Urgent need for ‘restraint and genuine dialogue’ in Middle East to avoid major confrontation

20 August 2019

Briefing the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, the Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, Maria Luiza Viotti, said on Tuesday that “restraint and genuine dialogue are urgently needed”, in order to avoid a major confrontation, which would have disastrous consequences, even well beyond the region.

Briefing the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, the Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, Maria Luiza Viotti, said on Tuesday that “restraint and genuine dialogue are urgently needed”, in order to avoid a major confrontation, which would have disastrous consequences, even well beyond the region.

Describing the situation in the Middle East as “troubling and complex”, and characterized by protracted conflicts and geopolitical tensions, Ms. Viotti referred specifically to the series of recent incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, which include the diversion of a British-flagged oil tanker by Iran, the destruction of both US and Iranian drones, and the UK decision to provide a naval escort for tankers.

Tensions in the Strait have been raised to dangerous levels, she said, adding that the rights and duties related to navigation must be respected in accordance with international law.

Ms. Viotti also reiterated the United Nations’ support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), frequently referred to as the Iran nuclear deal which, she said, remains “the only agreed international framework to address Iran’s nuclear programme.”

A just Israel-Palestine ‘essential for the future of the whole region’

Turning to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the longest standing issue on the UN peace and security agenda, Ms. Viotti said that a just solution, acceptable to both sides, is essential for the future of the whole Middle East region.

The Under Secretary-General underscored the readiness of the UN to support efforts towards a two-State solution, which would allow Palestinians and Israelis to live in two democratic states side by side, in peace, and within secure and internationally-recognized borders.

2030 Agenda ‘intrinsically linked’ to conflict resolution

Putting the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the UN’s blueprint to preserve the planet, and raise quality of life for all – into action as soon as possible, said Ms, Viotti, is intrinsically linked to conflict resolution and prevention.

Singling out gender equality, the UN official said that, whilst there have been some notable gains in the region in recent years, equal opportunities remain limited, with gender-based violence widespread.

Ms. Viotti concluded by laying out the many ways in which the UN is addressing the numerous challenges in the Middle East, such as preventive diplomacy and mediation, providing humanitarian assistance, and supporting sustainable development initiatives.

US, Iran, trade accusations

Addressing the meeting on behalf of the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that greater cooperation in the Middle East “is needed more than ever”. You can find a full account of his address, and other Member States’ contributions, here, from our UN Meetings Coverage team.

Iran nuclear deal: a summary

  • What is the Iran nuclear deal? The 2015 “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), sets out rules for monitoring Iran’s nuclear programme, and paves the way for the lifting of UN sanctions.
  • Which countries are involved? Iran, the five members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK, US), plus Germany, together with the European Union.
  • What is the UN’s involvement? A UN Security Council resolutionto ensure the enforcement of the JCPOA, and guarantee that the UN’s atomic energy agency, the IAEA, continues to have regular access to and more information on Iran’s nuclear programme, was adopted in 2015.
  • Why is the deal at risk? The current US Administration pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. In July 2019, Iran reportedly breached its uranium stockpile limit, and announced its intention to continue enriching uranium, posing a more serious proliferation risk.

‘Invisible’ crisis of water quality threatens human and environmental well-being: World Bank report

20 August 2019

Deteriorating water quality worldwide is slashing the economic potential of heavily polluted areas, according to a new World Bank report, released on Tuesday. It also warns that the “invisible crisis of water quality” is threatening human and environmental well-being.

John Hogg / World Bank
Water, along with pollutants and contaminating agents, flows into a canal in Maputo, Mozambique. (File) Photo: John Hogg / World Bank

Smoke on the water

In some regions, rivers and lakes are so polluted that they are literally catching fire. Prime examples include the Bellandur Lake in Bangalore, India, which has carried ash onto buildings up to six miles away.

Many other bodies of water, however, are polluting less dramatically, but just as dangerously, with a toxic cocktail of bacteria, sewage, chemicals and plastics, sucking oxygen out of water supplies, and in effect, poisoning them.

The World Bank’s study, Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis, sheds new light on the ways that this process is taking place, using the world’s largest global database on water quality, gathered from monitoring stations, remote sensor technology and machine learning tools.

The report argues that without urgent action, water quality will continue to deteriorate, impacting human health, massively reducing food production and, consequently, stalling economic progress.

Starved of oxygen

The report’s estimation of a one-third cut in the economic potential of affected regions, due to low water quality, is based on Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), which is a measure of how much oxygen is needed to remove waste organic matter through decomposition, by bacteria that live in environments containing oxygen.

Once the BOD reaches a certain threshold, economic growth in areas downstream of the polluted water drops by up to one-third, because of the negative impacts on health, agriculture and ecosystems.

The nitrogen problem

The use of nitrogen as a fertilizer in agriculture is singled out as particularly problematic when it comes to maintaining water quality. Nitrogen enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it transforms into substances known as nitrates.

Nitrates are harmful to young children, affecting their growth and brain development. The study states that for every additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare that enters the water supply as nitrates, the level of childhood stunting can increase by as much as 19 percent, compared to those who are not exposed.

This also has an impact on the future earning potential of affected children, reducing their earnings as adults, by as much as 2 percent.

Increased salinity in water, a consequence of more intense droughts, storm surges and rising water extraction, also comes under scrutiny, as a factor that is making land less agriculturally productive.

The report estimates that the world is losing enough food to feed 170 million people each year – the equivalent of the population of Bangladesh – due to increase salinity, or salt content.

In order to meet these challenges, the World Bank is calling for immediate attention to be paid to these dangers, which face both developed and developing countries, at a global, national, and local level.

The report recommends a set of actions that countries can take to improve water quality, including improving environmental policies and standards; accurate monitoring of pollution levels; effective enforcement systems; water treatment infrastructure supported with incentives for private investment; and reliable, accurate information disclosure to households to inspire greater civic engagement.

Afghanistan bloodshed mars 100 years of independence

19 August 2019

Afghanistan is at a “crucial moment” in its history as it marks 100 years of independence, the head of the UN Mission there said on Monday, following a series of terror attacks in recent days.

In a statement on Monday, Tadamichi Yamamoto, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that despite decades of conflict, Afghans remain committed to a nation that is stable, peaceful and prosperous, and that upholds the human rights of women and men alike.

Mr. Yamamoto also expressed hope that elections due to take place next month would give voice to the people, while also maintaining that there was “a real possibility for breakthroughs in peace” after so many years of war – a reference to on-going negotiations between Taliban leaders and the United States, that it is hoped will lead to a lasting ceasefire and talks involving the Afghan Government.

The UNAMA chief’s comments come amid numerous recent terror attacks on civilians, including a suicide bombing towards the end of a large wedding party on Saturday, that claimed the lives of 63 people and injured over 180.


UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
The scene at the Shahr-e-Dubai Wedding Hall in West Kabul on 18 August 2019, where approximately 1,000 people were gathered the night before for a wedding ceremony, when a suicide attacker detonated explosives, killing and injuring scores of civilians

In a statement released on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres“strongly condemned” the “horrific” attack, and expressed his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims, and the Government and people of Afghanistan.”

The attack took place in the Shahr-e-Dubai Wedding Hall in West Kabul where approximately 1,000 people were gathered for a Shia wedding ceremony, said UNAMA in a statement, adding that the mission’s human rights team would investigate the incident.

According to news reports, a local affiliate of the ISIL terrorist group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.

“An attack deliberately targeting civilians is an outrage, and deeply troubling, as it can only be described as a cowardly act of terror,” said Mr. Yamamoto. “I condemn these deliberate attacks on civilians that signal a deliberate intent to spread fear among the population, which has already suffered too much.”

The wedding hall where the attack took place is situated in an area of the city heavily populated by Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority. UNAMA has documented several previous attacks deliberately carried out against this community.

“The pace of such atrocious attacks indicates that current measures in place to protect must be strengthened, and that those who have organized and enabled such attacks must be brought to justice and held to account,” said the UNAMA chief. “The United Nations stands with all Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the war and bring about a lasting peace.”

Security Council condemns attacks

On Tuesday, the Security Council condemned in “the strongest terms”,  the “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” on the wedding that left more than 70 civilians dead and another 180 injured, for which the so-called “Islamic State Khorasan Province” claimed responsibility.

The Council also strongly condemned the attacks in Jalalabad, on the day of Afghanistan’s centennial independence celebrations.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Afghanistan and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured”, the statement said.

Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable UN Security Council

It also reaffirmed that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”.

The Security Council underlined the need to “hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice”, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to “cooperate actively with the Government of Afghanistan and all other relevant authorities”.

They reiterated that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable”, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.

In closing, the members “reaffirmed the need for all States to combat by all means”, in accordance with the UN Charter and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”.

This Week at the United Nations 17-23 August 2019

This Week at the United Nations

17-23 August 2019


Saturday, 17 August

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed attended the African Union’s first African Women Leaders Network Intergenerational Retreat on Leadership in Africa.


Monday, 18 August

World Humanitarian Day

Security Council: briefing and consultations on the Middle East.


Tuesday, 20 August 

Security Council: briefing on the Middle East and consultations on Yemen, followed by a debate on challenges to peace and security in the region.

  • Nb: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is among the participants at the briefing, hosted by the Polish Mission to the UN.

Luis Alfonso de Alba, the UN Special Envoy on the Climate Action Summit, will brief reporters about preparations for the 23 September event.


Wednesday, 21 August

International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism

Security Council: briefing and consultations on Somalia.


Thursday, 22 August

International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

Radhika Coomaraswamy, a member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar will brief reporters at UNHQ.


Friday, 23 August

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition


In case you missed it: 

  • Security Council focuses on Kashmir; China urges India, Pakistan to ease tensions
  • Secretary-General pledges support after military, civilian opposition reach deal in Sudan
  • UNICEF: Two years after exodus, desperate Rohingya youth need education, skills
  • UNAIDS taps new executive director: Winnie Byanyima of Uganda
  • Iraq’s Yazidi people: Five years on
  • Landmark agreement moves environmental protection closer to people
  • OCHA urges scaling-up humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans in urgent need
  • UN right experts urge Iran to release women jailed for protesting veil
  • 70th anniversary of Geneva Conventions’ success in limiting brutality in armed conflict

For more information: