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Thousands risk lives fleeing fighting in Syria’s last ISIL stronghold

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Girls sit in the tent of a makeshift camp in the north of Syria. 2018 UNICEF/ Aaref Watad

North-east Syria is seeing increasing numbers of civilian casualties and large-scale displacement amid intensifying efforts to defeat extremists from ISIL, otherwise known as Da’esh, in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, spokesperson Andrej Mahecic warned that, in recent months, clashes and airstrikes in the eastern governorate’s Hajin enclave – once part of an ISIL stronghold straddling the Syria and Iraq border – have forced tens of thousands of people to flee northwards in search of safety.

“Over the past six months more than 25,000 people have been displaced in that part of the country, said Mr. Mahecic. ‘We have seen an increase, especially with the escalation that has occurred in the course of December.”

Babies are among the dead, ‘too weak to survive’

Those at risk include “many” women, children and the elderly, the UN official said, adding that many families reaching the safety of Al Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria near the border with Iraq had risked their lives to do so. “The dangerous and difficult journey and the conditions inside the enclave are reported to have led to the deaths of six children – all under 12 months.  Most died after arriving at Al Hol, too weak to survive,” the UN spokesperson explained.

Emergency health teams in the camp are tending to “wounds, amputated limbs, injuries and frostbite”, Mr. Mahecic continued, before adding that some of those fleeing the fighting had spent “four nights or more” in the desert, in heavy rain and cold weather, with barely any belongings. “People coming out of the conflict zone do also have wounds that have been inflicted. We also know that many of them tell us that they have been targeted while they were fleeing.”

Urging all parties “and those with influence over them” to ensure freedom of movement and safe passage for displaced families, the UNHCR spokesperson explained that the crisis is far from over.

“This is still going on and people are arriving daily,” Mr. Mahecic said. “Through the desert, trying to move through the different checkpoints and reach safety in the camps and other areas outside the conflict zone.”

Together with its partners, UNHCR teams inside Syria prioritize protection for unaccompanied or separated children, while also identifying and helping those in need of medical assistance. Tents and other essential relief items are provided to new arrivals, while communal facilities are being scaled up to prepare for an expected increase of arrivals from Hajin.

“It’s estimated right now that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin,” Mr. Mahecic explained. “Those fleeing report increasingly desperate conditions, with diminishing services and extremely high prices for basic foods. We are worried for civilians who continue to be trapped in ISIL-held areas.”

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Illegal trade in fake or faulty COVID-19 products booming

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“Health and lives are at risk with criminals exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to cash in on public anxiety and increased demand for PPE and medications”, said Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Among its countless other impacts, the coronavirus has further highlighted the shortcomings in regulatory and legal frameworks aimed at preventing the manufacturing and selling of these products, points out the UNODC research brief, entitled “COVID-19-related Trafficking of Medical Products as a Threat to Public Health”. 

Preying on vulnerabilities

The research reveals that criminal gangs are exploiting both the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus along with inconsistencies in national regulation regimens.

“Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical product”, explained the UN crime-fighting chief.

The falsification of medical products bears significant risks for public health as products may not properly treat the disease and may facilitate the development of drug resistance.

Criminal groups have also quickly adjusted to the opportunities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit the vulnerabilities and gaps in the health and criminal justice systems. 

Evidence shows that fraud, scams and seizures, involving the manufacture and trafficking of substandard and falsified medical products, have followed the spread of the virus.

In one case, German health authorities contracted two sales companies in Switzerland and Germany to procure €15 million worth of face masks through a cloned website of an apparently legitimate company in Spain. 

“We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe”, Ms. Waly upheld.

Harmonized global approach needed

The pandemic has also highlighted a boom in data-based scams – including phishing, and business email attacks – or the creation of fake corporate websites to fool purchasers.

UNODC’s research also predicts that the behaviour of organized criminal groups will gradually change over the course of the pandemic.

When a vaccine is developed, it will likely lead to a shift in focus away from PPE smuggling to trafficking in the vaccine.

Moreover, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure involved in addressing the pandemic are also likely to continue in the form of online scams aimed at health procurement authorities, according to the research.

Strengthening legal frameworks and penalties, and a more harmonized global approach to the criminalization of the manufacture and trafficking of falsified medical products is crucial, as only a common approach will enable effective responses to crimes impacting individuals and public health, the UNODC brief maintains.

At the same time however, preventing, detecting, and responding to medical product-related crime will require people who work in the medical product sector to acquire new or additional skills.

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Indonesia and IEA deepen cooperation on electricity and renewables

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Indonesian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Mr Arifin Tasrif and IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol are pleased to announce the launch of a new joint project on electricity and renewable energy in Indonesia.

The project will focus on optimising the design and implementation of a new flagship scheme to encourage private investment in renewable power sources as well as strategies to enhance renewables integration and power system operation. The work will be carried out in partnership with the Indonesian national power utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN Persero).

This cooperation falls under the Joint Work Programme signed by Dr Birol and Minister Tasrif on the occasion of the IEA’s Ministerial Meeting in December 2019. The programme builds on many years of strong collaboration between the IEA and Indonesia across all fuels and all technologies.

The launch of this project comes ahead of the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July, which will bring together around 40 Ministers and high-level figures from countries representing about 80% of global energy demand.

“The IEA has shown monumental leadership to bring the international community together in an effort to tackle the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on energy-related issues and to set out a path for sustainable recovery. During these challenging times, I am pleased to note that the IEA is strongly in support of the Ministry’s key priorities on power system enhancement and renewables investment. My highest regards and appreciation towards the IEA for their steadfast cooperation and I look forward to closely working together on this matter as we aim to continually progress the transition to clean energy,” Minister Tasrif said.

The Indonesian government has sought to tackle the immediate health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic through a variety of fiscal stimulus and policy measures. Although the energy sector has been severely impacted by the crisis, energy has also been an important part of the government’s response. This has included the provision of free or discounted electricity to 33 million of the most vulnerable families in the country.

The energy sector – a key driver of economic growth and dynamism – has a critical role to play in supporting recovery from the Covid-19. Indeed, reflecting this, the Indonesian government has ambitious plans to significantly scale up investments in renewable energy and to enhance the operation of its electricity sector.

As the IEA has highlighted since early in the current crisis, developments in energy markets and ambitious recovery efforts by governments present policymakers with a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to reshape energy systems for decades to come. In doing so, they can put global emissions into structural decline. The IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit – the key global energy and climate event of the year – aims to support these efforts by bringing together a grand coalition of the world’s energy leaders, including Minister Tasrif, to discuss how to take real-world action.

“As the world’s fourth most populous country, Indonesia is critical to global energy and an incredibly important member of the IEA Family,” Dr Birol said. “We are very happy to be working with Minister Tasrif and his team on this high-profile effort to support Indonesia’s ambitious clean energy transition. I look forward to welcoming him at the IEA Summit and hearing him share insights from Indonesia’s experience – and views on the best path forward.”

The collaboration on electricity and renewables is complemented by cooperation and engagement between the Indonesian Government, PLN and the IEA on a range of energy policy priorities, including electric vehicle regulation, electricity system investment, and ways to reduce energy imports.

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ADGM Inks Partnership with IRENA to Promote Sustainable Finance

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International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the lead intergovernmental agency for the energy transformation, and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the award-winning international financial centre, have signed a Memorandum of understanding (MoU) to signify their joint commitment to progressing sustainable finance across the UAE and the wider region.

Through the MoU, IRENA and ADGM solidified their mutual dedication to promoting solutions that facilitate investment in renewable energy. The agreement was signed by Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA and Dhaher bin Dhaher, CEO of the ADGM Registration Authority (RA).

Commenting on the agreement, Dhaher bin Dhaher AlMheiri, CEO of the ADGM RA, said: “We are proud to have entered into this MoU, alongside IRENA, as we reinforce our shared commitment to promoting sustainable practices across all sectors. ADGM is continuously looking to work with its strategic partners, locally and internationally, to further the UAE’s sustainability initiatives, including the 2030 agenda, and to safeguard the longevity of the UAE’s financial landscape. ADGM has been a leading force in fostering the adoption of sustainable operations as it aims to develop a thriving sustainable finance ecosystem in the UAE and the wider region.Through multiple sustainability initiatives, programmes and agreements, we hope to continuously collaborate with leading entities, such as IRENA, to secure the longevity and wellbeing of the financial community.” he concluded.

Reflecting on the partnership, Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA, said: “Increasing investments into renewable energy and the energy transformation is essential to building a more resilient energy system and to more prosperous economies. To achieve sustainable economic and environmental development, partnerships between organisations with shared values is essential. The UAE has demonstrated its strong commitment to this future, and through this cooperation we aim to accelerate low-carbon investment flows building more stable, equitable and climate-safe societies.”

As per IRENA and ADGM’s joint agreement, the two organisations have committed to engage with one another to facilitate investment in renewable energy, support in the development of a sustainable finance ecosystem that is inclusive of renewable energy, and support on any ongoing initiatives relating to sustainability. Additionally, IRENA and ADGM will explore additional approaches to support local initiatives, mutually promote their respective platforms, exchange information on important events and support one another in promoting common aims, initiatives and events.

ADGM has highlighted their ongoing commitment to sustainability in the past through various initiatives, programmes and agreements, such as the establishment of their flagship Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Forum, championing the UAE Guiding Principles, pioneering the enactment of the Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Declaration, and entering into several agreements regarding sustainability with leading entities, such as UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Social Contribution (Ma’an), the UAE Ministry of Finance, among many others. The IFC has continuously participated in partnerships of this nature to support the UAE’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

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