Religion & the Pandemic: A Call Beyond the Here & Now

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Opinion

Prof. Azza Karam is Secretary General, Religions for Peace International

Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Albania distributing Covid relief supplies from the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund. Credit: Erzen Carja

NEW YORK, Aug 4 2020 (IPS) – — I have never been interested in religion or spirituality before, but I found myself tuning in to all sorts of on-line religion and spirituality related forums “in search of something.”


These are the words of a 30-something single young, middle class man (born into a Protestant-Catholic family background) in a European country.

The latter is known more for turning several churches into museums or shopping centers, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. When people are afraid, lonely and alone – they tend to seek “something” beyond science.

A quarter of Americans say their faith has become stronger because of the pandemic, according to a Pew survey conducted during April 20-26, 2020, of 10,139 U.S. adults.

But this is to be contrasted with the experiences of those from an older generation (60+) in the southern hemisphere, like my own 85-year old Muslim father, who lives to pray. For him, the mosque has, over the last decade since my mother’s death, become both his spiritual hub and social club.

His cohort is differing ages of retirees, who, in spite of very different political perspectives in a Middle Eastern country reflecting the now normal of intense polarization, treasure their prayerful community spaces. This middle class (an endangered species to be sure) of retirees, share a sense of deep faith informing their social and political convictions.

For many of them, the lockdown was experienced primarily s an inability to go to the mosque, and thus as almost physically painful. None of them countenanced the idea of on-line prayers, that doesn’t make any sense, they maintained. Their sense of depression was almost palpable throughout the lockdown period, as was their joy at the reopening of some mosques.

The coronavirus presents barriers to caring for the sick and to performing certain death and burial rites which are core religious practices, and especially needed in a pandemic that has already claimed nearly hundreds of thousands of lives.

In Sri Lanka for example, public health measures for safe burial practices have already challenged traditional rites, wherein authorities mandated cremations for Covid-19-linked deaths, despite the fact that cremation is supposed to be forbidden in Islam.

Covid-19 also complicates Jewish and Muslim burial practices of washing and cloaking bodies before burial, given concerns about transmission. Innovative religious responses seeking to reconcile public health policies with traditional burial practices have been taking place.

In Israel, for example, bodies are wrapped in plastic before burial, and before that, ritual washing is completed while wearing full protective gear. Some Islamic scholars are providing exegesis and guidance on how the ritual of washing the body prior to burials, could be conducted safely whilst following Islamic principles.

Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Albania distributing Covid relief supplies from the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund. Credit: Erzen Carja

This echoes what occurred during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. In fact, while COVID-19 differs from HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and Ebola, there are nevertheless some important similarities.

In cases of dealing with diseases where transmission affects large numbers of people, and vaccines and medication remain relatively hard to find and/or provide to all affected, beyond the health inequities which are underscored during such times, there are critical lapses by national and international authorities in acknowledging and supporting the role of religious leaders.

In fact, during previous outbreaks of HIV/AIDS (around the world), and of Ebola in Central and West Africa, the strengths of religious communities were rarely incorporated into public policy – until national and international secular authorities lose the plot.

In Religions for Peace (the only multi religious organization representing all religious institutions and communities around the world with 90 national and 6 regional Inter-Religious Councils/IRCs), a founding mantra is that caring for the most vulnerable is deeply embedded in all faith traditions.

As a result, religious institutions, communities, and faith-inspired/based NGOs (or FBOs as they are often referred to), have historically served as the original providers of essential social services. In fact, FBOs are the first responders in most humanitarian emergencies. Their work includes providing spiritual sustenance for sure, but also hunger relief, heath care, and shelter.

This is not only a feature of the developing world. Samaritan’s Purse set up a health center at the height of the pandemic in Central Park – an icon of New York city. Caritas, at one point, was feeding 5,000 people a day, in Geneva, Switzerland.

For 50 years, Religions for Peace worked to equip its IRCs (through the respective religious institutions and services) to seek peace through advocating for human rights (including the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as women, religious minorities, the disabled, elderly, and youth), mediating conflicts, providing emergency humanitarian relief, and contributing to sustainable development efforts (including health, nutrition, sanitation, education and environmental sustainability).

The defining feature of Religions for Peace IRCs is multi-religious collaboration. The main principles of this collaboration are representativity and subsidiarity. In the case of the former, each IRC earns Religions for Peace affiliation by ensuring its governance represents each and all of the nations religious institutions, and communities. In return, each IRC is guaranteed its independence to determine its national/regional priorities, and its modus operandi.

Half a century of collaboration with several United Nations entities at different moments in time, provides a comparative context to enable an assessment of how the UN works with some religious actors.

At the very least, this historical time-line of partnership efforts on peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, provides a learning context. It is with that in mind that we can say that UN efforts in seeking partnerships with faith-based NGOs in facing the Covid-19 implications, are noticeably on the increase relative to pre-Covid dynamics.

Entities like UNHCR, UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO, and even non-operational entities like the Secretary-General’s own office, as well as UN Office of Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, have, respectively, issued statements specifically calling on religious leaders and actors to uphold their unique influences (noted above), sought religious input on and in Covid Guidance documents, and (are) hosting multiple consultations to strengthen myriad joint responses.

Working with multiple stakeholders, Religions for Peace research is revealing that while some religious charities are struggling to find resources to continue their services for communities, other FBOs are able to raise more resources for pandemic relief, than anticipated.

This is particularly the case for Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist organisations in countries in Asia, but also Muslim and Christian charities in Africa and the Middle East.

Almost 90% of Religions for Peace IRCs reported a 100% increase in engagement (asks) of their advocacy and messaging efforts from/by national governments, particularly as of May and June 2020 – as compared to this time last year.

This is evidenced through national campaigns during religious occasions and holidays, as well as local awareness raising efforts by religious leaders in particular, as opposed to faith-based NGOs.

Out of the Covid response efforts tracked by 25 Religions for Peace IRCs in 4 regions, thanks to the Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund administered by RfP, multi-religious efforts are, on average, much harder to encourage than efforts administered by Ecumenical or single religion organisations.

A rough estimate shows that out of the nearly 100 humanitarian assistance projects being tracked by RfP in 40 countries in parts of Africa and Asia, only 1 percent involve multi-religious efforts. Several IRCs have also reported finding it harder to even advocate for multi religious collaboration to provide pandemic assistance (food and medicine packages) in conflict impacted countries (i.e. more than it normally is to seek to mediate some of the conflicts and/or work with governments in mediation efforts).

While it is now almost a cliche to call for more partnerships with religious, or faith-based actors, this is simply not good enough. FBOs, like many NGOs fully immersed in relief efforts, are finding several (good) excuses not to work together.

Faced with a global pandemic, even the FBOs – ostensibly inspired by religious calls for serving all, including the most vulnerable – are less keen on collaborating across their multiple differences (institutional, theological, structural, financial and political), as they continue to serve millions.

Is it enough to serve all who need regardless of religious affiliation (the current bar against which religious NGOs are often measured by the UN and other international entities), or should a pandemic inspire more, and better collaboration among multi-religious partners?

One can but wonder what the relative lack of religious NGO collaboration may foretell for social coexistence after the pandemic, not to mention what this lack of collaboration spells for the legitimacy of the so-called prophetic voice many of them speak of.

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Reflections on the Charter of the United Nations on its 75th Anniversary

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Opinion

Mona Juul is the seventy-fifth President of the Economic and Social Council and Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.

Inga Rhonda King (left), Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations and seventy-fourth President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), hands over the gavel to Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations and newly-elected seventy-fifth President of ECOSOC, at the opening meeting of the 2020 session of ECOSOC. New York, 25 July 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

NEW YORK, Jul 29 2020 (IPS) – This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, written and signed during a period of great global change. Today, the world is again shifting beneath our feet. Yet, the Charter remains a firm foundation for our joint efforts.


These uncertain times of global disruption shine a light on the interdependences of our world. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the inequality it has exposed, are a global challenge that we must solve through global solutions. These solutions call for more, not less, cooperation across national borders.

Global cooperation is the enduring promise of the Charter of the United Nations. I am honoured to preside over the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the principal organs of the United Nations, at its 75th anniversary.

In January 1946, 18 members gathered for the inaugural meeting of ECOSOC under the leadership of its first President, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar of India. ECOSOC was vested with a powerful mandate, to promote better living for all ¬¬by fostering international cooperation on economic, social and cultural issues.

The Charter recognizes the value of social and economic development as prerequisites for stability and well-being. In a 1956 speech, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said that “while the Security Council exists primarily for settling conflicts […] the Economic and Social Council exists primarily to eliminate the causes of conflicts.”

For me, this is a reminder that sustainable peace and prosperity rely on global solidarity and cooperation.

Today, this unity of purpose to reach those furthest behind first is also the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda is our shared road map to transform the world as we recover better, protect our planet and leave no one behind. With ECOSOC serving as the unifying platform for integration, action, follow-up and review of the SDGs, our promise to eradicate poverty, achieve equality and stop climate change must drive our actions.

ECOSOC has the unique convening power to make this happen. It brings together valuable constituencies such as youth and the private sector to enhance our work and discussions. ECOSOC also remains the gateway for civil society engagement with the United Nations. Civil society has been central to progress on international economic, social and environmental cooperation, from the small but critical number of organizations present in San Francisco when the Charter was signed in 1945, to the 5,000-plus non-governmental organizations with ECOSOC consultative status today.

Wilhelm Munthe Morgenstierne, Ambassador to the United States, member of the delegation from Norway, signing the Charter of the United Nations at the Veterans’ War Memorial Building in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945. Credit: UN Photo/McLain

The Charter also outlines that ECOSOC should promote universal respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. While much has shifted in our world, this mandate remains just as important today as in 1945. After all, human rights are a part of the foundation of the United Nations, quite literally. When Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General and fellow Norwegian, laid the cornerstone of United Nations Headquarters at Turtle Bay in October 1949, it contained, together with the Charter, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights have always been a part of the work of ECOSOC. The former United Nations Commission on Human Rights was one of the first functional commissions created within ECOSOC and was charged with drafting the Universal Declaration. Today, ECOSOC remains committed to playing its part to promote all rights: civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

In stark contrast to the 18 men who formed the first meeting of ECOSOC in 1946, I am proud to be the third consecutive female president of ECOSOC and one of five female presidents in its 75-year history. Although slow, this is progress, especially compared to 1945, when out of the 850 international delegates that convened in San Francisco to establish the Charter of the United Nations, only eight were women, and only four of them were signatories to the Charter. Today, the Secretary-General has achieved gender parity in all senior United Nations positions, and the Commission on the Status of Women is perhaps the highest profile part of the work of ECOSOC. The Commission’s annual session is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

ECOSOC must work to place gender equality at the heart of all our work. Women’s rights and gender equality are imperative to a just world. In all my endeavours, I strive to promote and advance these rights with a vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and fair world, for the benefit of women and girls—and men and boys alike.

Before the current crisis, more people around the world were living better lives compared to just a decade ago. More people have access to better health care, decent work and education than ever before. Nevertheless, inequality, climate change and the lasting negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to undo these gains. While we have technological and financial resources at our disposal, unprecedented changes will be needed to align resources with our sustainable development objectives. The United Nations must remain at the forefront of our collective efforts guided by our commitment to the Charter.

The true test of our success will be whether persons, communities and countries experience improvement in their lives and societies. The United Nations must be of value to people. To our family. To our neighbours. To our friends. Unless we achieve this, our credibility is at stake.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, let us remind ourselves of the promise it embodies, to help the world become a more prosperous, just, equitable and peaceful place.

To me, the opening words of the Charter, “WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS”, are a humble and empowering reminder of our capability to overcome current and future challenges. Even in troubling times, there remains great hope in the power of working together. That is the founding spirit of the United Nations—and in this 75th anniversary year, as we face grave and global challenges, it is the spirit we must summon today.

This article was first published by the UN Chronicle on 26 June 2020.

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Are We Going from San Francisco?

Armed Conflicts, Conferences, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?

 

Global Solidarity & Effective Cooperation in the Face of COVID-19

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Opinion

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka is Assistant Secretary-General and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Partnerships; Robert Piper is Assistant Secretary-General, Director of Development Coordination Office; and Ulrika Modéer is Assistant Administrator of UNDP & Director of Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy.

Coronavirus pandemic threatens crises-ravaged communities as UN appeals for global support. Credit: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2020 (IPS) – The COVID-19 pandemic upended almost every aspects of life as we know it. Even those countries that are supposed to have the means to manage the spread and mitigate the effects are struggling.


Besides the $5 trillion stimulus package that the G20 economies agreed to deal with the pandemic, individual countries are also devising various measures to shore up their health care systems, stabilize their economies, and assist affected workers and businesses.

Even before the full brunt of the coronavirus outbreak reached some of the poorest countries, the economic impacts are already being felt. With declining global demand for raw materials, breakdown of global supply chain, and mounting debt burden, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to exceed $220 billion.

The urgent shouldn’t crowd out the important

With greater uncertainty and fear of global recession looming large, governments are looking for resources needed to lessen the socio-economic pains of the crisis. In this process, official development assistance (ODA) won’t be spared and could come under increased scrutiny.

Decisions made now will have potentially devastating – or transformative – impact for years to come. Despite the economic and political pressure, we must protect ODA, which is needed more than ever.

The spread of COVID-19, especially in places with weak governance and health infrastructures, is expected to be overwhelming if the international community does not act now.

For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, many countries have the lowest number of physicians per capita in the world while some experience ongoing conflicts, making it difficult to fight the virus.

Credit: UNFPA

The collateral impact of COVID-19 on health, education and nutrition systems will be extremely damaging, and in many cases irreversible, for children and society at large. And when the world opens up again, the resilience of the weakest health systems will dictate how well we do against future threats.

The UN Secretary General argued that “this human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action—and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”

It is critical for the international community to fulfil the humanitarian appeal for COVID-19 response while protecting existing commitments to long-term development and other ‘silent’ emergencies.

Doing so will help protect the most vulnerable people from being exposed to the effects of COVID-19 and preserve hard-earned development gains in fighting global poverty and expanding basic services.

Left to their own devises, fragile nations may risk the breakdown of socio-political order, civil unrest and state collapse, further exacerbating the dire situation.

Flexible funding key to tackling COVID-19

COVID-19 is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a development crisis. Development agencies are supporting countries to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the crisis.

The effectiveness of their response to certain degree depends on the flexibility afforded to them in funding and operational procedures.

To tackle this uniquely complex health and development crisis, the adequacy and flexibility of funding to development agencies are pivotal. Flexible “core” funding is already making a difference in the COVID-19 response to reach people in need faster, empower local actors, deploy essential supplies to the frontline, and protect the most vulnerable – children, refugees, women.

This enabled the affected communities to practice due diligence and self-driven discretion to immediately respond to threats of the pandemic, while waiting for the pledged assistance to arrive. For instance, in Nigeria, funding flexibility allowed UNICEF to come up with an innovative solution to fight misinformation around COVID-19 while UNDP was able to support the government double the ventilator capacity in the country.

Collaboration, not competition

The COVID-19 pandemic is a devastating crisis in history. But it also posits an opportunity to remind the global community why multilateralism is vital to securing the world’s peace, security, and prosperity.

We witness how the health crisis of today’s globalized world interlinks global economy, geopolitics, and social values. Our effective response to the public health crisis should be seen as key to resolving the ensuing economic, humanitarian, and development challenges.

Understanding this interlinked and complex reality of COVID-19, governments need to work together closely to take coordinated actions and share scientific information, resources and expertise.

It is this strong motion for collaboration that underpins the UN agencies commitment to reinforce the humanitarian-development nexus to jointly respond to the COVID-19 crisis, working closely through the UN Crisis team, humanitarian response plan, UN Response and Recovery Fund for COVID-19.

For example, in Guinea-Bissau, WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, and IOM joined hands to help build isolation facilities and triage space, and procure necessary equipment for COVID-19, both for the national hospital as well as for the re-modelling of the UN clinic.

With strong solidarity and effective cooperation, the international community will not only arrest COVID-19, but also use the emergency to build back better health systems and a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

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Water, Climate, Conflict & Migration: Coping with 1 Billion People on the Move by 2050

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Opinion

Nidhi Nagabhatla is Principal Researcher, Water Security at the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, funded by the Government of Canada and hosted by McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada

Padma River Basin, Bangladesh Credit: Nidhi Nagabhatla

HAMILTON, Canada, Jun 8 2020 (IPS) – Do migrants willingly choose to flee their homes, or is migration the only option available?

There is no clear, one-size-fits-all explanation for a decision to migrate — a choice that will be made today by many people worldwide, and by an ever-rising number in years to come because of a lack of access to water, climate disasters, a health crisis and other problems.


Data are scarce on the multiple causes, or “push factors,” limiting our understanding of migration. What we can say, though, is that context is everything.

UN University researchers and others far beyond have been looking for direct and indirect links between migration and the water crisis, which has different faces — unsafe water in many places, chronic flooding or drought in others.

The challenge is separating those push factors from the social, economic, and political conditions that contribute to the multi-dimensional realities of vulnerable migrant populations, all of them simply striving for dignity, safety, stability, and sustainably in their lives.

A new report, ‘Water and Migration: A Global Overview,’ (https://bit.ly/3gxDgE7) from UNU’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, offers insights into water and migration interlinkages, and suggests how to tackle existing gaps and needs.

Its information can be understood easily by stakeholders and proposes ideas for better informed migration-related policymaking, including a three-dimensional framework applicable by scholars and planners at multiple scales and in various settings.

The Report also describes some discomforting patterns and trends, among them:

    • By 2050, a combination of water and climate-driven problems and conflicts will force 1 billion people to migrate, not by choice but as their only option;
    • Links to the climate change and water crises are becoming more evident in a dominant trend: rural-urban migration;
    • That said, there is a severe lack of quantitative information and understanding re. direct and indirect water and climate-related drivers of migration, limiting effective management options at local, national, regional, and global scales
    • Global agreements, institutions, and policies on migration are concerned mostly with response mechanisms. Needed is a balanced approach that addresses water, climate, and other environmental drivers of migration
    • Unregulated migration can lead to rapid, unplanned, and unsustainable settlements and urbanization, causing pressure on water demand and increasing the health risks and burdens for migrants as well as hosting states and communities
    • Migration should be formally recognized as an adaptation strategy for water and climate crises. While it is viewed as a ‘problem,’ in fact it forms part of a ‘solution’
    • Migration reflects the systemic inequalities and social justice issues pertaining to water rights and climate change adaptation. Lack of access to water, bad water quality, and a lack of support for those impacted by extreme water-related situations constitute barriers to a sustainable future for humankind.

Case studies in the report provide concrete examples of the migration consequences in water and climate troubled situations:

    • The shrinking of Lake Chad in Africa and the Aral Sea in Central Asia
    • The saga of Honduran refugees
    • The rapid urbanization of the Nile delta, and
    • The plight of island nations facing both rising seas and more frequent, more intense extreme weather events.

In addition, the added health burdens imposed on people and communities by water pollution and contamination create vicious cycles of poverty, inequality and forced mobility.

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda does not include an explicit migration target, its mitigation should be considered in the context of SDGs that aim to strengthen capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. These issues resonate even as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent news stories have chronicled the plight of desperate migrant workers trapped in the COVID-19 crisis in India, and of displaced people in refugee camps where social distancing is unachievable, as is access to soap and water, the most basic preventive measure against the disease.

Add to that the stigma, discrimination, and xenophobia endured by migrants that continue to rise during the pandemic.

Even at this moment, with the world fixated on the pandemic crisis, we cannot afford to put migration’s long-term causes on the back burner.

While the cost of responses may cause concerns, the cost of no decisions will certainly surpass that. There may be no clear, simple solution but having up-to-date evidence and data will surely help.

On World Environment Day ( https://bit.ly/3dnKkks) last week (June 5), we were all encouraged to consider human interdependencies with nature.

Let us also acknowledge that water and climate-related disasters, ecological degradation and other environmental burdens causes economic, health and wellbeing disparities for migrants and populations living in vulnerable settings.

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NGOs – with Local Groups in the Lead – are on COVID-19 Frontlines

Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Abby Maxman is President & CEO of Oxfam America

Credit: Oxfam America

BOSTON, USA, May 11 2020 (IPS) – NGOs, at the international, national – and most of all local – level are on the frontlines every day.

I just heard from Oxfam staff in Bangladesh, that when asked whether they were scared to continue our response with the Rohingya communities in Cox’s Bazar, they replied: “They are now my relatives. I care about them — and this is the time they need us most.’”


These people – and those that they and others are supporting around the globe – are at the heart of this crisis and response.

As we talk about global figures and strategies, we must remember we are talking about parents who must decide whether they should stay home and practice social distancing or go to work to earn and buy food so their children won’t go hungry; women who constitute 70% of the workers in the health and social sector globally; people with disabilities and their carers; those who are already far from home or caught in conflict; people who don’t know what information to believe and follow, as rumours swirl.

Looking more broadly, we see that the COVID-19 crisis is exposing our broken and unprepared system, and it is also testing our values as a global community. COVID-19 is adding new and exacerbating existing threats of conflict, displacement, gender-based violence, climate change, hunger and inequality, and too many are being forced to respond without the proper resources – simple things like clean water, soap, health care and shelter. We must be creative and nimble to adapt our response in this new reality.

Most vulnerable communities

We know too well that when crisis hits, women, gender diverse persons, people with disabilities and their carers, the elderly, the poor, and the displaced suffer the worst impacts as existing gender, racial, economic and political inequalities are exposed.

Abby Maxman

These communities need to be at the center of our response, and we, as the international community, must listen to their needs, concerns and solutions.

Access

As we continue to ramp up our response, we must have access to the communities most in need. Likewise, COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to stop those greatest in need from accessing humanitarian aid.

Border closures are squeezing relief supply and procurement chains; Lockdowns and quarantines are blocking relief operations; And travel restrictions for aid workers have been put in place, disrupting their ability to work in emergency response programs.

Authorities should absolutely take precautions to keep communities safe, but we need to work at all levels to also ensure life-saving aid can still get through and people’s rights are upheld.

Local and national NGOs are on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, and communities’ access to the essential services and lifesaving assistance they provide must be protected. We also know that with effective community engagement, we can gain better and more effective access to communities.

Humanitarian NGOs and partners are adapting our approaches to continue vital humanitarian support while fulfilling our obligation to “do no harm.”

This adaptive approach, and our experience of ‘safe programming,’ shifting to remote management where possible; and scaling back some operations where necessary—will all be crucial as COVID-19 restrictions continue to amplify protection concerns and risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Funding

To mount an effective response, we must draw on our collective experience, but this crisis also offers an opportunity to change the way we work, including setting up new funding mechanisms to allow our system to leverage the complementary roles we all play in a humanitarian response.

Overall, NGOs urgently need funding that is flexible, adaptive, and aligned with Grand Bargain commitments. Our work is well underway, but more is needed to get resources to the frontlines.

We need to better resource country based pooled funds, which are crucial for national and local NGOs. Now more than ever, donors must support flexible mechanisms to increase funding flows to NGO partners.

Next Steps

In closing, the international community needs to come together to battle this pandemic in an inclusive and a responsive way that puts communities at the heart of solutions. Even while we respond in our own communities, we must see and act beyond borders if we are ever to fully control this pandemic.

The planning and response to COVID-19 need to be directly inclusive of local and national NGOs, women’s rights organizations, and refugee-led organizations leaders. We must address this new threat, while still responding to other pressing needs for a holistic response.
This means continuing our response to the looming hunger crisis, maintaining access to humanitarian aid, and supporting existing services including sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services.

We need to ensure humanitarian access is protected to reach the most vulnerable.

And funding needs to be quickly mobilized through multiple channels to reach NGOs and must be flexible both between needs and countries.

This much is clear: We cannot address this crisis for some and not others. We cannot do it alone. The virus can affect anyone but disproportionately affects the most marginalized. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our global response includes everyone.

We owe it to those dedicated staff and their honorary “relatives” in Cox’s Bazar, and all those like them around the globe, to get this right.

This article was adapted from Abby Maxman’s comments as the NGO representative at the UN’s Launch of the Updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan on May 7, 2020.

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