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‘Urgency to act’ for sustainable development, greater than ever as pandemic continues

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As COVID-19 upends lives and livelihoods across the planet, the UN on Monday held a wide-ranging policy discussion stressing a range of multilateral solutions to ease the pandemic, while also getting back on track towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our commitment to achieving the SDGs has not changed, but the urgency to act has”, said Mona Juul, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as discussion over the topic, “Joining Forces: Effective Policy Solutions for Covid-19 Response”, got underway online.

She maintained that while working towards breakthroughs that will help the world overcome the health emergency, including a vaccine, “we are only beginning to realize the true scale of the social and economic crisis that lies ahead of us”.

Nearly half the global workforce is in immediate danger of being unemployed, while other global goals are being reversed, such as the increase in global poverty for the first time since 1998, with some regions slipping back to levels last seen 30 years ago.  

Malaria mortality levels threaten to revert to those of 20 years ago and violence against women and girls “has become a shadow pandemic, with the number of victims increasing to the hundreds of millions worldwide’, she bemoaned. 

“These are incomprehensible setbacks to our hard-won development gains”, stressed the ECOSOC chief, but “we must ask ourselves: how can we find solid footing in the new evolving normal?”

‘Build back better’

And although this virus impacts everyone, it has not been an equalizer, but instead has exposed and compounded inequalities in societies.
“These disparities should be our catalyst, and our call to build back better”, she said, maintaining that national responses be shaped by human rights and that country-specific global action take special situations into account.

Ms. Juul maintained that the pandemic has “put a spotlight on the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation, governance, and above, all global solidarity”. 

Noting that “we are currently tossing and turning through dangerous waters”, the ECOSOC president pointed to the SDGs as “our chart to see us through the storm”.

“Now is truly the time to fulfil our promise of leaving no one behind”, she concluded.

SDGs ‘clear compass’ 

Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed told the meeting that lives and livelihoods everywhere depend on the UN’s ability to support Governments in tackling this “unprecedented health, humanitarian and socio-economic crisis”.

Calling the SDGs “a clear compass” to direct us, she cited the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, as the world’s chart.

“We will need to keep in mind dual imperatives: to respond urgently to stem the impact of the pandemic, while helping Governments and people respond in a way that recovers better, more resilient, future”, flagged the deputy UN chief.

And while we are all in this together, she underscored the “immediate priority” of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable countries and communities who risk being left behind.

When allocating resources close attention will be paid to the needs of conflict- and disaster-affected countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, according to Ms. Mohammed.

Emerging stronger

Turning to the UN’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to catalyze joint action on the ground for the most vulnerable countries and communities, Ms. Mohammed spelled out: “We estimated billions and are receiving millions”.

In closing, she offered the UN’s “full commitment” in supporting Governments and ensuring that “lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, financial resources are mobilized, and that the global economy and the people we serve can emerge stronger from this crisis”.

Other key voices

Describing the coronavirus pandemic as “a human crisis of historic magnitude”, Liu Zhenmin, who heads up the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) said it had “destabilized global economic growth” and led the world into a major global recession that threatens all the SDGs.

The DESA chief stressed the need to build on lessons learned throughout the crisis to accelerate progress during the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development” and to turn the tide against inequality. 

The Director of the Internatioal Labour Organztion (ILO), Guy Ryder, maintained that an effective response to COVID19, which protects the most vulnerable first, requires global solidarity and multilateral action, with international coordination on health, social and economic policy. 

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet maintained that human rights were at the core of the COVID-19 crisis and encouraged vocal support to step up efforts to leave no one behind. 

Qu Dongyu, Head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) emphasized the impact of that the pandemic is having on food security and nutrition, pushing for effective policy solutions for the global pandemic response.

The Executive Secretary for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, encouraged a coordinated and coherent global response to the adverse social, economic and financial impact of the pandemic.

And Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also weighed into the discussion: “There can be no going back to business as usual”, he spelled out. 

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Africa Today

King Mohammed VI of Morocco launches Pan-African Giant Vaccine Production Plant

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Morocco is getting ready to produce its own vaccines. In Benslimane, King Mohammed VI kicked off on Thursday 27th of January the construction of a giant factory to manufacture Covid-19 and other vaccines.

With 3 industrial lines and a combined production capacity that will reach 116 million units in 2024, the Cherifian Kingdom is taking a giant step towards health and vaccine sovereignty.

Ensuring the country’s self-sufficiency in vaccines and making it a leading biotechnology platform on the African continent and the world is the objective of this industrial unit, called “SENSYO Pharmatech”.

A 500 million Euros Project

The challenge of this project, which will cost 500 million euros, is to transform the country into an essential biotechnology hub in Africa, capable of meeting the continent’s health needs in the short and long term, by integrating pharmaceutical research, clinical development, and the manufacture and marketing of essential biopharmaceutical products.

Through a massive transfer of know-how, the country will position itself, within the next 5 years, as the continent’s catalyst in research, development and production of advanced biopharmaceutical products.

Morocco is now shifting gears. From 2025, the country will be able to produce more than 2 billion doses of vaccines, with the support of one of the world leaders in biotechnology and the “Fill & Finish” industry, Swedish company Recipharm.

A 3 stages project

The project will be divided into 3 stages: The first phase involves the production launch of trial batches from 30 July 2022. The second phase, which will start in parallel with the first, will involve the transfer of the aseptic filling and active substance manufacturing of more than 20 vaccines and bio-therapeutic products, including 3 Covid-19 vaccines. Morocco thus aims to cover, by 2025, more than 70% of the Kingdom’s needs and more than 60% of those of the Continent.

The last step consists in creating, by 2030, an African biopharmaceutical and vaccine innovation cluster in Morocco, recognised worldwide, within the framework of a partnership between major international players in the fields of research and development of advanced technologies in vaccines and bio-therapeutic products and all the Moroccan supervisory institutions, in particular the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Finance.

Morocco leading the way in Africa

This announcement follows the signing of the agreements to launch the project to manufacture and syringe the anti-Covid19 vaccine and other vaccines, which was presided over on Monday 5 July by King Mohammed VI at the Royal Palace in Fez.

For the record, Morocco is at the top of the African podium in terms of vaccination, with more than 23 million people fully vaccinated to date. This is the largest vaccination campaign in Africa. Having understood for a long time that collective immunity is the only way out of the health crisis, the country launched a fierce battle around the vaccine very early on, by actively participating in the clinical trials.

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Environment

Environment contaminated with highly toxic substances, risking the health of nearby communities

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New research  published today by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) about incinerators in three countries – Spain, Czechia, and Lithuania – finds a high level of contamination in the vicinity of incinerators, posing a significant risk to the environment and to the health of people living nearby.
 
To assess the real impact of waste incineration, the biomonitoring research conducted by  ToxicoWatch Foundation for ZWE analysed the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the surroundings of incinerators in Valdemingómez (Spain), Pilsen (Czechia, and Kaunas (Lithuania).
 
The study used bioassays, an analytical method to determine the concentration or potency of a substance by its effect on living animals, plants, living cells, or tissues. This particular study used carefully collected biomarker samples – such as  eggs of backyard chickens, pine needles, and mosses – in areas around incinerators.
 
The research found that:

  • The majority of eggs analysed exceed the EU action limits for food safety as regulated in the EU Directive 2013/711/EU.
  • A high percentage of eggs exceed the safe level for consumption. If these eggs were intended for the commercial market, they should have been withdrawn from the market.
  • The analysis of the vegetation, pine needles, and moses also shows high levels of dioxins in the vicinity of the waste incinerators. This means people living in the vicinity of incinerators could be harmed if they eat vegetables grown in the contaminated soil for consumption.

The research warns of the impacts of the current incineration strategy for human health and highlights the incompatibility of the current incineration heavy strategy with the EU’s zero pollution agenda. It also gives a warning signal for contamination of the environment with highly harmful toxic substances for human health and the environment – such as dioxins (PCDD/F), dioxin-like PCBs, PAHs, and PFAS.

Janek Vähk, ZWE’s Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, said: “There is an urgent need to assess the real impact of waste incineration on human health and the environment. People living near waste incinerators need to be reassured about their health risks and the safety of such combustion facilities
 
Based on the report conclusions, ZWE and the research project group strongly recommend to:

  • Make biomonitoring research mandatory for all existing incineration projects across Europe.
  • Mandate continuous measurement of chlorinated and brominated dioxins including under the “other than normal operating conditions” such as start-ups and shut-downs and technical accidents.
  • Put a moratorium on new waste incineration projects and develop phase-out plans for the existing ones.
  • Promote and fund circular, healthy, sustainable alternatives to waste incineration.

Read the full “The True Toxic Toll – Biomonitoring of waste incinerator emissions” reports: here

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Development

Repurposing Current Policies Could Deliver Multiple Benefits for Farmers

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A new World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report finds that repurposing current agricultural public policies could deliver multiple benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. ‘Repurposing Agricultural Policies and Support: Options to Transform Agriculture and Food Systems for Better Health of People, Economies and Planet’ reveals that investing in climate-smart innovations that both increase agricultural productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions could reduce overall emissions from agriculture by more than 40%, restore 105 million hectares of agricultural land to natural habitats, and reduce the cost of healthy foods, thereby also contributing to better nutritional outcomes. To achieve this, concerted action is needed, including support to low- and middle-income countries, facing fiscal constraints, to review current policies and prioritize green investments.

As experts and Ministers of Agriculture meet this week for the annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture hosted by the German government, the report also notes that current policies only return 35 cents to farmers for every US dollar of public support. According to modeling conducted by the authors, redirecting about $70 billion a year, equivalent to 1% of global agricultural output, would improve economic efficiency and result in net gains to the global economy of about $2.4 trillion in 2040.

“Agricultural policies and public support programs are ripe for change. Policymakers are well-placed to scrutinize and rethink current policies and programs to better benefit farmers, increase food security, build resilience in the face of climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Martien van Nieuwkoop, Director of the Agriculture and Food Global Practice at the World Bank.

Under a “business-as-usual” scenario, the report estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production will double by 2040, with 56 million hectares of new land being used for agriculture between 2020 and 2040. However, there are important trade-offs for policymakers to consider as they seek to reform agricultural support policies to achieve better outcomes.

For example, the report finds that simply eliminating support would lower farm output and increase poverty while generating only modest climate gains. Making support conditional on more environmentally friendly but lower-yielding production methods can generate climate benefits, but would increase food prices and poverty, while expanding agricultural land use.

The most effective repurposing, therefore, requires policy incentives and public investment in technologies that both reduce emissions and enhance productivity to meet growing demand for food and ensure food security. These technologies include feed supplements that reduce livestock emissions while increasing productivity, and rice production systems that use less water and produce less methane, without compromising farmers’ incomes and yields.

International collaboration will be vital. “Everyone must come together to reset current policies if we are to address the threats of climate change and unsustainable food systems. Together we can build better food systems and progress towards shared development goals, if we start reforming our public policies now,” said Johan Swinnen, Director General of IFPRI and Global Director for Systems Transformation, CGIAR.

The World Bank is working with governments to rethink and transform food systems, including redirecting public support to produce better outcomes, foster innovation and enable sustainable growth. Building on policy analysis by IFPRI, the World Bank is helping several countries assess the trade-offs and benefits of different policy options, to identify the best path forward for reform.

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