will find your migration story,” he said.

Similar exchanges around dinner tables unfolded in other Dari Dapur episodes that starred migrant and refugee chefs with social justice influencer Dr. Hartini Zainudin, hijabi rapper Bunga, educator Samuel Isaiah, Tamil film star Yasmin Nadiah, Chinese-language radio DJ Chrystina, and politician and activist Nurul Izzah Anwar.

#DariDapur EP3: Bunga & Cikgu Samuel Mencuba Sajian Kachin

‘It’s exactly the same!’

From Myanmar to Malaysia, breaking fast was common ground in an episode that brought broadcast journalist Melisa Idris and US Ambassador Brian McFeeters tableside with Ayesha, a Rohingya community trainer.

“I would like to know them, and I am also very happy that I can explain what I am doing and who I am [to them],” Ayesha said, as she prepared an iftar feast for her guests.

Sitting them down at a table laden with traditional dishes along with some of her friends, Ayesha was frank.

“Before this, I’ve never cooked for other communities,” she admitted, ahead of a lively conversation about Eid celebrations.

Ms. Idris and Ayesha’s friend, Rokon, shared similar childhood memories, from her Malaysian village and to his family home in Rakhine, Myanmar.

The way they treated me today, if we could be as gracious a host as a country, it would go such a long way. – journalist Melisa Idris

“It’s exactly the same!” Ms. Idris exclaimed. “Sometimes we focus on the differences and don’t realize we have almost exactly the same traditions.”

Post-feast, she shared gratitude and a revelation.

She said it was clear how “complicit the media has been in othering refugees and migrants, in normalizing the hate, in sowing the division, and targeting an already marginalized community as a scapegoat of our fears during a pandemic.”

“They gave us the best; they gave everything to us,” she said, tearfully. “The way they treated me today, if we could be as gracious a host as a country, it would go such a long way.”

‘Cut through the noise’

To design the campaign, OHCHR commissioned research that revealed a complex relationship between migrants and Malaysians. Findings showed respondents overwhelmingly agreeing that respect for human rights is a sign of a decent society and that everyone deserves equal rights in the country.

Some 63 per cent agreed that their communities are stronger when they support everyone, and more than half believed they should help other people no matter who they are or where they come from. Around 35 per cent of respondents strongly or somewhat strongly believed that people fleeing persecution or war should be welcomed, with an equal number wanting to welcome those who are unable to obtain healthcare, education, food, or decent work.

“Migration is a complicated and often abstract issue for many Malaysians,” said Pia Oberoi, senior advisor on migration in the Asia Pacific region at OHCHR, “but storytelling is a good way to cut through the noise.”

Migrant worker Suha hosted actress Lisa Surihani at the oil palm estate where she works and where they shared a meal and stories about their lives.
© OHCHR Malaysia/Puah Sze Ning

Migrant worker Suha hosted actress Lisa Surihani at the oil palm estate where she works and where they shared a meal and stories about their lives.

Cow’s feet and camaraderie

“Our research found that people want to hear and see the everyday lives of people on the move, to understand and appreciate that we have more in common than what divides us,” she said, adding that the campaign was built on shared realities and values that personify the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 75 this year.

With the production of these short films, she said “we hope to inspire Malaysian storytellers to share the narrative space, and for all of us to rethink the way we relate to our migrant and refugee neighbours.”

On a sprawling oil palm estate, actress Lisa Surihani tucked into a meal of kaldu kokot – cow’s feet soup – dished up by her host Suha, an Indonesian plantation worker.

“What I learned was ‘try and not let what you do not know of affect the way you treat other human beings’,” actress Lisa Surihani said in a Dari Dapur episode.

“No matter who it is, our actions should be rooted in kindness,” Ms. Surihani said.

Learn more about the Dari Dapur campaign here.

#DariDapur EP7: Jamuan iftar bersama komuniti Rohingya

Menstrual Hygiene Day: Putting an end to period poverty

Period poverty, or the inability to afford menstrual products, is a serious issue especially in developing countries, an issue menstruating girls and women grapple with monthly and a spotlight topic on Menstrual Hygiene Day, observed annually on 28 May.

“I’m happy to come work here because I meet and work with other people,” said Ms. Fatty, who operates a special machine to install snaps on each pad. “This place gives me joy because I can forget about my disability while working here.”

The sturdy, long-lasting pads she produces help women like her with a mobility impairment, who have trouble going to the restroom. After working there for a year, Ms. Fatty hopes to continue. While her disabilities bring many challenges and she struggled to make ends meet for a long time, her life has become better since she joined the project.

Keeping girls in school

In The Gambia, Africa’s smallest nation, period poverty is prevalent across the country, but it hits harder in rural areas, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Some girls skip school for around five days every month due to the lack of menstrual products and sanitary facilities.

The girls are afraid of staining their clothes and become a target of bullying or abuse, the agency said. As a result, gender inequality widens; boys will have an advantage as they attend school more often than girls, who have a higher chance of dropping out of education.

To tackle this problem, UNFPA developed a project in Basse, in the country’s Upper River Region, to produce recyclable sanitary pads. These pads are distributed at schools and hospitals in local communities.

The agency takes it as an opportunity to talk about bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health with young girls to mitigate period shaming and stigma.

Empowering young women

The project is also a way of empowering young women in the community as it provides them with a secure job and an opportunity to learn new skills.

SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
United Nations

SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Since 2014, Menstrual Hygiene Day has been observed on the 28th day of the fifth month of the year as menstrual cycles average 28 days in length and people menstruate an average of five days each month.

Poor menstrual health and hygiene undercuts fundamental rights – including the right to work and go to school – for women, girls and people who menstruate, according to UNFPA.

It also worsens social and economic inequalities, the agency said. In addition, insufficient resources to manage menstruation, as well as patterns of exclusion and shame, undermine human dignity. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can amplify deprivation and stigma.

With that in mind, the theme for Menstrual Hygiene Day this year is “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”, said UNFPA Executive-Director Natalia Kanem.

“A girl’s first period should be a happy fact of life, a sign of coming of age with dignity,” she said. “She should have access to everything necessary to understand and care for her body and attend school without stigma or shame.”

The Day brings together governments, non-profits, the private sector, and individuals to promote good menstrual health and hygiene for everyone in the world. The occasion also aims at breaking the silence, raise awareness around menstrual issues and engaging decision-makers to take actions for better menstrual health and hygiene.

Learn more about what UNFPA is doing to eliminate period poverty here.

Eliminating period poverty

UNFPA has four broad approaches to promoting and improving menstrual health around the world:

  • Supplies and safe bathrooms: In 2017, 484,000 dignity kits, containing pads, soap and underwear, were distributed in 18 countries affected by humanitarian emergencies. UNFPA also helps to improve the safety in displacement camps, distributing flashlights and installing solar lights in bathing areas. Promoting menstrual health information and skills-building, projects include teaching girls to make reusable menstrual pads or raising awareness about menstrual cups.
  • Improving education and information: Through its youth programmes and comprehensive sexuality education efforts, UNFPA helps both boys and girls understand that menstruation is healthy and normal.
  • Supporting national health systems: Efforts include promoting menstrual health and provide treatment to girls and women suffering from menstrual disorders. The agency also procures reproductive health commodities that can be useful for treating menstruation-related disorders.
  • Gathering data and evidence about menstrual health and its connection to global development: A long overlooked topic of research, UNFPA-supported surveys provide critical insight into girls’ and women’s knowledge about their menstrual cycles, health, and access to sanitation facilities.

Trafficking in the Sahel: Killer cough syrup and fake medicine

This feature, which focuses on the illegal trade in substandard and fake medicines, is part of a UN News series exploring the fight against trafficking in the Sahel.

From ineffective hand sanitizer to fake antimalarial pills, an illicit trade that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is being meticulously dismantled by the UN and partner countries in Africa’s Sahel region.

Substandard or fake medicines, like contraband baby cough syrup, are killing almost half a million sub-Saharan Africans every year, according to a threat assessment report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report explains how nations in the Sahel, a 6,000-kilometre-wide swath stretching from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, which is home to 300 million people, are joining forces to stop fake medicines at their borders and hold the perpetrators accountable.

This fight is taking place as Sahelians face unprecedented strife: more than 2.9 million people have been displaced by conflict and violence, with armed groups launching attacks that have already shuttered 11,000 schools and 7,000 health centres.

Deadly supply meets desperate demand

Health care is scarce in the region, which has among the world’s highest incidence of malaria and where infectious diseases are one of the leading causes of death.

“This disparity between the supply of and demand for medical care is at least partly filled by medicines supplied from the illegal market to treat self-diagnosed diseases or symptoms,” the report says, explaining that street markets and unauthorized sellers, especially in rural or conflict-affected areas, are sometimes the only sources of medicines and pharmaceutical products.

Estimated malaria incidence rate per 1,000 population at risk, by country, 2020

Fake treatments with fatal results

The study shows that the cost of the illegal medicine trade is high, in terms of health care and human lives.

Fake or substandard antimalarial medicines kill as many as 267,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. Nearly 170,000 sub-Saharan African children die every year from unauthorized antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia.

Caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs up to $44.7 million every year, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

Counterfeit drugs at a market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
IRIN/Brahima Ouedraogo

Counterfeit drugs at a market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Motley trafficking

Corruption is one of the main reasons that the trade is allowed to flourish.

About 40 per cent of substandard and falsified medical products reported in Sahelian countries between 2013 and 2021 land in the regulated supply chain, the report showed. Products diverted from the legal supply chain typically come from such exporting nations as Belgium, China, France, and India. Some end up on pharmacy shelves.

The perpetrators are employees of pharmaceutical companies, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors, all motivated by potential financial gain, the report found.

Traffickers are finding ever more sophisticated routes, from working with pharmacists to taking their crimes online, according to a UNODC research brief on the issue.

While terrorist groups and non-State armed groups are commonly associated with trafficking in medical products in the Sahel, this mainly revolves around consuming medicines or levying “taxes” on shipments in areas under their control.

Snip supply, meet demand

Efforts are under way to adopt a regional approach to the problem, involving every nation in the region. For example, all Sahel countries except Mauritania have ratified a treaty to establish an African medicines agency, and the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization initiative, launched by the African Union in 2009, aims at improving access to safe, affordable medicine.

All the Sahel countries have legal provisions in place relating to trafficking in medical products, but some laws are outdated, UNODC findings showed. The agency recommended, among other things, revised legislation alongside enhanced coordination among stakeholders.

Custom and law enforcement officers prevent huge quantities of contraband from entering the markets of destination countries.

Custom and law enforcement officers prevent huge quantities of contraband from entering the markets of destination countries.

States taking action

Law enforcement and judicial efforts that safeguard the legal supply chain should be a priority, said UNODC, pointing to the seizure of some 605 tonnes of fake medicines between 2017 to 2021 by authorities in the region.

Operation Pangea, for example, coordinated by UN partner INTERPOL in 90 countries, targeted online sales of pharmaceutical products. Results saw seizures of unauthorized antivirals rise by 18 per cent and unauthorized chloroquine, to treat malaria, by 100 per cent.

“Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical products,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said. “We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe.”

Following the death of 70 children in The Gambia in 2022, the World Health Organization identified four contaminated paediatric medicines in the West African nation.

Following the death of 70 children in The Gambia in 2022, the World Health Organization identified four contaminated paediatric medicines in the West African nation.

UN in action

  • WHO launched the Global Surveillance and Monitoring System, works with a Member State Mechanism on substandard and falsified medical products, monitors products, and issues alerts to its 194 members.
  • The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and WHO partnered on a focus group on the use of artificial intelligence for health.
  • The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) studies counterfeit products and their impact on consumer health and safety.
  • The UNODC Strategic Vision for Africa 2030 includes more protection from falsified medical products, and its Good Legislative Practices on Combating Falsified Medical Product-Related Crime supports countries in enacting legislation and protecting public health.
  • The World Customs Organization (WCO) and UNODC launched a container control programme in 70 nations to assist authorities in intelligence sharing and supply chain security.
Crime in a box: CCP fights transnational organized crime by improving containerized trade security


UNESCO unveils new AI roadmap for classrooms

Less than 10 per cent of schools and universities follow formal guidance on using wildly popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like the chatbot software ChatGPT, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which hosted more than 40 ministers at an groundbreaking online meeting on Thursday.

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The ministers exchanged policy approaches and plans while considering the agency’s new roadmap on education and generative AI, which can create data and content based on existing algorithms, but can also make alarming factual errors, just like humans.

“Generative AI opens new horizons and challenges for education, but we urgently need to take action to ensure that new AI technologies are integrated into education on our terms,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education. “It is our duty to prioritize safety, inclusion, diversity, transparency and quality.”

Institutions are facing myriad challenges in crafting an immediate response to the sudden emergence of these powerful AI apps, according to a new UNESCO survey of more than 450 schools and universities.

Rapidly evolving landscape

At the same time, governments worldwide are in the process of shaping appropriate policy responses in a rapidly evolving education landscape, while further developing or refining national strategies on AI, data protection, and other regulatory frameworks, according to UNESCO.

However, they are proceeding with caution. Risks to using these tools can see students exposed to false or biased information, some ministers said at the global meeting.

The debate revealed other common concerns, including how to mitigate the chatbots’ inherent flaws of producing glaring errors. Ministers also addressed how best to integrate these tools into curricula, teaching methods, and exams, and adapting education systems to the disruptions which generative AI is quickly causing.

Many highlighted the vital role teachers play in this new era as learning facilitators.

But, teachers need guidance and training to meet these challenges, according to UNESCO.

Adding to existing frameworks

Teachers need guidance and training to meet these challenges. — UNESCO

For its part, the agency will continue to steer the global dialogue with policy makers, partners, academia, and civil society, in line with its paper, AI and education: A guide for policy-makers and Recommendation on the Ethics of AI, as well as the Beijing Consensus on Artificial Intelligence and Education.

UNESCO is also developing policy guidelines on the use of generative AI in education and research, as well as frameworks of AI competencies for students and teachers for classrooms.

These new tools will be launched during Digital Learning Week, to be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 4 to 7 September, the agency said.

Learn more about UNESCO’s work in digital learning and education here.

Weather experts predict ‘near normal’ season, with 5 to 9 potential hurricanes

The US National Hurricane Center acts as WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological hub, based in Miami, Florida.

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There is a 40 per cent chance of a near-normal season, 30 per cent possibility of an “above-normal season”, and also 30 per cent of a below-normal season, according to forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center.

The hurricane season covering the Atlantic region, including the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and US east coast, lasts from 1 June to 30 November.

NOAA forecasts between 12 and 17 total named storms, which means winds of at least 63 kilometres per hour, or 39 miles per hour.

Up to 4 major hurricanes

Among the potential hurricanes, it forecasts one to four “major hurricanes” – categories three to five – with winds of at least 178kmh, or 111mph.

WMO said that NOAA has “a 70 per cent confidence in these ranges.

“It is expected to be less active than recent years, due to competing factors – some that suppress storm development and some that fuel it – driving this year’s overall forecast for a near-normal season, according to NOAA”, WMO reported in a press release.

The agency reminded however, that it takes just one landfalling major hurricane to set back years of growth and development.

Statistics presented to the ongoing World Meteorological Congress showed how Small Island Developing States suffer disproportionately in terms of both economic impact and the human toll.

Early warning imperative

For instance, Hurricane Maria in 2017, cost the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, a staggering 800 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product.
“Between 1970 and 2021 tropical cyclones (the generic term which includes hurricanes) were the leading cause of both reported human and economic losses worldwide, accounting for more than 2,000 disasters”, said WMO.

However, the death toll from deadly storms has fallen from around 350,000 in the 1970s to less than 20,000 in 2010-2019. Reported economic losses in 2010-2019 were at $573.2 billion.

‘Major killers’

“Tropical cyclones are major killers and a single storm can reverse years of socio-economic development. The death toll has fallen dramatically thanks to improvements in forecasting, warning and disaster risk reduction. But we can do even better,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“The UN Early Warnings for All initiative seeks to ensure that everyone has access to warnings of life-threatening winds, storm surge and rainfall in the next five years, especially in Small Island Developing States which are on the frontlines of climate change,” he said.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic for the 2023 season.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic for the 2023 season.

Name that storm

An average Atlantic hurricane season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes
In total, the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season produced 14 named storms, of which eight became hurricanes and two were major hurricanes (Ian and Fiona). Both 2020 and 2021 were so active that the regular list of rotating names was exhausted.
After three hurricane seasons with a La Niña, there is a high potential for El Nino to develop this summer, which can suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. El Nino’s potential influence on storm development could be offset by favorable conditions local to the tropical Atlantic Basin.

New model boosts prep time

“With a changing climate, the data and expertise NOAA provides to emergency managers and partners to support decision-making before, during and after a hurricane has never been more crucial,” said NOAA Administrator, Rick Spinrad.

“To that end, this year we are operationalizing a new hurricane forecast model and extending the tropical cyclone outlook graphic from five to seven days, which will provide emergency managers and communities with more time to prepare for storms.”

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