UN Weekly Roundup: March 18-24, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Activists thirsty for action at water conference

A major U.N. water conference concluded Friday with more than 700 commitments for action across many sectors to stem a growing global water crisis. Thousands of participants from government, the private sector, academia and civil society participated in the three days of meetings that resulted in a new Water Action Agenda. However, calls by at least 150 countries for the U.N. secretary-general to create a special U.N. envoy for water have so far gone unheeded, although U.N. officials said Antonio Guterres is giving the proposal serious consideration.

UN Seeks Game Changers to Address Global Water Crisis

Black Sea grain deal continues, but for how long?

On March 18, the United Nations announced that the Black Sea Grain Initiative would continue but did not specify for how long. Turkey, which, along with the U.N., helped broker the deal, also did not specify the length of the extension. Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said it is for 120 days (which is what the agreement calls for) but Russia’s foreign ministry said it has agreed to only a 60-day extension. The package deal facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer products to international markets.

Black Sea Grain Deal Extended, Russia Says for 60 Days

Tensions increasing on Korean Peninsula

A senior United Nations official warned Monday that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is heading in the “wrong direction” days after North Korea fired its second intermediate-range ballistic missile of the year, followed by a short-range ballistic missile test Sunday. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenca told the Security Council that tensions are increasing, with no off-ramps in sight. On Friday, North Korea claimed it had tested a new underwater nuclear attack drone, which it said would create a “radioactive tsunami” on enemy shores.

UN: Tensions on Korean Peninsula Headed in ‘Wrong Direction’

Guterres meets with EU Commission, presses climate action

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres brought an urgent climate message to the European Union summit Thursday in Brussels, encouraging leaders of the bloc’s 27 member nations to take dramatic action. Following the release earlier in the week of a grim report by the organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Guterres said dramatic action is needed, as the planet gets closer to the “tipping point” that will make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

UN’s Guterres Brings Climate Warning to EU Summit

Calls for investigation of rights violations in northern Ethiopia

U.N. human rights experts warned Wednesday that peace in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region will not last unless violations committed during more than two years of armed conflict are investigated and the perpetrators are held to account.

Rights Experts: Violations in Ethiopia Must Be Investigated to Ensure Durable Peace

World Tuberculosis Day

After decades of progress, cases of the lung infection tuberculosis are on the rise again. Last year 1.6 million people died from the disease. India has the highest number of cases, with more than half-a-million related deaths in 2021 — about a third of the global total. March 24 is World TB Day and there is hope of a vaccine being developed in the next few years. The World Health Organization has set a target for eradicating TB by 2030, primarily through diagnosis, treatment and the development of a vaccine. Watch this report from VOA’s Henry Ridgwell for more:

World TB Day Sees Global Push to Eradicate Disease By 2030

Good news

Nearly 420 million children benefited from free school meals last year, a new World Food Program report said Tuesday, providing an important safety net as hunger reaches unprecedented crisis levels worldwide. The WFP said governments seem to be realizing the value of protecting the health and nutrition of children.

UN: School Meal Programs More than Just a Plate of Food

In brief

— Ukraine and the International Criminal Court signed a cooperation agreement Thursday on the establishment of a country office for The Hague-based tribunal in Ukraine. The court has been investigating a wide range of possible international crimes carried out since Russia’s invasion February 24, 2022. Earlier this week, the court made headlines when it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another senior Russian official, charging them with criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. The Kremlin rejected the court’s move saying, like many other states, Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court.

— The U.N., the World Bank, the European Union and the government of Ukraine said in the second Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment report that after a year of war, direct damage to infrastructure and people’s lives is calculated at more than $135 billion and social and economic losses amount to $290 billion. The country’s agriculture sector was hard hit, estimated to have lost $40 billion, overwhelmingly from destroyed equipment and mined farmland.

— The World Health Organization expressed concern this week at the rising number of cholera cases, especially in countries that have not had outbreaks in decades. As of March 20, two dozen countries have reported cases. The WHO says the response is hampered in part due to the global shortage of the oral cholera vaccine, as well as overstretched medical personnel, who are dealing with multiple health emergencies.

— As gang violence continues unabated in Haiti hindering people’s ability to access water and food, the World Food Program said Thursday that half of the population – nearly 5 million people – are struggling to feed themselves. Inflation and food prices are also hitting Haitians hard. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification of IPC, says 1.8 million people are estimated to be at emergency Phase 4 levels. The WFP says it urgently needs $125 million for the next six months to assist the most vulnerable.

— As the new school year got underway in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, called on de facto Taliban authorities “to allow all girls to return to school with immediate effect.” It said the “unjustified and shortsighted decision” to continue to bar more than 1 million Afghan girls from attending classes “marks another grim milestone in the steady erosion of girls’ and women’s rights nationwide.”

— WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China Saturday to be transparent in sharing data on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data recently made public suggests that raccoon dogs were present in the Wuhan animal market and may have been infected with the coronavirus. The Chinese city was where the first infections were reported and many of the first human cases were centered around the animal market. The WHO says the information is not conclusive but could shed new light on the origins of the virus and should have been shared three years ago.

What we are watching next week

On March 29, the General Assembly will take up a proposal from Vanuatu and backed by more than 100 countries that would seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice clarifying the legal obligations and consequences of and to states on protecting the rights of current and future generations from climate change. The resolution began in 2019 as the brainchild of students from the Pacific Island nation, which is among several small island states that are suffering the effects of the climate crisis but have contributed little to it.

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