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2021 Year in Review: UN Support for Countries in Conflict



MINUSMA/Harandane DickoMINUSMA peacekeepers talk to villagers about their difficulties in Gao, northeastern Mali.Monday, December 27, 2021UN News

© UNICEF/Delil Souleiman
In Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, more than 60,000 displaced people, most of them women and children, live in often dire conditions.

Syria: peace denied by a ‘gulf of mistrust’

The grim ten-year milestone of the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 350,000 people, saw the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, work tirelessly to advance the peace process, amid what he called the “slow tsunami” of crises, with economic collapse compounded by COVID-19, corruption and mismanagement.

Several times throughout the year, Mr. Pedersen delivered his realistic assessment of the humanitarian and security situation in the country, characterised by what he called a “gulf of mistrust” between warring parties, and frequent attacks on civilians.

Attempts to find agreement on a new constitution for Syria began in October, but these efforts proved fruitless, at least for now. Mr. Pedersen acknowledged that the outcome was a disappointment but urged the members of the Constitutional Committee to continue their work.

UNDP Yemen

Devastation caused by protracted conflict in Yemen.

Yemen: ‘knocking on the door of famine’

The desperate people of Yemen faced the highest levels of acute malnutrition since the beginning of the conflict there in 2015, with over half the population facing severe food shortages. UN food relief agency chief David Beasley warned in March that millions were “knocking on the door of famine”.

Spring saw a dramatic deterioration in the conflict, with fighting expanding on several fronts, and the UN confirmed that the country remained the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

A new UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, was appointed in September, with no illusions about the difficulty of bringing peace and stability to the country, as a UNICEF report showed that some 10,000 children had been killed or maimed since the beginning of the fighting.

Is there real hope for an end to the fighting? Yes, says the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which released a report in November showing that, if the warring parties can agree to stop fighting, extreme poverty could be eradicated within a generation.

UNOCHA/Fariba Housaini

Internally displaced children in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Taliban takeover

International attention turned to Afghanistan following the shockingly swift military victory by the Taliban, who swept into the capital, Kabul, in August following the withdrawal of most international troops by June.

The Taliban’s takeover had been preceded by a marked increase in violence: Particularly horrific were the bombing of a girl’s school in Kabul in May, which killed at least 60, including several schoolgirls.

The following month, 10 deminers from the HALO trust were killed in the northern region, in an attack described by the Security Council as “atrocious and cowardly”, and a report released in July revealed that more women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009.

As it became clear that the Taliban had become the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, the UN focus shifted to ensuring that humanitarian support remained as strong as possible: millions faced starvation with the onset of winter, and aid flights to Kabul resumed in September. In December, the World Food Programme (WFP) urged countries to put politics aside and step up support to avert a potential catastrophe.

FAO/Michael Tewelde

The UN is providing $20 million in CERF to mitigate the loss of livelihoods and declines in food consumption after erratic rainfall in parts of Ethiopia depleted water supplies.

‘Grave uncertainty’ in Ethiopia

The northern Tigray region has been the epicentre of fighting in Ethiopia, between Government troops and the regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The unrest exacerbated humanitarian concerns: in February, people displaced by the violence were reportedly reduced to eating leaves to survive. By June, the WFP estimated that some 350,000 people were at risk of famine.

There were persistent reports of human rights violations in Tigray, including disturbing news of abuse of civilians, and aid workers being targeted. Three employees of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) agency were killed in June, and in July senior UN officials appealed for immediate and unrestricted humanitarian access to Tigray, and for an end to the deadly attacks on aid workers.

However, violence continued to escalate, and the country was under a state of emergency by November, when the UN rights office shared reports of people of Tigrayan origin being rounded up and arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa and elsewhere.

The UN political chief, Rosemary Di Carlo, told the Security Council that the future of the country was now shrouded in “grave uncertainty”, and was affecting the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region.

OCHA/P. Peron

A displaced child in Kachin State, Myanmar.

Myanmar: a challenge to regional stability

The decision of Myanmar’s military to detain the country’s top political leaders and government officials in a coup, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, was roundly condemned by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in February.

The detentions were followed by a state of emergency, and a violent, widespread crackdown on dissent. Nevertheless, demonstrations against the takeover grew in February, leading to the killing of several protestors.

The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that the situation in the country was a challenge to the stability of the region.

During the months that followed, protests continued, violence against demonstrators escalated, and senior UN officials condemned the actions of the military. A UN report in April raised fears that the coup, coupled with the impact of COVID-19, could result in up to 25 million people – nearly half of the country’s population – living in poverty by early 2022.

The UN called for an urgent international response to prevent the crisis becoming a catastrophe for the whole of Southeast Asia but, by September, the power of the military seemed to have become entrenched. In December, the UN rights office warned that the country’s human rights situation was deteriorating at an unprecedented rate.

MINUSMA/Gema Cortes

A UN peacekeeper patrols a village in Bandiagara in Mopti, Mali.

Mali: a peacekeeping danger zone

UN-backed attempts to broker peace in Mali, following 2020’s military coup, could not prevent a deteriorating security crisis in 2021.

The country, in Africa’s Sahel region, retained its status as the world’s most dangerous posting for UN peacekeepers and, sadly, more of them were to pay the ultimate price whilst serving their duty.

The first deadly attacks on the UN blue helmets took place on 14 January, when four were killed and five wounded, and another attack left a further peacekeeper dead just two days later.

The following month, a temporary operating base of the UN Integrated Stabilization Mission for Mali (MINUSMA) in Kerena, near Douentza in Central Mali was attacked, resulting in the death of one peacekeeper and the wounding of 27 others. 

In April, the UN peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, warned that ‘blue helmets’, and the Malian Defence and Security Forces, continue to suffer repeated attacks and significant losses, while some large towns live under constant threat from armed groups. 

The death toll continued to rise: attacks in October and November left two peacekeepers dead whilst, in December, seven were killed and three seriously injured, when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Bandiagara region. To date, more than 200 peacekeepers have been killed in Mali.

Their presence in the country, however, remains essential: some 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, and around 4.7 million are reliant on some form of humanitarian aid.

Hotspots of tension

UN News followed events in many other countries hit by outbreaks of violence and conflict in 2021.Visiting Burkina Faso in December, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet lamented the fact that the West African nation faces “a multitude of challenges with severe impacts on a wide range of human rights of its people”. One attack in a rural part of the country in June left at least 132 dead, whilst another in August led to the death of around 80.Cameroon remained beset by tension throughout the year, with separatists in the English-speaking regions of the country fighting to create their own state. The UN revealed in December that over 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to insecurity and violence.The Central African Republic was hit by a wave of violence following presidential elections in late December, 2020, targeting civilians and UN peacekeepers. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes by the violence, and the senior UN official warned the Security Council in June of an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis”.The Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered yet another year of violent attacks against civilians, with incidents reported on UN News practically every month, from a series of village killings in January, to the condemnation of mass human rights abuses in July, and the thousands fleeing fighting in November. Throughout the year, aid workers and UN peacekeepers also came under attack.Haiti was already in a drawn-out political, security, and humanitarian crisis, long before the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. By October, the senior UN official in the country was warning that Haiti was undergoing “one of the most fraught periods of its recent history”.Iraq was the scene of deadly bomb attacks, including a suicide bombing at a busy Baghdad market in January, and another in the capital just before the Eid al-Adha holiday in July. In November, the UN Mission in the country condemned an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, when his house was hit by a drone attack.Niger underwent a deadly Spring, during which hundreds of civilians were killed in terror attacks. In January, around 100 died in the west of the country as a result of armed violence, and some 200 civilians were killed in the Tahoua region in March, including around 30 children.In Nigeria, Mass kidnappings continued to be a threat to schoolchildren: UN chief António Guterres called for the unconditional release of around 30 students abducted from a school in the northwest of the country in March, and many schoolchildren remain missing following earlier kidnappings.Unrest in Palestine and Israel escalated in May, with at least 60 youngsters killed in the occupied Palestinian enclave of Gaza and another 444 injured over a fraught 10-day period. After 11 days of rocket and air attacks, a ceasefire was reached between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, by which time some 240 were reportedly killed, and thousands injured, the majority in Gaza.In Somalia, following months of escalating tensions and violence, the UN welcomed summit talks in Spring, which were followed in August by an electoral agreement between the Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, and the heads of Somalia’s federal member states.People in most parts of South Sudan are coping with extreme violence and attacks, a UN-appointed investigation found in February. The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, warned that, a decade after the country achieved independence, more children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance than ever before.Sudan’s experiment in joint power-sharing between the military and civilian leaders, following the ousting of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019, was derailed in October by a military coup. With the Prime Minister later restored to his office, the UN Envoy, Volker Perthes, told the Security Council in December that, whilst discussions on the way forward are underway, restoring trust will be a challenge.

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change



A new way to recycle large amounts of coffee grounds; a platform connecting young African activists; technology to produce electricity from ocean waves or recycle plastic. A new energy-efficient construction method – an innovative carpooling app. 

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Health Workers Lauded for Role in Leprosy Treatment During Pandemic



Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, thanks participants at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. He is with other participants from Japan, India and Nepal in the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign event. by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi, kenya)Thursday, January 20, 2022Inter Press Service

Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative.

A leprosy-free world was one where “patients and those cured of leprosy live free of discrimination and, people around them will be free of the misunderstanding, ignorance and fear that perpetuate discrimination”, he told the webinar.

Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative is a strategic alliance between WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and problems related to the disease. The initiative spearheaded a campaign, “Don’t Forget Leprosy”, to raise awareness about the condition in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO Goodwill Ambassador envisions a post-COVID world where those affected by leprosy will be liberated from such stigma and discrimination in keeping with human rights.

Sasakawa says this world is now at risk of delaying leprosy elimination due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was a 37 percent drop in reported new cases and leprosy programs in many countries have stalled or scaled back.

Participants heard about the role of health professionals in combating leprosy, recognition of this role and the successes and challenges faced in addressing leprosy during the ongoing health pandemic.

Their role, Sasakawa said, was a central pillar to the vision of a leprosy free world as it helps reduce transmission and disability.

An estimated three to four million people live with some form of disability caused by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.

“The ‘Don’t Forget Leprosy’ is a global campaign because our voices alone are not enough. Stopping leprosy requires (the involvement of) all of us, from India and Nepal to all other countries around the world,” he said.

Dr Rashmi Shukla outlined efforts in India to identify and treat patients with leprosy. He was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Dinesh Basnet, Central President of the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA) in Nepal, said he was happy to see progress in recent years.

“More so Nepal’s efforts to track and eliminate leprosy. Even during the pandemic, detection and treatment interventions were uninterrupted, and this has been possible due to government commitment and unrelenting efforts of health professionals,” said Basnet.

“People affected by leprosy were not forgotten as communication continued through WhatsApp groups, and this was critical during the lockdown.”

Dr Indra Napit, a senior Orthopedic Surgeon at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal, spoke about innovative technology in the trial of Autologous Blood products to promote ulcer healing in Leprosy. He added that a new drug was on trial to manage reactions to this form of treatment at this leprosy mission.

In a video message, Birodh Khatiwada, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, spoke of Nepal’s undisrupted program to address leprosy, including the continued supply of leprosy medication despite the pandemic.

He says Nepal has already prepared the National Leprosy Roadmap, 2021-2030, National Leprosy Strategy 2021-2025, in line with the Global Leprosy Strategy, Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sasakawa emphasized that it was indeed the ultimate goal for India and other affected countries worldwide to reach zero leprosy cases by 2030.

Despite challenges in the fight to eliminate leprosy, a ray of hope shines through, with Anju Sharma sharing good practices in case finding in India amid the ongoing health pandemic.

Sharma is an accredited Social Health Activist and is considered a driving force behind India’s public health system and an essential link between the community and the public health system.

“Screening for leprosy during the pandemic is much more difficult. As COVID-19 cases increase, so does my responsibilities because I have to strictly follow COVID-19 protocols, and this takes a lot of time,” Sharma explained.

“Due to the pandemic, people are hesitant about getting screened. But I reassure them that protocols will be observed and remind them that failure to detect and treat leprosy can lead to disability.”

Dr Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju, acting team leader, WHO Global Leprosy Programme, emphasized that discussing the role of health workers was critical, and hearing from those in the frontlines helps efforts to eliminate the pandemic move forward.

WHO, he said, subscribes to the Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign. He lauded ongoing efforts to sustain counselling for those affected by leprosy and those who tracked and managed Nepal-India cross border leprosy cases despite challenges COVID-19 protocols like restrictions on movement and lockdowns.

Dinesh Basnet, a person affected by leprosy thanked health care workers and others for their efforts in eliminating the disease. He was talking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Similarly, Dr Rabindra Baskota, the Leprosy Control and Disability Management Section director in Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that health workers had been relentless to find new cases, raising awareness on leprosy and treating patients despite ongoing challenges.

“Still, there is a need to train community health workers to detect new cases and manage reactions to leprosy treatment even as older and more experienced health workers retire,” he said.

Dr Anil Kumar, the deputy director-general (Leprosy) in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who spoke about good practices in combating leprosy said that a leprosy-free India was not very far off.

Despite a notable decline in screening and detecting cases due to COVID-19, he said critical interventions were nonetheless rolled out, and that leprosy-related services continued at the grassroots level.

“Migrant labourers were screened for leprosy at point of return to home districts and patients on treatment tracked. Treatment defaulters were cross notified based on the address in treatment record,” Kumar said.

“A WhatsApp group titled Leprosy Action Group was created for cross notification, and members included state leprosy officers and partners. Supportive supervision and monitoring up to sub-district level using virtual platforms continues.”

Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, Dr Takahiro Nanri, moderated a panel discussion that included a session to further shed light on additional support needed to achieve leprosy elimination milestones.

Sasakawa suggested that health workers’ training included human rights, and the panel lauded health workers for their passionate and proactive steps to eliminate the disease.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Ominous History in Real Time: Where We Are Now in the USA



US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session last year. In his inaugural address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN, Biden called for a new era of global unity against the compounding crises of COVID-19, climate change and insecurity. Credit: UN Photo/Cia PakOpinion by Norman Solomon (san francisco, usa)Monday, January 17, 2022Inter Press Service

Dollar figures can look abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had asked for “only” $12 billion more than President Trump’s bloated military budget of the previous year — but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan hawkery in the House and Senate, which provided a boost of $37 billion instead.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of the federal government’s total discretionary spending — while programs for helping instead of killing are on short rations at many local, state, and national government agencies. It’s a nonstop trend of reinforcing the warfare state in sync with warped neoliberal priorities. While outsized profits keep benefiting the upper class and enriching the already obscenely rich, the cascading effects of extreme income inequality are drowning the hopes of the many.

Corporate power constrains just about everything, whether healthcare or education or housing or jobs or measures for responding to the climate emergency. What prevails is the political structure of the economy.

Class war in the United States has established what amounts to oligarchy. A zero-sum economic system, aka corporate capitalism, is constantly exercising its power to reward and deprive. The dominant forces of class warfare — disproportionately afflicting people of color while also steadily harming many millions of whites — continue to undermine basic human rights including equal justice and economic security.

In the real world, financial power is political power. A system that runs on money is adept at running over people without it.

The words “I can’t breathe,” repeated nearly a dozen times by Eric Garner in a deadly police chokehold, resonated for countless people whose names we’ll never know. The intersections of racial injustice and predatory capitalism are especially virulent zones, where many lives gradually or suddenly lose what is essential for life.

Discussions of terms like “racism” and “poverty” too easily become facile, abstracted from human consequences, while unknown lives suffocate at the hands of routine injustice, systematic cruelties, the way things predictably are.

An all-out war on democracy is now underway in the United States. More than ever, the Republican Party is the electoral arm of unabashed white supremacy as well as such toxicities as xenophobia, nativism, anti-gay bigotry, patriarchy, and misogyny.

The party’s rigid climate denial is nothing short of deranged. Its approach to the Covid pandemic has amounted to an embrace of death in the name of rancid individualism. With its Supreme Court justices in place, the “Grand Old Party” has methodically slashed voting rights and abortion rights.

Overall, on domestic matters, the partisan matchup is between neoliberalism and neofascism. While the abhorrent roles of the Democratic leadership are extensive, to put it mildly, the two parties now represent hugely different constituencies and agendas at home. Not so on matters of war and peace.

Both parties continue to champion what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.” When King described the profligate spending for a distant war as “some demonic, destructive suction tube,” he was condemning dynamics that endure with a vengeance.

Today, the madness and the denial are no less entrenched. A militaristic core serves as a sacred touchstone for faith in America as the world’s one and only indispensable nation. Gargantuan Pentagon budgets are taken for granted, as is the assumed prerogative to bomb other countries at will.

Every budget has continued to include massive outlays for nuclear weapons, including gigantic expenditures for so-called “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal. A fact that this book cited when it was first published — that the United States had ten thousand nuclear warheads and Russia had a comparable number — is no longer true; most estimates say those stockpiles are now about half as large.

But the current situation is actually much more dangerous. In 2007, the Doomsday Clock maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pegged the world’s proximity to annihilation at five minutes to apocalyptic Midnight.

As 2022 began, the symbolic hands were at one hundred seconds to Midnight. Such is the momentum of the nuclear arms race, fueled by profit-driven military contractors. Lofty rhetoric about seeking peace is never a real brake on the nationalistic thrust of militarism.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the third decade of this century is shaping up to unfold new wrinkles in American hegemonic conceits. Along the way, Joe Biden has echoed a central precept of doublethink in George Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984: “War is Peace.”

Speaking at the United Nations as the autumn of 2021 began, Biden proclaimed: “I stand here today, for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not at war. We’ve turned the page.” But the turned page was bound into a volume of killing with no foreseeable end.

The United States remained at war, bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere, with much information withheld from the public. And increases in U.S. belligerence toward both Russia and China escalated the risks of a military confrontation that could lead to nuclear war.

A rosy view of the USA’s future is only possible when ignoring history in real time. After four years of the poisonous Trump presidency, the Biden strain of corporate liberalism offers a mix of antidotes and ongoing toxins. The Republican Party, now neofascist, is in a strong position to gain control of the U.S. government by mid-decade.

Preventing such a cataclysm seems beyond the grasp of the same Democratic Party elites that paved the way for Donald Trump to become president in the first place. Realism about the current situation — clarity about how we got here and where we are now — is necessary to mitigate impending disasters and help create a better future. Vital truths must be told. And acted upon.

This article is adapted from the new edition of Norman Solomon’s book “Made Love, Got War,” just published as a free e-book.

Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State, published in a new edition as a free e-book in January 2022. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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