The United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process on Wednesday welcomed the full return of the Gaza crossings to the control of the Palestinian Authority.
“This is a landmark development in the implementation of the intra-Palestinian agreement, signed in Cairo on 12 October,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, in a statement.
“The positive momentum should be maintained and the Palestinian government must be fully empowered to function in Gaza,” he added.
According to media reports, the 12 October agreement between the Fatah and Hamas factions allows the Palestinian government to resume its responsibilities in Gaza. Under the agreement, the Palestinian Authority should take control of the crossings of the Gaza Strip by 1 November.
A statement released by Egypt, which facilitated the accord, said the Palestinian government should assume its full responsibilities to manage the enclave by 1 December.
The July 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet – comprising the UN, Russia, the United States and the European Union – identified the lack of Palestinian unity as one of the main obstacles to achieving a two-state solution, which is to establish a viable, sovereign Palestinian state that lives in peace and security with Israel.
“The return of the crossings should facilitate the lifting of the closures, while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and unlock increased international support for Gaza’s reconstruction, growth, stability and prosperity,” Mr. Mladenov said.
He reminded all factions in Gaza of the importance of maintaining security and ending militant activities that undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis alike. Mr. Mladenov said the UN will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt and the region to support this process, which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace in the Middle East.
In Jamaica, farmers struggle to contend with a changing climate
It’s 9 am and the rural district of Mount Airy in central Jamaica is already sweltering. As cars trundle along the region’s unpaved roads, chocolate-brown dust clouds burst from behind their back wheels.
It is here, 50km west of Kingston and 500 meters above sea level, that the Mount Airy Farmers group are having a morning meeting. There are around two dozen people and they all say the same thing; they’re struggling to keep their plots productive amid dwindling rainfall, a byproduct of climate change.
“The weather here’s a lot drier for longer these days,” says Althea Spencer, the treasurer of the Mount Airy Farmers group, which is based in Northern Clarendon. “If you don’t have water, it makes no sense to plant seeds because they will just die.”
The farmers though, have recently gotten some help in their search for water.
Just meters from where they are gathered stands a two-storey shed with a drainpipe on the roof that funnels rainwater into a tall, black tank. It’s one of more than two dozen reservoirs dotted across these mountains. They are part of a project backed by six United Nations (UN) bodies to help Mount Airy’s farmers adapt to climate change.
“This partnership among the UN and with communities is exactly the type of activity needed to address the day-to-day and practical impacts of climate change,” says Vincent Sweeney, Head of the Caribbean Sub-Regional Office at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “As we look beyond the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, it is vital that we… adapt to the new realities of a warmer planet in order to protect lives and livelihoods in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”
The challenge is not unique to the region. Droughts, floods, and the spread of pests, the byproducts of climate change, are threatening agricultural production around the globe, says the Food and Agriculture Organization. That is potentially disastrous in a world where almost 700 million people go hungry each year.
Small-hold farmers, who work more than 80 per cent of the world‘s farms, in particular, will need support to remain resilient in the face of climate change, say experts.
A country at risk
Farmers in Jamaica, an island nation of 3 million, are especially vulnerable. In 2020, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to submit a tougher climate action plan to the UN because the country was at risk from rising sea levels, drought and more intense hurricanes, its government said.
In 2018, the Mount Airy farmers enrolled in the United Nations-backed programme that helps build the resilience of communities to threats such as climate change, poverty and water insecurity. It is regarded as the first joint programme of the United Nations in Jamaica, combining the resources of six agencies, including UNEP.
In Mount Airy, the UN programme has invested in 30 new water harvesting systems. The large, black tanks, which appear across the hilltops like turrets, catch and store rainfall, allowing the farmers to use it evenly via a drip irrigation system. This reduces the emerging threat of longer and more intense dry spells.
The new irrigation system also frees farmers from watering their crops by hand. “Before we got the new system, you had to predict rainfall to put seedlings in,” says Spencer, a rollerball pen tucked neatly into her hair and her feet shifting on the sunbaked earth. “It feels pretty good. It allows me more time to do housework, keep up with my farm records, and I have time to go down to the market.”
Alongside the tanks sit drums which mix fertilizer with water and spread it evenly among the crops, saving the farmers valuable time. The dissolvable fertilizer is also cheaper than standard fertilizers.
On top of that, the irrigation system improves yields. Spencer now grows and sells more sweet potatoes, peppers and tomatoes than ever before.
Coupled with the water tanks, the programme has also prioritized education. Seminars are run by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, a government agency, which aims to broaden the farmer’s knowledge and skills.
Although it is not unusual for women to farm these lands, Spencer speaks about how the trainings have helped to empower the female members of the group by coming together. “To me, the learnings and the trainings bond us ladies together,” she says.
A life in the mountains
Back at the gathering of the Mount Airy farmers, the assembled say some prayers and repeat their mantra aloud two times: “We are the Mount Airy Farmers Group our motto is: All grow in fear and failure bearing fruits of confidence and success.”
Spencer, who is in her 40s, is a vocal participant at the meeting and obviously well-liked. She was born in Mount Airy and has been farming these fields most of her life. She has vivid memories of working on her father’s farm as a child. Unable to afford to pay anyone else, he often pulled her out of school to sow and reap the fields.
That’s a common refrain among many who grew up in Mount Airy – and one the new UN programme is aiming to change.
“If my father had this harvesting system, would I have gone to school more?” Spencer asks herself. “Yes, probably. But even then, he was always working us. So I’m sure he’d find something for us to do,” she says laughing.
Spencer welcomes the introduction of the water tanks. However, she says current rainfall patterns mean water sometimes still runs out. “If you don’t manage your water properly, one will run out before you get anywhere,” she says ominously.
Her story may be one of success today, but it shows that living with climate change will require adaptation and continued investment for years to come. UNEP’s 2021 Adaptation Gap Report called for an urgent increase in financing for climate adaptation. It found that adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times greater than current public adaptation finance flows, and the adaptation finance gap is widening.
FAO launches $138 million plan to avert hunger crisis in Horn of Africa
More than $138 million is needed to assist rural communities affected by extended drought in the Horn of Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday, launching a comprehensive response plan for the region.
A third consecutive year of poor rains is posing a major threat to food security in countries already facing natural resource limitations and conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and locust invasions during 2020-21.
FAO fears that a large-scale hunger crisis could break out if food-producing rural communities do not receive adequate assistance timed to the needs of the upcoming agricultural seasons.
Millions at risk
The bulk of the funding under the FAO Horn of Africa Drought Response Plan, $130 million, is urgently needed by the end of February, to provide critical assistance to highly-vulnerable communities in the three most impacted countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia
Projections indicate that some 25.3 million people will face “high acute food insecurity” by the middle of the year.
Should the scenario materialize, FAO said it would place the Horn of Africa among the world’s largest-scale food crises.
Now is the time
“We know from experience that supporting agriculture at moments like this is hugely impactful – that when we act fast and at the right moment to get water, seeds, animal feed, veterinary care, and much needed cash to at-risk rural families, then hunger catastrophes can be averted,” said Rein Paulsen, the agency’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience.
“Well, the right moment is now. We urgently need to support pastoralists and farms in the Horn, immediately, because the cycle of the seasons waits for no one.”
Mr. Paulsen warned that the clock is already ticking as the lean season, which just started, has been marked by limited grazing opportunities for pastoralist families whose livestock will need nutritional and veterinary support.
Meanwhile, families who rely on producing crops will need seeds and other supplies in time for the Gu planting season that begins in March.
Water and seeds
The FAO plan targets 1.5 million of the most at-risk rural populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
For pastoralist families, support will include providing animal feed and nutritional supplements, as well as mobile veterinary health clinics, to keep their livestock healthy and producing milk; transporting water to 10,000 litre collapsible water reservoirs set up in remote areas, and upgrading existing wells to run on solar power.
Crop-reliant families will receive seeds of drought-tolerant early-maturing varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpea and mung bean, and nutrient-dense vegetables. The UN agency also aims to arrange for pre-planting land-ploughing services and access to irrigation, as well as training on good agricultural practices.
Cash for work programmes would allow able-bodied households to earn extra income by helping to rehabilitate irrigation canals, boreholes or other agricultural infrastructure.
Those not able to work due to health or other reasons will receive “unconditional infusions of cash”. FAO said that providing rural families with extra disposable income gives them the means to buy food at market while they wait for their harvests to come in.
In Somalia, the FAO plan calls for the provision of boats, equipment and training to help coastal communities who do not typically fish, to secure a new and much-needed source of nutrition, building on existing programmes to promote the diversification of livelihoods in the country.
FAO said if fully funded, the plan would allow for the production of up to 90 million litres of milk and up to 40,000 tonnes of staple food crops in the first part of 2022, putting over one million highly food insecure people on a safe footing, for at least six months.
Naftali Bennett Highlights Tech and Trade, Bridge-Building and Climate Change
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel used his address to the Davos Agenda 2022 to highlight the role of digital technologies in confronting the Omicron variant and climate change. He also highlighted how regional bridge-building with the United Arab Emirates and neighbouring Arab states has accelerated trade volumes.
Israel was the first country in the Omicron wave to shut its skies for a few weeks to buy time and formulate the best policy response based on analysis of data from its national database and the actions of other countries. “The pandemic is all about data information and gleaning insights from that data”, Bennett said. Israel has developed a “variant radar” of data scientists dedicated to gathering intelligence on emerging variants around the world. “That’s why,” he added, “we reacted to Omicron before it even got its name.”
The pandemic has changed the ways we work, with the world more dependent than ever on remote working. Bennett pointed out that nearly half the global investment in cyber defence in recent years has come from Israel.
Turning to regional bridge-building, he said the Abraham Accords – cooperation agreements signed between Israel, UAE and Bahrain in 2020 – have the potential to greatly accelerate regional trade. Already trade between Israel and UAE has “skyrocketed”, while trade with Egypt remains “tiny”. Bennett views UAE as “a gate to the East” and regards “Africa as a big potential partner for Israel”. He recently met President Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan and said: “I want to inject more content into these relationships.”
His wider strategic aim is to firm up agreement among regional partners who are coming to see Israel as “an anchor of stability in a very tumultuous region.”
The prime minister highlighted how his move to open Israel’s borders to Palestinians is helping tens of thousands from Gaza and the West Bank to make a better living. In his speech, Bennett spoke about joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones to allow Palestinians to work in very high-tech sectors. “I believe that through business, through economy, through jobs is the most sustainable way to bring stability,” he said.
Israel has committed to reach net zero on carbon emissions by 2050. Bennett pointed to Israel’s “small carbon footprint”, adding that the country’s unique contribution to fighting climate change is through its high-tech innovation sector. He called on Israel’s cohort of young entrepreneurs to start developing the “technologies that do not yet exist”, which the world needs to deliver net zero by 2050. Israel is already a world leader in climate-relevant technologies such as generating, conserving and recycling freshwater, he said, while noting that the climate crisis gives it the opportunity to grow its capacity in renewable energy and alternative meat products.
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