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Ukraine war could create widespread food insecurity

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Wheat harvest near the Krasne village, Ukraine. © FAO/Anatolii Stepanov

Millions of Ukrainians may soon face serious food insecurity because of the ongoing conflict, the UN warned on Tuesday, amid reports that people are facing “life-and-death decisions” on whether to leave Mariupol and elsewhere, more than a month since the Russian invasion.

The alert from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) follows assessments in 19 of Ukraine’s 24 oblasts, or regions, which indicated that it was uncertain that Ukraine could harvest crops, plant new ones or sustain livestock production.

“An immediate and worrying finding is that food shortages are expected immediately or in the next three months in over 40 per cent of the surveyed areas and cases,” said Rein Paulsen, FAO Director, Office of Emergencies and Resilience.

“When it comes to the all-important production of vegetables, conflict is likely to severely disrupt production for tens of thousands of smallholder farmers, those who have decided to stay behind.”

To help support the wider relief effort, FAO has appealed for $50 million but it is only 10 per cent funded.

Nonetheless, it has been possible to support more than 14,600 farming families by providing them with more than 740 tonnes of urgently needed seed for planting, Mr. Paulsen explained.

Life-or-death choices

Meanwhile, in Mariupol and other Ukrainian locations that have been encircled and pummelled by indiscriminate shelling, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the crisis was “deepening…the level of death, destruction and suffering that we are witnessing and that is being inflicted on civilians, is abhorrent and unacceptable”.

Briefing journalists in Geneva, ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson reiterated serious concerns about civilians who have no safe means of escape, and who have faced constant shelling, while also lacking running water and other essentials.

According to UN aid coordinating office, OCHA, around 90 per cent of Mariupol’s residential buildings – some 2,600 homes – have been affected by active fighting.

Some 60 per cent of buildings have suffered various degrees of damage from direct shelling, while about 40 per cent have been completely destroyed. Local authorities say the rising civilian death toll is fast-approaching 5,000 people.

“Today civilians are taking life-and-death decisions to flee when there is no ceasefire or other agreements in place that will allow them to leave safely,” said ICRC’s Mr. Watson. “Time is running out for citizens in Mariupol and in other frontline areas who have now gone for weeks with no humanitarian assistance.”

Highlighting the risks faced by medical workers and patients in Ukraine, Dr Jarno Habicht, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Ukraine, said that there have now been “74 attacks with 72 deaths and 40 injuries in the period of 24 February until 25 March…These attacks are against hospitals, ambulances.”

Dr Habicht confirmed that medical supplies were “much-needed in the facilities where the doctors and nurses are doing much of the work, almost 24/7, in these very difficult circumstances”.

Atomic watchdog talks

In a related development, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEAsaid on Tuesday that high-level discussions are under way in Ukraine to help avert the risk of a radioactive accident at one of the country’s nuclear power plants.

There have been “several close calls”, said IAEA Director-General Mario Grossi, who is leading meetings with senior Ukrainian government officials to facilitate “prompt safety and security support”, the agency said.

“The military conflict is putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger,” Mr. Grossi said. “We must take urgent action to make sure that they can continue to operate safely and securely and reduce the risk of a nuclear accident that could have a severe health and environmental impact both in Ukraine and beyond.”

Don’t intefere with IAEA’s work, warns Guterres

The Secretary-General António Guterres, spoke on Monday to Mr. Grossi ahead of his mission to Ukraine, and in a statement issued on Tuesday, the UN chief reiterated his “strong support” for all the IAEA’s efforts, calling for “safe and unfettered access to all nuclear facilities”, for the agency’s staff. The Chernobyl plant, was taken over by invading Russian forces last last month.

 “Their important work should not be interfered with”, said the statement, issued by his Spokesperson. “An accident at a nuclear power plant would be a health and environmental catastrophe. All efforts must be taken to avoid this disastrous outcome.”

Mr. Grossi has warned repeatedly about the deteriorating safety and security situation of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities since Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

In particular, the IAEA chief urged caution after Russian forces took control of the stricken Chernobyl site on 24 February, with a second plant – Zaporizhzhya – coming under Russian control about a week later.

He has stressed the IAEA’s commitment and readiness to help ensure that indispensable safety and security protocols are adhered to. In recent weeks, several of these “pillars” – including the physical integrity of facilities, the ability of operational staff to work without undue pressure, and the access to off-site power – have been seriously compromised, the agency said.

In a statement, the IAEA insisted that it had drawn up detailed plans to provide assistance to Ukraine’s nuclear sites, which include 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants, as well as Chernobyl, where radioactive waste management facilities are located, following the 1986 accident.

Among its proposals, IAEA intends to send experts to “prioritized facilities”, along with monitoring and emergency equipment.

“Ukraine has requested our assistance for safety and security. We will now start delivering it,” said Mr. Grossi. “Ukraine has one of Europe’s largest nuclear power programmes. The IAEA’s presence, where needed to ensure safety and security, is of paramount importance. We are ready to provide the necessary support now.”

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UNICEF urges leaders to keep schools safe following deadly Texas shooting

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Governments must take greater action to ensure school remains a safe place for boys and girls, the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Wednesday, following the latest deadly school shooting in the United States. 

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed on Tuesday when 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos opened fire at Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas, located near the border with Mexico. 

How many more? 

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said there have already been “horrific attacks” this year on schools in Afghanistan, Ukraine, the US, West Africa and beyond. 

“Tragedy after tragedy, shooting after shooting, young life after young life: how many more children will die before government leaders act to keep children and their schools safe? Because until they do, these horrors will continue,” she said in a statement. 

Ms. Russell emphasized that outside of their homes, school is the one place where children should feel safest. 

She noted that in addition to the lives lost, “many more children, teachers and school staff who witnessed the carnage will bear the emotional and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.” 

Shock and sadness 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was deeply shocked and saddened by “the heinous mass shooting”, saying it was particularly heart-wrenching that most of the victims are children.  

Mr. Guterres has extended his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the entire community, his Spokesperson said in a statement issued on Tuesday. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed her outrage in a post on Twitter. 

“When children go to school, they should only be concerned about learning,” she wrote.  “Children should not go to school fearing for their lives!” 

Ms. Mohammed said her heartfelt prayers are with the families, classmates and teachers who are mourning this “devastating loss”. 

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper selected as UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year 2021 Award

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Following reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women collecting firewood in Rubkona, South Sudan, Captain Irene Wilson Muro and and Major Winnet Zharare (2nd from the right) reached out to local women to discuss ways to stem the abuse. Photo: UNMISS

A Zimbabwean peacekeeper who recently completed her assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan, will receive the 2021 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. 

Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, served in Bentiu, South Sudan in 2021-2022, and will receive the award from the Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, 26 May 2022.

Created in 2016, the United Nations “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, as nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations.

Secretary-General António Guterres commended Major Winnet for her award. “Major Zharare is a role model and a trailblazer. Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” he said. “Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres added. 

Major Zharare expressed her gratitude and pride in receiving  the award which, she said, “motivated [her] to maintain [her] course towards gender equality.”

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” she added.

Major Winnet Zharare deployed to UNMISS in November 2020. Throughout her 17-month-long service, she advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.

As the Chief Military Information Officer in UNMISS’  Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection efforts as well as build trust between host communities and the Mission. Her efforts also contributed to an increase in  gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would gain appropriate attention.

Advocating for gender parity and womens’ participation in an environment where they are traditionally excluded from decision-making, she encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve both men and women in meetings with the UN. Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues pertaining to women’s protection and rights. During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, Major Zharare also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and in the construction of dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.

Major Zharare is the first Zimbabwean peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award.

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‘New dawn’ for Europe as War in Ukraine Strengthens EU and Support for Enlargement

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The European Union surprised the world, and even itself, with the speed, scale and unity of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This “new” Europe is ready to project both soft and hard power on the world stage, European leaders told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, on the panel at the session, European Unity in a Disordered World?, said the Ukraine war has revealed how powerful Europe is collectively: “This is a new dawn for Europe.”

The war on Ukraine has also revealed weaknesses – including global supply chain vulnerabilities and over-reliance on Russian energy, she said, but Europe is addressing this and can begin to flex its muscles on the global stage. “Europe has untapped purchasing power, trading power, technology power, pension power and moral power.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, reinforced the point. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said. “Europe can become the global project for peace.”

Mistakes of the past will be rectified, she said. “For way too long we did not seriously consider an energy union where we can rely on each other rather than on a country that can switch us off at any time.”

Referring to the EU’s support and defence of Ukraine, she was emphatic: “This is not the time to talk about face-saving for Russia or appeasement.”

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, also on the panel, said: “If Ukraine falls to Russian aggression, Slovakia is next.” He added that we must continue to provide military support as well as step up humanitarian aid. “Above all we need to give Ukrainians hope.”

“Let’s not compromise – we must remain faithful to the values of the EU – freedom, rule of law, human dignity and equal rights.”

Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “The people of Europe have spoken. Enough is enough.” In response there is much stronger unanimity between member states and more support than ever to accept the accession of new members.

He continued: “We see the EU’s future in terms of the green economy and in terms of the digitalization but also in terms of enlargement.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called on European member states to continue to raise their defence spending. “The NATO alliance members are inseparable, but Europe must play its part,” he said. “This will help transform Europe from a soft power to a hard power.”

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