Pandemic tough on millions of Mideast, N. African children, says UN

Pandemic tough on millions of Mideast, N. African children, says UN
The UN children’s agency has raised an alarm about the risks the coronavirus pandemic poses to youngsters’ physical health in the region. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Pandemic tough on millions of Mideast, N. African children, says UN

Pandemic tough on millions of Mideast, N. African children, says UN
  • Survey: Anxiety and stress on the rise among confined families, raising the likelihood of domestic violence

CAIRO: The global pandemic and ensuing lockdown have taken their toll on the mental and physical well-being of millions of kids in the Middle East and North Africa, the UN children’s agency said on Friday.

In a survey of more than 7,000 households in seven countries in the region covering 13,000 children, UNICEF found that more than 90 percent of respondents believe the coronavirus pandemic has affected their children negatively.
“Restrictions on movement and closure of schools had a severe impact on children’s daily routines, their social interactions, and ultimately on their mental well-being,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director in the Middle East and North Africa, said in the report. Its release coincided with World Children’s Day.
The agency’s survey shows that more than 50 percent of respondents believe their children have been struggling mentally and emotionally. Anxiety and stress have been on the rise among confined families, the report said, raising the likelihood of domestic violence, of which women and children are usually the prime victims.
As the pandemic began to spread, most governments in the region ordered the shutdown of schools in March.
With the curve of infection bending downward over the summer, many countries allowed schools to reopen in the fall or to adopt a hybrid system that combines distance and in-class learning. However, with winter approaching there are fears of a second wave of infections, which could result in another round of school closures.
Nearly 40 percent of parents and guardians expressed concerns over the education of their children, the survey said.
Many have dismissed remote education as “ineffective,” citing lack of resources, limited internet access, a lack of support from adults and a lack of direct access to teachers.

Restrictions on movement and closure of schools had a severe impact on children’s daily routines, their social interactions, and ultimately on their mental well-being.

Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director

The UNICEF survey was conducted in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Tunisia between April and July 2020.
In August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of an “education catastrophe” and pointed to the UN education agency’s estimate of 24 million learners at risk of dropping out because of the severe disruption caused by the pandemic.
The UNICEF report also raised an alarm about the risks the pandemic poses to children’s physical health in the region.
It said 9 million children had missed out on their vaccines against highly infectious diseases, including polio and measles, due to restrictions on transportation, fear of infections and closure of nearby clinics.
The entire MENA region has so far recorded more than 4 million virus cases including more than 100,000 deaths.
Besides the pandemic, many of the region’s countries are also struggling with military conflicts and civil wars that undermine government efforts to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
UNICEF underscored the economic impact of the virus lockdown on children and warned the number of Middle Eastern and North African children languishing in poverty could top 60 million by the end of 2020. That compares to 50.4 million before the pandemic. One in five respondents said that distressing economic conditions forced them to spend less money on food, while nearly 30 percent of parents said their children had no access to nutritious food during times of strict lockdown.
“The longer the pandemic goes on, the deeper the impact on children will be,” said Chaiban.
“It is absolutely critical that we continue to seek creative solutions to counter the impact of COVID and support our children with psycho-social care, blended or remote learning and social protection measures including cash transfers.”


Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Updated 04 December 2020

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal
  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal

BERLIN: Germany said Friday that a new broader Iran nuclear accord must be reached to also rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile program, warning that the 2015 deal was no longer enough.
“A form of ‘nuclear agreement plus’ is needed, which also lies in our interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told Spiegel magazine in an interview.
“We have clear expectations for Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic rocket program which threatens the whole region. Iran must also play another role in the region.”
“We need this accord because we distrust Iran,” he added.
The 2015 nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The European Union and the United States were key signatories in the deal but US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and has reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
President-elect Joe Biden has signalled that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.
But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal, saying on Thursday: “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.”
He added that Western powers should look to their own behavior before criticizing Iran.
He also complained at what he characterised as a lack of European outrage at the assassination of one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week — an attack Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Decades old US-Iranian tensions dramatically escalated after Trump walked out of the deal.
In recent months, alarm has also grown over Iran’s regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which the West says destabilizes the region.