UN`s Guterres condemns ongoing airstrikes on Syria`s hospitals, medical workers.

Reports that airstrikes have hit several health facilities in north-west Syria have been strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General.

12 July 2019

In a statement issued late Thursday evening, António Guterres said that one of the damaged facilities included a large hospital in Maarat al-Numan whose coordinates had been shared with belligerents, through the UN’s de-confliction mechanism.

The development follows escalating violence since April in Idlib, the last opposition-held enclave in the country.

Some three million people live there, many of them displaced by previous clashes between Government and opposition fighters elsewhere in the war-torn country.

Highlighting the impact of the airstrikes on non-combatants, Mr. Guterres insisted that civilians and public buildings must be protected, in line with a 2018 de-escalation agreement overseen by guarantors Russia and Turkey.

The UN Secretary-General also insisted that those responsible for carrying out serious violations of international humanitarian law should be held accountable.

UNICEF/Khalil Ashawi
Kafr Nubl surgical hospital is seen after it was put out of service by attacks in early May 2019. The building and an ambulance lie in ruins. (3 May 2019)

A quarter of Pacific islanders live below ‘basic needs poverty lines’, top UN development forum hears

10 July 2019

While progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been made over the past four years, some vulnerable island States are losing momentum in the race to 2030, according to discussions at the United Nations’ annual High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on Wednesday.

In 2015, the UN set out a vision for “people, planet, peace and prosperity” through partnership and solidarity, when it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To date however, many small island developing States (SIDS) still face persistent challenges linked to poverty, inequality and climate impacts.

Speaking on behalf of the members of the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, painted a picture of dying corals and increasing numbers of cyclones, flooding and droughts.

“One catastrophic event is undoing decades of progress, claiming lives, destroying vital infrastructure, homes, biodiversity and adversely affecting food security and the delivery of services and livelihoods”, she spelled out.  “Furthermore, our waste generation is outpacing our capacity to manage and are impacting our environment, ocean and marine life”.

Climate crisis snapshot

  • Cyclone Pam led to a 64 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) drop in Vanuatu.
  • Cyclone Winston cost 30 per cent of GDP in Fiji.
  •  Cyclone Gita cost 38 per cent of GDP losses in Tonga.
  • Rising seas have displaced populations in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati.
  • Overall sea levels in the Pacific Island have risen more than 50 per cent higher than the global average.
  • Four of the nine tropical cyclones in the South West Pacific in the last 12 months were severe Category 3 storms, or greater.

As SIDS grapple with the externally induced impact of the climate crisis – the chief cause of land-loss due to rising sea levels – amplifying their challenges and vulnerabilities, the reality of poor development outcomes and insecurities in many of countries prevail.

“Despite sustained economic growth…our people are struggling to make ends meet with one in every four Pacific Islander, living below national basic needs poverty lines”, Ms. Mata’afa lamented.

“Unemployment, particularly of women and young people is high, with youth unemployment at double the global rate” and “Pacific men outnumber Pacific women in paid employment by two to one,” she added.

Moreover, some of the highest global rates of violence against women are in the Pacific. At 7.7 per cent, women’s representation in Pacific parliaments is the lowest globally.

“Of the four countries globally that are without women parliamentarians, three are in the Pacific,” she asserted.

Turning to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), she pointed out that regarding diabetes, seven Pacific countries are in the top 10 globally. And in 10 SIDS, five out of 10 Pacific islanders are overweight.

“Moving forward, Pacific leaders are committed to more targeted support to enhance opportunities for women, youth, and persons with disabilities; addressing gender gaps in employment and decision making; enhancing sustainable tourism and fisheries while conserving the Pacific’s rich biodiversity; tackling NCDs and the dual threats of climate change and disasters more effectively”, she informed the meeting.

She expressed the Pacific’s gratitude for $1.57 billion from the Green Climate Fund and said, “our challenge now is implementation ensuring we better utilise existing funding; strengthen capacities, institutions and partnerships; and increase investment in statistical systems”.

‘A holistic approach’ needed

Turning to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the HLPF evaluated progress and challenges in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries where populations are at high risk of being left behind, many in conflict or post-conflict situations.

Many people in LDCs and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) are disempowered by poverty and the lack of access to basic services.  They not only do not benefit from economic growth but high annual population growth rates present challenges for enrolment in higher education, and in training a skilled workforce.

Moreover, climate change and its associated risks have put additional pressures on households and government resources in LDCs and LLDCs.

To achieve sustainable results, development must be “a holistic process”, Saad Al Farargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development told the meeting. One that requires the input and involvement of diverse groups, including States, international organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector.

“Development programmes and policies can only succeed if they are addressing the right priorities”, he maintained. “To do that, participatory consultative processes, open for all segments of the society, have to be envisaged, budgeted for an implemented at every step of the way”.

Threat from petty criminals who turn to terrorism, a growing concern, Security Council hears

9 July 2019

The less predictable threats represented by small-time criminals who have opportunistically embraced terrorism, are a source of growing concern, the UN Security Council heard on Tuesday. That warning came from Tamara Makarenko, an International Consultant, who works with the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), speaking at an open debate on threats to international peace and security.

The long-time expert on the nexus between organized crime and terrorism, noted that at its most fundamental level, the link is based primarily on transactions and tactics, at the point where terrorists and criminals occupy “the same space at the same time”.

 

UNODC
Many countries continue to face terrorism threats.

Noting various ways in which terrorist groups use illicit crimes to fund their operations, she said that the ISIL or Dae’sh terrorist group, saw from early on that it could draw funds from smuggling and the sale of illegal goods.

She added that smaller terrorist cells were focused on recruiting criminals in prisons, which have become true “incubators of the link”, and a place for the exchange of knowledge, she continued.

She said that due to the scale and unpredictability of the petty criminal-turned terrorist, even local level criminality poses a serious and global threat.  The international community must act, she said, cautioning that this heightened connection may hinder the ability to fight terrorism and increase vulnerability to criminal groups.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, addresses a Security council open debate on linkage between international terrorism and organized crime. (9 July 2019)

Invest more in fighting crime and terrorism together: Fedetov

Yuri Fedetov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that criminals and terrorists shared a need to operate in the shadows, exploiting gaps in criminal justice responses in and between countries and regions. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation, child soldiers and forced labour can be used not only to generate revenue but to strike fear and recruit new fighters, he told Council members.

Dae’sh for example, had profited immensely from the illegal trade in oil, trafficking in cultural property they ransacked from places such as Palmyra in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq, and kidnapping for ransom.  “We have also seen piracy and organized crime flourish on the high seas, including outside the justification of any single State and beyond the capacities of many countries to control,” he emphasized. He noted that the Al-Shabaab extremists in Somalia, supported piracy and finance some of their operations from trade in Somali charcoal through the Gulf of Oman, while the veteran Al-Qaida group, resupplies its forces around the Arabian Peninsula by sea.

He called for more resources to be channelled towards technical assistance to strengthen specialized expertise and capacities.  This includes training for law enforcement, coast guards, border and airport officials, prosecutors, judges, prison officers and other relevant officials.  “We need to reinforce investment in mechanisms for inter-agency, regional and international cooperation, including information and intelligence sharing,” he said.

Disconnect over taking on terror and organized crime, together: Coninsx

Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, outlined the Council’s various activities to combat the financing of terrorism, noting that the territorial losses sustained by Da’esh, which just a few years ago controlled large swathes of Syria and Iraq, had made it imperative for them to access funds through a wide range of criminal activities including drug trafficking, weapons sales, kidnapping and extortion.

Within the framework of country assessment visits, she said, the Executive Directorate engages with national authorities on how they view the links between terrorism and organized crime, as well as on cases in where clear links have been identified.

She said several best practices had been identified, such as creating joint investigative units and prosecution teams to handle both organized crime and terrorism.

She noted, however, that a significant disconnect continues to exist between the level of concern expressed by policymakers, the creation of legal frameworks addressing both terrorism and transnational organized crime, and the actual level of investigation and prosecution of cases as part of the same scourge.

The role of financial intelligence units should be strengthened, she said, noting that relevant agencies tasked with confronting the crime-terror nexus, too often operate in silos.  “Institutional barriers to information-sharing, including between and among local and national authorities, should be overcome,” she told the Council.

Groundbreaking cancer-fighting drugs now included in updated UN list of essential medicines

9 July 2019

The UN health agency, WHO, announced on Tuesday that dozens of new drugs have been added to the list of essential medicines that every country should have, including new cancer treatments that can be swallowed rather than injected.

More than 150 countries use the UN’s Essential Medicines List, which contains around 460 drugs deemed critical to treat public health needs. This latest update adds 28 products for adults and 23 for children, and specifies new uses for 26 already-listed products, based on value for money, evidence and health impact.

 

WHO/T. Habjouqa
Raghad who lives in a refugee camp in Jordan, suffers from type 1 diabetes and requires daily administration of insulin, but finds it hard to keep the insulin cool in the summer with limited electricity in the camp. She exercises to stay healthy.
From cancer and arthritis to life-threatening bleeding: vital treatments for all

According to WHO, the five cancer therapies added to the list are regarded as “the best in terms of survival rates” to treat melanoma, lung, blood and prostate cancers.

They include two recently developed immunotherapies – nivolumab and pembrolizumab – that have delivered up to 50 per cent survival rates for advanced melanoma, a skin cancer that, until recently, was incurable.

“The inclusion in this list of some of the newest and most advanced cancer drugs is a strong statement that everyone deserves access to these life-saving medicines, not just those who can afford them,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.

Other updates to the list include new oral anticoagulants to prevent stroke, as an alternative to warfarin treatment of deep vein thrombosis. These are “particularly advantageous” for low-income countries, according to WHO, because, unlike warfarin, they do not require regular monitoring.

In addition, the agency’s committee also advised that countries supply new products to treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Life-threatening bleeding after childbirth was also addressed in this year’s Essential Medicines List update, with the proposal to use carbetocin rather than the currently used therapy, oxytocin.

“This new formulation has similar effects to oxytocin…but offers advantages for tropical countries as it does not require refrigeration,” WHO said in a statement.

Updates on critical diagnoses too

In a related development, the UN health agency also updated its Essential Diagnostics List, in recognition of the critical, life-saving importance of finding out what is wrong with patients before it is too late.

The first list, issued last year, concentrated on a limited number of priority diseases, such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. This year’s list includes more non-communicable and communicable diseases. In all, WHO added 12 tests to the Essential Diagnostics List to detect a wide range of solid tumours such as colorectal, liver, cervical, prostate, breast and germ cell cancers, as well as leukemia and lymphomas.

The list focuses on additional infectious diseases prevalent in low- and middle-income countries such as cholera, and neglected diseases like leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, dengue, and zika.

The list was also expanded to include additional general tests which address a range of different diseases and conditions, such as iron tests – for anemia – and tests to diagnose thyroid malfunction and sickle cell anaemia, which is very widely present in Sub-Saharan Africa.