Food’s a human right, not just ‘a commodity to be traded’: Guterres
By Deepak Arora
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 23: Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Two billion are overweight or obese and yet 462 million, are underweight. Nearly a third of all food that is produced, is lost or wasted.
These are just some of the problems and contradictions laid bare by the UN Secretary-General on Thursday at the opening of the landmark UN Food Systems Summit, that is bringing together farmers and fishers, youth, Indigenous Peoples, Heads of State, governments and many more, in an effort to transform the sector and get the world back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
For António Guterres, “change in food systems is not only possible, it is necessary”; for the people, for the planet and for prosperity.
The UN chief warned, though, that COVID-19 has made the challenge much greater.
The pandemic has deepened inequalities, decimated economies, plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries.
At the same time, Mr. Guterres said, the world is “waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest”, with ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems.
Food systems also generate one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, he added. And they’re responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss.
Over the last 18 months, through national dialogues, governments gathered businesses, communities and civil society to chart pathways for the future of food systems across 148 countries. Over 100,000 people came together to discuss and debate solutions.
From those discussions, came many proposals. Guterres chose to highlight three key areas of action.
First, there’s a need for food systems that support the health and well-being of all people.
Recalling that nutritious and diverse diets are often too costly or inaccessible, Guterres said he is pleased to see many Member States rallying around universal access to nutritious meals in schools.
Second, he argued that the world needs food systems that protect the planet.
“It is possible to feed a growing global population while also safeguarding our environment. And it takes countries coming to COP26 in Glasgow with bold, targeted plans to keep the promise of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “The war on our planet must end, and food systems can help us build that peace.”
Farmers are particularly vulnerable to impacts of the climate crisis, such as extreme heat, rising sea levels, drought, floods, and locust attacks
Third, and finally, food systems need to support prosperity.
“Not just the prosperity of businesses and shareholders. But the prosperity of farmers and food workers, and indeed, the billions of people worldwide who depend on this industry for their livelihoods,” argued the UN chief.
Highlighting the selfless workers who have toiled in the fields and transported food during the deadly pandemic, he said “these women and men have been the unsung heroes of the last 18 months.”
Despite that, “too often, these workers are underpaid, even exploited.”
These systems represent 10 per cent of the global economy and, because of that, Mr. Guterres believes they “can be a powerful driver for an inclusive and equitable recovery from COVID-19.”
To make that a reality, though, he said governments need to shift their approach on agricultural subsidies, and employment support for workers.
They also need to re-think how they see and value food, “not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares.”
The Secretary-General assured that the UN would continue towards this end, together with the international community. The organization is convening a follow-up summit, in two years, to take stock of the progress.
In the meantime, the UN chief said more businesses need to join in the work and the voice of civil society needs to continue pressing for change.
“And throughout, we need the engagement of the people at the centre of our food systems. Family farmers, herders, workers, Indigenous Peoples, women, young people. Let’s learn from each other, and be inspired by one another, as we work together to achieve the SDGs,” he concluded.
Speaking at the opening of the event, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Food System's Summit, Agnes M. Kalibata, said "food systems have incredible power to end hunger, build healthier lives, and sustain our beautiful planet."
Highlighting the intense level of debate over the issue of food production, on the eve of the Summit, three independent UN human rights experts said they were deeply concerned that the event would not be a “people’s summit” as promised.
They voiced concerns that it could leave behind the most marginalized and vulnerable.
According to the Human Rights Council-appointed experts, who were involved in the Summit preparation, the event “claims to be inclusive, but it left many participants and over 500 organizations representing millions of people, feeling ignored and disappointed.”
In a joint statement, they say “the Summit may unfortunately present human rights to governments as an optional policy instead of a set of legal obligations.”
The experts fear that there is a risk the Summit would serve the corporate sector “more than the people, who are essential to ensuring our food systems flourish, such as workers, small producers, women, and Indigenous Peoples.”
The statement is signed by Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Biden pledges renewed commitment to UN, relentless diplomacy
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 21: Joe Biden has promised to the United Nations that the withdrawal from Afghanistan is a turning point in history, in which “relentless war” would be supplanted by “relentless diplomacy”, pledging a renewed commitment to the UN and to his nation’s alliances.
“As I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years the United States is not at war. We’ve turned the page,” Biden said in his first address to the UN general assembly as president.
“All the unmatched strength, energy, commitment, will and resources of our nation are now fully and squarely focused on what’s ahead of us, not what was behind.”
To back up his promise, Biden said the US would give $11bn a year to developing nations to support their response to the global climate emergency.
His tone was in dramatic contrast to his predecessor. Donald Trump made no secret of his distrust of the UN. Biden called it a “noble institution”. But world leaders responded with scepticism to Biden’s appeals for peace, made just a few days after it was revealed that the US, UK and Australia had been secretly negotiating for months over the construction of a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden was also making his presidential debut just weeks after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, widely viewed among UN member states as having been rushed for domestic political reasons, with little regard for the Afghans left behind to face the Taliban.
In his address, Biden sought to place the withdrawal in a broader, more positive historical perspective.
“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, and as we close this period of relentless war we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy, of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world, renewing and defending democracy,” he said.
Biden insisted that the US would continue to defend itself and its allies, including mounting counter-terrorism operations, but would be far more conservative in resorting to force, to avoid falling back into more protracted struggles like Afghanistan and Iraq, which have come to be known in US political parlance as the “forever wars”.
“The mission must be clear, and achievable, undertaken with the informed consent of the American people and, whenever possible, in partnership with our allies,” Biden said, in remarks which echoed his address to the nation following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which he talked about “ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries”.
But on Tuesday, Biden made clear that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was also a question of switching attention and resources to the far east. This long heralded “pivot to Asia” in US foreign policy has accelerated under Biden’s presidency. It is seen in the White House as an imperative to contain and compete with China, a rivalry that Biden only addressed obliquely.
“The United States will compete and will compete vigorously and lead with our values and our strength,” he said “We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends, and oppose attempts by stronger countries and dominate weaker ones through changes to territory by force, economic coercion … exploitation or disinformation. But we’re not seeking – I’ll say it again – we’re not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocks.
“US military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first,” the president added. “It should not be used as an answer to every problem that we see around the world. Indeed today many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms.”
As an example, Biden observed: “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19.”
As the world mourned 4.5 million people killed so far in the pandemic, Biden called for “a collective act of science and political will”.
“We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible,” the president said. He said the US had shipped more than 160m doses of Covid-19 vaccine abroad, and invested $15bn in global pandemic response mechanisms.
He was speaking shortly after an urgent and angry address from the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who had pointed out that while large majorities in the rich world were already vaccinated, more than 90% of Africans were still waiting for their first dose.
“This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity,” Guterres said.
“We are on the edge of an abyss – and moving in the wrong direction,” the secretary general warned. “Our world has never been more threatened, or more divided.”
Like Guterres, Biden did not mention China by name, but substantial passages of his speech were devoted to outlining the fundamental rivalry between the world’s democracies and authoritarian regimes, asking the UN member states if they were prepared to allow universal principles enshrined in the organisation’s charter “to be trampled and twisted in the pursuit of naked political power”.
U.N. chief Guterres urges U.S.-China dialogue, warns of divisions at UNGAs
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 21: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged the United States and China to engage in dialogue, warning of an increasingly divided world.
“I fear our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence — and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies,” Guterres said as he opened the annual UN General Assembly.
“This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War. To restore trust and inspire hope, we need cooperation,” he said.
“We need dialogue. We need understanding.”
Guterres said that divisions between the two powers set back efforts on other key priorities including reversing coups.
Since February, militaries have seized control both in Myanmar and Guinea and Afghanistan’s Western-backed government collapsed to the Taliban.
“We are also seeing an explosion in seizures of power by force. Military coups are back. The lack of unity among the international community does not help,” Guterres said.
“Geopolitical divisions are undermining international cooperation and limiting the capacity of the Security Council to take the necessary decisions.”
World leaders, BTS, join Guterres in call to get SDGs back on track
By Deepak Arora
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 20: The world “is challenged like never before”, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, but the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still offer a roadmap to get back on track.
“It would be easy to lose hope. But we are not hopeless. Or helpless. We have a path to recovery. If we choose to take it,” he said.
Guterres was speaking at the SDG Moment – a major event marking the start of the General Assembly High Level Week - joined by more than 30 Heads of State, a debate led by top UN officials on COVID-19 and a performance by K-pop sensation BTS, headlined also by the President of the Republic of Korea.
For the UN chief, this SDG Moment is all about “coming together to save our planet and each other.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Guterres launched “Our Common Agenda”, a plan to strengthen and revitalize the whole multilateral system and rally the world around common objectives.
In the document, the Secretary-General points to five areas for urgent action.
First, the world needs to end the pandemic. Noting the response “has been too slow and too unequal”, Guterres called on the world to mobilize behind a global vaccination plan that doubles production, to reach 70 per cent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
Second, he highlighted the need for a sustainable and equitable recovery for all, so that the world stays on track to end poverty by 2030.
For him, that means bold investments in systems that support human development, but also “putting people above profits, including through progressive taxation, and ending tax evasion, money laundering, and illicit financial flows.”
He then pointed to equal rights for women and girls, saying none of the SDGs can be achieved without gender equality.
“We need bold investments to make sure every girl has a seat in the classroom and the skills she needs to chart her own future”, he said in the wake of the reopening of high schools in Afghanistan at the weekend, without the Taliban allowing girls to return to study.
“We need to dismantle the power structures that allow discrimination, violence and economic hardship to keep one half of humanity down. And we need to make sure that girls and women have a seat at every table,” he said.
Another priority is to end the war against the planet, by committing to net zero emissions by 2050. Guterres also asked Member States to shelve plans for any new coal-fired power plants after 2021, and mobilize $100 billion a year for climate action.
Lastly, he stressed the importance of an equitable global recovery, asking people everywhere to work with their governments to put people first in their budgets and recovery plans.
“My friends, the pathway is there. The choice is ours. Let’s move forward with hope and conviction,” he concluded.
Speaking at the event, the new president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that “going forward, the gaps in political will and resource commitment, remain a common fault line”, hampering progress towards reaching the SDGs.
“This must change. Let the setback that the world has seen, strengthen our resolve and reinforce our determination to recover from the pandemic and to build the SDGs. Together it is possible," he said.
One of the members of superstar band BTS, V, said that he had also “felt bewildered and troubled” by the setbacks of the past 18 months, but said now was “an ideal time of our lives to take on new challenges.”
“What is important are the choices we make when we are faced with change right? Some of you heard the news that we were coming to the UN and a lot of you were wondering whether we were vaccinated. And yes, all seven of us, of course, we received COVID-19 vaccination,” J Hope added.
BTS focused in how their generation felt lost last year during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when graduations and other important events were cancelled. But they sent a message of encouragement to all people around the world.
"I hope we just don't consider the future as grim darkness. We have people concerned for the world and searching for answers. There are still many pages left in the story about us and I feel like we shouldn't talk like the ending has already been written", said Junkook.
They challenged the thought of their generation being “the covid lost generation” saying that it was “a stretch”.
"In these pictures, you can see there are kids that are trying to learn new things...They are not lost, they are finding new courage and taking on new challenges", said Jin.
"Instead of the lost generation, a more appropriate name would be the ‘welcome’ generation because instead of fearing change, this generation says "welcome" and keeps pushing ahead", explained Suga.
Heading up the 76th General Assembly’s High-Level Week, the SDG Moment is held in advance of major meetings on food systems, climate, energy, jobs and social protection.
The SDG event is designed to build the momentum needed to deliver on the Decade of Action and Keep the Promise of the SDGs.
Besides world leaders, leaders from business, civil society, local authorities, the SDG Advocates and the UN, highlighted the need to scale up solutions.
For the UN, to get the SDGs back on track and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, a profound shift in economies and societies everywhere, is now needed.
In the last 18 months, COVID-19 has disrupted economies and livelihoods, deepened inequalities and risks sending more than 70 million people into extreme poverty.
In the same period, progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been too slow and biodiversity loss has continued at an extraordinary pace. This is compounded by a deeply uneven global response to the pandemic with the world’s poorest countries and people suffering the most.
Recognizing this urgency, the UN launched a new campaign last week, “Keeping the Promise”. The digital campaign calls on people around the world to make a promise to take action for a better future for all.
Users are being asked to choose from 11 promises inspired by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s to-do list to protect the planet and all its people.
Afghanistan situation fragile, need inclusive dispensation: India
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 10: Three days after the Taliban announced a cabinet with inadequate representation of ethnic minorities and minus any woman member, India Friday called for an “inclusive dispensation” in Afghanistan, representing all sections of society.
Underlining that it was its “immediate neighbour and a friend to its people”, New Delhi said “the current situation is of direct concern to us”.
This was India’s first response to the announcement of the Taliban government, days after the Pakistan ISI chief reached Kabul and handpicked the appointments.
Making a statement at the UN Security Council in New York, T S Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, said: “India calls for an inclusive dispensation in Afghanistan which represents all sections of Afghan society. A broad based, inclusive and representative formation attained through an inclusive negotiated political settlement would gain greater international acceptability and legitimacy.”
Of the 33 cabinet members, only three are non-Pashtuns — Second Deputy Head of Government Abdul Salam Hanafi is an Uzbek; Chief of Army Staff Qari Fasihuddin and Minister of Economy Qari Deen Hanif are Tajiks.
Fasihuddin was key to Taliban’s advance in Badakhshan in north-east Afghanistan, and his appointment as Army chief is said to be a reward. Tirumurti said the situation in Afghanistan continues to be “very fragile”.
“As its immediate neighbour and a friend to its people, the current situation is of direct concern to us. Uncertainties abound about the future of the Afghan people, as well as about sustaining and building on the gains achieved over the last two decades. In this context, we reiterate the need for the voices of Afghan women to be heard, aspirations of Afghan children to be realised and the rights of minorities to be protected,” he said.
This comes in the wake of protests being held by women in Kabul and other cities against Taliban curbs on letting women work or study freely.
There was, however, no mention of the Taliban in the Indian statement or any articulation holding them accountable for the situation in the country.
“We call on humanitarian assistance to be provided urgently and underline the need to provide unhindered access to the UN and other agencies in this regard,” Tirumurti said.
Without putting the onus on the Taliban to improve the situation, he said Afghanistan has already seen enough bloodshed and violence in recent years.
“We call on the international community to come together, rising above any partisan interests, to stand together with the people of Afghanistan in their desire for peace, stability and security in the country. We need to enable all Afghans, including women, children and minorities, to live in peace and dignity,” he said.
Afghan Economic Meltdown Would Be Gift For Terrorists: UN Chief
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 10: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Friday for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a "catastrophic" situation for the Afghan people and be a "gift for terrorist groups."
His remarks come after his special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, warned the Security Council on Thursday that the freezing of billions of dollars in international Afghan assets to keep them out of Taliban hands would inevitably spark "a severe economic downturn."
"At the present moment the UN is not even able to pay its salaries to its own workers," Guterres told reporters.
"We need to find ways to avoid a situation that would be catastrophic for the people and, in my opinion, a source of instability, and an action, gift for terrorist groups still operating there," he said.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State's Afghan affiliate, ISIS-Khorosan, are present in Afghanistan.
Guterres said he had been speaking with International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, telling reporters it was essential to agree on waivers or mechanisms to get money into Afghanistan.
The IMF has blocked the Taliban from accessing some $440 million in new emergency reserves.
Much of the Afghan central bank's $10 billion in assets are also parked overseas, where they have been frozen since the Taliban came to power last month. They are considered a key instrument for the West to pressure the Islamist group.
Both Guterres and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths hope that international programs to get cash into war-torn Yemen could be replicated in Afghanistan. In Yemen, the UN children's agency, UNICEF, makes monthly cash payments to some 1.5 million of the poorest families through a program funded by the World Bank.
The United Nations is also working to ensure it can continue its humanitarian work in Afghanistan, where at least 18 million people - half the country's population - already need help.
"We are permanently engaging with the Taliban and we believe that the dialogue with the Taliban is absolutely essential at the present moment," Guterres said.