Multiple threats are converging to leave families reeling
by Jasmina Byrne
Chief of Policy, UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight
2022 was incredibly difficult for people around the world. We were confronted by a series of major crises, including a continuing pandemic, a major war in Europe, an energy crisis, rising inflation and food insecurity.
These events hit children particularly hard, compounding the already severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of children had to flee their homes because of conflict or extreme weather events. At the same time, child malnutrition and the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance rose.
The war in Ukraine, for example, has led to higher food and energy prices, which in turn has contributed to rising global hunger and inflation.
Efforts to address inflation through rising interest rates in the US have driven up the value of the dollar against other currencies, making developing countries’ imports, debt repayments and their ability to access external financing more difficult.
As we explain in our new report, ‘Prospects for Children in the Polycrisis: A 2023 Global Outlook’, these realities have added up to what has been termed a ‘polycrisis’ – multiple, simultaneous crises that are strongly interdependent.
As we look to 2023, it’s clear that the polycrisis is likely to continue shaping children’s lives. The effects of these intertwined and far-reaching trends will be difficult to untangle, and solutions will be difficult to find as policymakers struggle to keep up with multiple urgent needs.
The situation is particularly dire in economically developing countries. Higher food and energy prices have contributed to a rise in global hunger and malnourishment, with children among the most affected.
The polycrisis is also limiting access to healthcare for many children, making it harder for them to receive treatment and routine vaccinations. Recovery from learning losses caused by the closure of schools will be slow and felt for years to come, while the shift to remote learning has left children from low-income families facing the greatest challenges in catching up.
At the same time, the combination of higher financing needs, soaring inflation and a tighter fiscal outlook will widen the education financing gap needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate change, too, is also a part of this polycrisis, with visible effects, including devastating floods in Pakistan and droughts in East Africa, making it harder for children to access education, food and healthcare, and causing widespread displacement of populations.
All these factors have led UNICEF to estimate that 300 million children will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year. This staggering number highlights the urgency for international organizations and governments to step in and provide assistance.
But the polycrisis doesn’t have to lead to further instability or, ultimately, systemic breakdown. Some of the stresses we saw in 2022 have weakened somewhat, and new opportunities may arise to alleviate the situation. For example, food and oil prices have dropped from their peaks, and good harvests in some countries may help to lower global food prices.
Fortunately, we know there are solutions and strategies that work. One potential solution is to increase investment in social protection programmes, such as cash transfers and food assistance, which can help alleviate the immediate economic impacts of the polycrisis on families. These programmes can also help to build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities.
The establishment of learning recovery programmes will help tackle the learning losses and prevent children from falling further behind. And early prevention, detection and treatment plans for severe child malnutrition have been effective in reducing child wasting.
Ultimately, a coordinated and collective effort is needed to protect the rights and well-being of children. This includes not only providing immediate assistance but also addressing the underlying causes of the polycrisis and building resilience for the future.
This cannot be achieved without a more coordinated and collective effort from international organizations and governments to help mitigate the effects of the polycrisis and protect children's futures.
And, crucially, we must listen to children and young people themselves so that we can understand the future they want to build and live in.
In fact, we followed this approach when we were assessing trends for ‘Prospects for Children in the Polycrisis’, asking young people from across the world age 16 to 29 to give us their views on some of the challenges their generation faces.
It’s critical that we take action to protect the most vulnerable among us. The future may be uncertain, but by working together we can help to build a better future for our children.
* Prospects for Children in the Polycrisis: A 2023 Global Outlook: http://uni.cf/3JIDDwt
* World Economic Situation and Prospects 2023, report by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: http://bit.ly/40tZRIH http://unctad.org/news/multiple-crises-unleash-one-lowest-global-economic-outputs-recent-decades-says-un-report
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States obligated to safeguard equitable access to and use of land
by UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has issued a guidance note to clarify States’ obligations regarding the access to, use of and control over land, particularly about pressing issues affecting human rights such as eviction of land users, international investment, land-related conflicts, and climate change.
“In many parts of the world, land is not only a resource for producing food, generating income, and developing housing; it also constitutes the basis for social, cultural and religious practices and the enjoyment of the right to take part in cultural life,” the Committee states in its guidance note, formally known as a general comment.
The high demand for land and rapid urbanisation in most parts of the world has significantly impacted the rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In cities, the financialisation of housing markets has fuelled speculation and inflation, affecting the rights to an adequate standard of living and adequate housing of those left behind.
In rural areas, the competition for arable land from large-scale development projects and tourism has significantly affected the livelihoods and rights of rural populations.
“Land degradation owing to overuse, poor management and unsustainable agricultural practices had caused food insecurity and water degradation and is directly linked to climate change,” the Committee states.
The general comment provides specific advice on legitimate tenure rights. States parties should refrain from evicting users from land on which they depend for their livelihoods and from using forced evictions and demolition of property as punitive measures.
The Committee calls on States parties to “introduce and implement national legislation that explicitly prohibits forced evictions and sets out a framework for eviction and resettlement processes to be carried out in line with international human rights law and standards.”
Noting the growing negative impact on individual groups, peasants and indigenous peoples’ access to productive resources as a result of international investments, the general comment urges States parties to “take specific measures to prevent their domestic and international policies and actions, such as trade, investment, energy, agricultural, development and climate change mitigation policies, from interfering, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of human rights.”
Structural unequal distribution of land can also be a major root cause of conflicts, which in turn also lead to forced displacements and land dispossession, impacting the most vulnerable.
“States should make every effort to prevent land dispossession during internal armed conflicts. If dispossessions do nevertheless occur, States are obliged to establish restitution programmes to guarantee to all internally displaced persons the right to have restored to them any land of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived,” the Committee underlines.
The General Comment reflects the Committee’s concerns about the impact of climate change on access to land. “Rising temperatures, changing patterns of precipitation, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are increasingly affecting access to land,” the Committee explains, adding, “States have an obligation to design climate change adaptation policies at the national level that take into consideration all forms of land use change induced by climate change.”
The full text of the general comment on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is now available online.
“Social and economic measures to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. (Chair, UN Peacebuilding Commission. Jan. 23)
The adverse effects of insecurity, economic and social instability, growing poverty, deepening inequalities, climate change and frequent disasters, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to the exacerbation of conflict. This has posed serious risks and threats to social cohesion, and undermined the peacebuilding gains achieved and pushing countries considered by the PBC off track from meeting the Sustainable Development Goals..
The best means for peaceful, just and inclusive societies is sustainable development, which is why the interdependence of peace and sustainable development is at the core of the 2030 Agenda… The vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires a comprehensive approach to support countries to address the root causes of conflicts and to ensure an inclusive approach to development with a view to leaving no one behind. Such an approach may aid in preventing atrocity crimes.
In this regard, economic and social measures are critical elements in contributing to peacebuilding and sustaining peace as they help to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict, support national reconciliation and social cohesion, and move States towards recovery, reconstruction and sustainable development..
We need to ensure that all efforts are inclusive, coherent, conflict-sensitive and promote peacebuilding and sustaining peace, including by focusing more on creating equal economic and livelihood opportunities for all and addressing systemic discrimination and grievances which can lead to the outbreak of violence.. http://bit.ly/3wJZhJf
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