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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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Finance

Post-COVID, Latin American Leaders Say their Countries Are Open for Business

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Rising food and energy prices and a migration crisis are posing significant economic and social challenges in Latin America, according to several leaders from the region speaking on a presidential panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022. However, they remain confident that investing in their economies will remain attractive.

“We cannot be indifferent in front of this humanitarian tragedy,” said Colombian President Ivan Duque, referring to challenges linked to Venezuelan migration to his country, which has seen close to 2 million cross the border over the past several years after fleeing economic hardship. Duque announced that Colombia would issue over 1 million temporary status cards to Venezuelan migrants.

Rising food and energy prices also pose threats to Latin American populations. President Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona of the Dominican Republic noted that his government would soon authorize subsidies for corn to offset rising food prices and the increasing cost of poultry. The nation has already implemented fertilizer subsidies and support for wheat prices would likely follow.

While the region has experienced economic growth in recent years, the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain and price shocks linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised questions about future growth for a range of countries. Despite the challenges, many Latin American countries continue to tout their economies and to encourage foreign business for investment and “near-shoring”.

“Not red tape, but red carpet,” said President Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Costa Rica, on his nation’s readiness to welcome foreign investors. “Costa Rica is open for business. I will break all bottlenecks…. I will open all doors.”

Likewise, Dina Ercilia Boluarte, Peru’s Vice-President and Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, stressed the nation’s readiness for outside investors. “We will welcome you with a stable economy and legal guarantees.”

The focus of many Latin American nations is now on climate and environmental sustainability. In tourism-intensive nations, such as the Dominican Republic, the sector constitutes an essential part of GDP and employs 20% of the population. Diversifying beyond “sun-and-beach” tourism could ensure the sector remains resilient even in the face of intensifying climate change.

In addition, the region can accelerate investments in climate mitigation and renewable energy. Chaves said: “We’re improving our electricity grid to more renewables even though we have over-invested in the power generation with fossil fuels.” Transitioning energy sources in a time of rising prices poses serious challenges, he added, so the nation will need to proceed with its reforms in a way that balances current growth with sustainability goals.

Educational reform is another way Latin American leaders are preparing for digital and green energy transformations. Colombia recently completed training for 100,000 programmers, and Costa Rica is working to improve the efficiency of its education spending. Currently, the country spends twice as much as Viet Nam to educate students. While Viet Nam ranks eighth in students’ math scores, Costa Rica ranks near the bottom in terms of students’ maths performance.

Peru is promoting social inclusion by transforming how the state delivers social services to rural communities. One programme involves putting state services – such as vaccines, health supplies and training materials to reduce violence against women – on boats so officials can reach hard-to-access communities in dense Peruvian forests and remote villages. “We are bringing services of the state to our brothers and sisters to improve their quality of life,” Boluarte said.

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Health & Wellness

Health Leaders Stress Need for Coordinated Global Response to Tackle Pandemics

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Improved global coordination and regional capacity building will help ensure the world is better prepared for the next pandemic, said leading health experts at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

“We must not lose this moment of potential transformative change in building preparedness,” said Helen E. Clark, Board Chair, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, World Health Organization (WHO). “Unfortunately, political resolve to solve COVID is beginning to fade.”

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in many countries. “To date, the African continent has fully vaccinated just 18% of its adult population.” This is mostly due to the lack of virus testing and vaccine administration capacity, he said.

“Investing in health systems and regional bodies like Africa CDC and African Medicines Agency must be a key priority. We have to act in the full expectation that there will be another pandemic.”

Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said it was critical to identify and isolate viral outbreaks early. “Infectious disease is an exponential phenomenon and less than 2% of overall deaths occur in the first 100 days.”

“Unfortunately, much of the world’s pandemic risk resides in countries which don’t have the capacity to respond quickly and effectively,” he said. “You have to have global capacity if you are serious about pandemics.”

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, argued for the need for “multi-pathogen infrastructure and capacity”. That is, to ensure that broad public health surveillance and infrastructure are available across the infectious disease spectrum.

“We need to finish the job – and we can do that by investing intelligently in infrastructure like lab networks, community health workers, supply chains and simultaneously help countries defeat HIV, TB and malaria as well as make them safer against future pathogens,” he said.

Francis deSouza, President and CEO of Illumina, predicted that the pandemic will launch the world into what he describes as the “Era of Biology” in which human health, longevity and biology will underpin the 21st century.

“The amount of breakthrough innovations that have occurred during the pandemic period is unprecedented,” he said. On the sequencing front, for example, the price has dropped 99% over the past few years. This has enabled us to deploy sequencing around the world to over 190 countries”.

He added: “However, we are only as strong as the weakest among us, hence we need to build a global infrastructure and have a coordinated global response to the next outbreak.”

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‘New dawn’ for Europe as War in Ukraine Strengthens EU and Support for Enlargement

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The European Union surprised the world, and even itself, with the speed, scale and unity of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This “new” Europe is ready to project both soft and hard power on the world stage, European leaders told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, on the panel at the session, European Unity in a Disordered World?, said the Ukraine war has revealed how powerful Europe is collectively: “This is a new dawn for Europe.”

The war on Ukraine has also revealed weaknesses – including global supply chain vulnerabilities and over-reliance on Russian energy, she said, but Europe is addressing this and can begin to flex its muscles on the global stage. “Europe has untapped purchasing power, trading power, technology power, pension power and moral power.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, reinforced the point. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said. “Europe can become the global project for peace.”

Mistakes of the past will be rectified, she said. “For way too long we did not seriously consider an energy union where we can rely on each other rather than on a country that can switch us off at any time.”

Referring to the EU’s support and defence of Ukraine, she was emphatic: “This is not the time to talk about face-saving for Russia or appeasement.”

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, also on the panel, said: “If Ukraine falls to Russian aggression, Slovakia is next.” He added that we must continue to provide military support as well as step up humanitarian aid. “Above all we need to give Ukrainians hope.”

“Let’s not compromise – we must remain faithful to the values of the EU – freedom, rule of law, human dignity and equal rights.”

Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “The people of Europe have spoken. Enough is enough.” In response there is much stronger unanimity between member states and more support than ever to accept the accession of new members.

He continued: “We see the EU’s future in terms of the green economy and in terms of the digitalization but also in terms of enlargement.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called on European member states to continue to raise their defence spending. “The NATO alliance members are inseparable, but Europe must play its part,” he said. “This will help transform Europe from a soft power to a hard power.”

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