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India slips a spot in UN’s human development index, ranks at 131 now

NEW YORK, Dec 16: Dropping a spot further from its previous position, India on Wednesday ranked 131 among 189 countries in the 2020 human development index, according to a report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

India has been positioned at 131 out of 189 countries and territories, according to the report. India had ranked 130 in 2018 in the index.

Human Development Index is the measure of a nation’s health, education, and standards of living.

Here is everything you need to know:

- According to the report, life expectancy of Indians at birth in 2019 was 69.7 years. This is a shade worse than India’s neighbouring country Bangladesh which has a life expectancy of 72.6 years. The life expectancy in Pakistan at 67.3 years, the 2020 Human Development Report said.

- In the medium human development, countries like India, Bhutan (129), Bangladesh (133), Nepal (142), and Pakistan (154) were ranked, the report said. India’s HDI value for 2019 is 0.645 which put it in the medium human development category.

- Excelling in Human Development yardstick, Norway topped the index, followed by Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Iceland.

- The UNDP report states that indigenous children in Cambodia, India and Thailand show more malnutrition-related issues such as stunting and wasting. “In India different responses in parent behaviour as well as some disinvestment in girls’ health and education have led to higher malnutrition among girls than among boys as a consequence of shocks likely linked to climate change,” the report said.

- Decoding India’s rank, UNDP Resident Representative Shoko Noda said the drop in India’s ranking doesn’t mean “India didn’t do well but other countries did better”. India can help other countries too and lauded its commitment to reduce carbon emissions, Noda said.

- According to the report published by the United Nations Development Programme on Tuesday, India’s gross national income per capita fell to USD 6,681 in 2019 from USD 6,829 in 2018 on purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

- The report said evidence from Colombia to India indicates that financial security and ownership of land improve women’s security and reduce the risk of gender-based violence, clearly indicating that owning land can empower women.

- Under the Paris Agreement, India pledged to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP from the 2005 level by 33–35 percent by 2030 and to obtain 40 percent of electric power capacity from non–fossil fuel sources by 2030, the report underlined. “As part of the plan, the National Solar Mission aims to promote solar energy for power generation and other uses to make solar energy competitive with fossil fuel–based options. Solar capacity in India increased from 2.6 gigawatts in March 2014 to 30 gigawatts in July 2019, achieving its target of 20 gigawatts four years ahead of schedule. In 2019, India ranked fifth for installed solar capacity,” the report said.

Relocation of Rohingya Refugees to Remote Island Must Stop: UN

GENEVA, Dec 6: The United Nations refugee agency says it opposes the relocation of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladeshi authorities Friday moved more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited Bay of Bengal island vulnerable to cyclones and prone to flooding.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Babar Baloch says the United Nations was not involved in the preparation of this movement. He says it did not know the identification of the refugees and had limited information on the overall relocation operation.

He says the UNHCR is concerned that the Rohingya refugees did not have the information they needed to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char.

“We have heard reports from the camps that some refugees may feel pressured into relocating to Bhasan Char or may have changed their initial views about relocation and no longer wish to move. If so, they should be allowed to remain in the camps,” he said.

In 2017, nearly 1 million refugees fled persecution and violence in Myanmar for Cox’s Bazar where they are living in squalid and overcrowded camps.

Bangladesh says it wants to ease congestion in the camps and sees the recent relocation of the Rohingya as the first step in a plan to move 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char.

The U.N. is calling on the government to respect its commitment that the movements to the island would be voluntary.

Farmers Have A Right To Demonstrate Peacefully: UN Chief Antonio Guterres

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 4: After Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's support for farmers' protests in India, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said "people have a right to demonstrate peacefully and authorities should let them do so."

When asked for the reaction on farmers' protest in India during the noon briefing on Friday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman of the UN Secretary-General, stated: "As to the question of India, what I would say to you is what I've said to others when raising these issues is that people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and authorities need to let them do so."

Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and several other states have been protesting for the last ten days at the borders of Delhi against three farm laws. Dubbing these laws as "anti-farmer", these farmers claim that the newly enacted legislations would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.

The government and the farmers unions held the fifth round of talks on the new farm laws today.

World can start dreaming of pandemic’s end: UN health chief

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5: The UN health chief declared Friday that positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials mean the world “can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic,” but he said rich and powerful nations must not trample the poor and marginalized “in the stampede for vaccines.”

In an address to the U.N. General Assembly’s first high-level session on the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that while the virus can be stopped, “the path ahead remains treacherous.”

The pandemic has shown humanity at “its best and worst,” he said, pointing to “inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heartwarming demonstrations of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, blame-shifting and divisions.”

Referring to the current upsurge in infections and deaths, Tedros said without naming any countries that “where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads.”

He warned in a virtual address to the high-level meeting that a vaccine “will not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root” -- poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change, which he said must be tackled once the pandemic ends.

“We cannot and we must not go back to the same exploitative patterns of production and consumption, the same disregard for the planet that sustains all life, the same cycle of panic and meddling and the same divisive politics that fueled this pandemic,” he said.

On vaccines, Tedros said, “the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter,” but vaccines “must be shared equally as global public goods, not as private commodities that widen inequalities and become yet another reason some people are left behind.”

He said WHO’s ACT-Accelerator program to quickly develop and distribute vaccines fairly “is in danger of becoming no more than a noble gesture” without major new funding.

He said $4.3 billion is needed immediately to lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of vaccines and a further $23.9 billion is required for 2021. That total, Tedros said, is less than one-half of 1 percent of the $11 trillion in stimulus packages announced so far by the Group of 20, the world’s richest countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a similar appeal for funding for the ACT-Accelerator at Thursday’s opening of the two-day General Assembly session. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that Guterres is frustrated and would have liked see “a much much higher rate of investment by those countries who can.”

Despite years of warnings, Tedros said, many countries were unprepared for the pandemic and assumed their health systems would protect their people. Many countries that have done best dealing with the crisis had experience responding to the outbreaks of SARS, MERS, HINI and other infectious diseases, he said.

WHO has been sharply criticized for not taking a stronger and more vocal role in handling the pandemic.

Tedros told the meeting that “clearly, the global system for preparedness needs attention.”

He said a WHO commission established in September is reviewing international health regulations. WHO is also working with several countries on developing a pilot program in which countries agree to regular and transparent reviews of their health preparedness, he said.

The pandemic also showed the need for a global system to share samples of viruses and other pathogens that cause disease to facilitate development of “medical counter-measures as global public goods” he said, welcoming Switzerland’s offer to use a high-security laboratory to manage a new biobank.

Tedros also backed European Union chief Charles Michel’s proposal for an international treaty under which WHO would monitor the risks of emerging infectious diseases in animals for transmission to humans, ensure alerts of health risks, improve access to health care, and address financing needs. He said this would provide “the political underpinning” for strengthening the global health sector.

The world spends $7.5 trillion on health every year, almost 10% of global GDP, Tedros said, but most of that money is spent in rich countries on treating disease rather than on “promoting and protecting health.”

“We need a radical rethink on the way we view and value health,” he said.

“If the world is to avoid another crisis on this scale,” Tedros said, “investments in basic public health functions, especially primary health care, are essential, and all roads should lead to universal health coverage with a strong foundation of primary health care.”

1.3 billion school-aged children have no internet at home

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, Dec 1: A staggering two-thirds of world’s school-aged children – 1.3 billion children aged 3-17 – do not have internet connection in their homes, preventing them from learning vital skills needed to compete in the modern economy, a new UN report has revealed.

The UNICEF-ITU report How Many Children and Youth Have Internet Access at Home? also found a similar lack of access for young people aged 15-24, with 759 million or 63 per cent unconnected at home.

The massive number “is more than a digital gap – it is a digital canyon”, said Henrietta Fore, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director.

The lack of connectivity, she continued, doesn’t just limit children and young people’s ability to connect online, it isolates them from the work and prevents them from competing in the modern economy.

“And in the event of school closures, such as those currently experienced by millions due to COVID-19, it causes them to lose out on education. Put bluntly: Lack of internet access is costing the next generation their futures,” Ms. Fore added.

According to UNICEF, a quarter of a billion students worldwide are still affected by COVID-19-related school closures, forcing hundreds of millions of students to rely on virtual learning.

For those with no internet access, education can be out of reach. Even before the pandemic, a growing cohort of young people needed to learn foundational, transferable, digital, job-specific and entrepreneurial skills to compete in the 21st century economy.

Houlin Zhao, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General, outlined that connecting rural populations remains a formidable challenge.

“Large parts of rural areas are not covered with a mobile-broadband network, and fewer rural households have access to the internet. The gap in mobile broadband adoption and internet use between developed and developing countries is especially wide,” he said.

The report also revealed that the digital divide is perpetuating inequalities between countries and communities. According to the report, globally, 58 per cent school-age children from richest households have internet connection at home, compared with only 16 per cent from the poorest households.

The situation is similar between urban and rural populations and between high-income and low-income countries: around 60 per cent of school-aged children in urban areas do not have internet access at home, compared with around 75 per cent in rural households. School-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the most affected, with around 9 in 10 children not connected.

UN appeals for $35 billion to help world’s ‘most vulnerable and fragile’ in 2021

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1: A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection next year, a near- 40 per cent increase on 2020 which is “almost entirely from COVID-19”, the UN’s emergency relief chief said on Tuesday.

In an appeal for $35 billion to meet humanitarian needs next year, Mark Lowcock said that the global health crisis had impacted dramatically people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, climate change shocks. He said that “multiple” famines are looming.

The situation is “desperate” for millions and has left the UN and partners “overwhelmed”, he added.

“The picture we are presenting is the bleakest and darkest perspective on humanitarian needs in the period ahead that we have ever set out. That is a reflection of the fact that the COVID pandemic has wreaked carnage across the whole of the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet.”

Echoing Lowcock’s call for global solidarity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to “stand with people in their darkest hour of need”, as the global pandemic continues to worsen.

Although the humanitarian system had delivered “food, medicines, shelter, education and other essentials to tens of millions of people “the crisis is far from over”, the UN chief insisted in a statement.

This year’s Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) sets out plans “to reach 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries and most plans, if they are fully financed, will cost $35 billion”, Lowcock said.

He noted that while richer countries had invested some $10 trillion in staving off economic disaster from the COVID-induced slump and could now see “light at the end of the tunnel…the same is not true in the poorest countries”.

The COVID-19 crisis had lunged millions into poverty “and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing,” Lowcock explained, adding that aid funding was needed to “stave off famine, fight poverty, and keep children vaccinated and in school”.

Cash will also be used from the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to tackle rising violence against women and girls linked to the pandemic, Lowcock said.

He also highlighted how climate change and rising global temperatures had further contributed to the bleak outlook for humanitarian needs in 2021, their impact being “most acute in the countries which have also got the biggest humanitarian problems. Indeed, eight of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are ones where humanitarian agencies have got a huge amount of work to do already.”

Conflicts new and old had also contributed to increased needs, the UN relief chief continued, pointing to “new spikes of conflict in places that were previously more peaceful. We’ve seen that obviously recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we’ve seen it in northern Mozambique, we’ve seen it in the Western Sahara and at the moment obviously, tragically, we’re seeing in northern Ethiopia.”

Sadly, these flare-ups “haven’t replaced conflicts which have been resolved and calmed down in other places”, Lowcock continued. “In fact, things are just as bad now in the biggest humanitarian settings driven by conflict as they were when we spoke to you a year ago.”

He added: “We’re overwhelmed with problems, as you know, but just the scale of the need and the scale of crisis is such that these efforts to anticipate things make things a little bit better than they would otherwise have been, but they still leave us with a terrible, desperate situation.”

In addition to providing the means to help communities in crisis, Lowcock underscored the UN appeal’s focus on preventive action.

This included a cash injection for the World Health Organization (WHO) in February at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that poorer countries received protective equipment to tackle COVID-19.

Similarly, tens of thousands of potential flood victims in Bangladesh also received “support and cash” help in good time so that they could protect their belongings and livelihoods.

“What we ended up with there was a much cheaper, more effective response as well as one that dramatically reduced the human suffering we would have had than if we’d done the traditional thing - waiting until floods arrive,” Mr. Lowcock insisted.

The concept of “nipping problems in the bud” and acting on them before they become critical was “increasingly well-established now”, he maintained.

Nonetheless, the UN emergency relief chief underscored that the scale of the challenges facing humanitarians next year are massive – and growing. “If we get through 2021 without major famines that will be a significant achievement,” he said. “You know, the red lights are flashing, and the alarm bells are ringing.”




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