To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns
Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict are seen at a market in the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on January 5, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Updated 07 January 2021

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns
  • One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives close to a major conflict zone, according to World Bank
  • Iran uses proxies to “weaponize instability” in an effort to create conflicts and crises in other states, says US envoy

NEW YORK: For the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty is on the rise around the world. The increase is being fueled by a pandemic that has intensified a host of social and economic ills that were already causing problems before the coronavirus emerged.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and worsened the fragility of war-torn countries. It has undermined public health, contributed to mass unemployment, threatened food security, resulted in increased levels of violence against women and, in the words of Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, “reinforced or even created political and social divisions.”

The UN estimates that economic contraction caused by the pandemic is expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into extreme poverty in nations blighted by conflict. Worldwide, 51 million people are already internally displaced.

Armed conflicts and social, economic and environmental fragility are among the greatest hurdles to implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 global objectives, set in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty in all its forms and improve lives of all the peoples of the world.

With less than 10 years left to achieve the goals, Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, organized a high-level virtual debate on Wednesday to examine and discuss the challenges that face efforts to maintain peace and security in war-torn or otherwise-fragile countries.

The debate underscored the link between fragility and conflict, with “transboundary threats” such as climate change, terrorism, organized crime and the rapid increase in numbers of armed groups continuing to contribute to instability. This is especially true in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.

Tunisian president Kais Saied, who presided over Wednesday’s debate, urged the participants to tackle the root causes of conflicts, along with the factors that exacerbate them.

These include “marginalization, exclusion, poverty, the weakening of human development and state institutions, transnational organized crime, the impact of climate change, and the threat the pandemic poses to social cohesion,” he said.

The solution, he added, lies in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance, and ensuring the inclusive participation of people from all segments of society, including women and young people.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Conflicts have become more complex, fueled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-state armed groups, and their linkages with criminal and even terrorist interests. They last longer and become more difficult to resolve.”

Citing the Fragility and Conflict Report published by the World Bank last year, he noted that one in five residents of the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict. As a result, the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance has reached levels unseen since the Second World War.

The report also predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty worldwide will reside in fragile or war-torn countries.

These trends, Guterres said, have locked many nations into a vicious circle: ongoing hostilities contribute to greater levels of poverty and institutional fragility, which in turn make societies even more fragile and vulnerable to conflict, with the result that the prospects for peace dwindle.

The connection between conflict and fragility has been particularly apparent in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, where the situation has been exacerbated by climate change, terrorism and the proliferation of armed groups.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou — in whose country more than 100 villagers were killed by gunmen last weekend — called on Security Council members to help the region overcome its fragility, “the primary victims of which are women and children.” He added that he hopes the region will figure prominently on the council’s agenda.

US ambassador Craft said that within fragile states, “weak institutions, corruption, diminished respect for the rule of law, and authoritarianism increased the risk for violent conflict and instability and opened the doors for more cycles of political subversion and violence.”

She singled out Iran as a malign presence that aims to “weaponize instability” and use it against other states.

“Iran undermines the stability of its neighbors by using fragile state or non-state actors as proxies, contributing to protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian crises,” she said.

The participants in the debate also reiterated a call by Guterres early last year for a global ceasefire so that international efforts and resources can focus on fighting the pandemic. The call has largely been ignored.

To break the cycle of poverty and war, Guterres urged the adoption of two principles enshrined in the SDGs.

The first is interdependence, as there can be “no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” He added that a “holistic approach” to building and sustaining peace “with targeted and tailored investments across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, is essential.”

The second principle is inclusion. The promotion of sustainable development, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, requires the international community to honor a pledge “to leave no one behind,” he said.


Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.


Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
Updated 07 December 2021

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters

Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters
  • Thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25
  • ‘These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’

LONDON: Britain’s Foreign Office abandoned many of the nation’s allies in Afghanistan and left them to the mercy of the Taliban during the fall of the capital, Kabul, because of a dysfunctional and arbitrary evacuation effort, a whistleblower alleged Tuesday.
In devastating evidence to a parliamentary committee, Raphael Marshall said thousands of pleas for help via email were unread between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25. The former Foreign Office employee estimated that only 5 percent of Afghan nationals who applied to flee under one UK program received help. At one point, he was the only person monitoring the inbox.
“There were usually over 5,000 unread emails in the inbox at any given moment, including many unread emails dating from early in August,” he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. “These emails were desperate and urgent. I was struck by many titles including phrases such as ‘please save my children’.”
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was moved from the Foreign Office to become Justice Secretary after his handling of the crisis, defended his actions.
“Some of the criticism seems rather dislocated from the facts on the ground, the operational pressures that with the takeover of the Taliban, unexpected around the world...” he told the BBC. “I do think that not enough recognition has been given to quite how difficult it was.”
The Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in late summer, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away. The Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
Many who had worked for Western powers or the government worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against them.
Many also feared the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.