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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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Energy News

Energy Efficiency Hub launched to boost cooperation on world’s ‘first fuel’

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The Energy Efficiency Hub – a global platform for collaboration aimed at delivering the social, economic and environmental benefits of more efficient use of energy – was launched on 1 December at an event hosted at the International Energy Agency in Paris.  

The Hub’s initial 16 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, the European Commission, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Hub aims to facilitate government-to-government exchanges on efficiency policy, regulation and implementation, focusing on topics relevant to real-world challenges faced by its members. The launch event showcased digitalisation, efficient equipment and appliance deployment, best energy efficiency technologies, and energy management best practices as areas of collaboration. 

“Hub Members span the globe, from East to West and from North to South, together accounting for over 60% of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions,” said Ulrich Benterbusch, Deputy Director General of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, who will serve as Chair of the Hub’s Steering Committee.

“In fact, each Member has significant accomplishments in energy efficiency and understands how urgent it is to work together on it,” he added. “Meeting global challenges requires all countries to do better, and – working in concert with other international organisations – the Hub will strive to share its work more broadly and to learn from others.”

The Hub’s launch follows the previous week’s release of Energy Efficiency 2021, the IEA’s annual market report on the subject, which showed that while global energy efficiency improvements are recovering to their pre-pandemic pace, they are still far short of what is needed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“I consider energy efficiency to be the very ‘first fuel’ because it is crucial to address climate change and make our energy supplies more secure while also leaving money in our pockets,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “I am very pleased to see countries coming together as part of the Energy Efficiency Hub to accelerate efforts in this critical area.”

“Being based at the IEA will enable the Hub to cooperate effectively with IEA experts and the other key initiatives and activities we host, including the Clean Energy Ministerial,” said Dr Birol. “The launch of the Hub is a clear and encouraging signal that momentum is building behind greater energy efficiency action worldwide.”

Brian Motherway, Head of Energy Efficiency at the IEA, said: “Governments need to work much harder if they are to deliver the full potential of energy efficiency and get their energy systems onto a pathway towards net zero. The Hub is an important instrument for countries to learn from each other and work together to strengthen their efficiency policies.”

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Africa Today

Violence in Cameroon, impacting over 700,000 children shut out of school

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Kidnappings and harassment of students and teachers are forcing schools to close in Cameroon. © Education Cannot Wait/Daniel Beloumou

Over 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to often brutal violence in Cameroon, according to an analysis released by the UN humanitarian arm, OCHA, on Thursday. 

Two out of three schools are closed in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. On 24 November, four children and one teacher were killed in an attack in Ekondo Titi, in the South-West. 

Lockdown 

A recent lockdown imposed by a non-State armed group, from 15 September to 2 October, limited access to basic services including health and education. 

During the period, OCHA reported a series of attacks in the North-West. 

Eight students were kidnapped, and a girl’s fingers were chopped off after she tried to attend school. Five public school principals were also kidnapped, including one who was then killed. 

All schools and community learning spaces were closed, except for some schools in a few urban areas which operated at less than 60 per cent capacity. 

The lockdown and insecurity also forced UN agencies and aid organisations to temporarily suspend the delivery of aid. During that time, about 200,000 people did not receive food.  

Multiple crisis 

Nine out of ten regions of the country continue to be impacted by one of three humanitarian crises: the crisis in the North-West and South-West, conflict in the Far North, and a refugee crisis, with people fleeing the Central African Republic.  

Because of these combined crises, over one million children need urgent education support.  

To answer some of these needs, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN global fund for education in emergencies and crises, is working closely with UN agencies, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other civil society partners. 

ECW is contributing $25 million over three years and calling for other donors to fill the gap, which is estimated at $50 million. 

When fully funded, the programme will provide approximately 250,000 children and adolescents with access to safe and protective learning environments in the most-affected areas. 

Visit 

Just this week, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, and the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, had a joint visit to the country. 

In a statement, Ms. Sherif said the situation “is among the most complex humanitarian crises in the world today.” 

“Children and youth are having to flee their homes and schools, are threatened with violence and kidnapping, and being forced into early childhood marriage and recruited into armed groups,” Ms. Sherif recalled. 

Jan Egeland argued that “putting a schoolbag on your back shouldn’t make you a target”, but unfortunately children in Cameroon “risk their lives every day just showing up for school.” 

“Cameroon’s education mega-emergency needs international attention, not deadly silence by the outside world,” Mr. Egeland declared.  

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Human Rights

Avoid starvation: ‘Immediate priority’ for 3.5 million Afghans

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Food and blankets are handed out to people in need in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, by © WFP/Arete

Amidst “truly unprecedented levels” of hunger in Afghanistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that as winter arrives, avoiding widespread starvation “is an immediate priority”.  

Launching a global fundraising winter campaign to help forcibly displaced families in Afghanistan and elsewhere to cope with the most life-threatening months of the year, UNHCR Spokesperson Babar Baloch described it as “a crisis of hunger and starvation”.

People don’t have enough to eat, and it’s very visible”. 

Displaced lack proper shelter 

Following his recent return from Kabul, Mr. Baloch said in Geneva that a lack of insulated shelters, warm clothes, insufficient food, fuel for heating, and medical supplies are just some of the deprivations confronting people who have been forcibly displaced. 

With temperatures “expected to drop to -25C, many displaced families lack proper shelter – a primary requirement if they are to survive the bitter cold”, he warned. 

3.5 million in need 

UNHCR is appealing for increased support for 3.5 million people displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan, including 700,000 from 2021 alone. 

According to Mr. Baloch, nearly 23 million people, or 55 per cent of the population, are facing extreme levels of hunger – nearly nine million of whom are at risk of famine.  

This year, UNHCR has assisted some 700,000 displaced people across the country, the majority since mid-August.  

The UN agency is helping nearly 60,000 people every week.  

“But as we reach thousands of people, we find thousands more people who are in need of humanitarian assistance”, Mr. Baloch explained, before appealing for “further resources for the most vulnerable”.  

He identified “single mothers with no shelter or food for their children”, displaced older persons left to care for orphaned grandchildren, and people taking care of loved ones with special needs.  

Appeal for more support over winter 

The UNHCR spokesperson noted that the agency’s teams have delivered relief supplies via road through Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries and humanitarian flights.  

Five more flights carrying winter supplies are scheduled for next week, Mr. Baloch said, reiterating that support to cope with the extreme conditions will continue until February, including core relief items, such as thermal blankets and warm winter clothing.  

Shelters are also being repaired and reinforced, and vulnerable families are receiving cash assistance.  

Mr. Baloch thanked Government and private donors for their support to UNHCR efforts to aid and protect vulnerable families during the winter months.  

However, he added that a further $374.9 million was urgently needed to bolster UNHCR’s response to Afghanistan next year, particularly, over winter. 

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