UN Weekly Roundup: Jan. 21-27, 2023 

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

UN deputy chief says Taliban’s desire for recognition is bargaining chip on rights

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said Wednesday that the international community’s best leverage to persuade the Taliban to reverse restrictions on Afghan women’s rights is the group’s desire for international recognition. She told reporters that the U.N. and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are discussing holding a conference in March in the region on women in the Muslim world. Mohammed led a high-level U.N. delegation to Afghanistan this past week.

Nuclear watchdog warns Iran has enough material for several nuclear bombs

International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Rafael Grossi warned Tuesday that Iran has accumulated “enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons.” Grossi told the European Parliament’s security and defense subcommittee in Brussels that his agency is no longer monitoring Iran’s nuclear program because the regime has disconnected 27 of the agency’s cameras installed at its declared nuclear sites. Grossi said he plans to travel to Tehran, Iran, next month.

No progress on international force for Haiti

The U.N. and the government of Haiti reiterated their appeal Tuesday for an international force to quickly deploy to the island nation to help subdue an unprecedented level of gang violence that has terrorized the population. In early October, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres backed a request from the Haitian government to send a force to address escalating insecurity and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

2023 global economic forecast looks gloomy

U.N. economists forecast a gloomy and uncertain outlook this year, with the global economy projected to grow at a very sluggish rate. The 2023 World Economic Situation and Prospects report, issued Wednesday, says a series of severe shocks have reduced global economic output to its lowest level in years, leaving many economies at risk of falling into recession. In good news, the authors say inflation appears to have peaked in some of the more advanced economies, and East and South Asia emerged as the report’s bright spots for growth.

Myanmar poppy production grows since military coup

A report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Myanmar’s farmers are flocking back to opium poppy cultivation amid rising prices for the contraband crop and an economic decline that is wiping out jobs, reversing nearly a decade of poppy decreases. Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opium, after Afghanistan, and the main source for most of East and Southeast Asia. UNODC says many people have resorted to poppy cultivation because jobs and investment have dried up following the military coup two years ago.

In brief

— U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is on a mission to Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya this week to advance joint priorities following December’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Her tour is focused on regional security issues, food insecurity, humanitarian issues, and supporting African efforts to mitigate climate change, a senior administration official said.

— This week, World Food Program Chief David Beasley is in Syria, where he raised the alarm on unprecedented levels of hunger. He said 12 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from, while an additional 2.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger. Overall, due to conflict, COVID-19 and an economic crisis, 70% of the population might soon be unable to feed their families.

— The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a report released Friday that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s Air Forces perpetrated a chemical weapons attack on April 7, 2018, in Douma, Syria. The OPCW said at least one helicopter of the Syrian “Tiger Forces” elite unit dropped two yellow cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on two apartment buildings in a residential area of Douma, killing at least 43 people and affecting dozens more. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric condemned the use of chemical weapons and said, “it is imperative that those who use chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.”

Quote of note

“You have to remember that what happened before the Taliban came back was a huge amount of hope, and an expression of that hope with many women who got an education, who were in decision-making roles, who were leaders in Afghanistan, and now that’s dashed. And when that happens, the anxiety and the level of fear amongst women and their future is huge, it’s palpable.”

— U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed to reporters on the situation of Afghan women under the Taliban​

What we are watching next week

February 1 marks two years since the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, leading to protests and a crackdown on human rights. Since the coup, leaders and thousands of pro-democracy protesters have died or been jailed, and the humanitarian situation has worsened.

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Cameroon’s Media Community Mourn Killing of Radio Journalist

Cameroon journalists are calling for an investigation and say their profession is in danger after a popular radio host investigating government corruption was found dead. Emmanual Jules Ntap has more from Yaounde.

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South Africa Battles Drownings With Survival Pools

A red shipping container lies in a school playground in a small South African town. 

The imposing steel structure has an unexpected function: to help save youngsters in a country gripped by an epidemic of drownings. 

Within it is a swimming pool — the only one within 25 kilometers — where children will learn the basics of how to stay afloat. 

South Africa has thousands of kilometers of beaches, and in rich neighborhoods, swimming pools dot the gardens. 

Yet just one South African in seven knows how to swim, and each year about 1,500 people drown, according to a local rescue institute — an average of four individuals per day. 

In the Cape Town suburb of Riebeek-Kasteel, Meiring primary school, which hosts the container, has suffered its own drowning tragedy. 

A framed photo in the entrance hall pays tribute to a 12-year-old lad who perished in a dammed lake at a nearby farm in 2021. 

“If he just knew how to float in water, he could have saved his own life,” said school principal Brenton Cupido.  

“It gets very hot here, especially in summer, and our (pupils) flock every afternoon, unsupervised, to the nearby dams. But most of them can’t swim.”  

The toll is a “huge public health issue” rooted in historical inequalities, said Jill Fortuin, director of drowning prevention at the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).  

Most fatalities are Black South Africans. 

“Apartheid is a big portion of the problem,” said Fortuin, herself a person of mixed heritage. 

Under segregation, swimming pools and holiday beaches were limited to the white minority, providing little incentive for the majority to learn how to swim. 

Three decades after the advent of democracy, stark inequalities remain, with limited infrastructure and opportunities. 

“Government schools, where most disadvantaged people go to, often do not have swimming pools,” said Fortuin. 

Faced with choosing between putting food on the table or paying for swimming lessons, most families opt for the former, she added.  

“Swimming is not seen as a priority.” 

‘Safe water’

To help tackle drowning, NSRI has deployed 1,350 volunteer lifeguards across the country’s beaches and installed 1,500 bright pink buoys on various water bodies to help rescuers aid people in distress. 

But prevention is paramount, said the group, whose awareness-raising campaign has reached more than 3 million people in recent years. 

With climate change fueling floods and heat waves, the need increases, said Fortuin. 

The “Survival Swimming Centre” pool installed at Meiring is the brainchild of Andrew Ingram, 58, a drowning prevention manager. 

In their homes, some of “the children … don’t even have toilets that flush. So how on earth are they going to have a swimming pool?” he asked.  

“We provide safe water and somebody to teach them.” 

The container pool is 6 meters long and 1 meter deep. 

Children are taught how to help friends in difficulty, control breathing, orient themselves under the water and use an empty bottle as an emergency buoy. 

Half of the school’s children now know how to float — and most of them are the first in their families to learn, said Cupido.  

Jonathan Van der Merwe used to be very “concerned” that his daughter, who was one of the first to take lessons at Meiring’s survival pool, might get into trouble in one of the many ponds around the wine farming area. 

“Now, I’m very calm and relaxed about it,” he said. 

A sister container will soon be installed at a school in KwaZulu-Natal, an eastern province ravaged by deadly floods last year. Another is already in place in Eastern Cape province.  

Petro Meyer, 62, NSRI’s water safety instructor, has introduced about 100 students between 6 to 12 years old to survival swimming.  

“You should see their smiles when they realize they’re floating by themselves for the first time,” she said. “We want to create a new culture in these kids.”  

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US Calls for Redoubled Efforts to Fight Insurgents in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Greenfield says greater efforts are needed in Mozambique to push back insurgents who are spreading south from the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

Greenfield was in Mozambique on Friday as she makes a three-nation tour of Africa. Addressing a media briefing at the end of her two-day visit, Greenfield said the United States is willing to work with Mozambique in the United Nations Security Council.

Early this month, Mozambique took its one-year non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

It came at a time when the armed insurgency in Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country, remains the main security challenge, with some attacks claimed by the extremist group Islamic State.

“We have to redouble our efforts to push back on terrorist actions,” she said. “The activities are terrorizing ordinary citizens such as the citizens of Cabo Delgado, and we are working closely with the government to address those issues.”

Greenfield, who began her African tour in Ghana on Wednesday, travels on to Kenya from Mozambique.

The insurgent group in Mozambique calls itself Ansar Al Sunna, or Followers of Tradition, but is known throughout Mozambique as al-Shabab. It has no known connection to the group of the same name in Somalia.

It has been occupying several districts in the Cabo Delgado province since 2017.

To date, almost 5,000 people have been killed in the attacks and almost 1 million people displaced, according to humanitarian organizations.

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Reprisals Feared in Nigeria after Bombing of 40 Pastoralists

Officials in Nigeria say the death toll from an attack on animal herders has risen to 40. The strike took place Wednesday in Rukubi, a village on the border between Nigeria’s Nassarawa and Benue states, a region known for ethnic and religious conflict.

Nassarawa state governor Abdullahi Sule has refuted claims that a military jet bombed pastoralists and said Thursday it was an unidentified drone operated from an unknown location that exploded.

He said he has deployed security operatives to the area to prevent tensions or reprisals.

“I’ve been on it all night trying to resolve the matter with chief of defense staff, Miyetti Allah, and all the security agencies including our commissioner of police to ensure that we continue to douse the tension that may generate as a result of this,” Sule said.

Pastoralists were returning from nearby Benue state with hundreds of cattle they had bailed out from officials enforcing an anti-open grazing law when the bomb exploded among them. 

Sule said 40 people were killed and many others were injured. Many herds were also affected.

A Nigerian Air Force spokesperson did not take calls from VOA for comment. However, Nassarawa state police spokesman Nansel Ramham told VOA by phone that authorities are investigating.

Farmers and herders in central Nigeria have been clashing over grazing land for decades. Benue and Nassarawa are the most affected.

An umbrella group for cattle breeders in Nigeria, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, condemned the attack Thursday and asked authorities to capture the perpetrators.

Abuja-based Beacon Security analyst Kabiru Adamu said the attacks could be the result of wrong profiling.

“Nobody as at date, not the military, not the state governor, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, has been able to clarify what type of incendiary attack it was. The media has created this monster called Fulani herdsmen. It’s been highlighted by the media to the extend that stigmatization and profiling has occurred,” Adamu said.

But the Nigerian military has in the past recorded accidental airstrikes on civilians while battling Islamist militants and armed gangs in the northern region.

In January 2017, more than 100 people were killed when a military jet hit a camp housing people displaced by jihadist violence in the town of Rann, in northeast Borno state.

The military blamed the attack on a lack of appropriate markings of the area.

Last year, an arms trade between the United States and the Nigerian government was stalled due to concerns about extrajudicial killings.

Adamu said authorities should be more proactive.

“By now I expect that the National Assembly would have set up a committee to look at this latest incident in Doma, identify what went wrong and introduce measures to prevent a reoccurrence,” Adamu said. “It could have been mistaken identity or poor intelligence that may have suggested the movement was by bandits.”

Security is a significant challenge and a major issue as Nigeria prepares for presidential and parliamentary polls next month.  

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Somalia Welcomes Killing of IS Leader

Somalia’s government welcomed the death of Bilal al-Sudani, the Islamic State group leader killed by U.S. special operations forces in a remote part of northern Somalia on Wednesday night.

“It’s a very positive and welcoming,” Hussein Sheikh Ali, national security adviser for Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told VOA Somali on Thursday.

Ali, who is in Washington, told VOA that Islamic State is not the major threat to Somalia, as is al-Shabab, but its leader, al-Sudani, was a “dangerous terrorist” who posed a potential threat to Somalia and East Africa.

The U.S. operation targeted al-Sudani, an important Islamic State financial facilitator, and took place in the Cal Miskaad mountains, in a remote cave complex in the Bari region of Somalia’s Puntland state.

The U.S. government said 10 other terrorist operatives were also killed in the operation. No civilians were injured or killed in the operation, Pentagon officials said.

U.S. officials said the U.S. forces had intended to capture al-Sudani and other associates, but that attempt failed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement, “This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad.”

Somalia’s national security adviser said the U.S. operation was important and shows the United States was not only targeting al-Shabaab, but also Islamic State militants in Somalia.

“The message is, that the leaders of all terror groups in Somalia are not safe,” and there is no safe haven for them “in the entire Somalia Peninsula,” Ali said.

Al-Sudani has been on the radar for U.S. intelligence officials for years. Austin said al-Sudani played a key role in helping to fund IS operations in Africa as well as the ISIS-K affiliate operating in Afghanistan. The U.S. Treasury Department had originally designated al-Sudani in 2012, for his role with al-Shabaab group in Somalia.

Security experts believe the death of the IS leader in Somalia is a major setback to IS and other terrorist groups operating in Somalia who are facing an extensive offensive by Somalian forces.

Ali said there is solid collaboration between Somalia and the U.S. in countering al-Shabaab.

“The US military support to Somalia is very helpful and its best,” he said.

“We have launched an offensive, and we have been very successful in the last six months, during which we liberated dozens of towns and villages from al-Shabab,” Ali said.

“I am here in Washington, D.C., to meet senior leadership, and it’s been a quite successful so far” Ali added.

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