UN Suspends Air Operations In North East Over Helicopter Attack

A file photo of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon.

 

 

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon has suspended the operations of the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS).

This followed an attack that caused damage to an aid helicopter on Thursday in Damasak, a town in Borno State.

The attack was said to have been repelled by military forces who inflicted heavy injury on the insurgents who retreated and started shooting sporadically, resulting in the death of three civilians, including a minor.

In a statement on Saturday, Kallon revealed that a UN Humanitarian Air Service helicopter caught up in the crossfire was hit by bullets, causing serious damage.

He said, “I am gravely concerned about reports of another violent attack by non-state armed groups in Damasak, Borno State, on 2 July, in which at least two innocent civilians lost their lives, including a five-year-old child.

“Several others were injured, and a humanitarian helicopter was hit, sustaining serious damage.”

Although the UN representative noted that there was no aid worker aboard the helicopter, he called on the Nigerian Government to investigate the attack and swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to him, the attack and damage to the helicopter severely affect the ability of aid actors to provide urgently needed assistance to vulnerable people in remote areas across Borno State.

“The UN Humanitarian Air Service is essential to evacuate wounded civilians and remains the backbone to facilitating humanitarian access, thereby enabling UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to safely and securely reach the most vulnerable populations.

“In 2019, UNHAS transported 66,271 passengers and 147 megatons of humanitarian assistance, as well as conducted 30 medical and 70 security evacuations,” Kallon added.

He condemned the attacks against civilians, humanitarian assets, and aid workers, thereby calling on all armed parties to respect the international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The UN official also urged the parties to allow and facilitate safe and unimpeded access for humanitarians to deliver life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people in the North East.

According to him, 7.8 million people in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States, mostly living in remote areas need humanitarian aid.

Kallon explained that in recognition of Thursday’s incident and consultation with some humanitarian organisations, it became necessary to pause UNHAS rotary operations in the region.

He stated that this was to allow the UN to engage government partners and conduct new risk assessments for each helicopter location to ensure that they have taken all the possible mitigation measures.

“The pause will be for an initial period of one week, at which time we will review the situation.

“During this period, life-saving medical and security evacuations will be considered on a case-by-case basis with the authorisation of the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator/Designated Official in consultation with the WFP Country Director,” he said in a leaked memo.

UN Warns Of ‘Intensified Fighting’ In Myanmar’s Rakhine State

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 04, 2018 The “Palais des Nations”, which houses the United Nations Offices, is seen at the end of the flag-lined front lawn in Geneva. – The United Nations said on June 18, 2020, it was resuming resettlement travel for refugees, which was suspended in March due to the coronavirus crisis, delaying departures for some 10,000 refugees. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

The United Nations called for “urgent measures to spare civilians” in Myanmar’s conflict-wracked northwest on Sunday, saying fighting has intensified between the army and insurgents.

The military has been battling the Arakan Army (AA) — a rebel group seeking more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists — in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states since January last year.

Scores of civilians have been killed in the area and tens of thousands displaced. The two sides have traded allegations of abuse.

Under lockdown and with an internet blackout across much of the conflict zone, reporting from the area is difficult to verify.

The UN expressed concern Sunday over “reports of intensified fighting” in northwest Rakhine state’s Rathedaung township.

The area is home to more than 10,000 civilians, and local sources report they are either fleeing or are trapped by the ongoing conflict, the UN said.

READ ALSO: Civilians Among Over 100 Victims Of Libya Mines – UN

Urging both parties to “take urgent measures to spare civilians”, the UN also called for them to respect international humanitarian law as well as reiterating the need for a ceasefire with the ongoing global pandemic.

The statement comes after local authorities issued a call last week to residents of more than 40 villages to evacuate ahead of “clearance operations”.

The term was used in 2017 before the army waged a brutal crackdown in Rakhine state against the Rohingya Muslim population.

More than 750,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, carrying accounts of violence that has led to charges of genocide against Myanmar at the UN’s top court.

But Border Affairs Minister Colonel Min Than told AFP Sunday the order was “revoked” because the army was only targeting five villages, including Kyauk Tan, to flush out AA insurgents.

“It’s not a ‘clearance operation’, but a ‘military operation,'” Min Than said.

The wording changes little for local residents however.

Khaing Kyaw of Kyauk Tan village said his family had to flee their homes.

“Artillery shells are fired from the town and the creeks to our village,” he told AFP.

“We are all running and having difficulties with food.”

AFP

Record 79.5 million People Displaced, Over 1% Of Humanity -UN

Migrants gather at the port of Mytilene in the island of Lesbos after receiving a paper for free movement in the mainland of Greece, on June 10, 2020.
Migrants gather at the port of Mytilene in the island of Lesbos after receiving a paper for free movement in the mainland of Greece, on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Manolis LAGOUTARIS / AFP)

 

More than one percent of the world’s population – a record 80 million people – have now been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution, the UN said Thursday.

By the end of 2019, one out of every 97 people in the world was living uprooted and displaced, according to a fresh report by the United Nations refugee agency, highlighting swelling displacement from conflicts in places like Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“One percent of the world population cannot go back to their homes because there are wars, persecution, human rights violations, and other forms of violence,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi told AFP in an interview.

The UNHCR agency found that by the end of last year, a record 79.5 million people were living either as refugees, asylum seekers or in so-called internal displacement within their own countries, marking a dramatic increase of nearly nine million from a year earlier.

“This is a trend that has been going on since 2012: the figures are higher than the year before,” Grandi said, pointing out that this meant “there has been more conflict, there has been more violence that has pushed people away from their homes.”

It also means, he said, “that there have been insufficient political solutions” to the conflicts and crises that would allow people to return home.

Grandi noted that 10 years ago, the number of people living in displacement around the globe stood at around 40 million.

“So it has basically doubled. And we don’t see this trend diminishing,” he said.

Fears for 2021
“With the international community so divided, so unable, so incapable of making peace, unfortunately the situation won’t stop growing, and I am very worried that next year it will be even worse than this year.”

Thursday’s report showed that at the end of 2019, nearly 46 million of those displaced remained inside their own country, while 26 million had fled across borders as refugees.

Another 4.2 million people were asylum seekers, while 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad were tallied separately.

Last year, some 11 million people were newly displaced, many in a handful of conflict-wracked countries and regions, the report showed.

They include Syria, which after more than nine years of civil war counts 13.2 million people displaced either inside or outside the country — a full sixth of the global total.

In fact, Grandi said, a full 68 percent of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

This, he stressed, “means that if the international community found the unity, the political will and the resources to help these countries get out of crisis and rebuild, most likely we would have solved well over half of the world (refugee) problem.”

Coronavirus impact?
The report did not address the evolving displacement situation since the global coronavirus pandemic struck.

Grandi said it was clear the crisis was complicating the situation for the displaced at a time when everyone is being told that “being on the move is a liability for yourself and for others.”

But he noted that the poor and middle-income countries that host around 85 percent of the world’s refugees had so far been relatively spared the worst health impacts of the pandemic.

However, he warned, the economic impacts were taking a dire toll.

“What we have really seen escalating dramatically is poverty,” he said, pointing out that lockdowns in many countries had eliminated any chance most displaced people have of making an income.

Without significant support for displaced people and their host communities, this could spark “further population movements”, he warned.

Grandi also reiterated that countries must continue granting asylum to those in need, despite border closures and lockdown measures.

“One activity that doesn’t seem to have been discouraged by the pandemic is war, or conflict or violence,” he said.

“Unfortunately people continue to flee their homes, because pandemic or not, they are at risk… and they need to continue to be given refuge, protection, asylum.”

 

-AFP

George Floyd’s Brother Urges UN To Probe Police Killings Of Black Americans

George Floyd’s brother Philonise is seen on a TV screen during his speech at the opening of an urgent debate on “systemic racism” in the United States and beyond at the Human Rights Council on June 17, 2020 in Geneva. – African countries are pushing for the Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to investigate racism and police civil liberties violations against people of African descent in the United States. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

The brother of George Floyd called on the United Nations on Wednesday to set up an independent commission to investigate the killings of African Americans by police.
“I am my brother’s keeper,” said Philonise Floyd, whose brother was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
“That could have been me,” Floyd told an urgent debate on racism and police brutality called at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“I’m asking you to help me,” he said. “I hope that you will consider establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police killings of black people in America and the violence against peaceful protesters.”
-AFP

Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Delegates attend the resuming of a UN Human Rights Council session after its interruption in March over the coronavirus pandemic on June 15, 2020, in Geneva. – The UN’s top rights body Monday agreed to a request from African countries to urgently debate racism and police brutality this week following unrest in the US and beyond over George Floyd’s death. Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP.

 

African countries are pushing for the UN’s top rights body to launch a high-level investigation into “systemic racism” and police violence in the United States and beyond, according to a draft resolution seen Tuesday by AFP.

The text was being circulated to diplomats for consultations ahead of a so-called urgent debate on the topic at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

The debate was called for following unrest in the United States and elsewhere over George Floyd’s death in police custody.

In the draft resolution, the African group strongly condemns “continuing racial discriminatory and violent practices perpetrated by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent and structural racism endemic to the criminal justice system, in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected.”

The draft resolution, which could still be revised before it is tabled later Tuesday, calls for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry (COI) — one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises like the Syrian conflict.

READ ALSO: German Virus Hunters Track Down COVID-19 Outbreaks

The commission, the text said, should “establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against Africans and of people of African descent in the United States” and elsewhere by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the deaths.

The aim, it said, should be “bringing perpetrators to justice.”

– ‘Excessive force’ –

The investigators should also probe “the federal, state and local government responses to peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists,” it said.

It urges the US government, as well as governments in other relevant countries, to “cooperate fully” with the COI, which it said should present its findings to the rights council in a year’s time.

The text also calls on UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to include updates on police brutality against people of African descent in the United States and elsewhere at each future council session.

The final text must be tabled at least 24 hours before a vote by the rights council’s 47 members on the resolution, which is due to happen following the urgent debate scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) Wednesday.

The urgent debate was requested in a letter last week from Burkina Faso’s ambassador to the UN on behalf of Africa’s 54 countries, and was accepted Monday when the council resumed its 43rd session, which had been interrupted in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

Both the letter and the draft resolution make reference to the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer, who has since been charged with murder, pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

His death, which was caught on video and has sparked massive protests across the United States and around the world, “is unfortunately not an isolated incident.”

“Many other cases of persons of African descent (have) faced the same fate because of their origin and police violence,” Burkina Faso Ambassador Dieudonne Desire Sougouri told the council Monday.

AFP

COVID-19 Impact Could Kill Over 50,000 Children In MENA – UN

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

 

UN agencies warned Monday that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to the deaths of an additional 51,000 under-fives in the Middle East and North Africa by the end of the year.

The World Health Organisation and United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said the disruption of essential health and nutrition services risked “reversing progress (on) child survival in the region by nearly two decades”.

“While we do not have many cases of COVID-19 among children in the region, it is evident that the pandemic is affecting children’s health firsthand,” the agencies warned.

“An additional 51,000 children under the age of five might die in the region by the end of 2020” in the case of rising malnutrition and a protracted lack of access to vaccinations and treatment for childhood diseases.

Such a number of extra deaths would represent an increase of almost 40 percent over pre-COVID-19 figures, they said in a joint statement issued in Amman.

READ ALSO: Norway Suspends Virus-Tracing App After Privacy Concerns

The agencies called for a “full and safe resumption” of essential immunisation campaigns and nutrition services, following “strict precautionary measures for infection prevention”.

The agencies cited overstretched health facilities with little personal protective equipment, economic hardships and parents’ fears of contracting the COVID-19 illness at health clinics among factors that could cause a huge rise in child deaths.

“But we can avoid this scenario, allowing tens of thousands of children to celebrate their fifth birthday surrounded by their families and friends,” they said.

They urged authorities to work “to increase trust in public health systems and promote appropriate care-seeking behaviours among families”.

AFP

Pandemic Creating ‘Lockdown Generation’ As One In Six Youths Stop Work – UN

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

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused surging unemployment worldwide, but has hit young workers especially hard, forcing more than one in six people aged under 29 to stop working, the UN said Wednesday.

In a fresh study, the International Labour Organization warned that the novel coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected young people, and could impact upon their work opportunities and career options for decades to come.

“I don’t think it is giving way to hyperbole to talk about the danger of a lockdown generation,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told a virtual press conference.

“As we recover from the pandemic, a lot of young people are simply going to be left behind. Big numbers,” he said, warning that “the danger is… that this initial shock to young people will last a decade or longer.

“People will be permanently scarred by the immediate effects of the pandemic.”

Even before the crisis, the global youth unemployment rate stood at 13.6 percent in 2019 — far higher than for any other group — while some 267 million young people were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET).

Overall, the ILO study said it expected the coronavirus crisis to obliterate 10.7 percent of working hours worked globally during the second quarter of 2020 compared to the final three months of 2019 — the equivalent of 305 million jobs.

– ‘Massive increase’ –

But while all age groups are suffering, the UN agency pointed to recent data from a range of countries indicating “a massive increase” in youth unemployment since February, with young women particularly hard-hit.

In Canada for example, the overall jobless rate rose six percentage points from February to April, but for young men it swelled by 14.3 percentage points (to 27.1 percent) and for young women it ballooned by 20.4 percentage points to 28.4 percent.

READ ALSO: EU Agency To Set Up ‘Independent’ Research On COVID-19 Vaccine

Similar trends were seen in the United States and a range of other countries, the report said.

The ILO said it did not yet have enough data to determine the overall youth unemployment rate since the crisis began.

But in a survey of people aged 29 and under, it found that globally, over 17 percent of those who were working when the pandemic hit had been forced to stop.

And those who have continued to work have meanwhile seen their working hours cut on average by 23 percent, the study found.

The report warned that young people are facing a “triple shock” from the crisis, which is not only destroying their employment but has also disrupted education and training, and has made it far more difficult to try to enter the labour market or move between jobs.

It found that around half of students expect their education to be delayed, while 10 percent now believe they will be unable to complete their training at all.

And a full 60 percent of young women and 53 percent of young men surveyed viewed their career prospects “with uncertainty or fear”, the report found.

The ILO report called for an urgent and large-scale response to the crisis, including employment and training guarantee programmes for young people.

“If their talent and energy is sidelined by a lack of opportunity or skills it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to re-build a better, post-COVID economy,” Ryder warned.

– Step up testing, tracing –

As a growing number of countries begin loosening lockdown measures, the ILO also called on them to step up testing and tracing of suspected COVID-19 cases to help get more people back to work.

The report found that rigorous testing and tracing was “strongly related to lower labour market disruption”, with the average fall in working hours up to 50 percent lower in countries that had followed this path.

This, it said, was linked to the fact that testing and tracing reduced the need for strict confinement measures, and boosted public confidence to visit shops and restaurants.

It also stressed that testing and tracing could create new jobs, even if only temporary, which could be targeted at young people.

AFP

UN Urges EU To Take In 160 Migrants Stranded At Sea

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

 

The United Nations called on the EU on Thursday to reach a deal to take in 160 migrants who have been stranded in the Mediterranean for two weeks.

UNHCR refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), urged “Malta and the other European states to speed efforts to bring some 160 rescued refugees and migrants… on to dry land and to safety.”

The migrants are onboard two commercial vessels outside Malta’s territorial waters.

Malta and Italy have officially closed their ports to migrants during the coronavirus pandemic, a decision heavily criticised by aid groups.

The agencies said in a statement that the migrants, a large number of whom have fled conflict-torn Libya, must be brought ashore in Malta, but other EU countries must show solidarity by accepting some of them.

“A clearly agreed system for post-disembarkation relocation is urgently needed if we are to finally move away from a perpetual cycle of negotiations and ad-hoc arrangements that put the lives and health of people at further risk.”

The statement noted that the 160 migrants have been at sea for two weeks, “the standard quarantine period for COVID -19 – without any clarity on disembarkation.

“It is unacceptable to leave people at sea longer than necessary, especially under difficult and unsuitable conditions.”

The agencies hailed the relocation of 17 people on Wednesday from Malta to France, which “shows that solidarity at the time of COVID-19 is possible, with all necessary precautions and measures to ensure preventing further spreading of the virus in place.”

Malta, which is facing a wave of migrant arrivals, has threatened to block funding to Operation Irini, the EU’s naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, if its European partners do not agree to accept some of them.

AFP

China Asks US To Pay United Nations Debt

In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 flags of the United Nations and the United States of America are seen in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP
In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 flags of the United Nations and the United States of America are seen in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP

 

China on Friday issued a statement calling on all UN member states to “actively fulfill their financial obligations to the United Nations,” stressing that Washington owes the organization more than $2 billion.

“As of May 14, the total unpaid assessments under the UN regular budget and peacekeeping budget amount to 1.63 billion and 2.14 billion US dollars respectively,” the Chinese statement said, citing a report from the UN Secretary-General’s office and a meeting held on Thursday.

Including arrears that stretch back several years, “the United States is the largest debtor, owing 1.165 billion and 1.332 billion US dollars respectively,” China added.

The US is the biggest contributor to the UN budget, paying 22 percent of its annual running costs, a bill which adds up to around $3 billion; and 25 percent of its peacekeeping operations, which amount to some $6 billion a year.

Officially, Washington is meant to pay 27.89 percent of the peacekeeping budget, but a decision made by Congress and implemented by President Donald Trump in 2017 cut that payment to 25 percent, meaning Washington runs up an annual shortfall of $200 million.

The United States also has a fiscal year that runs from October to October, which can make it look like an even bigger debtor at certain times of the year.

The US mission to the UN dismissed the call, saying China is “eager to distract attention from its cover-up and mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, and this is yet another example.”

It continued: “The United States recently made a payment of $726 million toward its peacekeeping assessment, and per practice will pay the bulk of its assessment at the end of the calendar year.”

It said the total peacekeeping arrears was $888 million, adding: “Roughly two-thirds of this amount is the result of payment at the rate of 25 percent from 2017 through the present.”

The payment of contributions by member countries for peacekeeping operations has a direct impact on the reimbursements the UN pays to countries that contribute troops to the 15 or so missions around the world.

In a report on May 11, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “there may be significant delays towards the middle of the year, unless the cash position across missions improves significantly.”

On Thursday, around 50 of the 193 member states, including China, paid their contributions in full, which Beijing — the second-largest contributor, far behind the United States — noted in its statement.

China pays around 12 percent of the UN’s running costs and around 15 percent of the peacekeeping budget.

117 Million Children Face Measles Risk From COVID-19 Response – UN

More than 6,000 people have died in DR Congo’s latest measles outbreak.
File photo: AFP

 

Around 117 million children worldwide risk contracting measles because dozens of countries are curtailing their vaccination programmes as they battle COVID-19, the United Nations warned.

Currently, 24 countries, including several already dealing with large measles outbreaks, have suspended widespread vaccinations, the World Health Organization and the UN’s children’s fund UNICEF said.

An additional 13 countries have had their vaccination programmes interrupted due to COVID-19.

In a joint statement, the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI) said it was vital that immunisation capacity was retained during and after the current pandemic.
“Together, more than 117 million children… could be impacted by the suspension of scheduled immunisation activities,” it said.

“The M&RI supports the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19 through a pause of mass campaigns, where risks of the disease are high.”

“However, this should not mean that children permanently miss out.”
Measles, a highly contagious disease, affects around 20 million people every year, the majority of whom are aged under five.

Despite a cheap and readily available vaccine, measles cases have surged in recent years, largely in part to what the WHO terms “vaccine hesitancy”.

In 2018, 140,000 measles deaths, mostly among children and babies, were recorded — most were preventable, meaning that the countries they occurred in had a vaccination programme.

Of the two dozen countries to have officially suspended measles vaccine programmes — ostensibly to protect health workers and prioritise COVID-19 response — several have seen worrying rises in measles cases in recent years.

In particular, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are all battling large outbreaks.

DR Congo alone has had 6,000 measles deaths in its current epidemic.

The country last week also recorded a new case of Ebola — just days before the UN was due to announce an end to that outbreak.

‘Catch-up’

Robin Nandy, UNICEF’s chief of immunisation, told AFP that COVID-19 was likely to place additional strain on already overburdened healthcare systems.

“We have to be mindful of the impact of COVID-19, threatening outbreaks of measles, an extremely contagious and potentially lethal disease for which there already exists a safe and effective vaccine,” he said.

“We are therefore urging countries to prepare and plan now for intensive catch-up vaccinations once physical distancing restrictions are lifted.”

Billions of people around the world face weeks of lockdown as governments figure out their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts have warned since the start of the outbreak that response programmes to other infectious diseases — from polio to tuberculosis — are likely to suffer as health services triage workers to COVID-19 cases.

And while COVID-19 is overwhelmingly more serious in older patients, many communicable diseases, including measles, inordinately target children.

“Children younger than 12 months of age are more likely to die from measles complications, and if the circulation of measles virus is not stopped, their risk of exposure to measles will increase daily,” said the M&RI.

AFP

Ethiopia Opens Aid Transport Hub To Fight COVID-19

A worker pushes boxes containing mostly personal protective equipment (PPE) at Ethiopian Airlines’ cargo facility at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 14, 2020. Samuel HABTAB / AFP.

 

Ethiopia and the United Nations on Tuesday opened a humanitarian transport hub at Addis Ababa airport to move supplies and aid workers across Africa to fight coronavirus.

The arrangement, which relies on cargo services provided by Ethiopian Airlines, could also partially offset heavy losses Africa’s largest carrier is sustaining because of the pandemic.

An initial shipment of 3,000 cubic metres (106,000 cubic feet) of supplies — most of it personal protective equipment for health workers — will be distributed within the next week, said Steven Were Omamo, Ethiopia country director for the World Food Programme (WFP).

“This is a really important platform in the response to COVID-19, because what it does is it allows us to move with speed and efficiency to respond to the needs as they are unfolding,” Omamo said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Addis gateway is one of eight global humanitarian hubs set up to facilitate movement of aid to fight COVID-19, according to WFP.

In Africa, there are also hubs in Ghana and South Africa.

The continent has so far not been hit by the coronavirus as hard as other regions, but experts worry that weak health systems could quickly become overwhelmed by an influx of cases.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: IMF Approves Debt Relief For 25 Poor Countries

As of Tuesday there were 15,249 COVID-19 cases across the continent resulting in 816 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

African leaders are also worried about the economic toll on the continent.

An African Union study published last week warned that 20 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors were at risk.

The state-run Ethiopian Airlines announced last week that it was already bracing for revenue losses of $550 million (502 million euros) between January and April.

The airline is turning to cargo, maintenance and charter operations to help soften the blow.

Ethiopian Airlines plans to play “a major role” in Africa’s fight against COVID-19, and the humanitarian transportation hub inaugurated Tuesday will be operational at least through the end of May, said Fitsum Abadi, the company’s managing director of cargo and logistics services.

But Fitsum acknowledged that cargo operations would never make up for the loss of most of the airline’s passenger traffic.

“This division or this business unit is the second largest revenue-generating business unit, but it cannot offset the entire loss that the airline is facing,” he told AFP.

“So we are helping the airline to navigate this difficult time — not as healthy as we wanted but in a healthy situation.”

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