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Sudan conflict: What to do with the dead bodies in Khartoum

BBC Africa - 15 hours 33 min ago
Some Khartoum residents have become accidental undertakers to stop corpses being left on the streets.
Categories: Africa

Egypt bans Dutch archaeologists over exhibition linking Beyonce and Rihanna to Queen Nefertiti

BBC Africa - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 19:46
A museum says it is being unfairly punished for showing ancient Egypt's influence on black artists.
Categories: Africa

Number of Crisis-Impacted Children in Need of Education Support Rises Significantly: Education Cannot Wait Issues New Global Estimates Study

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 19:02

New analysis indicates 224 million children urgently need quality education support, 72 million are out of school. Quality education is key in ensuring improved learning outcomes.

By External Source
GENEVA, Jun 7 2023 (IPS-Partners)

Armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change and other crises increased the number of crisis-impacted children in need of urgent quality education to 224 million, according to a new Global Estimates Study issued today by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

The study was released at the Education in Emergencies Data and Evidence Summit in Geneva. The study offers a refined methodology in calculating the numbers of crisis-impacted children in need of educational support, while providing important trends analysis to inform future investments in education in emergencies and protracted crises.

“We are sounding the alarm bells worldwide, once more. Millions of children are being denied their human right to an education and the numbers are growing. And even when they are able to go to school, they are not really learning because the quality of education is simply too low. Education Cannot Wait and all the education community are working against time. It is a sprint for humanity. How many more facts and figures, and above all, human suffering, do we need before we act with boldness and determination to finance education and invest in humanity?” said Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait.

About 72 million of the crisis-impacted children in the world are out of school – more than the populations of the United Kingdom, France or Italy. Of these out-of-school children, 53% are girls, 17% have functional difficulties, and 21% (about 15 million) have been forcibly displaced. Approximately half of all out-of-school children in emergencies are concentrated in only eight countries: Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Mali and Nigeria.

It isn’t just a problem of access, it’s a problem of quality, according to the study findings. More than half of these children – 127 million – are not achieving the minimum proficiencies outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4), which calls for inclusive, quality education for all. Even when crisis-impacted children are in school, they are not learning to read or do basic math.

Investing in girls’ education yields significant returns. Girls consistently show a strong learning potential whenever they are given the opportunity. Even in crises, the proportion of girls who achieve minimum proficiency in reading is consistently higher than that of their male counterparts, according to analysis from the study.

Nevertheless, gender disparities in education access and transition become more pronounced in secondary education and are largest in high-intensity crises. They are particularly significant in Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan and Yemen, according to the study.

The biggest challenges are hitting the children of Africa. Approximately 54% of crisis-affected children worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa. The region experienced a large-scale increase in the number of children affected by crises, primarily driven by large-scale droughts in Eastern Africa and the increasing intensity of several conflicts. The outbreak of civil war in Sudan is displacing even more people across the continent.

Education Cannot Wait is dedicated to working together with governments, donors, UN agencies, civil society and other key strategic partners to address the challenges identified in the study. The global multilateral fund has already reached more than 7 million children across more than 40 crisis-affected countries worldwide. ECW seeks to mobilize at least US$1.5 billion over the next four years to reach a total of 20 million children with the safety, power and opportunity that access to quality, holistic, inclusive learning opportunities offer.

Additional Study Findings

    • Only 25 million crisis-affected children are in school and achieving minimum proficiency levels in both reading and mathematics.
    • Out-of-school rates amongst forcibly displaced populations in crisis-affected countries remain alarmingly high at around 58% for children of school age.
    • Approximately 14.5 million crisis-affected children have functional difficulties and are not attending school. Of these, about 76% (around 11 million) are concentrated in high-intensity crises.
    • Access to secondary education in crisis-affected areas is inadequate, with approximately one-third of children in the lower secondary school age group being out of school. Additionally, nearly half of the children in the upper secondary school age group who are affected by crises are unable to access education.
    • At least 25 million crisis-affected children aged 3 to the end of the expected completion of upper secondary education are estimated to be left out of interagency plans and appeals (9.4% of the global total).
    • A comparative analysis of crisis-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicates the pace of learning could be, on average, about 6 times slower in conflict-affected countries, compared to countries affected by recurring natural disasters for children aged 7 to 14.
    • There is a correlation between the risks posed by climate change and the severity of crises. Approximately 83% of out-of-school children in emergencies globally and around 75% of children who attend school but face learning deprivation live in countries with a Climate Change Risk Index higher than the global median value of 6.4.


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Categories: Africa

Guess Who Is the Worst Enemy of the Oceans (And Everywhere Else)?

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 13:32

Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

The good news: oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the world’s water, represent 99% of the living space on the Planet by volume, and are a major source of food and medicine. Much so that they are the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.

More: Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.


And the bad news

The bad news is that, with 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, human beings are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.

Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste

Indeed, there is another ‘crime’ being committed as a consequence of the unrelenting business obsession with making more and more money. It is about illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice that threatens marine biodiversity, livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.


The ‘criminal’ depletion of the fish

Such illegal activities are responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tons of fish each year, which is estimated to have an economic value of 10–23 billion US dollars.

Much so that if ‘business’ goes as usual –and all indicate that it will– there will be more tons of plastic than fish by the year 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Moreover, there are issues of marine debris and marine litter involved in IUU fishing, which are not only related to the marine environment but also the safe navigation of ships, explains the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).


Who is the worst enemy?

Commenting on their exceptional importance for human beings, the United Nations chief, António Guterres warned on the occasion of the 2023 World Oceans Day (8 June) that “we should be the ocean’s best friend. But right now, humanity is its worst enemy.”

Guterres called oceans ‘the foundation of life’, as they supply the ‘air we breathe and the food we eat,’ while regulating climate and weather.


The greatest reservoir of biodiversity. And of litter

“Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste.”

According to reports, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, is distributed across the ocean.

The United Nations has long warned the international community of the damage ocean garbage does to the economy and the environment, as reported by the large energy company Iberdrola.

This waste decimates marine ecosystems by killing more than a million animals a year, it reports, adding that organisations like Greenpeace report that floating plastic accounts for only 15% of the total, while 85% remains hidden underwater — at depths of up to 11,000 metres, or even trapped in Arctic ice.


Marine pollution

Marine pollution accounts for at least 85% of marine waste, and plastic litter is the chief pollutant, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. If nothing is done about it, by 2040, the equivalent of 50 kg of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide is projected to flow into the ocean yearly, the world leading environmental body informs.

It is estimated that by the year 2030, the world’s coastal populations will contribute three trillion dollars to the global economy in sectors as diverse as fisheries, and tourism, as well as emerging green and blue economies such as renewable energy and marine biotechnology.


More human ‘crimes’ against life

Another major body, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has also focused on the dangers of plastic pollution also to the world’s soils and crops.

On this, it reports that the qualities that make plastic useful are also the ones that make it hazardous: ‘designed to fool nature itself, most plastics are too resilient to biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe.’

The Convention further says that the world’s current efforts to recycle plastics have been inefficient so far: only 9% of plastic is recycled globally, and much of it is either thrown away or cannot be processed for recycling.

“One-third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater, endangering our food, our livestock and the health of the soil. Invisible to the eye, microplastics linger in the environment, the food chain, and our bodies.”

Soil is the foundation of our agricultural systems which support nearly all food-producing crops: about 95% of our food comes from the soil, UNCCD further explains.

“Fertile soil that produces food is a finite resource, and plastic pollution can have a long-lasting impact on soil health, biodiversity and productivity, all of which are essential to food security.”


Deadly contaminated food

Talking about food security, did you know that “every day, some 1.6 million people worldwide fall ill from eating contaminated food, which kills 420,000 people each year,” as reported by two UN agencies on the occasion of the 2023 World Food Safety Day, (7 June).

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have in fact reported that “over 200 diseases are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances such as heavy metals.”

The staggering impacts of human activities against the oceans and everywhere else do not end here. There is still more, much more, to report on the deadly consequences for the world’s oceans, soils, and the whole cycle of life of the human addiction to fossil fuels.

Categories: Africa

Félicien Kabuga: Rwanda genocide suspect unfit to stand trial, UN court rules

BBC Africa - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 09:43
Félicien Kabuga, alleged to have financed Hutu militias, was arrested in France after 26 years on the run.
Categories: Africa

Kenya Moots Disbanding the Loss and Damage Fund, Seeks Fair Equitable Climate Action

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 09:37

While Africa has made a negligible contribution to climate change and is responsible for two to three percent of global emissions, it’s highly vulnerable. The debate on how to compensate and support Africa continues. Now there is a suggestion that the Loss and Damage fund may not be the route to go to ensure Africa and other vulnerable nations are compensated. This photo shows the flooded offices of the Kenya Wildlife Services following the swelling of Lake Baringo. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
BONN, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

The Climate Change envoy to the President of Kenya has asked Kenya’s and, by extension Africa’s negotiators at the ongoing climate conference in Bonn, Germany, not to put much emphasis on financing the Loss and Damage kitty but instead calls for fairness and equity.

“Loss and damage remain an important issue; we hope it will be operationalized in Dubai, but whatever amount that may go to the kitty will not take us anywhere as a global community,” Ali Mohamed, who advises the President on matters climate change told Kenya’s delegation in Bonn, shortly after President William Ruto demanded that COP28 be the last round of global negotiations on climate change.

The Loss and Damage funding is an agreement reached during the 27th round of climate negotiations in Egypt to support vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters that include cyclones, floods, severe droughts, landslides, and heat waves, among others.

During the opening ceremony of the UN Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, Ruto said that it is possible to stop the conversation and the negotiation between North and the South because “climate change is not a North/South problem, it is not about fossil fuel versus green energy problem, it is a problem that we could sort out all of us if we came together,” he said. Ruto is the current Chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

According to Ruto, it is possible (for African negotiators) to agree on a framework that will bring everybody on board for the continent to go to COP28 with a clear mind on what should be done and how Africa and the global South can work with the global North, not as adversaries, but as partners to resolve the climate crisis and present an opportunity to have a win-win outcome that has no finger pointing.

In Bonn, Mohamed, who is also the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, told Kenya’s negotiators that, as Africans, there is a need to raise voices and call for a new global architecture and a new way of doing things.

He gave an example of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) during the period of COVID-19, where Europe, which has a population of 500 million people, received over 40 percent, while the entire African continent, with a population of 1.2 billion people received a paltry five percent of the total funds.

“This kind of unfairness is what President Ruto wants to take forward and say it is no longer tenable in the new world order,” said Mohamed, who is vying to become the next Chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN) for the next three years.

The SDR is an interest-bearing international reserve asset that supplements other reserve assets of member countries. Rather than a currency, it is a claim on the freely useable currencies of International Monetary Fund (IMF) members.

He also gave an example of the Berlin Wall, which fell in 1989, and suddenly in just six months, a new financial architecture was formed for Europe.

He pointed out that since the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the world has been meeting every year to talk about the $100 billion which developed countries committed to collectively mobilize per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, but the funds have remained a mirage.

“What Africa is pushing for is investment through available, accessible, and adequate financing at affordable costs. We borrow at an interest of 15 percent on a currency that is not ours, while other countries in the North borrow at 2 percent,” said Mohamed.

The AGN Chair, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, declined to comment on Kenya’s new position, saying that it was beyond his powers to do so. “I am not in a position to comment on whatever has been said by a member of the CAHOSCC,” he told IPS in Bonn.

However, during the opening plenary, Shitima called on developed countries to deliver to restore trust in the UNFCCC process. “The Green Climate Fund replenishment is in October, and this is an opportunity for developed countries to show the world that they are willing to do their part to address climate change and support climate action in developing countries,” he told global delegates in Bonn.

He also welcomed the work program on just transition pathways. “We are of the view that it will advance the implementation of climate action and strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development. The Subsidiary conference here should agree on the work program’s elements, scope, and modalities to be adopted at COP28,” he said.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) conference, which is going down in Bonn, is the link between the scientific information provided by expert sources such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the one hand and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other hand. The outcome is therefore used to set the agenda for the subsequent COP based on scientific evidence.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Categories: Africa

Education Cannot Wait Interviews United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia Mireia Villar Forner

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 07:00

By External Source
Jun 7 2023 (IPS-Partners)


Mireia Villar Forner is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia. Ms. Villar Forner brings more than 25 years of experience, which she acquired within the United Nations and externally, to the position. At the United Nations, she most recently served as Resident Coordinator in Uruguay, where she led the work of the United Nations development system to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She also held senior positions at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), including that of Resident Representative in Uruguay, Deputy Resident Representative in Bolivia and Deputy Resident Representative in Iraq during the country’s political transition. She also served at the UNDP Liaison Office in Brussels, where she played a key role in strengthening the partnership between the Organization and the European Union. Before that, she worked as the focal point for Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Arab States, in UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, after an assignment as Head of the Programme Section of the Electricity Network Rehabilitation Programme in Northern Iraq. She started her career with the United Nations at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. Prior to joining the Organization, Ms. Villar Forner worked in the financial sector in Spain. She holds a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University in the USA, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Barcelona in Spain.

ECW: Colombia faces one of the most long-standing and complex crises in Latin America. In such a context, why is it important for aid stakeholders to support the education sector in the framework of the Government’s Total Peace agenda?

Mireia Villar Forner: There are three main reasons for aid stakeholders to support the education sector in the framework of the Government’s “Total Peace” agenda.

First, the government’s vision is one where education and “Total Peace” are seen as a single and indivisible priority. Further, in line with the Multi-Year Resilience Programme concept, close coordination with government is the pathway to guarantee focus and ensure sustainability.

Second, the Colombian armed conflict is one of the most significant triggers for the education crisis that the country has experienced. Education in emergencies and its strengthening requires both responses in crisis in conflict-affected areas, while also promoting long-term peace and development actions bridging the humanitarian-peace-development nexus.

Third, the armed conflict is a reality that runs through significant portions of the country, especially affecting vulnerable populations, including Venezuelans, who end up experiencing double and triple affectation.

ECW: ECW investments support UN, civil society, and local community partners to jointly deliver holistic education programmes to girls and boys affected by the multiple crises. How do you see these funding investments supporting the government’s vision for education and inclusion?

Mireia Villar Forner: Over the past two decades, Colombian governments have been aware and explicitly addressed the need for education in emergencies as a way of spearheading inclusion in conflict-affected and excluded regions. The role of civil society and local communities in driving initiatives aligns well with government efforts to empower those most disenfranchised and develop their capacities to be part of solutions. This commitment results also in an understanding of the importance of working with ECW, from a perspective both of resources and enhancing local capacity, as well as in finding inspiration in international experiences to address the education of girls and boys in crisis situations.

Against this backdrop, the link between addressing crisis impacts and local or “territorial” development processes is paramount. Colombia’s educational system is decentralized, which implies that sub-national governments have a fundamental role in coordinating and guaranteeing education services at the local level. Developing their capacity is crucial. Since Colombia does not have a national curriculum, there are disparities regarding educational responses in crisis settings, especially on a human mobility scenario. Carrying out actions that strengthen the role of local actors as part of the ECW framework becomes an opportunity to bridge these complexities and empower local actors.

ECW: The UN system in Colombia works with the Government and partners to strengthen complementarity and coherence between emergency relief, development and peacebuilding efforts – the ‘triple-nexus.’ In the education sector, how can we best engage partners across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and enhance coordinated actions?

Mireia Villar Forner: We feel the best way to engage partners across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus is through localization. As we engage in emergency relief, we need to plan for and transition into developing capacity of local stakeholders, ensure integrated support to the design and implementation of their education programs and ensure these are anchored in robust national policies and capacities.

Our dream is to have complementary national structural responses led by national and local governments and implemented by different NGOs, along with evidence-based strategies that address and prevent new crises and their impacts on those most vulnerable in a sustainable way.

ECW: The LEGO Foundation is ECW’s largest private sector donor, with approximately US$64 million in contributions to date. How important is private sector funding to education in crisis situations in places like Colombia and which synergies do you see between these two sectors?

Mireia Villar Forner: The resources allocated for the education sector, including early learning, are not enough when compared to the needs of the children, adolescents and their families affected by emergencies. Health, nutrition and WASH are prioritized when a crisis occurs. Education, however, often ends up being a secondary issue – missing the window to deliver a more comprehensive response to children and adolescents. Governments often recognize the importance of strengthening the education of girls and boys in crisis situations, but they do not have the resources or the capacity to deliver a high-quality response. The support of the LEGO Foundation and other private sector organizations is therefore paramount to bridge this gap.

More importantly, perhaps, than the financial support, is that the fact that private sector is increasingly involved in designing and implementing solutions to humanitarian needs and development gaps.

The LEGO Foundation is a good example of how companies are building social impacts into their business models in different ways, including advocating for relevant matters that most of the time remain unfunded, such us early childhood development, early learning through play and parenting. The LEGO Foundation has been key in enhancing political development on this during emergencies and triggering key discussions on a more long-term and developmental arena.

ECW: You are now co-chairing the Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) Steering Committee with the Ministry of Education in Colombia. Could you please share your vision and your goals for the successful delivery of quality education to crisis-affected children in Colombia through joint programming and coordination via the MYRP?

Mireia Villar Forner: The formulation of the MYRP requires consensus on what it means to deliver quality education for girls and boys affected by crisis situations, and the strategies and initiatives towards this end. The MYRP must start from the needs felt and identified from the different levels, including and most important: the communities affected by the crisis at local level. It must be a response that, in turn, considers the experience accumulated by the different actors who have worked in these contexts and the evidence-based solutions. Colombia’s new MYRP must have cost-effective strategies that have already been proven when tackling the challenges prioritized by the Government and communities. On the other hand, it needs to consider sustainability over time, installing and strengthening local and national stakeholders. Sustainability must consider that Colombia is a multi-layer emergency country, and that over time children must be attended, this consideration is imperative when analyzing the impact of this innovative and joint programming process that the MYRP represents.

To achieve sustainability, it is necessary to generate a collaborative scenario, within a dialogue and assertive listening – dynamics that should be promoted based on the guidelines given by the MYRP Steering Committee and guaranteed through follow-up. Likewise, the Committee must serve as a compass in navigating the technical aspects of the strategies and initiatives for which it is chosen, to guarantee pertinence, coherence and effectiveness.

ECW: Why is learning recovery, with a focus on foundational learning in Colombia, important for sustainable development and security across Latin America, and across the world?

Mireia Villar Forner: A recent analysis by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank estimates that in Latin America and the Caribbean, four out of five 10-year-olds cannot read a simple text. A worrying reality that may be even more shocking for rural areas, due to traditionally wider gaps on learning outcomes of children. Thinking of generations that fail to acquire fundamental learning in the expected times is to speak of a major obstacle to continuing learning throughout their educational trajectories – affecting the rest of their lives and the definition of their future, as well as sustainable development and security of the region.

The difficulty with foundational learning was a reality in Latin America even before the pandemic and was aggravated by long school closures. We are at a point where we can act and make a difference – if policies and strategies are promoted to ensure learning recovery with a proper socio-emotional support, and guarantee that children learn to read by the age of 10, so that they can afterwards read to learn.

ECW: Our readers know that “readers are leaders” and that reading skills are key to every child’s education. What are the three books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?

Mireia Villar Forner: Some of the most formative books for me have been the ones that opened the gateway to a lifetime of reading. Momo by Michael Ende, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and all Roald Dahl’s classics were the ones that I really enjoyed as a child and brought me to others.


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Categories: Africa

AI Genie is Out of the Bottle – UN Should Take the Challenge to Make it Work for the Good of Humanity

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 06:27

The Paris-based UNESCO has called out to implement its recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence to avoid its misuse. Credit: Unsplash/D koi

By Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

Recently when I was asked to offer my thoughts on the phenomenal advances of artificial intelligence (AI) and whether the United Nations play a role in its global governance, I was reminded of the Three Laws of Robotics which are a set of rules devised by science fiction author Isaac Asimov and introduced in his1942 short story.

I told myself that Sci-Fi has now met real life. The first law lays down the most fundamental principle by emphasizing that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The 80-year-old norm would be handy for the present-day scenario for the world of AI.

AI in control:

AI is exciting and at the same time frightening. The implications and potential evolution of AI are enormous, to say the least. We have reached a turning point in human history telling us that even at this point of time, AI is pretty much smarter than humans.

Already, even the “primitive” AI controls so many aspects and activities of our daily lives irrespective of where we are living on this planet. Our global connectivity at personal levels – emails, calendars, transportation like uber, GPS, shopping and many other activities are now run by AI.

Then, think of social media and how it influences our thinking and our interactive nature which have injected an obvious dangerous uncertainty that already caused considerable problem for social order and mental stress.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

AI dependent humanity:

Humankind is almost fully AI dependent in one way or the other. Think how helpless humans would be without an AI-influenced smartphone in our hands. AI is the fastest growing tech sector and are expected to add USD 15 trillion to the world economy in the next 5 to 7 years.

Even at its current stage of development of various AI chatbots led by OpenAI, Google and others in recent months have alarmed the well-meaning experts. Experts when asked about the future of AI came out with the honest answer: “We do not know”.

They are of the opinion that at this point one can envisage the developments for the next 5 years only, beyond that nothing could be predicted. People talk about ChatGPT-4 as an upcoming next level AI, but it may be already here.

AI’s limitless, unregulated potential:

AI’s potential is so limitless that it has been compared to the arms race in which nations are engaged in an endless quest for security and power by acquiring more and varied armaments in numbers and effectiveness.

For AI, however, the main actors are the tech giants with enormous resources and without being ethically driven. They are in this AI race for profit – only profit and, as a corollary, unexplained power to dominate human activities.

Shockingly, there is no rules, no regulations, no laws that govern the AI sector. It is free for all, can be compared to “wild wild west”.

Nukes and AI:

Experts have compared AI with the advent of nuclear technology, which could be put to good use for humanity benefits or used for its annihilation. They have even gone to the extent of calling AI a potent weapon of mass destruction more than nuclear weapons. Nukes cannot produce more powerful nukes. But AI can generate more powerful AI – it is self-empowering so to say.

The worry is that as AI becomes more powerful by itself it cannot be controlled, rather it would have the capability of controlling humans. Like nuclear technology, we cannot “uninvent AI”. So, the yet-not-fully-known risk from these cutting-edge technologies continues.

Existential threat:

While recognizing the many possible beneficial use of AI in the medical areas, for weather predictions, mitigating impacts of the climate change and many other areas, experts are sounding the alarm bell that the super intelligence of AI would be an “existential threat”, possibly much more catastrophic, more imminent than the ongoing, ever-challenging climate crisis.

Main worry is that in the absence of a global governance and regulatory arrangements, the bad actors can engage AI for motivation other than what is good for society, good for individuals and good for our planet in general. As we know, the tech giants are not driven by these positive objectives.

AI could have serious disruptive effects. This May, for the first time in history, the US unemployment figures cited AI as a reason for job loss.

Bad actors without guardrails:

Bad actors without any guardrails can abuse the power of AI to generate an avalanche of misinformation to negatively influence the opinions of big segments of humanity thereby disrupting, say the electoral processes and destroying democracy and democratic institutions. AI technology, say in the area of chemical knowledge, can be used to make chemical weapons without a regulatory system.

We need to realize that AI is remarkably good at making convincing narratives on any subject. Anybody can be can fooled by that kind of stuff. As humans are not always rational, their use of AI can therefore not be rational and positive. Bad actors have to be controlled so that AI does not pose a threat to humanity.

United Nations to lead AI global governance:

All these points weigh very much in favour of a global governance. If I am asked who should take the lead on this, my emphatic reply would be “the United Nations, of course!”

UN’s expertise, credibility and universality as a global norm setting organization obviously has a role in the regulatory norm-setting for AI and its evolution.

Moral and ethical issue as well as fundamental global principles need to be protected from the onslaught of AI – like human rights, particularly the third generation of human rights – the culture of peace – peacebuilding – conflict resolutions – good governance – democratic institutions – free and fair elections and many more.

Also, it is equally important to examine and address the implications for national governments from global use of AI, affecting the sovereignty of nations. It would be worth exploring whether AI can influence intergovernmental negotiating processes, now or in the future.

UN agencies and implications of their AI-related activities:

Two UN agencies recently announced AI-related activities. UNESCO informed that it hosted a Ministerial level virtual meeting at the end of May with selected participants while sharing the statistics that less than 10 percent of educational institutions were using AI. UNESCO described the software tool ChatGPT as “wildly popular”. A UN entity should not have made such an endorsement of a tech giant product.

Calling itself “UN tech agency”, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced that it is convening an “AI for Good Global Summit” early July to “showcase AI and robot technology as part of a global dialogue on how artificial intelligence and robotics can serve as forces for good”.

The so-called UN tech agency took credit for hosting “the UN’s first robot press conference”, alongside “events with industry executives, government officials, and thought leaders on AI and tech.”

There is a need for a UN system-wide alert providing guidelines for interactions with the tech giants and entering into collaborative arrangements with those. AI technology is developing so fast that there has to be an awareness about possible missteps by one or another UN entity.

Even at its current level of development, AI has moved much ahead of ChatGPT and robotics advancing the profit motivations of the tech giants and that is a huge worry for all well-meaning people.

These UN entities have overlooked or even ignored the part of the Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations adopted as resolution 75/1 by the UN General Assembly on 21 September 2021 which alerted that “…When improperly or maliciously used, they can fuel divisions within and between countries, increase insecurity, undermine human rights and exacerbate inequality.” These words of warning should be adhered to fully by all with all seriousness.

UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda (OCA) refers to AI:

UN Secretary-General in his report titled Our Common Agenda (OCA) issued in September 2021 promises, “to work with Member States to establish an Emergency Platform to respond to complex global crises. The platform would not be a new permanent or standing body or institution. It would be triggered automatically in crises of sufficient scale and magnitude, regardless of the type or nature of the crisis involved.”

AI is undoubtedly one of such “complex global crises” and it is high time now for the Secretary-General to formally share his thinking on how he plans to address the challenge.

It will be too late for the Summit of the Future convened by the Secretary-General in September 2024 to discuss a global regulatory regime for AI under UN authority. In that timeframe, AI technology would manifest itself in a way that no global governance would be possible.

AI genie is out of the bottle:

AI genie is already out of the bottle – the UN needs to ensure that AI genie serves the best interests of humankind and our planet.

AI impact is so wide-spread and so comprehensive that it is relevant and pertinent for all areas covered in OCA. It so much on us that the Secretary-General should come out with his own recommendations as to what should be done without waiting for next year’s Summit of the Future.

Our future being impacted by AI needs to be addressed NOW. AI is spreading at an inconceivable speed and spread. The Secretary-General as the global leader heading the United Nations should not downplay the seriousness of the challenge. He needs to set the ball rolling without waiting for a negotiated consensus among Member States.

UN to regulate AI and ensure its effective and efficient global governance:

OCA-identified key proposals across its 12 commitments include “Promote regulation of artificial intelligence” to “ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.”

In OCA, the Secretary-General has asserted that “Our success in finding solutions to the interlinked problems we face hinges on our ability to anticipate, prevent and prepare for major risks to come.

This puts a revitalized, comprehensive, and overarching prevention agenda front and centre in all that we do…. Where global public goods are not provided, we have their opposite: global public “bads” in the form of serious risks and threats to human welfare.

These risks are now increasingly global and have greater potential impact. Some are even existential …. Being prepared to prevent and respond to these risks is an essential counterpoint to better managing the global commons and global public goods.”

The global community should be comforted knowing that the leadership of the United Nations already knows well what steps are to be taken at this juncture.

IPS UN Bureau


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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace.
Categories: Africa

Tunisian black women: ‘My skin colour says I don’t belong’

BBC Africa - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 05:30
Black women in the North African country are looked down on and made to feel that they do not belong.
Categories: Africa

The bridge to Ethiopia carrying Sudan's refugees to safety

BBC Africa - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 16:56
Many refugees are relieved to cross the Metema bridge from Sudan into Ethiopia. But getting there is extremely dangerous.
Categories: Africa

Sudan conflict: Army accused of killing Congolese in campus bombing

BBC Africa - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 16:21
A campus where foreigners were staying was attacked, killing 10 people, DR Congo says.
Categories: Africa

The U.S. Assault on Mexico’s Food Sovereignty

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 14:27

"Remove corn and beans from NAFTA!" at a 2008 protest in Ciudad Juarez. It has been a longstanding demand the Mexican farmers' movement. Credit: Enrique Pérez S.

By Timothy A. Wise
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. , Jun 6 2023 (IPS)

On June 2, the U.S. government escalated its conflict with Mexico over that country’s restrictions on genetically modified corn, initiating the formal dispute-resolution process under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

It is only the latest in a decades-long U.S. assault on Mexico’s food sovereignty using the blunt instrument of a trade agreement that has inundated Mexico with cheap corn, wheat, and other staples, undermining Mexico’s ability to produce its own food. With the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador showing no signs of backing down, the conflict may well test the extent to which a major exporter can use a trade agreement to force a sovereign nation to abandon measures it deems necessary to protect public health and the environment.

The Science of Precaution

The measures in question are those contained in the Mexican president’s decree, announced in late 2020 and updated in February 2023, to ban the cultivation of genetically modified corn, phase out the use of the herbicide glyphosate by 2024, and prohibit the use of genetically modified corn in tortillas and corn flour. The stated goals were to protect public health and the environment, particularly the rich biodiversity of native corn that can be compromised by uncontrolled pollination from GM corn plants.

Where the original decree vowed to phase out all uses of GM corn, the updated decree withdrew restrictions on GM corn in animal feed and industrial products, pending further scientific study of impacts on human health and the environment. Some 96% of U.S. corn exports to Mexico, nearly all of it GM corn, fall in that category. It is unclear how much of the remaining exports, mostly white corn, are destined for Mexico’s tortilla/corn flour industries.

These were significant concessions. After all, there is no trade restriction on GM corn. Mexico is not even restricting GM white corn imports, just their use in tortillas.

Timothy A. Wise

No matter. In the U.S. government’s formal notification that it would initiate consultations preliminary to presenting the dispute to a USMCA arbitration panel, it cites a lack of scientific justification for the measures, denials of some authorizations for new GM products, and Mexico’s stated intention to gradually replace GM corn for all uses with non-GM varieties.

As Mexico’s Economy Ministry noted in its short response, Mexico will show that its current measures have little impact on U.S. exporters, because Mexico is self-sufficient in white and native corn. Any future substitution of non-GM corn will not involve trade restrictions but will come from Mexico’s investments in reducing import dependence by promoting increased domestic production of corn and other key staples. The statement also noted that USMCA’s environment chapter obligates countries to protect biodiversity, and for Mexico, where corn was first domesticated and the diet and culture are so defined by it, corn biodiversity is a top priority.

As for the assertion that Mexico’s concerns about GM corn and glyphosate are not based on science, the USTR action came on the heels of an unprecedented five weeks of public forums convened by Mexico’s national science agencies to assess the risks and dangers. More than fifty Mexican and international experts presented evidence that justifies the precautionary measures taken by the government. (I summarized some of the evidence in an earlier article.)

Three Decades of U.S. Agricultural Dumping

Those measures spring from deep concern about the deterioration of Mexicans’ diets and public health as the country has gradually adopted what some have called “the neoliberal diet.” Mexico has displaced the United States as the world leader in childhood obesity as diets rich in native corn and other traditional foods have been replaced by ultraprocessed foods and beverages high in sugar, salt, and fats. Researchers found that since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1994, the United States has been “exporting obesity.”

The López Obrador government recently stood up to the powerful food and beverage industry to mandate stark warning labels on foods high in those unhealthy ingredients. Its restrictions on GM corn and glyphosate flow from the same commitment to public health.

So does the government’s campaign to reduce import-dependence in key food crops – corn, wheat, rice, beans, and dairy. But as I document in a new IATP policy report, “Swimming Against the Tide,” cheap U.S. exports continue to undermine such efforts.

We documented that in 17 of the 28 years since NAFTA took effect, the United States has exported corn, wheat, rice, and other staple crops at prices below what it cost to produce them. That is an unfair trade practice known as agricultural dumping, and it springs from chronic overproduction of such products in that country’s heavily industrialized agriculture.

Just when NAFTA eliminated many of the policy measures Mexico could use to limit such imports, U.S. overproduction hit a crescendo, the result of its own deregulation of agricultural markets. Corn exports to Mexico jumped more than 400% by 2006, with those exports priced at 19% below what it cost to produce them. Again, from 2014 to 2020, corn prices were 10% below production costs, just as Mexico began seeking to stimulate domestic production.

We calculated that Mexico’s corn farmers lost $3.8 billion in those seven years from depressed prices for their crops. Wheat farmers lost $2.1 billion from U.S. exports priced 27% below production costs.

Thus far, the Mexican government has had little success increasing domestic production of its priority foods, though higher international prices in 2021 and 2022 provided a needed stimulus for farmers.

So too have creative government initiatives, including an innovative public procurement scheme just as the large white corn harvest comes in across northern Mexico. With corn and wheat prices falling some 20% in recent weeks, the government is buying up about 40% of the harvest from small and medium-scale farmers at higher prices with the goal of giving larger producers the bargaining power to then demand higher prices from the large grain-buyers that dominate the tortilla industry.

Swimming Against the Neoliberal Tide

With its commitment to public health, the environment, and increased domestic production of basic staples, the Mexican government is indeed swimming against strong neoliberal tides. Remarkably, it is doing so while still complying with its trade agreement with the United States and Canada.

Before U.S. trade officials further escalate the dispute over GM corn, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves if three decades of agricultural dumping are consistent with the rules of fair international trade. And why Mexico doesn’t have every right to ensure that its tortillas are not tainted with GM corn and glyphosate.

For more on the GM corn controversy, see IATP’s resource page, “Food Sovereignty, Trade, and Mexico’s GMO Corn Policies.”

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

Conflict & Hunger Deeply Embedded in War-Ravaged Yemen

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 14:17

Abdulwasea Mohammed addressing UN Member States, UN agencies, fellow NGOs during Protection of Civilians Week last month. Credit: Oxfam

By Abdulwasea Mohammed
SANA’A, Yemen, Jun 6 2023 (IPS)

During the week of May 21, the UN held its annual week dedicated to the Protection of Civilians. The themes of the week’s events, particularly the side events, I had the honor of participating in, mirrored many of the pressing issues in Yemen, as conflict continues.

While there is some hope as peace negotiations are underway, millions of Yemenis are still feeling the acute impacts of war. I had the opportunity to address some of the representatives of UN member states, UN agencies and fellow NGOs, who are taking a leading role on these issues, including Conflict and Hunger and Community-Led Approaches of Civilian Protection.

I also was able to share many of these key messages with members of US Congress and UN missions during my time in the US. As we look ahead, we need to see the conversations from the week put into action.

Conflict and hunger are deeply intertwined in Yemen, just as they are around the world – Conflict continues to be the top driver of extreme hunger. The humanitarian response including food, cash, clean water, is saving lives every day, but without clear signs for lasting peace, hunger and other potentially deadly challenges that cannot be ended in Yemen.

And in our case, the same can be said about economic factors – many continue to overlook the impact the shattered economy has had on pushing food insecurity to catastrophic levels. We need both inclusive peace and large-scale economic action to help Yemenis continue to survive and recover.

Restrictions on imports over the years, continued financial shocks and economic deterioration as well as increased prices of fuel and food commodities, and disruptions to livelihoods and services, have driven millions to hunger.

The World Bank has estimated that around half the 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015 are attributable to the indirect impact of the war – from lack of food, healthcare and infrastructure. What is even more painful is, in many areas, there is plenty of food in markets, but most Yemenis are not able to afford it.

The indirect impacts are overwhelming but this is also in addition, unfortunately, to very direct impacts on food production and essential infrastructure due to fighting. At Oxfam, we have documented farms being targeted, fishing boats being fired at, and unexploded ordnance, cluster munitions and landmines—all of them putting agricultural areas out of use.

To address all of these threats and their devastating impacts, we need community-based and community-led action. At the UN I spoke specifically about hunger and community-led protection, but this approach can be applied across humanitarian response and steps toward early recovery.

In times of crisis, community leaders, local organizations, and neighbors are the true first responders, arriving first and staying long after larger groups may have to leave. They are more effective in some ways, and have the knowledge to support the most vulnerable members of society. These groups need more resources to do their work effectively.

This is a concrete way for the aid community to make a difference in Yemen now and going forward – to reframe and revise support to community-based protection and funding to local organizations, with a focus on building trust over long-term relationships.

Donors should provide longer timeframes for organizations to accomplish the goals in a project and provide more flexible funding and support to truly build on the success of community-level work.

Yemen, just like all humanitarian responses, is a complicated place to work, and sometimes time runs out on funding, before a project even begins after dealing with security, logistical and bureaucratic challenges.

Of course, local groups alone cannot tackle one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, and organizations like Oxfam should listen to their priorities, assess how to best support the work underway, and fill in the gaps to provide a complementary response.

Taking all of these risks and approaches into account, it is key that policies and programs addressing conflict-induced hunger address the specific needs and experiences of the most vulnerable, including women and displaced people.

All of these groups should be able to weigh in on issues impacting them as part of this an inclusive and effective humanitarian response, economic recovery, and sustainable peace.

Targeted programs to support their economic empowerment, such as providing access to finance, technical assistance, and market opportunities; and improving access to education all would make a massive difference for these groups, and for Yemen as a whole.

Above all, we have to address the root causes of the conflict and its impacts in a holistic way. For there to be progress, we must ensure that any negotiated peaceful resolution includes these same voices of women and other marginalized groups and addresses the underlying issues such as political and economic inequality that have contributed to the conflict and ensure no one is left behind.

I hope the Protection of Civilians Week was a point of reflection and a renewed call to action for those that gathered, as it was for me. Each context is unique, but there is much to learn from each other. I spoke at events alongside experts from the Lake Chad Basin, South Sudan, and more – and we all had something to learn from our successes, failures, and recommendations.

With more resources in the right hands alongside a recommitment to peace, Yemenis – along with those caught in similar spirals of hunger and insecurity – can have a hopeful way forward.

Abdulwasea Mohammed is Yemen Advocacy, Campaigns Media Manager at Oxfam.

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

Sudan-born Majok to repay the sport that offered a path away from war

BBC Africa - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 12:56
Former Los Angeles Laker Ater Majok wants to repay a sport that gave him purpose as he returns to the continent to play in the Basketball Africa League.
Categories: Africa

Does Artificial Intelligence Need a Regulatory UN Watchdog?

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 07:24

By Thalif Deen

The frighteningly rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have triggered the question: is there a UN role for monitoring and regulating it?

Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported last week that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity –and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.

In a statement in its website, OPENAI founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever, along with chief executive Sam Altman, say that to regulate the risks of AI systems, there should be “an international watchdog, similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (a Vienna-based UN agency) that promotes the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

“Given the possibility of existential risk, we can’t just be reactive,” they warned in a joint statement last week.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which hosted more than 40 ministers at an groundbreaking online meeting on May 26, said less than 10 per cent of schools and universities follow formal guidance on using wildly popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like the chatbot software ChatGPT.

Asked about a UN role in AI, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations told IPS UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his report titled Our Common Agenda (OCA) issued in September 2021 promises, “to work with Member States to establish an Emergency Platform to respond to complex global crises.”

“The platform would not be a new permanent or standing body or institution. It would be triggered automatically in crises of sufficient scale and magnitude, regardless of the type or nature of the crisis involved.”

AI is undoubtedly one of such “complex global crises” and it is high time now for the Secretary-General to formally share his thinking on how he plans to address the challenge, said Ambassador Chowdhury, founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace.

He pointed out that it will be too late for the Summit of the Future, convened by the Secretary-General in September 2024, to discuss a global regulatory regime for AI under UN authority. In that timeframe, he argued, AI technology would manifest itself in a way that no global governance would be possible.

Robert Whitfield, Chair, One World Trust and the Transitional Working Group on AI, told IPS the point about the UN and AI is that AI desperately needs global governance and the UN is the natural home of such governance.

At present, he pointed out, the UN is preparing a Global Digital Compact or approval in September 2024 which should include Artificial Intelligence.

”But in reality, the UN is hardly at the starting block on AI governance, whereas the Council of Europe, where I am at the moment, is deep in its negotiation of a Framework Convention for AI,” said Whitfield.

The Council of Europe’s work is limited to the impact on human rights, democracy, and rule of law – but these are wide-ranging issues.

Whilst participation in Council of Europe Treaties is much wider than the European Union, with other countries being welcomed as signatories, he said, it is not truly global in scope and any UN agreement can be expected to be more broadly based.

“The key advantage of the UN is that it would seek to include all countries, including Russia and China, arguably the country with the strongest AI sector in the world”, Whitfield said.

One can envisage therefore a two-step process:

    • An initial international agreement within the Council of Europe emerging first of all, following the finalization of the EU AI Act
    • And a global UN Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence being developed later, perhaps following the establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum on AI governance. Such a Convention might well include the establishment of an agency equivalent to the International Atomic Energy Agency as called for most recently by the Elders.

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IPS: “UN governance of AI should go beyond the usual intergovernmental mechanisms and give citizen-elected representatives a key role through a global parliamentary body”.

The scope of such a parliamentary assembly could be expanded to other issues and enhance the UN’s inclusive and representative character not just in the field of AI, he added.

As generative AI reshapes the global conversation on the impact of artificial intelligence, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies, will host the 2023 “AI for Good Global Summit” July 6-7 in Geneva.

The two-day event will showcase AI and robot technology as part of a global dialogue on how artificial intelligence and robotics can serve as forces for good, and support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, according to ITU.

The event will host the UN’s first robot press conference, featuring a Q&A with registered journalists. Overall, more than 40 robots specialized for humanitarian and development tasks will be on display alongside events with industry executives, government officials, and thought leaders on AI and tech.

Meanwhile, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts warn that AI-powered spyware and disinformation is on the rise, and regulation of the space has become urgent.

In a statement June 2, the experts said that emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence-based biometric surveillance systems, are increasingly being used “in sensitive contexts”, without individuals’ knowledge or consent.

“Urgent and strict regulatory red lines are needed for technologies that claim to perform emotion or gender recognition,” said the experts, including Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on “the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism”.

The experts, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, condemned the already “alarming” use and impacts of spyware and surveillance technologies on the work of human rights defenders and journalists, “often under the guise of national security and counter-terrorism measures”.

They have also called for regulation to address the lightning-fast development of generative AI that’s enabling mass production of fake online content which spreads disinformation and hate speech.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Categories: Africa

Ghana patients in danger as nurses head for NHS in UK - medics

BBC Africa - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 01:31
The recruitment of nurses by high-income countries is "out of control", a nursing body says.
Categories: Africa

Israel returns body of Egyptian policeman who killed Israeli soldiers

BBC Africa - Mon, 06/05/2023 - 21:17
The policeman shot dead three soldiers near the border in what Israel says was a terrorist attack.
Categories: Africa

World Environment Day – Solutions for Plastic Pollution

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 06/05/2023 - 13:42

Every year, an estimated 19-23 million tons of plastic make its way into lakes, rivers, and seas. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Lara Van Lith and Akilah Davitt
TEMPE, Arizona, US, Jun 5 2023 (IPS)

It’s time to get together and celebrate the environment! June 5th is the 50th World Environment Day, where each year, the significance of transformative action from across the world is crucial to help people and the planet. This year’s World Environment Day is being hosted by Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands with a theme of ‘Finding Solutions for Plastic Pollution.

We as youth activists and part of the Arizona State University Sustain Earth project see plastic pollution everywhere, but just how big is this problem?

To put it in perspective, more than 400 million tons of plastic are manufactured annually, with over half of it designed for single-use purposes. Shockingly, less than 10% of this plastic is recycled, which creates a colossal issue for our environment and human health.

Every year, an estimated 19-23 million tons of plastic make its way into lakes, rivers, and seas. Along with visible plastic waste, microplastics are becoming a bigger issue despite being invisible to the naked eye. Microplastics infiltrate food systems, waterways, and are even found in the air we breathe. According to the UN, each person consumes over 50,000 plastic particles annually. For more information on the life cycle of plastic, check out this Sustainable Explainable.

However, amid these troubling statistics, a glimmer of hope emerges- a shift towards a circular economy holds the key to reducing the volume of plastics entering our natural environment by more than 80% by 2040. The benefits of embracing this circular approach extend beyond preserving our precious ecosystems. By reducing virgin plastic production by 55%, governments stand to save $70 billion by 2040, while simultaneously slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. Additionally, this transition can create 700,000 new jobs, predominately in the global south, fostering economic growth while tackling the plastic crisis head-on.


Microplastics infiltrate food systems, waterways, and are even found in the air we breathe. According to the UN, each person consumes over 50,000 plastic particles annually. Credit: Credit: Shutterstock.


The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution

The second session of the UN Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) on plastic pollution convened earlier this month. This fully in-person event, taking place in Paris, France, covers a variety of discussions including marine environments, trade measures, circular economy, microplastics, and human rights. These sessions come as a response to last year’s United Nations Environmental Assembly resolution to create a global treaty to end plastic pollution with negotiations estimated to finalize at the end of 2024.

More than 400 million tons of plastic are manufactured annually, with over half of it designed for single-use purposes. Shockingly, less than 10% of this plastic is recycled, which creates a colossal issue for our environment and human health

The first session (INC-1) took place in Uruguay at the end of 2022 and built the foundation of knowledge for constituents in preparation for the second session and allowed for the start of negotiations, though no policy-based decisions were made then. To ensure that a wide variety of voices were hers, members invited and present included youth groups, Indigenous coalitions, and frontline communities.


PlasticsFuture 2023

Stakeholders are utilizing the move towards a legally negotiated convention to bring their ideas of solutions to the table. In a couple of weeks “Revolution Plastics” (June 20 – June 22) is hosting a conference with the mission to discuss global research in hopes of finding new, innovative solutions to the plastic problem. The conference is taking place at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and will be split into five sessions covering microplastics, fashion and textiles, the history of plastics, art-based research methods, and the global treaty to end plastic pollution (from discussions at INC-2). Hands-on workshops will also be present, ranging from creating fashion items from plastic waste to verbatim theater. We all need to be part of this solutions driven approach.


So what can we do?

The easiest option is to avoid single-use plastics. If we think about the number of times that single-use plastics are offered to us throughout the day, we may be surprised. On a regular day, an individual may get two plastic bags to carry their groceries home in, a plastic cup from their favorite coffee shop, a plastic fork, knife, and spoon with their take out… multiply this every day and every person who uses single-use plastic daily, and the amount of plastic waste humans are generating is tremendous. Effectively avoiding single-use plastic may take some forethought and planning. Here are some ideas on how we can be part of the solution and can cut out single-use plastic items out of our lives today:

  • Swap out all the single-use plastic. Keep a reusable bottle, reusable cutlery, and reusable grocery bag in your car or bag to make it easier to make the switch. Soon enough, you’ll be shocked by how much plastic you used to use once and throw away!
  • Be a sustainable host. When hosting events, consider using your own plates and silverware rather than plastic versions.
  • Going out to eat? Consider bringing a container if you suspect you’ll have leftovers. It’s a win-win-win situation because you’ll cut down on food waste, avoid using plastic take-out containers from the restaurant, and have some tasty leftovers for tomorrow!

We understand how difficult it is to avoid plastic, so we took a plastic-free for-a-week challenge! See how that went here. We hope this gives you some ideas.

It’s also important to remember each individual action underpins the systemic change required to transition to a less plastic-dependent economy. Here’s what you can do to influence change on a larger scale.

  • Use your voice. If you see a company using unnecessary plastic or lacks a recycling system for customers, call them out! Using social media or contacting the company directly lets them know that consumers care about their plastic footprint and are serious about making changes for the environment.
  • Vote with your wallet. Similarly, to what we highlighted above, it’s important to trade out the usual plastic-covered purchases for more sustainable alternatives. If more people are buying sustainable products that avoid plastic waste, we can use our wallets to vote for a more circular and sustainable market.
  • Share solutions. If you come across a business or product that does a great job of cutting down plastic waste, let your community know! Oftentimes, people want to help in the battle against plastic pollution but don’t know where to start. Help your community of conscious consumers to make a bigger difference.
  • Turn the pressure up! Consumer action will force companies, investors, lawmakers, and government to take real action. Consumers have a huge impact on the economy, so our voices will affect the important decisions they make behind the scenes.

Want to learn more about the plastic problem and how you, your business, your organization, and local community can make a difference? The UN Environment Programme and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire partnered to create the Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide to help scale the problem and give solutions. Do your part this World Environment Day to make a more Sustainable Earth!

Lara Van Lith is a a member of Arizona State University Sustain Earth project. She is also recent Conservation Biology graduate and currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration from Arizona State University. She is passionate about environmental education for people of all ages and sustainability communication.

Akilah Davitt, is Arizona State University Sustain Earth and is a recent Masters of Sustainability Solutions graduate at Arizona State University with interests in corporate sustainability and biodiversity conservation. Her experience includes working with Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research to understand peoples’ perceptions towards wildlife and climate-related issues.

Categories: Africa

Dane van Niekerk 'uncomfortable' in cricket kit after fitness issues

BBC Africa - Mon, 06/05/2023 - 13:17
Former South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk says she feels "uncomfortable" wearing cricket kit after being dropped over fitness issues.
Categories: Africa

Climate Disasters Have Major Consequences for Informal Economies

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 06/05/2023 - 09:31

Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, visited the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu in April to discuss climate justice and witnessed the impacts of Cyclones Judy and Kevin in the country. Photo Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jun 5 2023 (IPS)

In the Pacific Islands and many developing and emerging countries worldwide, the informal economy far outsizes the formal one, playing a vital role in the survival of urban and rural households and absorbing expanding working-age populations.

Informal business entrepreneurs and workers make up more than 60 percent of the labour force worldwide. But they are also the most exposed, with precarious assets and working conditions, to the economic shocks of extreme weather and climate disasters.

In 2016, Category 5 Cyclone Winston, the most ferocious cyclone recorded in the southern hemisphere, unleashed widespread destruction of Fiji’s infrastructure, services and economic sectors, such as agriculture and tourism.  And in March this year, Cyclones Judy and Kevin barrelled through Vanuatu, an archipelago nation of more than 300,000 people, and its capital, Port Vila, leaving local tourism businesses with severe losses.

More than 80 percent of people in Papua New Guinea live in rural areas and are sustained by informal business activities, especially the smallholder growing and selling of fresh produce. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

It is now three months since the disasters. But Dalida Borlasa, business owner of Yumi Up Upcycling Solutions, an enterprise at Port Vila’s handicraft market, which depends on tourists, told IPS there had been some recovery, but not enough. “We have had two cruise ships visit in recent weeks, but there have only been a few tourists visiting the market. We are not earning enough money for daily food. And other vendors at the market don’t have enough money to replace their products that were damaged by the cyclones,” she said.

Up to 80 percent of working-age people in some Pacific Island countries are engaged in informal income-generating activities, such as smallholder agriculture and tourism-dependent livelihoods. But in a matter of hours, cyclones can destroy huge swathes of crops and bring the tourism industry to a halt when international visitors cancel their holidays.

Climate change and disasters are central concerns to the Commonwealth, an inter-governmental organization representing 78 percent of all small nations, 11 Pacific Island states and 2.5 billion people worldwide. “The consequences of global failure on climate action are catastrophic, particularly for informal businesses and workers in small and developing countries. Just imagine the struggles of an individual who relies on subsistence and commercial agriculture for their livelihood. Their entire existence is hanging in the balance as they grapple with unpredictable weather patterns and unfavourable conditions that can wipe out their crops in a matter of seconds,” Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland KC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, told IPS. “It’s not simply a matter of economic well-being; their entire way of life is at stake. The fear and uncertainty they experience are truly daunting. But they are fighting. We must too.”

The formal economy in many Pacific Island countries is too small and offers few employment opportunities. In Papua New Guinea, an estimated four million people are not in work, while the formal sector has only 400,000-500,000 job openings, according to PNG’s Institute of National Affairs. And with more than 50 percent of the population of about 8.9 million aged below 25 years, the number of job seekers will only rise in the coming years. And so, more than 80 percent of the country’s workforce is occupied in self-generated small-scale enterprises, such as cultivating and selling fruit and vegetables.

But eight years ago, the agricultural livelihoods of millions were decimated when a record drought associated with the El Nino climate phenomenon ravaged the Melanesian country.

“Eighty-five percent of PNG’s population are rural inhabitants who are dependent on the land for production of food and the sale of surplus for income through informal fresh produce markets. In areas affected by the 2015 drought, especially in the highlands, the drought killed food crops, affecting food security,” Dr Elizabeth Kopel of the Informal Economy Research Program at PNG’s National Research Institute told IPS. “Rural producers also supply urban food markets, so when supply dwindled, food prices increased for urban dwellers,” she added.

In Vanuatu, an estimated 67 percent of the workforce earn informal incomes, primarily in agriculture and tourism. On the waterfront of Port Vila is a large, covered handicraft market, a commercial hub for more than 100 small business owners who make and sell baskets, jewellery, paintings, woodcarvings and artworks to tourists. The island country is a major destination for cruise ships in the South Pacific. In 2019, it received more than 250,000 international visitors.

Highly exposed to the sea and storms, the market building, with the facilities and business assets it houses, bore the brunt of gale force winds from Cyclones Judy and Kevin on 1-3 March.  Tables were broken, and many of the products stored there were destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Myshlyn Narua lost most of the handmade pandanus bags she was planning to sell. The money she had saved helped to sustain her family in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but it would not be enough to survive six months, she stated in a report on the disaster’s impacts on market vendors compiled by Dalida Borlasa.

The country’s tourism sector has suffered numerous climate-induced economic shocks in recent years. In 2015, Cyclone Pam left losses amounting to 64 percent of GDP. Another Cyclone, Harold, in 2020 added further economic losses to the recession across the region triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To address the climate emergency and protect the lives and livelihoods of people, particularly those in the informal sector, countries must fulfil their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. They must work to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and provide the promised US$100 billion per year in climate finance,” said the Commonwealth Secretary-General. She added that climate-vulnerable nations should also be eligible for debt relief. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with member countries to improve their access to global funding for climate projects. And it is calling for reform of the global financial architecture to improve access to finance for lower-income countries that need it the most.

At the same time, the International Labour Organization predicts that the informal economy will continue to employ most Pacific Islanders, and the imperative now is to develop the sector and improve its resilience.

In PNG, the government has acknowledged the significance of the informal sector and developed national policy and legislation to grow its size and potential. Its long-term strategy is to improve the access of entrepreneurs to skills training, communications, technology and finance and encourage diversity and innovation within the sector. Currently, 98 percent of informal enterprises in the country are self-funded, with people often seeking loans from informal sources. The government’s goal is to see informal enterprises transition into higher value-added small and medium-sized businesses and to see the number of these businesses grow from about 50,000 now to 500,000 by 2030.

In Port Vila, Borlasa and her fellow entrepreneurs would like to see their existing facilities made more climate resilient before they face the next cyclone. She suggested that stronger window and door shutters be fitted to the market building and the floor raised and strengthened to stop waves and storm surges penetrating.

Looking ahead, the economic forecast is for GDP growth in all Pacific Island countries this year and into 2024 after three difficult years of the pandemic, reports the World Bank. Although, the economic hit of the cyclones is likely to result in a decline in growth to 1 percent in Vanuatu this year. But the real indicator of economic well-being for many Pacific islanders will be resilience and prosperity in the informal economy.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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