Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 02 Sep 2015 02:47:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142212 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:34:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142149 The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move – banned under international law – is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera’a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up – by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo – making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country’s water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera’a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars – a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the U.N. system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the U.N. marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142079

Nora Happel interviews H.E. Alexandru Cujba, Secretary-General of the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD) and Director-General of the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC).

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

Next month, the South-South Awards will be taking place for the fifth time, honouring the achievements and contributions of heads of state and government, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society in promoting sustainable development in the Global South.

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

2015 is a special year in many respects, with the U.N. celebrating its 70th anniversary and U.N. member states concluding their work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The South-South Awards, on Sep. 26, are going to be held in support of these major events that will shape the new development agenda for the next 15 years.

The South-South Awards are perhaps the most prominent example of the many development programmes designed and implemented by the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) to support U.N. development efforts, exchange knowledge and best practices in the area of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation and build partnerships between governments from developing countries and private sector companies.

Launched in 2010 during the 16th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation against the backdrop of chronic under-coverage of the Global South, IOSSC has started with the news programme “South-South News” and since moved into project development to expand its practice areas into the fields of business development and social development.

Last year, the organisation launched the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD), an umbrella structure supporting its different activities and also, in particular, the South-South Awards.

In an interview with IPS, SS-SCSD Secretary-General and IOSSC Director-General H.E. Alexander Cujba, former Permanent Representative of Moldova to the United Nations and former Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, shared some insights on the 2015 South-South Awards."We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements... but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development."

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: This year, the MDGs will be replaced by the SDGs. This process has been reflected in the theme for the 2015 South-South Awards, which is “From MDGs to SDGs: Supporting poverty reduction, education, and humanitarian efforts.”

Will the 2015 South-South Awards be different from previous ones due to the important events happening this year such as the adoption of the SDGs, first of all, but also for instance the 70th anniversary of the U.N.?

A: This is the fifth year that we organise the South-South Awards and I would say that this year will be both a continuation of our previous ceremonies as well as a different event because, as you rightly mention, we conclude the MDGs and we are moving to a new agenda, the post-2015 development agenda.

So while previously we were recognising achievements of the member states in specific areas that were linked to specific MDGs, this year we want to emphasise the achievements of member states in implementing all eight MDGs.

Of course, results differ and not only results of the different countries and regions, but also results in different MDGs. I think that undoubtedly, MDG no. 1, combating poverty and hunger, was a major MDG. So therefore, this year, we partner with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and our traditional supporter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in order to emphasise the achievements of U.N. member states and developing countries specifically with regard to MDG no. 1.

Apart from that, we also use this opportunity – because it is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. – to highlight the role that the U.N. had over the last 70 years not only in the area of preserving peace and security but also in promoting development. At a time when many scholars, politicians, experts discuss the creation and the need for the United Nations in 1945, we see that now the U.N. has to bring a new impulse to the development of member states, not only preserving security and peace, but also supporting the sustainable development of its member states.

Q: What are the main objectives of the South-South Awards? Can you tell me about some of the results of previous South-South Awards?

A: Working with different missions here at the U.N., we learn that small countries, particularly least developed countries, have their own positive results and achievements that frequently are not known except by the diplomatic world, except by the U.N.

Therefore, in previous years, we wanted to highlight specifically these small but extremely important results for those developing countries. That’s why every year we were working with our co-organisers in order to identify the best practices and achievements of those developing states in different specific areas.

This year, however, we want to emphasise the overall implementation of the MDGs. It is a good opportunity for us to highlight the congregation of efforts in order to achieve those noble goals that were adopted in 2000.

Q: How are the winners of the South-South Awards selected and which criteria have been most relevant this year in choosing the winners?

A: We have learned from other awards that were presented by different U.N. agencies. They have some specific criteria that are linked to the work, mission and goals of the U.N. agencies and structures that co-organise the respective events.

In our case we want to emphasise the results of the implementation of the MDGs but also the positive examples of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. As countries from different continents differ by size, resources and achievements, it is hard to compare the results achieved by these different countries.

On the other hand, we put emphasis on both the difference and unity of these countries. As I said, sometimes we don’t know what was achieved in for example Lesotho or Costa Rica or Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world. So therefore we use the database and the statistics of major U.N. organisations.

This year we used in particular the MDG report that was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat and especially the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). We used the Food Insecurity Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other related agencies and of course we referred to the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organisation.

We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements by number of population raised from hunger or by number of children going to school, but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development.

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

A: The South-South Awards ceremony is traditionally organised prior to the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. We invite heads of delegations that attend the General Debate and also the heads of the diplomatic missions, permanent missions to the U.N. and consulates in New York.

Amongst our participants are also high-level officials from the U.N. and from inter-governmental organisations that are part of the U.N. system. We also have CEOs of major corporations that are collaborating and working in the developing world. We have celebrities and civil society leaders. Our mission is to bring together all stakeholders that are part of development.

Right now, we have received confirmation from numerous heads of state and government that are coming to New York to attend the Summit on the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the General Debate. This year, we will therefore have a very diverse high-level participation with a total of around 800 guests expected.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the 2015 South-South Awards?

A: We hope that we will be able to emphasise the achievements, big and small, but important for the developing countries in implementing the MDGs and moving towards a new post-2015 development agenda. We want these lessons to be shared as widely as possible and be transferred to other countries.

We have all these good examples. We now have to learn from those positive experiences of developing and least developed states. I sincerely hope that our participants will have a good experience, enjoy the awards and that we will be able to continue our cooperation and our mission which is to bring together different stakeholders with the goal of supporting developing states and development initiatives.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zoneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142076 Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:16:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142073 The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

Aid groups say Monday’s bombing of the Houthi rebel-controlled Red Sea port by Saudi military jets has greatly worsened the risk of continued suffering, since the port served as the main entry point for shipments of humanitarian supplies.

In a statement published shortly after the airstrikes, Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage at Hodeida but we can’t lose a day; time is running out for Yemen’s children who are already at risk of starvation, disease, and abuse.”

He said there are already 5.9 million children going hungry, 624,000 displaced and about 7.3 million sick and wounded kids who are not receiving medical attention.

Even as civilians’ needs multiply, funding for the humanitarian response remains slow.

U.N. agencies say they have only received 282 million dollars for the response plan, just 18 percent of the 1.6-billion-dollar sum requested. Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge of 274 million dollars it will only bring funding up to 33 percent of the total required to adequately meet the crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday its operations, too, are “grossly underfunded”; the agency has received just 16 percent of an urgent 182.6-million-dollar funding appeal.

The scale and rapid escalation of the conflict has much of the international community stunned. President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said after a three-day visit to Yemen earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the situation for civilians, which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Having witnessed the destruction first-hand he added in a press interview on Aug. 19, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

O’Brien described the southern port city of Aden as a “shattered” metropolis, “where unexploded ordnance litter the streets and buildings”; while the city of Sana’a is pock-marked with craters left by airstrikes.

While humanitarian groups struggle to provide life-saving supplies, human rights watchdogs say the combination of Saudi-coalition-led airstrikes from above and fighting between pro- and anti Houthi armed groups on the ground have put civilians in an impossible situation.

A new Amnesty International report documenting what the organisation calls a “gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction” suggests that unlawful attacks by all parties may amount to war crimes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan Falters in the Face of Intensifying Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:40:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142041 This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the number of civilians impacted by the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan rises along with the fighting, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded, hungry and displaced.

The first half of 2015 has seen “record high levels” of civilian casualties, the United Nations relief agency said Tuesday, with civilian deaths touching 1,592 and total non-combatant casualties standing at over 4,900 – a one-percent increase compared to the number of casualties in the same period in 2014.

Fresh fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab and Nangarhar are indicative of the geographic spread of the conflict, while tensions and sporadic clashes all across the central regions are forcing huge numbers of civilians from their homes.

An estimated 103,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in 2015 alone, including from locations hitherto untouched by forced population movements including Badakshan, Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar and Badgis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its mid-year review released on Aug. 18.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen.

Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering.

Funding for every single relief “cluster” identified by OCHA is failing to keep pace with civilians’ needs. So far, the U.N. has received only 3.5 million dollars of the required 40 million dollars for provision of emergency housing, while funding for food security and health are falling short by 56 million and 29 millions dollars respectively.

Far more refugees have returned to the country, primarily from Pakistan, in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, with 43,695 returnees as of July 2015 compared to 9,323 in 2014.

OCHA noted, “Overall return and deportee rates of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan stand at 319,818 people. At the same time, over 73,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan, which is on average six times higher per day than in 2014.”

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.

As is always the case, providing adequate water and sanitation facilities is one of the top priorities of the humanitarian plan in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, but though the U.N. has put forward a figure of 25 million dollars for this purpose, only 15 million dollars are currently available.

“An increase in people requiring humanitarian assistance coupled with insufficient funding for food security agencies, particularly WFP [the World Food Programme], means that programmes for conflict IDPs, vulnerable returnees, refugees and malnourished children are all seriously under-resourced and in some cases have been terminated,” the report revealed.

Data on affected populations are believed to be incomplete owing largely to inaccessibility of the most heavily embattled regions, prompting U.N. officials to warn that the real number of people in need of critical, lifesaving services and supplies could be even higher than current estimates.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that civilian casualties in the first six months of 2015 saw an increase of 43 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

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Kashmir: Where a Pilgrimage Threatens a Delicate Ecosystemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 15:52:30 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142013 Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
PAHALGAM, India, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

As he struggled to find a section of the stream clean enough to rinse off his muddy shoes, Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir, gazed with despair over the filth that lay thick on the landscape.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth." -- Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Kashmir
What should have been a well-maintained track leading to one of the world’s most visited religious sites was instead clogged with human excrement and plastic waste, much of it contaminating the stream that runs alongside the path.

Standing at over 3,800 metres above sea level, the 40-metre-high Amarnath cave houses a stalagmite that is believed to be a representation of the god Shiva. For two months each year, between July and August, over half-a-million devotees make the perilous five-day trek, known as the Amarnath Yatra, to pay homage to one of the supreme deities of the Hindu pantheon.

But in their rush to reach sacred ground the devotees leave behind a sorry sight: piles of trash that blot the scenic views of the foothills and valleys of Jammu and Kashmir, a mountainous Himalayan state of exceptional natural beauty.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth along the track,” Kumar told IPS. “I have come for a spiritual journey, but what I see along the way disgusts me. If this vandalism continues for another few years, it will mean an end to the pilgrimage.”

Ten metric tons of trash a day

He is not the only one with strong concerns about the future of this delicate ecosystem.

A steep rise in the number of visitors to the shrine in recent years also has environmental experts and public health officials on edge: government data indicate that the number of worshippers has sharply increased from 4,500 in 1950 to 650,000 in 2012, while tourist arrivals shot up from 15,000 in 1950 to two million in 2012.

The logistics involved in the yatra place a huge burden on the authorities. For the duration of the pilgrimage, which lasts 60 days, 7,000 security personnel are deployed on the mountain, along with 1,500 ponies and as many men for carrying worshippers and their belongings.

“Based on these numbers our modest estimates suggest that [at an average] a minimum of 10,000 people visit the Amarnath cave every day,” an official of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) of Srinagar told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

“An average person generates about a kilogram of waste everyday; this means that 10 metric tons of waste are left behind every day for 60 days.”

Despite a government ban on polythene use in the state, much of the debris left behind by the pilgrims, or yatris as they are called, comprises plastic bags and bottles.

Furthermore, according to Riyaz Ahmed Lone, an environmentalist who heads the Pahalgam Peoples’ Welfare Organisation (PPWO), the garbage disposal and sanitation facilities provided by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) are inadequate to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of devotees, who are forced to defecate in the open on the mountainside.

Added to the mix of plastic and human feces is gotka (chewing tobacco) and the excrement of ponies and donkeys, all of which eventually gets washed away into nearby streams that feed into the Lidder and Sindh rivers.

Other PCB officials who did not wish to be named told IPS that at least half a dozen fully functional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) need to be set up to facilitate the proper functioning of several hundred toilets that serve the tourists and worshippers.

Currently there are only two STPs, which, environmental activists say, do not function properly, allowing effluent to flow untreated into larger water bodies.

These rivers subsequently provide water to roughly two million people throughout Kashmir, explained Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University.

Kashmir’s Public Health Engineering (PHE) Chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat added that 85 percent of the state’s drinking water needs are met by surface water sources in the mountains.

“But, it is a common knowledge that we have no healthy arrangements for sanitation here,” he told IPS.

“Not only the waste from open defecation areas, but also the sewer systems [from tourist hotels] are connecting with our rivers and contaminating our water bodies,” Bhat stressed.

An official at his office added that if people could see “what kind of water we treat at our treatment plants, they would not drink even a drop of it.”

According to India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), Jammu & Kashmir ranks 23rd rank on a list of 30 states surveyed, with only 41.7 percent sanitation coverage as per the 2011 census.

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Limiting arrivals and beefing up logistics

Lone told IPS that activists and experts “want the organizers to ensure environmental protection and proper regulation of the pilgrimage, by reducing the number of pilgrims to the permissible limit as per the carrying capacity of the fragile mountain ecology on a single day.”

Until the late 1990s, official data reveals, the pilgrimage had never crossed the 100,000 mark. Noted Indian human rights activist Gautam Navlakha says that the numbers started multiplying only after the establishment of the SASB in 2002 – an all-Hindu body with no representation from the majority Muslim population.

A few years after its formation, Navlakha says, the SASB extended the pilgrimage from 30 to 60 days, a move that is still mired in controversy, with environmental activists arguing strongly against the longer duration.

Pointing to tough restrictions on the number of pilgrims allowed into ecologically fragile zones like Mansarovar in Tibet and Gomukh – the snout of the Gangotri Glacier that forms the source of the Ganges River – in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, Navlakha has called for similar rules to govern the Amarnath Yatra.

Quoting the landmark 1996 Nitish Sengupta Committee report, he told IPS, “Along with the regulation of the total number of pilgrims to about 100,000, we could lay down a ceiling of 3,000 pilgrims permitted to travel in a single day.”

Nearly two decades after the report was released, these recommendations have been wantonly disregarded. Figures on the 2015 Yatra available on the SASB website indicate that the daily average between Jul. 2 and Aug. 13 far exceeded 3,000, with Jul. 6 alone witnessing over 20,000 worshippers on the mountains.

A May 2015 study on sustainable tourism in Kashmir published in the journal Elsevier revealed that the tourist flow in July for Pahalgam alone was almost fourfold the Tourism Carrying Capacity (TCC) of the mountain.

Shakil Qalandar, a member of the Kashmir Centre for Development and Social Studies (KCDS), said that civil society would continue to press for necessary restrictions on the number of pilgrims to better reflect the area’s carrying capacity until their demands are met.

“We have formally presented this demand to the government saying we are in full support of an ecologically-friendly pilgrimage for our Hindu brethren,” Qalandar told IPS.

The environmental implications of not dealing with the situation are enormous.

Hindu religious scholar and social activist Swami Agnivesh has even suggested that the growing number of pilgrims might have been the catalyst for the devastating floods that swept Kashmir in September 2014, resulting in a death toll of 600 and incurring economic losses of some 18 billion dollars.

According to an assessment report prepared by Kashmir’s Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) after the September 2014 floods, ecological degradation across the state is a major catalyst of natural disasters.

The study revealed that since 1992 Kashmir has lost 10 percent of its forest cover as tourism infrastructure encroached into wooded areas. It added that in the last century, the state’s total extent of water bodies plummeted from 356 square km in 1911 to just 158 square km in 2011.

Dealing with the challenges of sustainable religious tourism has been a concern all over the globe with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimating that 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year.

Kashmir is in a unique position to set a global example, but it will have to overcome numerous political hurdles and religious sensitivities in order to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-one/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 12:12:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141990 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

If there is any idea and cause for which the United Nations has been an indispensable engine of progress globally it is the cause of ending all forms of “discrimination and violence against women and girls, ensuring the realization of their equal rights and advancing their political, economic and social empowerment.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women has been featured prominently in the history of the United Nations system since its inception. The ideas, commitments and actions of the United Nations have sought to fundamentally improve the situation of women around the world, in country after country.Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Now, as we celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, the U.N. continues to be the world leader in establishing the global norms and policy standards on women’s empowerment, their human rights and on establishing what we at U.N. Women call  the Planet 50 / 50 Project on equality between women and men.

Equality between men and women was enshrined in the U.N.’s founding Charter as a key principle and objective. Just a year after, in 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was set up as the dedicated intergovernmental body for policy dialogue and standard setting and monitoring gender equality commitments of member states and their implementation.

Since then, the Commission has played an essential role in guiding the work of the United Nations and in setting standards for all countries, from trailblazing advocacy for the full political suffrage of women and political rights to women’s role in development.

It also gave birth to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1979. Often called the international bill of rights for women, and used as a global reference point for both governments and NGOs alike, the Convention has been ratified by 189 States so far.

These governments regularly report to the CEDAW Committee which has also become a generator of normative guidance through its General Recommendations, apart from strengthening the accountability of governments.

As the torch-bearer on women’s rights, the U.N. also led the way in declaring 1975 to 1985 the International Women’s Decade. During this period the U.N. held the first three World Conferences on Women, in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985) which advanced advocacy, activism and policy action on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in multiple areas.

In 1995, the U.N. hosted the historic Fourth World Conference on Women, and adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of most progressive frameworks which continues to be the leading roadmap for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Platform for Action remains a gold standard of international commitments on strategic objectives and actions on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights in 12 critical areas of concern including poverty, education, health, economy, power and decision making, ending violence against women, women’s human rights, conflict and post conflict environment, media, institutional mechanisms and the girl child.

Since 1995 gender equality and women’s empowerment issues have permeated all intergovernmental bodies of the U.N. system.

The General Assembly, the highest and the universal membership body of the United Nations, leads the way with key normative resolutions as well as reflecting gender perspectives in areas such as agriculture, trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, disarmament and non-proliferation, and many others. Among the MDGs, MDG 3 was specifically designed to promote gender equality and empower women apart from Goal 5 on maternal mortality.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has also been a strong champion of gender mainstreaming into all policies, programmes, areas and sectors as the mains strategy in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Progress achieved so far has been in part possible thanks to ECOSOC’s strong mandate for mainstreaming a gender perspective and its support to the United Nations system-wide action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-SWAP) which constitutes a unified accountability framework for and of the U.N. to support gender equality and empowerment of women.

Strongly addressing the impact of conflict on women and their role in peacebuilding, the U.N. sent a strong signal by addressing the issue of women peace and security in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which asserted  the imperative of  women’s empowerment in  conflict prevention, peace-making and peace building apart from ensuring their protection.

This resolution was seen as a must for women as well as for lasting peace and it has since been complemented by seven additional resolutions including on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year as the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 is commemorated, a Global Study and Review on its effective implementation is underway.

It is expected to renew the political will and decisive action to ensure that women are equal partners and their agency and leadership is effectively engaged in conflict prevention, peace-making and peace-building.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp 

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Impressive Relief Effort Alleviating Hardship in Flood-Affected Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 22:48:12 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141968 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

With the rainy season still far from over, flood-affected communities in the Sagaing Region and other parts of northern and western Myanmar are preparing for more hardships, while the government continues what the United Nations has called an “incredible” relief effort.

In a statement released on Aug. 12 upon her return from the Kale Township in Sagaing, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Dessallien referred to the people in this Southeast Asian nation of 53 million as being among “the most generous in the world”, adding she was “humbled by the spontaneous public outpouring of solidarity and assistance to flood-affected communities.”

Everyone from ordinary citizen volunteers and residents to NGO workers and celebrities have lent their hand to communities whose homes have been buried under mud and debris, and to families who have lost houses, crops, livestock and most of their belongings.

A situation report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Aug. 11 revealed that 1.1 million people have been “critically affected” by monsoonal floods and landslides since mid-July, while 689,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

The death toll as of Aug. 10, according to Myanmar’s National Natural Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), stands at 103, but on-going search and rescue operations led by the government may push the number higher.

An estimated 240,000 households have been displaced. Those living in makeshift shelters, cut away from their farmland, are now completely reliant on emergency relief supplies, from food and medicines to shelter and alternative livelihood options.

Aid workers say the biggest priority is ensuring displaced communities have access to healthcare and sanitation facilities, and the government is leading efforts to provide the necessary services and supplies.

Quoting government statistics, OCHA noted that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has so far provided over 390,000 dollars worth of food supplies, relief items and cash assistance.

“Civil society organisations, individual donors and the private sector have provided in kind and cash assistance, contributing over 435,000 dollars as of Aug. 9,” the agency added.

In a bid to ensure longer-term food security in affected areas, the government has announced plans to distribute paddy seeds and other farm machinery and equipment that will help agricultural communities to get back on their feet.

Waters are now receding in many areas, but mud and debris left behind by the floods will need to be cleared; to this end the government will issue specialized equipment, including pumps, to families who rely on the land for subsistence.

The U.N. has already poured 10 million dollars into the effort, representing half the total international response thus far. Among other things, the funds are being used to construct 10,000 emergency shelters, while an estimated 213,000 people have already benefited from food aid.

But increased financing is needed to provide additional services such as psychological counseling for people who have been deeply traumatized by the disaster, and education facilities for children impacted by the closure of roughly 1,200 schools.

While the challenge is daunting, Dessallien expressed optimism that it can be surmounted, stating that the “caring and generosity, dedication and courage” shown by both government officials and civil society “are showing the true spirit of Myanmar.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Protests Greet Japan’s Relaunch of Nuke Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 22:41:50 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141937 A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Protesters rallied outside Japan’s Sendai nuclear plant a day ahead of its planned opening and four years after the Fukushima disaster galvanised opposition to nuclear power in the country.

In a statement, Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it will begin bringing online the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai facility on Aug. 11, start power generation as early as Aug. 14 and return it to normal operations next month.

“We will continue to seriously and carefully cooperate with the country’s inspections, making safety our top priority, cautiously advancing the restart process,” the company said in the statement.

However, local activists say that there is no adequate plan in place to quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

Triggered by a massive March 2011 earthquake, Fukushima was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

It led to a complete shutdown of Japan’s nuclear power plants in 2013, which will end Tuesday, if the Sendai facility opens as planned.

Nuclear power had previously provided 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

Although the new plant meets overhauled safety regulations, opponents point out that Japan records more earthquakes than any other country — and the reactor that opens tomorrow is 60 kilometres from an active volcano in the country’s northwest.

“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart, told the Guardian.

“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”

The Shinzo Abe government’s energy plan relies heavily on nuclear power, setting a goal to have it meet more than 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“We believe it is important for our energy policy to push forward restarts of reactors that are deemed safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

But Jan Vande Putte, a specialist in radiation safety and an energy campaigner with Greenpeace Belgium, notes that, “Japan has been nuclear-free for over a year, and no electricity blackouts have occurred. The Japanese government should turn its back on nuclear power and instead opt for an energy policy based on improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.

“This would protect its citizens from a repetition of the horrors of Fukushima and set the country on track to meet its climate commitments by 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Trans Fat Substitute May Lead to More Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/trans-fat-substitute-may-lead-to-more-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trans-fat-substitute-may-lead-to-more-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/trans-fat-substitute-may-lead-to-more-deforestation/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 17:57:36 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141886 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Aug 6 2015 (IPS)

Following growing concerns in the United States about the risks of trans fat since 1999, demand for palm oil, a cheap substitute for trans fat, more than doubled over the last decade and is expected to increase, eliciting concerns about deforestation in several Southeast Asian countries that provide 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil added to many frozen and baked goods that improves shelf life and adds flavour. The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed banning trans fat after studies showed it may cause cardiovascular diseases. FDA banned the use of trans fat last month.

The ban, along with the burgeoning demand by China and India, are among the reasons many experts say motivate the rise in demand for palm oil. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global demand for palm oil is likely to grow by 60 percent in 2050 from 1999. Palm oil imports in the United States increased by more than 80 percent since 1999, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Palm oil has a lot of same properties that hydrogenated oil has, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a common replacement,” Lael Goodman, a tropical forest analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists told IPS in an interview. “As companies are looking around on what to use instead of these partially hydrogenated oils, palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil in the market now.”

Palm oil plantations, according to the United Nations Environment Programme and Greenpeace International, is the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Although United States imports most of its palm oil from Malaysia, Malaysia’s production growth is slowed by limited land and labor, according to USDA. Indonesia has emerged as the largest exporter since 2011.

Source: World Resources Institute

Source: World Resources Institute

The concerns come at a time when Indonesia is expecting to double its palm oil production by 2020 in response to the rise in demand, although it is already suffering from one of the world’s highest deforestation rates.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, strengthened the country’s moratorium against deforestation earlier this year. However, the moratorium, which was introduced in 2011, has failed to control the expansion of oil palm plantations in primary forest and peat lands, according to USDA.

A study by researchers from University of Maryland and World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C. based think tank, revealed that Indonesia lost over 6 million hectares of primary forest from 2000 to 2012, an area half the size of England.

“We don’t have the data for 2014 or 2015 yet and there was a decrease in 2013, but the end result is still that the deforestation rate is at one of the highest rate it’s been in the country’s history,” James Anderson, communications manager for WRI’s Forests Program, told IPS.

The country is also notorious for causing haze pollution in Southeast Asia for forest burning activities that are often linked to land clearing for palm oil plantations.

“Up to 20 percent of land that are on fire have been traced back to palm oil,” Goodman said. “When peat soils are cleared– these are very carbon-rich soils– they can burn for months or even years. It puts a lot of particulate matter into the air that spreads across Asia and it is a huge health issue every year.”

The fires usually peak around September every year. In 2013, Malaysia and Singapore were badly hit by the haze pollution. The Singapore Meteorological Service expects haze pollution from Indonesia to be as bad this year with the incoming El Nino season.

Goodman said companies, under pressure from the public, have begun to focus on deforestation-free palm oil.

“There is a very great corporate attention to where palm oil comes from,” she said. “A lot of those pledges started in 2015, some of them don’t start until 2020. We are really just starting to see what’s going to make a difference hopefully in the next few years.”

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 as a certification body for the production of sustainable palm oil. The nonprofit’s website said that it has over 2,000 members, representing 40 percent of the palm oil industry, and it certifies 20 percent of the world’s palm oil production.

Several companies, such as Dunkin’ Brands, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s have made commitments to purchase deforestation-free palm oil in recent years.

Global Forest Watch (GFW), an initiative convened by WRI, tracks forest fires and forest clearings in Indonesia. The service offers real time maps of deforestation and hotspots for users. According to WRI, companies using the system include Unilever and members of the RSPO.

“A lot of companies lack the tools to actually implement the commitments simply because it is very difficult to trace their supply chains to know if the palm oil is coming from a place that is actually deforested,” Sarah Lake, corporate engagement research analyst for GFW told IPS.

The GFW service, she said, was offered free-of-charge to companies to receive alerts and monitor their land for deforestation or fires.

“Our approach isn’t necessarily to reduce the use of palm oil,” Lake said. “It can be perfectly sustainable. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re sourcing palm oil that isn’t linked to environmentally problematic behaviour.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanitarian Crisis Looming Over Venezuela, Says ICGhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-crisis-looming-over-venezuela-says-icg/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-looming-over-venezuela-says-icg http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-crisis-looming-over-venezuela-says-icg/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:37:10 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141873 Children playing in Karañakaek, Venezuela. Credit: Fidel Márquez/IPS

Children playing in Karañakaek, Venezuela. Credit: Fidel Márquez/IPS

By Jaya Ramachandran
BRUSSELS, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

A Brussels-based think-tank has warned Venezuela of an impending humanitarian calamity in tandem with growing political instability.

While the accelerating deterioration of the South American country’s political crisis is cause for growing concern, says the International Crisis Group, there is a less widely appreciated side of the dramatic situation: “A sharp fall in real incomes, major shortages of essential foods, medicines and other basic goods and breakdown of the health service are elements of a looming social crisis.”

In a recent briefing, the Crisis Group says: “If not tackled decisively and soon, it will become a humanitarian disaster with a seismic impact on domestic politics and society, and on Venezuela’s neighbours. This situation results from poor policy choices, incompetence and corruption.”

The Group points to another aspect of the impending humanitarian crisis: “Those with ailments such as cancer, HIV-AIDS or cardiovascular disease can go months without medicines they require to survive. Hospitals and even private clinics cannot maintain stocks of medicines and other basic supplies, including spare parts to repair equipment.”

The think-tank headed by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former French diplomat, refers to “some economists” who predict a sudden collapse in food consumption and widespread hunger. It adds: “Public health specialists already say that some surveys are showing chronic malnutrition, although the country is not yet on the verge of famine.

The collapse of the health service, however, can have pernicious short-term effects, including uncontrolled spread of communicable diseases and thousands of preventable deaths, warns the Crisis Group.

However, it adds, the severest consequences can be avoided by ending the political deadlock since 2014 between the government and opposition, which in turn would require “strong engagement of foreign governments and multilateral bodies”.

Venezuela is the 12th largest oil producer in the world, with the largest reserves, and a beneficiary of the most sustained oil price boom in history. In view of this, argues the Crisis Group, it should be well placed to ride out the recent collapse of the international price of crude.

It points out that the oil boom, combined in the early years at least with the government’s redistribution policies, brought about a significant decrease in poverty under the administration of the late Hugo Chávez, during 1999-2013.

But well before the 50 per cent fall in prices at the end of 2014, a year in which Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by more than 4 per cent and inflation rose to 62 per cent, the economy was showing signs of strain, says the Crisis Group.

It adds: “Expropriations of private land and businesses, stringent price and exchange controls and inefficient, often corruptly-run state enterprises undermined the nation’s production of basic goods and services.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Mandela Prizewinner from Namibia Still Bringing Sight to the Blindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mandela-prizewinner-from-namibia-still-bringing-sight-to-the-blind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mandela-prizewinner-from-namibia-still-bringing-sight-to-the-blind http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/mandela-prizewinner-from-namibia-still-bringing-sight-to-the-blind/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 17:10:28 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141864 By a Global Information Network correspondent
WINDHOEK, Aug 4 2015 (IPS)

There was pure emotion in the face of Dr. Helena Ndume, more used to bringing sight to the blind than wiping away tears of her own.

Photo courtesy of the 2015 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

Photo courtesy of the 2015 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

According to friends, she was caught off guard by the rousing welcome awaiting her this past week at the Hosea Kutako International Airport after picking up the first U.N. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize in New York.

“This is not a Helena Ndume award. It belongs to Namibia,” she said as more tears welled up in her eyes. “We should not leave our people and leave them to be blind. It is not their fault that they are blind. I cannot lock myself in my practice when the nation needs me.”

According to the nonprofit SEE International based in Santa Barbara, California, Ndume has performed 30,000 pro bono surgeries for sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. The blind patients are filled with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She was also vice chairperson of the Namibia Red Cross Society.

This summer she will collaborate with SEE on three programmes in Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organisation expects 700 patients to regain their eyesight during the three-week course of the tour.

Ndume left Namibia for exile at age 15. She lived in Zambia, and Gambia where she completed secondary school, and Angola, before going to Germany to study medicine.

Growing up, she wanted to be a fashion designer. On her not-pursued fashion dream, she said, “Yes, I wanted to be a fashion designer but the Swapo secretary of education in our refugee camp (former Prime Minister Nahas Angula) said ‘No way! We do not need fashion designers in an independent Namibia. To come make clothes for who? We need doctors and I want you to be a doctor’,” she said.

She is currently the head of the Ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists.

During an interview she had with The Namibian last month, Ndume encouraged young girls to learn how to be independent.

“You need to be independent as a woman. Instead of depending on a man and then he uses you and you end up being treated like toilet paper, you need to work for yourself.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Targets Trillions of Dollars to Implement Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-targets-trillions-of-dollars-to-implement-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-targets-trillions-of-dollars-to-implement-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-targets-trillions-of-dollars-to-implement-sustainable-development-agenda/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 23:34:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141857 Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kenya to the U.N., addresses a press conference on the agreement achieved on 2 August by Member States on the outcome document of the United Nations Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kenya to the U.N., addresses a press conference on the agreement achieved on 2 August by Member States on the outcome document of the United Nations Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

After more than two years of intense negotiations, the U.N.’s 193 member states have unanimously agreed on a new Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA) with 17 goals — including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger — to be reached by 2030.

At a press briefing Monday, Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, one of the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental consultative process, told reporters the implementation of the agenda could cost a staggering 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year.“Women and girls everywhere have much to gain from the SDGs. But to make this a reality, we have to keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments." -- Shannon Kowalski

This looks like “an astronomical figure”, he said, compared with the hundreds of billions of dollars – not trillions – the United Nations has been traditionally seeking for development aid.

“It is ambitious, but not unattainable,” he said, and could come mostly from domestic resources, both public and private.

“All countries have to rise to the occasion,” he said, adding that it was imperative for the business sector to get on board.

Still, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo of China struck a more cautious note when he told reporters “it will be very difficult to give specific figures.”

But all 193 member states, he said, are expected to mobilise domestic sources to help attain the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015

The SDGs are a successor to the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were approved by heads of state in 2000, and will end in December this year.

The new goals, which will be part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda and to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders Sep. 25-27, cover a wide range of political and socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, industrialisation, sustainable development, full employment, human rights, quality education, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

Jens Martens, director of the Bonn-based Global Policy Forum, who has been closely monitoring the negotiations, told IPS the new Sustainable Development Agenda is a compromise and the result of a painful consensus building process.

“The new Agenda is unique, as it is universal and contains goals and responsibilities for all countries in the world, including the rich and powerful,” he noted.

The Agenda addresses the raising inequalities within and among countries and the enormous disparities of opportunities, wealth and power, Martens pointed out.

Some of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are highly ambitious, like the first goal to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

However, the Agenda is far less ambitious when it comes to the means of implementation, he warned.

“The implementation of the SDGs will require fundamental changes in fiscal policy, regulation and global governance. But what we find in the new Agenda is vague and by far not sufficient to trigger the proclaimed transformational change. But goals without sufficient means are meaningless,” he declared.

Bhumika Muchhala, senior policy analyst, finance and development at the Third World Network, told IPS the SDGs are indeed significantly more ambitious than the MDGs, but that much of this money is going to come from two key sources.

One, private money, through the “multi-stakeholder partnerships” that the U.N. has enshrined in the SDG Goal 17 as well as through various other processes, such as the Sustainable Energy for All initiative or the Global Financing Facility.

And second, from domestic money straight from developing country coffers, as no new international money is being committed.

She said the glaring absence of any intergovernmental process or model of governance over these proliferating multi-stakeholder partnerships renders them void of accountability and transparency, much less rigorous due diligence practices such as ex-ante and independent assessments, monitoring and oversight and third-party evaluation processes.

Such provisions and principles, she noted, are even integrated into the World Bank Group’s architecture, where the Ombudsman and even the IEO (Independent Evaluation Office) in the IMF serve as monitoring agencies.

For example, it has been demonstrated that the decision-making taking place in a fund like the Global Financing Facility will be done behind closed doors, by a small group of elite financial investors and private sector actors who contribute to the Facility, she added.

Shannon Kowalski, Director of Advocacy and Policy, International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs signal a major step forward, especially for women and girls.

With this new framework there is potential to really change the game and advance gender equality—which has been recognised as absolutely essential to sustainable development, she added.

“Women and girls everywhere have much to gain from the SDGs. But to make this a reality, we have to keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments. In the end, the promise of this historic development agenda is really up to us,” Kowalski declared.

Ian Koski, a spokesperson for the ONE Campaign, said the new global goals are a major landmark in the effort to end extreme poverty.

They lay out a global contract for a world where nobody lives in hunger or dies of preventable diseases, and while their formal adoption in September will rightly be cause for celebration, goals alone will not end poverty, he said.

It’s going to take a significant amount of hard work to turn these aspirations into reality. It’s going to take national blueprints for delivery that will improve the lives of the poorest people and the poorest countries, he cautioned.

“The monitoring of the goals will need a sharp focus on accountability, backed by investments in data collection and use so that citizens have the information they need to ensure that leaders keep their promises,” Koski declared.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the new development agenda “encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world.”

“This is the People’s Agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind. It seeks to ensure peace and prosperity, and forge partnerships with people and planet at the core.”

He said the integrated, interlinked and indivisible 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the people’s goals and demonstrate the scale, universality and ambition of this new Agenda.

Ban said the September Summit, where the new agenda will be adopted, “will chart a new era of Sustainable Development in which poverty will be eradicated, prosperity shared and the core drivers of climate change tackled.”

Deon Nel, international acting executive director for conservation at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said: “We congratulate negotiators on their bold action. This is an essential move toward realizing our dream of shaping a world where people, planet and prosperity come together.”

He said SDGs are universal goals that will commit all countries to take action both within their own borders and in support of wider international efforts.

Individual national commitments must add up to a worldwide result that helps all people and ensures a healthy environment.

He said the new development plan represents significant improvement from the U.N.’s MDGs as it recognises the interlinkages between sustainability of ecosystem services, poverty eradication, economic development and human well-being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Hungry for Change, Achieving Food Security and Nutrition for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 22:53:10 +0000 Paloma Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141806

Paloma Durán is director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) at the United Nations Development Programme

By Paloma Duran
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

With the enthusiasm of the recent Financing for Development conference behind us, the central issues and many layers of what is at stake are now firmly in sight. In fact, a complex issue like hunger, which is a long standing development priority, remains an everyday battle for almost 795 million people worldwide.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

While this figure is 216 million less than in 1990-92, according to U.N. statistics, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines hunger as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment and is measured by the country average of how many calories each person has access to every day, as well as the prevalence of underweight children younger than five.

So where do we stand if food security and nutrition is destined to be a critical component of poverty eradication and sustainable development. In fact, the right to food is a basic human right and linked to the second goal of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) which includes a target to end hunger and achieve food security by 2030.

The United Nations Development Programme is engaged in promoting sustainable agricultural practices to improve the lives of millions of farmers through its Green Commodities Programme. According to the World Food Programme, the world needs a food system that will meet the needs of an additional 2.5 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050.

To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty will require an additional 267 billion dollars annually over the next 15 years. Given this looming prospect, a question that springs to mind is: how will this to be achieved?

Going forward, this goal requires more than words, it requires collective actions, including efforts to double global food production, reduce waste and experiment with food alternatives. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) mission, we are working to understand how best to tackle this multi-faceted issue.

With the realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve food security, the SDG Fund coordinates with a range of public and private stakeholders as well as U.N. Agencies to pilot innovative joint programmes in the field.

For example, the SDG Fund works to tackle food security and nutrition in Bolivia and El Salvador where rural residents are benefiting from our work to strengthen local farm production systems. In addition, we engage women and smallholder farmers as part of our cross-cutting efforts to build more integrated response to development challenges. We recognise that several factors must also play a critical role in achieving the hunger target, namely:

Improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, helps improve food security;

Inclusive economic growth leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction;

the expansion of social protection contributes directly to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition.

In the fight against hunger, we need to create food systems that offer better nutritional outcomes and ones that are fundamentally more sustainable – i.e. that require less land, less water and that are more resilient to climate change.

The challenges are almost as great as the growing population which will require 70 percent more food to meet the estimated change in demand and diets. Notwithstanding is if we continue to waste a third of what we produce, we have to reevaluate agriculture and food production in terms of the supply chain and try to improve the quality and nutritional aspects across the value chain.

Food security and nutrition must be everyone’s concern especially if we are to eradicate hunger and combat food insecurity across all its dimensions. Feeding the world’s growing population must therefore be a joint effort and unlikely to be achieved by governments and international organisations alone.

In the words of José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Birth Registrations Plummet in Wake of Ebola Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:06:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141804 A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Liberia’s Ebola epidemic may have subsided but its after-effects are still being felt, with tens of thousands of infants going unregistered at birth, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF says.

Liberia had ranked second after Somalia among countries with the lowest levels of birth registration. But just before the Ebola outbreak, progress had been made in reversing this problem, which leaves children at risk of exploitation and raises hurdles to entering the school system.

In July 2010, a decentralised birth registration system was launched by the government, with support from UNICEF, PLAN Liberia, Crisis Management Initiative and other development partners.

In 2013, the births of 79,000 children were registered, representing about a quarter of all new births and a dramatic increase from the four percent in previous years.

But by 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease.

And just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015.

“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”

The neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone were also hit by the deadly virus, which weakened already fragile health systems. But in Sierra Leone, approximately 250,000 children were registered during a recent five-day birth registration and polio vaccination campaign.

UNICEF is now working to register nearly 70,000 Liberian children who weren’t registered during the outbreak.

The agency is supporting the revamp of the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year, with the aim of reaching all children not registered in 2014 and 2015.

“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child’s right just because of a lack of a registered identity,” says Yett. “We cannot, and should never let that happen.”

Altogether, more than 4,800 people died during Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, nearly half of all diagnosed cases. The country was still recovering from a devastating civil war that ended in 2003, and the virus proved especially deadly for health care workers.

According to the World Health Organization, they were 20-30 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public, given the number of patients they saw and treated.  More than 800 contracted Ebola, and more than 400 died, with the outcome of almost one quarter of the cases unknown – this in a country with just 50 doctors.

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse.”

Edited by Thalif Deen

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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