Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies News and Views from the Global South Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who Should Lead the WHO Next? Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

By Lyndal Rowlands

Health problems increasingly transcend the borders of the World Health Organization’s 134 member states, a challenge which the six candidates vying to lead the global body must address with care.

Those 194 member states will pick the next Director-General of the world’s peak health body in May 2017, after the current six candidates are whittled down by the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board in January.

The ninth Director-General of the world’s peak health body will play a key role in ensuring global responses to an increasingly complex and contrasting list of global health problems: the spread of mosquito borne diseases due to climate change, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, the unfinished business of AIDS and HIV, air pollution, domestic violence, the global rise in noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes as well as the inevitable emergence of the next Ebola-like pathogen.

She, or he, will need to navigate a delicate balance between serving each of the global body’s member states while also ensuring that the world’s only global health body is greater than the sum of its parts.

The candidates: 
- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, public health expert and former minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia; 
- Dr Flavia Bustreo of Italy, currently WHO Assistant Director-General for family, women's and children's health;
- Professor Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, former politician and current UN Special Advisor;
- Dr David Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, who notably led the UN's response to Ebola;
- Dr Sania Nishtar, of Pakistan, a politician, author, activist and public health expert;
- Dr Miklós Szócska, former Minister of State for Health of Hungary.

“Today when we talk about WHO’s role it really transcends states, it goes into a global response category,” Esperanza Martinez, Head of the Health Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IPS.

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation – not to confront the states – but to challenge the states to do better, to challenge the states to fulfill their obligations, to challenge the states to be more efficient and effective,” she said.

Yet, like any other UN body, the WHO “is no better or worse than the governments who make it up,” Susannah Sirkin Director of international policy and partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights told IPS.

The new Director-General will take over after a period of heavy soul searching for the Geneva-based organisation following deep criticism of the WHO’s handling of Ebola in West Africa.

“There is an enormous call for increased transparency and efficiency within the organisation,” said Sirkin.

In order to address emerging epidemics, such as Ebola and Zika, Martinez says that it is essential that the WHO is ready and able to spring into action.

“The fact that WHO has to wait for minsters of health and governments to qualify crisis really can delay interventions in critical moments,” said Martinez.

The new Director-General will also need to be prepared to “hit the ground running,” meaning that they should be “someone who already understands how the UN system works and how the WHO works,” she added.

“We need someone who understands the dynamics of humanitarian and emergency responses today.”

For Sirkin, the new Director-General will also need to transcend the “historic limitations”which have often seen the WHO adopt “relative silence” towards matters that are seen as within the control of national governments.

Health is politicised, said Sirkin, when governments fail “to invest to an adequate degree in the provision of both preventative and curative health care, or (fail) to invest a proportionate or reasonable amount of their national budget in health care.”

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation, not to confront the states, but to challenge the states to do better," -- Esperanza Martinez, ICRC.

“The next Director-General has to really have some political courage and the ability to galvanise,” to overcome the constraints which have historically limited the WHO from speaking out.

“Somehow the WHO as an agency needs to transcend that.”

For example, she said the WHO should be able to speak out when the Syrian government “overtly obstructed the delivery of humanitarian including medical aid in an alarming way.”

She welcomed the WHO’s new role in addressing the global problem of attacks on health workers and health facilities, but noted that this is another area where the new Director-General will be required to have political courage.

Beyond humanitarian crises, the new Director-General will face many other complex challenges, including emerging threats such as antimicrobial resistance, as well as much older health challenges such as maternal mortality.

Two of the six candidates for the position of Director-General are women. Unlike the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has always been held by men, two women, Chan and Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have already led the WHO.

However although women and children’s health have been considered priorities of the UN and the WHO, Sirkin says that it is important for the WHO to do more than pay lip service to gender inequality in health, whether a man or a woman holds the role of Director-General, “especially since there is now known an enormous correlation between women’s rights and health.”

“Basic women’s rights – including reproductive rights, violence against women (and) sexual violence – over the long run is going to be a continuing enormous barrier to the development of global health,” she said.

The six candidates will address the members of the World Health Organization as well as members of the public on November 1 and 2.

More than half (4) hail from Europe – Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom – the other two come from Ethiopia and Pakistan. The hopefuls all share backgrounds as medical doctors, and most have extensive experience in public health or politics.

The successful candidate will replace current Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, of China in July 2017.

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How to Save Thousands of Children’s Lives Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:41:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable, and humanitarian aid agencies need to be able to respond immediately to save their lives.

In order to help save thousands of children’s lives during catastrophic disasters, the IKEA Foundation has signed agreements with two of the world’s foremost humanitarian aid organisations.

For this purpose, the Foundation on 17 October signed framework agreements with Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) that will enable the organisations to access the funding they need right after a disaster strikes.

Protecting children in the deadliest disasters

As climate change wreaks bigger and more frequent disasters, Save the Children’s teams are working around the world to help children access their rights to protection, healthcare, education, and child-friendly spaces in which to play.

The IKEA Foundation’s new agreement will give Save the Children access to up to 2 million euro within 72 hours of a category-one disaster—an extraordinary emergency affecting more than one million children and causing widespread destruction.

Save the Children will use the funding to quickly and efficiently help children and their families survive the unthinkable and begin to recover in the months that follow.

“Save the Children is tremendously excited to deepen our relationship with the IKEA Foundation, and even more so, to further our mutual commitment to do whatever it takes to save children’s lives in emergencies around the world. Quite simply, rapid response save children’s lives,” said Daniele Timarco, Humanitarian Director Save the Children.

“This partnership, allowing for substantial and immediate funding of emergency response, allows us the flexibility to immediately begin our work on the ground, Timarco added.

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

“I hear repeatedly from seasoned response workers around the world that this is the kind of partnership we need to take humanitarian response to the next level. On behalf of Save the Children, I want to thank the IKEA Foundation for partnering with us and driving innovation in the sector.”

Providing medical care during “unseen” disasters

Around the world, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gives medical care to thousands of families suffering from disasters that receive little or no international media attention and for which it is difficult to raise support.

Thanks to this new agreement with the IKEA Foundation, MSF will be able to access emergency grants of up to 3 million euro to help children and their families survive these disasters.

“Emergency humanitarian action often happens in places the world seems to have forgotten, in places that are hard to reach for journalists,” explains Bruno Jochum, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The IKEA Foundation grants will help our teams provide lifesaving medical care and, in so doing, show the families caught in these crises that we’re trying to support them in their time of greatest need.”

Save the Children is one of the IKEA Foundation’s longest-running partnerships, and the two organisations have teamed up to help children enjoy their rights in dozens of countries, including during disasters such as typhoons and flooding in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The IKEA Foundation and MSF have partnered since 2013 to bring lifesaving medical care to people suffering in conflicts and disasters, including those wounded in Syria. The IKEA Foundation gave its largest single emergency donation ever—5 million euro—to Médecins Sans Frontières to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing funding in crisis areas and tackling climate change are critical to achieving this goal. That’s why it’s crucial that we give organisations such as Save the Children the resources they need to save children’s lives and help families rebuild in the wake of catastrophes.

“Our agreement with MSF is a unique way of ensuring families trying to survive unseen emergencies can get the medical care they desperately need. We know there are huge gaps in humanitarian funding, and those gaps are more than simply academic; they cost people their lives,” he added.

“With our funding, we hope not only to help MSF save lives but also to create visibility for disasters that receive little or no international media attention and to mobilise other donors to support children who need it the most.”

Read more about the IKEA Foundation’s support for children in emergencies.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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Negligent Central American Leaders Fuel Deepening Refugee Crisis Fri, 14 Oct 2016 19:29:04 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas 0 The Elusive Woman Secretary-General Fri, 14 Oct 2016 06:37:32 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work. ]]>

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work.

By Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

United Nations’ apex forum, the General Assembly elected the next Secretary-General yesterday by acclamation rubber-stamping the recommendation of the Security Council (SC). I am appalled by the choice of 15 members of the Security Council of another man following eight others in 70 plus years of UN’s existence as if only men are destined to lead this global organization.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

The Council members were totally insensitive to a groundswell of support worldwide for a woman as the next Secretary-General. They advanced the legacy of ignoring the 50 per cent of humanity in their action. This is an absolute aberration of the system whereby the 15 members of the Council impose their choice prompted by P-5 pressure and manipulation upon the total membership of 193, not to speak of wide swath of civil society opinion and activism for a woman Secretary-General.

It is so very unfortunate that in the selection process politics has trumped women’s equality, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary.

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates would get the post Deputy Secretary-General (D-SG) as a part of the deal about the new SG. This is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past.

It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly, it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years.

I would also underscore that the new S-G should bring in a true and real 50-50 gender balance at the level of Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs). This is an action which should be clearly laid down in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

UN General Assembly’s 70th President Mogen Lykketoft’s praiseworthy initiative for exposure of the candidates to wider membership and civil society did not have any impact of the predominant political process in the Security Council. Doing well in a Q&A is not a shortcut to the world’s most demanding job.

I believe strongly that a most practical and feasible way to prevent such Security Council’s choice imposition– though the UN Charter envisages as such– the General Assembly should decide to also hold straw polls on all candidates the way Council does to send a signal about how the majority of UN membership is expressing their choice. This can be done informally like the SC straw polls but made public and transmitted to the Council.

This will at least tell the world how the UN membership as a whole is assessing the candidates and hopefully will have an impact on the Council’s choice. All this can be done without amending the Charter or disrespecting any of its provisions.

Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue. As in case of any new corporate CEO, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or reelected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?.

In that context, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments at ASG and USG levels should be more transparent and open. The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his (yes, still it is “his”) own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office. That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did. One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms.

Yes, opposition will be there, both from within his own Secretariat and from influential Member States, but the determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

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Antonio Guterres: New UN Secretary General Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:28:57 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who takes office on January 1, arrives with strong credentials — both as a former Prime Minister of Portugal and an ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

As a senior UN official, he spearheaded an ambitious but politically intricate action plan to battle one of the world’s major humanitarian crises that threatened to unravel European unity as millions of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia landed on the shores of Europe last year.

Guterres was elected mostly on merit – with a rare unanimous decision by the five veto-wielding permanent members at a time when the Security Council is sharply divided over Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and North Korea. The consensus in the 15-member Council, and the approval of his nomination by the 193-member General Assembly, underlined a strong affirmation of his appointment.

When both the Security Council and the General Assembly gave their overwhelming support to Guterres, they side-stepped two alternative options: picking the first woman Secretary-General or the first Secretary-General from Eastern Europe.

The lobbying for a female UN chief was initiated by more than 750 civil society and human rights organizations, while the proposal for an East European as UN chief came mostly from member states.

While there was a strong case for a woman Secretary-General in a 71-year-old male-dominated world body, Eastern Europe had less of a legitimate claim. As a geographical entity, it existed only within the confines of the UN, not outside of it. After the end of the Cold War, most Eastern European states became an integral partner of the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and often both

So, in effect, Guterres overcame both campaigns, as he was anointed the fourth Western European to hold the position.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31 after a 10-year tenure, will leave behind two legacies: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But it will be left to Guterres to ensure their implementation.

A member of the Socialist Party in Portugal, Guterres spent over 20 years in government and public service before he was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), serving for a decade until the end of 2015.

His work with the UNHCR was nothing short of groundbreaking. As High Commissioner, he oversaw the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up the organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

Guterres has already pledged to serve the “victims of conflicts, of terrorism, human rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world”. Ban Ki Moon rightly complimented Guterres as a “superb choice” and said “his experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period”.

However, he acknowledged that the election was also a disappointment as his vision of a female successor did not become a reality. Ban Ki Moon, is not alone in his sentiments, as many consider the outcome of the election to be “bittersweet”. Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat and one of Guterres’ female rivals for the job, tweeted on 5 October, “Bitter:not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.

Guterres takes over the UN at a time when the world body has remained paralyzed over several unresolved political problems, including the five-year-old devastating civil war in Syria, hundreds of civilian killings in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the emergence of North Korea as the world’s newest nuclear power in defiance of Security Council resolutions.

The new Secretary-General will also be entrusted with the task of resolving several lingering problems, including ongoing reports of sexual abuse of women by some UN peacekeepers and compensation for Haitian victims of cholera inadvertently brought in by UN peacekeepers, and address new challenges, such as helping muster the trillions of dollars needed to implement the 17 SDGs and the Climate Change agreement as well as ensuring a 50:50 gender parity in senior and decision-making positions in the UN Secretariat.

One of his first appointments should be to name a woman as his Deputy, preferably from the developing world.
We wish him well in his endeavors.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Security Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupation Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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‘The Earth Is Not Flat; It Is Urban’ Tue, 04 Oct 2016 12:12:03 +0000 Baher Kamal Credit: UN Photo / Bikem Ekberzade / Iraq, 2011

Credit: UN Photo / Bikem Ekberzade / Iraq, 2011

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

When the United Nations elaborated its latest report on the impact of what it calls “the dramatic shift towards urban life,” it tried to draw a balanced portrait of both the opportunities and the challenges of the fact that 1 in 2 world inhabitant already lives in urban areas and what this implies.

Such a balance has clearly failed. While cities have emerged over the past 20 years as the world’s economic platforms for production and innovation, helping millions escape poverty through better jobs and improved quality of life, mass urbanisation has also led to overcrowding, deepened inequalities and triggered a raft of environmental and health challenges, according to the report.

“The dramatic shift towards urban life has profound implications for energy consumption, politics, food security and human progress,” on May 18 stated the inaugural edition of the World Cities Report, which has been compiled by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Although some of this change is positive, it says, poorly planned urbanisation can potentially generate economic disorder, congestion, pollution and civil unrest.

On the theme ‘Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures,’ the report presents an analysis of urban development of the past 20 years and tries to reveal, with compelling evidence, that there are new forms of collaboration and cooperation, planning, governance, finance and learning that can sustain positive change.

Two-Thirds of World Population Living in Cities by 2030

While noting that two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2030 and produce as much as 80 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), the report unequivocally demonstrates that the current urbanisation model is “unsustainable” in many respects.

In the run up to HABITAT III – shorthand for the major global summit formally known as the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, set to be held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17-20 October 2016 – the report conveys a clear message that the pattern of urbanisation needs to change to better respond to the challenges of our time, to address issues such as “inequality, climate change, informality, insecurity, and unsustainable forms of urban expansion.”

Credit: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe / Mongolia, 2009

Credit: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe / Mongolia, 2009

On this, the UN-Habitat Executive Director, Joan Clos, said: “In the twenty years since the Habitat II conference, the world has seen a gathering of its population in urban areas. This has been accompanied by socioeconomic growth in many instances. But the urban landscape is changing and with it, the pressing need for a cohesive and realistic approach to urbanisation.

More facts: as the urban population increases, the land area occupied by cities is increasing at a higher rate. It is projected that by 2030, the urban population of developing countries will double, while the area covered by cites could triple.

“Such urban expansion is wasteful in terms of land and energy consumption and increases greenhouse gas emissions. The urban centre of gravity— at least for megacities, has shifted to the developing regions.“

Unstoppable Growth

In 1995, there were 22 large cities and 14 mega-cities globally; by 2015, both categories of cities had doubled, with 22, or 79 per cent of the megacities located in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The fastest growing urban centres are the medium and small cities with less than one million inhabitants, which account for 59 per cent of the world’s urban population.

Noting that urbanisation provides a great opportunity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report warns that while in some cities, for some people, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “urban renaissance” is occurring, for most of the world this is absolutely not the case.

Spectacular Failure

“Urban policy failure has been spectacular in its visibility and devastating in its impacts on men, women and children in many cities,” says the report, stressing that there are too many people living in poor quality housing without adequate infrastructure services such as water, sanitation, and electricity, without stable employment, reliable sources of income, social services, or prospects for upward social mobility.

“Prosperity was once described as a tide that raised all boats, but the impression today is that prosperity only raises all yachts,” the report underscores, setting out the key elements of a comprehensive approach to a ‘New Urban Agenda’ which must be bold, forward looking, and tightly focused on problem-solving with clear means of implementation.

A Universal Human Right?

Then came the World Habitat Day on 3 October to stress the fact that “adequate housing is a universal human right” and therefore should be at the centre of the urban policy and in the physical centre of the city.

“The unplanned rapid expansion of towns and cities means an increasing number of poor and vulnerable people are living in precarious conditions, without adequate living space or access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, electricity and health care,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on the World Habitat Day.

Then Ban called world’s leaders attention to another dramatic fact–that around a quarter of these urban dwellers lives in slums or informal settlements. “They are often isolated from opportunities for decent work and vulnerable to forced evictions and homelessness,” he on 3 October said.

And he highlighted the need to provide access to adequate housing for all is high among the priorities of the New Urban Agenda,” which governments are expected to adopt at Habitat III later this month in Quito.

“Housing should be located in the physical centre of the city… By now this might sound utopian, a kind of wishful dream but on the contrary, it is an urgent step towards an effective solution to the most pressing issues of our modern society.”

According to a recent study by the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory in collaboration with New York University and the Lincoln Institute, public housing represents less than 15 per cent of housing types both in developing and developed world.

“The tendency in the last two decades has been a rising cost of housing, forcing people to move far away to the outskirts of the city to find affordable housing.”

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The UN’s Blind Spot for Conflict Prevention Mon, 03 Oct 2016 19:53:17 +0000 Jonathan Rozen A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Jonathan Rozen

As the world struggles to respond to conflicts and the people fleeing them, UN insiders are also struggling to advance a ‘shift in mindset’ to help prevent these crises from happening in the first place.

“Part of the challenge is the way we have characterised the work of the UN as one of a first responder, fire-fighter, as an organisation that comes in when things fall apart,” Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, told IPS. “As a consequence all of the institutions in the UN tend to be more reactive than preventive.”

To change this, a group of diplomats and UN staff are seeking to bolster the UN Peacebuilding Fund. This fund operates with an annual budget of roughly 100 million dollars, making small yet targeted investments to avert crises over the long-term.

“Conflicts are pushing UN system to its limits,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Without the Peacebuilding Fund, we will be forced to stand by as we witness the preventable loss of countless lives.” But the fund is dramatically under financed.

‘Bang for buck’

On September 21, the UN Peacebuilding Fund held a pledging conference for the fund’s continued operation. The contributions of 30 countries, however, only amounted to 152 million dollars – just over half of the 300 million dollar funding target.

“The rhetoric that we have on peacebuilding is way ahead of the willingness to face up to the challenges of delivering on peace,” said Kamau, who also serves as the Peacebuilding Commission chairperson. “Something fundamentally different needs to happen.”

This year’s budget for the UN’s 16 Peacekeeping missions is roughly eight billion dollars. Looking ahead, small investments by the UN Peacebuilding Fund could save money by preventing the need for expensive missions that respond to what are often already dire circumstances, argue proponents of peacebuilding.

But improved foresight and proactive investments may also have impacts beyond countries’ chequebooks.

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict.

“If we are able to stop these conflicts from emerging in the first place, much of what we see today in the refugee situation putting a lot of pressure on individuals and countries would of course not have happened in the first place,” said Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN.

‘Sustaining peace’

The UN Peacebuilding commission is a relatively new arm of the UN, established only in December 2005. Its mandate widened in April this year with the adoption of two identical resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. These moved peacebuilding responsibilities beyond post-conflict recovery to include comprehensive efforts for more proactive conflict prevention and ‘sustaining peace.’

Sustaining peace is the “idea that this process of prevention is actually something that goes on from the early warnings … over the conflict stage … and the post-conflict,” Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, told the Peacebuilding Fund pledging conference. It involves consideration for the whole range of social, political, and economic factors that may contribute to peace.

This links conflict prevention to the achievement of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030). For example, Goal 1 and Goal 10 – “No Poverty” and “Reduced Inequalities” – will not be possible without sustained peace.

According to the World Bank, the world’s poorest people are becoming increasingly concentrated in fragile areas affected by conflict and violence, as peaceful areas reap the benefits of development. By 2030, 46 percent of people in extreme poverty will live in fragile and conflict affected areas, up from 17 percent today, says the Bank.

“We are still in early days to say what [Agenda 2030] will look like in terms of implementation,” Helder da Costa, General Secretary of the g7+ association of developing countries affected by conflict, told IPS after a meeting on Goal 16. “If you really want to build peaceful societies … we need practical implementation on the ground.”

One of the Peacebuilding Fund’s investments provided two million dollars to register births of 350,000 children in Côte d’Ivoire. Without registration, these children, many of whom were born just before or during the recent conflict, would be left in “legal limbo” without access to social services, advanced schooling or employment.

While the Peacebuilding Fund has been involved with various initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire since 2008, this registration effort aims to promote national identity for improved social cohesion, strengthening the social fabric of the country.

Investment in the SDG’s will support the social, economic, and political conditions that may prevent conflict and sustain peace. This process, however, will take time and the UN Peacebuilding Fund is looking to make the immediate and targeted investments that may curb the potential for conflicts.

“Lets not be impeded by bureaucratic challenges … lets think outside the box and then try to help things at the country level,” da Costa continued. But in a large and complex institution like the UN, new and innovative ways of thinking do not easily gain political traction or financial backing. In some cases they may even be directly opposed.

The UN Security Council initially resisted the Peacebuilding Commissions’ role in conflict prevention, said Eliasson. They believed it was an “infringement” on their primacy as the UN body for peace and security matters. Even now, with the world’s compounding crises of conflict, climate change, and refugees, countries’ investments remain focused on reacting to crises rather than preventing them.

It is important to cover the urgent humanitarian needs of today, Skoog explained to IPS. “At the same time, it’s very important to get this shift going to avoid these conflicts in the first place.”

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict. Nevertheless, too often violence is permitted to spiral out of control and endure.

The president of the General Assembly for 2016-2017 has said he will support the shift to a more proactive mindset of ‘sustaining peace’ and encourage additional contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund. But after January 1 2017, when the next UN Secretary General takes office, it remains to be seen how the new leadership will prioritise proactive conflict prevention and the ‘sustaining peace’ mindset.

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Uncertainty Mars Potential for Peace in South Sudan Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 Jonathan Rozen A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

By Jonathan Rozen

Nearly one month after UN Security Council members visited troubled South Sudan, disagreement reigns over even the limited outside measures proposed to try to bring the security situation in the world’s newest country under control.

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” Berouk Messfin, Senior Researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, told IPS.

While it is clear that neither an arms embargo nor an additional 4000 UN troops – two measures currently on the table – will be a panacea for troubled South Sudan, there is a slim hope that they may pressure the country’s leadership to act in the interests of its people.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on South Sudan’s humanitarian situation on September 22: “Time and again, (South Sudan’s) leaders have resorted to weapons and identity politics to resolve their differences.”

For three days in early September Security Council members traveled to South Sudan. At the end of the visit a ‘joint communiqué’ was issued that seemingly brokered an agreement with the interim Transitional Government of National Unity. It outlined the strengthening of the existing 12,000-troop UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) through an additional 4000-troop Regional Protection Force, and the removal of restrictions to humanitarian access. But in the days since the communiqué, South Sudanese officials have insisted that specifics of the additional force remain unresolved.

“We have agreed in principle … but the details of their deployment, the countries that will contribute … that is the work that is left now,” Hussein Mar Nyuot, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for the South Sudan government told IPS. “I don’t see the difference that this [4000] will come and do.”

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” -- Berouk Messfin, Institute for Security Studies.

The proposed additional force would be under the command of UNMISS and was endorsed in July by the east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) body leading the South Sudan peace talks. Building on UNMISS’ existing mandate, which already calls for the “use all necessary means” to protect UN personnel and civilians from threats, the Security Council believes the additional troops would strengthen the security situation.

The force is to be deployed as soon as possible, Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters Friday. Though he also said they were trying to elucidate “contradictory statements” from the capital, Juba.

In this context, human rights advocacy groups, along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, have continued their calls for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo to stop both sides’ continued militarization.

“It’s going to be more difficult for parties to the conflict to get access to ammunition and supplies,” Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “Combine it with the boosting of UNMISS … [and] it’s going to make a difference for civilians.”

However, the South Sudanese government, whose soldiers have been implicated in ethnically motivated killings, rape, and looting, disagrees on the value of an embargo.

“[The] issue is not actually the arms that are coming … even if you have an arms embargo there are already arms in the hands of the local people … the arms that are coming in are not actually the ones causing any problems,” Hussein Mar Nyuot told IPS.

If they say they want to have [an] arms embargo, ok, but what will you do with the arms that are in the hands of the people?” he continued. “We should encourage the government to disarm the civilian population.”

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

As a party to the conflict, South Sudan’s government is not impartial in their position, however they are also not entirely alone in their hesitance. “[An embargo] has to be a last course … we are not there yet,” Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of IGAD, told IPS.

Despite the existing arms in the country and the potential for continued illicit inflows, targeted sanctions by the Security Council may signal deeper commitment to ending the violence and protecting civilians. Nevertheless, neither an embargo nor 4000 additional troops will cure the political divisions among South Sudan’s leadership, which lie at the heart of the conflict.

Paths forward

“The South Sudanese have a string to hang on now … and that is the implementation of the [August 2015] agreement,” Maalim said. “It has had some problems because of the July incident, but it’s going to come on track,” he added referring to violent clashes which took place in South Sudan in July, bringing the country to the brink of all-out war.

However, not everyone agrees on the viability of the previous agreement.

“You have two sides that are not negotiating in good faith … who do not understand how to implement peace agreements they have signed,” said Messfin.

So what is to be done? Beyond the intended value for the protection of civilians, additional troops and restrictions will only go so far without political commitment from the country’s leadership.

Conflict prevention in South Sudan is about strategically applied political leverage, Cedric de Conning, Senior Researcher at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, explained to IPS.

A protection force like a reinforced peacekeeping mission can only implement what is agreed to politically, and the warring parties are not committed and remain mistrustful. While immediate action is necessary to save lives, there will eventually need to be a “reset” and a new administration, he continued.

Meanwhile, civil society groups have also reported increased repression of their activities, indicating a further weakening of South Sudan’s social resilience.

“There has been a steady uptick in press freedom violations in South Sudan in recent months,” Murithi Mutiga, East Africa correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS. “We have seen a number of cases of newspaper outlets being arbitrarily closed down, the most prominent cases being the Nation Mirror and the Juba Monitor.”

Press freedom can support the pursuit of a sustained cessation of hostilities, urged CPJ, because accurate and accessible public information allows citizens to better understand how to react to crises without turning to violence. A well-informed population may also be better positioned to define a peaceful future for their country.

The importance of uninhibited civil society for conflict prevention also matches the priorities outlined in two identical resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly in April, which recognize pathways to “sustaining peace.” Notably, this includes the development and maintenance of social, political and economic conditions necessary for conflict to be prevented.

South Sudan has experienced persistent violence since 2013, when armed conflict broke out between groups loyal to president Salva Kiir and opposition leader in exile Riek Machar. Fighting escalated along ethnic lines, pitting Dinka against Nuer, until a peace agreement was signed in August 2015. But fighting continued and escalated in July 2016 with a series of clashes in Juba, which left approximately 300 dead. Over the last three years thousands have been killed, over 1.6 million people remain internally displaced, and roughly 4.8 million currently suffer from food insecurity, according to the UN.

While the implementation of September’s joint communiqué will be reviewed with next steps considered at the end of the month, South Sudan’s Humanitarian Response Plan is severely under-funded at just over 50 percent; despite there being no doubt that South Sudan needs immediate assistance.

But this will only serve as a stop-gap against man-made famine. While the Security Council may still unite for the application of an embargo, the fate of South Sudan ultimately lies with its leadership. Their ability to find a lasting agreement, with support from the UN, the African Union, and IGAD, hinges on their willingness to stop the conflict.

“The lives and future of an entire generation hang in the balance,” Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, said Thursday. “Literally the future of South Sudan.”

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UN Refugee Summits Fall Short for Children Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:46:49 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite 0 Yazidi Survivor of ISIL Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:31:35 +0000 Lindah Mogeni Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Nadia Murad with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lindah Mogeni

Yazidi Nadia Murad – who survived being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by ISIL – was honoured by the UN on Friday September 16 for her work to help human trafficking survivors.

At a ceremony held ahead of the International Day of Peace Murad was appointed as the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She is the first survivor of human trafficking to hold the position.

In early August 2014 Murad’s home town of Kocho in Northern Iraq was attacked by ISIL – also known as ISIS or Daesh.

Murad, who belongs to the Yazidi minority religion, described ISIL’s impact as “a nightmare that has struck our society.”

ISIL executed men and older women from the village in the attack, including Murad’s mother and six of her brothers.

Murad and other women and children were captured as “war-booty” and trade merchandise.

ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis have been described as attempted genocide, since ISIL aims to kill all Yazidis which it describes as infidels.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” -- Nadia Murad.

Murad later escaped in November 2014 when her captor left the door unlocked and a neighboring family smuggled her to a refugee camp, Duhot, in northern Iraq before she sought and was granted asylum in Germany.

Murad’s advocacy against ISIL’s trafficking of Yazidis later led her to testify before the UN Security Council in December 2015.

“The sole aim of ISIL was to destroy Yazidi identity through forced rape, the recruitment of children and the destruction of our temples,” Murad said, describing the Islamic State’s action as an orchestrated “collective genocide against Yazidi identity” and religion.

She called for the case of genocide against the Yazidis to be brought before the International Criminal Court and for an international budget to compensate Yazidi victims to be established.

Murad also expressed her wish to witness the liberation of occupied Yazidi territory and urged states to open their societies to Yazidi refugees.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on ISIL’s June report, some 3200 women and children are currently enslaved by ISIL.

Murad would “bring much needed attention to international efforts to end human trafficking and help keep it on the Security Council’s agenda,” US Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council Sarah Mendelson said.

The international response should be “commensurate with the scale of human trafficking” said Mendelson, noting that human trafficking generates an estimated 150 billion dollars in revenue annually with over 20 million victims.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Murad as a “fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere.”

Ban also described the crimes against Yazidis by ISIL as possible genocide.

“The crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq against the Yazidi may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”

He called for the immediate release of thousands of Yazidis being held in captivity.

Human rights barrister, Amal Clooney, who represents Murad, described ISIL’s violence towards the Yazidis as a “bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale.”

ISIL have released a pamphlet entitled ‘Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves’ which describes acts such as beating female slaves, raping female slaves who have not reached puberty, buying or selling or gifting female slaves.

Clooney also expressed her disappointment in the UN’s failure to stop the ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidis.

“I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find their own interests get in the way.”

“I am ashamed as a lawyer that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it.”

“I am ashamed as a woman that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields.”

“I am ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help,” said Clooney.

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UN Refugee Summit: “No Cause for Comfort” Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:50:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 From Where I Stand: Nahimana Fainesi Mon, 19 Sep 2016 10:28:54 +0000 UN Women Nahimana Fainesi [Finess], 30, fled her native Burundi in July 2015 and has since been living in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. She works as a farmer in a UN Women cash-for-work programme there, which is funded by the Government of Japan. Her work is directly related to Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks to end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular people in vulnerable situations, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food; and SDG 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. ]]> Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

“This is my second time living in communal camps, second time running away from civil war to protect myself. What made me leave [Burundi] was the problem of random people invading others’ homes, attacking those without husbands. They would enter with knives. Before they kill you, they would first rape you. When I saw those attacks, and people dying, I left with my one-year-old son. I didn’t have the chance to get all my children because it was a case of everyone for themselves, running for their lives.

When I got to the Lusenda Camp (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I had no hope. UN Women gave me hope, motivation and empowerment. After some time, I was appointed committee member of the women’s group. I found a job [through a cash-for-work programme] and that money helped me cross back to get my children. I have five children—four girls and one boy.

Camp life is another challenge. Two of my children have now matured into young women. When they go walking around, I remain in constant fear, because at any time they could get raped. The food is also insufficient and gets depleted even before the next ration.

I survive by farming to get a little cash. Women farm together, growing several types of crops. Once they are ready to be harvested, we sell the produce. One must always think about how you can get your hands dirty to attain your goals and feed your family. Happiness begins with you.”

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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In Host Country Lebanon, Refugee and Rural Women Build Entrepreneurship, Cohesion and Future Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:44:32 +0000 UN Women Women entrepreneurs from refugee and host communities in Lebanon are using their unique skills and creativity to build their own model of social stability in Lebanon while launching economically viable businesses.]]> Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By UN Women
Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

“When we were forced to leave our country, I never thought that a community in Lebanon would accept and treat me as an active member, the way I have been at the Kfeir Women’s Working Group,” says Hiba Kamal, an 18-year-old refugee from Syria who travelled to Lebanon with her family five years ago fleeing instability in her own country.

Kamal is among more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria and its neighbouring countries, hosted by Lebanon. The massive influx of refugees accounts for 25 per cent of the total population in Lebanon and puts unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese economy. There is an ever-increasing demand for public services and significantly stronger competition for limited resources and employment.

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

The protracted refugee and migrant crisis has led to increased tensions between host and refugee populations, especially in the poorest areas, where refugees tend to concentrate. There is a higher risk of insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence [1].

Women, both Lebanese citizens and refugees, often suffer more discrimination due to the prevalence of prejudiced laws and cultural stereotypes. They are frequently either restricted at home, or relegated to finding low and unstable income within the informal sector without social protection.

To improve women’s access to employment and markets, the Amel Association, a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, implemented a three-year project from 2012 – 2015 in the south of Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut. The project has impacted over 1,000 rural and refugee women, who have learned how to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, such as embroidery and accessories, organic and agro-food products, following the highest quality and sanitation standards.

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Through interactive sessions, where refugee and Lebanese women learned and worked together, the programme also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence to build social stability. “The [Lebanese] women started teaching me their traditional needle work and I was genuinely happy to share with them all the traditional practices that I had learned from my mother and grandmother in loom work,” shares Kamal. By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, participants link their cultural heritage and history with the products, making them unique and highly marketable.

“We started seeing real results of our work when some of the women started creating their own products and started exhibiting them. They grew stronger, more confident and set inspiring examples for other women in the area,” says Safaa Al Ali, Programme Manager at the Amel Association.

The organization facilitated an alliance with 13 other civil society organizations and cooperatives doing similar work to create the first economic network for women in Lebanon, called “MENNA” (meaning “from us” in Arabic language). Today, more than 300 refugee and rural Lebanese women producers sell soaps, candles, accessories and handicrafts directly to the public in a shop in Beirut also named MENNA.

“I came to Lebanon as the crisis began in Syria five years ago…it was hard to find a suitable job as a refugee and I could not access the formal business sector,” shares Mona Hamid, a 51-year-old Syrian refugee living in the suburbs of Beirut. “By joining the MENNA network at Amel, I gained skills to sell and promote my items at local businesses and also showed them at exhibitions.”

The success of the initiative prompted Amel to create a MENNA catering service in February 2016, opening up more income-generating opportunities for women.

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

The MENNA brand has brought together Lebanese and refugee women in a way that has benefited entire communities. “The importance of this project is that it respects the culture and skills of refugee women and assists them in integrating into the host community. It is a model that works, not only to make women agents of their own economic empowerment in a fragile context, but also as a way that brings them together to work for a common goal, thus building social stability and sustainable peace,” notes Rana El-Houjeiri, Programme Specialist for UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality in Lebanon. The Fund is now building upon the success of this project by supporting similar initiatives in Lebanon and other countries in the Arab States region.

[1] Amel Association International (2013). Unpublished study on “Gender analysis of Host Communities affected by Syrian Refugee Crisis”

This story was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official
partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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Building Bridges: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the Emirates at the Vatican Thu, 15 Sep 2016 19:32:13 +0000 Rubya Delarose Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

By Rubya Delarose
ROME, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

As the rise of religious racism and Islamophobia sweeps across Europe, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is increasing their emphasis on the message for peaceful tolerance across all nations.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Zayed met with Pope Francis in Rome recently. The meeting held at the headquarters of the papacy was also attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State. The focus of their meeting was on global development and social and humanitarian issues, including initiatives in the educational and health areas in underprivileged communities.

Pope Francis commented at the meeting that the U.A.E’s adoption and deployment of sustainable sources of energy and support of countries and communities in need act as outstanding contributions to international development.

“Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to the Pope is part of his continuous meetings aimed at promoting the values of tolerance, peace and co-existence in all societies” Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance told Emirates News Agency WAM.

As terrorism destabilizes Europe, Sheikh Zayed’s meeting at the papacy was an opportunity to confirm the U.A.E’s condemnation of all forms of violent extremism and his country’s position as a united force against intolerance.

WAM reported that the U.A.E stands with Pope Francis on his universal rejection of extremism. The Vatican and the U.A.E recognize that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam.

As the consequences of Islamophobia threaten Muslims worldwide, the need to spread a message of tolerance across all religions is vital. Any form of extremism must be denounced.

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UN Summit Won’t Resolve Refugee Resettlement Impasse Wed, 14 Sep 2016 20:49:11 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite Border guards in Bangladeshrefusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

Border guards in Bangladeshrefusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Phoebe Braithwaite

Next week’s landmark UN summit on refugees and migrants was supposed to help resettle one in ten refugees, instead UN member states have settled for vague gestures, including a campaign to end xenophobia.

Human rights organisations and humanitarian actors alike have expressed disappointment with an outcome document agreed upon by member states in advance of the summit, which falls short of creating a binding, comprehensive framework to protect migrants and refugees.

“If global leaders adopt a resolution with some nice language – but so lacking in concrete commitments it fails to make any real difference to the lives of those fleeing war and conflict – they are merely fiddling while Rome burns,” Richard Bennett, Head of Amnesty’s Office at the United Nations, told IPS.

They say that the UN’s richer member states are missing a crucial opportunity to tackle xenophobia and racism by actually resettling refugees within their own borders.

“When you actually speak to refugees, the men with Kalashnikovs are pushing them away, but the men in suits are running away,” -- Arvinn Gadgil

“When you actually speak to refugees, the men with Kalashnikovs are pushing them away, but the men in suits are running away,” Arvinn Gadgil Director of Partnerships and Policy at the Norwegian Refugee Council told IPS.

“There seemed to be an appetite from member states to actually find a mechanism for responsibility sharing. Now – perhaps naively – we thought that was true, and we are of course disappointed. That was the one key output from the summit that we now seem not to be able to get,” said Gadgil.

Gadgil described the talks as a “race to the bottom,” entailing “systematic risk-aversion” and overwhelming concern for national self-interest. “There is very little reason to be optimistic,” he said, deploring states’ negotiations, which, he says, were governed by the “lowest common denominator of shame.”

Revealing a process in which member states stripped back meaningful promises to vague re-affirmations of shared responsibility, Bennett said, “there’s this enormous crisis, and these diplomats sit in New York discussing words which may or may not even be implemented… there’s a huge gap between their rhetoric and the reality.”

Numbers of displaced people remain at unprecedented levels globally, higher than ever before in the UN’s history. With around 65 million people forced from their homes, one in every 113 people is now either a refugee, asylum seeker or internally displaced person. 21.3 million of these people are refugees; 51 percent of refugees are children.

Yet even a clause on the detention of children was considered too controversial by some member states.

Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the summit, explained that the implementation of children’s right never to be detainedhad been extremely contentious for some states and amended to the principle “for children seldom, if ever, to be detained.”

In an effort to address the broad issues created by human mobility, the summit will focus on both refugees and migrants, though discussing them side-by-side has proven controversial since migration is a less settled area of international law. Internally displaced persons will not be discussed, though there are approximately 45 million people currently displaced within national borders.

Around 86 percent of refugees reside in low and middle-income countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Chad, Turkey, and Nauru, where Australia holds refugees, including children, in offshore detention.

Criticising those states “who are continuing to put up borders and walls,” Bennett said, “there is no trigger mechanism; there are no concrete, objective criteria for deciding how a country meets its fair share… It’s a kind of ad-hoc approach, based on largesse, of whether a country offers resettlement places or money or not.”

The outcome document says that “in many parts of the world we are witnessing, with great concern, increasingly xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants” – as well as the increasing acceptability of such attitudes. Yet states themselves perpetuate these attitudes by refusing to welcome people from different countries, even when fleeing violence and persecution.

On Monday Amnesty criticised the G20 declaration calling for greater “burden-sharing” with regards to refugees, calling this “callous hypocrisy” given that many G20 countries actively blocked efforts to resettle refugees. Moreover, the term itself ‘burden-sharing’ explicitly views refugees negatively.

States, said Bennett, are “reluctant to set targets when it comes to taking and supporting refugees because there is a toxic narrative about migration and refugees which affects national politics. Another concern we have about the outcome document of the summit is that it moves in the direction of securitisation – of seeing the movement of people as a security issue, and not that refugees will make societies more diverse and actually stronger.”

Last week Angela Merkel’s party, which has consistently acted as a moral force by resettling refugees, and refusing to bow to the xenophobic electoral strategies of parties in many European countries, lost a local election to far-right populist party Alternative for Germany.

Without wishing to read too much into a single local election, said Gadgil, “this could potentially be a watershed moment in European politics, where we end up with the definitive rise of parties that are primarily motivated by xenophobic views of the world, and primarily motivated by the artificial portrayal of immigrants as essentially and only bad.”

Talks “Abstract, Academic Exercise”

September 2 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose picture moved publics to sympathy last summer, helping to individualise suffering on an enormous scale.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was recently reported saying, “nobody is ever just a refugee,” emphasising the centrality of migration in human history at the UN’s World Humanitarian Day.

At the preliminary talks, however, Bennett said: “I didn’t really hear any countries give examples of actual refugee or migrant stories… for the states this seemed like an abstract, academic exercise.”

Narratives and public statements are doubtless indispensible tools in communicating every person’s humanity, but a more sustained level of attention is needed among policy-makers, who play a critical role in shaping public opinion, to bring about real change and uphold the rights and the dignity of refugees and migrants.

Speaking on Tuesday night in New York Médecins Sans Frontières’s Executive Director Jason Cone looked to the summit, saying, “ultimately it’s political leaders that have to step up and make these decisions… These are problems that are eminently solvable with the right resources directed towards them.”

The UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants will take place at UN headquarters in New York on September 19.

Hopes now turn to the Leaders Summit on Refugees, convened the following day by Barack Obama, where he will invite heads of state and government to make national, rather than collective, resettlement pledges.

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U.A.E Stands By Conflicted Yemen Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:34:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

As unrest and chaos plague Yemen, the U.A.E is not waiting in silence. Recognising that in spite of being impoverished Yemen has always been strategically important for U.A.E and the region, the warfare and conflict will not only gravely affect the region itself but could also obstruct the future security of the Middle East as a whole.

Extremist forces continue to hinder Yemen’s development and block any path to peace for the strife-torn nation. However, the U.A.E is determined to put the threat radical armed groups pose to a halt.

According to a recent report issued by Emirates News Agency, WAM, the U.A.E has played a crucial role in the growing success in the fight against Al Qaida in Southern Yemen.

Recently, the U.A.E supported Yemen’s significant military advancement. After five years of lawlessness and terrorist control in the province of Abyan, the Yemeni army managed to liberate the region and wipe out the deathly threat of terror posed by Al Qaida and its allies in Daesh. (ISIL) The U.A.E played a fundamental role in this military triumph through the extensive aerial cover provided whilst the Yemeni army advanced on the militants.

However, once secure in the knowledge of having gained back control over the conflict-ridden territory, the U.A.E did not stop there. The Emirati volunteer organization, the Emirates Red Crescent, successfully launched several humanitarian missions and provided vital food and water supplies to civilians most affected in the province.

The U.A.E’s forces have not only been victorious in their attempts to eradicate the chaos inflicted by extremist groups, they have also placed a strong emphasis on providing aid to all civilians, including those considered “unreachable”. They are committed to their pledge to provide sustainable development and long-term aid in a bid to rebuild Yemen’s civil society.

The recent military success in Abyan follows the recapturing of a major port in addition to an airport and surrounding territory in the coastal city of Al Mukalla, once seized by Al Quaida.

The operation had been planned six months in advance in order to ensure its success . More than 20,000 soldiers engaged in the warfare which lead to victory and a weakening of the Al Quaida threat. Subsequent operations focused on sustainable development for the city including the rebuilding of demolished buildings and the restoration of security at the city’s airport and port.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, emphasises that “”it is just as important to root out the terrorists from their bases and bring Yemen’s coastal territories back to orderly government so that some measure of calm, normal business and social life can restart.” The U.A.E’s commitment to restore stability, security and order in Yemen is admirable. Through the donation of roughly 1.17 billion USD in the past 16 months to the crucial military assistance to eradicate the threat extremist armed groups pose, the future prospect of peace brings more hope to strife-torn Yemen.

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