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

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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.”

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Day-to-Day Items That Can Now Be Made Using Organic Materials Only

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According to Pew Research, three-quarters of Americans are concerned about helping improve the environment.

Unfortunately, only one in every five Americans is willing to make an effort to change the negative impacts on the environment. A key reason why this happens is that many people have no idea where to start when it comes to saving mother earth.

But did you know that you can be a hero just by substituting some of the essential items you use every day with eco-friendly products?

If you’re in doubt, here are a few everyday items that you can substitute with their readily available eco-friendly alternatives.

1.     Reusable Grocery Bags

Every year, an estimated one trillion plastic bags are used globally. Most of these bags end up in landfills, where they take forever to degrade.

The use of recyclable shopping bags can reduce plastic waste without any inconvenience on your part.

Unlike bags made of plastics, recyclable shopping bags decay faster due to their natural materials. Being reusable also means that they last longer, which allows you to save money while saving the planet.

2.     Eco-friendly Blankets

A comfortable blanket that also eases your ecological footprint worries will definitely give you a restful sleep. Blankets made from recyclable materials are environmentally friendly as they leave less synthetic fillings on the environment.

A eucalyptus blanket is an excellent example of an eco-friendly blanket. These blankets are soft and subtle as they are made from a poly microfiber eucalyptus fabric. Unlike traditional beddings, these eco-friendly blankets keep 50 plastic bottles away from landfills, which is much better for our environment.

3.     Recyclable Straws

Americans use around 500 million plastic straws daily, which could fill over 125 million school buses.

Plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a dangerous chemical that affects our estrogen levels. The disposal of these plastic straws also introduces a lot of plastic waste into the environment.

But you can now substitute your plastic straws with reusable stainless steel straws. We also have biodegradable straws in the market made from bamboo sticks, coconut leaves, cane stems, or paper.

4.     Organic Sanitary Towels

Organic sanitary pads are gaining popularity as they have fewer dyes and additives. They are also safer for the environment.

Most of the modern sanitary pads are manufactured from plastics or their derivatives. Many women complain that the perfumes and dyes often used on these pads irritate their sensitive skin. This has seen many ladies turn to organic pads.

Most organic sanitary towels are made of cotton cloth or other biodegradable materials. Others have a plant-based top material made of wood, bamboo, jute palp, or banana. This makes them free from plastics, chemical dyes, and additives. The organic sanitary towels are also more comfortable, sustainable, and eco-friendly. Since they are also compostable, their use reduces the accumulation of plastic waste on our planet.

The above four products are just a few examples of eco-friendly alternatives that you can use in place of everyday products. If you haven’t started saving our planet, now would be a good time to start!

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COVID-19 leads to massive labour income losses worldwide

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The devastating losses in working hours caused by the COVID-19 pandemic  have brought a “massive” drop in labour income for workers around the world, says the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its latest assessment of the effects of the pandemic on the world of work.

Global labour income is estimated to have declined by 10.7 per cent, or US$ 3.5 trillion, in the first three quarters of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. This figure excludes income support provided through government measures.

The biggest drop was in lower-middle income countries, where the labour income losses reached 15.1 per cent, with the Americas the hardest hit region at 12.1 per cent.

The ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition , says that the global working hour losses in the first nine months of 2020 have been “considerably larger” than estimated in the previous edition of the Monitor (issued on 30 June).

For example, the revised estimate of global working time lost in the second quarter (Q2) of this year (when compared to Q4 2019) is for 17.3 per cent, equivalent to 495 million full time equivalent (FTE) jobs (based on a 48-hour working week), whereas the earlier estimate was for 14 per cent, or 400 million FTE jobs. In Q3 of 2020, global working hour losses of 12.1 per cent (345 million FTE jobs) are expected.

The outlook for Q4 has worsened significantly since the last ILO Monitor  was issued. Under the ILO’s baseline scenario, global working-hour losses are now projected to amount to 8.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 (compared to Q4 2019), which corresponds to 245 million FTE jobs. This is an increase from the ILO’s previous estimate of 4.9 per cent or 140 million FTE jobs.

One reason for the estimated increases in working-hour losses is that workers in developing and emerging economies, especially those in informal employment, have been much more affected than by past crises, the Monitor says.

It also notes that the drop in employment is more attributable to inactivity than to unemployment, with important policy implications.

While many stringent workplace closures have been relaxed, there are significant variations between regions. 94 per cent of workers are still in countries with some sort of workplace restrictions, and 32 per cent are in countries with closures for all but essential workplaces.

The “fiscal stimulus gap”

The 6th edition of the Monitor also looks at the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus in alleviating labour market impacts.

In countries where sufficient data is available for Q2 2020, a clear correlation exists, showing that the larger the fiscal stimulus (as a percentage of GDP), the lower the working-hour losses. In that period, globally an additional fiscal stimulus of 1 per cent of annual GDP would have reduced working hour losses by a further 0.8 per cent.

However, while fiscal stimulus packages have played a significant role in supporting economic activity and reducing the fall in working hours, they have been concentrated in high-income countries, as emerging and developing economies have limited capacity to finance such measures.

In order for developing countries to reach the same ratio of stimulus to working hours lost as in high-income countries, they would need to inject a further US$982 billion (US$45 billion in low-income countries and US$937 billion in lower-middle income countries). The stimulus gap for low income countries amounts to less than 1 per cent of the total value of the fiscal stimulus packages announced by high-income countries.

This huge “fiscal stimulus gap” is even more worrying in the light of the social protection deficits in many developing countries. Moreover, some of these countries have also had to redirect public spending from other objectives in order to mitigate the labour market impact of the crisis.

“Just as we need to redouble our efforts to beat the virus, so we need to act urgently and at scale to overcome its economic, social and employment impacts. That includes sustaining support for jobs, businesses and incomes,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

“As the United Nations General Assembly gathers in New York, there is pressing need for the international community to set out a global strategy for recovery through dialogue, cooperation and solidarity. No group, country or region can beat this crisis alone,” he concluded.

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ADB Endorses New 5-Year Partnership Strategy for Indonesia

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has endorsed its 2020–2024 country partnership strategy for Indonesia, which aims to apply the full range of financing support and solutions through ADB’s sovereign and private sector operations along with its technical know-how to catalyze investments, support sustainable development, and help Indonesia emerge stronger from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Under the new 5-year strategy, ADB’s operations will support Indonesia’s inclusive economic development by focusing on people’s well-being, economic competitiveness, and the environment, while helping build resilience to climate and disaster risks. ADB will assist in Indonesia’s sustainable economic development, including the recovery from the pandemic, with a combination of knowledge, technical, and financial support. ADB will help the country strengthen health care, expand social protection, improve education quality, and develop job skills. ADB will also focus on helping Indonesia tackle climate change and strengthen its resilience to natural disasters and pandemics.

“The new country partnership strategy reflects ADB’s strong commitment to helping Indonesia boost human development, improve economic competitiveness, and address disaster risks and environmental sustainability amid heightened economic uncertainty and rising global threats such as climate change,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa. “The strategy provides a flexible and agile framework for ADB to help Indonesia incorporate green recovery and other sustainable development options, while strengthening domestic resource mobilization to support the recovery efforts.”

The strategy is in line with Indonesia’s National Medium-Term Development Plan (2020–2024) and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, as well as ADB’s corporate strategy, Strategy 2030.

“We greatly appreciate ADB’s strong support to Indonesia over the years, especially the speed of ADB’s response and its close and active engagement with the government during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati. “The partnership strategy positions ADB as a key partner with innovative solutions to complex development challenges. We welcome ADB’s focus on inclusive, competitive, and sustainable development.”

Indonesia’s economy is the largest in Southeast Asia and the seventh-largest in the world based on purchasing power. The country had reduced poverty by more than half, to 9.2% of the national poverty line in 2019 from 23.4% in 1999, but the progress risks being reversed due to the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the strategy, ADB’s sovereign lending to Indonesia is expected to reach $10.7 billion from 2020–2023. ADB’s country operations will seek to mobilize cofinancing from development partners and investments from the private sector to help the government better respond to increased demand for financial support amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, ADB will help Indonesia attract more private investments in infrastructure by promoting public-private partnerships. It will support Indonesia’s Sustainable Development Goals by designing innovative financing options to reduce the risk of green infrastructure projects and help catalyze private sector investments.

ADB will support the government’s policy reforms in human capital development, financial inclusion, business competitiveness, state-owned enterprises, and clean energy. ADB operations will seek to advance gender equality in Indonesia by helping increase women’s access to formal banking, strengthen female graduates’ job skills, and boost their participation in rural enterprises, as well as improving vulnerable women’s access to social services.

ADB-financed projects will promote the application of technology to maximize development results. For example, ADB will use big data analytics, financial technologies, satellite technology for flood mapping and urban development, smart grids and meters, geothermal, waste-to-energy, and remote-sensing systems to improve survey and planning processes for the operation and maintenance of assets.

ADB’s country program will support Indonesia’s participation in regional cooperation and its contribution to the development of regional public goods. That includes international tax cooperation, trilateral cooperation with the Pacific island countries on ocean health, partnership on reducing environmental pollution from plastic waste, and the development of border towns to reduce regional disparities.

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