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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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Challenge Met: Regional Dialogue during an Outbreak

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photo: APEC

The first cluster of APEC meetings in 2020 was received by a regional outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus that has already affected thousands. The global community was just coming to terms with the potential effects of COVID-19’s spread when activities among officials from around the Asia-Pacific region began on 3 February 2020 here in Putrajaya.

APEC working groups and committees still met, however, to discuss work plans and agendas to be advanced in 2020, a red-letter year for APEC. The meetings covered many topics, such as trade and investment, structural reform, business mobilitysustainable development, and corruption.

Among the groups that met was the APEC Health Working Group, which traces its origins to the multilateral response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak 18 years ago, and whose continued activity has just become a regional first priority.

According to the Chair of APEC Senior Officials, Mr Hairil Yahri Yaacob, the fact that APEC members came together despite the health scare proved the solidarity and resilience of the region, and was an example of how economies can rise together to shared challenges.

“I would like to express our appreciation to APEC member economies that put their faith in Malaysia’s leadership and made it a point to participate in the meetings,” said Mr Yaacob, during his opening remarks opening the First Senior Officials Meeting of APEC 2020.

He emphasised that the well-being of the people was given utmost priority and various safety and precautionary measures were put in place to ensure these gatherings went smoothly.

He noted that Malaysia, as host, even took advantage of advancements in technology to make remote participation through videoconferencing a seamless experience. This enabled members who could not travel due to health-related domestic issues to participate remotely from various cities in other economies.  

“Throughout these 17 days, we saw participation from various stakeholders in meetings, workshops, activities and side events,” Yaacob said. “We also saw strong collaboration between the public and private sectors especially during policy dialogues.”

“This was something that Malaysia did not anticipate but we managed to put in place necessary measures to mitigate the situation,” Yaacob said. “In managing the risks and threats of this virus, the APEC 2020 Secretariat worked very closely with the Ministry of Health Malaysia and other relevant authorities to ensure the safety of delegates and all parties involved in the meetings.”

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Biodiversity ‘fundamental’ for global food systems, at “heart’ of development

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Because the production of everything we eat transforms the environment, the United Nations agriculture chief told a high-level UN meeting on biodiversity that careful discussions are needed to decide on the scale of acceptable transformations. 

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told negotiators on Monday that as agriculture and food systems are “at the heart of the concept of sustainable development”, they are central to deliberations regarding the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, which is expected to be adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference in October. 

“Biodiversity is fundamental for ecosystems, for human beings, and is the basis of food diversity,” said Mr. Qu, opening the second meeting of the Open-ended Working Group established by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which FAO is hosting. 

He spoke about the enormous challenge of feeding more than nine billion people in 2050 – in ways that assure healthy diets while not overexploiting natural resources. 

“I know that the world is eagerly waiting out there for demonstrable progress towards a clear, actionable and transformative global framework on biodiversity,” said the Acting Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. 

The FAO chief signaled his hope for a “robust” outcome at the UN Biodiversity Conference that will be held in Kunming, China. The framework decided there will set the course for the next 10 years and beyond. 

Leading the call 

Mr. Qu noted that FAO has shepherded “many milestones” of UN efforts to achieve biodiversity conservation. 

He highlighted the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as well as knowledge products, such as last year’s The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

He also pointed out that FAO provides keystone functional services, such as data collection and dissemination, standard-setting, policy consultation and capacity building – all useful in protecting biological diversity. 

The FAO Director-General concluded by urging the delegations to ensure that biodiversity is an integral part of the issues discussed at the 2021 World Food Systems Summit, which will be hosted by the UN Secretary General and aims to maximize the co-benefits of a food systems approach across the entire 2030 Agenda and meet the challenges of climate change. 

The CBD, which entered into force in December 1993 and currently has 196 Parties, aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. 

 This is a ‘super year’ for the environment – a make or break year in which key international meetings, including on the Ocean (Lisbon) and a proposed ‘Nature’ summit in New York this coming September, will set the tone and agenda for environmental action in the decade ahead. 

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ADB Approves CNY130 Million Private Sector Loan to Support Coronavirus Response in China

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Jointown Vice Chairman Liu Zhaonian (left) and Advisor for ADB's Private Sector Operations Department Hisaka Kimura (right) during the signing on 25 February 2020 in Beijing. Photo: ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today signed an agreement for a private sector loan of up to CNY130 million ($18.6 million) to Jointown Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd. (Jointown) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The local currency loan will support Jointown’s efforts to ensure a continued supply of essential medicines and personal protective equipment such as protective clothing, gloves, goggles, face masks, and respirators. The financing will also support Jointown’s cooperation with the Red Cross in its efforts to respond to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Jointown is the largest private pharmaceutical distributor in the PRC and is headquartered in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are very grateful to ADB for its timely support for Jointown at the frontline of the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic,” said the Vice Chairman of Jointown Liu Zhaonian. “With ADB’s facility, we will further deliver drugs and urgently needed personal protective equipment to the most severely affected areas.”

“This financing will help Jointown to maintain adequate stock of urgently needed medical supplies, antiviral drugs, and personal protective equipment for distribution to hospitals and retail pharmacy outlets,” said the Director General of ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department Mike Barrow. “By focusing support at the center of the outbreak, the assistance will make a meaningful contribution to Jointown’s crucial role in containing the spread.”

Jointown has been designated by the Hubei provincial government to procure and distribute drugs and medical supplies during the COVID-19 outbreak. Its distribution warehouse in Wuhan is the largest such facility in the PRC. Advanced information technology systems help Jointown to maintain efficiencies and service standards even as the spread of the virus significantly increases the demand for medical supplies. Given its experience in warehouse and inventory management, Jointown has been asked to assist the Wuhan and Hubei provincial branches of the Red Cross Society of China in classifying, storing, and managing inventory of donated products.

The financing is ADB’s first private sector assistance to support health security and was expedited under a streamlined approval process for small nonsovereign transactions. The two-year loan will complement loans already provided to Jointown by PRC financial institutions. It is part of ADB’s broader response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which was initiated on 7 February with $2 million in funding to strengthen response capacity in several countries in Asia and the Pacific.

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