Pakistani Village Seen as Model of Climate Resilience

The village of Pono in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is so small it’s difficult to find on Google maps, but it’s still getting international attention. That’s because the village is designed to show how communities that are most vulnerable to climate change can become climate resilient and self-sustaining using old techniques. VOA’s Pakistan Bureau Chief Sarah Zaman visited Pono and brings this report.

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UN Food Chief: Billions Needed to Avert Unrest, Starvation

Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12-18 months, the head of the Nobel prize-winning U.N. World Food Program warned Friday.

David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.”

In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to U.S. ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food.

“Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40% of it, quite frankly,” he said.

WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5 billion to $7.4 billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350 million a few years ago to $1.7 billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year.

Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.

Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.

China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical, he said. “They have a moral obligation to do so.”

Beasley said they’ve done “an incredible job of feeding their people,” and “now we need their help in other parts of the world” on how they did it, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa.

With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, expressing hope they will increase contributions.

Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multibillionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis.

In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”

“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.

Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50% to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”

“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis over the cliff stage right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”

Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”

With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.

The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.

He singled out several priority places — Africa’s Sahel region as well as the east including Somalia, northern Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia; Syria which is having an impact on Jordan and Lebanon; and Central and South America where the number of people migrating to the United States is now five times what it was a year-and-a-half ago.

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UN Weekly Roundup: March 25-31, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Vanuatu leads action on climate justice

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution Wednesday that will ask the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the obligations of states under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations from the impact of climate change. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu spearheaded the drafting and negotiations of the resolution, with a core group of 18 countries representing most corners of the world.

What Are State’s Obligations to Protect Citizens from Climate Change? World Court to Weigh In

General Assembly closer to creating new entity on missing Syrians

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community Tuesday to create an international body that would assist families of the estimated 100,000 missing persons in Syria to find out the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.

UN Chief Urges Creation of Entity to Clarify Fate of 100,000 Missing Syrians

Disarmament chief: risk of nuclear weapon use now highest since Cold War

The United Nations disarmament chief warned Friday that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is higher now than at any time since the Cold War. Izumi Nakamitsu told the Security Council that the war in Ukraine “represents the most acute example of that risk.”

Russia takes over Security Council’s April presidency

On April 1, in what some critics say sounds more like an April Fool’s joke than reality, Russia will take over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month — and no one can prevent it.

Cyclone raises risk of disease at Malawi sites for displaced people

The U.N. humanitarian agency says Malawi needs immediate help to deal with diseases spreading in displacement camps for Cyclone Freddy survivors. The Malawi health minister told reporters Tuesday that the government is beefing up its medical staff, but a local newspaper says the country needs more money to adequately deal with health care needs.

UN Concerned About Disease in Malawi’s Displacement Camps

Talking to Sudanese men about female genital mutilation

The World Health Organization says about 87% of Sudanese females between 15 and 49 have undergone female genital mutilation, one of the highest rates in the world. A project by the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, is targeting sports clubs to engage men and boys in the fight against the practice. Watch this report from Henry Wilkins in Khartoum, Sudan:

UNICEF Talking to Sudanese Men’s Clubs About Female Genital Mutilation

In brief

— A resolution put forward Monday by Russia at the United Nations calling for an international investigation into the apparent sabotage last year on the Nord Stream gas pipelines failed to win Security Council support. Russia’s draft received only three votes in favor — from itself, China and Brazil. The other 12 Security Council members abstained. Several council members said an additional investigation would not be beneficial right now and urged waiting for the results of the national ones. Others suggested that a deadline be imposed for the national investigations to conclude, saying they should not be open-ended.

— International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi made a mission to Ukraine this week. He has been trying for months to negotiate a weapons-free zone around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, which has come under repeated shelling and blackouts during the war and is currently occupied by Russian troops. A team of IAEA experts is also based at the facility. Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the city of Zaporizhzhya on Monday and indicated he may soon go to Russia for further talks. He warned that a nuclear accident with radiological consequences “will spare no one.”

— Thursday was the first ever International Day of Zero Waste. U.N. Secretary-General Guterres warned during a General Assembly meeting on the issue that the planet is turning into a “garbage dump” and by 2050 municipal solid waste will double to 4 billion tons a year. He called for more sustainable consumption and production patterns with the goal of a zero-waste future. Guterres also announced that he is establishing an Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste to be chaired by the first lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan.

Did you know?

The U.N. flag was designed in 1945 when the organization was founded. It is a map of the world resting inside two olive branches. The blue background was chosen to represent peace, and this shade of blue has become known as “U.N. blue.” American architect Oliver Lincoln Lundquist led the design team that created it.

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VP Harris Praises Tanzania’s President for Strengthening Democracy 

Human rights activists are voicing appreciation for U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s recognition of efforts by Tanzania’s president to strengthen democracy in the country.

In Dar es Salaam on Thursday, Harris oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, covering a range of issues.

In a joint press briefing at Dar es Salaam State House, Harris hailed President Samia Hassan. “You have been a champion in terms of democratic reforms in this country and, in that way, have expanded our partnership,” she said. “And so today, then, is part of the strengthening of the relationship between our two countries.”

The U.S. and Tanzania signed a five-year agreement of assistance worth $1.1 billion aimed at improving good governance and development.

Since coming to power in 2021, Hassan has moved away from policies by her late predecessor, John Magufuli, that critics said suppressed the opposition and all forms of dissent.

Hassan has lifted restrictions on the media, ended a ban on political rallies and recently promised to restore competitive politics.

Speaking at the event, the president told the vice president that she was committed to strengthening democracy.

“Acceptable democratic space has been a major concern of my government,” she said. “We have endeavored to build a democratic state that upholds transparency and respect of the rule of law.”

Anna Henga, executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Center in Tanzania, said that “when we look at the current situation, there is some relief” with regard to human rights. “We cannot deny that we haven’t yet reached where we want to be, but the world can see the moves that Tanzania is making toward democracy. Therefore, I was not surprised by Harris’s remarks. As for the U.S. support, I believe it will continue and I’m hopeful that we’ll reach our desired destination.”

Bob Wangwe, head of the Tanzania Constitutional Forum, known in Swahili as Jukwaa la Katiba, said Tanzania needs constitutional reforms that will, among other things, allow presidential results to be challenged and independent candidates to run for office.

“I think that these engagements and the statement from Kamala will ultimately advance democracy in this country,” he said, “and I am looking forward to the substantial steps the government has to undertake.” Wangwe said those include “undertaking constitutional reforms to strengthen some institutions that will help the country in terms of accountability.”

Harris left Tanzania on Friday for Zambia, the final stop on her tour of three African countries that began in Ghana.

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Death Scene in Burned Ferry Moves Filipino Rescuers to Tears

A Philippine coast guard commander said Friday that the tragic scenes of death his team saw aboard a gutted ferry, including bodies of adults clutching children, had moved them to tears and sparked fears other passengers could be found dead in the still-smoldering ship. 

At least 29 of more than 250 people onboard the M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 were killed in the blaze that raged through the ferry Wednesday while it was on an overnight trip from the southern Zamboanga city to Jolo town in Sulu province. At least seven passengers, including two army soldiers, remained missing in the country’s deadliest sea disaster this year, the coast guard said. 

Basilan Governor Jim Hataman initially reported 31 deaths Thursday but later reduced the toll to 29 after search and rescue groups cross-checked their figures. 

All 35 crew members survived, including the captain, who issued an abandon-ship order when the fire hit close to midnight and then ran the ferry aground on an island off Basilan province to give remaining passengers a better chance to survive, coast guard officials said. 

Many passengers jumped into the sea in panic without life jackets and were saved by rescuers but at least 11 drowned. When a team of coast guard personnel, including Bureau of Fire officers, boarded the burned ferry on Baluk-baluk island’s coast, they discovered the bodies of 18 passengers scattered on the uppermost open-air economy deck and another floor below, coast guard Commander Chadley Salahuddin said. 

The passengers, including an adult clutching a child by the railing, could have easily jumped into the sea and survived like many others but failed to do so for unclear reasons. Two passengers, apparently siblings who were among the missing, were found holding each other in a bathroom, he said. 

“When I first saw that scene, I was moved to tears with some of my men,” Salahuddin told The Associated Press by telephone. “It was a short journey. Why did so many have to die?” 

“What if my mother or my other loved ones were the ones who were trapped here? They were just a step away from the open sides but why did they not jump off like the others?” Salahuddin asked. 

The passengers, some of whom were burned beyond recognition, could have been overcome by smoke and passed out or could have been immobilized by injuries. Some survivors said they heard a series of firecracker-like blasts during the fire, but Salahuddin said all those details could only be confirmed by investigators. 

He feared more bodies could be found in the lower enclosed decks, which remained dangerously hot and could not be inspected Thursday by his team. 

His team found a partly burned rifle, which may have been left by a police officer who was among the passengers who survived, Salahuddin said, adding that there was no sign of a bomb explosion at least in the upper decks that they managed to inspect. 

The steel-hulled ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, said another coast guard official, Commodore Rejard Marfe. 

According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a 35-member crew, Marfe said. In addition, it had a security contingent of four coast guard marshals, who all survived. Eight soldiers were traveling to Sulu. 

Threats posed by Muslim insurgents, including those aligned with the Islamic State group, remain a security issue in the southern Philippines, where cargo and passenger ships are provided extra security by the coast guard and other law enforcement agencies in vulnerable regions. 

Marfe said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, if there were passengers not listed on the manifest, and whether the crew properly guided passengers to safety. 

Sea accidents are common in the Philippines because of frequent storms, badly maintained vessels, overcrowding and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces. 

In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. 

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Stampede for Food Aid Kills 11 in Pakistan  

Authorities in Pakistan said Friday that a stampede at a free-food distribution center in the southern port city of Karachi had killed at least 11 people and injured five others.

Local police and rescue workers in the impoverished country’s largest city said the victims were mainly women and children.

The stampede occurred outside a Karachi factory where a distribution center for employees had been set up in connection with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Hundreds of people in the crowd, made up mostly of women, panicked and started pushing each other to collect food, with some falling into a nearby drain, witnesses and police said.

Friday’s incident brought the death toll from stampedes at private- and government-funded food aid centers to at least 22 in recent days as Pakistanis struggle with soaring costs of basic staples and food items.

The South Asian nation of about 232 million people is suffering through one of its worse economic crises in decades.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government rolled out a free-flour distribution project at the start of Ramadan to help millions of low-income families offset the impact of record-breaking inflation. Official estimates suggest inflation is running above 40%, a five-decade high, with the price of flour skyrocketing more than 45% in the past year.

The government initiative has resulted in thousands of people crowding distribution centers. Families say a lack of proper arrangements to accommodate large crowds in some districts has triggered deadly stampedes over fears of not being able to get the free flour.

Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces collectively reported 11 deaths as of Thursday. Thousands of bags of flour have also been looted from trucks and distribution points, according to officials.

The deadly rush underscored the desperation in the face of soaring costs, exacerbated by the falling rupee exchange rate and the removal of fuel subsidies. Government cuts were required for the International Monetary Fund to unlock the latest tranche of its financial support package.

Critics have slammed the government for launching the project without putting in place proper arrangements to ensure the safety of people.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan blamed what it said was the mismanagement of the flour distribution center for the deadly stampedes.

In a statement Friday, the watchdog described the Karachi incident as particularly alarming and demanded the government immediately improve the distribution system across the country.

“This situation is adding insult to injury for marginalized people of Pakistan who are braving the economic injustice perpetrated by the elites who dominate the state,” the HRCP said.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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