WHO chief: Lack of unity is a bigger threat than coronavirus

Posted on by

The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the world – and humanity is failing because of a lack of leadership and unity, the head of the World Health Organization declared in a passionate speech Thursday.

“How is it difficult for humans to unite and fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked at a briefing in Geneva, his voice rising with emotion. “Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy?” he asked.

The world’s lack of solidarity — not the coronavirus — is the biggest threat we face, Tedros said, adding that divisions among countries and people give an advantage to a virus that has been holding the world hostage for months.

The WHO director-general spoke about the lack of leadership two days after President Trump began the formal process of pulling the U.S. out of the World Health Organization. That move is expected to become final next June.

Last April, Tedros had pleaded, “Please don’t politicize this virus.” Using a pandemic to score political points, he said, would only result in “many more body bags.”

In the months since, Tedros has repeatedly called for countries to fight the pandemic with unity and common cause. He has also criticized governments for failing to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.

[NPR]

Trump administration sends formal notification of US withdrawal from the WHO

Posted on by

The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that the United States is withdrawing from the World Health Organization, cutting off one of the organization’s biggest sources of aid amid a global pandemic that has infected more than 11.6 million people, killed more than a half a million, and upended life around the world.

“The United States’ notice of withdrawal, effective July 6, 2021, has been submitted to the UN Secretary-General, who is the depository for the W.H.O.,” said a senior administration official. By law the United States must give the organization a year’s notice if it intends to withdraw, and meet all the current financial obligations in the current year.

The biennial budget for the W.H.O. is about $6 billion, which comes from member countries around the world. In 2019, the last year for which figures were available, the United States contributed about $553 million.

[The New York Times]

Americans can’t travel to Europe

Posted on by

We’re used to thinking of our blue US passports as keys to almost anywhere. Due to Covid19 spread in the US, we are now forced to experience travel as others do.

We now find ourselves in the uncomfortable position more familiar to the Syrian, Nigerian and Iranian citizens who are routinely, unilaterally denied entry to the US and other countries, no matter their individual actions, belief systems or political persuasions.

Being stuck on the sidelines while the rest of the world gets to experience the joy of travel also provides us with a rare opportunity to think critically about the meaning of global citizenship. An awareness of and compassion for the kinds of challenges other people and communities face is a cornerstone of global citizenship.

{Might this be a time to reflect on making] visitors to the US – from tourists to refugees – feel more welcome and accepted.

Another change should involve never again taking our own sense of welcome and acceptance for granted, in Europe or anywhere else. After all, this sense of entitlement has often led to bad behaviors like insulting Spanish ticket sellers for not speaking English, carving names into Rome’s Colosseum, and bathing in the Trevi fountain. Such actions not only cast a negative light on Americans but result in penalties that affect all tourists, such as barricades around major attractions. They also put a wedge between visitors and residents that threatens to cut off the kinds of cross-cultural exchanges that are such important elements of global citizenship. How can we build connections to other people when they – often rightly – believe we don’t respect their homes?

It’s also time to think more critically about global travel. We must acknowledge its costs in terms of both climate change and “overtourism”, which encompasses the diverse environmental, social and cultural impacts of tourism to already heavily trafficked areas. If we want to bequeath any elements of our current world to future generations, we must reduce our carbon footprints and overall impact on the locales we visit. This may mean forgoing trips to bucket-list destinations in favor of lesser-trod locales or simply exploring closer to home.

[Excerpts of an Opinion piece in The Guardian by Tamara J. Walker]

What does a humanitarian crisis look like?

Posted on by

By the end of April this year in one of the countries hardest-hit by COVID-19, more than one in five households did not have enough to eat. Even prior to the pandemic, the situation had been dire with nearly 14 percent of the population dependent on food aid, one in every six children not having consistent access to food and nearly a million suffering from chronic malnutrition. The situation is today complicated not just by disease which has claimed tens of thousands of lives but also by tribally driven, political unrest and fears of bloodshed should the results of the fast-approaching November presidential elections be disputed. Following violent clashes between protesters and police as well as reports of looting, the military has been called out into the streets to preserve order. Journalists have been especially targeted by authorities in the crackdown and thousands of demonstrators across the country have been arrested. The political unrest also appears to have been inflamed by the fact that the pandemic has mostly devastated historically poor and marginalised communities including ethnic minorities and immigrants.

What does a humanitarian crisis look like? The Humanitarian Coalition, a grouping of Canadian aid agencies, defines a humanitarian emergency as “an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area”. By this definition, would you say the situation in the United States over the last few weeks described above qualifies?

It can be a bit disconcerting to think about how humanitarian crises around the world are reported on and the stereotypes embedded in the language that is used. When events happen in certain parts of the world, the media is apt to use particularly colorful descriptions and adjectives – for example, you rarely hear the United Kingdom described as an oil-rich, island nation presided over by an ageing monarch.

This is partly because many journalists still produce reports utilizing tropes that exoticise parts of the world and that are aimed at “home” audiences, but which will be published online and seen by people across the world which generates unnecessary dissonances and controversies.

But the descriptions also reflect a less innocent attribute of the current world order – that it is based on a … white Europe (and her diaspora in North America and Australia) at the top, and Black Africa at the bottom. The “global north” are the custodians of wealth and civilization and the “global south” is the site of poverty, natural maladies and crises. It is the humanitarian duty, so the story goes, of the enlightened West to help out her less fortunate neighbors who are cursed by incompetent and kleptocratic governance as well as a proclivity to have too many babies. This is what American author Teju Cole called the White Savior Industrial Complex.

This framing is evident in how the media reports other stories. For example, when authoritarian presidents in the developing countries appoint close relatives with no experience to senior government positions, use their offices to enrich themselves and their cronies, use police forces to clobber peaceful protesters and meddle with voter registration to prevent opposition supporters from casting their ballots, they are normally called out for what they are: Brutal, nepotistic, corrupt, power-hungry regimes. When it happens in the US, much softer language is employed. Elections, for example, may be interfered with or voting suppressed, but are not actually rigged or stolen. Nepotistic, corrupt and brutal are not constant adjectives that are welded to descriptions of the Trump administration (which is also almost never referred to using the evil-sounding descriptor, “regime”).

Portraying the world like this has real-life consequences. Using consistent language when reporting on humanitarian crises is critical to helping audiences recognize them wherever they occur in the world, and especially in their own backyards. Charity, after all, is meant to begin at home.

[Excerpt of an Opinion piece by Patrick Gathara] 

$7.7bn in humanitarian aid pledged for war-ravaged Syria

Posted on by

International donors have pledged $7.7bn in humanitarian aid for war-ravaged Syria at a virtual conference hosted by the United Nations and the European Union.

While less than the almost $10bn sought by UN agencies, the funding promises were higher than expected, given the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic and shortfalls in other aid appeals, notably for Yemen earlier this month.

Pledges came from countries including Germany, which offered 1.58 billion euros ($1.78bn), in what Berlin said was the single biggest country donation, and Qatar, which promised $100m.

The money pledged will be used to finance food, medical aid and schooling for the millions of Syrians displaced or forced into exile – many of whom are living with food insecurity.

Now in its tenth year, the war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, sparking a major refugee exodus.

U.S. given low marks in global poll

Posted on by

A new poll suggests the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic has not gone unnoticed around the world.

The poll, by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation asked 120,000 people in 53 countries to assess country responses to the pandemic.

Over 60 percent of respondents said China had handled it well, while only a third said the United States had.

During the past two months, Europe has succeeded at staying the virus, while the U.S. has not. The combined death count (about 121,000) in those 16 European countries, with a similar combine population as the U.S., is higher than in the U.S. (about 117,000). But at the current pace, the U.S. toll will be higher by next week.

[Foreign Policy / New York Times]

Yemen hanging on by a thread

Posted on by

More than five years of conflict have left Yemenis “hanging on by a thread, their economy in tatters” and their institutions “facing near-collapse”, the chief of the UN told a virtual pledging conference, calling for a demonstration of solidarity with some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. 

“Four people out of every five [Yemenis] — 24 million people in all — need lifesaving aid in what remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Two million Yemeni children are suffering from acute malnutrition, which could stunt their growth and affect them throughout their lives”. 

Moreover, since the start of the year, some 80,000 more people were forced from their homes, bringing the total displaced to almost four million. Cholera continues to threaten lives with 110,000 people contracting it so far this year; and recent floods have raised the risk of malaria and dengue fever.  And then there’s COVID 19.

On Tuesday, international donors promised $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid to Yemen, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told a pledging conference to help the war-torn country.

Fighting intensified across Yemen in 2015 between a Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally-recognized Government, and the Houthi armed movement.

[UN News / Reuters]

Trump announces end of US relationship with World Health Organization

Posted on by

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent global public health needs,” Trump said.

The President had previously announced a temporary halt of funding to the WHO and sent a letter to the agency earlier in May saying that the US would permanently pull funding if the WHO did not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”

Health experts and world leaders have expressed concern over defunding the organization amid a pandemic. In April, more than 1,000 organizations and individuals including charities, medical experts and health care companies from around the world signed a letter urging the Trump administration to reverse course and maintain funding.

Trump’s decision to permanently terminate the US relationship with the WHO follows a years-long pattern of skepticism of world organizations, with the President claiming in nearly every circumstance that the US was being taken advantage of.

The President has also questioned US funding to the United Nations and the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization, withdrawn from the Paris climate accords and repeatedly criticized the World Trade Organization.

[CNN]

For the world’s poor, the nutritional crisis of covid-19 will be even worse than the disease

Posted on by

Even though they may not have yet been directly ravaged by the virus, the world’s poorest people may yet suffer some of the pandemic’s greatest losses—in the form of growing hunger.

“There’s a huge covid impact which is economic, and that is drowning out the disease itself,” Mark Lowcock, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said an interview last week.

The global economy is now expected to shrink this year by at least 3 percent, delivering a direct hit to the primary goods exports, remittances and tourism on which many poor countries subsist.

According to Lowcock, for the first time in 30 years, the percentage of the world’s population in extreme poverty—those living on less than $1.90 a day—will increase.

At the beginning of 2020, the United Nations reckoned that 130 million people would be at risk of starvation. “Now we think there will be 265 million,” Lowcock said. “We could have mass hunger and multiple famines.”

[Washington Post]

COVID killing far more young people in the developing world

Posted on by

As the coronavirus escalates its assault on the developing world, the victim profile is beginning to change. The young are dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at rates unseen in wealthier countries—a development that further illustrates the unpredictable nature of the disease as it pushes into new cultural and geographic landscapes.

In Brazil, 15 percent of deaths have been people under 50—a rate more than 10 times greater than in Italy or Spain.

In Mexico, the trend is even more stark: Nearly one-fourth of the dead have been between 25 and 49.

In India, officials reported this month that nearly half of the dead were younger than 60.

In Rio de Janeiro state, more than two-thirds of hospitalizations are for people younger than 49. “This is new terrain compared to what’s happened in other countries,” said Daniel Soranz, the former municipal health minister in Rio de Janeiro.

[Washington Post]