To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict are seen at a market in the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on January 5, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Updated 07 January 2021

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

  • One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives close to a major conflict zone, according to World Bank
  • Iran uses proxies to “weaponize instability” in an effort to create conflicts and crises in other states, says US envoy

NEW YORK: For the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty is on the rise around the world. The increase is being fueled by a pandemic that has intensified a host of social and economic ills that were already causing problems before the coronavirus emerged.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and worsened the fragility of war-torn countries. It has undermined public health, contributed to mass unemployment, threatened food security, resulted in increased levels of violence against women and, in the words of Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, “reinforced or even created political and social divisions.”

The UN estimates that economic contraction caused by the pandemic is expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into extreme poverty in nations blighted by conflict. Worldwide, 51 million people are already internally displaced.

Armed conflicts and social, economic and environmental fragility are among the greatest hurdles to implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 global objectives, set in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty in all its forms and improve lives of all the peoples of the world.

With less than 10 years left to achieve the goals, Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, organized a high-level virtual debate on Wednesday to examine and discuss the challenges that face efforts to maintain peace and security in war-torn or otherwise-fragile countries.

The debate underscored the link between fragility and conflict, with “transboundary threats” such as climate change, terrorism, organized crime and the rapid increase in numbers of armed groups continuing to contribute to instability. This is especially true in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.

Tunisian president Kais Saied, who presided over Wednesday’s debate, urged the participants to tackle the root causes of conflicts, along with the factors that exacerbate them.

These include “marginalization, exclusion, poverty, the weakening of human development and state institutions, transnational organized crime, the impact of climate change, and the threat the pandemic poses to social cohesion,” he said.

The solution, he added, lies in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance, and ensuring the inclusive participation of people from all segments of society, including women and young people.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Conflicts have become more complex, fueled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-state armed groups, and their linkages with criminal and even terrorist interests. They last longer and become more difficult to resolve.”

Citing the Fragility and Conflict Report published by the World Bank last year, he noted that one in five residents of the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict. As a result, the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance has reached levels unseen since the Second World War.

The report also predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty worldwide will reside in fragile or war-torn countries.

These trends, Guterres said, have locked many nations into a vicious circle: ongoing hostilities contribute to greater levels of poverty and institutional fragility, which in turn make societies even more fragile and vulnerable to conflict, with the result that the prospects for peace dwindle.

The connection between conflict and fragility has been particularly apparent in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, where the situation has been exacerbated by climate change, terrorism and the proliferation of armed groups.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou — in whose country more than 100 villagers were killed by gunmen last weekend — called on Security Council members to help the region overcome its fragility, “the primary victims of which are women and children.” He added that he hopes the region will figure prominently on the council’s agenda.

US ambassador Craft said that within fragile states, “weak institutions, corruption, diminished respect for the rule of law, and authoritarianism increased the risk for violent conflict and instability and opened the doors for more cycles of political subversion and violence.”

She singled out Iran as a malign presence that aims to “weaponize instability” and use it against other states.

“Iran undermines the stability of its neighbors by using fragile state or non-state actors as proxies, contributing to protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian crises,” she said.

The participants in the debate also reiterated a call by Guterres early last year for a global ceasefire so that international efforts and resources can focus on fighting the pandemic. The call has largely been ignored.

To break the cycle of poverty and war, Guterres urged the adoption of two principles enshrined in the SDGs.

The first is interdependence, as there can be “no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” He added that a “holistic approach” to building and sustaining peace “with targeted and tailored investments across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, is essential.”

The second principle is inclusion. The promotion of sustainable development, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, requires the international community to honor a pledge “to leave no one behind,” he said.


42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

Updated 9 sec ago

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

  • Drones artillery used in attack, one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency

BAMAKO, Mali: Forty-two Malian soldiers died in a sophisticated weekend attack by suspected jihadists using drones artillery, authorities said Wednesday, the latest violent incident to rock the troubled Sahel country.
The toll is one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency, which has spread from the north of the country to the center and south and into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A document naming the dead was authenticated to AFP by several senior military officials, while the government later confirmed the toll in a statement that said 22 soldiers were injured and 37 “terrorists” were neutralized.
The attack occurred on Sunday in the town of Tessit, in the troubled “three-border” region where the frontiers of the three nations converge.
On Monday, the army had said 17 soldiers and four civilians had died. Relatives of the victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that some of the civilians had been elected officials.
Monday’s statement pointed the finger of blame at the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), saying its members had deployed “drone and artillery support and (used) explosives and an explosives-laden vehicle.”
The last time Mali’s armed forces sustained such losses was in a string of attacks in the same region in late 2019 and early 2020.
Hundreds of soldiers were killed in assaults on nearly a dozen bases, typically carried out by highly mobile fighters on motorbikes.
The raids prompted the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe forces to fall back from forward bases and hunker down in better-defended locations.
In January 2020, France and its Sahel allies agreed on a push against the ISGS at a summit in Pau, southwestern France.
Several of its leaders were targeted and killed, including its founder, Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, but local people say the group has continued to recruit and carry out its operations.

Tessit is one of the hotspots in the three-border area.
The ISGS is fighting for control of the strategic, gold-rich area against an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
In March 2021, 33 soldiers were killed in an ISGS-claimed ambush as units were being rotated, and in February this year, around 40 civilians — suspected by the ISGS of being in league with Al-Qaeda — were massacred.
Mobile phone connections to the area have been frequently cut over the last few years and physical access is hard, especially during the mid-year rainy season.
Thousands have fled Tessit to the nearest large town, Gao, which is located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north.
Across the Sahel, the jihadist campaign has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than two million to flee their homes.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also occurred in Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin to the south, amplifying fears of a jihadist push toward the Gulf of Guinea.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

  • Social media full of praise for family duo from Kerala
  • They applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from the Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, have studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38.  

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared to clear the tests, they were surprised when the news broke, going viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts under news headlines praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said that her coaching center told her the achievement will help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”


Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Updated 10 August 2022

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

  • Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares
  • France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record

HOSTENS, France: Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) and were continuing to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings and WAIT FOR THE INVITATION TO LEAVE which will be notified to you by the gendarmerie, officials or volunteers going door-to-door,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook after authorities decided to evacuate part of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers before taking flight.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening — within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads, and parts of a highway, were closed.

HEATWAVES
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures to some places.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

  • Social media posts praise the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and children
  • The mother and son applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and did the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38. 

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared for the tests, they were surprised when the news broke and went viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” 

It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said her coaching center told her the achievement would help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”
 


London children to be offered polio booster as samples found 

Updated 10 August 2022

London children to be offered polio booster as samples found 

  • The last case of polio in the UK, which can cause paralysis, was in 1984
  • The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan 

LONDON: Around one million children in London will be offered a polio booster vaccine after the virus was detected in sewage samples across the capital, health officials said Wednesday.

“Following the discovery of type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus in sewage in north and east London,” a targetted booster does would be offered to children between one and nine, said a health ministry statement.
There have been no confirmed cases of the disease, but it has been found at an increasing number of sewage plants across the capital. It was first detected at an east London treatment works earlier this year.
The detected levels suggest “that there is some level of virus transmission in these boroughs which may extend to the adjacent areas,” said the statement.
The last case of polio in the UK, which can cause paralysis, was in 1984.
The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a type of vaccine that contains small amounts of weakened but live polio still causes occasional outbreaks elsewhere.
Oral polio vaccine (OPV) replicates in the gut and can be passed to others through faecal-contaminated water. So, although it will not hurt the vaccinated child, it could infect their neighbors in places where hygiene and immunization levels are low.
While weaker than wild poliovirus, this variant can cause serious illness and paralysis in people not vaccinated against the disease.
The discovery in the London sewage samples suggests “there may be localized spread of poliovirus,” said polio eradication expert Kathlene O’Reilly.
That would most likely be among individuals who are not up to date with their polio immunizations, she added.
Polio immunization coverage in London stands at nearly 87 percent, according to the WHO, lower than the rest of the country.
“For the majority of the population, who are fully vaccinated, the risk is low,” said Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency.
“But we know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates.
“This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk,” she added.