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UN working at ‘full speed’ to prepare for humanitarian mission to Ethiopia’s Tigray

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The Tigray region faces some of the toughest development challenges in Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet

The UN’s humanitarian coordination office, said on Friday that it was doing its utmost to secure aid access to Ethiopia’s Tigray region, after a deal was struck to reach displaced civilians, following weeks of fighting between federal and regional forces.

“There are still operational issues of a logistical nature, some of them are of a security nature, that are being worked out, so that we can proceed with the missions”, said Jens Laerke, spokesperson,  for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that “everyone of course (is) working full speed to make that happen.”

On Wednesday, the UN announced that agreement had been reached with the Ethiopian Government to allow “unimpeded, sustained and secure access” for humanitarian supplies to reach those in need across areas now under its control in the northeastern area.

At a scheduled press conference in Geneva, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCRsaid that it was “poised” to resume full humanitarian activities in the Tigray region “as soon as the situation allows” following the agreement to restore access.

Exodus continues

More than 47,000 Ethiopian refugees have now reached Sudan, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists.

More than 1,000 had arrived on Thursday, he said, reporting that more were on the move behind them in search of safety, including “a small number” of Eritrean refugees.

To date, 11,150 refugees have been transferred from Hamdayet and Abderafi border points to Sudan’s Um Rakuba camp, some 70 kilometres from the Ethiopian border.

In the town of Shire in Tigray, UNHCR and partners “have already distributed water, high energy biscuits, clothes, mattresses, sleeping mats and blankets to an estimated 5,000 internally displaced people”, Mr. Baloch said.

But he added that discussions were still ongoing “with the federal government’s refugee agency on logistics arrangements, and the need to assess the security situation before the resumption of humanitarian activities”.

Disease threat

Responding to concerns about the impact of the conflict on civilians, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, said that the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region was to be expected, along with “injuries, malnutrition, communicable diseases such as malaria, as well as increased needs for non-communicable diseases drugs”.

On behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP), spokesperson Tomson Phiri said the agency welcomed the signing of the agreement to enable access to areas under the Federal Government’s control in Tigray and the bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions.

The agency’s priority “is to locate some of the 50,000 Eritrean refugees who before the conflict, received food assistance in four camps in Tigray” he added, although it was possible “that some may have fled by now in search of safety”.

Speeding up delivery

WFP will continue to seek ways to “speed up delivery of food supplies to refugee camps in Tigray as well as to reach people in need elsewhere”, Mr Phiri insisted, noting that the agency has provided supplementary food assistance to 42,000 people in Tigray.

Overall, some one million people received humanitarian support before the fighting began in early November, according to WFP.

Ahead of assessment missions by the UN and its partners, the UN agency provisionally estimated that up to two million people from Tigray Region would need assistance, it said in a statement.

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Kenya Receives $750 million Boost for COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

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To reinforce Kenya’s resilient, inclusive and green economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank approved $750 million in development policy financing to support policy reforms that will strengthen transparency and accountability in public procurement and promote efficient public investment spending.

This development policy operation supports measures to improve medium-term fiscal and debt sustainability through greater transparency and efficiency in government spending, building on ongoing World Bank support to enhance public finance management systems. The operation provides for the establishment of an electronic procurement platform for the public sector that seeks to make government purchases of goods and services transparent. This will help increase accountability in public spending and reduce opportunities for corruption. The support also strengthens public investment management by seeking cost-savings and applying rigorous selection and monitoring and evaluation criteria to all projects. Both measures are expected to yield fiscal savings of up to $2.6 billion.

“The operation prioritizes reforms in hard hit sectors, such as healthcare, education, and energy, which have been made urgent by the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “In recognition of the severity of the crisis and need for a comprehensive response, we are supporting the government’s post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy, which is designed to mitigate the adverse socioeconomic effects of the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery and attain higher and sustained economic growth.”

The policy operation also prioritizes energy sector reforms to improve electricity access and ensure that Kenyans benefit from least-cost, clean energy sources. Further, the new policy framework will help strengthen Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s (KPLC’s) finances with a new competitive pricing regime.

Kenyans will also benefit from better healthcare and disease prevention, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable households, through National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) governance reforms and the establishment of the Kenya Center for Disease Control (KCDC) to strengthen disease prevention, detection, and response. Reforms will further seek to provide Kenyans with more equitable access to higher education, through a performance-based funding method to reduce the imbalances and inefficiencies created by the existing funding model for universities.

“Stabilizing the debt trajectory and reducing high debt costs is a top priority,” said Alex Sienaert, Senior Economist and Task Team Leader, World Bank Kenya. “This policy operation supports measures to reduce the budget deficit over time, such as by making public spending more efficient, whilst minimizing debt costs by helping to meet the government’s current financing requirements on concessional terms.”

DPOs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help to accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have made reforms that improve governance and service delivery, including those covered by this operation for Kenya, even more critical because they create better conditions for Kenya to inclusively and sustainably recover from it. Financing provided by the World Bank is offered on concessional terms, making it significantly lower than commercial loans. The total annual interest and service cost of the Kenya DPO is 3.1%.

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

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Risk of COVID-19 surge threatens Africa’s health facilities

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Health workers on Bwama Island on Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccines. © UNICEF/Catherine Ntabadde

Critical health facilities across Africa risk being overwhelmed by surging COVID-19 infections, the UN health agency said on Thursday.

The appeal to the continent’s authorities to boost lifesaving facilities comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that vaccine shipments were at “a near halt”.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19.”

20% uptick in cases

As the continent struggles with vaccine shortages, the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients has lagged behind other parts of the world. While Africa has 2.9 per cent of cases globally, it accounts for 3.7 per cent of deaths.

Weak observance of preventive measures likely contributed to the crisis, along with increased population movement and interaction, and the arrival of winter in southern Africa.

In the last two weeks, the continent has recorded a 20 per cent increase in coronavirus infections, compared to the previous fortnight. “The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone (and) eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 per cent in cases,” WHO said in a statement.

Intensive care filling up

South Africa has seen “a sustained increase in cases”, while Uganda reported a 131 per cent week-on-week rise last week “with infection clusters in schools, rising cases among health workers and isolation centres and intensive care units filling up”.

Angola and Namibia have also witnessed a resurgence in cases, WHO said, noting that 48.6 million doses have been received in Africa and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries on the continent.

Poor treatment

Only around two per cent of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, compared with the 24 per cent global figure.

“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,” said Dr. Moeti. “I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”

Globally, as of 3 June 2021, there have been 171,222,477 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3,686,142 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 2 June, a total of 1,581,509,628 vaccine doses have been administered.

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Mali: Military must ‘scrupulously’ respect human rights and free civilian leaders

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has supported peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

A UN independent human rights expert said on Wednesday that Mali’s new military authorities should “scrupulously respect human rights” and release all leaders detained in last week’s coup. 

Alioune Tine, independent expert for human rights in Mali, said that contrary to news reports, President Bah N’Daw and former Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were not freed by the military on 27 May, but instead moved to house arrest. 

The development follows Mali’s second coup in less than a year. 

The ousted President and Prime Minister were initially held on Monday 24 May at Kati military camp near the capital, Bamako, with five other top civilian and military officials.  

Only two of the five officials have been released to date, Mr. Tine said, before endorsing the call of West African bloc ECOWAS for new presidential elections in February 2022. 

Last Friday, Mali’s constitutional court declared Colonel Assimi Goita, who led the military coup in August, to be the new interim president. 

 “I call upon Malian transitional authorities to immediately end the house arrest of these two men and to release three senior military officials from arbitrary detention,” he said

Restore rule of law 

“I call upon all Malian transitional authorities to scrupulously respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to restore the rule of law.” 

“Malian authorities must lift the house arrest of these two individuals and allow the remaining detainees to communicate with their families and lawyers and to receive visits”, underscored the UN expert.  

He also maintained that Mali must allow human rights officers from the UN mission MINUSMA, as well as representatives of national human rights institutions and organizations, to visit them. 

Regional implications 

The independent expert said Mali must form an inclusive government to move the country – now suspended from ECOWAS institutions – back to constitutional order and rule of law. 

The African Union (AU) has also reportedly suspended the country’s membership.  

After two coups in Mali within 10 months, Mr. Tine called for national and international actors to strengthen State institutions and the rule of law to avoid repeated crises and to ensure respect for all human rights. 

However, he said the main responsibility lies with Malians themselves.  

“I call on political, military and civil society leaders to exercise restraint and to engage in an in-depth dialogue in order to restore lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Mali”. 

UN under attack 

Meanwhile, the premises of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, were targeted on Tuesday by unidentified assailants in Aguelhok, in the Kidal region.  

Preliminary reports describe a complex attack involving indirect mortar and small arms fire against a number of MINUSMA locations there. 

“UN peacekeepers retaliated, forcing the assailants to flee. No casualties or material damage have been reported on the UN side”, according to UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujaric.  

Unwavering support 

At the same time, MINUSMA continues to closely monitor political developments in the country and reiterated its commitment to work with ECOWAS and the AU towards a return to constitutional order through free and transparent elections.  

MINUSMA joined ECOWAS in stressing that the transition timetable be respected and concluded within the agreed to18-month deadline. 

“To achieve this goal, the Mission says it is important that the new government, headed by a civilian prime minister, be inclusive and enjoy the broadest possible support”, said Mr. Dujarric.  

The UN peacekeeping mission also reiterated the demand that house arrest measures be immediately lifted and for the “immediate and unconditional release” of aides and staff. 

“We will continue to support the people of Mali, unwavering support, [as it] continues to pursue its efforts to combat insecurity, support the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and help stabilize the country, in line with the UN peacekeeping mission’s mandate in the country”, said the Spokesperson.

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