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African Union Calls for Closer Cooperation with the United Nations System to Achieve Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda



HE Mr Quartey, the African Union Commission (AUC) has called for deeper collaboration between the United nations and the African Union, from policy formulation stage to implementation, and for the two organizations to work in tandem towards concrete, measured and immediate actions for the realization of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030, especially as 2020 to 2030 has been declared by the UN as a Decade of Action. ‘’The fiery urgency is now and time and tide waits for no one’ he added.

He made this statement at the opening of the Special Session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Africa (RCM-Africa), a multi stakeholder forum of the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), which took place in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on February 24th 2020. The forum aims to help African countries achieve the aspirations and goals of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

RCM-Africa harmonizes the working methods and consultation between the AU and the UN development framework, towards advancing integrated implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, in a manner that ensures the realization of concrete results and impact on the ground.

In view recent institutional reforms in both the AU and the UN, one of the objectives of the 6th RCM Session in Victoria Falls is to brainstorm and review this coordinating mechanism.

HE Mr Kwesi Quartey also called on the international community to, with immediate effect, lift all sanctions imposed on the Republic of Zimbabwe.

‘For us to build conducive conditions to achieve our lofty ambitions, the AU has called for all sanctions on this country to be lifted immediately; this is what will allow for more effective engagement of our women and our youth in the multifaceted process of accelerated development’, he stressed.

Referring to the African Union (AU) theme of the year 2020, ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’, HE Mr Quartey noted that conflict is one of the biggest challenges inhibiting the implementation of Agenda 2063. He said, ‘Silencing the Guns’ is not only about Peace and Security, it is also about inclusive sustainable development and the observation and maintenance of Human Rights across the board’.

In this regard, he noted that the resonance of the UN SDGs 2030 and the AU’s Agenda 2063 has been reinforced by internal developments such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), a major game changer for the development of the continent.

The Deputy Chairperson enumerated practical steps the AU Peace and Security Council has developed to ‘Silence the Guns’ on the continent such as: good governance and the political will of leaders to take tough decisions; all inclusive education to create a literate and numerate Africa; policy formulation based on verified statistics and data; and inclusive involvement of women, children, civil society in the daily development discourses and actions on the continent.

He noted that the optimism, enthusiasm and energy of youth and women remain untapped resources that have to be brought to the fore to achieve the Agenda 2063 and realized the ‘Africa We Want’.

Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, HE Madam Amina J Mohammed, noted that ‘Africa has made notable progress in education, health and other social outcomes. Like the rest of the world however, Africa is not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and the goals of Agenda 2063’. The goal of leaving no one behind remains elusive, she added. She therefore referred to the Decade of Action as an opportunity to unleash a new wave of implementation efforts that will deliver for the people and the planet’.

HE Mohammed also noted that though there has been a surge of initiatives to support the SDGs since 2015, very few of them have delivered concrete results at scale in the countries and communities that are in most need. However, she noted that some policy changes or specific breakthroughs have the potential to catalyse progress on several SDGs.

‘The Decade of Action must ensure that those changes and those breakthroughs are advanced as a matter of priority’ she emphasized.

Ms. Hannah Serwaa Tetteh, the Representative of the Secretary General to the African Union and Head of the UN Office to the AU, raised concern about the unfortunate retrogressions experienced across the continent where countries that have made significant progress are living under deteriorating conditions. She therefore called for concerted effort to safeguard and secure current development gains as Africa looks to build better outcomes.

The outcomes of deliberations and discussions from the RCM special session will guide the transition of RCM-Africa to a new collaborative UNAU platform to reflect the current needs and trajectory of both organizations. A meeting is slated for April this year to further this engagement.

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Olawale Olukoga: is a graduate and a professionally trained journalist, with experience in national news reporting/editing and verification at the News Agency of Nigeria. NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. Our journalists are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and they strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor[at]


Burkina Faso crisis and COVID-19 concerns highlight pressure on Sahel food security



 Across the Central Sahel in Africa – encompassing Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – more than five million people face severe food insecurity ahead of the coming lean season, according to data released by WFP and other humanitarian partners.

Drought and violent extremists

Humanitarians have repeatedly warned that chronic insecurity linked to successive drought and violent extremists who exploit the lack of a strong State presence have created an avoidable crisis, which WFP said has now extended to the coastal countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Forecasts indicate that Burkina Faso will see food insecurity more than triple, to more than 2.1 million people in June, up from at least 680,000 at the same time last year.

The number of people going hungry is also expected to rise in Mali, with 1.3 million people vulnerable, along with two million people in Niger.

‘Unprecedented’ vulnerability during lean season

“For the lean season, in the upcoming months June to September, the analysis concluded that we are going from 10.8 million people declared food insecure last year, to 19.1 million people in 2020,” said Eric Branckaert, WFP Senior Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Adviser, speaking to journalists via videoconference.

“This is an increase of 77 per cent since last year and it is unprecedented.”

Citing Burkina Faso’s experience as illustrative of the plight facing its Sahel neighbours, Alexandre Lecuziat, WFP Senior Regional Emergency Preparedness and Response Adviser, said in English and French that it was “one of the most or the fastest growing displaced population crisis in the world. It’s a country that virtually had no IDPs, internally displaced populations, 18 months ago and now the latest official figures are in excess of 800,000 people displaced.”

Speaking via videoconference, Mr Lecuziat said that although WFP has access across the Sahel to populations in need, the agency is extremely concerned about the impact of the new coronavirus on a region with one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world.

If it emerges in a similar way to much of the rest of the world, it will lead to “a serious deterioration” in people’s resilience, as markets and borders close, preventing herders from moving their animals to fresh pasture, he explained.

Aid delivery changes to keep everyone safe

Social distancing measures have already been implemented by WFP and its partners during aid deliveries, in a bid to keep staff and communities safe.

“We need to limit the number of people that gather so we need to fragment the number of sites of distribution,” Mr Lecuziat said. “The maximum numbers vary from one country to the other, but in general not more than 50 people can be gathered; and even when those people can be gathered, we are implementing standard operating procedures to minimize the transmission of the disease. So there is a temperature check for all people coming into the distribution sites and we have to respect one metre between every individual coming in to get the food assistance.”

At a wider logistical level the UN agency is also exploring all options to ensure that vital aid supply lines can withstand the expected disruption of COVID-19.

Global aid suppliers hit by COVID-19

“Some of the bigger companies, and indeed the main suppliers globally, are in countries that are currently under strict confinement and a very reduced level of production,” Mr Lecuziat explained. “A lot of the nutritious products are produced in India or France, for example, where factories have had to reduce or close, or reduce significantly their production. We have big concerns on this, and our supply chain colleagues together with UNICEF, are looking at locally available enriched foods to complement this.”

In a statement, WFP said that it had assisted 1.5 million people in Burkina Faso and Mali in February.

It has appealed for more support to tackle the crisis and urgently requires $208 million for the next five months to carry out its lifesaving operations.

“This is a crisis layered on top of a crisis, and the situation risks getting out of hand,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa. “People are on the brink – we must step up now to save lives – we are the only hope for millions.”

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UN chief



 António Guterres’s appeal came in his message for World Autism Awareness Day, observed annually on 2 April.

This year’s commemoration is being held as countries grapple with the pandemic, which is placing persons with autism at disproportionate risk of the new coronavirus and its impacts.

“Persons with autism have the right to self-determination, independence and autonomy, as well as the right to education and employment on an equal basis with others. But the breakdown of vital support systems and networks as a result of COVID-19 exacerbates the obstacles that persons with autism face in exercising these rights”, the UN chief said.

“We must ensure that a prolonged disruption caused by the emergency does not result in rollbacks of the rights that persons with autism and their representative organizations have worked so hard to advance”.

UN champions diversity

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, which begin in childhood, usually during the first five years of life, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

While some people with autism can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. They are often subject to social stigma and discrimination, including being deprived of full health care and education rights.

The UN has long celebrated diversity and advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities, including learning differences and developmental disabilities.

The Secretary-General stressed that the rights of persons with disabilities must not be infringed upon during times like the current pandemic.

“Governments have a responsibility to ensure that their response includes persons with autism”, he advised. “Persons with autism should never face discrimination when

seeking medical care. They must continue to have access to the support systems required to remain in their homes and communities through times of crisis, instead of facing the prospect of forced institutionalization”, he said.

Consult persons with disabilities

However, the Secretary-General underlined that everyone has a role in ensuring these needs are met during the pandemic, including by providing critical information in accessible formats.

“We must also recognize that when schools employ online teaching, students with non-standard ways of learning may be at a disadvantage. The same applies to the workplace and working remotely”, he said.

“Even in these unpredictable times, we must commit to consulting persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, and ensuring that our non-traditional ways of working, learning, and engaging with each other, as well as our global response to the coronavirus, are inclusive of and accessible to all people, including persons with autism”.

Rights experts weigh in

The Secretary-General’s stance on the rights of persons with disabilities during the pandemic has been echoed by two UN representatives who also call for this community to be consulted on response.

Danlami Basharu, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the UN chief’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, have issued a joint statement reminding countries of their obligations under international law.

They called for accelerated measures to discharge persons with disabilities from institutions, such as nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, due to the increased risk of COVID-19 spread in these locations.

Additionally, countries should ensure they have equal access to health services, including mental health services, during this period.

“States should also continue providing to persons with disabilities the health services required by persons with disabilities specifically because of their disabilities”, they added.

“During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, States should prevent discriminatory denial of health care or life-saving services, food or fluids on the basis of disability”.

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Key COP26 climate summit postponed to ‘safeguard lives’



 The decision was announced on Wednesday night by the advisory group to the COP26 talks, overseen by the UN climate change body, the UNFCCC, after talks involving the United Kingdom and other countries.

UNFCCC said the postponement would better enable all parties to focus on important climate issues while allowing more preparation time.

“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19”, said COP26 President-Designate and the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, underscored that while COVID-19 is “the most urgent threat facing humanity today…we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term”.

She said that when economies restart, it will provide a chance for nations to “recover better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and a chance to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient”. 

The President of the last COP, which ended up taking place in Spain, Chilean politician Carolina Schmidt, said the Bureau’s decision to postpone COP26 was “a needed measure to protect all delegates and observers”. 

“Our determination is to make sure that the momentum for climate ambition will continue”, she concluded.

‘Foremost priority’

“The need to suppress the virus and safeguard lives is our foremost priority”, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement issued shortly after the announcement, on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres.

The Secretary-General maintained that efforts to increase ambition and action on climate change must continue, “especially as countries take measures to recover from this crisis”.

The science on climate has not changed, he said, with emissions at a record high while global warming impacts compound the socio-economic challenges that this crisis will intensify.

The UN chief stressed that “the COVID-19 crisis reinforces the importance of science and evidence informing government policies and decision-making”.

The science makes clear that human behaviour is altering the planet’s ability to regulate itself, dramatically impacting lives and livelihoods.

“This dramatic human crisis is also an example of how vulnerable countries, societies and economies are to existential threats”, he observed, adding that “countries must work to protect the health of people and the planet has never been more at risk.”

Assuring the continuance of work involving UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Member States and other partners to “emerge from this global crisis stronger”, the statement closed with the assertion that “solidarity and greater ambition are needed now more than ever” to transition to a “sustainable, low carbon economy that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

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Sunny days power a better life for displaced Nigerians



Around two million people in the north-east of the West African country  have fled their homes due to recurrent attacks by armed insurgent groups; some of them live in 63 sites which are supported by humanitarian organizations in the town of Maiduguri.

One of the displaced Nigerians is 35-year-old Sainna who was a farmer before he fled into Cameroon after his village, Gamboru, was attacked.  

Now living in Gubio camp in Maiduguri, he has been given the responsibility of maintaining water infrastructure and the solar panels which power it.

Read more here about how sunny power-generating days are helping the most vulnerable Nigerians.

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COVID-19 Pandemic Poses Grave Risk to Communities in Displacement Camps



For millions of people seeking refuge from violence or disasters in camps around the world, the potential impact of COVID-19 could be catastrophic. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been  rapidly adapting its global operations in anticipation of an outbreak of the virus in the camps where it works. 

“Based on decades of experience in camp management and migration health, we see the arrival of COVID-19 as an inevitability, not a possibility, and have been preparing with this in mind,” said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino. 

“The fact that cases have been identified in a Mainland Greece camp administered by IOM yesterday emphatically drives home the gravity of the situation.” 

There are a total of 41.3 million people internally displaced as a result of conflict and 25.9 million refugees living in situations of displacement globally, the most vulnerable of whom often end up in camps.  

As co-lead of the global Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, IOM works alongside governments to care for and uphold the rights of people in camps or camp-like settings. In 2019, IOM carried out CCCM activities in 1,117 displacement sites in 23 countries, reaching 2.4 million people. The Organization also provided health services to 2.8 million people globally. 

As cases begin to emerge in countries dealing with severe displacement crises such as Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Greece and Syria, IOM is increasingly concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on the health of people living and working in the camps and in nearby communities.  

IOM is also concerned that COVID-19-related restrictions will inhibit our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to those who rely on aid their survival. Mobility restrictions within camps could also hamper the ability for camp populations to work and provide for themselves and their families. 

The Organization’s Health and CCCM teams are working with authorities around the world to implement measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19 in camps and ensure its operations remain safe and effective. 

Physical distancing and isolation are extremely difficult in densely populated, overcrowded camps where land is already limited. Additionally, most people do not have adequate access to the clean water and sanitizing agents necessary to stop widespread transmission, nor access to national health facilities. 

Furthermore, these settings are challenging places for the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions to live. The threat this virus has on their health is particularly worrying. 

Health centres inside camps are ill-equipped to respond to the high numbers of patients who could be infected. This is particularly worrying in places like Northwest Syria or Yemen where conflict has already destroyed the majority of the health infrastructure. 

In addition to producing Operational Guidance specifically related to COVID-19 for camp managers, IOM has been working pre-emptively with authorities and health cluster partners on several priorities: 

  • Increase, improve and advocate for more hygiene facilities, such as hand-washing stations at camp entrances, communal facilities and gathering points; 
  • Train staff and community leaders to screen for symptoms; 
  • Secure additional land to expand living spaces, distribution sites and construct new temporary health facilities; 
  • Implement measures that allow for physical distancing such as scheduled timeshares of communal facilities or reduced movement within camps; 
  • Re-purpose existing structures for isolation facilities and, in some locations, equip and support mobile clinics and medical teams; and 
  • Stock up on personal protection equipment (PPE) for health staff who may come into contact with people who become ill. 

“In health crises throughout the world, the leaders of the affected communities are the most effective first responders,” said DG Vitorino. “At the same time, migrants, regardless of their circumstances, must be systematically included into national health systems if we are to beat COVID-19.”

The Organization is also disseminating factual, up-to-date information about COVID-19 to help dispel myths and decrease stigmatization. All measures are being implemented in consultation with camp communities, adapted to local contexts and their evolving challenges. 

“We require solidarity and sustained support from the international community to curb the threat the virus poses in humanitarian settings, particularly through the interagency Humanitarian Response Plan and IOM’s COVID-19 Global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SRP),” added DG Vitorino. 

IOM is addressing the mobility aspects of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic with a funding requirement of USD 116.1 million. 

Learn more about IOM’s COVID-19 Response and Global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SRP).

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WARIF tackles gender-based violence in Nigeria with mobile SMS platform



One year after launching a pioneering SMS service used by traditional birth attendants to fight gender-based violence in Nigeria, WARIF founder Dr Kemi DaSilva says she’s doubling down in her efforts to help vulnerable populations in rural Nigeria. “By having a platform to identify, report and address the pressing issues or rape, human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and girls, we’re raising awareness that there are organisations such as ours that can provide valuable services to support victims.”

Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organisation that combats gender-based violence against women and girls in Nigeria. In 2019, WARIF partnered with SAP and incorporated the SAP People Connect 365 mobile service into its Gatekeepers project. The organisation has since trained over 500 traditional birth attendants from 15 local government areas across Lagos State to use the software. Many users report cases in real time, allowing quicker responses from healthcare teams.

“We’re getting active cases faster, allowing us to intervene more quickly and in real-time, which we couldn’t do before,” says DaSilva. “We are also receiving positive feedback from traditional birth attendants as well as the women and girls they have helped.”

Gender-based violence is a major concern in Nigeria. According to a study by the UN and the Nigerian government, 28% of Nigerian women aged 25 to 29 have experienced some form of physical violence since age 15.

To ensure its mobile platform met the needs of healthcare providers working in remote communities, WARIF participated in a series of design thinking workshops with SAP. Rohit Tripathi, Head of Products and Go-To-Market at SAP Digital Interconnect, which worked closely with WARIF, says: “We made certain that birth attendants, regardless of where they are, could easily access this service without having to compromise on any of the functionalities. This also helped us enhance the service.”

Replacing silence with a community of support

Aside from the stigma associated with gender-based violence, healthcare providers in Nigeria also battle cultural norms. “The perpetrator is usually well-known and might even be a family member,” says DaSilva. “Many families and commun.

SAP People Connect 365 mobile service is a text messaging platform that fosters ongoing conversations among healthcare providers and others across WARIF’s education and community service programmes. Traditional birth attendants, for example, engage more with each other at monthly meetings and through social media chat groups, incorporating information about identified cases in the field.

DaSilva credits the platform with helping to upend traditions of silenced around sexual abuse. “Traditional birth attendants are sharing problems they ordinarily wouldn’t have had an opportunity to share, much less address in a timely manner, due to the remoteness of the communities in which they work. By training them, we also encourage supportive relationships which helps all of us collectively shine a spotlight on solving these problems.”

Traditional birth attendants ‘key to success’

DaSilva backs WARIF’s original strategy to train local traditional birth attendants to use the mobile software, since these healthcare providers are already trusted by everyone, including the local leaders who adjudicate instance of abuse in many Nigerian rural communities.

“When cases have been identified, we’re always well-received when presenting to the community gatekeepers in the various geographical areas we visit,” says DaSilva. “They are happy for us to intervene because they lack knowledge or training on how to help. In many cases it’s a question of lacking the means to communicate for assistance, which our platform can now enable.”

Despite challenges including power outages and community resource constraints, DaSilva says WARIF is exploring further plans to extend its reach with more community agencies. “We’re working with people who actually care and are willing to work with us to enable us to scale and impact a wider group of women we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access.”

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Staggering numbers of women unable to exercise decision-making over their own bodies, new UNFPA report shows



Out of nine pregnancies, Kadiatou experienced five tragic stillbirths, all at her home in rural Mali. Each time, she gave birth without the assistance of a skilled attendant. She never received antenatal care.

None of this was her choice.

Her ninth pregnancy ended in an excruciating and prolonged labour, which led to an obstetric fistula – a traumatic birth injury that causes chronic incontinence, and can lead to pain, infection and rejection by the community.

Even so, her husband’s family refused to allow her to seek care.

“My husband wanted to send me to Bamako for treatment,” 46-year-old Kadiatou explained to UNFPA, “but his little brother objected, saying it was not that bad.”

She suffered for a year before finally undergoing the repair surgeries she needed.

Kadiatou’s case is not an isolated one: Around the world, millions of women are not empowered to make fundamental choices about their own bodies and health.

A new report by UNFPA offers, for the first time, a global view of women’s decision-making power over their own bodies. The findings are dismaying.

Kadiatou was not empowered to seek care after she developed an obstetric fistula, a traumatic birth injury. © UNFPA Mali

Based on data from 57 countries, a quarter of women are not able to make their own decisions about accessing health care. A quarter of women in these countries are not empowered to say no to sex with their husband or partner. And nearly 1 in 10 women is not able to make her own choices about using contraception.

Only 55 per cent of women are able to make their own decisions over all three areas.

And in more than 40 per cent of these countries, women’s decision-making power is not improving – or is even regressing. For example, in Benin, 41 per cent women were able to make these decisions in 2006, compared to 36 per cent in 2018.

“Women hardly ever spoke”

Dr. Lise Marie Dejean saw this all too clearly when she was practicing in south-western Haiti.

“I remember when I was doing training sessions for couples on reproductive health,” she recalls. “Women hardly ever spoke. Always the men spoke.”

These experiences had an impact on Dr. Dejean. She went on to serve as the country’s first Minister for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights, and she founded the feminist organization Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen.

The world has agreed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious set of goals to improve human welfare. These new data will help track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality. © Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

UNFPA’s new data show that more than 20 per cent of Haitian women are not empowered to make their own health-care decisions. A roughly equal percentage of women are not able to refuse sex with their partner. Seven per cent are not empowered to make contraceptive choices. Overall, only 59 per cent of Haitian women are able to make decisions over all three areas.

Poverty and rural isolation can make things worse. “In two very remote localities of Grand’Anse, Lopineau and Massanga, I also noticed that it was men – members of peasant groups – who came to me to ask for a contraceptive method for their wives. In other words, when women had to adopt a method, it was mostly the men’s decision,” Dr. DeJean said. “All of this reflects, in my opinion, a lack of autonomy for women.”

A gulf between laws and reality

UNFPA’s new report also launches a system to measure whether governments are enacting laws to protect women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

Mali, where Kadiatou lives, has in place 79 per cent of the laws and regulations needed to guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example, laws in Mali guarantee access to maternal health care. This makes Kadiatou’s experience particularly eye-opening; laws were not enough to support her right to safe pregnancy and childbirth.

In fact, Mali is one of several countries showing a significant gulf between the legal measures in place to protect women’s autonomy and women’s actual experiences. Such findings can help pinpoint which actions are needed, and where. Some countries require interventions to address attitudes and education, for instance. Others still have significant legal gaps.

The report also underlines another critical gap: more than 100 countries around the world do not have available data on either women’s decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health or on the laws guaranteeing their access to reproductive health services and information.

“Urgent actions are needed to collect the data, for low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries, in order to realize our commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” said Mengjia Liang, a UNFPA data specialist who worked on the report.  

“Before this data, we knew that women’s decision-making on sexual and reproductive health was a major challenge and that restrictive laws were in place, but until now we didn’t have the evidence to back this up,” added Emilie Filmer-Wilson, a UNFPA human rights expert who worked on the report. “These data shows us the urgency of stepping up our efforts to support women’s rights and agency.”

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Coronavirus, faith leaders and sustainable development



 “The coronavirus has turned our world upside down. Countries, societies, families and individuals are affected in so many ways. In the midst of this global crisis we believe that this is also a time for innovation, for finding new and better ways to tackle our global challenges.

“We need new pathways for a just and speedy transition to sustainable development, a form of development that doesn’t damage the natural world upon which we all depend for our survival.

“Innovative faith partnerships are one key to the realization of the 2030 Agenda. By bringing faith-based actors, civil society, government agencies, United Nations bodies, academia and private sector actors to the same table we are able to put Global Goal 17 [Partnerships] into action.”

So says Josephine Sundqvist, Programme Manager Specialist at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and global coordinator of the People and Planet—Faith in the 2030 Agenda digital conference.

Across the world, hundreds of millions of people are in quarantine, in lockdown or self-isolating. Many are not able to be with their families. At the same time, thousands of churches, mosques and other places of worship are closed, with religious ceremonies and prayers switching to digital platforms.

A recent global event touched on this current reality and featured discussions focused on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and biodiversity loss, and the role of moral duty bearers such as faith leaders and indigenous groups.

Organized by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Faith for Earth Initiative, in close collaboration with the Stockholm International Water Institute and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket), the meeting brought together 200 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa and Sweden for an all-digital conference from 16 to 18 March 2020.

The Faith for Earth Initiative is a global coalition that highlights the need for interfaith collaboration to tackle the environmental crisis.

“The coronavirus pandemic is focusing hearts and minds, says the director of Faith for Earth, Iyad Abumoghli. “Faith for Earth is mobilizing youth, the leaders of faith-based organizations, as well as scientists and theologians to work together for innovative change to speed up sustainable development.”

As the world’s population heads towards 10 billion, and climate change is making weather patterns more unpredictable, access to fresh water, critical for sustaining all life and for health issues, including handwashing, is becoming a key issue.

“Water and faith groups have been set up to tackle water scarcity issues. Our partnership with Faith for Earth and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency has provided an excellent platform for reflecting the spiritual value of water in larger water management systems,” says Katarina Veem, Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Live-streaming from the local forest—connecting the local landscape and Mother Nature to the global digital dialogue platform—People and Planet 16–18 March 2020. Photo by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency People and Planet

The conference included twinning sessions between countries to discuss common environmental issues with a thematic focus on water scarcity, deforestation and youth leadership, and a global café where individual participants shared their experiences.

“We need to work together collaboratively across religions to tackle global challenges,” says Azza Karam, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace.

One theme of the conference was education. “With half of all educational institutions managed by faith-based organizations, there are huge opportunities for collaboration between religious organizations and youth to shift the needle on sustainable development,” says Abumoghli.

The conference called for the transformation of our education systems to emphasize critical thinking and knowledge-sharing, as well as innovative ways of working. Such transformations may be getting under way given that the response to the pandemic has meant that a huge number of classes for students of all ages have been suspended or forced to go online.

“We have had enough of single events, single conferences, and single workshops. What we need is structural, transformative change so our single events fit into the larger picture, ensuring local and national ownership. That’s why we are engaging with faith-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, the private sector and governments,” says Sundqvist.

For more information, please contact Iyad Abumoghli:

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UN and partners acting to avert coronavirus spread in displacement camps



Teams are supporting authorities in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states in developing emergency response plans that take into account the living conditions in many communities and IDP camps, where overcrowding can increase the risk of disease outbreaks.

“Humanitarian partners are installing hand-washing stations in IDP camps and ensuring supply of clean water. Partners are also distributing soap and teaching women how to produce their own,” said Edward Kallon, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

“More than ever, it is crucial for vulnerable people to have access to not only water, soap, shelters, but also food, education and protection.”

The decade-long crisis in the BAY states, which has spilled over into the Lake Chad region, has left more than seven million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Most of the displaced are in Borno state, the majority of whom are women and children, with around a quarter being children under age five, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.

“We will not wait for COVID-19 to reach camps for internally displaced persons before we act”, Mr. Kallon stated. “They have already suffered enough from the decade-long conflict and our priority is to ensure the continuous delivery of life-saving assistance, especially health services, to the most vulnerable women, children and the elderly who need special attention”.

The UN and its humanitarian partners are actively involved in camp coordination and camp management in IDP sites across northeast Nigeria, in support of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Key activities are being implemented jointly and under global guidance on COVID-19 Outbreak Preparedness and Response issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19 has affected 12 states across Nigeria, with 139 cases recorded as of Wednesday, and the UN also plans to bring in vital health equipment and tools to prevent and treat the respiratory disease.

The UN team has developed messages, posters, videos and other communications aimed at raising awareness about COVID-19 among IDPs and other vulnerable people in the northeast. Sensitization campaigns are also reaching millions in various states through partnerships with major TV and radio channels.

The UN and the Network of People Living with HIV (NEPWHAN) also will launch a survey tool to understand challenges to continuous access to quality HIV treatment, care and support amid the pandemic response.

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