Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution

Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters)
Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution

Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution
  • UK calls for new resolution demanding a global ceasefire to ensure that people in conflict zones do not miss out on COVID-19 immunization
  • 10 countries account for 75 per cent of all vaccinations; more than 130 have had none

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened a high-level meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday by strongly criticizing the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. “Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.”
Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” he added.
Guterres called on the G20, the world’s richest countries, to set up an emergency task force to create a global vaccination plan with input from scientists, vaccine manufacturers, authorities with the power to ensure fair distribution of vaccines, and those who can fund the plan. He said this task force should have the capacity “to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors.”
The UN chief warned that if the virus is allowed to spread “like wildfire in the Global South” it will continue to mutate into new and potentially more transmissible and deadly variants, which might reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and therapies. This could lead to a resurgence of the virus in the Global North and delay economic recovery, he said.
Thirteen ministers addressed the virtual meeting, which was the first Security Council session organized specifically to discuss COVID-19 vaccines. It was convened by Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, whose country holds the presidency of the council this month.
He proposed a new resolution calling for a temporary global ceasefire and a coordinated effort to distribute and administer the vaccine in all locations, “including in the hardest to reach places, including places of conflict and other types of insecurity.”
He added: “Ceasefires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past. There is no reason we can’t do this.”
In response to the pandemic, and an appeal by Guterres on March 23 last year for a global ceasefire, the Security Council in July adopted Resolution 2532. This called for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its (the Security Council’s) agenda” and urged all parties engaged in armed conflicts, including those not on the council’s agenda, to “engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days.”
Raab said the council needs to take further action “to call for ceasefires specifically to enable COVID vaccinations to be carried out in those areas so badly affected by conflict.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council that the Biden administration “will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalized populations.”
President Joe Biden restored US ties with the World Health Organization after his predecessor, Donald Trump, ended the relationship. Blinken said that by the end of this month the US will pay more $200 million in assessed and current obligations to the UN agency, but added that Washington will seek to reform it “to defeat COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics.”
The US also plans to provide “significant financial support” to COVAX — an international initiative, led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, that aims to ensure all countries have fair access to vaccines — and will work to strengthen other multilateral initiatives as part of the global response to COVID-19, Blinken said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the widening “immunity divide” among nations that is emerging. He urged the world to “come together to reject ‘vaccine nationalism,’ promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and, in particular, make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict.”
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s minister of external affairs, said that any hoarding of “superfluous doses will defeat our efforts toward attaining collective health security.”
He also warned that the potential costs of unfair vaccine distribution are huge, as he quoted a prediction by the International Chamber of Commerce that a failure by the international community to address vaccine inequity could cost the global economy as much as $9.2 trillion.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that if current trends persist, developing nations will not have access to vaccines until the middle of 2023. He called for the acceleration of the COVAX initiative, and for an end to the “undue hoarding” and “monopolization of vaccines” by some countries.
UK authorities said that more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from vaccination efforts because they live in countries mired in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
 


US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
Updated 27 October 2021

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
  • Iran has said for more than a month that it would ‘soon’ return to indirect talks in Vienna with the US on resuming compliance with the accord

WASHINGTON: Efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are at a “critical phase” and Tehran’s reasons for avoiding talks are wearing thin, a US official has said while raising the possibility of further diplomacy even if the deal cannot be resuscitated.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told reporters Washington was increasingly worried Tehran would keep delaying a return to talks, but said it had other tools to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would use them if need be.

“We’re in a critical phase of the efforts to see whether we can revive the JCPOA,” Malley said, referring to the deal formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We’ve had a hiatus of many months and the official reasons given by Iran for why we’re in this hiatus are wearing very thin.”

While saying that the window for both the US and Iran to resume compliance with the agreement would eventually close, Malley said the US would still be willing to engage in diplomacy with Iran even as it weighed other options to prevent Tehran from getting the bomb.

He also hinted at the economic benefits that might flow from Iran’s return to the agreement, under which Tehran took steps to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions.

While saying the window for returning to the JCPOA will not be open forever because eventually Iran’s nuclear advances will have overtaken it, Malley said Washington would continue to look for diplomatic arrangements with Tehran.

“You can’t revive a dead corpse,” he said, stressing that the US had not reached that point yet. “We will continue to pursue diplomacy, even as we pursue other steps if we face a world in which we need to do that.”

Malley refused to describe those other steps. Since talks in Vienna on reviving the deal adjourned in June, Washington has increasingly spoken of pursuing other options, a phrase that hints at the possibility, however remote, of military action.

The envoy, who spent last week consulting US partners in the Gulf and in Europe, emphasized that all sides had “a strong preference for diplomacy, for an effort to revive the JCPOA and, were that to happen, to find ways to engage Iran economically.”


Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children

Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children
Updated 27 October 2021

Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children

Bangladesh to launch Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya refugee children
  • Stalled by COVID-19 lockdowns, pilot program now set to swing into action

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities and the UN are preparing to introduce formal education using a Myanmar curriculum for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The fishing port in southeastern Bangladesh, hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in northern Rakhine state in 2017.

The children, who constitute half of the refugee population, now attend 6,250 informal learning centers run by UN agencies and aid partners at 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar, which provide basic education to more than 354,000 students.

The Bangladeshi government in January 2020 agreed with the UN that the Rohingya children should be provided with Myanmar education to prepare them for a future return to their country. Stalled by coronavirus disease pandemic lockdowns for one-and-half years, a pilot program is now set to be launched as Bangladeshi schools reopened last month.

Regina de la Portilla, UN refugee agency spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar, recently told Arab News: “The Myanmar curriculum is to be introduced in learning centers, as per the government of Bangladesh request, with the objective that children can restart their education when they are able to safely and voluntarily return to their home country. Preparations are completed to roll out the pilot.”

The foreign ministry expected the program to be launched soon as final preparations are underway. A ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are working on it and are currently busy with last-minute preparations. We hope to roll out the curriculum anytime soon.

“We have made some observations in the curriculum to incorporate Myanmar culture. Our objective is to prepare them to integrate with the Myanmar society once they are repatriated,” he said.

BRAC, the largest development organization based in Bangladesh, which has been running learning centers for 65,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar, plans to teach them in Myanmar’s main language, Burmese.

Khan Mohammed Ferdous, BRAC’s education program chief at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News: “Teachers at our learning centers have received basic training but are yet to be trained for the new curriculum.

“Currently, we are following a learning competence framework and approach, a government-approved guideline for the informal education system. Gradually, the framework will jump into the Myanmar curriculum.”

Rohingya parents in Cox’s Bazar are waiting for the introduction of the new curriculum, which would help prepare them for future repatriation.

Fatema Begum, 35, said she had been worrying about her four children as formal education was not available at the camps.

“The introduction of the Myanmar curriculum in the camps is inspiring news to me because my children will have the opportunity to learn more about their homeland. They will have the eligibility to pursue higher education,” she added.

Abdur Rahim, 41, a father-of-three, was also hoping for a better future for his children.

He said: “The boys and girls at Rohingya camps have nothing to do except roam around. When the Myanmar curriculum is launched, they will be able to receive some quality education, which will help them to pursue a better career in Myanmar.”

Prof. Amena Mohsin from the University of Dhaka’s international relations department described the move as a “message” to the world that Rohingya refugees were Myanmar citizens whose opportunities in Bangladesh were limited.

She said: “There is no point in teaching the refugee children with the Bangladeshi curriculum since they are not allowed to get engaged in any formal job in Bangladesh. The Myanmar curriculum will help them prepare for livelihoods when they return to Myanmar.”


‘Afghanistan still exists’: Hope in Kabul after T20 World Cup win over Scotland

‘Afghanistan still exists’: Hope in Kabul after T20 World Cup win over Scotland
Updated 27 October 2021

‘Afghanistan still exists’: Hope in Kabul after T20 World Cup win over Scotland

‘Afghanistan still exists’: Hope in Kabul after T20 World Cup win over Scotland
  • Taliban officials took to social media to celebrate the win and wish the team success in future

KABUL: Residents of Kabul on Tuesday rejoiced at Afghanistan’s T20 World Cup victory against Scotland, with many saying the first major win for the cricket team since the Taliban takeover in mid-August was proof the country still existed.

Despite decades of violence and war, cricket is enthusiastically followed in Afghanistan, and on Monday, the Afghan national team beat Scotland in a match played at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in the UAE.  

“I couldn’t stop crying as I saw our team with our national flag — as we know the political situation in Afghanistan is not good, but in the meantime, it shows that a country called ‘Afghanistan’ still exists,” Ali Khan Shanghai, a shopkeeper in Kabul, told Arab News.

For Abdul Ahad Hassani, another Kabul resident, the win also symbolized the nation’s survival.

“Raising the Afghanistan national flag and playing the national anthem in these games indicates that Afghanistan can still breathe,” he said. “Beating Scotland by a huge margin … shows that Afghanistan still exists, and no one can defeat the new generation that we have.”

Abdul Saboor Atayee, a student at Al-Azhar University in Kabul, said that with the current unstable political situation in the country, the victory was a “great comeback for the nation, that we are still here.”

While the Taliban are not in favor of public entertainment and banned many forms of it during their previous rule between 1996-2001, officials celebrated the win, with Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid taking to social media to wish the team more success.

“Congratulations to all Afghans on the victory of the Afghan team in the ongoing World Twenty20,” Mujahid tweeted on Monday. “Congratulations to the team and wish them more success in the future.”

Afghanistan’s permanent representative-designate to the UN, and former Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, also took to Twitter.

“Well done boys!” he said. “May Allah favour you with future victories.”

Afghanistan Cricket Board member Haji Hassin Zadran told Arab News there was hope for more wins in the tournament as Afghanistan prepares to take on neighboring Pakistan during their next match on Friday.

“We hope that in this T20, we will be one of the major teams,” he said. “Our lions created history, they are the cause of smiles, and we wish them further success.”


UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person

UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person
Updated 26 October 2021

UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person

UK monarch won’t visit UN climate conference in person
  • The 95-year-old monarch has “regretfully’’ decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow to attend the reception on Nov. 1
  • “Her Majesty is disappointed not to attend the reception but will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message,’’ the palace said

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has canceled her planned engagement at the UN climate conference, accepting doctors’ advice to rest, Buckingham Palace said Tuesday.
The 95-year-old monarch has “regretfully’’ decided that she will no longer travel to Glasgow to attend the reception on Nov. 1 — a move that will dash the hopes of Britain’s Conservative government, which is hosting the event. The climate conference runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
“Her Majesty is disappointed not to attend the reception but will deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message,’’ the palace said.
The news came after the sovereign held virtual audiences Tuesday at Windsor Castle — the first work obligations since revelations that her doctors ordered her to rest last week.
The 95-year-old sovereign greeted the ambassador of the Republic of Korea during her first technology-aided appearance since she was driven to London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital on Oct. 20 for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime the next day.
The queen underwent the medical tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The period of rest followed a hectic few days for the monarch in which she held audiences with diplomats, had a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders and attended the horse races at Ascot.
Her hospital visit last week came amid general disquiet about Elizabeth’s health. Days earlier, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
The queen’s husband, Prince Philip, died in April 2021 at age 99. Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.


Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast
Updated 26 October 2021

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast

Up to 3 migrants feared dead off English coast
  • Search teams continue to look for the people, believed to be Somalis
  • MP: ‘The potential loss of life is extremely distressing’

LONDON: British Border Force officers and rescue teams are searching the English Channel amid fears that three migrants have died trying to cross from France to England in a small boat.

Two more people have been pulled from the water by rescuers, who continue to search the area using a helicopter and plane.

After being alerted to the distressed boat on Monday, officers continued to search for any more survivors well into Tuesday.

It is understood that they are looking for Somali passengers who may have left France as early as the weekend, the Daily Mail reported.

Days of treacherous weather and winds have further exacerbated fears for the safety of the other passengers.

Harwich and North Essex MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “Obviously the potential loss of life is extremely distressing. We should be extremely grateful to Border Force, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and search and rescue teams for all their efforts.”

He added: “We must redouble our efforts to deal with the criminal gangs who are trafficking migrants, taking money from them and putting them in great peril.”

If the three missing individuals are confirmed dead, this incident will have been one of the deadliest ever off the coast of England.

The UK has experienced record numbers of arrivals of refugees and migrants crossing in small boats from France.

The short but treacherous journey has been made by an estimated 2,500 people in October alone.

Figures so far this year have tripled those from the whole of 2020, with some 19,500 making crossings compared with 8,410.

A Coastguard spokesperson told the Daily Mail: “HM Coastguard will continue to safeguard life around the seas and coastal areas of the UK, working with search and rescue resources in the area.

“If a vessel needs search and rescue assistance, HM Coastguard will continue to respond and rescue those in danger.”

Despite controversy from anti-immigration elements of British society and media, the RNLI — a life-saving service at sea that relies almost entirely on public donations — has reiterated its firm commitment to protecting the lives of anyone caught in distress off Britain’s coast.

“Those we rescue are vulnerable people in danger & distress,” it tweeted earlier this year. “Each of them is someone’s father, mother, son or daughter — every life is precious. This is why we launch.”