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UN renews push for political solution as Yemen marks three years of all-out conflict

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Three years after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen war, and hours after reports that Houthi rebels fired missiles at cities in Saudi Arabia, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday said military escalation is not the solution and urged restraint on all sides.

The UN has also dispatched an envoy to meet with warring parties in its quest to facilitate a negotiated political settlement to the crisis, which has left an estimated 22.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

“The Special Envoy [Martin Griffiths] is in Sana’a this week to meet with various Yemeni parties,” Farhan Haq, UN Deputy Spokesperson, told reporters at the world body’s New York Headquarters.

“The Secretary-General emphasizes that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Haq added.

The Former Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who had been brokering talks between the parties since 2015, stepped down last month.

On 26 March 2015, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia intervened militarily at the request of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to secure the return of the Government to Sana’a, which had been seized by Houthi militias and allied units of the armed forces when the conflict initially erupted in 2014.

Three years on, the fighting is raging and the ensuing humanitarian crisis has only deepened in a country that was already one of the region’s poorest. On Sunday, missiles were fired toward Saudi Arabia.

“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the launch late yesterday of a series of missiles claimed by the Houthis toward cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, as he does consistently with all attacks against civilians,” said Mr. Haq.

Calling for restraint amid mounting tensions, the UN chief stressed that military escalation is not the solution, the spokesperson added.

Also on Monday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that three years of war has killed thousands of children and seriously injured thousands more.

“In 2017 alone, we’ve seen children continue to be killed and seriously injured at a rate of a minimum of five children every single day,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, upon returning from a field visit to Yemen to assess the impact that the brutal war and decades of chronic underdevelopment is having on 11 million Yemeni boys and girls.

“In 2017, we have seen outbreaks of deadly cholera and deadly diphtheria. Many hundreds of children have been killed as a result of that as well,” he added.

He also said that UNICEF has been able to verify that 2,500 schools today that are no longer serving for educational purposes. They were destroyed by the war or being used for military purposes, or for hosting displaced people.

“Yemen was once called ‘Arabia Felix’ – happy Arabia – but there is not much happiness there today. Happiness will only come back to Yemen, if we invest in children, stop the brutal war and invest in education,” he said.

Since the uprisings in Yemen broke out in early 2011, the UN has been engaged in helping Yemenis to find a peaceful solution.

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Most countries failing to protect women from COVID-19 economic and social fallout

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Photo: ILO

The COVID-19 pandemic is “hitting women hard”, but most nations are failing to provide sufficient social and economic protection for them, the head of the UN gender empowerment agency said on Monday.

And women have often become victims of domestic violence “locked down with their abusers, as unpaid caregivers in families and communities, and as workers in jobs that lack social protection”, adds the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

New data released by gender agency and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) taken from the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, reveal that most countries are not doing enough to protect women and girls from the economic and social fallout being caused by the virus.

Lacking support

The analysis signals that one-fifth of the 206 countries analyzed, or 42 States, had no gender-sensitive measures in place to respond to the pandemic.

And only 25 countries have introduced measures aimed at tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG), support unpaid care and strengthen women’s economic security. 

These may include helplines, shelters or legal support to counter the surge in violence; cash transfers directly targeted at women; or childcare services and paid sick leave.

“The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity for countries to transform existing economic models towards a renewed social contract that prioritizes social justice and gender equality”, said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. “This new gender response tracker can help accelerate policy reform by guiding on gaps in national efforts and funding and highlighting best practices”.

Breakdown

Across 135 countries, the tracker identified 704 measures to prevent and/or respond to VAWG. Of these, 63 per cent focused on strengthening essential services, such as shelters, helplines and other reporting mechanisms. 

However, only 48 countries, less than a quarter of those analyzed, treated VAWG-related services as an integral part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans – with very few adequately funding these measures.

At the same time, social protection, care crisis and jobs response has been largely blind to women’s needs, with only 177 measures in 85 countries explicitly aimed at strengthening women’s economic security, and just 60 taking action to support unpaid care and strengthen care services for children, older persons or persons with disabilities.

Varying responses

The tracker also shows that gender actions vary widely across countries and regions. 

According to the analysis, Europe is leading the response on addressing VAWG and unpaid care – accounting for almost 32 per cent of all violence measures and 49 per cent of all unpaid care measures. 

Meanwhile, the Americas has the largest number of measures aimed at strengthening women’s economic security, followed by Africa.

“The Global Tracker supports Governments in making the right policy decisions by sharing good practices and monitoring progress in care policies and measures to address violence against women”, said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

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Technological Revolution Accelerated by Coronavirus Crisis in Latin America

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Latin America and the Caribbean is in the midst of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” of technological innovation which requires enhancing the productivity of the services sector, investing in human capital and rethinking labor regulations and social protection policies, according to a new World Bank report.

These policy priorities have become all the more urgent now that the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling the biggest contraction in economic activity since the great depression. Digitization has become more important to support economic activity at a time of social distancing and is accelerating this technological transformation, potentially putting jobs at risk across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

According to Going Viral: COVID-19 and the Accelerated Transformation of Jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean employment transformations that were already apparent in the last few decades are bound to deepen, and the question in this context is how to recover from the crisis and build back better.

We need to rethink the future and not just try to get back to where we were before the pandemic,” said World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean Carlos Felipe Jaramillo. “Governments need to find ways to support the creation of new jobs, train workers to be ready for these new jobs and support their citizens through this disruptive transformation.”

Premature deindustrialization and rapid technological innovation will require policies to support a smooth transformation of jobs that is socially acceptable. The region was already struggling with the end of the so-called “Golden Decade” (2003-2013) of rapid development and strong improvements in social indicators. Economic growth and poverty reduction had stalled. The pandemic has only made things worse.

While fears of mass “technological unemployment” are largely unfounded, many jobs are at risk due to lower external demand, a protracted period of quarantines and lockdowns, solvency problems for firms, and financial crises in some cases. In addition, the social unrest seen in 2019 is a warning. It is urgent to restore economic growth and create more and better jobs.

However, this “Fourth Industrial Revolution” of technological innovation means that further industrialization or re-industrialization will be limited in many developing countries. Low-paid, uneducated workers and those in high-contact activities typical of the informal sector are at highest risk of being replaced by machines. In addition, informal workers are harder to reach with essential social protection programs. The COVID-19 crisis could accelerate these changes, bringing the future much closer than anticipated.

With limited scope for employment growth in manufacturing, modernizing the services sector is a priority. This calls for  an emphasis on removing the distortions that prevent competition and innovation from occurring at a rapid pace.

Preparing workers for the changes is also fundamental. “Education offers the best insurance against the risks of automation,” said the report’s lead author Guillermo Beylis, Research Economist in the World Bank’s Office of the Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Workers will have to adapt to demand for cognitive or analytical skills, as well as interpersonal skills.”

Adult learning and re-training will be key as new automation technologies are adopted in LAC countries. The focus should be on policy reforms to increase productivity in the services sector, which already employs 60% of the workforce and will play an increasingly important role in the future.

Finally, a rethinking of labor regulations and social protection policies is needed. This involves flexible regulation of the emerging forms of work in a way that encourages employment and supports formalization, thereby expanding the coverage of social protection to larger segments of the population.

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Progress on Sudan political transition, but challenges remain

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UN peacekeepers from Pakistan engage the local population in North Darfur, Sudan. Photo: UNAMID

Political developments in Sudan continue to move along a positive trajectory, while planning for a UN mission to assist the transitional government is progressing, the UN Security Council heard on Friday. 

Ambassadors met in person in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber at UN Headquarters in New York, where they were briefed by UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo, and the head of UN Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix. 

“As the Secretary-General highlights in his report, Sudan’s political transition continues to move in the right direction”, said Ms. DiCarlo, speaking via video link.  

Developments on the political front 

After nearly a year of talks, the transitional Government of Sudan and two key armed movements from Darfur – the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) alliance and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Minni Minnawi (SLM/MM) – initialed a peace agreement at the end of August.   

Signing is scheduled for 3 October, and the parties have agreed to a 39-month transitional period effective from that date.   

A faction from another group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), has also signed a declaration of principles agreement. 

Significant work ahead 

Ms. DiCarlo outlined other recent developments in Sudan, including the appointment of interim civilian governors in all 18 states, two of whom are women.   

She said the parties should be commended for persevering with the peace process, adding that “it is not too late” for others to join. 

“As we embrace the recent progress in the peace process, we are also mindful of the significant work ahead”, she cautioned.  

“The various accords and respective peace agreements on regional issues must be moulded into a single, coherent framework. Additionally, the parties and the Government must form a joint vision on the way forward and to uphold their respective commitments.” 

Goodwill into action 

For the UN’s peacekeeping chief, the initialling of the agreement marked an important milestone for Darfur, where years of brutal fighting have left some 300,000 people dead and millions of others displaced, according to UN estimates. 

Mr. Lacroix hoped the goodwill expressed by the parties will translate into lasting change on the ground, although some “key players” have yet to join the peace process.  

He urged the international community to work to bring all stakeholders on board. 

“Furthermore, the implementation phase which is now beginning will be just as crucial as the drafting of the agreement itself”, said Mr. Lacroix, who also briefed ambassadors via video-link. 

Among the key provisions is a 12,000-strong joint security force for Darfur, to be deployed within 90 days of the signing.  It will be made up of equal numbers of members of the Sudanese security forces and from the signatory armed groups. 

“As forces are deployed and resources are mobilized in support of the implementation, it is essential to ensure that local Darfuri communities feel ownership of the agreement and fully participate in the implementation,” he stressed. 

Progress on new UN mission 

Meanwhile, planning continues for the new UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Ms. DiCarlo told the Council. 

UNITAMS will assist the political transition, and support implementation of peace accords in conflict areas, national-led peacebuilding efforts, and strengthening of human rights, among other tasks. 

“Gender issues are mainstreamed throughout the mandate of the mission, which will have dedicated gender expertise, including at the senior level, to implement our commitments to advance gender equality and the women, peace and security agenda”, said Ms. DiCarlo. 

UNITAMS is a follow-on to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  The Security Council authorized the establishment of the new mission in June and the start-up team is set to deploy to Sudan next month. 

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