UNICEF: Millions of children in crisis zones face ‘bleak future’
Children are the most vulnerable when conflict or disaster causes the collapse of essential services such as healthcare and unless the international community takes urgent action to protect and provide life-saving assistance to them, “they face an increasingly bleak future,” the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned Tuesday, launching a $3.6 billion emergency appeal.
According to UNICEF, approximately 48 million children across 51 countries are caught up in war zones, natural disasters and other dire emergencies that continue to deepen in complexity, bringing new waves of violence, displacement and disruption into their lives.
“Children cannot wait for wars to be brought to an end, with crises threatening the immediate survival and long term future of children and young people on a catastrophic scale,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, citing the devastating impact on children living amid years-long or cyclical violence in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, among others
UNICEF said that almost one in four children live in a country affected by conflict or disaster and has therefore set aside about 84 per cent of its appeal (over $3 billion) these zones.
Destruction of schools, hospitals and health and sanitation systems due to violence has meant that the spread of water-borne diseases is now one of the greatest threats to children’s lives in crises.
Girls and women face additional threats, as they often fulfil the role of collecting water for their families in dangerous situations.
“[Some] 117 million people living through emergencies lack access to safe water and in many countries affected by conflict, more children die from diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation than from direct violence,” said Mr. Fontaine.
“Without access to safe water and sanitation, children fall ill, and are often unable to be treated as hospitals and health centres either do not function or are overcrowded. The threat is even greater as millions of children face life-threatening levels of malnutrition, making them more susceptible to water-borne diseases like cholera, creating a vicious cycle of undernutrition and disease,” he added
The largest chunk of UNICEF’s 2018 appeal, amounting to $1.3 billion is earmarked for supporting nearly seven million Syrian children both inside the war-torn country – where the conflict will soon enter its eight year – as well as those forced to become refugees outside its borders.
Globally, the UN agency aims to reach 35.7 million people with access to safe water, 8.9 million children with formal or non-formal basic education, 10 million children with immunization against measles, 3.9 million children with psychosocial support, and 4.2 million children with treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
As the leading humanitarian agency on water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies, UNICEF provided over half of the emergency water, sanitation and hygiene services in humanitarian crises around the world. It also helped hospitals and medical centres treat deadly diseases and repaired water and sanitation systems.
In the first 10 months of 2017, UNICEF provided almost 30 million people with access to safe water, 13.6 million children with vaccination against measles, 5.5 million children with some form of education, 2.5 million children with treatment for severe acute malnutrition and 2.8 million children with psycho-social support.
British General explains how intelligence has shaped the Russia-Ukraine war
This is a confession of General Sir James Richard Hockenhull (photo), Commander Strategic Command, and he direct involvement of Great Britain and its special services in the war against Russia in Ukraine, as he discussed the use of ‘open source intelligence’ at a Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Members Webinar.
“I’m a career intelligence officer and certainly, for long periods of my career, it felt like I was responsible for making a jigsaw from the available information…
There’s a lot of confirmation and availability bias in some of the things that we’ve learned from Ukraine. Because of this we should caveat those lessons slightly and make sure we’re applying the right diagnostics and analysis to make sure that we’re pulling through the correct lessons.
This is open source for intelligence, but it’s also open source and broader understanding which is supporting our intelligence making and decision making. If we can fully understand the availability of this information the impact will go beyond just thinking about intelligence or open source.
Open source fits into a wider set of changes around how we’re using information intelligence.
The availability of commercial satellites has enabled an extension of reach in the Ukrainian military’s situational awareness and their ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance. We’re seeing artificial intelligence used alongside commercial software applications to increase the speed of action. It’s also increasing utility. We’re seeing an attempt to sense and understand the environment, to decide and orchestrate, to act and then to learn and adapt. Those four stages are about being able to do that with sufficient pace to be able to outpace the adversary, and whoever learns fastest is going to win.
Open source and its role in intelligence has had a significant range of impacts and I would group these into six categories.
The first is adding to anticipatory intelligence. How we’re understanding the posture of forces and the fusion of commercial imagery, tech data and social media analysis, provided significant insight into Russian deployments. This goes all the way back to spring 2021 through the autumn and winter of 21 into 22, showing us what was happening and where it was happening. That anticipatory intelligence is being used not just by sources inside the military but it’s being projected for all to see and for all to interpret.
The second change would be that the impact of conflict is shifting public confidence. We had the ability to share information around Russian activity widely, whether it was in deployment, when fully deployed and postured for invasion, or indeed at point of invasion and beyond. That widely shared a picture has changed the way the public understand how the conflict has taken place. That’s true, certainly in Ukraine for example, but it’s also true in the wider West. One of the crucial elements of success in Ukrainian conflict has been the commitment of Western nations to provide support.
The third area is countering Russia’s Information Operations own narrative around the war. The fact that the truth was well known meant that as soon as false narratives were put out by the Russians, they were immediately exposed or understood by the public to be a false narrative. That power of information and knowledge has had a really significant impact on the public and been a counter to Russian Information Operations.
Open source has also proved to be a force multiplier, and we’ve been able to move to an approach which militaries around the world have sought to do for some time. Through open source every platform and every service person is able to act as a sensor. The force multiplier is its use of commercial networks – this is the fourth.
These commercial networks are inevitably driven by a need to keep availability high the people using them, and this means they’re incredibly robust. This offers alternative pathways for information to travel and sometimes goes beyond military communications which can be subject to jamming or disruption. It’s incredibly difficult to overcome these commercial networks and therefore, that force multiplier of sensors, has been a really significant way in which the Ukraine military have been able to generate information advantage.
The fifth element is in the crowdsourcing and the use of standardised chatbots which has allowed these Ukrainian citizens to report Russian units and locations. The civilian sensor network has been a force multiplier but also, it’s been able to provide a variety of viewpoints around information. This has enabled processing and evaluation of the availability of data to provide additional insight. The longer the conflict has gone on, the more adept the Ukrainians have become at harnessing the quantity of information to pull insights from as many sensors as possible.
This is where the combination of open source intelligence and secret sources of intelligence becomes invaluable in being able to see whether we can define greater understanding as a consequence.
We see a variety of authoritative sources available through social media platforms which provide insight and sentiment analysis. These are incredibly important because it offers the ability to understand what’s happening and that has been expanded almost exponentially as a consequence.
Open source offers us an opportunity to be able to understand context in a deeper, faster, and more responsive manner than we could do in the past. We gain real power, when we can combine that with secret intelligence and what we gain from our global network.
One of the key things I take away from what’s been happening in Ukraine is the need to go much faster than we’ve gone before in how we exploit open sources.
There are a range of lessons coming out of Ukraine and this is one of those moments in time where we must reflect. If we don’t take due cognizance of what’s happening in Ukraine, social media, the commercial world, and inside government, then our system will not be ready and prepared for the next challenge that we face,” said General Sir James Richard Hockenhull.
Health & Wellness
Scientists remain vigilant for new Covid-19 variants while improving the ability to predict complications
Regular life may have resumed for most people, but the pandemic rumbles on as researchers keep a watch on new variants and increase efforts to better identify patients at risk.
By VITTORIA D’ALESSIO
Everyone, it seems, is more than ready to move on from Covid-19, but virus experts say it’s still too early for us to lower our guard.
That’s because the pandemic, they insist, is far from over. Indeed, in a typical week, 180 000 new cases are still being reported across Europe. So, while regular life has resumed for most of us – and the World Health Organization has dropped the status of Covid-19 as a ‘global emergency’ (the highest level of alert) – scientists remain vigilant.
‘We might have good control over the pandemic – and the vaccine has played a major role in achieving this – but the virus continues to persist, and the situation is still very dynamic,’ said Professor Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of Immunology and Allergy at the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute.
The virus causing Covid-19 is an artful opportunist, endlessly evolving to evade our defences – and with each significant mutation comes the threat of a new wave of infection. According to Pantaleo, a time is likely to come when our current defences – whether built up through infection or acquired by vaccination – will no longer effectively counter the virus. Complacency could be a costly mistake.
‘It’s critical for us to keep monitoring populations for new variants,’ said Pantaleo. ‘We need to know the impact each mutation has on the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments so we can be prepared for what is coming next and put in place new measures to control the spread.’
Pantaleo coordinates CoVICIS, a three-year Covid-19 surveillance programme due to end next year and funded by the EU to the tune of €10 million.
CoVICIS involves researchers in Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, South Africa and Ethiopia. African involvement is essential for the project to fulfil its ambition of evolving into a surveillance platform with a global reach.
Most countries on the African continent lack the infrastructure to monitor infections within their borders. Moreover, much of Africa’s population remains unvaccinated, said Pantaleo, meaning the virus has more opportunity to spread and mutate (a fact that probably explains why several variants, including Omicron, first emerged in Africa).
For good reason then, monitoring the evolution of Covid-19 in Africa is a pressing concern. However, Pantaleo hopes the programme will set the stage for collaborations with an even wider reach.
‘This pandemic has taught us that when it comes to dangerous pathogens we are all connected. We need to establish a new type of research infrastructure so, when it’s time to deal with a new virus, we can quickly mobilise the world’s scientific community and work as one,’ he said.
Since the earliest days of the pandemic, scientists have been looking for new means to predict how any given person is likely to respond to a Covid-19 infection. The way some experience the virus as a mild cold while others die can seem almost random. Though there’s no doubt that having a comorbidity or an underlying non-diagnosed condition puts a person at higher risk, little is known about why some healthy individuals develop severe Covid-19.
There are two types of at-risk patients the researchers hope to identify: those who are hit hard during the acute phase of illness and those who are saddled with the debilitating symptoms of long-Covid.
‘What we must remember is that for many people, the virus causing Covid does not simply infect the lung cells, cause a few pulmonary problems and then go away,’ said Dr Yvan Devaux, leader of the Cardiovascular Research Unit at the Luxembourg Institute of Health. ‘For a substantial number of people, an infection leads to problems that affect the entire body and persist long-term.’
What has become clear from the work by Devaux and others is that Covid-19 can be bad for your heart.
One study of 160 000 unvaccinated people found that infected patients in the acute phase of their illness are four times more likely than uninfected individuals to develop a major cardiovascular disease – and 40% more likely in the 18 months that follow.
Taken to heart
This is true regardless of age, sex, race or pre-Covid-19 health status and whether an infection is mild or severe. However, the worst cardiovascular outcomes are experienced by Covid-19 patients who end up in intensive care and people with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.
In other words, serious infections increase the likelihood of developing heart conditions and pre-existing heart conditions increase the likelihood of dying from Covid-19.
The problem is, cardiovascular disorders have an uncanny ability to remain hidden: a heart attack is often the first sign of an underlying problem. For this reason, finding reliable ways to expose cardiac problems before they become critical has long been a research priority within the EU.
Devaux and his collaborators have been trying to find new tests to diagnose cardiovascular conditions for many years. The pandemic simply spurred them on.
New tests to pre-empt complications
In March 2020 – the same month the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic – the team decided to find a way to identify Covid-19 patients who were most likely to develop heart complications after an initial infection.
‘We had good reason to believe there would be a strong link between Covid infection and coronary heart conditions,’ said Devaux, ‘and we wanted to be part of the international effort to save lives.’
The EU-funded COVIRNA project is devising a test to predict who is most likely to develop cardiovascular complications.
The hope is that an affordable blood test will soon be ready to roll out to hospitalised Covid-19 patients. It will measure a specific type of free-floating RNA molecule that has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
The researchers have collated RNA data from 2 000 study participants and are currently using artificial intelligence to analyse this information and create a reliable tool to predict an individual’s risk.
High-risk patients will then receive personalised care to monitor their health and, if necessary, receive treatment to degrade the troublesome RNA molecules.
‘Patients would get the test a few days into the disease and doctors would then be able to tailor their care – for instance, by sending them for a heart MRI scan when they otherwise wouldn’t have one or by redirecting them to a cardiologist to be watched closely,’ said Devaux.
‘We might not be able to close the last page on Covid quite yet, but this test could be considered a good output of the pandemic.’
Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
“Global Times”: China-Russia cooperation is broader than what US-led West can envision
On the afternoon of May 24, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Mishustin, who was on an official visit to China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Mishustin also held talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on the same day. China and Russia signed a series of bilateral agreements on service trade cooperation, sports, patents, and Russian millet exports to China, which shows significant results of Mishustin’s first visit to China since taking office as Russian Prime Minister. The increase in quality of China-Russia economic and trade cooperation, coupled with a full tank of oil, will drive them toward a farther and broader future, notes ‘Global Times’ in an editorial.
The size and level of the Russian team and the number of entrepreneurs accompanying Mishustin is rare in recent years. The visit mainly aimed at implementing cooperation projects and further expanding economic cooperation.
In March this year, President Xi made a successful state visit to Russia and outlined the blueprint for the development of China-Russia relations and cooperation in various fields with President Vladimir Putin. This visit by Mishustin to China is promoting the implementation of the blueprint, and with the joint efforts of both China and Russia, it will become a roadmap and construction plan, and eventually be built into a beautiful reality.
Some past problems have also been solved, and blockages and bottlenecks have been gradually cleared. Of course, the road must be taken step by step, and the all-round cooperation between China and Russia is steadily advancing.
This is the essence of the new type of major-country relationship, and we strongly suggest that Washington take it seriously. Because Washington’s narrow-mindedness cannot accommodate China or Russia, making even the vast Pacific Ocean seem cramped.
Western media, whose minds are filled with confrontation, become nervous at the sight of normal cooperation between China and Russia. They either advocate for China and Russia to “join forces to resist the West” or stir up the old tune of “Russia is dependent on China” to provoke China-Russia relations. Is it possible for the US to contain and suppress China, isolate Russia in all respects, and try to isolate China and Russia from each other as well?
The root of this divided attitude in the US lies in its uncontrollable hegemonic impulses and the fear of the so-called “China-Russia alliance,” which is considered the US’ greatest geopolitical nightmare. These two factors create an internal conflict and psychological strain that the US cannot resolve. The tense atmosphere over the Asia-Pacific region is essentially an external manifestation of Washington’s geopolitical anxieties. Discussing global affairs in front of the world map in their offices, armchair strategists in Washington can only perceive threats and adversaries. Through their meddling, they bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy, pushing countries that could have been potential partners to the opposite side of the US and creating the most severe strategic risks of the era.
We often emphasize that the cooperation between China and Russia is neither directed against third parties nor subject to third-party interference or coercion. This principle guides China’s interactions not only with Russia but also with all countries, including those from Europe, the Middle East, and neighboring regions. It stands in stark contrast to the practices of hegemonism: one emphasizes “non-targeting” and “non-interference and non-coercion,” while the other is precisely engaged in “targeting,” “interference,” and “coercion” worldwide. The former has created astonishing miracles of peace and development, while the latter has left countless scars and conflicts.
The resilience of China-Russia cooperation against interference has significantly strengthened, and the noise generated by the US and Western countries serves as a reverse motivation for us to continue moving forward.
Just as the famous Tang Dynasty poem quoted by Mishustin during his visit to China goes, “You will enjoy a grander sight, if you climb to a greater height,” quotes “Global Times”.
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