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World News in Brief: UN staff detained in Yemen, cyclone threat for Haiti, rights chief Lao PDR, climate change

“We are very concerned about these developments, and we are actively seeking clarification from the Houthi de facto authorities regarding the circumstances of these detentions and most importantly to ensure the immediate access to those UN personnel,” Mr. Dujarric said.  

Of the detainees, two are women and nine are men. Six work for the UN human rights office (OHCHR), with another five working for different UN agencies and the Office of the UN Special Envoy in Yemen, said Mr. Dujarric.

Militants from the Houthi movement control most of Yemen including the capital, and in recent months have attacked vessels in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.  

Mr. Dujarric assured that the UN is “pursuing all available channels to secure the safe and unconditional release of all of them, as rapidly as possible.”

Haiti tornado strike could point to ‘devastating’ cyclone season warns UNICEF

Thousands of children and their families may be pushed into poverty in Haiti, compounding the chaos due to gang violence and a collapsing health system, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Friday.

The National Emergency Operations Center has announced a “hyperactive” cyclone season, with 23 phenomena, 11 of which could develop into hurricanes, predicted between June and the end of November.

The first tornado of the season already hit Bassin Bleu, in the country’s northwest, on 21 May, signaling the beginning of some potentially devastating months ahead.  

According to the Haitian authorities, 112 people, including 29 children, were injured in the disaster. Approximately 4,350 people, including 650 children, lost their homes.  

“With every cyclone, every tornado, every flood, children will lose their homes, their livelihoods, their lives, and the season has barely started” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.

“We support children after every disaster, but support from the international community is essential for us to enhance our preparedness and response capabilities for the worst-case scenarios.”

UNICEF and partners are supporting affected families in Bassin Bleu to recover. The agency and the national partners are distributing cash assistance to the 300 most vulnerable affected families.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (file)
© OHCHR/Irina Popa

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (file)

First-ever visit by a UN human rights chief to Lao People’s Democratic Republic  

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk visited Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) on Friday, marking the first ever visit by a UN rights chief to the southeast Asian country.  

While there, he discussed progress Lao PDR has made in advancing the human rights of their citizens.  

Mr. Türk stated that by ratifying seven out of nine core international human rights treaties, “the country has signalled its commitment to accede to a roadmap for human rights.”

However, Mr. Türk was also sure to highlight several key challenges facing the country, notably rising public debt.

“One key challenge for Lao PDR is public debt. Let me be clear: debt is a human rights issue,” he stated.  

Lens of human rights

With over half the world’s poorest countries in or near full-blown debt distress, Mr. Türk pushed for international financial institutions to work through a human rights lens, calling it an “urgent priority.”  

He stressed the dangers of declining public spending on social services and the necessity of human rights playing a role in budget allocations.  

“If a country does not invest sufficiently in education, health, equality and other essentials, this will result in a cascade of problems in society,” the UN human rights chief stated.  

The high levels of child marriage and the low participation of women in decision-making were also mentioned as areas for improvement in Lao PDR.  

In light of these challenges, Mr. Türk expressed hope that his visit “heralds the deepening of our collaboration on the promotion and protection of human rights for all the people in the country, as well as in the region.”

Climate change is worsening the intensity and frequency of droughts.
© UNICEF/Fani Llaurado

Climate change is worsening the intensity and frequency of droughts.

Climate change impacts on health of pregnant women, children, older people: WHO

The climate crisis is a global health crisis, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as it urged governments everywhere to consider how to protect people from the worst impacts of our warming planet.

To help convince health authorities that the climate emergency should not be ignored, WHO released new data on the impact of climate change at key life stages.

This included threats from air pollution, wildfires, flooding and extreme heat.

Taking extreme heat as one example, WHO said that preterm births increase during heatwaves, while older people are more likely to suffer heart attacks or respiratory distress.  

Indirect factors

Indirect impacts on human health from climate change include reduced crop outputs and food shortages, increased vector-borne disease and greater stress which impacts on mental health, the UN health agency also noted.

Among the solutions to help mitigate the threat posed by our warming world, the WHO suggested flexible work hours and modifying buildings for childcare, education and healthcare, with an emphasis on reducing emissions, too.  

Governments should also focus on collaborating with communities and sharing knowledge of what to do during heatwaves or other climate emergencies, the UN health agency added, including issuing public health messages during peaks in air pollution, so that people can protect themselves, or training health workers to recognize heat stress.

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