Connect with us

News

During this coronavirus pandemic, ‘fake news’ is putting lives at risk: UNESCO

Published

on

Unreliable and false information is spreading around the world to such an extent, that some commentators are now referring to the new avalanche of misinformation that’s accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘disinfodemic’. 

And fears are growing that this phenomenon is putting lives at risk, prompting some with symptoms to try unproven remedies in the hope of ‘curing’ themselves. UNESCO, the UN educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is leading efforts to counter falsehoods and promote the facts about the virus.

‘Barely an area left untouched by disinformation’

Well before the outbreak of the virus, UNESCO was issuing warnings of the impact that political, technological, economic, and social transformation has had on how we exchange information in recent years, referring to the “contamination” caused by some orchestrated misinformation campaigns, which pose a threat to fact-based journalism and, particularly during the current pandemic, people’s lives.

Guy Berger is the Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information at UNESCO, and one of the agency’s lead officials on the subject of disinformation. In an interview with UN News, he explained that falsehoods related to all aspects of COVID-19, have become commonplace.

“There seems to be barely an area left untouched by disinformation in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from the origin of the coronavirus, through to unproven prevention and ‘cures’, and encompassing responses by governments, companies, celebrities and others.”

He added that “in a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts.

“When disinformation is repeated and amplified, including by influential people, the grave danger is that information which is based on truth, ends up having only marginal impact.”

Mythbusting, and the dangers of promoting unproven medicines

Because of the scale of the problem, the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the UN’s response to the pandemic, has added a “mythbusters” section to its online coronavirus advice pages. It refutes a staggering array of myths, including claims that drinking potent alcoholic drinks, exposure to high temperatures, or conversely, cold weather, can kill the virus.

Mr. Berger noted that some people believe, wrongly, that young people or those of African descent are immune (some disinformation has a racist, or xenophobic, tone), and that those in warm climates or countries where summer is on its way, do not need to worry too much. The likely consequence, he says, is complacency, which could fuel more premature deaths.

The UNESCO official also pointed to a more harmful example of disinformation: encouraging the taking of medication, approved for other purposes, but not yet clinically proven as being effective against COVID-19.

The good, the bad, and the gullible

Sadly, says Mr. Berger, some have capitalized on the pandemic, to spread disinformation for the purposes of advancing their own agendas: “The motives for spreading disinformation are many, and include political aims, self-promotion, and attracting attention as part of a business model. Those who do so, play on emotions, fears, prejudices and ignorance, and claim to bring meaning and certainty to a reality that is complex, challenging and fast-changing.”

But, he adds, not everyone responsible for spreading untruths is doing so maliciously. Well-intentioned people are also uncritically circulating dubious content. Whatever the reasons, her warns, the outcome is the same: “These different motives require different responses, but we should not lose sight of the fact that, irrespective of intention, the effect of sharing falsehoods is to disinform and disempower the public, with deadly potential.”

Supplying and demanding the truth

Against this, what can be done to ensure that truthful, helpful and potentially life-saving information gains wider prominence? UNESCO’s answer, says Mr. Berger, is to improve the supply of truthful information, and ensure that the demand is met: “We are underlining that governments, in order to counter rumours, should be more transparent, and proactively disclose more data, in line with Right to Information laws and policies. Access to information from official sources is very important for credibility in this crisis.”

“However, this is not a substitute for information supplied by the news media, so we are also intensifying our efforts to persuade authorities to see free and professional journalism as an ally in the fight against disinformation, especially because the news media works openly in the public sphere, whereas much disinformation is under-the-radar, on social messaging apps.”

UNESCO, continued Mr. Berger,  is particularly urging governments “not to impose restrictions on freedom of expression that can harm the essential role of an independent press, but to recognise journalism as a power against disinformation even when it publicises verified information and informed opinion that annoys those in power. There is a strong case to be made that the media deserves to be recognised and supported by governments as an essential service at this time.”

To satisfy the demand for authoritative facts, UNESCO is circulating as much reliable public health information as possible, via the media, channels, in partnership with agencies like WHO.

UNESCO is also working to help people become more critical of what is being presented to them online and elsewhere, as fact, so that they are less likely to believe, and spread, falsehoods. The agency is using the hashtags #ThinkBeforeSharing, #ThinkBeforeClicking, and #ShareKnowledge, and promoting the view that the rights to freedom of expression and access to information are the best remedies to the dangers of disinformation.

These rights, says Mr. Berger, “enable governments and the public to take evidence-based decisions about reality, and to put in place responses that are founded on both science and human rights values, and which can get us through the pandemic in the best way.”

Continue Reading
Comments

Development

Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods

Published

on

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest management, improve protected area management, and enhance livelihoods opportunities in eight provinces across the country. Project funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association, with contributions from the Global Environment Facility and the Canada-World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project will support economic recovery in light of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on preservation of natural capital such as forests, biodiversity, water resources, soil, and land. The Project will help communities in over 600 villages and 25 forest areas to secure livelihoods and jobs from sustainably managed forests, including opportunities in timber and non-timber products, and nature-based tourism.  

“This project will be crucial to helping Lao PDR recover from the global coronavirus shock by protecting and enhancing its natural capital, and supporting the creation of green jobs in vulnerable communities,” said the World Bank Lao PDR Country Manager Nicola Pontara.

Despite enjoying sustained periods of high economic growth in the last three decades, Lao PDR has experienced a gradual deterioration of its natural capital, making vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.

The Government of Lao PDR will implement the project through the Department of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To create jobs and livelihoods and secure environmental benefits, the project will develop environmentally and socially sustainable partnerships among communities, government, nature-based-tourism companies, and forest plantations.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project complements other partnerships between Laos and the World Bank on biodiversity protection, carbon emission reductions and nature-based tourism. It also supports the priorities of the government’s ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-25 and the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy.

Continue Reading

Energy News

Policy Measures to Advance Jordan’s Transition to Renewables

Published

on

A new report published today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has identified a series of policy measures that can help advance the energy transition towards renewable energy in Jordan.

The “Renewables Readiness Assessment: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” – developed in co-operation with Jordan’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, suggests opportunities exist to deepen private sector engagement in national efforts to reach a 31 per cent share of renewables in total power by 2030.

“The recommendations of this report comply with the newly issued Energy strategy 2020-2030 and its action plan,” said H.E. Engineer Hala Zawati, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jordan. “We are fully aware that to achieve all these ambitious targets, a strong partnership between the public and private sectors is needed. We are also eager to work with international friends and partners to make renewable energy a main pillar of the Jordan energy sector.”

The report presents policy action areas to increase energy security and boost supply diversity through the accelerated uptake of renewables and includes ideas to boost end-use electrification and increase the availability of energy transition investments from domestic institutions.

Jordan’s share of electricity from renewables grew from almost zero in 2014 to around 20 per cent in 2020 thanks to enabling frameworks and policies that have supported the deployment of renewable energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind.

“Jordan boasts significant renewable energy resource potential that if realised will reduce consumer energy costs, improve national energy security, create jobs and stimulate sustainable growth – boosting post COVID-19 economic recovery efforts,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “This report highlights a series of policy and regulatory measures that will allow Jordan to build on its energy transition progress to date and align it with 2030 national decarbonisation goals.”

Capacity building in local financing institutions and project developers can drive their engagement in the energy transition, the report says, while helping the country to meet its needs in important areas such as the build-out of electric charging infrastructure for the transport system.

Challenges associated with integrating higher shares of renewables in Jordan can be addressed by building and upgrading transmission and distribution infrastructure, deploying storage, promoting demand-side management and incentivising electrification of heating, cooling and transportation.

Renewables Readiness Assessment: Jordan lists concrete recommendations around the following seven action areas:

  • Provide the conditions for renewables to grow in the power sector
  • Foster continued growth of renewable power generation
  • Plan for the integration of higher shares of renewable power
  • Incentivise the use of renewables for heating and cooling
  • Support renewable options for transport and mobility
  • Catalyse renewable energy investment
  • Strengthen local industries and create jobs in renewables

Read the full report

Continue Reading

Human Rights

‘No place’ for coups in today’s world

Published

on

photo: Wikipedia

On the opening day of a new UN Human Rights Council session on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his “full support to the people of Myanmar”, three weeks after the military takeover that has brought thousands out onto the streets in protest. 

“Coups have no place in our modern world”, Mr. Guterres said in a pre-recorded video address at the Council’s 46th regular session, his comments coming after the forum held a special session on 12 February, in which it adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at the junta’s move. 

“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately”, the UN chief continued. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in recent elections. I welcome the resolution of the Human Rights Council, pledge to implement your request, and express my full support to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.” 

14-year old victim 

Mr. Guterres’s comments followed his censure at the weekend of the use of “deadly force” in Myanmar, in which a protester – reportedly 14 years old – was killed in Mandalay, along with one other. 

Also addressing the Council at the start of its month-long session, which is being held almost entirely remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, focused on the massive and negative impact of pandemic. 

“I think we all realise that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending critics to jail will not end this pandemic. Illegitimate restrictions on public freedoms, the overreach of emergency powers and unnecessary or excessive use of force are not just unhelpful and unprincipled. They deter public participation in decision-making, which is the foundation of sound policy-making.”  

Help for the most vulnerable 

In another video message, President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underscored the need to focus on people’s basic needs – including new coronavirus vaccines – as the best way to recover from the pandemic. 

“It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most”, he said. “This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all. It is critical that civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders are facilitated to participate and provide feedback throughout the planning and assessment of responses.” 

Vaccine unfairness 

Echoing the call for equitable vaccine access in a wide-ranging address that included a broadside against right-wing extremists becoming a “transnational threat” and the manipulation of personal digital data by Governments to control citizens’ behaviour, the Secretary-General described the fact that only 10 countries had administered “more than 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines” as “the latest moral outrage”.  

Vaccine equity “affirms human rights”, he said, but “vaccine nationalism denies it. Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.” 

Taking up that theme, Ms. Bachelet insisted that the new coronavirus crisis had illustrated the “deadly realities of discrimination”. 

Deep inequalities and chronic under-funding for essential services were to blame, she added, with policymakers largely responsible for ignoring these basic needs. 

Pandemic rolls on 

“Today, the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over – and its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people have only just begun”, she said. “The global rise in extreme poverty, accelerating inequalities; setbacks to women’s rights and equality; to education and opportunities for children and young people; and to the Sustainable Development Agenda are shocks that could shake the foundations of societies.” 

Despite the scale of the challenges posed in this second year of the pandemic, the High Commissioner struck a positive note, insisting that “we have the possibility of rebuilding better, more inclusive systems, which address root causes and prepare us to meet the challenges we will certainly face”.  

Among the many major problems facing people everywhere, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the disproportionate gender impact of COVID-19. 

Crisis ‘has a woman’s face’ 

“The crisis has a woman’s face”, he said. “Most essential frontline workers are women — many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups and at the bottom of the economic ladder. Most of the increased burden of care in the home is taken on by women.”  

Persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples had also paid a higher price than others during the first year of the pandemic. Mr. Guterres continued, before calling for “a special focus on safeguarding the rights of minority communities, many of whom are under threat around the world”.  

Cautioning against “policies of assimilation that seek to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities”, the UN chief maintained that the diversity of communities was “fundamental to humanity”.

Extremists a ‘transnational threat’ 

And without identifying any specific countries, Mr. Guterres also spoke out against the rising and potentially international threat of right-wing extremist movements. 

“White supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat”, he said. “Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago. We need global coordinated action to defeat this grave and growing danger.” 

Under the presidency of Jordanian Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, the 46th Human Rights Council session is due to meet until Friday 23 March.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Americas51 mins ago

Secretly, Biden’s Foreign Policies Are Trump’s Foreign Policies

Though U.S. President Joe Biden is publicly critical of Donald Trump’s foreign policies, he’s continuing almost all of them and...

Reports3 hours ago

Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to...

Southeast Asia5 hours ago

Myanmar: Exploiting lessons learnt in the Middle East

Demonstrating for the third week their determination to force the country’s military to return to its barracks, protesters in Myanmar...

Energy7 hours ago

Jordan, Israel, and Palestine in Quest of Solving the Energy Conundrum

Gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean can help deliver dividends of peace to Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. New energy supply...

Reports9 hours ago

Sea transport is primary route for counterfeiters

More than half of the total value of counterfeit goods seized around the world are shipped by sea, according to...

Development11 hours ago

Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest...

Eastern Europe13 hours ago

As Georgians Fight Each Other, Russia Gleefully Looks On

Earlier today, the leader of Georgia’s major opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – was detained at his party...

Trending