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Doctrines of rejection’ must be met with courage, commitment to solidarity and empathy

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Multilateralism is facing challenges just when it is most needed, senior United Nations officials told a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) forum in Paris on Tuesday, calling for a “new humanism” to counter rising doctrines of withdrawal and rejection of others.

“If we want the next generation to be born into a better world, we only have one option. And that is strong multilateralism, with the United Nations system at its core,” the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák told the Leaders’ Forum of the 39th UNESCO General Conference, which kicked off yesterday at the agency’s headquarters.

He said that cooperation between nations has brought tremendous benefit. In 2015, the international community achieved two important milestones, in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“If implemented, these agreements will protect the planet, and make it a better place to live for everyone,” he said.

Multilateralism has also had a major role in advancing peace, helping rally support for peace agreements.

Peoples come from diverse backgrounds. They hold different positions on the world’s most pressing issues. Their interests, at times, diverge. But convergence can be found – particularly when it comes to human dignity, peace, the protection of environment, and common humanity.

“If one body or country fails to respond, it could affect us all,” he said, adding that the United Nations must lead the charge and act as an honest broker, leveraging its neutrality and experience for meaningful dialogue.

Mr. Lajčák highlighted a critical role played by UNESCO in the multilateral system.

The agency has rallied actors from all over the world to protect our shared cultural heritage, while promoting cooperation for advances in education, science and technology.

Amidst the success of UNESCO’s work, he said: “I regret the decision of member states to withdraw from membership of UNESCO.”

Also addressing the forum, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stressed the relevance of her agency’s ‘soft power’ to foster education, culture and knowledge to transform the world.

UNESCO was created in 1945 in the wake of a devastating war, with the aim of building “the defenses of peace” in the minds of men and women, since war begins in their minds.

“Today, when we see the rise of doctrines based on withdrawal and rejection of others, I believe we need the same courage and the same commitment towards peace, dialogue, solidarity and empathy,” she said. “This is what I have called a ‘new humanism.’”

She said that in these times of limits – limits of resources, limits of the planet – there is a need to invest in the potential of human ingenuity, in the power of innovation, quality education and scientific research, in the power of culture and dialogue.

“This is our ultimate renewable energy. And this is the raison d’être of UNESCO,” she said.

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Turkey’s Syria offensive could spark another catastrophe

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An estimated 26,000 children aged 3-17 in Al Hol camp of Syria's Hasakeh governorate have been out of schools for years due to conflict and displacement and are in need of education services. © OCHA/Hedinn Halldorsson

Airstrikes and a ground offensive by Turkey in northern Syria against Kurdish forces have left civilians dead and forced tens of thousands to flee, UN agencies said on Friday, amid fears of another “humanitarian catastrophe” in the war-torn country. 

Expressing concern about the military campaign launched on Wednesday, the UN’s emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock noted that the Turkish Government had “assured me that they attach maximum importance to the protection of civilians and the avoidance of harm to them”. 

Speaking to journalists in Geneva,  Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Thursday had seen “intense shelling all along the north-eastern Syrian border with Turkey, from Jarablus, to the west of the Euphrates, to the Iraqi border”. 

Highlighting the potential for further suffering for Syrians caught up in more than eight years of war, Christian Cardon de Lichtbuer, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that “we have there all the ingredients for unfortunately yet another humanitarian crisis in Syria”. 

UN human rights office confirms eight civilian deaths  

As of Thursday evening, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reported that seven civilians, including two women and a boy, had been killed in the first two days of the Turkish operation. 

A male civilian man was also reported killed in Jarablus on Wednesday, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said, adding that a woman and a boy were injured yesterday, during “counter-attacks and ground strikes” by Kurdish non-State armed groups. 

In response to the mass displacement of people from the northern border area, mainly to Al-Hasakeh district, the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided ready-to-eat meals to around 11,000 people there, with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). 

WFP supports close to 650,000 people in north-eastern Syria via a field hub in Qamishli; around 580,000 are currently in areas under Kurdish control, it said in a statement. 

“Mass population displacement has been reported since the escalation of violence”, said WFP spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel. “Over 70,000 people from Ras al-Ain and Tal Abiad have been displaced so far.” 

UN food agency ‘will cover’ needs of the displaced 

Several thousand more have move to Raqqa governorate since the beginning of Operation Peace Spring by the Turkish military on Wednesday, Mr. Verhoosel added, while many other were on their way to shelters in Raqqa city, “where WFP will be covering their food needs”. 

Although UN humanitarian staff remain in Qamishli, “their ability to operate and provide relief is severely restricted” by the hostilities, OCHA’s Mr. Laerke explained, adding that local authorities were also reportedly “imposing some quite strict security measures at checkpoints”. 

Linked to the military campaign, Marixie Mercado from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the Alouk water pumping station reportedly came under attack early on Thursday.  

“This is a station that provides safe water to at least 400,000 people in Hassakeh governorate, including displacement camps,” she said 

In Tal Abiad, two schools have been reportedly taken over for military use, Ms. Mercado added, while child protection programmes have been suspended in Ras al-Ain, Mabrouka camp, Tal Halaf, Sulok and Tal Abiad.  

Health and Nutrition response in Ras al-Ain and Mabourka camp had also been put on hold, while schools in these areas have closed and the water supply has been affected.  

Asked whether any Syrian refugees had been seen returning to a so-called safe zone either side of the Turkey-Syria border, Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), said that he had “no information” of any Syrian refugees doing so. 

Any such buffer zone would have to set up “with full international humanitarian law safeguards in place, including the consent of the Government and warring parties and the zone being of civilian character, the safety of civilians would be hard to guarantee”, the UNHCR spokesperson added. 

So-called ‘safe zone’ is not managed by UN 

Echoing those comments, OCHA highlighted the vulnerability of those displaced by the conflict and the uncertainty surrounding a so-called buffer zone cleared of Kurdish fighters on the border, reportedly proposed by Turkey. 

“It’s not something that’s been set up by humanitarians, it is a zone that has been set up by military planners in Turkey,” said Mr. Laerke. “We do not control it and we have not been involved in the planning of it.” 

After more than eight years of war in Syria, needs are “significant and widespread”, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, reiterated in Geneva on Thursday. 

Over 11 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance, she said, including 4.7 million living in areas of high severity of need. 

Amid uncertainty about how the military campaign will develop, the ICRC reiterated concern about the lack of basic services available to those displaced in the coming days and weeks, in towns and cities levelled by bombardment and shelling in a bid to drive out ISIL forces. 

“People are moving inside Syria, so we can assume, yes, they will go towards (the) south,” said the international Red Cross committee’s Mr. de Lichtbuer. “With the complexity and so areas like Deir-Ez-Zor, and Raqqa, which are not necessarily places that can welcome thousands of people, we will see how it evolves in the coming hours, because it is moving very fast.”

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ADB Unveils New 5-Year Strategy for Nepal to Promote Stronger, More Inclusive Economy

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a new 5-year Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Nepal that lays out ADB’s support to help the country achieve its goal for a stronger and more inclusive economy.

The Nepal CPS for 2020–2024, endorsed by ADB’s Board of Directors today, will focus on three priority areas: improved infrastructure for private sector-led growth, improved access to devolved services, and environmental sustainability and resilience. Under the new strategy, ADB expects to lend an estimated $500 million to $600 million on average during 2020–2022.

“With the political stability and the federal system of governance in place, Nepal is poised to bring about the desired economic and social transformation,” said ADB Country Director for Nepal Mr. Mukhtor Khamudkhanov. “Our new CPS is aligned with the government’s plan of achieving higher economic growth, reducing poverty, and improving people’s lives. Nepal has seen reduced poverty and raised literacy levels in the last decade. Now, moving forward, smooth implementation of federalism, investments in critical physical infrastructure, and creating an environment for private sector investments are critical to further boost growth and reduce poverty.”

Under the new CPS, ADB will support hydropower development and renewable energy, roads and air transport, logistics, and trade facilitation to strengthen domestic, regional, and international connectivity; reduce the costs of production and trade for businesses; and attract private investment. The CPS will help support development of cities and urban municipalities, quality education and employment-oriented skills development, and increased agriculture productivity and commercialization to augment rural incomes. These will be targeted to benefit women and disadvantaged social groups.

In all its development programs and projects, ADB will continue to prioritize gender equality and social inclusion, as well as disaster resilience and environmental sustainability.

The CPS also supports increased availability of, and more equitable access to, basic services through the federal system of governance; stronger resilience to natural hazards that occur periodically; and sustainable use of natural resources. ADB will assist with policy reforms for devolved service delivery, including subnational public financial management; and sector reforms in agriculture, air transport, and water supply. Knowledge and development of institutional capacity, especially at subnational levels, will be emphasized.

The CPS reflects feedback from ADB’s consultations with the government agencies at the central, provincial, and local levels, as well as with international development partners, civil society, and the private sector.

Since its establishment in 1966, ADB has provided almost $6 billion in financial and technical assistance to Nepal. The assistance was provided in energy, transport, water supply and urban infrastructure services, agriculture and irrigation, and education.

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Bangladesh Economy Continues Robust Growth with Rising Exports and Remittances

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The Bangladesh economy sustains strong growth in FY19 led by rising exports and record remittances, says a new World Bank report, “Bangladesh Development Update October 2019: Tertiary Education and Job Skills,” launched today.

Remittances grew by 9.8 percent, reaching a record $16.4 billion in FY19. The contribution of net export growth was positive, supported by a diversion of garment export orders from China and a decline in imports. Agricultural and pharmaceutical exports led non-RMG export growth. However, leather and leather product exports declined by 6 percent.

Net foreign direct investment (FDI) increased by 42.9 percent from a low baseline with investments in the power, food, and textile sectors. Private consumption grew by 5.4 percent. Private sector credit growth was weak and bank liquidity remains constrained. Non-performing loans continued to rise in the banking sector.

The report warns about an uncertain global outlook and domestic risks in the financial sector. Exchange rate appreciation is also a challenge for Bangladesh’s trade competitiveness. Reforms in the financial sector, including revenue mobilization and doing business, will be essential for progress. The report also urges closing the infrastructure gap and timely implementation of the Annual Development Plan.

Bangladesh’s economy is projected to maintain strong growth backed by sound macroeconomic fundamentals and progress in structural reforms,” said Mercy Miyang Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “To achieve its growth vision, Bangladesh will need a high-productivity economy. Human capital development that is responsive to labor market demand for higher-level skills and to rapid technological advancements will be crucial.”

Bangladesh needs to create quality jobs for about two million young people entering the labor force every year. To harness the benefits of this growing labor supply, investments in human capital are required. The country needs to invest significantly in teaching, learning and ICT facilities, among other areas, to create a competitive workforce.

Higher labor productivity will be essential to diversify the economy beyond garment exports and remittances. Growing sectors—such as export-oriented manufacturing, light engineering, shipbuilding, agribusiness, information and communication technology (ICT), and pharmaceuticals—will require skilled professionals in managerial, technical, and leadership positions.

Tertiary graduates struggle to find jobs, indicating a major skills gap. Only 19 percent of college graduates are employed full-time or part-time. At the tertiary level, more than a third of graduates remain unemployed one or two years after graduation, while unemployment rates of female graduates are even higher.

“Labor market surveys repeatedly show that employers struggle to fill high-skill positions such as technicians and managers,” said Bernard Haven, World Bank Senior Economist, and co-author of the report. “To bridge the demand and supply gap, investments in skills training, equitable access for female and poor students, public funding mechanisms to develop market-relevant skills and an effective regulatory and accountability framework are needed.”

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