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Fake News Poses a Threat to Democracies across Latin America and Worldwide

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Fake news and the rapid dissemination of misinformation, particularly online, are a potential threat to democracies and upcoming elections, experts warned at the World Economic Forum on Latin America.

From alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections and the UK Brexit referendum to the destabilizing situation in Spain during the Catalonian independence crisis, the world is seeing an industrial machine that feeds fake news through democratic processes, said David Alandete, Managing Editor and Deputy Director of El País, Spain. The impact, he noted, could have a significant impact, especially in Latin America, where voters throughout the region are heading to the ballot boxes.

While concerned about this trend and decades of populism and misinformation, Esteban Bullrich, Senator from Buenos Aires, Argentina, said he senses a change in the population, which he sees as pushing for truth. “Social media [and the dissemination of fake news] can be a threat, but it can also be a tool to get closer to people. I am optimistic about how things will turn out.”

Argentina is gearing up for general elections in 2019. Bullrich added that democracy is not about a vote every two years, but about people getting involved, being participants and calling out fake news.

Not as optimistic, Leandro Machado, Co-Founder and Partner of CAUSE, Brazil, said he believes that democracy and moral authority are under threat by fake news. He cited a recent MIT study that found that false news spreads faster than true news on Twitter, and the false news spreads faster due to people – not bots (computer programmes) – retweeting it. “We are at risk and we must fight this scenario,” said Machado, adding that the fight against fake news has to have multiple approaches through education and free media.

Representing the press, Maria Cristina Frias, Member of the Board and Columnist at Folha de São Paulo, Brazil, said the media has been under attack and reporting has sometimes become a risky activity in the age of fake news. “Our job is more important than ever. I believe professional media have criteria that can appeal to people. We have to protect our credibility.”

Being able to make a distinction between fake news and distorted news is not just a concern for voters, but starts even younger with children. Fake news and misinformation shape people’s perception and world view, especially in children, said Yuhyun Park, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the DQ Institute, Singapore. “Children and youth are bad at distinguishing what is news and advertisement and what are credible sources,” she said, noting that the impact of social media and fake news on youth will affect them as voters later on. “We have to be aware how this misinformation has been groomed … and do a fast intervention through education to make sure kids get the right critical analytical skills.”

Technology companies, particularly leading social media platforms, have a role to play. “Fake news on Facebook and elsewhere is an amplifier. We need to work with these technology companies on fighting misinformation,” stressed Frias, while Machado said that, with all this false news and misinformation, another responsibility is fact-checking. Park went one step further and called on governments to partner with technology companies to improve transparency.

But, at the end of the day, it is all about the people, said Bullrich. “I trust that people know what’s going on. We need to partner more with the truth.”

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UN Environment designates Chinese idol Wang Junkai as National Goodwill Ambassador

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Singer and Actor Wang Junkai, or Karry Wang, best known for his leading role in the box office blockbuster film Miracles of the Namiya General Store and the hit single “KarryOn” was designated as UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador today in a ceremony in Beijing.

In his role as goodwill ambassador, Wang will connect with China’s youth on some of the most urgent
environment issues of their generation, including pollution, air quality, wildlife protection, ecosystems, and more.

As a young actor and singer, I greatly appreciate UN Environment giving me this opportunity to be National Goodwill Ambassador. We youth have the responsibility to protect our environment and secure our future, and I am looking forward to learn from and work with the UN family on key environmental issues. Youth are no longer merely onlookers when it comes to environmental action, nor should they be. I will spare no effort to do everything I can to take care of our earth, and I invite everyone to join me in generating a wave of positive action.

It’s inspiring to hear a strong and determined voice of Chinese youth on environmental issues. When young people set their mind to change, incredible things can be accomplished,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “We’re very excited to work with Wang Junkai to create even more awareness about environmental issues and, more importantly, the solutions to these challenges.”

The 18-year old performer is a superstar of the highest ranks in Asia. Known for his leading role in the film Namiya General Store, top roles in various TV series – among which “Finding Soul” and “Qingyun Zhi “ – and solo music career, he has amassed more than 40 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Both in China and the rest of South-East Asia, Wang has been one of the leaders of the online conversation on the environment.

In 2016, Wang widely shared the #wildforlife Campaign, reaching 400 million viewers. A year later, he publicly spoke out on the urgent need to protect endangered wildlife, naming them the “superstars of the planet.”

Beyond drawing attention to wildlife, he called upon his followers to pledge to reduce their e-waste, with the hashtag #beatpollution. Within 24 hours, his post was retweeted by 1.67 million times and more than 400,000 followers signed the pledges.

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New Solar Project to Restore Electricity to Over One Million Yemenis

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The World Bank announced today a new project to finance off-grid solar systems in Yemen to power vital basic services, and improve access to electricity for vulnerable Yemenis in rural and outlying urban areas.

Funded by a US$50 million grant from IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries, the new project will rely on the commercial solar market, which has grown despite the conflict, providing further support to the local economy and creating jobs.

Solar power has proved to be the most immediate solution for severe energy shortages in Yemen. A booming solar industry has developed driven by the private sector, but the costs have put the technology beyond the reach of public facilities and the most vulnerable populations.

The Yemen Emergency Electricity Access Project will work with the current solar supply chain and the existing network of microfinance institutions, to finance and deliver off-grid solar systems to rural and peri-urban areas. The aim is to restore or improve access to electricity to 1.4 million people, around half of them women. The project will also fund solar power for critical infrastructure, such hospitals, schools, water corporations, and rural electricity providers.

The lack of electricity in Yemen has had a devastating impact on Yemenis and the provision of services,” said Dr. Asad Alam, World Bank Group Country Director for Yemen, Egypt, and Djibouti. “While responding to immediate need, the project will contribute to building a more inclusive and sustainable solar market in Yemen through targeted financing to the private sector which will expand its reach to the poor and vulnerable.

The project will be implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and in collaboration with the local private sector, including Micro Finance Institutions, solar equipment suppliers and technicians. Working with the Yemeni private sector will help create hundreds of jobs.

Investing in solar will make Yemen’s electricity more resilient, reduce the dependence on fuels for critical service facilities, and create jobs in the private sector,” said Joern Torsten Huenteler, World Bank Energy Specialist and Task Team Leader of the project, “What Yemenis need today more than ever is a quick and innovative energy solutions to help ease the crisis.

With this new financing, IDA emergency grants to Yemen issued since July 2016 have totaled US$1.183 billion.

These projects have been prepared – and are being implemented – in partnership with Yemeni institutions and UN organizations such as the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations Office for Project Services.

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Japan works with UNIDO to boost employment in Lebanon

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Photo: UNIDO

The Government of Japan has announced that it will fund a project to create jobs in the carpentry and construction sectors in northern Lebanon. This is one of eight new projects implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic, with Japanese funding totaling US$5.2m.

The project will build upon previous interventions to create economic opportunities, particularly among host and refugee communities, in the northern areas of the country. The technical assistance will focus on the design of new training modules for construction skills training and the delivery of marketable vocational skills training to vulnerable individuals.

Matahiro Yamaguchi, Ambassador of Japan to Lebanon, stated, “Japan is very keen on creating employment opportunities in productive sectors such as carpentry and construction, in order to promote economic development in the country.” He expressed hope that the project assists both Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees in gaining access to job markets and entrepreneurship by equipping them with essential technical skills and practical knowledge.

Speaking at the kick-off event held on 28 March at UNIDO headquarters in Vienna, during which the eight projects and the funding from the Government of Japan were announced, UNIDO Director General, LI Yong, highlighted that the projects aim to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus and promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development by taking a human security approach.

Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, the Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, stated that the projects will “help individuals to live under healthy conditions, consolidate their livelihoods and, with all of this, gain optimism for their future.”

Lebanon continues to be by far the largest host of Syrian refugees in proportion to population. The country is currently hosting more than one million refugees, resulting in a 25% increase in the population. In particular, interventions aimed at creating jobs and economic opportunities are considered urgent by the government and the United Nations.

This project will target individuals in areas that have been significantly impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon in order to upgrade their skills and knowledge to be better prepared to handle any external shocks to the labour market, as well as to enhance their employability. Given the backdrop of high youth unemployment (30%), falling oil prices and a slow in economic growth, this training couldn’t come at a better time for participants in the north of Lebanon.

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