The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today joined forces to work on an advocacy initiative to promote discussion and increase investment in adolescents in Lao PDR. The two organisations signed a joint letter of collaboration, formalizing a partnership around the “Noi 2030 Framework”.
‘Noi’ is a fictitious adolescent girl, created by UNFPA as an entry-point for dialogue on issues adolescent girls are facing in Lao PDR. Like all of us, ‘Noi’ dreams of getting a quality education, easy access to reproductive health services, employment and to take part in decision-making. ‘Noi’ represents all the 700,230 girls in the country aged 10-19 years old, and the initiative is supported by the Government and key development partners. The framework focuses on bringing attention to empowering adolescents, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Lao PDR has the highest proportion of early marriage and the highest adolescent birth rates in the region, and one in five adolescent girls drops out of school. This shows that adolescent girls are not yet receiving the necessary attention and investment to develop to their full potential, and have limited access to quality health, education and employment opportunities.
“More than 70 percent of WFP’s resources in Lao PDR are invested in ensuring children reach their full potential and have a better future,” said Ms. Sarah Gordon-Gibson, WFP Country Director in Lao PDR. “If we equip and empower girls today, they will be able to lead tomorrow with great impact on their families and communities, leading to sustainable and inclusive development in the country.”
UNFPA and WFP will work together to advocate and programme for improved access to nutrition, food security, education as well as reproductive health information and services for adolescent girls and boys.
“In order for Lao PDR to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must work together across different sectors to put ‘Noi’ at the centre of the development agenda,” said Ms. Frederika Meijer, UNFPA Representative in Lao PDR. “We need to address the issue of child marriage and early pregnancy. If these matters are not addressed, it will be difficult to achieve our common development goals.”
“By working together, all development partners’ unique expertise can be combined to best identify and address the needs of adolescent girls. Collaboration between WFP and UNFPA will be the first of many established to make sure that ‘Noi’ will be able to reach her full potential by 2030,” stated Ms. Meijer.
The signing of the joint letter marked the first successful inter-UN agency partnership for ‘Noi’, and aims to strengthen the partnership between the two UN agencies across various sectors, to highlight – and contribute to meeting – the multifaceted needs of adolescent girls in Lao PDR.
Insecurity and bureaucracy hampering aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray region
Nearly three months after the start of conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, hundreds of thousands of people have yet to receive assistance, the United Nations reported on Wednesday, citing information from its humanitarian coordination agency, OCHA.
“Humanitarian assistance continues to be constrained by the lack of full, and safe, unhindered access to Tigray, caused by both insecurity and bureaucratic delays”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists.
“The UN and its humanitarian partners in Ethiopia urgently call on all parties to allow the immediate safe passage of humanitarian personnel and their supplies to the Tigray Region to be able to reach all people who desperately need assistance.”
Over two million in need
Mr. Dujarric said the UN continues to receive alarming reports of civilians being injured and killed in rural areas in Tigray, as well as of violations against civilians, though verification remains a challenge.
“Aid workers have been able to deliver assistance in some areas, mainly in cities, where access has been granted by the authorities. However, the number of people reached is extremely low compared to the 2.3 million people we estimate are in need of life-saving assistance”, he said.
The situation is particularly critical for newly displaced people and refugees, especially those who were living in two camps that remain inaccessible, according to OCHA.
Humanitarians further warn that the majority of the 270,000 people receiving benefits through the Government’s Safety Net Programme have also been without assistance as banks in most rural areas have been closed since before the crisis began.
“These are extremely vulnerable people who rely on monthly cash transfers to meet their basic needs,” said Mr. Dujarric.
Mali transition presents opportunity to break ‘vicious circle of political crises’
The current political transition period in Mali offers an opportunity to “break out of the vicious circle of political crises followed by coups d’état”, the UN envoy in the country told the Security Council on Wednesday.
Following the 18 August mutiny that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Special Representative and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said the country was now four months in, to a planned 18-month transition period, leading to presidential and legislative elections.
“However, it is never too late to reach a minimum consensus on the essentials of peace and stability, because the future of Mali is at stake”, he stated.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Annadif said the UN, African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others have always stood ready to support Mali’s institutional transitions.
He said that several missions and meetings had taken place in Bamako since the August coup and described consultations between the Government and the signatories of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation “encouraging”.
The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012 that fractured the country, including a failed coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists. The weakening of central institutions, loss of confidence in political actors and the rise of religious leaders demanding change, were among the factors leading up to last August’s events.
As one positive example of political progress being made, the UN envoy drew particular attention to the “positive dynamics” of key officials who visited the restive city of Kidal to organize a “solemn swearing-in hearing of the new Governor” on 31 December, flagging that “such an event has not taken place in Kidal for almost ten years”.
Interim parliament at helm
Mr. Annadif said that despite a hold up in State appointments, the National Transitional Council (CNT) had been established on 3 December, with Transitional President Bah N’Daou having appointed 121 members who are now acting as a de facto government towards restoring full constitutional order.
Serving as an interim parliament that will vote on political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms, the UN envoy called their role “crucial for the consolidation of democracy and the success of credible elections allowing a return to constitutional order, as provided for in the Transition Charter”.
Successes and challenges
While pointing to “successes” of the international force, the MINUSMA chief acknowledged that security in border areas of Mali – which remains the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission of all – and in the country’s centre, remains “worrying and unpredictable”.
However, he said that MINUSMA continues to “adapt” to these multifaceted challenges and “strengthen its capacity” to better respond.
Moreover, the missions “adaptation plan” to better protect civilians and promote community reconciliation in central Mali is producing “significant results” with additional temporary bases and the intensification of dedicated joint patrols “to advance the reconciliation processes between communities in local conflict zones”, said Mr. Annadif.
The MINUSMA head lauded the efforts of Malian forces to improve their rights performance and underscored that reforms are a key dimension in ensuring the legitimacy of the next elected government.
He reassured the Ambassadors that the foundation has been laid for a successful political transition in the country as well as reliable security arrangements for its diverse regions.
However, he stressed that the transition’s success depends upon “the successful completion of political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms with the aim of inclusive, credible elections, the results of which will be accepted by the majority of Malians and Malians”.
UNICEF: Closing schools should be ‘measure of last resort’
The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) underscored on Tuesday that “no effort should be spared” to keep children in school, as the coronavirus pandemic continues into a second year.
“Despite overwhelming evidence of the impact of school closures on children, and despite increasing evidence that schools are not drivers of the pandemic, too many countries have opted to keep schools closed, some for nearly a year”, Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
A high cost
The UNICEF chief highlighted that the cost of closing schools has been devastating, with 90 per cent of students globally facing shutdowns at the peak of the COVID disruptions last year, leaving more than a third of schoolchildren with no access to remote education.
“The number of out-of-school children is set to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not seen in years and have fought so hard to overcome”, she said.
“Children’s ability to read, write and do basic math has suffered, and the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century economy have diminished”, Ms. Fore added.
Closure a ‘last resort’
Keeping children at home puts their health, development, safety and well-being at risk – with the most vulnerable bearing the heaviest brunt, she said.
She pointed out that without school meals, children are “left hungry and their nutrition is worsening”; without daily peer interactions and less mobility, they are “losing physical fitness and showing signs of mental distress”; and without the safety net that school often provides, they are “more vulnerable to abuse, child marriage and child labour”.
“That’s why closing schools must be a measure of last resort, after all other options have been considered”, stressed the top UNICEF official.
Evaluating local transmission
Assessing transmission risks at the local level should be “a key determinant” in decisions on school operations, Ms. Fore said.
She also flagged that nationwide school closures be avoided, whenever possible.
“Where there are high levels of community transmission, where health systems are under extreme pressure and where closing schools is deemed inevitable, safeguarding measures must be put in place”, maintained the UNICEF chief.
Moreover, it is important that children who are at risk of violence in their homes, who are reliant upon school meals and whose parents are essential workers, continue their education in classrooms.
After lockdown restrictions are lifted, she said that schools must be among the first to reopen and catch-up classes should be prioritized to keep children who were unable to learn remotely from being left behind.
“If children are faced with another year of school closures, the effects will be felt for generations to come”, said Ms. Fore.
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