COVID-19: Norway Proposes UN Fund For ‘Developing Countries’

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg gives a press conference in Oslo, Norway, on March 16, 2020, where children asks questions about the novel coronavirus. Lise Åserud / NTB Scanpix / AFP
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg gives a press conference in Oslo, Norway, on March 16, 2020, where children asks questions about the novel coronavirus. Lise Åserud / NTB Scanpix / AFP

 

Norway said Monday it wanted to start a United Nations donors’ fund to help poor countries fight the new coronavirus pandemic.

“We are concerned about the way the virus will affect developing countries which have fragile healthcare systems,” Norway’s Development Aid Minister Dag-Inge Ulstein said in a statement.

“International solidarity across borders is more important than ever. That’s why it is important for us to contribute financially to such a fund in the UN,” he added.

The fund is expected to be set up quickly, “possibly even this week,” Norway said, without specifying the amount of its own contribution.

The initiative has been welcomed favourably by UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed, Oslo said.

On Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned “millions” of lives were at stake if the international community did not show solidarity, especially with the world’s poorest countries, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to AFP’s own tally on Sunday, more than 324,000 cases have been detected in 171 countries and at least 14,396 deaths.’

 

AFP

Pandemic Could Make Another 25 Million Jobless – UN

 

The COVID-19 pandemic will significantly increase global unemployment, leaving up to 25 million more people out of work, and will dramatically slash workers’ incomes, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In a fresh study, the International Labour Organization warned that the economic and labour crisis sparked by the spread of the new coronavirus, which has now killed more than 8,000 people worldwide, will have “far-reaching impacts on labour market outcomes”.

“This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people,” ILO chief Guy Ryder said in a statement.

The UN agency’s study suggested the world should prepare to see a “significant rise in unemployment and underemployment in the wake of the virus.”

Presenting different scenarios depending on how quickly and with what level of coordination governments react, it found that even in the best-case scenario, 5.3 million more people will be pushed into unemployment by the crisis.

READ ALSO: UEFA Proposes Postponing Euro 2020 To 2021 Due To Coronavirus

At the high-end meanwhile, 24.7 million more people will become jobless, on top of the 188 million registered as unemployed in 2019, the study found.

“By comparison, the 2008-9 global financial crisis increased global unemployment by 22 million,” the ILO said.

It warned that “underemployment is also expected to increase on a large scale, as the economic consequences of the virus outbreak translate into reductions in working hours and wages.”

– $3.4 trillion in lost income? –

Self-employment in developing countries, which often serves to cushion the impact of economic shifts, might not do so this time due to the severe restrictions being placed on the movement of people and goods.

Reductions in access to work will also mean “large income losses for workers,” ILO said.

“The study estimates these as being between $860 billion and $3.4 trillion by the end of 2020,” it said, warning that “this will translate into falls in consumption of goods and services, in turn affecting the prospects for businesses and economies.”

The number of people who live in poverty despite holding one or more jobs will also increase significantly, the study said, estimating that between 8.8 and 35 million more people will be added to the ranks of the working poor.

“The strain on incomes resulting from the decline in economic activity will devastate workers close to or below the poverty line,” it said.

The ILO called for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and employment and support jobs and income, including through social protections, paid leave and other subsidies.

The agency pointed out that some groups will be disproportionately impacted by the jobs crisis, including youth, older workers, women and migrants, in a way that could increase already soaring inequality.

“In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted,” Ryder pointed out.

“We need that kind of leadership and resolve now.”

AFP

Corruption: Lawan Seeks UN’s Assistance On Repatriation Of Looted Funds

 

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has sought the assistance of the United Nations on the repatriation of looted funds back to Nigeria.

Lawan made the appeal on Wednesday when the United Nations Country delegation paid a visit to his office at the National Assembly, Abuja.

The Senate President, while responding to anti-graft concerns raised by the visiting delegation, said that the fight against corruption in Nigeria continues to suffer setbacks as a result of the inability of the federal government to repatriate looted funds stashed away in foreign countries across the world.

According to Lawan, such resources, if at the disposal of the government, would go a long way towards addressing critical developmental and infrastructural deficits faced by the nation.

READ ALSO: Falling Oil Price: A Challenge For Nigeria To Look Inwards

“The head of the delegation has raised a lot of issues, and these are important and very relevant issues to us.

“When we fight corruption, we do so within and outside. So much of Nigeria’s resources have been taken out of the country.

“But even when we identify embezzled funds, to get them back to Nigeria is a big deal. And in fact, we are suffering from that for years.

“We have had few occasions when we received some repatriation, but the bulk is still out there.

“We need UN to help us, because the kind of resources that are alleged to have been taken out of Nigeria will make the country a rich country if they are repatriated,” Lawan said.

“We have never been a rich country, comparing the resources we have had, and the development challenges facing us till date.

“We are blessed and endowed, but we need every single kobo to be put into the development of this country,” the Senate President added.

The Senate President lamented further that due to unavailability of funds, the Federal Government resorted to obtaining domestic and foreign loans to fund capital projects in the 2020 budget.

Reacting to concerns raised over Nigeria’s rising population, Lawan said, “I believe that if we are able to use our population to build the capacity of our population, Nigeria’s population will be a blessing, not a curse or burden.

“It is our inability to provide for capacity building of the population, and addressing health issues and so on that makes Nigeria look like it is in bad shape.

On Nigeria’s readiness to meet the 2030 deadline for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Senate President said, “from the failures in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the past, the SDGs will definitely have a better treatment in the country, because our failures in the past has shown us our areas of weaknesses.

“Already, we are trying to work hard between the parliament and the executive arm of government to close ranks, to focus and remain on those issues out of the seventeen, that will have spin-over effects on others.”

Lawan, expressed appreciation to the United Nations for its “supportive” role to Nigeria in response to the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease in the country.

“We appreciate the role you play in our country. The UN has been so supportive in many ways, and of course, the recent support you have given is in the area of our response to COVID – 19.

“We started slowly in our response, but I think as a country we are now responding very well, and thank God we are also lucky we have very few incidents.

“There are countries that are more developed than Nigeria that are in a very dire situation as far as the COVID-19 menace is concerned,” he said.

Earlier, leader of the United Nations delegation, Edward Kallon said the UN invests about $750m on development assistance per annum in Nigeria.

He added that, “the UN is also very active on the humanitarian front in the country and our support to northeast Nigeria, the epicenter of the crisis in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

“We have been investing from $945m in 2017 to $878m in 2018, and $714m in 2019, and on an annual basis, the UN and its partners are assisting around 5.5m people in northeast Nigeria.

“The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance this year has varied from 6.2 million to 7.9 million as we speak.”

Kallon, while highlighting the major developmental challenges facing Nigeria said, “The UN is concerned about some megatrends that we feel is affecting Nigeria’s development.

“One is our concern about the explosive population growth visa vis the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Growth rate.

“As you are aware, Your Excellency, the population is growing at the rate of about 2.6 percent, and the economy is growing sluggishly at about 2 or 2.1 percent.

“The second megatrend is multi-dimensional poverty and increasing inequality, which is a major concern for us.

“If you look at the population growth and the GDP growth rate, what it is telling us is that more Nigerians are being born into poverty, and the figures are alarming and is a serious concern.

“The third megatrend is corruption and illicit financial flows, which your government is working very hard to combat.”

UN Shuts Headquarters To Tourists Over Coronavirus

(FILES) In this file photo The United Nations flag is seen is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall September 23, 2019 in New York City.  AFP

 

The United Nations on Tuesday closed its New York headquarters to the general public to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

The move comes one week after a similar measure was taken at the main UN building in Geneva.

“As of now, we have not been advised of any COVID-19 cases amongst UN staff in New York,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Forces Top US Universities To Move Classes Online

 

(File) Members of the Security Council vote during a United Nations Security Council meeting on a ceasefire in Syria February 24, 2018 in New York.
Don EMMERT / AFP

Some 3,000 people work in the iconic building overlooking the East River in Midtown Manhattan, the scene of annual gatherings of world leaders.

Normally, some 5,000 tourists visit the building each week in guided tours.

About 500,000 people visit the UN headquarters each year, not all tourists, officials said.

“The United Nations will continue to monitor the situation closely and further measures may be taken as circumstances evolve,” Dujarric said.

AFP

UN Seeks Budget Increase To Fight Climate Change

A photo of the United Nations emblem
A photo of the United Nations emblem

 

A major spending boost is needed to bolster agriculture in the fight against hunger, poverty, and other consequences of climate change, the head of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development told AFP.

“We are seeking a 1.7 billion dollar contribution,” from member states to cover 2022 to 2024, IFAD president Gilbert Houngbo told AFP on Monday.

“The needs have considerably increased,” with the rise in hunger around the world, he added, explaining what would amount to a 54 percent jump in the budget for the UN agency tackling poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries.

“This leads us to launch an appeal which is all the more exceptional because of the growing challenges linked to the climate,” the former Togolese prime minister said in a telephone interview.

The appeal would be made at the fund’s board meeting in Rome this week.

The fund solicited $1.2 billion in voluntary contributions from member states in 2017 and received $1.1 billion.

G7 and Nordic countries have been the main donors, stumping up three-quarters of the budget, followed by China, the Netherlands, India, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Ireland and Austria.

IFAD hopes to double its impact by 2030 and help more than 250 million people living in rural areas to increase their income by at least 20 percent.

The number of people suffering from malnutrition has been on the increase since 2015 and reached 820 million in 2018.

Hunger and small-scale agriculture are intricately linked as 80 percent of the poor live in rural areas and small farmers account for half of the food by calories produced in the world. With climate change making it more difficult to farm in some areas, there is added pressure for migration.

“Our objective is to show that all these subjects are linked, that we shouldn’t treat them in silos,” said Houngbo.

“It is impossible to eradicate poverty,” one of the UN’s goals, “if we don’t start with small producers,” he added.

The World Bank estimates that climate change could push more than 100 million people into poverty, with half of that due to its impact on agriculture such as inadequate rain and lower yields.

Houngbo called for shifting some of the climate change funding which overwhelmingly goes towards helping reduce pollution to ameliorating its impact.

In particular he advocated investing in equipment and stockage infrastructure in Africa where as much as 40 percent of production is lost due to a lack of machinery and adequate storage. This would in turn reduce pressure on land and water resources, and need for fertiliser.

 

AFP

Record 45 Million People Need Urgent Food Aid In Southern Africa – UN

A photo of the United Nations emblem
A photo of the United Nations emblem

 

An unprecedented 45 million people in southern Africa are in urgent need of food aid due to drought, flooding and economic hardship, the UN said Thursday.

“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” World Food Programme (WFP) regional director Lola Castro said in a statement.

The agency warned that it had only secured $205 million (184 million euros) of the $489 million it requires.

“If we don’t receive the necessary funding, we’ll have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need, and with less,” Castro said.

Low growth, rising population, drought and floods have combined to worsen food insecurity in the region, with Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe the worst-hit.

Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people live in a state of chronic food insecurity — some 2.2 million in urban areas and five million in the countryside, according to UN figures.

Twenty percent of the population in drought-stricken Lesotho and about 10 percent of Namibians are food insecure.

In October, Zambia’s Red Cross flagged that the drought had left an estimated 2.3 million people facing “severe food insecurity”. The country was a longtime regional breadbasket.

The WFP warned that families across the region were already eating less, skipping meals, taking children out of school, selling off precious assets and falling into debt to stave off agricultural losses.

Women and children are the worst affected.

Meanwhile, experts have forecast more months of hot and dry weather in the coming months, auguring another poor harvest.

The situation could escalate further as the dry season may last longer than usual, affecting the annual cereal harvest in April.

The WFP plans to provide lean season assistance to 8.3 million people in areas that are grappling with crisis levels of hunger.

 

AFP

UN Raises 2020 Budget, To Investigate War Crimes In Syria, Myanmar

A photo of the United Nations emblem
A photo of the United Nations emblem

 

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget which for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

The budget represents a slight increase from 2019’s figure of $2.9 billion.

The increase is due to additional missions assigned to the UN Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.

These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations — which were previously financed by voluntary contributions — will in 2020 be transferred to the UN secretariat’s budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.

Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.

At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.

Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the UN’s treasury due to countries not paying enough.

Moscow argued Friday the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council.

The UN’s operating budget is separate from the annual budget for peacekeeping operations of some $6 billion that is adopted in June.

Ethiopian Migrants Killed In Attack On Yemen Market – UN

A photo of the United Nations emblem.

 

Seventeen civilians were killed in an attack in a market in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the United Nations said, the third deadly assault on the same location in just over a month.

The attacks come despite relative calm in Yemen, where large-scale combat between government troops — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels has subsided.

The UN said 12 Ethiopian migrants were among the 17 civilians killed in the incident on Tuesday at the Al-Raqw market in Saada governorate, a Huthi rebel stronghold.

At least 12 people were wounded, it said, without saying who was responsible or what weapons were used.

An attack on Al-Raqw market on November 22 killed 10 civilians, again including Ethiopian nationals, and just days later, at least another 10 civilians were killed and 22 wounded in a second such incident.

“The attacks on Al-Raqw market raise deeply troubling questions about the commitment of the parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said Wednesday.

“Every attack of this kind is a gross violation,” she said in a statement.

The UN says 89 civilians have either been killed or wounded in the attacks on the market.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen conflict to back the government against the Huthi insurgents.

The UN considers the war in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

AFP

UN Talks Out Of Sync With Global Climate Demands

 

UN climate negotiations in Madrid remained bogged down Monday in the fine print of the Paris treaty rulebook, out-of-sync with a world demanding action to forestall the ravages of global warming.

The 196-nation talks should kick into high-gear Tuesday with the arrival of ministers, but on the most crucial issue of all — slashing the greenhouse gas emissions overheating the planet — major emitters have made it clear they have nothing to say.

Only the European Union is dangling the prospect of enhanced carbon-cutting ambitions, to be laid out this week in its European Green New Deal.

The arrival Tuesday of Michael Bloomberg, who has thrown his hat — and a ton of money — into the US presidential contest, will underscore how much easier the task might be with a Democrat rather than a climate denier in the White House.

“I’m going to #COP25 in Madrid because President Trump won’t,” Bloomberg tweeted.

Observers say the case for a global Marshall Plan on global warming has become overwhelming.

A quartet of recent UN science reports catalogued a crescendo of deadly heatwave, flooding and superstorms made more destructive by rising seas, and projected far worse impacts just over the horizon.

Every year that CO2 and methane emissions continue to rise — as they have for decades — compresses the task of drawing them down fast enough to avoid catastrophic warming into an impossibly narrow time frame.

A youth-led movement, meanwhile, led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg — a magnet for climate hope and fear — has seen millions of protesters spill into the streets, with tens of thousands in Madrid on Friday.

Even forward-looking businesses and corporations are pushing for a rapid and well-ordered transition to a low-carbon world.

Fossil Fuel Taboo

On Monday 631 institutional investors managing $37 trillion — a third of the world’s monetary assets — called for a price on carbon and end to fossil fuel subsidies.

But governments are waiting until next year’s deadline to unveil revised emissions reduction commitments.

“Negotiations, by their nature, are ‘I’ll give you this, if you give me that’,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based climate policy think tank.

“So we are standing and watching our house on fire. I’ve got a hose, you’ve got a hose, but I’m not going to turn mine on until you do.”

At the same time, the rising tide of urgency has clearly permeated the “climate bubble” of diplomats, policy wonks, NGOs and business leaders that gather in a new city each year.

“Delegates are finally saying the ‘F’ words — Fossil Fuels,” said Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada, an umbrella organisation of activists.

For 25 years, she noted, it has been more-or-less taboo to point an accusing finger within the UN negotiations directly at the cause of global warming — the burning of fossil fuels.

It is no coincidence that the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement — which calls for capping the rise in temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius — does not mention “fossil fuel”, “oil”, “coal” or “natural gas”.

Climate-Addled World

Last month, however, a United Nations report showed for the first time that fossil fuel production planned or in the pipeline will overwhelm efforts to hold warming to levels consistent with a liveable planet.

Negotiators are addressing a trio of politically-charged technical issues before the Paris Agreement becomes operational at the end of next year.

One is reworking rules for largely dysfunctional carbon markets.

Another is so-called “loss and damage”.

Under the bedrock UN climate treaty, rich nations agreed to shoulder more responsibility for curbing global warming, and to help developing countries prepare for unavoidable future impacts — the twin pillars of “mitigation” and “adaptation”.

But there was no provision for helping countries already reeling in a climate-addled world, such as Mozambique — recently hit by devastating cyclones — and small island states disappearing under the waves.

“There must be a path forward that ensures vulnerable countries will see finance and capacity-building support substantially scaled-up to address the loss and damage they are already experiencing,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Even fixing a timetable for periodic reviews of carbon-cutting pledges has proven too contentious for frontline climate negotiators to resolve.

At Least 7,000 Reportedly Arrested In Iran Protests – UN

FILE PHOTO: Iranians embark on a protest against government’s policies. Credit: AFP

 

The United Nations said Friday that at least 7,000 people have “reportedly” been arrested in Iran since mass demonstrations erupted last month, and called for the immediate release of those arbitrarily detained.

In a statement, the UN human rights office also said it had obtained “verified video footage” showing security forces firing on protesters, apparently with intent to kill.

The rights office added that it had “information suggesting that at least 208 people were killed” during the unrest, supporting a toll previously given by Amnesty International.

“There are also reports, which the UN Human Rights Office has so far been unable to verify, suggesting more than twice that number killed,” the statement added.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said video obtained by her office shows “severe violence was used against protesters.”

“We have also received footage which appears to show security forces shooting unarmed demonstrators from behind while they were running away, and shooting others directly in the face and vital organs – in other words shooting to kill,” Bachelet said.

Additional video material shows “armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building” in the city of Javanrud, west of Tehran in Kermanshah Province, as well as gunfire from helicopters in Sadra, in Fars Province.

The protests began on November 15 following a surprise hike in fuel prices.

Iran has yet to give overall figures for the number of people killed or arrested when security forces moved in to quell the unrest that saw buildings torched and shops looted.

Bachelet charged that “many of the arrested protesters have not had access to a lawyer,” while raising alarm over “reports of severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in detention centres, which in some cities include military barracks, sports venues and schools.”

“I urge the authorities to immediately release from detention all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” she further said.

Iran has blamed the violence that broke out during the protests on “thugs” backed by its foes the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Tehran has also dismissed the high death tolls reported by foreign sources as “utter lies”.

AFP

UN Launches $29bn Emergency Funding Appeal

 

The UN launched a humanitarian appeal for nearly $29 billion on Wednesday as climate change and increasingly protracted conflicts put tens of millions of people in urgent need of aid.

The world body’s Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 168 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance in 2020, including food, shelter and healthcare.

That figure marks a “record in the modern era,” UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock told reporters, clarifying that he was referring to the period since World War II.

Needs continue to rise in part because “conflicts are becoming more protracted and intense,” Lowcock said.

“Combatants display total disregard for humanitarian law,” with the result that civilians caught up in conflict are increasingly likely to be displaced or traumatised psychologically, he said, adding that the number of attacks on schools and health facilities continues to rise.

In addition, climate change has unleashed more extreme weather events, notably drought and flooding, which trigger humanitarian emergencies, he said.

“The brutal truth is that 2020 will be difficult for millions of people,” Lowcock said.

Of the 168 million people who are expected to require assistance next year, the $28.8 billion (26 billion euro) UN appeal is targeting the 109 million who are most in need and whom UN agencies are in a position to help.

The UN is seeking more than $3 billion to address humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria, the countries most in need.

Venezuela is the country where needs have increased the most in the past year.

The UN sought nearly $740 million for the regional response to the Venezuela crisis for 2019, but as the country’s devastating economic and political crisis has intensified, that figure has risen to $1.35 billion.

AFP

UN: Nigeria Has 218,000 Refugees In Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic

 

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has said that there are about 218,000 Nigeria refugees in Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.

Addressing a news conference in Abuja on Wednesday, the UNHCR country representative, Mr Anthonio Canhandula, urged the Federal Government to create conditions that would facilitate the return of the refugees to the country.

Mr Canhandula added that Nigeria is currently housing 46,000 refugees from Cameroon, which is spread across Benue, Cross River and Taraba States.

He also noted that only 1.2 million of the 1.8 million accessible Internally Displaced Persons are receiving assistance – a situation which he believes requires urgent attention.