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Millions of young people to strike for climate action



Millions of young people from Australia to Iceland will take off from school or work on Friday to demand urgent measures to stop environmental catastrophe.
. Good luck Australia, The Philippines, Japan and all the Pacific Islands. You go first!” Thunberg posted on Instragram on Thursday.

Thunberg has galvanised young people around the world since she started protesting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018.

Over the past year, young people in other communities have staged scattered strikes in solidarity with her Fridays for Future movement.

In conjunction with the UN summit this week, organisers on Friday will hold coordinated strikes around the world for a third time, with Thunberg spearheading a march and rally in New York, home of the UN headquarters.

In a show of support, New York City education officials will excuse the absences of any of its 1.1 million public school students, who want to participate.

Demonstrators will gather in Lower Manhattan at noon and march about a mile to Battery Park at the edge of the financial district for a rally featuring speeches and music.

Thunberg, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, sailed to New York from England aboard a zero-carbon emissions vessel to partake in the UN summit.

It brings together world leaders to discuss climate change mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.

Global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has already led to droughts and heatwaves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and floods, scientists say.

Carbon emissions climbed a record high in 2018, in spite of a warning from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that output of the gases must be slashed over the next 12 years to stabilise the climate.

Organisers said the demonstrations would take different forms, but all aim to promote awareness of climate change and demand political action to curb contributing factors to climate change, namely carbon emissions.

Demonstrators in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa planned to dance on the beach in a celebratory pledge to protect their natural heritage.

Protesters in Istanbul were heading to a public park for a climate festival with concerts and workshops scheduled throughout the day.

On Wednesday, Thunberg appeared before several committees of U.S. Congress to testify to the next generation’s view on climate change.

In lieu of testimony, she submitted a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged rapid, unprecedented changes in the way people live to keep temperatures from rising 1.5C by 2030.

“I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take action,” she said. (Reuters/)

Edited by Fatima Sule/Silas Nwoha


Feature: Radio provides learning access to millions of students amid COVID-19 crisis in Malawi




As Malawi continues to register more COVID-19 cases, the government through the Ministry of Education in conjunction with UNICEF has introduced an initiative that will see primary school students getting access to their daily education through the radio.

In the latest development, the Malawi government has initiated a programme to reach millions of primary school children in the country. In this programme, learners will continue to proceed following their recommended lessons through the radio.

According to the Minister of Education, William Susuwele Banda, the radio programmes have been introduced to encourage learners to keep up on their studies while they are home.

“We have looked at the possibility of online learning, however, this seems to be difficult because not every student can access the internet here in Malawi. The ministry of education also plans to distribute print materials to the students whilst considering plans to extend the program to a televised learning programme,” he said.

Rudolf Schwenk, representative of UNICEF in Malawi told local media that by working together, Malawians can ensure that the pandemic does not threaten the gains that have been made in the education sector and also not threaten the dreams and hopes of millions of children and young people in the country.

Schwenk has therefore commended the government of Malawi for prioritizing the urgent need to ensure school-age children continue to learn despite the closure of schools.

This development has been welcomed by a number of students in Malawi. Many are saying that this will revive their performances since they have been at home for a long time and many could not access the ongoing online learning.

Tasha Kuchala, aged 14, said she is overwhelmed with the idea. For the past six months, she has been preparing for her final national exams but the closure of her school has let her down.

According to the ministry of education, the lessons will be aired through two state-owned radio stations and it is expected that the lessons are going to reach over six million students across the country.


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Interruption of immunization services putting tens of millions of children at risk: WHO chief




The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday warned that the COVID-19 outbreak undermines life-saving immunization services around the world, putting tens of millions of children at risk.

Speaking at a virtual press conference from Geneva, the WHO chief said that as the world comes together to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, countries must not forget the dozens of lifesaving vaccines that already exist and must continue to reach children everywhere.

“Initial analysis suggests the provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries,” he said.

“Any suspension of childhood vaccination services is a major threat to life,” the WHO chief added.

He stressed that maintaining people’s trust in the ability of health systems to provide essential services safely is crucial to ensuring people continue to seek care when needed and follow public health advice.

According to him, the WHO will soon publish new guidance on implementing mass vaccination campaigns in the context of COVID-19.

“Since the turn of the century, child mortality has been halved in large part because of the power of safe and effective vaccination,” he said, adding that the WHO is working with governments around the world to ensure supply chains remain open and lifesaving health services are reaching all communities.


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Access Bank rewards customers with millions amid COVID-19 pandemic



Access Bank Plc has rewarded 10 customers with one million naira each and 28 female customers with N100,000 each in its DiamondXtra monthly draw.

Mr Victor Etuokwu, the bank’s Executive Director, Retail Banking, said in a statement on Saturday that the draw was held at the bank’s headquarters  in Lagos.

He said the DiamondXtra initiative was the bank’s little way of creating value and meeting the needs of its customers during these trying times.

“We understand what our customers are going through this period, and the bank is committed to providing them with a world class banking experience via our digital platforms whilst rewarding them for their patronage and savings culture.

“DiamondXtra is the best banking product in the country at the moment and I urge Nigerians to sign up to the most rewarding way to save,” Etuokwu said.

Adaeze Umeh, Group Head, Consumer Products and Propositions, Access Bank, is quoted in the statement as saying that  10 customers were rewarded with N1 million each and 28 female customers with N100,000 each in the draw.

“We are gearing up for the quarterly draw next month where we will be rewarding more than 1,000 customers with various cash prizes,” Umeh said.

She said that the reward scheme which was launched in 2008 and had been running every year since inception had rewarded over 5,000 customers in 2019.

According to her, over N5 billion has been given away in cash and gift items in the past 11 years.

“To be a part of the reward scheme, all you need to do is to open a DiamondXtra account by dialing *901*5# and fund the account with N5,000, with an increased chance of winning for every N5,000 saved.

“It’s even more exciting that both existing and new customers are eligible to win, simply by opening and maintaining their DiamondXtra account,”she said.

DiamondXtra is an interest yielding hybrid account, which allows deposits of both cash and third party cheques.

Hybrid means a combination of both savings and current account features.

Edited By: Edith Bolokor/Oluwole Sogunle (NAN)


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Roundup: Bangladesh widens social safety net to help millions of people vulnerable to COVID-19




Bangladesh has widened social safety net to help millions of people vulnerable amid COVID-19 lockdown that was extended again to May 30 in the country on Thursday.

As part of its various efforts, the Bangladeshi government has begun distributing cash aid to five million low-income families.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday launched the disbursement of cash aid for poor families hit hard by the pandemic. Hasina inaugurated the disbursement through a video conference from her official residence in capital Dhaka.

Bangladeshi State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Enamur Rahman said each low-income family would be eligible to get 2,500 taka under the scheme through mobile financial services (MFSs).

He said the disbursement of cash aid to the poor families will be completed between May 14 and 18.

This cash aid scheme disbursement came along with an additional 20 billion taka stimulus package that Hasina announced Thursday to help migrant workers and unemployed young people who have also feeling the pinch of the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown.

The fresh 20 billion taka fund is part of the government’s already announced COVID-19 stimulus package of around 1 trillion taka, about 3.3 percent of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product.

The cash aid to poor families came after Bangladesh has gone for a cautious easing of its lockdown measures.

The number of confirmed infections in the country totaled 18,863 while fatalities stood at 283.

Against this backdrop, the Bangladeshi government Thursday once again extended the nationwide lockdown to May 30.

Bangladesh’s Public Administration Ministry announced the decision in a circular on Thursday but softened further its restrictions on business activities.

Bangladesh has already allowed re-opening of shops and markets in the country from May 10 on a limited scale. Also thousands of the country’s readymade garment (RMG) factories have resumed operations since last month.

“We’ll be able to contain the virus though the lockdown has been relaxed on a limited scale for the sake of ensuring livelihood of millions,” said the prime minister on Thursday.

Bangladesh announced first a shutdown of offices and public transport from March 26 to April 4, before extending it to May 30 at the latest in phases. (1 U.S. dollar equals to about 88 taka)


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Millions more Americans file for jobless benefits as coronavirus layoffs widen



The global novel coronavirus crisis continues to batter the U.S. labour market, with millions more Americans, including white collar workers, filing for unemployment benefits last week as the hit from the pandemic spills over into a broader swath of the economy.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totalled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9, the Labour Department said on Thursday.

While that was down from 3.176 million in the prior week and marked the sixth straight weekly drop, claims remain astoundingly high.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast applications for unemployment benefits totalling 2.5 million in the latest week.

Claims have been gradually decreasing since hitting a record 6.867 million in the week ended March 28.

The weekly jobless claims report, the timeliest data on the economy’s health, cements economists’ expectations for a third straight month of massive job losses in May.

The report came a day after Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, warned of an “extended period” of weak growth and stagnant incomes.

“We are on the back end of the first wave of layoffs, but now we are transitioning from the natural-disaster phase to the recession phase,’’ said Josh Wright, Chief Economist at Wrightside Advisors in New York.

“That’s why so many white collar jobs are still being lost.

“We effectively amputated a large section of the economy and we are going to limp along afterwards.’’

The economy lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, the steepest plunge in payrolls since the Great Depression of the 1930s, as businesses were locked down to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

Still, April was probably the trough in job losses during this economic downturn, which has also been marked by the sharpest decline in output since the 2007-09 ‘Great Recession’.

In addition to workers in industries and jobs not initially affected by the coronavirus shutdowns, economists attribute the continued elevation in claims to the processing of application backlogs, which accumulated as state unemployment offices were overwhelmed by the unprecedented wave of filings.

Many parts of the country are reopening and states and local governments are laying out plans to restart their economies.

But with businesses and factories operating well below capacity, and fears of a second round of COVID-19 infections, economists do not anticipate a dramatic improvement in the labour market.

Some businesses have accessed loans from an almost $3 trillion fiscal package, which could be partially forgiven if they used the credit for employee salaries.

But many small enterprises are expected to close permanently, leaving some of the 21.4 million people, who lost their jobs in March and April, out of work.


Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

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Millions of children in Horn of Africa could face malnutrition: charity




Millions of children in the greater Horn of African region could experience severe malnutrition as desert locusts, flooding and COVID-19 pandemic worsen food insecurity, an international charity, Save the Children, said on Thursday.

The charity said in a statement issued in Nairobi that a looming second invasion by desert locusts combined with floods that have destroyed crops, and COVID-19 disruptions, might complicate efforts to feed vulnerable children in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

“2020 will be a defining year for a generation of children across the Horn of Africa. COVID-19 comes at a time when children and their families are already dealing with multiple crises that include recurrent climatic shocks, conflict and the locust invasion,” said Yvonne Arunga, Save the Children’s Regional Operations Director for East and Southern Africa.

Nearly 5.2 million children below five years old are already severely malnourished in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia while about 1.3 million are at risk of starvation, according to humanitarian agencies.

Save the Children said the region will experience a substantial increase in emergency needs for children in the coming months.

According to the global charity, commodity prices have spiked by 2 percent in Somalia while decreased revenue from remittances and tourism across the entire Horn of African region due to COVID-19 pandemic is likely to worsen childhood malnutrition.

The charity said that government-financed desert locust control interventions across the Horn of African region that include personnel training and spraying of pesticides, have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

It said that a partnership between governments and humanitarian agencies is key to promoting child-centered nutrition programs like breastfeeding in the region.


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COVID-19 could lead to millions of unintended pregnancies: UN-backed data




Ongoing lockdowns and major disruptions to health services during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months, according to data released on Tuesday by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners.

They estimate that the number of women unable to access family planning or facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices, could “skyrocket” by millions due to the crisis, according to a press release obtained by Xinhua.

“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health.”

The research was conducted by UNFPA, in collaboration with Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and Victoria University in Australia.

COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on women and girls as health systems become overloaded and facilities close, or provide a limited set of services which they need. At the same time, many women and girls also are skipping important medical check-ups for fear of contracting the virus, said the press release.

Globally, around 450 million women across 114 low and middle-income countries use contraceptives, according to UNFPA and partners.

They project that if health services remain disrupted and lockdowns continue for six months, some 47 million in these countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives, resulting in around 7 million unintended pregnancies.

There also will be 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence during the same period, with 15 million more cases expected for every three months the lockdowns continue, the press release said.

Similarly, an additional 13 million child marriages could take place this decade as the crisis has disrupted efforts to stop this practice.


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The Netherlands brings home 800,000 face masks, millions more on the way: minister




Dutch Minister for Medical Care Martin van Rijn personally welcomed an aircraft from China with 800,000 face masks for medical personnel at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Monday morning.

The protective equipment against the novel coronavirus arrived via a Boeing 747 from Shanghai. It was the first flight of an airbridge between the Netherlands and China for the transport of medical equipment and masks. In total, 6 million face masks are expected to arrive from China in the forthcoming days.

“Great news that there is now an airbridge for protective equipment with China,” Van Rijn said on Twitter. “The first flight of this was welcomed last night at Schiphol with hundreds of thousands of masks, 30,000 coats and 30,000 safety glasses. More will follow in the coming days, including millions of masks.”

The face masks are professional FFP2 ones that are currently in short supply in the Dutch healthcare. Wearing face masks is so far not mandatory in the Netherlands for ordinary people.

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Government intervention required as millions face hunger under COVID-19 lockdown regimes




Millions of people across Southern Africa face hunger as lockdowns imposed in the region to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic mean they are unable to access food, Amnesty International said today.

With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa

The organization is calling on governments to urgently put in place social protection measures to uphold the right to food. The measures to address food insecurity could include food subsidies for those living in poverty, and directly providing food to those who are unable to provide for themselves. 

“With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month, because they have no financial means to stockpile,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Without support from the government, the lock down could become a matter of life and death for those living in poverty. Currently, many are being forced to choose between complying with lock down measures and going hungry, or stepping out to access food and being penalized for it.”

The vast majority of people in the region make their living in the informal economy, for example as street vendors or manual labourers. Under the current lockdown regime these are considered non-essential roles and people in this sector are prohibited from working. As a result, many people cannot earn money to buy food.

While supermarket trips are permitted under lockdown rules because food is deemed “essential”, those who are found on the streets in townships trying to go and buy food with whatever money they can find, or those hustling for food, are often criminalized and sometimes attacked by the security forces.

Unlawful use of force 

Across the region, a combination of civilian police and soldiers have been deployed to the streets to monitor the movement of people and ensure they comply with lockdown measures implemented by governments. However, security personnel are using disproportionate force in dealing with members of the public, including beatings and other forms of public humiliation such as making people crawl on the ground. In some instances, police are accused of entering people’s homes and assaulting them.

In Zambia, police were seen indiscriminately beating up people on the streets, including in pubs, after they were found in public. The national police spokesperson, Esther Katongo, later said on national television that police in Zambia had adopted a strategy to “hit” and “detain” anyone found on the streets. “We hammer you, we hit you, then we do detention. If you escape, you are lucky,” she said in a media interview.

In Zimbabwe, police officers raided Sakubva vegetable market in Mutare at dawn on 3 April, causing more than 300 vegetable vendors to flee and leave behind their produce. Police carried out the raid despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an essential service during the 21-day lockdown, which meant that the market could continue to service people who needed it to buy food. Police later burnt the vegetables and the vendors are yet to be compensated for their loss. According to the World Food Programme, some 4.3 million people were in urgent need of food aid in the country before the pandemic

In Mozambique the local television station STV has reported cases of police accused of taking advantage of the state of emergency to raid informal vendors’ tuckshops and steal their goods, even when the tuckshops are closed. One informal trader said: “We are dying of hunger [because we are not allowed to trade]. [It] is unbearable. I can’t take it anymore. Who should solve this problem?”

In Angola, several incidents of police violence have been reported since security forces were deployed to the streets to ensure public compliance to the national response against COVID-19 on 27 March. Seven men were arrested while on their way to buy food in the market in Cabinda on 4 April. The men were progressively released from 5 April and the last two men were released on 7 April.

Livelihoods under threat

Media reports in different countries across Southern Africa have highlighted the problems that lock down measures in the absence of adequate support from the government, have created for those living in poverty. Women, children and other vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities are especially impacted.

In Alexandra, a township north of Johannesburg, residents took to the streets on 14 April, saying that they were hungry. Residents queued on the streets after they were promised food by some non-governmental organizations. Some of the residents told eNCA, a local 24-hour television news station, that they fear dying of hunger more than COVID-19. One woman said: “We want food. We are not going anywhere. We will stand here until midday. Corona can be here, we don’t care.”

Another woman said: “We want to eat. We are hungry. The corona (lockdown) must be suspended. We want to go back to work. We sell tomatoes and potatoes (on the streets), now we cannot sell and we are unable to make a living. We want food, we want to eat.”

In Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, there are growing concerns regarding people’s access to food. There has been a sharp increase in the price of basic food commodities following the lockdown. There are also fears of growing tension on the streets as people are increasingly anxious about sources of livelihoods. For example, rickshaw workers have protested against the lockdown in the north-eastern town of Tamatave which has led to clashes with the police. They claim they are unable to obey the lockdown as they live on their daily wages.

Governments cannot criminalize people for leaving their homes to look for food or because they need to work in order to make a basic livelihood

Deprose Muchena

According to media reports, in Botswana informal sector workers and small businesses are facing devastating economic consequences as the lockdown means that bus drivers, car washers, hawkers and street vendors are no longer able to earn a living. Approximately 20% of people are unemployed and without much needed social protection, are struggling to access food, health care and other essential services.

“Lockdown measures in place across the region, intended to lessen the catastrophic consequence of COVID-19, must be accompanied with social protection measures for those living in poverty and facing unemployment in order to mitigate the impact of this double jeopardy of lock down and hunger. Governments cannot criminalize people for leaving their homes to look for food or because they need to work in order to make a basic livelihood,” said Deprose Muchena.

“Governments must ensure that no one faces hunger and should put social protection measures in place to uphold human rights. No one should be left behind.”

Governments must assess their capacity to protect people’s health, livelihoods, and human rights and request assistance from the international community for where they see gaps or are unable to guarantee necessary protections.

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