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Sudan: as millions face famine, humanitarians plead for aid access

In a bleak assessment of the dire situation in Sudan where conflict is in its second year, the heads of 19 global humanitarian organizations issued an alert that further obstacles to providing aid “rapidly and at scale” will mean that “more people will die”.  

UN aid coordination office OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva that famine is “likely to take hold in large parts of the country, more people will flee to neighbouring countries, children will succumb to disease and malnutrition and women and girls will face even greater suffering and dangers”.

Staggering scale of hunger

Some 18 million people in the country are already acutely hungry and 3.6 million children are acutely malnourished, the OCHA spokesperson said.

These children are in grave danger, Mr. Laerke insisted, as “they are 10 to 11 times more likely to die” than youngsters who have enough to eat.

Despite soaring needs, aid workers continue to face “systematic obstructions and deliberate denials of access by parties to the conflict”, according to the humanitarian agencies’ joint statement.

Too dangerous to access

Mr. Laerke highlighted that “movements across conflict lines to parts of Khartoum, Darfur, Aj Jazirah and Kordofan have been cut off since mid-December” and that in March and April of this year, nearly 860,000 people were denied humanitarian aid in these areas.

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Conditions for aid delivery are “very poor and dangerous,” he added, underscoring that aid workers are being killed, injured and harassed, while humanitarian supplies have been looted. 

In addition, the closure in February of the Adré border crossing from Chad to western Darfur has reduced aid delivery in Darfur to a “trickle”.

Darfur success

In a more positive development last week, UN World Food Programme (WFP) trucks managed to enter Sudan from Chad through the Tine border crossing. The agency reported that 1,200 metric tonnes of food supplies for some 116,000 people are being transported across the Darfur region. 

On Friday WFP Sudan’s Leni Kinzli confirmed that the convoys destined for Central Darfur (Umshalaya and Rongatas) have reached their final destinations, while the convoy headed to 12 destinations in South Darfur, including displacement camps in Nyala, is still in transit. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Laerke warned that in North Darfur’s capital El Fasher, where fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rival Rapid Support Forces (RSF) recently intensified, some 800,000 civilians are bracing for an “imminent, large-scale attack”.

Attacked from all sides

On Thursday, the UN’s top aid official in the country Clementine Nkweta-Salami warned that civilians are “under attack from all sides”.

She said that medical facilities, displacement camps and critical civilian infrastructure in El Fasher; North Darfur state,  have been targeted by parties to the conflict, while parts of the city have been left without electricity and water. 

In their joint statement the heads of humanitarian agencies called on the warring parties to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian access and adopt a nationwide ceasefire. 

Referring to Sudan’s two main warring parties, the SAF and RSF, Mr. Laerke said: “We want these generals to find a way to solve their differences not by violence that kills, maims, rapes hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan, but do it in another way”.

Concerned about low levels of funding for the crisis, humanitarians also called on donors to urgently disburse pledges made at the International Humanitarian Conference for Sudan and its Neighbours in Paris on 15 April. 

Nearly five months into the year, the humanitarian appeal for Sudan for a total of $2.7 billion remains only 16 per cent funded. 

 

Top UN officials urge comprehensive approach to Syria’s protracted crisis

Martin Griffiths, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, highlighted the worsening humanitarian crisis, noting that 16.7 million people now require humanitarian assistance – the highest number since the conflict began 13 years ago.  

He stressed that the situation is deteriorating year by year, with a particular emphasis on the ongoing protection crisis, as children continue to be killed and women and girls face increasing levels of sexual and gender-based violence.

Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths briefing the Security on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

In addition, an unstable economic situation is compounding suffering and perpetuating instability. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the cost of living has more than doubled over the past year, and there are no signs of improvement in the near future.

More than seven million people remain displaced within Syria, with millions more living as refugees in neighboring countries,” Mr. Griffiths said.

He underscored the need for sustained humanitarian access through both cross-border and crossline operations.

Welcoming the recent extension granted by the Syrian government for use of the Bab al-Salam border crossing, the UN relief chief highlighted the need for more long-term commitments based on needs rather than set time periods

Security concerns

Geir O. Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, described the political impasse as deeply entrenched, with no clear political path to implement UN Security Council resolution 2254, which outlined a roadmap for Syria’s political transition.  

He warned of the risks of prolonged division and despair, which threaten not only Syrians but the broader international community.

“A dizzying array of local and international actors and listed terrorist groups remain engaged in conflict, inside and over Syrian territory, across multiple theatres,” Mr. Pedersen said.

He detailed ongoing clashes across the north of the country and security tensions within areas of control, complicated by the fallout of the war in Gaza, including Israeli airstrikes inside Syria, and rocket and drone attacks from Syrian territory towards the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan and Israel.

Special Envoy Geir Pedersen briefing the Security Council on the political and security dynamics.

“If these dynamics simply continue, we will inevitably see even more civilian suffering. And we could also see major escalations and further instability radiating across the region,” he warned, also reiterating the need for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Regional de-escalation efforts starting with a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is absolutely essential,” he stressed.

Piecemeal approach will not work

Mr. Pedersen further emphasised the need for a comprehensive political solution, involving the Syrian government, opposition, civil society, and key international actors such as Iran, Russia, Türkiye, the United States, Arab and European nations, and the Security Council.

No actor on its own can solve the crisis, and none of the existing diplomatic groupings can either. Constructive international diplomacy with the contribution of all is the only way forwards,” he stressed.

At the same time, Constitutional Committee meetings must be resumed and concrete confidence-building measures undertaken to stabilize the situation.

“Many understand that the situation in Syria is dangerous, that the current piecemeal approach will not suffice to stem the tide, and that a strategy of containment and alleviation will not stabilize the dangerous and unpredictable situation in Syria – just as it hasn’t elsewhere in the region,” he said.

A wide view of the UN Security Council chamber as members meet to discuss the situation in Syria.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A wide view of the UN Security Council chamber as members meet to discuss the situation in Syria.

SIDS go forward with ‘new sense of hope, solidarity and determination’

Speaking at the closing of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS4), Amina Mohammed stressed that despite increasingly existential threats to SIDS, “we do have reasons for hope and optimism”.

More than 20 world leaders and senior ministers from over 100 nations joined close to 4,000 other participants on the lush campus of the American University of Antigua through the week – together with representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia and youth – to tackle a raft of issues vital to the survival of the 39 SIDS in the face of the climate crisis and other shocks.

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The deputy UN chief declared that the adopted outcome known as the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda (ABAS) presented a “vision for the future that SIDS want and need.”

On the right course

The plan for the next ten years agreed by all parties to the conference titled, A renewed declaration for resilient prosperity, sets out the collective sustainable development aspirations of SIDS and the support required from the international community to meet them.

The deputy UN chief told delegates that ABAS sets the economies of SIDS on a strong course so they can strengthen resilience, with populations in ways that are safe, healthy, productive and prosperous “but also where access to food, energy and water is guaranteed.”

Biodiversity will be protected while the ocean and its resources are conserved, secured by strong climate action to limit temperature rises – and rising sea levels.

She stated that all action to slow global warming must “meet the urgency of the moment.”

The new Centre of Excellence for SIDS – housed in Antigua and Barbuda – will be solutions-oriented and serve as a platform for crucial private sector engagement, she added. 

ABAS also calls for significant new financing at scale, where it is most needed, given the crippling impact of high interest debt repayments many SIDS face.

A new Debt Sustainability Support Service is also being established as part of the forward-looking agenda and the provision of data which can really measure vulnerabilities to scale up finance “to where it matters most with a sense of urgency.”

Wide view at the closing of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS4) in Antigua and Barbuda.
UN News/Matt Wells

Wide view at the closing of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS4) in Antigua and Barbuda.

Commitment ‘at all levels’

Although the path has been set, there is no automatic right to success, Ms. Mohammed cautioned: “Success relies on each of us – each and every one of us – stepping up in genuine partnerships that are timely, that are robust and effective” to make the ABAS a reality. 

Ms. Mohammed said there needed to be a “reality check” when it comes to monitoring and evaluation.

“Let me say that halfway through the SDGs, what we did measure has not been done and that’s a wake up call for us…not to lose the credibility of the multilateral system. She stressed the real work will be in implementing the Agenda.

Speaking for the UN she said “we commit to joining your efforts at all levels.”

UN Resident Coordinators and Country Teams will work hand in hand with all partners to deliver resilient prosperity and aid digital, “green and blue” transformation.

New journey

Let us remember that this conference marks the beginning of a new journey. Our responsibilities don’t stop here. The ABAS must guide our efforts towards 2030 when we meet in 10 years’ time”.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne, who presided over SIDS4, agreed that while much has been accomplished “our real work has just begun.”

“We have the roadmap and the institutional arrangements in place. Let us stay committed to multistakeholder partnerships innovation collaboration and inclusivity, working together to overcome our unique challenges”, he added.

Delegates arrive for the final day of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.
UN News/Matt Wells

Delegates arrive for the final day of the SIDS4 conference in Antigua and Barbuda.

Investing in people should be the ‘absolute priority’

Earlier in the day, delegates met to discuss the importance of health, especially to the youngest generation.

The fragility of health systems in many small island States is stymying the “growth and potential of our younger generations” the Minister Plenipotentiary from Sint Maarten Patrice Gumbs warned on Thursday, addressing an interactive dialogue session on addressing health crises and bolstering young people.

Investing in human capital in terms of health, education and empowerment of youth “is not merely a policy choice but a need for survival and growth”, he added.

Cindy McCain (right), Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaks at the closing of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS4) in Antigua and Barbuda.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Cindy McCain (right), Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaks at the closing of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island States (SIDS4) in Antigua and Barbuda.

This needs to be led by innovative healthcare solutions such as telemedicine, mobile health teams and partnerships “that bring expertise and technology to our shores.”

Co-chair of the event, Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva Prime Minister of Cabo Verde said investing in people overall “must be an absolute priority for us” along with defending women’s dignity, respect for human rights, gender equality and tolerance.

“We must strengthen investments, policies and partnerships for access to quality education and healthcare and place top priority on eradicating extreme poverty and creating decent jobs for young people,” he stressed.

Speaking from her perspective as head of the world’s largest humanitarian agency, the World Food Programme, (WFP) Cindy McCain told the meeting that boosting healthcare provision, education and skills, was about allowing people to thrive, not just survive.

Human capital provides the very foundations for sustainable development, she noted.

“It’s a golden thread that runs through all of our conversations this week”, she declared, “as we’ve discussed how we can work together. To adapt to climate change, protect livelihoods and assist small island developing states as they chart a course toward resilient prosperity. “ 

Human rights experts highlight threats to journalists covering Iran

The experts highlighted recent incidents targeting the Persian language news service Iran International, its journalists and staff, and its owner Volant Media UK Limited. Death threats and intimidation against the staff escalated into the violent stabbing of journalist Pouria Zeraati outside his home in London on 29 March.

Since 2017, Iran International has faced ongoing threats and harassment from Iranian authorities and their proxies, which intensified following the 2022 “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran. Persian media abroad were falsely accused of inciting unrest, exacerbating the abuse.

“Such attacks not only violate the human rights to life and personal security but are also aimed at suppressing freedom of expression and the media, including legitimate criticism of the Iranian Government,” they said.

Attempted killings

According to the experts, there have been at least 15 credible Iranian plots to kill or kidnap individuals in the United Kingdom since 2022.

British counter-terrorism police warned two Iran International personnel, including Volant’s General Manager Mahmoud Enayat, of “imminent threats to their lives” in November 2022, prompting them to flee the UK.

Additionally, a plot to kill two television presenters, including Fardad Farahzad, was thwarted in November 2023.

Chilling effect on the press

The experts warned that these attacks and threats could have a chilling effect on journalists both inside and outside Iran.

They cited a September 2023 incident in New York where Iran International journalist Kian Amani was assaulted by a member of Iran’s delegation to the United Nations.

Iran imposed travel and financial sanctions on Volant Media and Iran International in 2022 for supposedly supporting terrorism and, in 2019, froze the assets of the owners and their family members in Iran.

“We deplore the blatant misuse of counter-terrorism law against journalists, which violates freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the right to travel, privacy, family rights, the right to reputation and due process and judicial safeguards,” the experts said.

Pattern of attacks

The experts noted that the incidents against Iran International were part of a pattern of threats and attacks against Persian language media and dissidents outside Iran, including journalists working for BBC News Persian, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, IranWire and Radio Farda.

“We urge Iran to refrain from violence, threats and intimidation against Iran International and its staff, online and offline, and other journalists and media workers reporting on Iran from abroad, and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for such acts,” they said.

The experts raising the alarm included the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Iran, on rights protection while countering terrorism, on freedom of opinion and expression, on peaceful association and assembly, and on extrajudicial executions.

Appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to monitor and report on specific human rights sectors and country situation. They are not UN staff and do not draw a salary for their work.

Guterres honours service and sacrifice of UN peacekeepers

Mr. Guterres began the day by laying a wreath at the Peacekeepers Memorial Site on the grounds of UN Headquarters in New York in honour of the more than 4,300 “Blue Helmets” who lost their lives over the Organization’s nearly 80-year history. 

Later, at a ceremony in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, he called for a minute of silence to remember the military, police, civilian personnel and national staff who have paid the ultimate price.

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“The memory of our fallen Blue Helmets reminds us of the tragic human cost of conflict,” he said.  

“Each loss underscores the urgent need to prevent violence, protect the most vulnerable, and spare no effort to end these deadly conflicts.” 

‘We will never forget them’ 

Last year, 61 peacekeepers from 33 countries died in service. 

Their families have received Dag Hammarskjöld medals, named after the second UN Secretary-General, who died in a plane crash in September 1961 in what is now Zambia. 

“We share our deepest sympathies with the families and friends,” said Mr. Guterres. “We will never forget them.” 

The UN chief noted that the world is going through a difficult and dangerous time, with the international community deeply divided, and UN peacekeepers are more important than ever. 

Support UN peacekeepers 

More than 76,000 women and men from 121 countries are currently deployed in 11 operations worldwide. 

“Peacekeepers are often engaged in countries or areas where there is no peace to keep,” he said. 

“Despite direct attacks by armed groups, harsh operating environments and the emergence of new weapons of war, including digital technology and artificial intelligence, our peacekeepers persevere. And we must support them.”  

Gender Advocate Award 

Mr. Guterres also presented the 2023 UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Major Radhika Sen, an Indian peacekeeper who served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

Major Sen was deployed in eastern DRC with the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, as the Commander of the Indian contingent’s engagement platoon.

Listen to our interview with Major Sen: 

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She led the unit on countless patrols at a time of escalating conflict in North Kivu province. 

Major Sen helped to create community networks, providing a safe platform for women to share their ideas and concerns so that the UN Mission could better respond to their needs.  

The Secretary-General called Major Sen “a true leader and role model”, adding that “her service is a true credit to the United Nations as a whole.”  

The wreath laying and ceremony were held to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, commemorated annually on 29 May. 

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) greets Major Radhika Sen, recipient of the 2023 UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) greets Major Radhika Sen, recipient of the 2023 UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.

 

UN refugee chief urges Security Council to ‘step up’ for millions displaced by war

Filippo Grandi said the number currently stands at 114 million. “Next month we will update this figure. It will be higher,” he added.

Mr. Grandi recalled his last briefing to ambassadors seven months ago, when he shared his views on several crises around the globe.

Non-compliance with international law

He said the situation has not changed, and has even grown worse, because warring parties do not comply with international humanitarian law.

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“Parties to conflicts — increasingly, everywhere, almost all of them — have stopped respecting the basic rules of war, and sometimes even pretending to do so,” he said.

“Civilians are killed in growing numbers; rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as weapons of war; civilian infrastructure gets hit and destroyed; humanitarian workers become targets.”

Gaza conflict

Mr. Grandi noted that because of these violations, civilians have no other choice but to flee in terror.

“What has happened in Gaza since the Hamas attacks last 7 October, and throughout the Israeli offensive, is a case in point,” he continued.

The UN refugee chief added his voice to those who have been urging the Council to pursue an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages, the full resumption of humanitarian aid, and a return to a real peace process.

Against ‘forced exodus’

While upholding the universal right to seek asylum, he said that “in this case, there is also — and especially — the international legal obligation of an occupying power not to force the civilian population to flee the territory it occupies.” 

He warned against “another forced exodus of Palestinians”, saying this “will only create one more intractable problem and make a solution to this decades-long conflict impossible to find.”

Unresolved crises worldwide

Mr. Grandi told the Council that the war in Gaza must also serve as a call not to forget other unresolved crises, such as the conflict in Syria. 

Some 5.6 million Syrians are now living as refugees in neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, which have been hosting Palestine refugees for generations.

Turning to Myanmar, he said the situation in Rakhine state is especially worrying. 

Renewed fighting between the armed forces and the Arakan Army ethnic armed group which has displaced different ethnic communities, with the mainly Muslim Rohingya community caught between the parties.

Meanwhile, the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the most dangerous place on earth for women and children.

He listed factors such as intractable ethnic problems, the plunder of resources by numerous actors, including States, and the constant disrespect of displacement camps by armed men.

Touching on Ukraine, he said “international humanitarian law gets violated every day”, including attacks on the power network, homes and other civilian infrastructure.

Mr. Grandi said the blatant disregard of international humanitarian law also makes peace much more difficult to attain. He cited the example of Sudan, where rival military forces have been fighting for more than a year.

“For both sides, disregarding all sense of humanity and consideration for their own people, the solution remains essentially a military one,” he said.

‘It is not too late’

Expressing frustration, the UN refugee chief appealed for action from the Security Council.

“Last year I called on you to use your voice – not your voices. But this Council’s cacophony has meant that you have instead continued to preside over a broader cacophony of chaos around the world,” he said.

While noting that tens of thousands have been killed in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, the DRC, Myanmar and elsewhere, he emphasized that “it is not too late to step up help for the millions who have been forcibly displaced to return home voluntarily, in safety and with dignity.”

He added that “It is not too late to try and save countless millions more from the scourge of war.”

 

AI for Good Summit: Digital and technological divide is no longer acceptable

Organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the annual forum is the place where humans meet artificial intelligence. It is popular to the extent of being oversubscribed for attendance, with the queue to enter stretched for hundreds of metres, along one of Geneva’s biggest conference centres, and internet bandwidth barely coping with the flood of digital information.

The venue has become a showcase for advanced technology, including AI-powered robots, brain-controlled tools, generative AI solutions as well as the hardware, the backbone of the global AI ecosystem.

However attractive to the eye and entertaining, the machines are not the highlight of the summit.

With people in mind

On the centre stage, both metaphorically and literally, are the people. The two-day summit’s main stage will see a tight line-up of presentations and panels discussing all aspects of human interaction with artificial intelligence, both pros and cons.

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Opening the summit, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the ITU Secretary-General, underscored the transformative potential of AI and emphasised the necessity for inclusive and secure AI governance.

“In 2024 — in the age of AI and unimaginable opportunities — one-third of humanity remains offline, excluded from the AI revolution, and without a voice,“ Ms. Bogdan-Martin stated. “This digital and technological divide is no longer acceptable.”

Underlining the critical digital divide – with 2.6 billion people globally still without internet access – she urged collective action to bridge this gap, stressing that equitable access to AI technology is essential for inclusive progress.

Global coordination

“We are in a race against time. Recent developments in AI have been nothing short of extraordinary,” she said. 

To secure global coordination in building safe and inclusive AI accessible to all, the ITU chief said, three key aspects should be observed – risk and security management, infrastructure and resource development and international collaboration.

Ms. Bogdan-Martin praised initiatives like the UN General Assembly’s historic resolution promoting trustworthy AI systems and ITU’s collaboration with UNESCO on applying existing laws to AI. She called for continued momentum, particularly highlighting the upcoming UN Summit of the Future.

Bionic limbs and prenatal care

The ITU chief shared inspiring examples from the AI for Good Innovation Factory, including the start-ups Bioniks, a Pakistani-led initiative designing artificial limbs, and Ultrasound AI, a US-based women-led effort improving prenatal care.

Speaking to UN News at the forum, founder and CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) of Bioniks Anas Niaz explained that the idea behind his start-up was to produce affordable prosthetics for amputees, including children. Use of a smartphone for scanning, brain-controlled technology and simplified fitting process, which does not require travelling to a hospital, help to reduce costs, making the company’s products ‘the world’s most affordable bionic limbs”.

Bioniks startup from Pakistan presents brain-controlled bionic limbs at ITU's annual AI for Good Global Summit 2024.
UN News/Anton Uspensky

Bioniks startup from Pakistan presents brain-controlled bionic limbs at ITU’s annual AI for Good Global Summit 2024.

“You can send the measurements by a mobile phone, and we send your prosthetics to your doorstep. These prosthetics are waterproof, and people in humid climate can use them for practically anything. Kids are writing with them,” Mr. Niaz explained, adding that being a social enterprise, Bioniks helps find sponsors for those who need a bionic limb, but cannot afford to buy it.

Fighting fake news during world’s largest election year

As 2024 marks the largest election year across the world in history, Ms. Bogdan-Martin warned of the threats posed by deepfakes and disinformation. She announced ITU’s commitment to developing robust standards for AI watermarking and digital content verification, stressing that “standards build trust; they’re the cornerstone of responsible AI.”

Some of such solutions are already used by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who helps governments to apply AI to identify misinformation and disinformation attacks.

“When we deliver electoral support to countries during their elections, we have an AI-based platform that serves as a misinformation detection platform and flags suspicious content for [further] human fact check,” UNDP’s chief digital officer Robert Opp told UN News.

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‘AI Generation’

ITU chief Ms. Bogdan-Martin called on the global community to embrace its role as the “AI generation”, advocating for a future where artificial intelligence serves humanity’s best interests.

“Let’s remember that the future starts not with algorithms, but with us,” she said. “Right here, in our brain…the most complex, powerful and creative computer the world has ever known.”

Turbocharging sustainable development

Addressing the AI for Good Summit through a video message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised the transformative potential of AI in advancing sustainable development worldwide.

Highlighting the dual nature of AI, Guterres outlined its immense promise and underscored the necessity for its responsible and inclusive governance.

“Artificial intelligence is changing our world and our lives,” Mr. Guterres declared. “And it can turbocharge sustainable development.”

ITU's annual AI for Good Global Summit 2024, Geneva.
UN News/Anton Uspensky

He elaborated on AI’s multifaceted applications, noting its capability to revolutionise sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, housing and disaster management. He also illustrated how AI could deliver educational and healthcare services to remote areas, enhance agricultural productivity, design eco-friendly housing and transportation systems and provide early warnings for natural disasters.

“AI could be a game-changer for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” UN chief asserted. However, he cautioned that realizing AI’s full potential requires addressing its risks, including bias, misinformation and security threats.

“We need global coordination to build safe and inclusive AI that is accessible to all,” he said, commending ITU for its early work on AI standards and for convening the summit.

Business community aboard

These calls by leaders of international organisations are well-heard by the digital community. Talking to UN News, Melike Yetken Krilla, head of international organisations at Google, discussed a handful of projects that the data giant is assisting the UN with.

That includes one where Google data and AI are used to track progress toward the SDGs and to map it around the globe, and a project developed jointly with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to create a flood hub, allowing users to forecast natural disasters up to seven days in advance as part of an early warning system.

“Last year, with the creation and launch of large language models and generative AI, it was the year of ‘Wow!’ I would assert that this year is the year of ‘How?’ How we are going to partner with international organisations to identify and establish AI rules of the road and the guardrails,” Ms. Yetken Krilla said, adding that the UN is leading the process by drafting and creating the Global Digital Compact and other initiatives, including the Summit of the Future.

World News in Brief: Hunger grows in Haiti, Gaza aid blocked, World Potato Day

The World Food Programme (WFP) distributed more than 74,000 hot meals to over 15,000 displaced people in the besieged capital, Port-au-Prince, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, told journalists at UN Headquarters on Thursday, providing an update on the gang-ravaged Caribbean nation.

In addition, about 2,400 children received mental health and psychosocial support from child protection experts, he said.

At the same time, humanitarian agencies provided information sessions to more than 4,000 people sheltering in displacement sites on such critical issues as gender-based violence, protection and sexual abuse.

Nearly 1.6 million people are facing acute food insecurity levels in Haiti, according to UN agencies.

The UN Spokesperson also reported that civilians in displacement sites in Port-au-Prince had received about 13 million litres of water from UN agencies, partners and Haiti’s civil protection department since the beginning of March.

In the Artibonite region, Mr. Dujarric said WFP has provided cash assistance to over 13,000 people as part of its emergency activities and another 6,000 people in this region received food.

Following the recent tornado in the Bassin Bleu commune, which damaged more than 300 houses, WFP will also provide food for nearly 3,800 residents, he said.

Violence and blocked borders impede aid access in Gaza

In Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday that increased violence and blocked borders continued to restrict aid access in the enclave where hundreds of thousands of people are in need.

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Humanitarians are experiencing “movement restrictions” to border areas which are causing delays in planned missions to collect resources from the Kerem Shalom crossing, the UN Spokesperson said.

“We need Israeli authorities to swiftly facilitate access to the crossing so that aid workers can safely reach the crossing to pick up supplies,” he said. “We also need safe and unimpeded passage to distribute that assistance to scale to people in need, wherever they may need it in Gaza.”

‘Catastrophic levels of hunger’

The UN and its humanitarian partners are doing all they can to aid civilians in Gaza, he said, adding that WFP is calling for blocked borders in Gaza to be opened since this impacts their ability to reach people in need.

“Constrained access to southern parts of Gaza risks causing the same catastrophic levels of hunger that has been seen in the north, and in central and southern Gaza, hunger levels are deteriorating fast,” Mr. Dujarric said.

He said WFP reported that some commercial supplies have reached the enclave, but the high cost means many civilians cannot afford the goods.

‘Israel must stop its campaign against UNRWA’

The UN relief agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, which serves more than 5.9 million Palestinians in the region, said conditions are dire, and in the last two days alone, more than 32,000 people have fled the escalating fighting in Rafah.

In a guest essay published on Thursday in The New York Times, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini referred to unproven allegations Israel had made earlier this year against the UN agency and efforts to restrict its work in war-torn Gaza.

“As I write this, our agency has verified that at least 192 UNRWA employees have been killed in Gaza,” he said in the essay. “More than 170 UNRWA premises have been damaged or destroyed. UNRWA-run schools have been demolished; some 450 displaced people have been killed while sheltered inside UNRWA schools and other structures.”

He also said that since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on 7 October, Israeli security forces have “rounded up UNRWA personnel in Gaza, who have alleged torture and mistreatment while in detention” in the Strip and in Israel.

“Israeli officials are not only threatening the work of our staff and mission, they are also delegitimising UNRWA,” he wrote. “Israel must stop its campaign against UNRWA.”

First ever International Day of Potato

It’s the world’s first ever International Day of Potato, and the theme is Harvesting diversity, feeding hope, with a focus on the ancient vegetable’s contribution to the lives of producers and consumers as well as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The General Assembly designated 30 May to pay tribute to the potato, an 8,000-year-old crop originating in the Andes mountains in South America that is now a staple food consumed by about two thirds of the world’s population.

Climate-friendly and resistant to drought, cold and barren land with wide adaptability, the potato contributes to the food security, nutrition, livelihoods and employment of people in rural and urban areas the world over.

Key crop around the world

Indeed, 159 countries cultivate potatoes, and there are 5,000 varieties worldwide. Nearly 50 per cent of current crops produced are used as the household staple food or vegetable.

Potatoes are a key crop across diverse farming systems globally, ranging from smallholders producing diverse heirloom varieties by hand in the Andes to vast commercial, mechanised farms in different continents.

Building on the International Year of the Potato, marked in 2008, today’s observance also recognises the roles of small-scale family farmers, a significant proportion of whom are women, in safeguarding the wide spectrum of the crop’s diversity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2030, the total production of potatoes is expected to rise by 112 per cent of current harvests, reaching 750 million tonnes, of which more than half is predicted to be produced in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As communities around the world mark the day, both the cultural and culinary dimensions of the crop’s cultivation and consumption are also being celebrated, from pierogis to dum aloo.

Cabo Verde beats back climate change through South-South cooperation

The UN agency facilitates experts from China who share their knowledge and skills with farmers in the West African nation through a collaborative process known as South-South cooperation.

Cabo Verde consists of 10 islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, nine of which are inhabited. 

Although the country’s name means “Green Cape” in Portuguese, it is not that green at this time of year. The brutal dry season just gets hotter until July, when the rainy season is supposed to begin. 

Drought and pests 

During this period, water becomes the most precious resource for farmers. When reserves from the last rainy season are depleted, they are forced to buy water, thus affecting their profits. 

Climate change has also led to an increase in soil erosion while depleting soil fertility. Rising temperatures also have made Cabo Verde a favourable environment where new pests can thrive. 

The fall armyworm has been wreaking havoc on maize crops ever since arriving in the country in 2017. Other pests include fruit flies, which mainly attack mango harvests, and tomato maggots, named after their favourite target. 

Seeking assistance 

Through FAO, Cabo Verde requested assistance in fighting these challenges, something which China could offer. 

South-South cooperation refers to technical partnerships among developing countries in the Global South. Projects combine the technologies and experience of visiting countries with the needs and requests of host countries, transferring knowledge and skills through partnerships. 

In this case, China passed on to Cabo Verde what it learned in its own rural areas, which are very similar to those in the interior of Santiago, the largest island in the chain. 

Farmers Willy and Nena work together in Santiago on land that was affected by drought and pests. They took part in a training on soil management and pest control offered by FAO as part of a project under the FAO-China South-South cooperation (SSC) programme. 

“It was a great help to me,” Willy told the UN agency recently. “It’s the first time I’ve taken part in a training programme that talks about what we really need.”

CABO VERDE 2024. Farmers receive training as part of the FAO China South-South Cooperation (SSC) Programme
© FAO /  Giuseppe Carotenuto

CABO VERDE 2024. Farmers receive training as part of the FAO China South-South Cooperation (SSC) Programme

Learning and growing 

Willy previously did not pay much attention to soil, viewing it as just a basic input, but Yanhua Zeng, a horticulture and soil expert sent by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs soon changed that. 

Willy learned to recognise a lack of nutrients in the land and now uses goat manure and crop residues to improve the quality of the soil. 

Katya Neves, Assistant FAO Representative in charge of the programme in Cabo Verde, recalled Willy mentioning that he used to buy organic fertiliser. 

“Now he has learned how to do it,” she said, “and the money that he will potentially save will support another part of his farm. So, he can, with the savings, invest in other things in his own farm.” 

Since receiving the training, Willy has worked with other farmers, sharing his knowledge and what he learned from the experts, thus realising one of the objectives of the project: that the training transmitted to farmers is further disseminated by the farmers themselves. 

*You can read the full FAO report here

Amid ongoing Israeli incursions into Gaza, aid facilities shut ‘one after another’

Humanitarian facilities in Rafah are forced to close one after another…The flow of humanitarian aid supplies into Gaza, already insufficient to meet the soaring needs, has dropped by 67 per cent since 7 May,” reported the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, amid reports that kitchens, clinics and hospitals are shutting down.

Until Israeli troops seized and closed the Rafah border crossing in the very south of the Strip, it had been the key entry point for food, water, fuel and medicine into Gaza as well as the route for sick and wounded people to leave for treatment.

Powerless to help against famine threat

Echoing those concerns, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that there was little the agency “can currently do in Rafah, with stocks very low and mobility severely restricted”. 

According to WFP, the West Erez crossing in northern Gaza “is functional, but not reliable”. Gate 96 further south and the Erez crossing are also “inaccessible” and access is so “constrained” to southern parts of Gaza that it risks causing the same catastrophic levels of hunger witnessed in the north.

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Tactical gain 

The development comes as the Israeli military said that it had secured “tactical control” of a narrow 13 kilometre (eight mile) stretch of land between Gaza and Egypt.

In a statement on Wednesday, an Israeli Defence Forces spokesperson reportedly claimed that rocket launchers had been used to attack Israel from the Philadelphi Corridor. 

A senior Israeli official also reportedly told national radio Wednesday that fighting in Gaza could be expected to last until the end of the year, at least.

Dire humanitarian situation

After nearly eight months of war, the entire population of Gaza of 2.2 million people is almost exclusively dependent on humanitarian assistance, including food.

Although desperately needed supplies have been delivered on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Abu Salem, or Kerem Shalom, crossing located close to Rafah, UN humanitarians have repeatedly stressed that it is not safe to fetch them amid ongoing hostilities, impassable roads, unexploded weapons, fuel shortages and delays at checkpoints.

Adults and children are beyond exhausted from constant displacement, hunger, and fear,” WFP said in its latest situation update. “They are desperate for the war to end, as are humanitarian workers on the ground, who are largely displaced and dispersed along with the people they are meant to serve.”

Aid officials have frequently reiterated the responsibility of Israel as the occupying power to ensure that aid reaches those who need it, in line with international humanitarian law.

The UN food agency meanwhile confirmed that lifesaving aid relief and fuel from Egypt had crossed into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. 

“This is an important step, but we need sustained access. We need all border crossings and crossing points within Gaza to be open,” it said, adding that although some commercial goods had reached the enclave, “people cannot afford the high prices”.

“We need more aid to enter through the south because people need dietary diversity, access to healthcare and water.” 

In its latest update, the UN food agency said that in the north, aid teams are distributing food parcels, wheat flour, hot meals and supporting bakeries.  

In central areas, WFP is prioritising hot meals to reach more people with fewer resources. It noted that faster assistance is now possible thanks to a recently introduced self-registration tool that allows people to update their location.

Just four bakeries now operate in Gaza City, and one recently opened in Jabalia, providing bread in the north. Out of the 17 bakeries WFP operates in Gaza, only 11 are functioning owing to the lack of fuel and other essentials.    

In Rafah the healthcare situation remains perilous, with only one hospital still functional, the World Health Organization said, referring to Al Emirati Maternity Hospital. This compares with three partially functional hospitals earlier this month. “An Najjar Hospital was evacuated on 7 May and Al Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah ceased operations on 27 May,” WHO said, following reports quoting the hospital’s director that this happened after two medical staff were killed when the hospital’s gate was hit. 

Other aid operations that have closed this week in Rafah reportedly include a field hospital and kitchen run by UN partners the Palestinian Red Crescent and World Central Kitchen.   

Al Mawasi strike

To date, at least 36,171 Palestinians have been killed and 81,420 injured in Gaza, OCHA said, citing Gazan health authorities, since Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October prompted intense Israeli bombardment across the enclave. 

“Mass casualties” were also reported on Tuesday after an unconfirmed airstrike on a site for forcibly displaced people in the coastal Al Mawasi area, southwest of Rafah. The UN aid office cited the Gazan ministry of health, which reported 21 fatalities and 21 injuries.

 

 

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