Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?

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Updated 24 September 2022

Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?

Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?
  • Philanthropist Bill Gates has said in recent report UN’s 17 SDGs meant to be achieved by 2030 are all off track
  • Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman says investment in long-term sustainability must go hand in hand with immediate aid

NEW YORK CITY: “The goal should not simply be giving more food aid. It should be to ensure no aid is needed in the first place,” Bill Gates, the philanthropist and founder of Microsoft, wrote in an essay as his foundation launched a new report on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, published on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.

The Goalkeepers Initiative was launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2017 to bring together world leaders to speed up progress toward achieving the SDGs.

The 17 global objectives, set by the UN in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty and improve the lives of people worldwide by 2030.

With under eight years left to achieve the goals — which include education, gender equality, clean energy, and eradicating hunger — the Goalkeepers’ report says every indicator of the SDGs is off track.

At the beginning of September, UN Women published a report stating that it would take 286 years to achieve full gender equality in the legal system worldwide. It also stated that 10 percent of women and girls aged 15-49 were subjected to intimate partner violence in the last year.

“The truth is, we were never on track to reach SDG 5 — global gender equality — by 2030,” Melinda Gates wrote in an essay published by the Goalkeepers Initiative.

“Development experts knew this before they even finalized the goals. But today, halfway to our deadline, progress remains slow, even stalling,” she wrote, adding that economic inequality is a major root cause of the lack of progress.

“If you dig beneath the ‘years to gender equality’ metric, you’ll see that economic inequality is one of those root causes. The World Bank reported that the difference in expected lifetime earnings between women and men amounted to $172.3 trillion globally even before the pandemic — twice the size of the world’s annual gross domestic product,” Gates wrote.

While it lays out the challenges facing the achievements of these goals — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the war in Ukraine — the SDG report shines a spotlight on opportunities to accelerate progress by advocating for long-term investment in innovative approaches to entrenched issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, said the setbacks to the goals can “absolutely be reversed,” using different technologies and tools, particularly in those goals related to gender, climate and food security.

“We don’t have to settle for those trajectories,” Suzman told Arab News during a conversation on the sidelines of UNGA.




The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, headed by Mark Suzman, is monitoring global progress toward UN development goals. (Supplied)

He said the report is not only “a message of realism about the state of the world,” given the unprecedented shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but is also “a message of optimism.

“The sustainable development goals are commitments made by every government in the world to their own citizens: This is not some kind of vague civil society campaign,” he said.

“This is a formal statement of global shared solidarity, and we have all learned together the hard way of the last few years that we are adding resources, we can dramatically accelerate progress in coming years.”

The report reveals that the current setbacks follow nearly two decades of unprecedented global progress, during which there were annual reductions in extreme poverty, child mortality, and improvements in access to education.

“But now, with the food-security crisis and the inflationary shocks that have been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, we've had the first two years of genuine setbacks where some of these trends have gone in reverse,” said Suzman.

“After halving HIV/AIDS incidence and mortality over the last 20 years, we’ve suddenly seen an uptick again. After halving malaria incidence and mortality, we’ve seen an uptick again. We’ve seen many hundreds, or tens of millions, thrown back into extreme poverty. And now we see this massive shock of food insecurity (with) well over 100 million people in food insecurity from Yemen to Afghanistan, to the Horn of Africa.

“And so those are all really not just a call to action, but a demand to action to reverse it,” he said, lamenting the lack of commitment of many countries towards reversing these trends and accelerating the path towards achieving the SDGs.




South Sudan was declared the site of the world's first famine in six years, affecting about 100,000 people. More than three years of conflict have disrupted farming, destroyed food stores and forced people to flee recurring attacks. (AFP)

Action should be taken right now, Suzman said, using “extraordinary tools” — from providing women with digital financial access to the formal system, to the rapid scaling of more productive crops and resistant seeds which are more sustainable amid droughts which cause massive food insecurity.

Such tools could be life-changing for smallholder farmers across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, two areas that have been most affected by climate change, despite contributing the least to the emission of greenhouse gases.

“If governments and other partners, private sector, and philanthropy were able to respond at the scale that's demanded, we could see those trends shift very quickly,” Suzman said.

The Gates Foundation is bringing “a very major set of commitments” related to climate adaptation — which Suzman calls the “orphan child of the climate discussions” — to the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Egypt later this year.

The Foundation will urge the world to prioritize long term investments in agriculture and climate adaptation to help meet the needs of the poorest communities, such as soil health, irrigation tools, and extension services for farmers, “because we can and we have the assets available to help generate self-sufficiency in these regions. It’s eminently possible even in the context of climate change.

“That has to happen now. It can’t just be another vacuous promise for resources that come in the abstract one, two, three or five years from now.”




The Taliban ordered girls' secondary schools in Afghanistan to shut on March 23 just hours after they reopened, sparking confusion and heartbreak over the policy reversal by the hardline group. (AFP)

Suzman’s words echo those of Somalia’s Special Envoy for Drought Response Abdirahman Abdishakur, who told Arab News earlier this week that he does not want “to be knocking on doors again in five years’ time or ever.”

Though he is calling for immediate humanitarian assistance to help save lives and prevent drought-driven famine in his country, he is also strongly advocating for long term climate-adaptive solutions for Somali farmers to allow for greater self-sufficiency.

“If we’re only investing $1 billion a year in agricultural research, but $10 billion a year in humanitarian aid, that's the wrong way around,” said Suzman.

The tools, he added, the technology, and the ability to use “more thoughtful” irrigation and fertilizers are available now.

The Lives and Livelihoods Fund, a partnership between the Gates Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank which has Saudi Arabia as a key partner, has invested over $1.4 billion in such tools over the last few years.

It helped develop more resilient domestic rice production in Guinea, which is intended to serve as a model for several countries in West Africa — the world’s largest rice importing region — which Suzman says should be able to grow its own rice.

Elaborating on the Gates Foundation’s work in the Middle East, Suzman said: “We’ve been working, for example, on polio eradication, where Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last few countries that have wide poliovirus endemic, and the current floods in Pakistan are deeply challenging in that regard.”

At the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, hosted by US President Joe Biden in New York on Sept. 21, donors pledged $14.25 billion to end the spread of the three diseases, with “generous contributions” from several of the Gulf states.

“Our primary partnership with the Middle East is helping draw on some of the Middle East’s … technical logical resources and financial resources to help with our work in the Islamic world, and more broadly for some of these global efforts,” Suzman said.

 


China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon
Updated 11 sec ago

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

BEIJING: China on Monday accused the United States of indiscriminate use of force when the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday, saying that had “seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations.”
The US shot down a balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft.
Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said he lodged a formal complaint with the US Embassy on Sunday over the “US attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force.”
“However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, which obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.
The presence of the balloon in the skies above the US dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations that have been in a downward spiral for years. It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing tensions.
Xie repeated China’s insistence that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that blew into US mistake, calling it “an accidental incident caused by force majeure.”
China would “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.
US President Joe Biden issued the shootdown order after he was advised that the best times for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said. Military officials determined that bringing down the balloon over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
“What the US has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Xie said, referring to the recent meeting between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Indonesia that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have spiraled to their lowest level in years.
The sides are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights, but Beijing is most sensitive over alleged violations by the US and others of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Beijing strongly protests military sales to Taiwan and visits by foreign politicians to the island, which it claims as Chinese territory to be recovered by force if necessary.
It reacted to a 2022 visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by firing missiles over the island and staging threatening military drills seen as a rehearsal for an invasion or blockade. Beijing also cut off discussion with the US on issues including climate change that are unrelated to military tensions.
Last week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned Pelosi’s successor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, not to travel Taiwan, implying China’s response would be equally vociferous.
“China will firmly defend its sovereignty, security and development interests,” Mao Ning said. McCarthy said China had no right to dictate where and when he could travel.
China also objects when foreign military surveillance planes fly off its coast in international airspace and when US and other foreign warships pass through the Taiwan Strait, accusing them of being actively provocative.
In 2001, a US Navy plane conducting routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter plane, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the American plane, which was forced to make an emergency landing at a China naval air base on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan.
China detained the 24-member US Navy aircrew for 10 days until the US expressed regret over the Chinese pilot’s death and for landing at the base without permission.
The South China Sea is another major source of tension. China claims the strategically key sea virtually in its entirety and protests when US Navy ships sail past Chinese military features there.
At a news conference Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Blinken said “the presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and clearly unacceptable. And we’ve made that clear to China.”
“Any country that has its airspace violated in this way I think would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end,” Blinken said.
China’s weather balloon excuse should be dismissed outright, said Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy at Stanford University.
“This is like a standard thing that countries often say about surveillance assets,” Mastro said.
China may have made a mistake and lost control of the balloon, but is was unlikely to have been a deliberate attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit, Mastro said.
For the US administration, the decision to go public and then shoot down the balloon marks a break from its usual approach of dealing with Beijing on such matters privately, possibly in hopes of changing China’s future behavior.
However, Mastro said, it was unlikely that Beijing would respond positively.
“They’re probably going to dismiss that and continue on as things have been. So I don’t see a really clear pathway to improved relations in the foreseeable future.”


Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests
Updated 06 February 2023

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests
  • The 31 who pleaded guilty, including former law professor Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong, will be sentenced after the trial
  • Western governments have criticized the 2020 national security law as a tool to crush dissent in the former British colony

HONG KONG: Sixteen Hong Kong pro-democracy figures face trial on Monday, more than two years after their arrest, in what some observers say is a landmark case for the city’s judicial independence under a national security law imposed by Beijing.
The defendants are those who pleaded not guilty out of 47 arrested in a dawn raid in January 2021 and charged with conspiracy to commit subversion for participating in an unofficial primary election in 2020.
Thirteen of those arrested were granted bail in 2021, while the other 34 — including 10 who pleaded not guilty — have been in pre-trial custody on national security grounds.
Western governments have criticized the 2020 national security law as a tool to crush dissent in the former British colony. Chinese and Hong Kong authorities say the law, which punishes subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, has brought stability to the Asian financial hub after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Prosecutors have described the primary election — held to select the strongest candidates to contest an upcoming legislative election — as a “vicious plot” to subvert the government and to wreak “mutual destruction” on the city by taking control of the city’s parliament.
The lengthy, high-profile case has drawn international criticism, as government prosecutors repeatedly requested more time to prepare legal documents and gather more evidence.
“This trial is not simply a trial against the 47 opposition leaders but also a trial for the population who has been supporting the pro-democracy movement for decades,” Eric Lai, a fellow at Georgetown Center for Asian Law in Washington, told Reuters.
The trial is expected to last 90 days, with three defendants expected to testify against the others, prosecutors say.
Those who have pleaded not guilty include former journalist Gwyneth Ho, activist Owen Chow, former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, and labor unionist Winnie Yu.
“The actual people who need to go on trial are absolutely not us,” Chow wrote on his Facebook page in September. “We’re not guilty at all.”
The 31 who pleaded guilty, including former law professor Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong, will be sentenced after the trial.
Among a number of departures from established common law procedures, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam refused the defendants a jury trial. The case will be heard by three High Court judges designated under the national security law: Andrew Chan, Alex Lee and Johnny Chan.
Pretrial proceedings were largely kept out of the public eye until Judge Lee agreed to lift reporting restrictions in August.

 


Putin promised not to kill Zelensky: Former Israeli PM

Putin promised not to kill Zelensky: Former Israeli PM
Updated 06 February 2023

Putin promised not to kill Zelensky: Former Israeli PM

Putin promised not to kill Zelensky: Former Israeli PM
  • Bennett said that during his mediation, Putin dropped his vow to seek Ukraine’s disarmament and Zelensky promised not to join NATO

TEL AVIV, Israel: A former Israeli prime minister who served briefly as a mediator at the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine says he drew a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett emerged as an unlikely intermediary in the war’s first weeks, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet President Vladimir Putin during the war in a snap trip to Moscow last March.
While Bennett’s mediation efforts appear to have done little to end the bloodshed that continues until today, his remarks, in an interview posted online late Saturday, shed light on the backroom diplomacy and urgent efforts that were underway to try to bring the conflict to a speedy conclusion in its early days.
In the five-hour interview, which touched on numerous other subjects, Bennett says he asked Putin about whether he intended to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I asked ‘what’s with this? Are you planning to kill Zelensky?’ He said ‘I won’t kill Zelensky.’ I then said to him ‘I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelensky.’ He said ‘I’m not going to kill Zelensky.’”
Bennett said he then called Zelensky to inform him of Putin’s pledge.
“’Listen, I came out of a meeting, he’s not going to kill you.’ He asks, ‘are you sure?’ I said ‘100 percent he won’t kill you.’“
Bennett said that during his mediation, Putin dropped his vow to seek Ukraine’s disarmament and Zelensky promised not to join NATO.
There was no immediate response from the Kremlin, which has previously denied Ukrainian claims that Russia intended to assassinate Zelensky.
Reacting to Bennett’s comments in his widely reported interview, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote Sunday on Twitter: “Do not be fooled: He is an expert liar. Every time he has promised not to do something, it has been exactly part of his plan.”
Bennett, a largely untested leader who had served as prime minister for just over six months when the war broke out, unexpectedly thrust himself into international diplomacy after he had positioned Israel into an uncomfortable middle ground between Russia and Ukraine. Israel views its good ties with the Kremlin as strategic in the face of threats from Iran but it aligns itself with Western nations and also seeks to show support for Ukraine.
An observant Jew and little known internationally, he flew to Moscow for his meeting with Putin during the Jewish Sabbath, breaking his religious commitments and putting himself at the forefront of global efforts to halt the war.
But his peacemaking efforts did not appear to take off and his time in power was short-lived. Bennett’s government, an ideologically diverse union that sent current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a brief political exile, collapsed in the summer over infighting. Bennett stepped away from politics and is now a private citizen.

 


Mali junta expels UN mission’s human rights chief: govt

Mali junta expels UN mission’s human rights chief: govt
Updated 06 February 2023

Mali junta expels UN mission’s human rights chief: govt

Mali junta expels UN mission’s human rights chief: govt
  • “This measure comes after the destabilising and subversive actions of Monsieur Andali,” added the statement, which was also read out on national television news

BAMAKO: Mali’s ruling junta said Sunday that it was expelling the head of the human rights division of MINUSMA, the UN mission there, giving him 48 hours to leave the country.
The decision comes after a Malian rights activist last month denounced the security situation in the country in a speech to a UN gathering, and accused the regime’s new Russian military partners of serious rights violations.
The foreign ministry had declared Guillaume Ngefa Atonodok Andali, head of MINUSMA’s human rights section, persona non grata, said a statement issued by government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga.
“This measure comes after the destabilising and subversive actions of Monsieur Andali,” added the statement, which was also read out on national television news.
Andali had taken it upon himself to decide who were the representatives of civil society, ignoring the authorities and national institutions, the statement added.
“Andali’s bias was even more evident during the last review of the United Nations Security Council on Mali,” the statement added.
On January 27, Aminata Cheick Dicko criticized the regime at a special UN Security Council briefing on Mali.
MINUSMA was set up in 2013 to try to stabilize Mali in the face of the growing threat from jihadist fighters.
Its mission also included the protection of civilians, contributing to peace efforts and defending human rights.
But the security situation has continued to deteriorate in the west African country.
The military regime has repeatedly blocked MINUSMA’s attempts to investigate growing reports of human rights abuses carried out by the armed forces.

 


Ukraine to replace defense minister after corruption scandals: MP

Ukraine to replace defense minister after corruption scandals: MP
Updated 05 February 2023

Ukraine to replace defense minister after corruption scandals: MP

Ukraine to replace defense minister after corruption scandals: MP
  • "Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping", Ukranian lawmaker says

KYIV: Ukraine’s defense minister will be preplaced by the chief of the military intelligence ahead of an expected Russian offensive and following corruption scandals, a senior lawmaker said on Sunday.
“Kyrylo Budanov will head the defense ministry, which is absolutely logical in wartime,” said senior lawmaker David Arakhamia, referring to the 37-year-old chief of the military intelligence.
Reznikov, 56, will be appointed minister for strategic industries, the lawmaker said without specifying a timeline for the planned re-shuffle.
“War dictates personnel policies,” added Arakhamia.
“Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping. This is happening now and will continue to happen in the future,” he added.
“The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves.”
One of the best-known faces of Ukraine’s war effort, Reznikov was appointed defense minister in November 2021 and has helped secure Western weapons to buttress Ukrainian forces.
But his ministry has been beset by corruption scandals.
Reznikov’s deputy was forced to resign in late January after the ministry was accused of signing food contracts at prices two to three times higher than current rates for basic foodstuffs.
Speaking to reporters earlier Sunday, Reznikov did not say if he planned to stay on at the ministry.
But he added that only President Volodymyr Zelensky, who last week stepped up efforts to clamp down on corruption, could decide his fate.
“The stress that I have endured this year is hard to measure precisely. I am not ashamed of anything,” Reznikov said. “My conscience is absolutely clear.”