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UNICEF: Millions of children in crisis zones face ‘bleak future’

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A 9-year-old boy and his brother, 6, wait for their turn to fill the empty jerry cans from a local water well in eastern Aleppo, in Syria. Photo: UNICEF/Zayat

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.

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Are VPN Apps Worth the Money?

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VPNs are a big part of the internet these days. Virtually every IT expert in the world recommends that you always use one, and that’s because they’re essential to having a safe and secure experience when getting online. When you buy reliable VPN access, it can provide that security on any device that connects, and you have plenty of options when it comes to VPN providers. That leads to a pretty obvious question. Is the VPN worth the money? To answer that, we can compare the cost of the VPN to the cost of not using it. We’ll also look at a few VPN features that can impact their overall value.

The Cost of VPN

If we’re going to seriously answer the question, it starts by looking at some basic costs. There are a lot of VPN apps out there, and each one has its own pricing and offers. While we can’t fit everything into a neat little box, most VPN services will fall into a competitive range of features and pricing. We’ll look at pricing in two categories: free services and subscription services. We can make some pretty easy comparisons to help you see how much a VPN app will cost you.

Free

There are VPNs that are completely free to use. The Opera browser has it built right into the software, and plenty of others work as VPN apps that are quite effective in creating a secure tunnel for your internet traffic. Even though these VPNs have no financial cost to use, we can attribute some amount of cost to their use. Most of those come in terms of performance.

Free VPNs tend to be slower than paid subscription services. If your internet speeds have a lot of value to you (especially if your work is online), then VPN speeds could have a real fiscal cost associated with their use.

Aside from speeds, a few other performance issues can impact free VPNs. For the most part, they offer less in terms of automated connectivity. If you get disconnected from your free VPN, it might not halt your internet traffic until the tunnel can be reconnected. That means you might be using the internet without protection, and in those cases, the cost of a free VPN is quite similar to the cost of not using a VPN, which we will discuss in a bit.

Subscription

When you use a paid VPN service, the cost is easy. You’re paying out of pocket for security. Most consumer-grade VPNs are going to charge a monthly fee, and that monthly fee is not very high. It’s usually in the ballpark of dollars per month (not even tens of dollars). Many subscription services will cut you a deal and lower the monthly cost if you commit to a longer time frame. It’s a common tactic, and it can save you a lot of money.

To make this simple, the cost of subscribing to a VPN (that hopefully won’t let you accidentally connect unsecured) is the price they charge, and it will usually be between $1 and $10 a month.

Cost of Ignoring VPNs

We talked about the cost of using VPNs. Now we have to consider the financial fallout that can come from unsecured internet activity. If you use the internet enough (without protection), you will eventually run into at least one of the problems. Every time you do, it costs money. When you consider just how big the long-term costs can be, it helps put VPN pricing into perspective.

Stolen Data

This is a big concern for everyone, but it’s especially scary for businesses. If you operate a business without a secure tunnel, the risk that data you use can be stolen goes up considerably. Data breaches are one of the biggest killers of businesses. The cost of having data stolen because there is no VPN can easily get into the millions of dollars. For large businesses that handle data for millions of customers, the cost can even get into the billions.

Even if you aren’t running a business, having personal data stolen is not good. That can include financial information, passwords and other secure info. Anyone who has had their identity stolen can inform you that it is neither cheap nor painless to resolve. While a VPN can’t offer you perfect protection from all threats, it dramatically reduces your risk of having vital data stolen. That means using a VPN can easily save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Activity Tracking

Even when people aren’t stealing your credit card information or Social Security number, VPNs are protecting you. Having your online activity tracked can still be a costly concession. This is especially true if you have ever done something that breaks the rules on the internet.

No one here is condoning or promoting illegal activity, but it’s surprisingly easy to unwittingly violate copyrights or terms of service. Do all of the videos you view properly attribute all of their credits? Have you streamed music? Were the artists properly compensated? It’s impossible to know, but most internet users violate terms of service at some p[oint without even realizing it. Doing so makes you fiscally liable, and companies do go after violators on a regular basis.

Your VPN masks all of this, so when you accidentally break a rule, no one can track it back to you. It protects you from liability lawsuits that could be enough to ruin you.

Performance

We talked about how a free VPN can impact internet performance and cost you money. No VPN can have an even bigger impact. When you consider bombardments of ads, adware, tracking software, crypto mining and a myriad of other ways online connections can mess with your devices, VPNs are giving you a massive upgrade in overall internet performance. By preventing the vast majority of these abuses, your time online is more efficient.

Even if you don’t make your living online, you’re paying for access to the internet. If that payment includes a bunch of obtrusive ads or other disruptions, then you’re losing money. The protection provided by your VPN makes your internet service spending more cost-effective.

Malicious Software

This is one of the biggest reasons to have a VPN. While it isn’t an antivirus package (although plenty of providers bundle services), your VPN makes it much harder for people to reach you with malicious software. It protects you from keyloggers, ransomware and other cases that render your device unusable or otherwise unsafe.

If you have ever had to deal with these problems, you know that resolving them isn’t always cheap. Keyloggers can be used to steal things from you. Ransomware can take away all of your data, and replacing it is never free. Even removing viruses typically costs money, and all of this is money that could be saved by using a VPN.

The Value of a VPN

While we’ve covered the cost of ignoring a VPN, there’s another side to this coin. VPNs come with a bunch of services, and those can add direct value to what you’re getting. Let’s review some of the most valuable services to complete this picture.

Geoblocking

Many content providers block their content by region. Netflix is the most notorious example. The content you can access in the United States is very different from what you’ll see in Europe or Asia. Geoblocking is very common, but a good VPN can get you through geoblocking and unlock the entire internet to you. This adds a lot of value to any content subscriptions you might have. How much more is your Netflix worth when you can see all of their stuff instead of just some of it? Multiply that concept by the entire internet, and you can see how your VPN is adding value in big ways.

Device Limits

Each service will set its own device limits, but as long as that limit is more than one, you’re essentially getting a bundled deal. You’re getting the benefits of your VPN on every device that uses it, so high device limits are adding multiplicative value to your VPN subscription. That’s something to consider when you shop around. The more devices you can use with one subscription, the more value you can get out of it.

Multiple Connections

One of the most interesting VPN features is multiple connections. Each provider has a clever name for the service, but the idea is interesting. You can connect to multiple countries at the same time. This gives you access to more internet content while simultaneously improving your anonymity. It takes the value of using a VPN to a whole new level.

Let’s revisit the original question. Is a VPN app worth the money? Only you can answer that, but when you consider everything you just learned, the answer isn’t too tough. When you consider that there are a ton of features and benefits that are just too numerous to include here, the answer becomes even easier. You can get a VPN for a very low cost, and it’s easy to make it worth the investment. It’s really up to you.

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Sint Maarten Trust Fund Launches Enterprise Support Project

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The US$35 million Enterprise Support Project was officially launched today. The project is funded by the Sint Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience Trust Fund, financed by the Government of the Netherlands, managed by the World Bank, and implemented by the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) on behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten. The project aims to support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through direct financial assistance to contribute to the restoration of economic activity in Sint Maarten.

“Micro, small, and medium enterprises are key for the island’s economic recovery and for job creation. This project can benefit Sint Maarten’s economy by supporting viable local enterprises, so that they can continue operations, and better prepare for the future,” said Michelle Keane, World Bank Program Manager for the Sint Maarten Trust Fund.

The Enterprise Support Project will provide grants and financing to eligible MSMEs through participating financial institutions, which currently include Qredits and the Windward Islands Bank Ltd. MSMEs are important for the economy and employment in Sint Maarten, but often lack the financial resources of larger firms, so are more vulnerable to shocks. Many firms continue to struggle since Hurricane Irma, and have been further severely affected by the unprecedented economic disruption caused by COVID-19. Business continuity planning training will be provided to enterprises and financial institutions in Sint Maarten, as well as training to lenders to improve their MSME lending products. Overall the project intends to provide direct financial assistance to more than 500 MSMEs, including training to 150 MSMEs over the next four years.

“Though there were many challenges to overcome, with much perseverance and an eagerness to propel MSMEs forward, we are proud to announce that ESP has been launched. Together with Central Bank, WIB, and Qredits, we welcome other local financial institutions to help us build a stronger and more resilient Sint Maarten.

What is also key in this project is the opportunity for St Maarten to properly develop its Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise sector through other important aspects of the project. This is a study to strengthen the resilience of the economy to future shocks, in addition to incorporating trainings to enterprises and participating financial institutions. The aim is to improve MSME lending capabilities to ensure better MSME access to finance and improving resilience of businesses.

“We therefore look to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and other organizations such as the Social Economic Council (SER) and St Maarten Chamber of Commerce (COCI) to foster a strong and cohesive collaboration  in the spirit of Private and Public Partnerships (PPP) to provide support to the NRPB, ESP Team in successfully executing this mission,” said Claret Connor, NRPB Director.

Chris Johnson, head of the Representation of the Netherlands in Sint Maarten VNP, commented, “The island of Sint Maarten was heavily damaged by the hurricanes of 2017, including its economy. For Sint Maarten’s reconstruction I believe it is important that the private sector will recover in an innovative and flexible manner. With the launch of the Enterprise Support Project the need to support micro, small and medium enterprises, is addressed.  The project design is geared to contribute to the sustainable recovery of the private sector on Sint Maarten. I hope to see tangible results on the island soon!”

Resources for interested applicants can be found at: https://nrpbsxm.org/esp/

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Environment

Minamata Convention on Mercury: 3 years of protecting health and the environment

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The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The year 2020 is a milestone for the Convention – it is when parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Convention, reflects on its impact.

Mercury has been mined and utilized since ancient times. People used it in burial ceremonies, in paints in their houses, as a sedative, an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, in cosmetics, to treat syphilis, to name a few. Alchemists believed that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.”

The chemical properties of mercury make it popular for many uses. It is the only common metal, which is liquid at ordinary temperature, it has high density and amalgamates easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin.

If only people in the past knew what we know today. Health effects of metal and especially of its more toxic and bio-accumulative form called methylmercury, are devasting. It can damage brain functions, nervous system and is especially dangerous to women and unborn children since it is transmitted through the placenta.

Over the last decades, scientific evidence about the environmental fate of mercury and its compounds has grown tremendously. Past and present human activities have increased total atmospheric mercury concentrations by about 450% above natural levels (UNEP, 2019). Mercury from human activities can now be found in the most remote areas, in marine mammals and fish in the Arctic and at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—the deepest oceanic trench on the planet.

Despite all this evidence, mercury use continues – it is used to extract gold from ore on four continents and in certain products and industrial processes in countries around the world. But the scientific knowledge has not been produced in vain.

In 2013, a new treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, was adopted by a global community under the auspices of UNEP. The Convention is named after Minamata Bay in Japan to remember the lessons of the tragic health damage by industrial mercury pollution in the 1950s and 1960s.

The aim of the treaty is to protect the environment and the human health from anthropogenic emissions and releases of the toxic heavy metal. It regulates the entire life cycle of mercury – its supply, trade, use, emissions, releases, storage, and the management of waste and contaminated sites.

This new piece of international law entered into force on 16 August 2017 and it already has 123 Parties, with new countries joining all the time.

2020 is a major deadline in the Convention. By the end of this year, Parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. These products are in every-day use and include batteries, switches and relays, certain types of lamps, cosmetics, pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics, and certain types of measuring devices such as thermometers and manometers. Mercury use in two major manufacturing processes, Chlor-alkali industry and acetaldehyde production, is being phased out as well, along with restricting use in other industrial processes.

Science will continue to be instrumental to ensure effective and cost-efficient implementation of the Convention by its Parties. For instance, we know that artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest user and emitter of mercury into the environment globally, accounting for 37% of total consumption and 38% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2015 (UNEP, 2019).

The Minamata Convention Parties work to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, without pushing the often-informal sector underground. This is done primarily through formalization, including improving transparency and accountability in global gold supply chains. ASGM generates income for an estimated 10-15 million miners and another 100 million or more in the secondary economy and is thus an essential focus of economic recovery from COVID-19 and building back better.

Apart from the intentional use of mercury in processes and products, industrial activities to produce power and other commodities are a major source of mercury contributing to air pollution. Mercury emissions can be controlled by a wide range of technologies and best practices, including many which reduce other air pollutants at the same time. Shifting away from coal is an effective measure too.

For many years, four behavioural factors – unhealthy diets, tobacco-smoking, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity – were cited as the top risk factors for non-communicable diseases. In 2018, the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable diseases included air pollution as a fifth risk factor. Non-communicable diseases, respiratory diseases included, currently account for the deaths of seven in every 10 people worldwide. A correlation between the level of air pollution and the number of COVID-19 cases does not come as a surprise (WEF, 2020).

In implementing the Minamata Convention, we are all working to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Coral might be back in once heavily-polluted Minamata Bay in Japan, after decades of restoration. However, Minamata Bay people still suffer from past methyl-mercury poisoning. Building back better is also about creating a world where people can live in good health for generations to come.

We celebrate the third anniversary of the Convention with the great enthusiasm that we can #MakeMercuryHistory.

UN Environment

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