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Benefits of new Qatar Visa Center discussed at roundtable

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The Qatar Visa Center is part of a broader commitment of the State of Qatar to ensure fair recruitment and to protect Overseas Filipino Workers in Qatar. (Photo by ILO/I. Rigon)

The establishment of a Qatar Visa Center (QVC) in the Philippines and the benefits it will bring to jobseekers were discussed at a roundtable meeting held in Manila.

Bringing together representatives from trade unions, civil society and the recruitment industry, the event saw an exchange of insights on how the QVC can effectively serve those planning to migrate to Qatar. Participants also highlighted the need to create awareness amongst those looking for work overseas of the new office and the services it provides.

“We are given the opportunity to learn more about this innovative initiative and to discuss the implementation of the Qatar Visa Center based on stakeholders’ insights that put premium on international labour standards and core human rights instruments,” ILO Country Director Khalid Hassan emphasized.

The QVC was officially inaugurated on 25 September 2019 at the NU Mall of Asia Building, Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City, Philippines. Its goal is to make recruitment and deployment procedures more transparent for both prospective migrant workers and employers in Qatar.

QVCs help facilitate procedures for migrant workers by allowing applicants in all sectors to digitally sign work contracts before travelling, enrol their biometric data and undergo mandatory medical testing before departure, without having to repeat the tests upon arrival in Qatar. Upon completion of the process, visa applicants are able to track the status of the application online. All the required services of the QVC are free of charge for migrant workers and directly paid by employers in Qatar through bank transfer.

Importantly, QVCs also help reduce contract deception at the recruitment phase and provide workers with detailed information about their rights and obligations, including what living and working in Qatar will be like. Workers can now read their exact contract terms before migrating; giving them greater autonomy to reconsider migrating, if the terms do not correspond to their expectations.

“Developing the QVC system went through a long, consultative process. The different ministries of the State of Qatar coordinated with the Philippine government, thru its Embassy and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Doha. The QVC system has also benefitted from the feedback of various stakeholders in different pilot countries and from the assistance of the ILO,” Department of Immigration Director Mohammed Abdulla Khalifa Al Mohannadi of the Ministry of Interior said during the discussion.

The ILO is providing technical advice on the development of the Qatar Visa Centers through its Project Office for the State of Qatar , and support to the dissemination of the QVC procedures among trade unions and civil society organizations in the Philippines through its FAIR programme .

Taking part in the roundtable discussion held in Pasay City, were representatives of the Qatar Ministry of Interior , the Qatar Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs , the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration , the Philippine Commission on Human Rights , the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment-International Labor Affairs Bureau , the Federation of Free Workers , the Center of United and Progressive Workers, Building and Wood Workers International, Staffhouse International, Center for Migrant Advocacy, Blas Ople Center and the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch.

In the last Survey on Overseas Filipinos  released by the Philippine Statistics Authority  in April 2019, Qatar remains one of the top ten destination countries with more than 130,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) currently working there.

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Development

ADB, Habitat for Humanity to Support Housing Microloans for Vulnerable Communities

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has teamed with Habitat for Humanity International to help microfinance institutions (MFIs) deliver housing loans to low-income families in rural and peri-urban areas of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

The collaboration will expand ADB’s Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program to include microloans for housing, home improvement, and water and sanitation for vulnerable and climate change-exposed communities. ADB will help MFIs obtain financing for these purposes from commercial banks of up to $30 million in the first phase. Habitat for Humanity will build the MFIs’ capacity to design, pilot-test, and roll out the loans, with technical assistance from ADB.

“Low-income families find it difficult to build resilient houses as they lack adequate and affordable financing options due to the collateral requirements of commercial banks,” said ADB Private Sector Financial Institutions Division Director Christine Engstrom. “MFIs have the networks to reach these communities, but often lack the technical capacities to deliver housing microloans to them. Building on Habitat for Humanity’s technical and training expertise, this inaugural partnership will enable ADB’s Microfinance Program to better address this market gap.”

“The demand for urban housing in Asia remains largely unmet, giving the private sector a critical opportunity to deliver affordable materials, construction quality, access to energy, gender equity, water supply, and sanitation services, while supporting greater gender equity,” said Habitat for Humanity International Chief Operating Officer Patrick Canagasingham. “With ADB, we will create enabling environments for MFIs through risk-sharing and capacity building, helping unlock local private sector capital for housing.”

“This partnership is timely, as micro-housing for the poor and investing in community resilience are key drivers of economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Lead of ADB’s Microfinance Program Anshukant Taneja.

An expected 20,000 households will receive housing microloans from partner MFIs in the program’s first phase to enhance construction quality and climate resilience, including upgrading semi-permanent structures and installing sanitation and water connections. ADB also aims to encourage private sector financing through risk-allocation and guarantees. The collaboration will help to empower women, with 90% of financing targeted for women micro-borrowers.

Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 and has grown into a leading global nonprofit, working in more than 70 countries. Habitat’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter works with the private sector to pilot new products and approaches for housing finance, materials, and services. From July 2019 to June 2020, Habitat helped more than 1.9 million people in Asia and the Pacific gain access to better housing.

ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department will also explore opportunities to work with Habitat for Humanity to scale the organization’s catalytic initiatives, including the MicroBuild Fund, which has deployed over $140 million in housing finance loans through MFIs, with 19% allocated in Asia and the Pacific. ADB’s Microfinance Program has helped more than 6 million borrowers gain access to microloans.

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Africa Today

The Gambia Secures More Funds for COVID-19 Vaccines

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World Bank Board approved $8 million additional financing from the International Development Association (IDA) to provide The Gambia with safe and effective vaccine purchase and deployment.

“With this additional financing, the World Bank is helping The Gambia strengthen their pandemic response and health care systems, as well as scale up its vaccination campaign, with a total contribution of $19 million towards the implementation of the Government’s National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan,” said Feyi Boroffice, World Bank Resident Representative for The Gambia.

The additional financing for Gambia COVID-19 Vaccine Preparedness and Response Project will strengthen immunization systems and service delivery capacity to support the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. It will expand The Gambia’s access to vaccines, through direct purchases from manufacturers and other arrangements through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust convened by the African Union.

“The COVAX Facility will provide vaccine doses to cover 480,000 people and this additional financing from the World Bank will make it possible to have sufficient vaccine doses to cover 980,000 more people, with nearly all adults in the Gambia having access,” said Samuel Mills, World Bank Task Team Leader for the project. “It is now important for people to be adequately informed that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risk of not getting the vaccine.”

To help prepare the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines, the government conducted a vaccine readiness assessment with support from the World Bank, the World Health Organizations (WHO), the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI). The assessment showed that the country has trained medical staff, a monitoring system in place, as well as adequate storage capacity to handle both routine vaccines and COVID-19 vaccine at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. This additional financing will also support the procurement of ultracold freezers to augment the cold chain to store vaccines such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which require sub-zero storage, and the freezers will subsequently be used by the National Blood Transfusion Center for storing blood plasma.

In addition, the World Bank has supported the Ministry of Health in procuring innovative and environment friendly health care waste treatment technology to allow safe decontamination in hospitals. The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony will be held tomorrow for the construction of clinical waste treatment centers at Farato and at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. The project contributed to the renovation of the Ndemban Clinic, which operates as a COVID-19 treatment center, and procured 10 ambulances for intensive care, critical life-saving medical equipment and supplies, as well as six pickup trucks and 18 motorcycles to facilitate contact tracing and response.

This $8 million funding package for The Gambia is one of several projects in support for the COVID-19 vaccination effort across Africa and other regions. Today, the World Bank Board also approved additional financing for Côte d’Ivoire ($100 million), Eswatini ($5 million), Rwanda ($30 million), El Salvador ($50 million) and Honduras ($20 million).

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Human Rights

Six reasons why a healthy environment should be a human right

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At least 155 states recognize their citizens have the right to live in a healthy environment, either through national legislation or international accords, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite those protections, the World Health Organization estimates that 23 per cent of all deaths are linked to “environmental risks” like air pollution, water contamination and chemical exposure.

Statistics like that are why the United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution reaffirming states’ obligations to protect human rights, including by taking stronger actions on environmental challenges.

Here are some of the ways that a compromised planet is now compromising the human right to health.

 1. The destruction of wild spaces facilitates the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

The alteration of land to create space for homes, farms and industries has put humans in increasing contact with wildlife and has created opportunities for pathogens to spill over from wild animals to people.

An estimated 60 per cent of human infections are of animal origin. And there are plenty of other viruses poised to jump from animals to humans. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “as many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and waterfowl. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.”

2. Air pollution reduces quality of health and lowers life expectancy.

Across the globe, nine in 10 people are breathing unclean air, harming their health and shortening their life span. Every year, about 7 million people die from diseases and infections related to air pollution, more than five times the number of people who perish in road traffic collisions.

Exposure to pollutants can also affect the brain, causing developmental delays, behavioural problems and even lower IQs in children. In older people, pollutants are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

3. Biodiversity loss compromises the nutritional value of food.

In the last 50 years alone, human diets have become 37 per cent more similar, with just 12 crops and five animal species providing 75 per cent of the world’s energy intake. Today, nearly one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition and much of the world’s population is affected by diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

 4. Biodiversity loss also reduces the scope and efficacy of medicines.

Natural products comprise a large portion of existing pharmaceuticals and have been particularly important in the area of cancer therapy. But estimates suggest that 15,000 medicinal plant species are at risk of extinction and that the Earth loses at least one potential major drug every two years.

 5. Pollution is threatening billions worldwide.

Many health issues spring from pollution and the idea that waste can be thrown “away” when, in fact, much of it remains in ecosystems, affecting both environmental and human health.

Water contaminated by waste, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial discharge puts 1.8 billion people at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Methylmercury – a substance found in everyday products that contaminate fish – can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems when consumed by humans. And a growing body of evidence suggests that there is a cause for concern about the impact of microplastics on marine life and the food web.

As well, every year, 25 million people suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. And glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used herbicide– is associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

Even medicines can have a negative impact as they infiltrate ecosystems. A 2017 UNEP report found that antibiotics have become less effective as medicine because of their widespread use in promoting livestock growth. About 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year.

 6. Climate change introduces additional risks to health and safety.

The last decade was the hottest in human history and we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with wildfires, floods and hurricanes becoming regular events that threaten lives, livelihoods and food security. Climate change also affects the survival of microbes, facilitating the spread of viruses. According to an article published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people.”

UNEP

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