World Food Programme accesses Yemeni frontline district for first time since conflict began

31 May 2019

Amid the world’s largest humanitarian crisis still unfolding in Yemen, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has gained access to the rebel-held northern district of Nihm, for the first time since the war between Houthis and the Saudi-backed Government coalition escalated in 2015.

During the four years of violence, many districts have remained inaccessible for humanitarians, causing conditions facing civilians wracked by hunger, cholera, and bombardment, to “significantly deteriorate”, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

 

WFP/Annabel Symington
People in the Yememi port city of Hudaydah have been provided with vouchers by the World Food Programme which they can exchange for food. (March 2019)

WFP Spokesperson Herve Verhoosel, told journalists in Geneva that on Thursday the agency had succeeded in distributing food and aid to more than 5,000 people from “896 households living next to the frontlines of Nihm district in Sana’a governorate.” He highlighted that this was “the first time WFP and a cooperating partner, Islamic Relief, (have) reached people living inside the militarized zone of Nihm.”

According to WFP, a one-off distribution providing rations for two months, was conducted in two food distribution points, marking an important breakthrough as the district has been a frontline conflict area, which is very difficult to access, for a prolonged period. The area close to the Saudi border, north east of the Houthi-held capital Sana’a – has been in the hands of the movement, officially known as Ansar Allah, since 2014.

First aid in a year reaches Dhuraimi City

Mr. Verhoosel also reported that the agency has gained access to “the besieged area of Dhuraimi city in Hudaydah governorate, which has seen intense conflict and insecurity for a prolonged period.” The city of Dhuraimi is also on a frontline between the warring parties, and WFP noted that both sides had helped with access.

Mr Verhoosel told journalists that “WFP provided two-month general food assistance rations, water, hygiene kits and dignity kits from UNICEF and UNFPA, and other food assistance.” He reiterated that “this is the first humanitarian assistance to reach civilians in the city for a year.”

While WFP’s reach has been increasing since December, Mr. Verhoosel acknowledged that there is still more work to do. “WFP was reaching 7 to 8 million people a month. Since January, February, we are reaching 10 million people a month,” he stressed, adding they hoped to extend that to 12 million.

“We are not there yet for the moment because of those distribution issues that we have.” Even in Sana’a, reports by NGOs working in Nihm, indicate that although access to some areas was possible, some communities where fighting is on-going, remain out of reach.

WFP together with Islamic Relief has been working to open up access to these vulnerable populations by establishing two food distribution points and coordinating closely with other agencies.

WFP is committed to “working with both sides” of the conflict, said Mr. Verhoosel,“to try to facilitate as much as possible not only the security situation but also of course the access.”

Future of key Hudaydah grain silo supplies still not clear

In an update from the key port city of Hudaydah, WFP also said that grain supplies held in a silo close to the former front lines of conflict, are still being fumigated, but it was still not possible to say how much of it was fit to eat.

The Red Sea Mills contained enough grain to feed 3.7 million for a month, but “the total quantity of wheat that will be fit for human consumption is still not determined at this stage”, said Mr. Verhoosel.

Each of the 11 silos contain an estimated 3,500-4,000 metric tonnes of grain and 40 local workers from the area have been hired to finalize cleaning, and WFP is looking to bring in additional equipment.

“WFP appreciates the cooperation from all parties on the ground that has made this progress possible”, added the WFP Spokesperson.

From philanthropy to profit: how clean energy is kickstarting sustainable development in east Africa

31 May 2019

Until recently, Namacurra district, in the Zambezia province of Mozambique, some 1,500 km from the capital Maputo, did not have any basic services – such as schools, health centres, or even energy – connecting the region to the electricity grid would be extremely time-consuming, and costly. But a new UN-backed clean energy initiative looks set to change the outlook for Namacurra, and, within a matter of months, kickstart sustainable development for the benefit of the thousands of people, relocated to the area following the devastating rains of 2015, and it could herald an improved outlook for other economically disadvantaged parts of Africa.

The United Nations human settlements programme, UN-Habitat, and Portuguese energy company EDP, are constructing a solar energy system to supply 12 classrooms – which have been built to withstand 180 km per hour winds – with clean, renewable energy.

This will have a huge impact on the community because, as well as enabling some 1,300 students to study at night, people living in the area will, for a small fee, be able to charge their mobile phones, and access the internet.

They will also stand a better chance of surviving, when the next cyclones and floods hit the country: Mozambique has developed an early-warning system, with SMS alerts sent out by the government, but this only works in communities with access to energy.

“As long as you can provide this service at a school, people will at least have access to communication with the outside world, which is the main handicap when an emergency strikes, recounts Juan Hurtato Martinez, UN-Habitat architect and manager of the project.  “So, it ensures that, in an emergency, they can receive the alarms quickly.”

Scaling up across east Africa

Although the impetus for the project comes from EDPs philanthropic arm, the company sees it as a sensible investment in Africa, in line with the UN’s call for companies to play their part in the move to a “green economy,” that is not reliant on fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

“The African continent is surely the continent with more natural resources – such as the sun, wind, water, biomass and others – that allow the use of renewable energies,” says Guilherme Collares Pereira, Director of International Relations at EDP. “Therefore, it makes total sense to intervene in the market that has resources and that has the needs.”

 

Some 600 million people in Africa are without access to electricity, Pereira points out, and it is “more than proven that renewable energies can enable, in a cheaper, faster and more efficient way, universal energy access to be achieved.”

The project in the district of Namacurra is one of six, in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, that will be receiving support from EDP. At the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, which hosts more than 186,000 people, a mini-grid will supply pay-as-you-go electricity to refugees according to their consumption needs. “It is a very interesting approach that can be replicated throughout the camp,” says Pereira, “but it can also be replicated in other refugee camps, not only in the Horn of Africa but all over the world.”

Sustainability as a business opportunity

For EDP, the 2030 Agenda is an opportunity, says Pereira. “Ten years ago, when we began involvement with these projects, we were guided more by our corporate responsibility policy, but nowadays it is more about business.”

In 2018 the company decided to invest €12 million in companies that are already working with renewable energy in East Africa. “At the moment, they are not as profitable as traditional EDP businesses,” he notes, “but this is a journey, and we are discovering how the process develops. So, in the next couple of years, when we are ready, we can invest in more companies and grow them in preparation for entry into other markets.”

“The potential is enormous: renewable energy technology is getting better, more efficient and more resilient. There is also an abundance of mechanisms and even financing from countries and the international community to support these projects.  Everything is in place for its growth and it is imperative that the private sector enters this market.”

What is SDG 12?

One of the objectives of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, Goal 12, focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, which includes phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that lead to waste and pollution, and encouraging the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. According to the UN, by 2018, a total of 108 countries had developed national policies and initiatives related to sustainable consumption and production.

UN habitat
School in the district of Namacurra, in Zambézia province, Mozambique.

A ‘strong and united Europe’ has never been more needed, declares UN chief Guterres

30 May 2019

With the post-world war international institutions eroded and under threat, a “strong and united Europe” standing alongside the United Nations, has never been more essential, said UN chief António Guterres in Germany on Thursday.

The Secretary-General was in the ancient continental capital of Aachen, close to the French border, where he received the Charlemagne Prize, awarded each year since 1950, for services towards European unification.

As a former Portuguese Prime Minister, and one of the architects of the European Union’s efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s to strengthen social safety nets, solidarity, and cooperation with Africa and India, Mr. Guterres described himself as a “committed European” who understood that, in bestowing the award, Aachen was paying tribute “to the commitment, service, and sacrifice of the women and men of the United Nations”.

The European Union, which grew out of the ashes of two world wars, has forged “an exemplary partnership” with the United Nations, said Mr. Guterres, and the breakup of the 28-nation political and economic bloc, “would inevitably be the failure of multilateralism and the failure of a world in which the rule of law can prevail”.

“The hard truth is, we collectively have taken too many things for granted”, he added, noting that democratic principles “are under siege, and the rule of law is being undermined. Inequalities are on the rise. Hate speech, racism and xenophobia are fuelling terrorism through social media”.

Hailing Europe’s continuing role as a champion of universal values, he said that multilateralism was under fire “precisely when we need it most, and when it has never been so fit to address these challenges”.

‘We need to restore trust’

“I wish Europe could stand up more decisively for the multilateral agenda. The United Nations need a strong and united Europe. For this to happen, Europe will need to come to grips with some serious challenges”, said Mr. Guterres.

Despite an apparent “lack of ownership by the peoples of Europe” of their collective future as a union, he said there were “encouraging signals” of more political engagement in last week’s elections to the European Parliament.

“This is the moment in which we need to restore trust. Trust between people and political establishments. Trust between people and the institutions. Trust between people and international organizations”, he said, noting that the young Europeans of today were “our best hope”.

With three great challenges facing us all, he said the EU “must lead the way”. First, on climate change, he said more ambition was needed all round, in mitigation, adaptation and finance.

“It is much better to tax pollution than jobs…Does it make any sense that our money, as tax payers, is used to boost hurricanes, to spread drought, to bleach corrals, to melt glaciers, to diminish biodiversity and to progressively destroy the world?”

Second, he said Europe was “particularly well placed” to take a lead in the transformation of society through new technology, with its robust regulatory framework on protecting digital privacy, and especially through the huge potential of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.

New social safety nets will be needed, he said, to cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is underway: “The European social model is the best foundation to be able to respond to these challenges and Europe has an absolutely unique role to play in creating the conditions to transform these areas in a positive manner.”

Scapegoating migrants ‘shames’ Europe’s heritage

Third, the culture of the continent has always been enriched through diversity, pointing to Emperor Charlemagne himself, founder of the first experiment in European political integration more than a thousand years ago, the so-called Holy Roman Empire.

Assimilation “was the starting point of European culture”, said the UN chief. “Of course, Europe must hold true its values enshrined in the Charter of fundamental human rights and in the European Convention on Human rights. But Europe cannot be premised on ‘us versus them’”.

“Scapegoating migrants and closing our doors to asylum seekers does not protect, but shame this heritage”, he declared, noting that the 1951 Refugee Convention was adopted to protect ravaged and displaced post-war Europeans.

“It is only by being united that Europe will propose a balanced approach addressing the root causes of migration while preserving the rights and dignity of migrants,” he said.

“All societies tend to be, or are already, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. This must be considered as a richness not as a threat”

 

 
UN Secretary-General António Guterres receives the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany on 30 May 2019.

The UN’s unyielding effort to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation: our quarterly update

30 May 2019

In the first quarter of 2019, according to latest figures released on Thursday, the United Nations recorded a total of 37 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against UN personnel, including civilian and uniformed personnel from peacekeeping operations, agencies, funds and programmes. So far, most of these allegations remain under investigation.

To date, only one of the 37 allegations has been substantiated through an investigation, and referred to the relevant Member State for follow-up; four were not substantiated by the investigation that ensued; 26 are still under investigation; and six are still in the preliminary assessment phase to determine if there is enough information to investigate.

United Nations work with local communities in Kavumu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to sensitize the population on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. Photo: MONUSCO/Alain Likota.

Sixteen of these allegations are categorized as sexual abuse which, in UN terms, constitutes “the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force, or under unequal or coercive conditions”.

Another 27 are categorized as sexual exploitation, defined as “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another”. In addition, four are of an unknown nature, and two cases have been categorized as “other”, of which one was closed.

Of the 49 people who made these 37 allegations against UN personnel, were 28 women, 11 girls, one boy, seven females of unknown age, as well as one adult and one child whose genders are unknown.

Measuring progress is a complex matter that cannot be examined through numbers alone: for example, an entity that does not report any allegations may not yet have solid reporting and prevention systems in place.

Outside the UN, 33 allegations have been recorded involving organisations mandated by the UN to carry out its programmes (known as “implementing partners”). They involve 37 alleged victims and 38 alleged perpetrators.

A full range of initiatives to tackle SEA at the UN

The Secretary-General’s strategy launched in 2017, focuses first on addressing the issue within the UN system, including peacekeepers, as well as those mandated by the UN to carry out programmes (implementing organizations and Security Council-authorized non-UN military). This covers more than 90,000 personnel in over 30 entities as well as more than 100,000 uniformed personnel.

The numbers show that the UN’s victim-centred approach is paying off, as there seems to be increased trust among the victims and survivors to come forward and report incidents.

Various concrete initiatives have been put in place to date, including:

United Nations

  • Transparent and harmonised quarterly reporting by the UN chief on the matter.
  • Improved support to survivors with the appointment of a global Victims’ Rights Advocate, as well as several field-based ones, and the setting-up of a Victims Assistance Tracking database to ensure services are provided to survivors and victims, adequately and systematically.
  • Strengthened Member State engagement with the creation of: a Voluntary Compact which more than 100 countries have adopted; and the Circle of Leadership, launched in September 2018 and which has been endorsed by 74 members so far.
  • Mandatory training sessions for staff across the UN system.
  • Community-based complaint mechanisms in all UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
  • And the launch in 2018 of a system called “Clear Check,” to prevent UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated SEA allegations – or those who resigned or were separated during an investigation – from being re-employed.

A complete list of all the initiatives undertaken can be found here

The question of prosecution

As the UN does not have the authority or a legal mandate to criminally prosecute individuals, criminal accountability of individuals continues to rest with each UN staff member’s home country.

In cases where the alleged offender is a civilian, the UN conducts administrative investigations, the staff member is dismissed when the allegation is substantiated, and if the UN concludes that a crime may have been committed, it refers the matter to relevant national authorities for further action.

In cases involving uniformed personnel, the contributing State has exclusive jurisdiction to investigate, but the UN works in close partnership with that State to expedite the investigation, and take the necessary measures.