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.


Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star
Updated 9 sec ago

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

BARCELONA: When they were just eight years old, Spanish twins Sergio and Javier Torres set a goal — they wanted to become chefs who were among the top in their field.

To achieve this, they strategically split up to get training in different esteemed kitchens around the world, published books on cooking and presented a popular TV show.

The plan worked.

Over four decades after they surprised their family by saying they wanted to be chefs, Sergio and Javier’s Barcelona restaurant, Cocina Hermanos Torres, was awarded a third Michelin star last month.

“We developed a plan, that I think is a perfect plan,” a smiling Javier, 51, said at the restaurant, one of only 13 in Spain and Portugal with the top three-star ranking from the prestigious French guide.

“When we started to go out of Barcelona, we thought that Sergio would take one path, I would take another, and we would never coincide until we were ready,” he added. The journey took the twins — who grew up in a working-class Barcelona neighborhood — to different elite restaurants in Spain, Switzerland and France.

Before moving to Paris where he worked with top French chef Alain Ducasse, Sergio spent two years at the award-winning Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier which is also run by twins — Jacques and Laurent Pourcel.

“We were separated but every month we met up in a restaurant, ate well, we spent the little money we had and developed the next steps of our strategy,” said Sergio as he sat beside his brother.

Each brother specialized in different areas — one learned to cook meat and vegetables, the other fish and bread, he added.

Both siblings credit their grandmother for their passion for cooking.

She was part of a wave of people who moved from the southern region of Andalusia to the more industrialized Catalonia in the northeast in search of a better life following Spain’s devastating 1936-39 civil war.

“Our grandmother looked after us, and since she was in the kitchen all day we literally grew up in a kitchen,” said Sergio.

After earning two Michelin stars with their previous project “Dos Cielos” and becoming familiar faces thanks to their participation in a cooking show, they decided to open Cocina Hermanos Torres in 2018.

The twins visited some 200 possible locations before settling on an industrial building near Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou football stadium.

They invested nearly 3 million euros to convert it into the restaurant, which seats a maximum of 50 people at tables with no wall separating them from the three workstations where staff prepare meals.

“We wanted to reflect what we experienced in our childhood, which was a kitchen and a table, and everyone around the table,” said Javier.

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
  • Bangladesh, GCC signed memorandum establishing framework for cooperation
  • Energy security one of top priorities for Bangladesh amid recent power crisis

DHAKA: Bangladesh is planning to tap into cooperation possibilities with Gulf countries, focusing on energy and food security after a recent agreement on future partnerships with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Dhaka and the GCC — an intergovernmental economic union of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — signed a memorandum establishing a framework for cooperation on Nov. 18.

The deal was reached on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue regional security conference in Bahrain by Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen and GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf.

“Energy cooperation is one of our topmost priority issues which will be discussed during joint consultation. Besides, boosting political cooperation will also be a priority area,” Iqbal Hussain Khan, director general of West Asia at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News over the weekend.

He added that as Gulf countries had lately been focused on ensuring food security, Bangladesh — a major seafood and vegetable exporter — would also try to identify potential areas of cooperation in that sector.

“We will sit with GCC authorities for detailing the cooperation areas and fixing the road map within the shortest possible time which is mutually convenient for both the parties,” Khan said.

“We have huge potential for boosting cooperation with Gulf countries since nowadays regional organizations are becoming stronger.”

More details and specific proposals are expected to be announced after upcoming talks between Bangladeshi and GCC authorities.

“Let the discussions begin first. Very soon we will contact the GCC to start the first round of discussions,” Khan added.

The cooperation was likely to help Bangladesh with energy security.

Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months. In early October, some 80 percent of its 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.

“Energy security is another big area of cooperation for Bangladesh. Through a long-term arrangement, during bilateral trade talks for a preferential trade agreement or free trade agreement, we must include the oil supply issues to be ensured,” Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News.

He added that the future cooperation would also benefit Bangladeshi migrant workers — 90 percent of whom live and work in GCC countries.

“In the case of migrant labor exports, cooperation from the GCC nations will be very important. We need to work to reduce the cost of migration as well as increasing workplace safety, job security, and ensuring earning security,” he said.

“In the long run, it will benefit the GCC countries also since they also need migrant workers from this region.”

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
Updated 10 min 22 sec ago

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
  • Dominic Raab was moved to the Justice Ministry in the aftermath of the disastrous evacuation of British troops in 2021
  • Official: ‘One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that … advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because (Raab) didn’t like the formatting’

LONDON: Afghans died as a result of the actions of the former UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, during the disastrous withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a high-level meeting of officials was told, The Guardian reported on Monday.

Raab, who is now the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, faces allegations that his decisions during the withdrawal were partially responsible for the UK’s lackluster evacuation efforts.

According to the report, a meeting called to discuss Raab’s conduct during the 2021 evacuation was told that “people had died” in Afghanistan because the former foreign minister decided not to read crucial new information.

Raab is also facing allegations of bullying behavior towards staff and claims that while foreign minister, he blocked important communications with high-level officials in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. At the time of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Raab faced significant criticism about his personal conduct when he went on holiday to Greece at the height of the crisis.

An official present at the meeting, which took place on May 6, said: “There was a long discussion to clarify that his behavior stepped over the mark from forthright to unprofessional.

“One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that, when Raab was at FCDO, people had died when advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because he didn’t like the formatting.”

The official also alleged that Raab arrived hours late to meetings with high-level staff because he was exercising. The minister also needlessly “snapped at and belittled” staff, the official said.

In separate evidence during an inquiry into Raab’s conduct, former FCDO official Raphael Marshall said that the former foreign minister took “hours to engage” in high priority cases.

As a result, some Afghans who might otherwise have been able to leave the country failed to arrive at Kabul airport in time for flights on British aircraft, he added.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “This is yet more evidence that suggests Dominic Raab created a toxic culture at the FCDO that could have put lives on the line during the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan.”

Raab was moved from his position and given the Justice Ministry portfolio in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He has consistently denied the allegations against him and has taken partial credit for Britain’s evacuation of almost 17,000 Afghans.

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 05 December 2022

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
Updated 05 December 2022

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
  • Lot included jewel-encrusted skull of Arab chieftain slaver killed in 1893

LONDON: An auction house in Brussels has delisted three African and Arab skulls that were set for bidding following a backlash against the sale, The Times reported on Monday.

Drouot and Vanderkindere listed the three items — including one jewel-encrusted skull of an Arab slaver killed in 1893 — alongside paintings, coats, and other antiques.

The skulls date back to Belgium’s period of colonization in Africa. An estimated 10 million people died as a result of Belgian expansion, with the Congo in particular being subject to widespread violence.

The Arab skull of Munie Mohara, a chieftain slaver, was believed to have been taken as a prize by Belgian steelers following his death.

Earlier this year Belgium passed a law to return looted artifacts to the Congo. A government committee was expected to propose the return of human remains held in the European country.

Following the sale delisting, the auction house said: “We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period. We apologize to anyone who feels hurt by this sale.”

Colonial Memory and the Fight Against Discrimination, a campaign group, filed a complaint over the auction.

The group’s co-coordinator, Genevieve Kaninda, said: “It is as if people are being killed a second time. The colonial violence keeps repeating itself.”