UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

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Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.

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IMF fees on war-torn countries closer to elimination 

Updated 29 sec ago

IMF fees on war-torn countries closer to elimination 

  • Citing worsening financial crises in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as examples, some accuse China of engaging in debt trap diplomacy 
  • A spokesperson for the fund says the surcharges are designed to discourage large and prolonged use of IMF resources 

WASHINGTON: The International Monetary Fund is facing pressure to reevaluate how it imposes fees on loans it disperses to needy countries like war-torn Ukraine — which is one of the fund’s biggest borrowers.
The move comes as more countries will need to turn to the IMF, as food prices and inflation internationally continues to rise.
Surcharges are added fees on loans imposed on countries that are heavily indebted to the IMF.
Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in Aspen last month that finance ministers of several countries realize they have to pay a price for Russia’s war in Ukraine, especially with food prices going up.
“They’re going to have to go to the IMF, they’re going to need to find assistance,” Adeyemo said.
However, the IMF fee system could change through USlegislation. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, otherwise known as the defense spending bill, would suspend IMF surcharges while their effectiveness and burden on indebted countries is studied.
That was passed by the US House in July. The Senate is expected to vote on its defense bill in September. A representative of the Senate Armed Services Committee said an amendment may be offered in the next few weeks or even on the Senate floor.
As the largest IMF shareholder and member of the Fund’s executive board, the US can push for policy decisions and unilaterally veto some board decisions.
Citing worsening financial crises in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as examples, some accuse China of engaging in debt trap diplomacy — or having countries falls so deeply in debt to that they are beholden to it on international issues.
Advocates and civil rights organizations lodge the same complaint against the Fund, who claim the organization undercuts its core lender-of-last-resort role with countries in vulnerable positions to pay back debt.
With an ever-worsening risk of a global debt crisis and rising interest rates, the issue has become more pressing for countries looking to reduce their deficits.
However, some economists and representatives of the fund say the surcharges amount to responsible lending behavior, as they provide an incentive for members with large outstanding balances to repay their loans promptly. This applies especially for countries that may otherwise may not be able to obtain financing from private lenders.
Maurice Obstfeld, a Berkeley economics professor and former IMF research department director said as a lender of last resort, the Fund’s ability to lend is important as low and middle income countries face rising interest rates.
“The Fund’s staff is small and in a crisis, its efforts are better deployed serving member countries’ needs,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “Surcharges could be relaxed temporarily in the face of intense pressures on borrowing countries, but at the expense of the Fund’s ability to serve its membership in the longer term.”
Illinois Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who offered the defense spending amendment, told The Associated Press “it is unfair for the IMF to require countries like Ukraine that are already deep in debt to pay surcharge fees. These surcharges increase poverty and hold back our global economic recovery.”
Ukraine’s projected real GDP is expected to decline by 35 percent, due in large part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to IMF data.
The country, engaged in a war with no projected end, has an outstanding balance of 7.5 billion SDRs — an IMF accounting unit valued at around $9.8 billion according to Ukrainian central bankers. The latest figures estimate that Ukraine will owe the IMF $360 million in surcharges between 2021 and 2023.
Economists Joseph Stiglitz at Columbia University and Kevin P. Gallagher at Boston University wrote earlier this year that “forcing excessive repayments lowers the productive potential of the borrowing country, but also harms creditors” and requires borrowers “to pay more at exactly the moment when they are most squeezed from market access in any other form.”
Serhiy Nikolaychuk, Deputy Chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine, said Ukraine is continuing to pay its debts “despite Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.”
“Our country will pay its debt and surcharges under previous programs and fulfill its obligations to the IMF,” Nikolaychuk said. “It will be difficult, but we will pay.”
For years, lawmakers, economists and civil rights organizations have called on the IMF, which has for decades loaned billions to low-income countries, to end its surcharge policy.
In January, 18 left-leaning lawmakers wrote to Treasury calling for the surcharge policy to be eliminated. And in April, a group of 150 civil society groups and individuals signed an open letter to the IMF, asking for the same, calling surcharges “regressive.”
A spokesperson for the fund says the surcharges are designed to discourage large and prolonged use of IMF resources.
“They only apply to countries with particularly large outstanding loans,” Mayada Ghazala said in an emailed statement, adding that poorest countries are exempt from the surcharges.
The fund’s executive board met in December 2021 and discussed the role of surcharges — it ultimately decided not to make a change to the fees, but said they would review them again in the future.
The IMF was created in 1944 at the United Nations Bretton Woods Conference — one of its missions is lending to maintain the financial stability of countries. Among its 190 countries, it lends around $1 trillion, according to the organization’s website.
An April review of the fund’s financial health for fiscal year 2022 and 2023 states that lending income excluding surcharges “remain strong and are expected to exceed expenses in FY 2023–2024.”
Andrés Arauz, a senior research fellow at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research says the IMF’s financial position shows “the surcharges are not necessary for sound finances.”
“There is no excuse for the IMF to be punishing countries under debt stress with surcharges,” he said. “There is also no logic to it, the amount of money that the IMF raises from surcharges is trivial relative to its income and capacity.”
Garcia said “I’m proud the House passed my amendment to support a pause and review of surcharges at the IMF, and I will keep up the fight until the President signs it into law.”
Separately, the US has sent roughly $7.3 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war began in late February, including a new $775 million defense aid package announced Friday. 


Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel 

Updated 20 August 2022

Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel 

  • Dozens of Afghan Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years 
  • UNSC failed to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan 

UNITED NATIONS: The divided UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on whether to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan so they will expire at midnight Friday.
UN diplomats said Russia and China want to allow all 13 to continue to travel while the US and Western nations are determined to cut the number to protest the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.
Russia and China asked for more time Friday evening to consider the latest US proposal, the Security Council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
So, the travel ban will be restored on all 13 Taliban officials until Monday afternoon at the earliest when Russia and China must now respond to the US proposal.
Dozens of Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years, subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. But some Taliban officials were granted waivers so they could travel to participate in talks aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August 15 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan. It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.
In June, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban banned two Taliban officials from traveling in response to their crackdown on women — Said Ahmad Shaidkhel, the acting deputy education minister, and Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah, also known as Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education.
With the expiration of travel waivers for the remaining 13 Taliban officials looming, the United State on Thursday proposed re-imposing the travel ban on seven of them and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.
Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.
Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption can’t continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.
That’s the proposal that Russia and China are now considering. 


Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

Updated 20 August 2022

Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

UNITED NATIONS: The divided UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on whether to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan so they will expire at midnight Friday.
UN diplomats said Russia and China want to allow all 13 to continue to travel while the US and Western nations are determined to cut the number to protest the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.
Russia and China asked for more time Friday evening to consider the latest US proposal, the Security Council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
So, the travel ban will be restored on all 13 Taliban officials until Monday afternoon at the earliest when Russia and China must now respond to the US proposal.
Dozens of Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years, subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. But some Taliban officials were granted waivers so they could travel to participate in talks aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August 15 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan. It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.
In June, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban banned two Taliban officials from traveling in response to their crackdown on women — Said Ahmad Shaidkhel, the acting deputy education minister, and Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah, also known as Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education.
With the expiration of travel waivers for the remaining 13 Taliban officials looming, the United State on Thursday proposed re-imposing the travel ban on seven of them and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.
Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.
Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption can’t continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.
That’s the proposal that Russia and China are now considering.

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

Updated 20 August 2022

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

DES MOINES, Iowa: Former Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that he didn’t take any classified information with him when he left office.

Pence made the comment during an interview with The Associated Press in Iowa a week and a half after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Asked directly if he retained any classified information upon leaving office, Pence said, “No, not to my knowledge.”

The disclosure — which would typically be unremarkable for a former vice president — is notable given that FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from his former boss’s estate on Aug. 8 while investigating potential violations of three different federal laws. Trump has claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked.

Despite the inclusion of material marked “top secret” in the government’s list of items recovered from Mar-a-Lago, Pence said, “I honestly don’t want to prejudge it before until we know all the facts.”

Pence on Friday also weighed in on Republican US Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary defeat earlier in the week to a rival backed by Trump. Cheney, who is arguably Trump’s most prominent Republican critic, has called the former president “a very grave threat and risk to our republic” and further raised his ire through her role as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.

“My reaction was, the people of Wyoming have spoken,” said Pence, who was targeted at the Capitol that day by angry rioters, including some who chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” “And, you know, I accept their judgment about the kind of representation they want on Capitol Hill.”

Pence said he has “great respect” for Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served two terms under President George W. Bush.

“And I appreciate the conservative stance Congresswoman Cheney has taken over the years,” Pence continued. “But I’ve been disappointed in the partisan taint of the Jan. 6 committee from early on.”

Speaking further about the search of Mar-a-Lago, the former vice president raised the possibility, as he has previously, that the investigation was politically motivated and called on Attorney General Merrick

Garland to disclose more details on what led authorities to conduct the search.

“The concern that millions of Americans felt is only going to be resolved with daylight,” Pence said Friday. “I know that’s not customary in an investigation. But this is unprecedented action by the Justice Department, and I think it merits an unprecedented transparency.”

Days ago, while speaking at a political breakfast in New Hampshire, Pence urged his fellow Republicans to stop lashing out at rank-and-file members of the FBI over the search of Mar-a-Lago. At the Wednesday event, he sought to tamp down on some of the increasing threats against the FBI by ardent Trump supporters who are angry that Trump’s home was searched.

“The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” Pence said Wednesday. “Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop.”

Pence was in Iowa on Friday as part of a two-day trip to the state, which is scheduled to host the 2024 leadoff Republican presidential caucuses. Pence said Friday that he would make a decision early next year about whether to run for the White House, a move that his aides have said will be independent of what Trump decides to do.

Having visited the Iowa State Fair on Friday afternoon, Pence also headlined a fundraiser earlier in the day for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and was scheduled to speak to a Christian conservative group and a northern Iowa county Republican Party fundraiser before leaving Saturday.


Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Updated 20 August 2022

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

ODESSA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel via Ukraine or Russia came as a US defense official said Ukraine’s forces had brought the Russian advance to a halt.
“You are seeing a complete and total lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had “reconsidered” his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission to” the plant.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the spectre of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
Putin also “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Zelensky said in his Friday evening address.
“No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN secretary general said that “obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.”
“Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a “provocation” at the site that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
Guterres visited Odessa as part of an effort to make more Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with soaring food prices, after a landmark deal with Russia last month to allow its export.
The deal, the only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.
Guterres is expected to head to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.
The grain deal has held, but brought little respite along the sprawling front lines after nearly six months of fighting between US-supplied Ukrainian forces and the Russian military.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for Himars systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.
The primary tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery barrages, and recent bombardments over the eastern Donetsk region — which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 — left several dead.
The Ukrainian head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that Russian strikes had killed five people and wounded 10 more in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, left one person dead and damaged a school and a private business, the head of the region said.