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We are in trouble, and we need to change course, says UN Chief
by Devex News, agencies
21 Sep. 2020
UN chief: 'We are in trouble, and we need to change course', interview by Michael Igoe for Devex.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sees two potential scenarios playing out in the global response to COVID-19.
In the first scenario, wealthy nations — led by the G-20 — will find a way to deliver meaningful debt relief to low- and middle-income countries, “seriously mobilize the liquidities necessary to support the developing world,” and lead an effort to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is a “people’s vaccine.”
“If that is the case, I believe that in two to three years time it will be possible to progressively come — I wouldn't say to a perfectly reestablished situation — but come to a moment of progress and hope that the future is possible,” Guterres told Devex editor-in-chief Raj Kumar, in an interview ahead of the U.N.’s 75th general assembly.
In the other scenario, those things do not happen — lower-income countries are left to fend largely for themselves, and there is no effective global coordination of vaccine production and distribution. Guterres projects that such an approach would lead to a long cycle — “five to seven years” — of social and economic disruption.
“Not only a series of recessions, but a depression, with many countries coming to insolvency and the dramatic impacts and consequences in global financial systems,” he said. The conclusion, for Guterres, is that, “it's time to put our act together.”
A big element of nudging the world toward the first scenario would be mobilizing financial resources for low- and middle-income countries that are on par with what higher-income countries have made available for themselves.
“I've been saying since the beginning that a massive rescue package was necessary — two digits of the global economy. The truth is that the developed world is doing that,” Guterres said, citing relief packages in the global north that have approached 10-12% of countries’ gross domestic product.
“But the south is in trouble,” Guterres added. “There has been very little solidarity with the south.”
The U.N. chief said that the debt suspension initiative led by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and agreed by the G-20 in April is “not enough.”
“We need it prolonged and we need it [extended] to all developing and middle-income countries that are extremely vulnerable at the present moment, have no access to financial markets, and are facing a debt crisis,” Guterres said.
He added that the amount of resources flowing from international financial institutions and bilateral aid donors has also not been enough.
“We are in trouble, and we need to change course,” Guterres said.
The financing shortfall also applies to global efforts to coordinate the production and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine to ensure equitable and efficient access that prioritizes the most vulnerable.
Guterres lauded the global vaccine access initiative, known as COVAX, which has brought together the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and 76 different countries.
“I would say that the technical work is being done quite well. The problem is money,” Guterres said.
He noted that the initiative has so far received about $2.7 billion, while it requires about $35 billion.
“My appeal is that independently of the efforts countries are doing for their own populations, it's absolutely essential to finance the COVAX, in order for the COVAX to be able to support those developing countries that.. [do not have] the possibility to ensure the access of their populations directly to a vaccine,” he said.
Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported that childhood vaccination levels have dropped to their lowest since the 1990s, reversing decades of progress within just a few months.
Asked whether the fallout from the pandemic will require the world to reconsider the global Sustainable Development Goals agenda, Guterres responded that the goals are “more relevant than ever.”
“It's exactly because we have not made enough progress in the SDGs that we are as fragile as we are,” he said.
Guterres said the “only way forward” is to align the resources that are mobilized for COVID-19 relief and recovery with the global frameworks that have been set up to advance sustainable development, including the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the values of the U.N. charter itself.
“If we spend the money to re-establish, for instance, energy production based on fossil fuels, we are undermining our future,” Guterres said.
“If we spend the money betting on the green economy, betting on renewable energy, which, by the way, is cheaper and more profitable, then we are moving simultaneously with recovery and with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.
The same is true for health and education systems, which the pandemic has revealed to be fragile.
“Are we going to move into universal health coverage? Have we understood the fragility of our health systems, or are we going to do just as hoc investments here and there without understanding that we need really a new systematic way to respond to pandemics like this?” Guterres asked.
As to whether the pandemic has changed his own approach to the role of secretary-general, Guterres said he thinks about it on a “global,” not a “personal” level.
“We all have changed. We are all living in a different way,” Guterres said. “Sometimes people say that the politicians are the animals that are experts in turning opportunities into problems. I think it’s time for leaders in the world to become experts in transforming problems into opportunities,” he added.
* Watch video interviews with the UN Secretary-General and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock:
* SDG Media Zone: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming talk about the road ahead to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals during one of the most challenging times in history:

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WFP warns of grave dangers of economic impact of Coronavirus as millions pushed further into poverty
by World Food Programme, FAO, OCHA
17 Sep. 2020
Remarks by UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley to UN Security Council session on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (Segment on food security risks in DRC, Yemen, Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan):
Five months ago, I warned the UN Security Council the world stood on the brink of a hunger pandemic. A toxic combination of conflict, climate change and COVID-19, threatened to push 270 million people to the brink of starvation. Famine was real. It’s a terrifying possibility in up to three dozen countries if we don’t act.
In April, with our donors’ help, the global humanitarian community launched a unprecedented global fightback against the Coronavirus. Along with our partners, WFP is going all-out to reach as many as 138 million people this year – the biggest scale-up in our history. Already, in the first six months of 2020, we’ve reached 85 million people.
WFP is adapting and innovating to meet the unique demands of the pandemic. Launching new food and cash programmes to support the hungry in urban areas. Supporting over 50 governments to scale up their safety nets and social protection programmes for the most vulnerable. Getting nutritious food to millions of school children shut out of the classroom during lockdown.
Every day, we are succeeding in keeping people alive and avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe. But we’re not out of the woods. This fight is far, far, far from over – the 270 million people marching toward the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever.
We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe. And if it does, it will overwhelm nations and communities already weakened by years of conflict and instability.
This Council made a historic decision when it endorsed Resolution 2417 and condemned the human cost of conflict paid in suffering and hunger. The resolution called for effective early warning systems and, once more, I am here with my colleagues to sound the alarm.
The global hunger crisis caused by conflict, and now compounded by COVID-19, is moving into a new and dangerous phase – especially in nations already scarred by violence. The threat of famine is looming again, so we have to step up, not step back. Quite frankly, 2021 will be a make-or-break year.
I am truly worried about what will happen next year. I urge you – don’t walk away from our commitment to humanitarian assistance. Don’t turn your backs on the world’s hungriest people.
As COVID-19 pushed countries everywhere to lock down, the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs have been destroyed, and remittances have collapsed. The impact has been felt hardest by the 2 billion people who work in the informal economy around the world - mainly in middle and low-income countries.
Already only one day’s work away from going hungry, in other words living hand to mouth. You and I have food in the pantry in a lockdown. We have enough food for two or three weeks. These people don’t have that luxury. If they miss a day’s wages, they miss a day’s worth of food and their children suffer.
They don’t have the money to buy their daily bread in those circumstances. This inevitably creates a risk of rising social tensions and instability.
It is critically important we balance sensible measures to contain the spread of the virus, with the need to keep borders open and supply chains going and trade flows moving. We also have to be vigilant and guard against unintended consequences, which could hit the poorest people the hardest.
In fact, in the 80-odd countries that we’re in, we’re working with the presidents, the prime ministers, the ministers of government, literally on an hourly basis, dealing with issues that are popping up because of quarantines and lockdowns, distribution points. We’re all learning from this and making headway.
But let me just give you a couple of examples, because a lot of people thought that the virus would be even more deadly in Africa. But it is definitely impacting Africa. We’re not out of the woods yet. And the good news is it hasn’t been as deadly but it has been devastating in other ways.
For example, the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine has analyzed the closure of vaccination clinics in Africa during lockdown. It calculated that, for every COVID-19 death prevented, as many as 80 children may die due to a lack of routine immunizations.
There is a grave danger that many more people will die from the broader economic and social consequences of COVID-19 than from the virus itself, especially in Africa. And the last thing we need is to have the cure be worse than the disease itself.
Your continued support for humanitarian programmes is critical right now. It’s a matter of life and death - literally. For millions of people in the countries being discussed today. And for many millions more in the other countries edging closer to the brink of starvation.
We know that, already, there are 30 million people who rely solely on WFP for their survival. That’s the only food they get. If they don’t get the food we provide, the die.
Let me turn to the countries on today’s agenda. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, conflict and instability had already forced 15.5 million people into crisis levels of food insecurity. These are people on the brink of starvation.
The latest assessment indicates that the upsurge in violence, coupled with COVID-19, has sent this total sky-rocketing to nearly 22 million people, an increase of 6.5 million people. And I should warn you these numbers assume WFP is able to maintain current levels of food assistance. If we are forced to scale back operations, the outlook is even worse.
In Yemen, the world’s worst catastrophe, worst human disaster, it continues… years of conflict-induced hunger and now the COVID-19 pandemic. 20 million people are already in crisis due to war, a collapsed economy and currency devaluation, crippling food prices and the destruction of public infrastructure. We believe a further 3 million may now face starvation due to the virus.
Because of lack of funding, 8.5 million of our beneficiaries in Yemen only receive assistance now every other month. We will be forced to cut rations for the remaining 4.5 million by December if funds do not increase. You can only imagine the impact that will have on the Yemeni people.
The decision by the Ansar Allah authorities to close Sana’a International Airport last week has made an already impossible situation worse. As the only airport in northern Yemen, it is a critical access point for humanitarian staff. The inability to move people in and out will hamper our efforts to stave off famine.
The alarm bells in Yemen are ringing loud and clear, and the world needs to open its eyes to the Yemeni people’s desperate plight before famine takes hold. And that famine is knocking on the door right before our eyes.
Nigeria: COVID-19 is also forcing more people into food insecurity. Analysis shows measures imposed to contain the virus reduced incomes in 80 percent of households. You can imagine the devastation with that alone.
In the northeast of the country, 4.3 million people are food insecure, up by 600,000 largely due to COVID-19. While in the large urban area of Kano, the number of food insecure people during that lockdown period from March to June went from 568,000 to 1.5 million people – an increase of 1 million people. Very troubling.
South Sudan: The outlook there is similarly worrying, where even before the pandemic, 6.5 million people were expected to face severe food insecurity at the height of the lean season, made worse by the violence in Jonglei State in recent months. This has resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, a large number of abducted women and children, and widespread loss of livestock and livelihoods. In addition, virus outbreaks in urban areas such as Juba could put as many as another 1.6 million people at risk of starvation.
Finally, even though it is not on today’s agenda, I also want to highlight the disaster unfolding in Burkina Faso, driven by the upsurge in violence. The number of people facing crisis levels of hunger has tripled to 3.3 million people, as COVID compounds the situation…displacement, security and access problems. For 11,000 of these people living in the northern provinces, famine is knocking on the door as we speak.
We know what we need to do. We have made huge strides forward in spotting the early warning signs of famine, in understanding its causes and consequences. But, tragically, we have seen this story play out too many times before.
The world stands by until it is too late, while hunger kills, it stokes community tensions, fuels conflict and instability, and forces families from their homes.
I recently learned that, in Latin America, hungry families have started hanging white flags outside their houses to show they need help. And there are a lot of them: 17.1 million severely food insecure people today, compared with 4.5 million only six or seven months ago.
A white flag is the sign of surrender - of giving up. Well, we CANNOT and we MUST NOT surrender, or tell ourselves there is nothing we can do, because millions of people around the world desperately need our help.
Truth is, we are all out of excuses for failing to act - swiftly and decisively - while children, women and men starve to death. Today, as humanitarians, we are here to warn you of the pressures caused by conflict and COVID-19. We must act and we must act before the dam bursts.
We need $4.9 billion to feed, for one year, all 30 million people who will die without WFP’s assistance.
It’s time for the private sector to step up. Worldwide, there are over 2,000 billionaires with a net worth of $8 trillion. In my home country, the USA, there are 12 individuals alone worth $1 trillion. In fact, reports state that three of them made billions upon billions during COVID! I am not opposed to people making money, but humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes.
It’s time for those who have the most to step up, to help those who have the least in this extraordinary time in world history. To show you truly love your neighbour. The world needs you right now and it’s time to do the right thing.
Sep. 2020
Briefing to the Security Council by Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:
Two years ago, this Council passed Resolution 2417, asking that you be swiftly informed of the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread food insecurity. And so I join you today, to highlight rising food insecurity and the risk of famine in several countries.
Famines have existed throughout human history, and almost every country has suffered them. But, remarkably, the world got much better at preventing them in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Famines are now less frequentand less lethal for three main reasons. First, agricultural output and productivity has expanded. Food has become more available and more affordable to millions of people.
Second, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen significantly and their purchasing power has increased.
In recent decades, the extreme poverty rate dropped fromn early 36 percentof the global population in 1990 to 10 percentin 2015. And thirdly, when the threat of famine has arisen, countries and organizations have set aside their differences and shared knowledge and resources to avert the crises through decisive action.
Before COVID-19, which may unfortunately reverse previous gains, we had got to the point where the risk of famines was confined to places in conflict.
That is one of the reasons why Resolution 2417 is so important. It explicitly recognized the links between armed conflict, food insecurity and the threat of famine. And those links are clear. Conflict disrupts all aspects of life. Civilians are injured and killed. They are drivenfrom their homes, losing land and livelihoods.
Their farms, food supplies, livestock, infrastructure, and public services are damaged or destroyed. That drives up the price of food and other basic necessities like water and fuel.
Over time, conflict tears apart the social fabric, undermines public institutions and erodes economic growth and development. The human and economic cost is astronomical. In the ten most affected countries, the average costof conflict is estimated at around 40 per cent of GDP.
And we can now see that COVID-19 is making hunger much worse. We know from the 2019 report of the Global Network Against Food Crises that 135 million people were facing acute food insecurity even before COVID-19. And now David and his colleagues at the World Food Programme project that the number of people suffering from acute hunger will almost double this year, to 270 million people.
In the same vein, the World Bank predicts that the number of people in extreme poverty is set to rise for the first time since the 1990s. As always, the most vulnerable pay the biggest price--women, children, the disabled and the elderly.
David and Dongyu will talk to you in more detail about some of the countries we are most concerned about, and I briefed you earlier in the week on two of them, South Sudan and Yemen. So I would like just to touch briefly on three other places.
I am particularly concerned about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nearly 22million people there are now acutely food insecure,the highest number in the world-a result of COVID-19 compounding the impact of decades of conflict. In north-east Nigeria, as we told you, violence by extremist non-state armed groups is largely responsible for driving up humanitarian need.
I am pleased to report we have had constructive engagement in recent days with the Nigerian authorities, and the Government has taken some important steps to improve access to people in need, which we look forward to building on further.
In the Sahel,an upsurge in violence and armed group attacks has forcibly displaced more than a million people, most of whom are dependent on agriculture. In total, some 14 million people are experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity – the highest figures for adecade. Just in Burkina Faso, 3.3 million people are now acutely food-insecure, and famine conditions are growing.
As I told you on 9 September, the pandemic is dramatically increasing wider humanitarian need. Things are going to get worse. I don’t think we have seen the peak of the pandemic yet, but the indirect impact is already deepening poverty, destroying livelihoods, undermining education, disrupting immunization, and exacerbating food insecurity, fragility and violence.
Humanitarian aid helps to avert food insecurity. And humanitarian workers are committed to staying and delivering. But they face unacceptable risks. This year more than 200 humanitarian workers have been attacked, including dozens in countries I have mentioned today.
Humanitarian operations face repeated attacks and other forms of obstruction on movement and access. International humanitarian law is an important line of defense against food insecurity in conflict. Starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited, as is the destruction of objects that are indispensable to civilians’ survival.
The problem is that too many people don’t comply with the law. Parties must allow and facilitate humanitarian access and protect aid workers and assets.
Within the humanitarian system, we are doing what we can to meet growing needs. But the humanitarian agencies are in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the needs, and that will get worse in the absence of a lot more financial help.
So there are concrete measures the Council and Member States more widely can take:
First, press for peaceful and negotiated political solutions to bring armed conflicts to an end. Second, ensure the parties to conflict respect international humanitarian law. And third, mitigate the economic impact of armed conflict and related violence, including by mobilizing international financial institutions.
And you know most important of all, scale up support for humanitarian operations, and take bigger and more ambitious steps to support the economies of countries facing severe, large-scale hunger.
Growing food insecurity is one of the major consequences of COVID-19. History proves that even in the midst of conflict, famine can be prevented. In order to prevent it, we must act. And we have to act in time to make a difference. Unfortunately, in too many places, time is now running out.
Sep. 2020
Urgent action needed to avert the risk of famine in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen, FAO Director-General tells UN Security Council:
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, has warned the United Nations Security Council that Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen were at risk of a looming famine and appealed for an urgent and united humanitarian response to save lives and livelihoods.
"Tragically, there are many more situations where conflict and instability, now also exacerbated by COVID 19, are drivers for more serious hunger and acute food insecurity. This is particularly visible in areas where conflict and other factors such as economic turbulence, and extreme weather, are already driving people into poverty and hunger," he said.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on conflict and hunger, Qu also underscored the dire situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.
"Worldwide, those hardest hit include the urban poor, informal workers and pastoral communities as well as people who are already particularly vulnerable - children, women, the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities," the FAO Director-General said.
"First, we need fast aid to stop hunger, we need political willingness and we need collective actions, as the forecasts for food security in 2020 continue to worsen," he added.
Qu expressed deep concern about the latest data on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which shows that some 21.8 million people are unable to get enough food on a daily basis. Qu said this was "the highest number of people experiencing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity ever recorded in a single country".
In Yemen, Qu pointed out that Desert Locusts have further threatened food availability. "FAO urges all those concerned to work towards granting access for control operations to prevent the pest from further worsening the deteriorating situation in Yemen and beyond," he said.
He also expressed "great alarm" about the worsening situation in Burkina Faso, where the number of people experiencing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity has almost tripled.
In northern Nigeria, between June and August 2020, the number of people in crisis or facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity increased by 73 percent compared to the 2019 peak figure and reached almost 8.7 million, Qu said.
He noted that in Somalia, 3.5 million people face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity between July and September 2020. This increase of 67 percent compared to the 2019 peak is due to the triple shocks experienced this year - COVID-19, floods and the desert locust upsurge.
"While much progress has been made in controlling the locusts, FAO is making every effort to sustain control operations," the Director-General said.
In Sudan, the number of people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance has risen by 64 percent, between June and September 2020, reaching around 9.6 million people, the highest level ever recorded in the country, with serious floods further exacerbating the situation.
In his address to the Security Council, the FAO Director-General called for a "package of solutions" to be put in place in order to combat acute food insecurity effectively. He said humanitarian-development-peace actions must be well coordinated and complementary and that they need to be mutually reinforcing across global, regional, national and local levels.
"Humanitarian actors can provide first aid. Agricultural food systems can play a more sustainable function for better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life," Qu said.
"More lasting peace can be achieved, through good policies and investment in agriculture and rural development, especially in conflict areas," he said.
Qu said the Security Council can play a pivotal role in addressing the threat of conflict induced acute food insecurity by promoting dialogue and seeking solutions to conflict and violence.
This would allow for urgent life-saving and livelihood-saving operations to be scaled up and better integrated humanitarian and development responses to be delivered that address the multiple drivers of food insecurity.

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