Author Archives: UN News Centre - Top Stories

‘Nothing can grow without water,’ warns UNICEF, as 600 million children could face extreme shortages

22 March 2017 – Warning that as many as 600 million children &#8211 one in four worldwide &#8211 will be living in areas with extremely scare water by 2040, the United Nations children’s agency has called on governments to take immediate measures to curb the impact on the lives of children.

In its report, Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) explores the threats to children’s lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in coming years.

&#8220This crisis will only grow unless we take collective action now,&#8221 said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a news release announcing the report, launched on World Water Day.

&#8220But around the world, millions of children lack access to safe water &#8211 endangering their lives, undermining their health, and jeopardizing their futures,&#8221 he added.

According to the UN agency, 36 countries around the world are already facing extremely high levels of water stress.

Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water as well as sanitation systems. These combined with increasing populations, higher demand of water primarily due to industrialization and urbanization are draining water resources worldwide. On top of these, conflicts in many parts of the world are also threatening access to safe water.

According to a recent UN-Water report, about two-thirds of the world’s population currently live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month a year. Source: World Water Development Report 2017

All of these factors force children to use unsafe water, exposing them to deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.

Many children in drought-affected areas spend hours every day collecting water, missing out on a chance to go to school. Girls are especially vulnerable to attack and sexual violence during these times.

However, the impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable, noted the report, recommending actions to help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children.

One of the points it raised is for governments to plan for changes in water availability and demand in the coming years and to prioritize the most vulnerable children’s access to safe water above other water needs to maximize social and health outcomes.

It also called on businesses to work with communities to prevent contamination and depletion of safe water sources as well as on communities to diversify water sources and to increase their capacity to store water safely.

&#8220Water is elemental &#8211 without it, nothing can grow,&#8221 said Mr. Lake, urging for efforts to safeguard children’s access to water.

&#8220One of the most effective ways we can do that is safeguarding their access to safe water.&#8221

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Wastewater should be recognized as a valuable resource, UN says on World Water Day

22 March 2017 – In a world where the demand for water continues to grow and the resource is finite, a new United Nations report argues that wastewater, discarded into the environment every day, once treated, can help meet the needs for freshwater as well as for raw materials for energy and agriculture.

Needless to mention, treating wastewater and removing pollutants can also remarkably reduce the impact on the environment as well as on health.

&#8220Improved wastewater management is as much about reducing pollution at the source, as removing contaminants from wastewater flows, reusing reclaimed water and recovering useful by-products [as it is about increasing] social acceptance of the use of wastewater,&#8221 noted Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General in her foreword to the World Water Development Report 2017 &#8211 Wastewater: An untapped resource.

The report, launched today in Durban, South Africa, on the occasion of World Water Day, also highlights that improved management of wastewater is essential in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

&#8220It’s all about carefully managing and recycling the water that runs through our homes, factories, farms and cities,&#8221 said Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Chair of UN-Water, urging for reducing and safely reusing more wastewater.

&#8220Everyone can do their bit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030.&#8221

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) has specific targets on halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally (target 6.3) as well as supporting countries in wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies (target 6.a).

Health and environmental dimension &#8211 particularly stark for low-income countries

The report also revealed that low-income countries are particularly impacted by the release of waste water into the environment without being either treated or collected, where, on average, only 8 per cent of domestic and industrial wastewater is treated, compared to 70 per cent in high-income countries.

As a result, in many regions of the world, water contaminated by bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and solvents is discharged into rivers and lakes ending up in the oceans, with negative consequences for the environment and public health.

For instance, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, pollution from pathogens from human and animal excreta affects almost one third of rivers, endangering the lives of millions of people.

Furthermore, growing awareness on the presence of hormones, antibiotics, steroids and endocrine disruptors in wastewater poses a new set of complexities as their impact on the environment and health have yet to be fully understood.

These set of challenges underscore the need for urgent action on collection, treatment and safe use of wastewater.

Wastewater as a source of raw materials

In addition to providing a safe alternative source for freshwater, wastewater is also a potential source of raw materials, noted the report.

Owing to developments in treatment techniques, certain nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrates, can now be recovered from sewage and sludge and turned into fertilizer. It is estimated that nearly 22 per cent of the global demand for phosphorus (a depleting mineral resource) can be met by treating human urine and excrement.

Use of treated wastewater has long been practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years

Similarly, organic substances contained in wastewater can be used to produce biogas, which could power wastewater treatment facilities as well as contribute to energy needs of local communities.

In addition, use of treated wastewater is growing for agricultural irrigation. At least 50 countries around the globe are now using treated wastewater for this purpose, accounting for an estimated 10 per cent of all irrigated land.

Lastly, the report also mentioned that treated wastewater can augment drinking water supplies, although this is still a marginal practice. Cities such as Singapore, San Diego (United States), and Windhoek (Namibia) have been treating wastewater to supplement drinking water reserves.

A great example is use of treated wastewater, long practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years.

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UN atomic agency co-hosts international meeting on cancer in developing countries

22 March 2017 – Cancer can be a death warrant in some developing countries, spurring the United Nations atomic agency and the international community today to hold a high-level discussion on how to get more funding and support for treatment to parts of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

&#8220The rising tide of cancer calls for additional human and financial resources, as well as infrastructure,&#8221 Nelly Enwerem-Bromson, Director of the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy at the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said at the meeting in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. He spoke alongside Sudanese Vice-President Hassabo Mohammed Abdalrahman, who opened the meeting.

The event, co-organized by the IAEA and the Sudanese Government, brought together health and finance representatives from 16 Governments to discuss their funding proposals on how to better detect and treat breast and cervical cancer, and develop nuclear medicine and radiotherapy as part of national cancer control programmes.

Each year, 8.8 million people die from cancer, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). The figure is so high that is accounts for two and a half times more people killed than those who die from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Cervical cancer is particularly deadly and disproportionally affects women in developing countries, where 83 per cent of all new cases occur, IAEA reported.

One of the plans discusses proposes to establish a permanent screening centre in Cameroon, where 1,400 new women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 700 die.

The meeting also reviewed a proposal to expand cancer services for low-income people in Jordan, including refugees. The only public radiotherapy facility is in the capital, Amman, which treats around 50 patients per day.

The Governments represented at today’s meeting are members of the IAEA, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Islamic Development Bank.

Other institutions present included the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the WHO.

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Vital for Sri Lanka to send message that ‘impunity is no longer tolerated’ underlines UN rights chief

22 March 2017 – Presenting an oral update on the rights situation in Sri Lanka, the top United Nations human rights official today said that a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the justice system in the country regarding past violations and continuing &#8220unwillingness or inability&#8221 to address impunity reinforces the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism.

&#8220It is important for the country’s future to send the signal that impunity is no longer tolerated,&#8221 Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council today.

&#8220For this to be credible, [the judicial mechanism] should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators,&#8221 he added, noting that national consultations had also identified international participation as a way to gain the trust of the victims.

He also said that while the design of truth and reparations processes appear to be underway, such efforts needed to be in consultation with victims and the civil society, and that the repeal of the terrorism prevention act and its replacement with legislation that complies with international human rights law is to be concluded.

Also in his remarks, the UN rights chief hailed the work of the civil society and human rights defenders in the country and underlined that they must be protected from harassment and intimidation.

Making particular reference to the reports of intimidation of members of civil society at the Palais des Nations (the UN Office at Geneva), the High Commissioner said that his office (OHCHR) would be looking into the issues closely.

He also called on the Sri Lankan Government to consult the independent commissions in the country, the Human Rights Commission, which he said play an invaluable role in strengthening good governance.

&#8220I encourage respect for their mandate and autonomy, adequate financing, and implementation of their recommendations,&#8221 he added.

Mr. Zeid also welcomed a number of directives made by the President of Sri Lanka regarding detention but noted that reports of torture, excessive use of force and failure to respect due process are a cause for worry.

&#8220There is clearly a need for unequivocal instructions to all branches of the security forces that any such conduct is unacceptable and that abuses will be punished,&#8221 underlined the High Commissioner.

In conclusion, the UN rights chief said that victims should be kept at the centre of the efforts in the island nation and noted that justice for them was vital to ensure sustainable peace.

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DR Congo: UN, partners need urgent aid for over 370,000 displaced in south-east province

22 March 2017 – Intercommunal violence in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, a top United Nations aid official in the country has said, warning that the current response is being outstripped by the needs.

&#8220Unless peaceful coexistence is fully restored between the two communities, humanitarian needs will continue to spiral out of control,&#8221 said the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mamadou Diallo, wrapping up a three-day visit to the region on 20 March.

Some 370,000 people have fled the cascading violence across all six territories that make up the province, in the last nine months, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated.

The insecurity has disrupted aid operations resulting in what Mr. Diallo called &#8220among the most urgent humanitarian hotspots in a country experiencing a worsening humanitarian situation.&#8221

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator led a group that included representatives from UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organizations to Tanganyika’s Kalemie and Manono territories.

In Kalemie, the delegation visited the Kalunga site, home to some 17,000 people, where UN partners are providing emergency water and health care services amidst ongoing shelter concerns.

&#8220Speaking to the delegation, a displaced woman pleaded for education projects for the thousands of children living in the site, to avoid their further marginalization,&#8221 OCHA said.

The group then visited the Kamala site in Manono &#8211 considered &#8220the cradle of the intercommunal conflict&#8221 where &#8220the delegation saw first-hand the burned, destroyed huts&#8221 of people forced to flee.

On behalf of the international humanitarian community, the UN asked for $40 million to cover all the humanitarian needs, including $20 million for the most urgent, life-threatening needs for the displaced families.

The DR Congo Common Humanitarian Fund and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund have recently allocated $5 million each for the response, with the Humanitarian Fund planning an additional allocation of $2 million.

The humanitarian concerns came as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC, Maman Sidikou, briefed the Security Council about the deteriorating security situation and the need to implement the 31 December agreement on the electoral process.

Under the agreement, President Joseph Kabila would stay in office until elections are held by the end of 2017. During this period, a ‘National Council for Overseeing the Electoral Agreement and Process (CNSAP)’ would be set up, and a new prime minister named from opposition ranks.

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