As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
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A firefighter watches as the Bobcat Fire burns near Cedar Springs in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 21, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (File/AFP)
As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
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Performers during the UN Day concert. (Twitter)
As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
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Farmer Amina Guyo with her son preparing cowpeas and cowpeas leaves for the main meal of the day next to her house in Uran ward, Moyale, Kenya on July 6, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2021

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
  • In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted 17 global goals as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”
  • “A Blueprint for a Better Future” is also the theme established by the United Nations Association to celebrate UN Day on Oct. 24

NEW YORK CITY: When the Bobcat Fire, one of the largest outbreaks in Los Angeles county’s history, erupted in September 2020, scorching hundreds of thousands of acres, 12-year-old Audrey Ma was within 500 feet of the area where a mandatory evacuation order was issued.

Ma’s parents asked her to pack her belongings as flames approached the neighborhood, and for a moment the child contemplated the possibility of losing everything she had and abandoning the only life she had known so far.

The Bobcat, one of about 30 major wildfires burning in the US state of California, led to the deaths of 26 people and the destruction of an untold number of properties.

FASTFACT

United Nations Day is an annual commemorative day, reflecting the official creation of the United Nations on Oct. 24, 1945.

Although her house was spared from the flames, Ma’s fear of the infernal images of forests and structures burning to the ground prompted her to look into the causes of the California fires.

How do they start? How do they spread? Why are there so many fires in Southern California?

“I learned that, although climate change is not the (direct) cause of the fires, (drier climates due to rising temperatures) make fires easier to start and spread. So, I started to learn about sustainability,” Ma told Arab News.

A UN scientific study this year has shown that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.




US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (2nd L) reads a statement among representatives of UN members during their formal pledge to cooperate for victory and to adhere to the Atlantic Charter in Washington D.C. in 1942. (File/AFP)

The report warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, called it “a red code for humanity.”

But the world continues to fall short of its promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, transition into clean energy and rebuild sustainably.

However, the new generation, like Ma, is directly feeling the urgency and realizing the direct impact climate change is having on their daily lives.

Renee Larios is the student community engagement coordinator at Pasadena’s private Polytechnic School where Ma is a student. Larios works with students to “help them navigate the things they want to do in the world to make the world better.”

Larios happened upon the UN Sustainable Development Goals four years ago. Her mind was blown, she told Arab News.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly set forth the SDGs — 17 global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.




French Foreign Affairs minister Georges Bidault (C) flanked by US Secretary of States James F. Byrnes (L) and French ambassador Henri Bonnet signs the UN Charter in the name of France on Aug. 24, 1945 in Washington. (File/AFP)

“We decided to bring the SDGs back to our school to create a framework for our community engagement programs, to help students see the drops in the bucket that their volunteering does to further the 17 goals,” Larios said. “We’re also trying to get teachers to connect their curriculum, when possible, to one or more of the goals.”

“The students must, for every community engagement or service work that they do, explain what the relationship is between what they did and how that furthers the intention of one of the SDGs.”

After learning how food thrown into landfills rots and creates methane gas responsible for trapping the heat in our planet and making it warmer, Ma began implementing a sorting program at her school to separate the food waste from the trash, and then composting the waste in bins around the school.

“Now our sorting program can absorb 25 percent of our food waste,” Ma said. “However, the other 75 percent goes to an off-site composter, and we’re still burning fossil fuel by transporting it from place to place, which is not sustainable.

“So, our short-term goal is to be able to compost 100 percent of our food waste on-site at Poly (Polytechnic School), which leads to our long-term goal, which is (to) take this program and make it a science and then export it to other schools and use it as a blueprint for other schools to do the same thing, so we can reach meaningful reduction of greenhouse gas.”

“A Blueprint for a Better Future” is the theme established by the United Nations Association to celebrate UN Day on Oct. 24, marking the 76th anniversary of the foundational UN Charter.

The values that have powered the charter — peace, development, human rights and opportunity for all — “have no expiry date,” in the words of Guterres.




Image of a general view of the Security Council meeting on maintenance of international peace and security and upholding the UN Charter. (File/AFP)

“Seventy-six years ago, the United Nations was created as a vehicle of hope for a world emerging from the shadow of catastrophic conflict,” he added in his message marking UN Day.

“COVID-19, conflicts, hunger, poverty and the climate emergency remind us that our world is far from perfect, but they also make clear that solidarity is the only way forward.

“We need to come together to tackle great challenges and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. 

“Today, the women and men of the UN carry this hope forward around the globe.”

As the head of global Initiatives Program at the Polytechnic School, Ann Diederich mentors the leaders of the UNA-Polytechnic School Chapter, where a rich programming is in place geared toward creating youth leadership.

“Our theme is ‘Empathy into Action,’” Diederich said. “How do we get our kids to come up with solutions to really complex global challenges, look at the SGDs and come up with concrete action steps to design change?

“The SDGs are very helpful for giving kids a framework and a blueprint, so they can do it and do it in a healthy way.”

Diederich, who has been teaching for 25 years, said she is concerned about this generation, commonly known as Gen Z.




Members of the UN Security Council participate in a meeting titled “Maintenance of International Peace and Security” on Jan. 09, 2020 in New York City. (File/AFP)

“They seem to be on edge, overloaded with all the issues that they’re confronted with,” she said. “They really want to do something. They really care about each other. They have been isolated throughout the pandemic, and (now) they are very eager to work for change.

“I have never seen a generation like this. They’re quick, they do not waste time, they see that change needs to be made fast, and they don’t really trust the older generation, the millennials, to do that. They also sometimes outdo themselves.”

Ma quotes British explorer Robert Swan Obe, the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Ma said: “I know at the end of the day, everything that we do is a choice. And sometimes I am worried that people are making the easy choice.

“I know that we’re able to either choose to battle climate change or to do everything the way we always did and someone is gonna come along and figure out a way to save us.

“I chose to fight for my future and climate change and I hope that one day everybody will make that decision as well.”




View of the UN Headquarters building during the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2021 in New York City. (File/AFP)

Since its inception, the UN’s overarching aim was simple: Children should have a better and happier life than their parents.

The UN has spent more than seven decades attempting to save and improve lives, lives that today continue to hang in the balance as wars erupt in different parts of the world, driving millions into displacement, poverty and extreme food insecurity.

The pandemic has also widened the gap between rich and poor. The world’s inequalities have never been so clearly displayed for everyone to see, from vaccine inequality to the discrepancy in quality education.

SDG 4 is about quality education for all.

Ma said: “I know I myself am very privileged to be able to have this education but there is a lot of people out there who are not able to.




Malala Yousafzai is presented with the UN Charter by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (C) July 12, 2013 at UN headquarters in New York as Ban’s wife Ban Soon-taek (L) and Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education (R) watch. (File/AFP)

“I look up to people like Malala Yousafzai, who is fighting for quality education, especially for girls in Pakistan.

“I’ve watched a doc about her. I read her book. And I also listened to her UN speech. I am really inspired by her movement for gender equality and education for girls in Pakistan. I think that’s really important.”

Ma has a message for girls in Syria, Yemen and all the war-ravaged countries where people like her merely survive:

“My message to girls around the world: We all have different strengths and backgrounds and diverse stories. Even if you can’t get access to education, you can try to learn as much as you can, educate yourself about the world around you and if you can, maybe with your friends, your family. Fight for what you think is right in the world.”


India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
Updated 05 December 2021

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
  • The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21

MUMBAI: India on Sunday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 deaths since July after two states revised their death tolls.
The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.
A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected.
Indian states have continued to add unreported COVID-19 deaths in recent months, lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.


Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
Updated 05 December 2021

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
  • Local media reports said Indian security forces had mistakenly opened fire on civilians
  • It was unclear what led to the incident in the state bordering Myanmar

GAUHATI, India: Angry villagers burned army vehicles in protest after more than a dozen people were killed by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants in India’s remote northeast region along the border with Myanmar, officials said Sunday.
Nagaland state’s top elected official Neiphiu Rio ordered a probe into the killings, which occurred on Saturday, and he tweeted, “The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting is highly condemnable.”
An army officer said the soldiers fired at a truck after receiving intelligence about a movement of insurgents in the area and killed six people. As irate villagers burned two army vehicles, the soldiers fired at them, killing seven more people, the officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
One soldier was also killed in the clash with protesters, he said.
Insurgents often cross into Myanmar after attacking Indian government forces in the remote area.
Nyamtow Konyak, a local community leader, said those killed were coal miners.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah expressed anguish over the “unfortunate incident” and said the state government will investigate the killings.
The army officer said the soldiers had laid an ambush for a week following intelligence that insurgents were planning to attack soldiers in the area, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote northeast whose demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.

Related


Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

JAKARTA: Ten people trapped after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted have been evacuated to safety, the country’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as the death toll from the disaster climbed to at least 13 and with dozens injured.
Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.
The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.
BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people have been killed after the eruption, two of whom have been identified. Ninety-eight have been injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption as seen from Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

Thoriqul Haq, a local official in Lumajang, said earlier that sand miners had been trapped around their work sites.
BNPB said at least 35 people had been hospitalized, while Lumajang’s deputy head said 41 people suffered burns.
Semeru, more than 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) high, is one of Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes. It erupted in January, causing no casualties.
Indonesia straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Separately, an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck north of Halmahera on Sunday, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said. Halmahera is about 2,000 km


Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov

MOSCOW: Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that’s seen as a sign of a potential invasion.
Biden will press US concerns about Russian military activities on the border and “reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday, confirming the planned call after first word came from Moscow.
Putin will come to the call with concerns of his own and intends to express Russia’s opposition to any move to admit Ukraine into the NATO military alliance. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the presidents will decide themselves” how long their talk will last.
The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware attacks against the United States. Biden said the US would take any necessary steps to protect critical infrastructure from such attacks.
Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the US
Russia is more adamant than ever that the US guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former US and NATO diplomats say any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.
US intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.
US officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said Friday.
Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.
Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David.
“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.
Psaki said in a brief statement Saturday that Biden and Putin will discuss a range of topics in the US-Russia relationship, “including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues.”
She said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”
US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin for the Kremlin’s interference in US elections, cyberactivity against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.
When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”


Rohingya from Bangladesh island camp visit families

A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
Updated 05 December 2021

Rohingya from Bangladesh island camp visit families

A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
  • 68 of Bhasan Char’s 20k refugees have returned to the mainland to see loved ones

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities said on Saturday they are planning to make Rohingya family reunions more frequent, as the first group of refugees resettled to a remote island camp in the Bay of Bengal last year visited their relatives on the mainland.

Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya, who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017. Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal region in the country’s east, which with the arrival of Rohingya became the world’s largest refugee settlement.
To take pressure off Cox’s Bazar, the Bangladeshi government has since December 2020 sent 20,000 refugees out of a planned 100,000 to Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island some 68 km from the mainland.
The UN refugee agency had criticized the relocation on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability until October, when it signed an agreement with the Bangladeshi government to start operations on the island. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch continue to oppose the project, questioning whether the resettlement has been voluntary.
A year since the beginning of relocation, 68 Rohingya living in the island camp were allowed to arrive in Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday night to stay for eight days.
“We have plan to regularize such visits for family reunions of the Rohingyas. After the return of the first batch, we will review the outcome and organize the tour for a second batch if there are no anomalies,” Zohirul Islam, in charge of the Bhasan Char camp, told Arab News.
“In the first batch 68 Rohingyas were taken for the reunion with the families and friends at Cox’s Bazar. They will stay over with the family for eight days.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN refugee agency had criticized the relocation on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability until October, when it signed an deal with the government to start operations on the island.

• Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch continue to oppose the project, questioning whether the resettlement has been voluntary.

He added it took a year to grant permission, as authorities needed time to prepare the trip and logistics.
Fatema Begum, 23, who was reunited with her ailing mother in Cox’s Bazar, said the visit gave her “great peace of mind.”
“I was worried about my mother’s health condition,” said Begum, adding: “I was not sure whether I could see her again in my life.”
She told Arab News she would rather stay on the mainland, as most of her family members are in Cox’s Bazar, but in Bhasan Char her fisherman husband has more opportunities to earn a livelihood.
Unlike her, Zobaer Ahmed, 24, said he felt safer on the island as gang violence incidents have been on the rise in Cox’s Bazar in recent months.
“But it’s a great joy to be reunited with my mother, sisters and eight other family members after so many months,” he said. “I am happy to see their faces. No words can express my joy.”
For Ahmed, Bhasan Char is a good place for living, he said, as each family has its own house and there is more space compared with the congested makeshift settlements of Cox’s Bazar. He expressed hope, however, that there would be more freedom of movement for the island’s inhabitants.
“I have shared the information with my friends and family members over the facilities we are currently enjoying at Bhasan Char island,” he told Arab News. “Some of them have expressed interest to be relocated to the island.”
Nur Khan, a prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh, said the reunion was a “praiseworthy initiative,” but certain issues should be addressed as recent reports suggest that dozens of refugees have fled the island, where they are not allowed to move outside the camp.
“The authorities also need to think why some Rohingyas tried to flee from the island in recent months. The authorities should work to find out and remove the causes,” Khan told Arab News.
“We should keep in mind that the Rohingyas are free men also. They took shelter here to save lives. So, we need to ensure a life with dignity for them.”