This morning, the Secretary-General took part in the 9th session of the United Nations’ Coping with COVID webinar series, convened by his Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake. The Secretary-General said the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our societies and the need to build back better. He also stressed that youth have a key role in helping to imagine a better future for everyone, one that is more sustainable and more inclusive. He also stressed the UN’s work to ensure that the world moves to implement universal health care, and that mental health is given the priority it deserves. The Secretary-General also heard young people’s experiences and feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and grief due to the impacts of the virus, as well as their solutions for how to deal with the pandemic.
Also this morning, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development continues. The members heard from regional representatives on their findings and recommendations to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. This was followed by presentations from Estonia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Austria, Seychelles, and the Syrian Arab Republic, all on their Voluntary National Reviews. And this afternoon there will presentations from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinidad and Tobago; Mozambique, as well as Papua New Guinea.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, will brief the Security Council this afternoon on the SAFER oil tanker that is anchored off the coast of Yemen.
In May, a leak on the tanker brought us closer than ever to an environmental catastrophe. Last week, Ansar Allah authorities confirmed in writing they would accept a long-planned UN mission to the tanker, which we hope will take place within the next few weeks. Mr. Lowcock will provide details to the Council of how we propose to deal with the situation on the tanker.
In response to questions about the crew, we have been told there is a skeleton crew on the tanker and they are the ones who have done some of the patchwork and have been able to alert us of the greater crisis.
Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we remain concerned about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country. To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has announced 439 cases, including 21 deaths. Eight lab-confirmed COVID cases have also been reported in northwest of the country. Additionally, six cases have been reported in the northeast, including one death. While COVID-19 cases across Syria remain relatively low, the overall risk remains very high, especially in areas where there are large displaced populations. The World Health Organization is leading the UN’s preparedness and mitigation measures across the country, including in the northwest and in the northeast.
We wanted to let you know about how the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has made its fastest allocation in its history: In an innovative approach to dealing with severe flooding in Bangladesh, the United Nations is taking action before disaster hits by releasing more than $5 million. The funds were made available within four hours of a warning that floods could reach critical levels in the coming days to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). These agencies are using the resources to distribute cash, livestock feed, storage supplies, and hygiene kits. Mark Lowcock, our Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that advances in data and predictive analytics mean that we can predict many crises and take action as soon as soon we know a problem is on its way.
An update from our peacekeeping colleagues on what they’re doing to respond to the pandemic:
In Kosovo, the UN Mission has wrapped the second phase of a donation campaign, delivering personal protective equipment packages to 33 municipalities, including boxes of gloves and masks, as well as tablet computers.
In South Sudan, the UN Mission there carried out a campaign to raise awareness in Western Equatoria province, delivering messages on the importance of frequent hand-washing and physical distancing in multiple languages to remote areas.
And the African Union-UN joint mission in Darfur is working with local health authorities to organize workshops and sensitization sessions on COVID-19. Sessions focused on the social consequences of the lockdown on women, including domestic violence. The Mission will expand this initiative to other parts of Darfur which are considered high risk for COVID-19.
Updates from our colleagues in the field in country offices who are working on the pandemic, this time in Zambia and Bahrain:
In Zambia, which has more than 2,200 confirmed cases and more than 80 deaths due to COVID-19, the UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Coumba Mar Gadio, is working closely with authorities to respond to the crisis on all fronts. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) provided 60 laptops and 1,500 wireless routers worth about $300,000 to nine government agencies and departments. A local mobile phone [provider] called MTN Zambia is partnering with the UN to donate data access plans for these new routers. This initiative aims to boost the Government’s information management and processing capacities to allow it to share verified data on COVID-19 more effectively, including in remote areas.
In Bahrain, where there are more than 34,000 confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths, the UN team there is led by the acting Resident Coordinator, Stefano Pettinato. Building on the work of 20 UN agencies, funds, and programmes, our team issued the Joint UN COVID-19 Socio-Economic Response and Recovery Framework for Bahrain. This plan outlines a set of evidence-based and needs-driven actions to support the Government’s work on a rapid response and long-term recovery plan from the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that 75 countries have submitted expressions of interest to protect their population and those of other nations through the joint COVAX Facility. This is a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. COVAX is led by WHO; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers. The goal of COVAX is, by the end of 2021, to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification processes. These vaccines will be delivered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations. Healthcare workers will have initial priority and the facility will then expand to cover 20 per cent of the population of participating countries.
Significant progress has been achieved by the COVAX partners to date, with seven of the nine candidate vaccines supported by CEPI already in clinical trials.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today warned of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world. This is due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunization services caused by the pandemic. According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been hampered by a decade of stalling coverage.
Turning to Venezuela, the UN Human Rights Office today released a report in which, among other things, the High Commissioner called on the Government to complete the announced reforms to the justice system to guarantee its independence and impartiality and to carry out their obligations to investigate any allegation of torture and ill-treatment, among other measures.
WORLD YOUTH SKILLS DAY
Today marks the World Youth Skills Day. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is launching a Global Skills Academy. The aim is to equip one million young persons with employability and resilience skills and help them find jobs during the looming recession when youth employment prospects look bleak. The Academy will operate through a matching process facilitated by UNESCO’s global network for institutions specialized in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNEVOC). According to a recent policy brief issued by the Secretary-General called “The World of Work and COVID-19,” young people account for more than 40 per cent of employees in hard-hit sectors worldwide. Even before the crisis hit, 267 million young people were not in employment, education or training.
UNESCO today launched a global online consultation on the ethics of artificial intelligence. The aim is to give everyone around the world the opportunity to participate in the work of its international group of experts on artificial intelligence.