UN Blueprint that Could Urgently Solve Earth’s Triple Climate Emergencies

A recent UN report lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution. Fishers on Kochi, Kerala operates the traditional lift-net method where catches have fallen drastically as a result of mechanised over-fishing. High fuel subsidies make it profitable for deep-sea fishing trawlers even when travelling large distances into sea. Safeguarding small fisher communities’ rights, expanding marine conservation area can allow biodiversity and fish growth to stabilise. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A recent UN report lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution. Fishers on Kochi, Kerala operates the traditional lift-net method where catches have fallen drastically as a result of mechanised over-fishing. High fuel subsidies make it profitable for deep-sea fishing trawlers even when travelling large distances into sea. Safeguarding small fisher communities’ rights, expanding marine conservation area can allow biodiversity and fish growth to stabilise. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Feb 19 2021 – “Our war on nature has left the planet broken. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” António Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations said.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it,” the UN Chief told the media while releasing a UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) major new report.

Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies’ lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution but provides detailed solutions too by drawing on global assessments, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, the UNEP International Resource Panel, and new findings on the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.

Without nature’s help we will not thrive, not even survive

“Without nature’s help we will not thrive, not even survive,” Guterres cautioned.

The UN chief was, however, particularly hopeful climate and biodiversity commitment will see progress as he is set to welcome United States back to the Paris Agreement today, Feb. 19.

The “net-zero club” is growing, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP said.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was emerging as a moment of truth for our commitment to steer Earth and for our commitment to steer Earth and its people toward sustainability. (But) loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, together with climate change and pollution will undermine our efforts on 80 percent of assessed SDG targets particularly in poverty reduction, hunger, health, water, cities and climate,” Anderson said.

“Women represent 80 percent of those displaced by climate disruption; polluted water kills a further 1.8 million, predominantly children; and 1.3 billion people remain poor and some 700 million hungry,” Guterres said.

Christian Walzer, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Executive Director for Health Programs and one of the co-authors of the Making Peace with Nature report, told IPS via email: “Intact and functioning nature is the foundation on which we must build back better. Trying to separate economic recovery from healthy environments and climate change neglects the essential fact that the solutions to these crises are tightly interconnected and reinforce each other.” 

He underlined how ecosystem degradation heightens the risk of pathogens making the jump from animals to humans, and the importance of a ‘One Health’ approach that considers human, animal and planetary health together. Walzer is a veterinarian who leads on One Health issues across the world.

Economic growth has brought uneven gains in prosperity to a fast-growing global population, leaving 1.3 billion people poor, while tripling the extraction of natural resources to damaging levels and creating a planetary emergency. Subsidies on fossil fuels, for instance, and prices that leave out environmental costs, are driving the wasteful production and consumption of energy and natural resources that are behind all three problems.

Guterres pointed out how governments are still paying more to exploit nature than to protect it, spending 4 to 6 trillion dollars on subsidies that damage environment. He said over-fishing and deforestation is still encouraged by countries globally because it helped GDP growth, despite drastically undermining livelihoods of local fishers and forest dwellers.

In the current growth trajectory despite a temporary decline in emissions due to the pandemic, the earth is heading for at least 3°C of global warming this century; more than 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species are at substantially increased risk of extinction; and diseases caused by pollution are currently killing some 9 million people prematurely every year.

A farmer in Kerala’s hinterlands applies chemical fertilisers to his rice paddies. Large areas under unsustainable agricultural methods world-over in a drive for higher food production has damaged the environment. Scientific climate friendly methods are available and are equally productive.

A farmer in Kerala’s hinterlands applies chemical fertilisers to his rice paddies. Large areas under unsustainable agricultural methods world-over in a drive for higher food production has damaged the environment. Scientific climate friendly methods are available and are equally productive.
Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The blueprint for solutions

The authors of Making Peace with Nature report assess the links between multiple environmental and development challenges, and explain how advances in science and bold policymaking can open a pathway towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and a carbon neutral world by 2050 while bending the curve on biodiversity loss and curbing pollution and waste.

Taking that path means innovation and investment only in activities that protect both people and nature. Success will include restored ecosystems and healthier lives as well as a stable climate.

Amid a wave of investment to re-energise economies hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the blueprint communicates the opportunity and urgency for ambitious and immediate action. It also lays out the roles that everyone – from governments and businesses to communities and individuals – can and must play.

“2021 is a make-it or break-it year, a mind-shift year,” said Guterres. 2021, with its upcoming climate and biodiversity convention meetings, is the year where governments must come up with synergistic and ambitious targets to safeguard the planet.

To turn the tide of current unsustainability, the UNEP blueprint has several recommendations some of which include that governments include natural capital while measuring economic performance of both countries and businesses, and putting a price on carbon and shift trillions of dollars in subsidies from fossil fuels, non-sustainable agriculture and transportation towards low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions.

It is high time, the report advises, to expand and improve protected area networks for ambitious international biodiversity targets. Further, non-government organisations can build networks of stakeholders to ensure their full participation in decisions about sustainable use of land and marine resources, the report recommends.

Financial organisations need to stop lending for fossil fuels, and boost renewable energy expansion.  Developing innovative finance for biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture is of utmost importance now.

Businesses can adopt the principles of the circular economy to minimise resource use and waste and commit to maintaining transparent and deforestation-free supply chains.     

Scientific organisations can pioneer technologies and policies to reduce carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency and lift the resilience of cities, industries, communities and ecosystems

Individuals can reconsider their relationship with nature, learn about sustainability and change their habits to reduce their use of resources, cut waste of food, water and energy, and adopt healthier diets. two-thirds of global CO2 emissions are linked to households. “People’s choices matter,” the Guterres said.


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Money vs. Happiness

By Raghav Gaiha, Vani S. Kulkarni and Veena S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 19 2021 – The question whether the rich are more satisfied with their lives is often taken for granted, even though surveys, like the Gallup World Poll, show that the relationship between subjective well-being and income is often weak, except in low-income countries in Africa and South Asia. Researcher Daniel Kahneman and his collaborators, for example, report that the correlation between household income and reported life satisfaction or happiness with life typically ranges from 0.15 to 0.30. There are a few plausible reasons. First, growth in income mostly has a transitory effect on individuals’ reported life satisfaction, as they adapt to material goods. Second, relative income, rather than the level of income, affects well-being — earning more or less than others looms larger than how much one earns. Third, though average life satisfaction in countries tends to rise with GDP per capita at low levels of income, there is little increase in life satisfaction once GDP per capita exceeds $10,000 (in purchasing power parity). This article studies the relationships between subjective well-being, which is narrowly defined to focus on economic well-being in India, and variants of income, based on the only panel survey in India Human Development Survey (IHDS).

Why do we need a new measure of well-being when there is already a widely used, objective welfare measure based on per capita income? There are several reasons. The first stems from the distinction between decision utility and experienced utility. In the standard approach to measure well-being, ordinal preferences are inferred from the observations of decisions made supposedly by rational (utility maximising) agents. The object derived is decision utility. In contrast, recent advances in psychology, sociology, behavioural economics and happiness economics suggest that decision utility is unlikely to illuminate the utility associated with different experiences — hence the emphasis on measures that focus more directly on experienced utility, notably using subjective well-being (SWB) responses.

We draw upon the two rounds of the IHDS for 2005 and 2012. An important feature of IHDS is that it collected data on SWB. The question asked was: compared to seven years ago, would you say your household is economically doing the same, better or worse today? So, the focus of this SWB is narrow. But as it is based on self-reports, it connotes a broader view that is influenced by several factors other than income, assets, and employment, like age, health, caste, etc.

There is a positive relationship between SWB and per capita expenditure (a proxy for per capita income, which is frequently underestimated and underreported): the higher the expenditure in 2005, the greater was the SWB in 2012. The priority of expenditure, in time, rules out reverse causation from high SWB to high expenditure, i.e., higher well-being could also be associated with better performance resulting in higher expenditure. High expenditure is associated with a decent standard of living, good schooling of children, and financial security. As India’s comparable GDP per capita in 2003 (PPP) was $2,270, well below the threshold of $10,000, it is consistent with extant evidence.

Aspirations and achievements

In order to capture the gap between aspirations and achievements, we have analysed the relationship between SWB and ratio of per capita expenditure of a household to the highest per capita expenditure in the primary sampling unit. Although this is a crude approximation to relative deprivation, we get a negative relationship between SWB and this ratio. In other words, the larger the gap, the greater is the sense of resentment and frustration, and the lower is the SWB.

The larger the proportionate increase in per capita expenditure between 2005 and 2012, the greater is the SWB. To illustrate this, we construct three terciles of expenditure in 2005: the first representing extremely poor, the second the middle class, and the third the rich. If the proportionate increase in per capita expenditure is highest among the extremely poor and lowest among the rich, the higher will be the SWB of the extremely poor. This is indeed the case.

This provides important policy insights. One is that in a lower-middle-income country like India, growth of expenditure or income is significant. However, the widening of the gap between aspirations and achievements or between the highest expenditure/income of a reference group and actual expenditure/income of a household reflects resentment, frustration and loss of subjective well-being. So, taxing the rich and enabling the extremely poor to benefit more from economic opportunities can enhance well-being. In conclusion, objective welfare and subjective well-being measures together are far more useful than either on its own.

Veena S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at Arkansas State University and is a co-author for this article. Raghav Gaiha is Research Affiliate, Population Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania; Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania


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Yemen Heads towards Worst Famine World has Seen in Decades

Volunteers teach people living in settlements about COVID-19. This photo was taken in Sana’a, Yemen. At a Security Council briefing yesterday UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said people in Yemen are more worried about hunger than the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Dhia Al-Adimi/UNICEF

Volunteers teach people living in settlements about COVID-19.
This photo was taken in Sana’a, Yemen. At a Security Council briefing yesterday UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said people in Yemen are more worried about hunger than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: Dhia Al-Adimi/UNICEF

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 19 2021 – Yemen is heading towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades, the United Nations Security Council was warned in a briefing yesterday.

“Across Yemen, more than 16 million people are going hungry – including 5 million who are just one step away from famine,” Mark Lowcock, the UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said during the briefing. The country has a population of just over 29 million.

Lowcock briefed the council about the worsening food insecurity and malnourishment of children in the country, among other issues. He pointed out four areas that need to be addressed immediately: protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for aid services, and establishing peace.

At the briefing, Lowcock highlighted the issue of hunger and child malnutrition in a country where people are more worried about hunger than the COVID-19 pandemic.

He pointed out that currently, severe malnourishment affects 400,00 children under the age of five in the country — most of whom have just a few weeks or months to live.

“These are the children with distended bellies, emaciated limbs and blank stares – they are starving to death,” Lowcock said.

Hunger and conflict are inextricably linked as they both breed off of each other: hunger leads to conflict, and conflict leads to hunger, Annabel Symington, spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Yemen, told IPS.

“The alarming hunger levels in Yemen have been caused by six years of conflict and the almost near total economic collapse that has resulted in over half the population – 16 million people facing crisis level of food insecurity, and 50,000 people living in famine-like conditions,” Symington said, adding that the pandemic has been an exacerbating factor in an already deep conflict.

Lowcock also raised the issue of the recent attack on Marib city, the stronghold of the government, calling it an “extremely dangerous” escalation. “It threatens to send hundreds of thousands of people again running for their lives at a time when everyone should be doing everything possible to stop famine,” he said.

“Front lines are reportedly moving closer to civilian areas. At least four missiles landed in Marib city in the last ten days – seemingly fired indiscriminately. Those attacks killed at least three civilians. Missiles have also landed around camps for displaced people. Thousands are already fleeing,” he said.

But Ibrahim Jalal from the Middle East Institute (MEI) says the UN should have delivered a stronger message and specifically named Yemen’s Houthi group who were responsible for offensive in Marib city.

“I think the first thing I expected is more clarity in language,” Jalal, a non-resident scholar at the MEI’s Gulf Affairs and Yemen Programme, told IPS after the briefing. “You see so many issues when they talk about protection of civilians, or humanitarian issues at stake or even the military escalation by Houthis in Marib — they were not named in any form of clarity.”

He criticised Lowcock’s discussion of the Marib attack as well as the SAFER tanker issue as ones without much nuance or critical questions. He said even though Lowcock brought up these issues, it remained “clearly unanswered” for many as to why these incidents took place and who needs to be held accountable in response.

Jalal believes Lowcock should have also specifically addressed the issue of  internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps, which have been hit particularly hard by the most recent attacks.

“The [IDPs] situation in Marib is quite alarming, so things should’ve been spelled just very clearly — language matters,” Jalal said. “I don’t see that there.”

Meanwhile Lowcock also pointed out the challenges in different parts of the country that are hampering aid.

In the south, there are administration challenges such as delays in signing project agreements or releasing equipment.

In the north, he said, Ansar Allah authorities are the ones causing delays in aid services reaching the people.

“[Ansar Allah] regularly attempts to interfere with aid delivery and they regularly harass aid agencies and staff,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

Ansar Allah is also an obstacle for the UN’s ability to address the SAFER tanker issue, he said.

“Ansar Allah authorities recently announced plans to review their approval for the long-planned mission and advised the UN to pause some preparations,” he said. “They have now dropped this review. Unfortunately, we only heard that they dropped the review after a key deadline had passed to deploy the team in March.”

“I want to emphasise that the UN remains eager to help solve this problem,” Lowcock added. “We think it poses a clear and present danger to everybody across the country.”

But Jalal still felt that these were mere words that wouldn’t translate into actions.

“I don’t think it was bold,” he said regarding Lowcock’s statement. “It was just another UN statement that might not meet the urgency and the alarming threats over the two million IDPs in Marib, or even the catastrophic looming environmental disaster [brought] on by the SAFER tanker issue.”

Jalal said he is concerned that the SAFER tanker issue keeps being pushed behind in priority year after year.

“When you have a looming multi-faceted crisis, the first thing is you address it,” he said. “But without addressing it, you’re deliberately or inadvertently contributing to the escalation of the crisis and now it’s more alarming than ever.”

Meanwhile Symington at WFP expressed hope about the United States’ administration’s recent declaration about ending the war in Yemen.

“Conflict is the core driver of the hunger crisis in Yemen, so any positive steps towards ending the conflict are strongly welcomed,” Symington told IPS. “We are hopeful that any steps towards peace will ultimately alleviate the hunger crisis in Yemen.”


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Education Cannot Wait: COVID-19 Emergency Response Fact Sheet

By External Source
Feb 19 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Education Cannot Wait’s (ECW) COVID-19 emergency response has reached over 9 million children and youth (47% girls) to date. ECW’s COVID-19 emergency grants span across 33 crisis-affected countries/emergency contexts.

Funds were allocated in two phases to 25 United Nations agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations, with the second phase focusing on refugee, internally displaced and host community girls and boys.

ECW’s 6-12 month First Emergency Response (FER) grants support continuous access to education including: distance, online and, radio learning; information campaigns on health and hygiene; risk communication and community engagement in local languages; psychosocial and mental health support; and, water and sanitation facility upgrades in schools and learning centers

Download the full fact sheet to learn more about ECW’s education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q&A: Tigray – the Fighting will Continue & Exacerbate Civilian Suffering

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. The Tigray Region has been rocked by conflict since November 2020, and the International Crisis Group believes the conflict is far from over despite the federal government gaining administrative control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, and other main cities in the region. (File photo) Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. The Tigray Region has been rocked by conflict since November 2020, and the International Crisis Group believes the conflict is far from over despite the federal government gaining administrative control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, and other main cities in the region. (File photo) Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Nalisha Adams
BONN, Germany, Feb 19 2021 – While Ethiopia’s federal government may have administrative control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, and other main cities in the region, including Shire, Adwa, and Aksum, after removing the regional government from power in late November — armed resistance in Tigray is not over and could continue for months.

According to William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, “there is still considerable conflict ongoing in Tigray, which runs against the narrative being propagated by Ethiopia’s federal government that the fighting ended when they took control of Mekelle”.

“It seems that in large chunks of rural Tigray, away from the main roads, away from the main cities and the bigger towns — normally about 15 to 20 km into the countryside — especially in central Tigray, the federal government and allied entities are not in control.

“We presume in those areas there is a significant presence of forces directed by the ousted Tigray leadership, now known as the Tigray Defence Forces, although it is hard to be sure due to the continued telecoms and access restrictions,” Davison told IPS.

The Tigray region has been rocked by conflict since Nov. 3, 2020, when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-run regional government clashed with federal authorities following a dispute over the autonomy of the region that was related to the TPLF’s loss of power at the federal level.

A briefing published last week by ICG noted that the presence of the Eritrean military in Tigray — repeatedly denied by the Ethiopian government and not admitted by Eritrea’s leadership — is exacerbating tensions as there were credible reports of widespread Eritrean looting and atrocities.

Davison said Eritrea’s military has largely been active in northern and central Tigray, including some cities, such as Adigrat, and has used the conflict to reclaim disputed territory that was the focal point of Ethiopia and Eritrea’s 1998-2000 war. 

In addition, Amhara region security forces and administrators who are in control of large portions of western Tigray (West Tigray Zone) and also districts of South Tigray Zone “claim these parts of Tigray as rightly belonging to their region, and say they intend to stay”, according to the ICG briefing. “The Amhara takeover of territory within Tigray, along with Tigrayan anger at Eritrea’s role, are inflaming the situation,” the briefing said.

However, the unfolding humanitarian situation in the region is also a pressing concern.

A report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that before the conflict just under a million people in the region needed emergency food aid. However, in January that figure was thought to have grown to 4.5 million people, including 2.2 million internally displaced persons – out of a regional population of around 6 million.

While the Ethiopian government has said it can handle aid distribution itself, last Monday it granted some approvals for United Nations agencies to provide more assistance to people in Tigray, although it is not yet clear what impact that has had on the ground.

This was preceded by a visit from UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi earlier this month, who met with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as well as Eritrean refugees who had been housed in Tigray. UNHCR said that refugees had resorted to eating leaves because there was no other food available.

Meanwhile Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has moved around the region since the conflict began, raised concern about the humanitarian situation in rural areas as they had been unable to travel to them because of either insecurity or lack of authorisation.

“We are very concerned about what may be happening in rural areas…But we know, because community elders and traditional authorities have told us, that the situation in these places is very bad,” said Albert Viñas, who has been involved in almost 50 emergency responses with MSF and prepared medical teams to access areas of eastern and central Tigray and assist people affected by the current crisis. 

He added the MSF  did not know “the real impact of this crisis”.

Crisis Group says that the federal government needs to insist on the withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces in order to reduce Tigrayan opposition to the federal intervention and so open up the space for some kind of dialogue at the national level over Tigray’s autonomy and the related constitutional-electoral debate that escalated the tensions that led to war.

“Steps need to be taken to reduce the huge political challenges in Tigray. Because that Amhara and Eritrean presence and the atrocities means that much of the Tigrayan population seems, at the moment, more inclined to support the Tigrayan armed resistance than the federal interim administration for the region.”

Excerpts of the interview follow. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Inter Press Service (IPS): Tigrayan leaders and the UN say fighting is still widespread?

William Davison (WD): In January and February there have been regular reports still of large-scale confrontations between the Tigray Defence Forces and opposing allied contingents, primarily the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the Eritrean Defence Force. Although it is hard to be sure about the details, there is little doubt that significant clashes are occurring, and at times they are corroborated by humanitarian actors.

What is always hard to verify is whether the claims of battlefield victories are accurate, including the claims of the capture of enemy equipment, which often come from the Tigrayan side. Or the claims of the huge fatalities that the opponent has suffered, again that often come from the Tigrayan side.

The bigger picture here is that when the federal government and allied forces took control of the regional capital Mekelle, on Nov. 28, and ousted the Tigrayan regional leadership, that was indeed a very significant moment. But, it did not mean the elimination of Tigrayan armed resistance.

Moreover, there are still a lot of the fugitive political and military leaders are at large, with only perhaps a third of those sought have been captured. Therefore, there is still a significant armed confrontation in Tigray, which runs against the narrative being propagated by Ethiopia’s federal government that “normalcy” is returning to the region and no substantive resistance remains.

IPS: A briefing by ICG last week said there is the possibility of the conflict continuing for some time to come. Can you explain?

WD: I think that is definitely a possibility and indeed a fairly likely possibility. But at the same time, we, and others, did not expect the TPLF government to be ousted from regional power within a month of this conflict beginning – so possibly the current resistance will also prove less sustainable than expected. Still, as of now, it does seem that since losing control of the regional government, the armed resistance of the ousted Tigray leadership has been relatively resilient.

As discussed, by no means are all the leaders captured, significant fighting is ongoing, and the federal government and allied forces do not control anything like all of Tigray’s territory. In conjunction with that there is also reason to believe that the presence of those allied forces — the Eritrean military and the Amhara factions — is opposed by a large proportion of Tigray’s population. And so that portion of Tigrayans appear more inclined to support the ousted leadership than the federal interim administration, and many even seem to now back Tigray’s secession from Ethiopia.

It is these factors that lead us to think that this conflict could be entrenched, and that fighting will continue for weeks, possibly months, and maybe even for longer than that. And, of course, that outlook has hugely worrying ramifications for an already critical humanitarian situation.

IPS: With regards to the humanitarian situation, until recently not all aid agencies were allowed access to the region. What are some of the concerns around the current situation?

WD: Tigray, like other places in Ethiopia, suffers from chronic food insecurity, meaning that large numbers of people every year need support. Last year this was exacerbated by the desert locust invasion – and then the outbreak of war occurred around harvest time. This created a major humanitarian crisis in Tigray.

During the conflict, the federal government has been very keen not just to control territory and try and win the war, but also to control the flow of information from Tigray and so set the narrative about the intervention.

This has contributed to a continued federal unwillingness to allow media access, bureaucratic restrictions on aid agencies, and also the failure to restore telephone and, particularly, internet services across large swathes of Tigray. 

All this exacerbates the humanitarian situation, as little is known about the fate of millions of people, including possibly up to one million who were displaced from western to central Tigray when Amhara elements reclaimed land there in the first weeks of the war.

The overarching desire to maintain control has meant that the federal government – which is party to this conflict – has largely kept itself in charge of aid distribution. This goes against core humanitarian principles. And furthermore, there are widespread concerns that, firstly, the government does not have the capacity to deliver aid at the scale needed in the time needed.

Secondly, there is a major doubt regarding political will because the government is still very keen to control the information that is emerging about the conflict. For example, the presence of Eritrean troops and the atrocities that have been committed by them, that is not something which has been acknowledged by the federal government. Therefore, maintaining that narrative is contributing to the decision to restrict information and restrict access to conflict areas, leading to increased civilian suffering.

Additionally, with the federal government denying that an organised opponent still exists, as part of efforts to manage the story, that means there is very little aid reaching large parts of rural central Tigray where allied forces are not in control of territory and large numbers of civilians are thought to have fled to.

IPS: Is there anything else that you would like to add that is particularly important?

WD: When Tigray’s ousted leaders recently made statements, there was no focus on a cessation of hostilities, a humanitarian corridor, or even really the humanitarian situation overall. Instead, like the federal government, they are fixated on trying to win the war.

Given these dynamics, it is likely that this is going to get worse; the fighting will continue and that will exacerbate the civilian suffering, both in terms of direct attacks and also the humanitarian impact. Therefore, there is a desperate need for a rethink.

First, what is needed is for the federal government to acknowledge the heavy cost of the war so far and that it is likely to get more damaging. This reality means that there is an incentive for Addis Ababa to roll back the involvement of the Eritrean and Amhara forces, as this would hopefully reduce the intensity of the fighting, ease Tigrayan anger, and allow greater space for urgently required humanitarian relief.

However, by no means will this resolve the political disputes. Instead, as Crisis Group and many other have repeatedly argued, what is needed is a fundamental country-level political negotiation, addressing all of Ethiopia’s deep fault lines, such as over the legacy of the imperial era and the merits and demerits of current federal system, probably through the vehicle of an all-inclusive national dialogue.

One of the concerns that Crisis Group had at the outset of the war is the cocktail of problems— such as mounting killings in Benishangul-Gumuz region, growing tensions with Sudan, simmering discontent in Oromia—and violent political rifts that threaten to widen. In short, the country was already fragile and volatile. Falling into this war, which split the Ethiopian military and was a huge shock to the federation, came at a moment when it was not clear Ethiopia could absorb such at destabilising blow.

While Ethiopia and Ethiopians are incredibly resilient, there is a risk that this predicament could lead to some sort of spiralling nationwide unrest, which would of course threaten Ethiopia’s overall stability and so therefore the wider region’s. That is why is it is so important that de-escalatory steps are immediately taken to move Ethiopia off this trajectory.


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Switzerland Buys itself Good Sustainability Scores at the Expense of Other Countries

By Carole Küng
GENEVA, Feb 19 2021 – According to the Sustainable Development Report 2020, Switzerland ranks at a shameful 163 of 165 in terms of so-called spillover effects. This means that Switzerland buys better sustainability scores in a number of areas, placing considerable burdens on other countries and the global environment.

By importing goods and services, we cause air pollution and biodiversity loss in the countries where the goods and services come from, for example by importing feedstuffs and synthetic fertilizers that we need for our intensive agriculture – especially our meat production.

In this way, we are not only concealing our own sustainability shortcomings; we are also limiting the ability of other countries to achieve their global sustainability goals.

What is Switzerland’s role in achieving the sustainability goals?

It is often said that Switzerland is too small to make a difference in the fight for sustainable development. Precisely because of the spillover effects, however, our enormous ecological footprint – and our considerable involvement in global financial flows that are detrimental to sustainability – demand that we increase our global responsibility.

Solutions need strong Swiss leadership. Sustainable Development Solutions Network Switzerland (SDSN), a UN initiative for implementing Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement, wants to actively work towards achieving the sustainability goals and advocate for goal-oriented policies.

That is why we are participating in consultations and formulating proposals to improve the current strategy.

What is the general assessment of the strategy plan draft?

A positive aspect is that the strategy reflects a holistic understanding of sustainable development and provides valuable guidelines. However, the major shortcoming is that innovative ideas and goal-oriented solutions are lacking.

The strategy is mainly based on already existent practices and strategy areas, and beyond those it remains vague.

What does this mean concretely? What improvements does SDSN think the strategy needs?

We see this aspect as paramount at this time: Switzerland urgently needs to recognize and assume its global responsibility. This is the greatest leverage for achieving the sustainability goals.

On the one hand, it entails that Switzerland must reduce its global footprint, for example by rethinking consumption. Solutions for how to make life in Switzerland possible while considering the planet’s carrying capacity must be identified.

On the other hand, the strategy presented should address how illegitimate financial flows can be stopped.

Too much is based on voluntary action, which is inadequate – for example, the desire for a more sustainable banking and financial centre: despite progress, reality shows that regulations are necessary so that short-term economic interests do not detrimentally dominate people and the environment.

Moreover, the strategy has no financial plan. We therefore propose, among other things, that the federal coordination offices receive a budget.

Where is further action needed?

It must be ensured that sufficient resources flow into sustainability research and cross-cutting implementation projects. This is because research can identify effective paths to transformation and develop concrete proposals for more sustainable measures.

We also think that strategy should set more ambitious goals. In some cases, they are formulated more weakly than in the 17 global goals or are completely ignored. Here we call for more concrete definitions and recommendations for action for each sustainability goal.

What is the message to the federal government?

We need a strategy that is backed by the economy but also by the community, with goals that are not watered down – certainly not lower than the goals of Agenda 2030. We need a strategy that presents workable, sustainable solutions with a financial plan and effective controlling – not one that only ends up as an administrative report in a federal folder.


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Overcoming the Learning Divide: Assessing What Students Missed During School Closings for COVID-19

Remote teaching in Bangladesh. Credit: BRAC

By Safiqul Islam
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 19 2021 – School closings and the varied impacts of remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic are a global challenge. Educators worldwide have been struggling to meet contemporary educational standards in this environment. But this challenge is followed by yet another: how to assess the readiness of students to resume in-school education when schools open. At BRAC, the international nongovernmental organization that operates 25,000 schools in Bangladesh, serving 750,000 students, we have developed an approach that could be helpful.

Schools in Bangladesh have been closed since March 2020, with remote education taking their place. That poses a very practical problem. When students return, likely in the first quarter of 2021, they will have had greatly varied educational experiences.

That variety of experiences will be evident globally, not only because approaches to remote teaching are so varied, but because student access to it is. In many parts of the world, Internet access is limited; that is as true in the United States as it is in Bangladesh. Rural areas have less access than urban areas. Wealthier areas, and wealthy families, have more access than poorer ones. Smaller families have fewer family members to share the home computer than larger ones.

There are also differences specific to the student and family; some students respond well to remote learning; others do not. Some have parents who are better able to help them than others. Some are in settings that are more conducive to study than others. Some deal with stress and uncertainty better than others. This is universal.

In Bangladesh, BRAC has addressed these varied circumstances by drawing on television, radio, and telephones to create new educational platforms and curricula for use depending on local conditions. Those formats enhance both the potential and the reality of remote learning, but of course cannot completely erase the differences in student experience.

A feature phone brings remote learning home. Credit: BRAC

The challenge of student readiness in Bangladesh can be understood simply through considering the case of a new third-grader. If that student had been struggling academically two years ago – in first grade – and had received just two months of in-school education in second grade (before schools closed in March), he or she could be quite unprepared for third grade in 2021. Even though that student would basically still be at second grade level, he or she will resume in-school education in third grade, because the Government of Bangladesh has instituted automatic promotions for all students when schools reopen.

Contrastingly, a student who thrived in first grade and was well served by remote learning in second grade could be fully ready for third grade.

The challenge for schools and teachers is, therefore, to assess each student and create remedial opportunities, so students are properly prepared to succeed. But that requires a new approach. Never before have schools welcomed students while having so little understanding of what the students learned the year before.

When BRAC schools resume, we will not start with normal classes. We will instead assess the diverse competencies of the students and provide remedial support as needed, so that within six months, we will have everyone back at grade level.

In the assessment phase, we will have three groups and six sub-groups, in order to address sufficiently the range of needs. The three groups – green, yellow, and red – will designate those students who are ready for the new grade, those who had not achieved enough in the previous grade, and those who are a year behind that. The sub-groups allow for further variation.

Those who are ready for the new grade will proceed at grade level, while those who are not will receive remedial support in accordance with their group and sub-group. Those in the green group will also serve as mentors, providing peer support to those who are not yet as advanced.

In order to have fewer students in classrooms until the pandemic ends, students in first grade will have their classwork indoors, while students in second and third grades will have a mix of indoor and outdoor classes. Students in fourth and fifth grades will have assignments that require them to pursue projects outside. A project to encourage creativity, inquisitiveness, and analysis might, for instance, have them studying trees and preparing presentations on them.

This approach will best serve all students by ensuring that they start at a level appropriate to their readiness and by enabling those who need to catch up to do so as quickly as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged schools as never before, and the prolonged combination of uncertainty, fear and loss has challenged students as never before. Globally, we must ensure that it does not rob students of the educational attainment that they so greatly deserve.

The author is Director of Education for BRAC, based in Bangladesh.


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