‘Grave consequences’ await if new deadly escalation of violence in Gaza continues – top UN official

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, is “deeply concerned by yet another dangerous escalation in Gaza and the tragic loss of life”. According to news reports, approximately 200 rockets were fired on Saturday from the Occupied Palestinian Territory towards Israel, and various Israeli airstrikes were carried out in retaliation.

Mohamed Mahmoud AwadRimal neighborhood in the centre of Gaza City with smoke rising after 4 May 2019 Israeli airstrikes.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Photo: UN Photo/Kim Haughton.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of all those who were killed, and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” said the Coordinator. 

In a statement released a few hours after the escalation of violence began, he said that the UN is “working with Egypt and all sides to calm the situation” and “called on all parties to “immediately de-escalate and return to the understandings of the past few months.”

“Those who seek to destroy them will bear responsibility for a conflict that will have grave consequences for all,” he stressed, referring to a fragile Egypt-brokered and UN-backed cease fire recently agreed upon. 

Mr. Mladenov added that “continuing down the current path of escalation will quickly undo what has been achieved and destroy the chances for long term solutions to the crisis. This endless cycle of violence must end, and efforts must accelerate to realize a political solution to the crisis in Gaza.”

He further stressed that “the current violence jeopardizes the significant progress made in recent weeks to relieve the suffering of people in Gaza, lift the closures, and support intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”

Against a backdrop of longstanding shortages of basic goods and services in Gaza linked to a more than decade-long air, sea and land blockade by Israel, Palestinian protests began over a year ago in the Strip. In an ongoing cycle of violence, in over a year, close to 200 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 40 children and over 1300 have been injured.

Cyclone Fani hits India, UN moves to protect vulnerable refugees in Bangladesh

One of the strongest storms to batter India in decades made landfall near the northeastern coastal city of Puri on Friday morning. UN agencies are monitoring Cyclone Fani’s movements closely and taking measures to protect families living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, which is on alert.

OCHA/Vincent TremeauAt the Hakimpara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a young boy collects the firewood that has been drying on the roof of his shelter.

The cyclone lashed the coast with maximum wind speeds of up to 175 kilometres per hour (125mph), heavy rainfall and coastal flooding, with 28 million people living along the route of the massive storm.

Highlighting the zero-casualty cyclone preparedness policy of the Indian Government, Denis McClean, a spokesperson for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said that “the almost pinpoint accuracy of the early warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department had enabled the authorities to conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan, which had involved moving more than one million people into storm shelters”.

Local authorities are accommodating evacuees in over 4,000 shelters, including 880 specially designed to withstand cyclones.

“Schools were shut, airports closed, and transport suspended, and although damage to infrastructure was expected to be severe, there were no reports of any deaths”, Mr. McClean added.

According to the World Metereological Organization (WMO), the forecast on Friday was that Cyclone Fani “would move north-northeast towards Bangladesh where there were concerns about the effects of potential coastal flooding”.  

“The impact (is) expected to be less severe in areas such as, for example, Cox’s Bazar, WFP’s spokesperson Claire Nullis added, which is home to the world’s largest refugee camp, populated mainly by Rohingya who have fled northern Myanmar.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration, IOM, were also taking measures to ensure the protection of families during the expected heavy rains and strong winds.

In an interview with UN News, IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh, Manuel Pereira, said that ‘tie-down kits’ were being distributed to secure houses and shelters for the past two weeks, and underlined that they were working to “avoid any loss of lives”.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that its staff had been completing engineering and disaster risk reduction work around Cox’s Bazar, to make the camps safer and more accessible, during the monsoon and cyclone seasons.

Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel added that extra stocks of food and prepositioned supplies were in place, in case of any impact and teams were monitoring the potential impact on the refugee camps.

Bangladesh is home for 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, most of whom fled Myanmar in 2017.

Inclusion, equality a must for ‘long-lasting peace and sustainable development’, UN official tells high-level event in Baku

Exclusion and deep inequality will forever thwart “long-lasting peace and sustainable development”, a high-level official from the United Nations cultural agency said on Thursday at the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.

Photo: Ministry of Tourism and Culture Azerbaijan Night time view of Baku, Azerbaijan.

If societies are not inclusive, they will be weaker, less resilient and more vulnerable to violence”, Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), told the High-level Panel at the UN-backed conference in Baku, Azerbaijan.

She underscored the need to not only fight against social, economic and political inequalities, but also to change mindsets, which aligns perfectly with UNESCO’s mandate “to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men and women”.

While the agency’s mission “has not aged a day”, she acknowledged that “we have to follow a fast-changing world”.

According to Ms. Al-Nashif, this puts in question the relevance of old institutions to tackle current challenges, such as violent extremism, the migrant and refugee crisis, and the rise of hate speech in social media.

Citing events “from Sri Lanka to Libya, and in many spots in-between”, she said that the UN will be strengthening the role of diplomacy and dialogue.

“This calls for revitalized partnerships – from Member States to the private sector, from universities to civil society – so that we can work together to build innovative projects for inclusion, to scale our impact on the ground”, she asserted.

A new focus must be concentrated on building resilience, preventing conflict, learning lessons and empowering individuals with new skills that pay “particular attention and support” to young people.

“In a world where ignorance of ‘the other’ is on the rise, we must more than ever find new ways to empower young women and men as change-makers in their communities, providing them with the necessary skills and intercultural competences to become engaged global citizens, who promote peace in their everyday life”, she underscored.

According to Ms. Al-Nashif, a UNESCO priority is to promote girls’ education, because “access to and the quality of educational opportunities for girls remain major issues”, constraining their transformative power to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

UNESCOUNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, Nada Al-Nashif, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris (December 2018).

“The Baku Forum is an outstanding opportunity to reaffirm the principles and practices of inclusive dialogue for more effective and more impactful multilateralism”, she concluded.

A passion for tourism

“Tourism is my passion”, said Manuel Butler Halter, Executive Director of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it is “a matter of the heart”.

“I believe that tourism is a facilitator of intercultural understanding and peace” because it makes people more open-minded, he said, adding that meeting people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures “helps us to see ourselves from a different perspective”.

It also fosters trust because “we realize that despite the cultural difference, all humans really are the same”, he continued.

Tourism is a facilitator of intercultural understanding and peace. Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures helps us to see ourselves from a different perspective – UNWTO Executive Director Manuel Butler Halter

Finally, the UNWTO official credited tourism for making us “more creative because learning about other cultures forces us to think differently and consider new ideas”.

And so, Mr. Halter deduced that “the more people travel, the more inclusive our societies become”.

He did, however, acknowledge that uncoordinated tourism can harm the environment, which is why UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism, in line with the SDGs.

Because “tourism by its nature”, has links with many fields, from trade and social development to environmental protection, security and health, Mr. Halter expressed certainty that it could “directly or indirectly contribute to all of the 17 SDGs”.

Highlighting SDG 8, on decent work and economic growth, he said that globally, one-in-10 jobs is connected to the tourism industry. With tourism also accounting for more than 40 per cent of half of the poorest countries’ GDPs, he stressed “I think it is key to include locals in the value chain”.

Economy, youth and exclusion

Evinj Hasanova, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Economy, spoke about how the young nation has reduced poverty from almost 42 per cent to five per cent.

“This is less than in some developed countries with more economic resources and GDP per capital”, she told the panel.

Inspired by the comprehensiveness of SDGs, she spoke at length on how her government has nationalized the goals, including by creating a high-level Council to coordinate their implementation.

“And we have started the process with the UN residential office,” she said. 

For his part, Aaron Greenberg, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe and Central Asia, Child Protection at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), underscored the importance of investing in early childhood development.

Noting that the investment does not have to be in monetary terms, Mr. Greenberg stressed that children must be raised in a way that prevents them from suffering psychological disorders later in life that would perpetuate a cycle of violence and poverty

“I do not believe there is any other way that is surefire than investing in younger children today for getting equitable outcomes in the future”, he stressed.

Meanwhile George Bouma, Head of Sustainable Development in the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Istanbul Regional Hub, spoke about underlying causes of inequalities that are creating “a crisis of opportunities”.

He painted a picture of exclusion and mounting inequality fueled by an increase in populism and flawed political systems globally, attributing rising disenfranchisement to political, economic and social factors.

“The private sector has a role to play in creating jobs and moving people from the social welfare system to more productive employment”, he said.

Grave concern over escalating humanitarian crisis, casualties, displacement across northwest Syria: UN

The UN has said it is “gravely concerned” over reports of a worsening humanitarian situation facing civilians across northwest Syria, with rising casualties, and “waves of displacement” due to intensifying conflict.

UNICEF/Grove HermansenA young child walks through the streets in Aleppo, Syria. (April 2019)

Briefing reporters at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, said that over the past 48 hours, “at least seven people have reportedly been killed in south rural Idlib, while two were reportedly killed in Hama governorate yesterday.”

Dozens of people were also reportedly injured in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo governorates due to fighting, which news agency reports said had intensified due to Government and Russian airstrikes and shelling on Wednesday night, quoting local sources.

Villages were reportedly hit which lie within a demilitarized buffer zone, agreed by Russia and Turkey on the border between northern Hama and southern Idlib last September, which has been credited with averting a major offensive against what is the last main rebel-held area of the country.

Mr. Dujarric said that more than 300 civilians had “apparently lost their lives due to hostilities in the northwest in the last three months, 60 of them in April alone.”

The new wave of fighting has triggered large-scale displacement from the Idleb border area, and there are also reports of villages being deserted, after resident fled for their own safety, the UN Spokesperson added.

Around 323,000 people are estimated to have been displaced in the northwest since September of last year. “The United Nations reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and calls on all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint,” said Mr. Dujarric.

On Friday, talks are due to held in Geneva among members of the so-called Small Group on Syria working towards a longterm peace deal, involving the UN Special Envoy to the country, Geir Pedersen, who briefed the Security Council earlier this week, warning about the escalation of fighting in the northwest.

“External intervention poses real threats to international peace and security”, he told the Council. “Five international armies operate across Syria’s land and airspace, in tension or even in conflict, generating risks for dangerous escalation. These risks must be contained and ultimately removed.”