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UN chief: We are in a race against time to help the Afghan people

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 13: Describing a “nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan”, the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned on Thursday that the world is “in a race against time to help the Afghan people.”

Just two days ago, the United Nations launched its largest-ever humanitarian appeal for a single country, requiring more than $5 billion this year.

Speaking to journalists, the UN chief said the scale of the appeal “reflects the scale of the despair.”

“Babies being sold to feed their siblings. Freezing health facilities overflowing with malnourished children. People burning their possessions to keep warm. Livelihoods across the country have been lost.”

Currently, more than half the population of Afghanistan depends on life-saving assistance.

Without a more concerted effort from the international community, Guterres argued, “virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty.”

According to the Secretary-General, when properly funded, the aid operation has the capacity to achieve “amazing results.”

Last year, the UN and its humanitarian partners reached 18 million people across the country, over 60 per cent more than the year before.

These workers now have access to areas and communities that have been off-limits for years, but humanitarian operations need more money and more flexibility.

“Freezing temperatures and frozen assets are a lethal combination for the people of Afghanistan”, Guterres warned.

The UN chief also pointed to rules and conditions that prevent money from being used to save lives and the economy, arguing that they shouldbe suspended.

“International funding should be allowed to pay the salaries of public-sector workers, and to help Afghan institutions deliver healthcare, education and other vital services”, he said.

Guterres also welcomed the Security Council's adoption of a humanitarian exception to the sanctions regime for the country, back in December.

He believes the decision provides financial institutions and commercial actors with legal assurances to engage with humanitarian operators, without fear of breaching sanctions.

To avoid economic collapse, the Secretary-General believes that the function of Afghanistan’s Central Bank must be preserved. On top of that, a path for conditional release of foreign currency reserves should be identified.

According to him, the United Nations is taking steps to inject cash into the economy “through creative authorized arrangements”, but it is “a drop in the bucket.”

The Secretary-General then highlighted one positive example, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), created by the World Bank.

Just last month, the institution transferred $280 million from that fund to finance the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) operations.

“I hope the remaining resources, more than $1.2 billion, will become available to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter”, he said.

As he appealed to the international community, the Secretary-General made an “equally urgent plea” to the Taliban leadership, asking them to recognize and protect the fundamental human rights of women and girls.

“Across Afghanistan, women and girls are missing from offices and classrooms. A generation of girls is seeing its hopes and dreams shattered. Women scientists, lawyers and teachers are locked out, wasting skills and talents that will benefit the entire country and, indeed, the world.”

“No country can thrive while denying the rights of half its population”, he concluded.

UN launches largest single country aid appeal ever for Afghanistan

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, Jan 11: The UN and partners launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan on Tuesday, in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there, which have left 22 million in need of assistance inside the country, and 5.7 million people requiring help beyond its borders.

Speaking in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that $4.4 billion was needed for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan alone, “to pay direct” to health workers and others, not the de facto authorities.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for $623 million, to support refugees and host communities in five neighbouring countries, for the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan.

“Today we are launching an appeal for $4.4 billion for Afghanistan itself for 2022,” said Griffiths. “This is the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021.”

The scale of need is already enormous, both UN officials stressed, warning that if insufficient action is taken now to support the Afghanistan and regional response plans, “next year we’ll be asking for $10 billion”.

Griffiths added: “This is a stop-gap, an absolutely essential stop-gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today. Without this being funded, there won’t be a future, we need this to be done, otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering.”

Rejecting questions that the funding would be used to support the Taliban’s grip on de facto government, Griffiths insisted that it would go directly into the pockets of “nurses and health officials in the field” so that these services can continue, not as support for State structures.

UN aid agencies describe Afghanistan’s plight as one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.

According to UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA, half the population now faces acute hunger, over nine million people have been displaced and millions of children are out of school.

Asked to describe what might happen if sufficient support was not forthcoming, the UN emergency relief chief replied that he was particularly concerned for one million children now facing severe acute malnutrition. “A million children - figures are so hard so grasp when they’re this kind of size - but a million children at risk of that kind of malnutrition if these things don’t happen, is a shocking one.”

But humanitarian agencies and their partners who will receive the requested funding directly can only do so much, Mr. Griffiths explained, before reiterating his support for the 22 December UN Security Council resolution that cleared the way for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban.

“Humanitarian agencies inside Afghanistan can only operate if there’s cash in the economy which can be used to pay officials, salaries, costs, fuel and so-forth,” he said. “So, liquidity in its first phase is a humanitarian issue, it’s not just a bigger economic issue.”

He added: “My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan. Humanitarian partners are on the ground, and they are delivering, despite the challenges. Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death by supporting the humanitarian plans we are launching today.”

Highlighting the need to avoid a wider regional crisis emanating from Afghanistan, UNHCR chief Grandi, insisted that what was needed most, was “to stabilize the situation inside Afghanistan, including that of displaced people who are displaced inside their country. Also, to prevent a larger refugee crisis, a larger crisis of external displacement.”

Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours had sheltered vulnerable Afghans for decades, Grandi explained, as he appealed for $623 million in funding for 40 organizations working in protection, health and nutrition, food security, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, livelihoods and resilience, education, and logistics and telecoms.

No-one should forget “that there is a regional dimension to this crisis, represented by the Afghan refugees but also Afghans with many other ‘stay’ arrangements in neighbouring countries in particular,” Grandi said, “especially in Pakistan and Iran that have hosted Afghans for more than 40 years, but also Central Asian States.”

Since the Taliban takeover last August, women’s and girls’ rights have continued to come under attack, OCHA noted in a statement, “while farmers and herders are struggling amid the worst drought in decades and the economy is in freefall”.

On the issue of protecting fundamental rights, Griffiths underlined the fact that UN humanitarians were continuing to hold “conversations” with Afghanistan’s de facto authorities at a national and sub-national level, on issues such as aid and education access for all.

Echoing that message, UN refugee chief Grandi noted that humanitarians on the ground were well aware of the importance of stressing the need to protect the rights of minorities and other vulnerable Afghans.

“Our colleagues are there every day, and that’s what they talk about every day; they certainly talk about access, and delivery and needs, but they also talk about women at work, women in school - girls in school - rights of minorities, but it’s that space that we need to preserve.”

Amina Mohammed’s leadership key to ‘keeping the SDGs alive’: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10: The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will continue in her role for another five years, the UN chief formally announced on Monday, praising her effective leadership so far in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and protecting the Paris Agreement for climate action.

In a statement confirming the reappointment, the Spokesperson’s Office said that that in delegating the role of coordinating the UN’s development work to his deputy, António Guterres set in motion, with her at the helm, “the most ambitious reform in the history of the UN development system.”

“Ms. Mohammed’s leadership helped advance the conceptual shift from the UN that Member States called for in adopting the SDGs”, and during last five years, the UN Sustainable Development Group was strengthened to enhance global leadership and development oversight.

Furthermore, the UN has established a strengthened UN Resident Coordinator system as the foundation of a more effective way of promoting sustainable development worldwide, the statement said.

The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for Ms. Mohammed’s leadership of the Group, “and her determination to reinforce collective results and maximize the impact of the UN development’s system on the ground.”

The statement said that from the UN’s “robust response to the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis; through a boost in climate action and unprecedented momentum for Financing for Development”, with her “strong emphasis on coherence across humanitarian, political and development action”, the deputy UN chief has been “instrumental in keeping the SDGs alive at country level and protecting the Paris Agreement, despite significant headwinds.”

Prior to first taking on the mantle of Deputy Secretary-General in January 2017, Ms. Mohammed served as Minister of Environment for Nigeria and Special Adviser to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning.

Before joining the UN, said the statement, she worked for three successive administrations in Nigeria, serving as Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals, providing advice on issues including poverty, public sector reform and sustainable development, and coordinating poverty reduction interventions.

UN chief urges that recovery be ‘our resolution for 2022’

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 1: Together, let’s make recovery “for people, planet and prosperity” our resolution for 2022, the UN chief said in his message for the New Year.

“The world welcomes 2022 with our hopes for the future being tested by deepening poverty and worsening inequality…an unequal distribution of COVID vaccines…climate commitments that fall short, and by ongoing conflict, division, and misinformation”, Secretary-General António Guterres lamented.

He added that these are “not just policy tests”, but “moral and real-life tests”.

However, these are exams that all of humanity can pass “if we commit to making 2022 a year of recovery for everyone”, upheld the top UN official.

Guterres went on to detail how best the recovery should be done on each front.

The pandemic requires “a bold plan to vaccinate every person, everywhere”, he said.

And for an economic rescue, the UN chief flagged that wealthier countries must support the developing world with “financing, investment and debt relief”.

Meanwhile, to heal from mistrust and division, he affirmed that a new emphasis must be placed “on science, facts and reason”.

At the same time, recovery from conflicts calls for “a renewed spirit of dialogue, compromise and reconciliation” while restoring our planet takes “climate commitments that match the scale and urgency of the crisis”, said Guterres.

The Organization Head also acknowledged that “moments of great difficulty are also moments of great opportunity to come together in solidarity”.

This is because they offer the chance “to unite behind solutions that can benefit all people. And to move forward together, with hope in what our human family can accomplish”.

“Together, let’s make recovery our resolution for 2022”, concluded the Secretary-General. “I wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year”.

UN Headquarters Cordoned Off As Armed Man Seen Outside

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2: The United Nations headquarters in New York was cordoned off on Thursday during a police stand-off with a lone man apparently holding a gun outside the venue, officials said.

"The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity," said a UN spokesman.

Images showed armed police surrounding the man standing on a sidewalk while holding what appeared to be a gun.

According to an official speaking on condition of anonymity, the man threatened to kill himself in front of one of the building's entrances.

The avenue along the UN headquarters was closed to traffic, but meetings inside were not immediately affected.

"Due to a police investigation, avoid the area of 42 Street and 1st Avenue. Expect emergency vehicles in the surrounding area," the New York police department said on Twitter.





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