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Islamic social financing initiative aims to help economic recovery, pandemic response

Coming at a time when millions have been pushed into extreme poverty, the International Dialogue on the Role of Islamic Social Financing in Achieving the SDGs has the potential to provide urgently needed support, including for economic recovery, pandemic response and sustainable development. 

“Standing in solidarity with those in need, means exploring how Islamic social financing can support the pandemic response through the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, as well as other initiatives and vehicles to ensure equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics”, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said, in her opening statement at the high-level launch event. 

Global health in crosshairs 

Despite modest progress compared to 2020, the latest UN global economic forecast published on Tuesday, has revealed that surging COVID-19 cases, lagging vaccinations in poorer countries and widening inequalities, have dealt a major setback to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Meanwhile, the UN-backed COVAX initiative continues to be the world’s only vaccine equity mechanism, to try and make sure developing countries don’t get left behind. 

While COVAX has seen nearly 60 million COVID-19 vaccines shipped to more than 120 participating countries, it still needs $2.8 billion to end the acute phase of the pandemic by year’s end. 

Traditional financing 

Islamic social financing, which operates on a faith-based principle of inclusivity and in line with the SDGs, remain a critical mechanism in promoting social trust, cooperation and solidarity in fighting poverty and hunger. 

This encompasses traditional instruments – including $300 billion in annual obligatory almsgiving or zakat, charitable donations known as sadaqa, and endowments called waqf – as well as microfinancing instruments – such as benevolent loans.  

“As we seek to overcome financial constraints, funding shortfalls and financing inequalities, we believe that Islamic social financing, itself built on the principles of fairness and justice, can open pathways to stimulate economic activity and promote social welfare, financial inclusion and shared prosperity”, said Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). 

Broad participation 

To foster a better understanding of both Islamic social financing and existing UN platforms, the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) will facilitate the International Dialogue through a series of virtual seminars. 

“Launching this dialogue during Ramadan, highlights the importance of helping those in need”, said UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General Ahmed Al Meraikhi. “Never has it been so important to come together in solidarity to achieve the SDGs and alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Running until November, Islamic social financing institutions, scholars and experts, are likely to join others in the international humanitarian and development system to take part in an extended conversation. 

Dialogue outcomes  

The Dialogues expect to produce an outcome report on leveraging Islamic social financing for the SDGs; establish a knowledge repository and e-learning modules at UNITAR; and yield concrete recommendations on the way forward – contributing to the Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond Initiative. 

“This partnership between the UN and the Islamic Development Bank will help realize the potential of Islamic social financing to support humanitarian efforts and achieve the SDGs during these challenging times”, said Mahmoud Mohieldin, UN Special Envoy on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UN chief: Deadly school shooting in Russia an ‘act of senseless violence’

The UN chief was saddened to learn about their deaths, his Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement. 

“He strongly condemns this act of senseless violence and expresses his deepest condolences to the victims’ families, as well as the Government and people of the Russian Federation”, Mr Dujarric said. 

Kazan is the capital and largest city in the Republic of Tatarstan, and is located some 500 miles east of Moscow. 

The attack took place around 9:20 AM, local time, according to media reports. A 19-year-old man was detained and investigations are underway. 

At least 21 other people, mainly children, were injured in the shooting, and the Secretary-General has wished them a speedy and full recovery.

Credible elections can help propel Iraq towards ‘safe and prosperous future’ 

“The way to express one’s voice, to make one’s choice, is at the ballot box. This essential democratic exercise requires every voter, candidate, journalist and activist to play their part”, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), updated the Ambassadors via video-teleconference from Baghdad.  

She said that Iraqi’s have spoken “loudly and clearly” in demanding fresh elections, and a failure to hold them would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment” that could further destabilize the country at a time when “strength and unity are desperately needed”. 

Stressing that elections due in October will remain “Iraqi-owned and Iraqi-led”, the UN envoy reiterated her call to uphold the integrity of the process, warning that “political pressure and interference, intimidation, and illicit financial flows” would jeopardize their credibility.  

Punishing perpetrators 

Accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations, such as targeted killings, abductions and intimidation, remains “very, very limited”, the UNAMI chief said, warning that impunity can only embolden perpetrators and further erode trust in the State.  

Despite public statements expressing intent to ensure accountability and establish investigative committees, “there have been few prosecutions for the killing and serious injury to protestors”, she said.  

Rising unemployment, years of corruption and failing public services had sparked massive anti-Government protests at the start of October 2019. Yet to date, no information has been made public on the patterns of violent attacks against demonstrators and critics, attributed to so-called unidentified armed actors. 

Kurdistan  

Turning to a curtailment of free expression in the Kurdistan region, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert told the Council that critics risk intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrest, adding that some were even prosecuted under national security laws. 

Meanwhile, as representatives of the federal and Kurdistan regional governments discuss security provisions, progress remains slow on administration and reconstruction.  

“The absence of an institutionalized dialogue and implementation mechanism between Baghdad and Erbil, is being negatively felt, fuelling misperceptions and distrust”, the UN official said.  

One bright note was the passing of the Yazidi Survivors Law which provides reparations and legal recognition of ISIL’s atrocities against women and girls as crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Terrorism 

While progress is being made in combatting remnants of ISIL, “terrorism continues to claim far too many innocent lives”, said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert. 

She described rockets and improvised explosive devices as “a constant in Iraqi life” used by “cynical and callous armed entities” to destabilize the country. 

Notwithstanding the Government’s objective of bringing all arms under State control, “we are witnessing the use of new capabilities by non-State actors, with potentially devastating effects”, she said. 

Dismantling camps 

Over the past seven months, 16 camps for those internally displaced, have been closed or reclassified.  

Often carried out on short notice, the necessary preparations for the safe return of some 50,000 Iraqis to areas of origin had not been made, said the UN envoy.  

“When camps are closed before return conditions are appropriate, Iraqis face dire consequences”, she explained pointing to their rejection by local communities, a lack of protection from authorities and even physical attacks against the returnees.  

“This is certainly not the path towards recovered and stabilized communities”, said the UNAMI chief.

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UN chief 'gravely concerned' as violence escalates in Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

The ongoing violence marks a dramatic escalation of tensions linked to the potential eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers and access to one of the most sacred sites in the city, which is a key hub for Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his deep concern over the situation, including the escalation of violence in Gaza, “which add to the heightened tensions and violence in occupied East Jerusalem”, the statement issued by his Spokesperson said.

“He is deeply saddened to learn of increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza. The Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the families of the victims.”  

He called on Israeli security forces to “exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force”, adding that “indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres is unacceptable.” 

Mr. Guterres said the United Nations was working “with all relevant parties to de-escalate the situation urgently.” 

In Geneva, UN rights office spokesperson Rupert Colville cited reports that more than 900 Palestinians had been injured between 7 and 10 May in East Jerusalem, and over 200 in the West Bank, “most by Israeli security forces”, some of whom had also been hurt.

Rocket attacks into Israel

Palestinian armed groups, meanwhile, had launched “some 250 rockets towards Israel in the past 24 hours” with at least 17 Israeli civilians reportedly injured, the OHCHR official said.

This use of indiscriminate weapons “is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law and must stop immediately”.

Aerial targeting

Airstrikes had been carried out in Gaza by Israeli Defense Forces, Mr. Colville continued, citing reports that 24 Palestinians had been killed, including nine children and one woman.

“Israel must respect international humanitarian law, in particular the cardinal principles on the conduct of hostilities, namely distinction, proportionality and precautions”, he said. “Any attack, including airstrikes, should be directed solely at military objectives and all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid civilian deaths and injury and damage to civilian objects.”

The development follows protests in Jerusalem at the potential imminent eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods, as the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end and as families break their daily fast with their evening meal, or iftar.

Last Friday also saw violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians reportedly blocked from reaching Jerusalem’s Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound for prayers.

“Certainly, what we are seeing is extremely worrying and certainly when you see the treatment to some of the protesters and even people who weren’t protesting”, said Mr. Colville. “People who were simply praying or people who were having their iftar, who’ve been subjected to violence or completely unprovoked responses by the security forces.” 

Family eviction threat

According to the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, eight Sheikh Jarrah families are under threat of eviction, in all, around 75 people.

“These families are Palestine refugees, who lost both their original homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict”, UNRWA said in a statement. “In 1956, these refugee families moved into Sheikh Jarrah with the support of the Jordanian government and material assistance from UNRWA following their displacement. They have resided in these homes for nearly 70 years. They are now at risk of being displaced for the second time in living memory.”

Violence at Temple Mount

Asked by journalists at a regular UN Geneva briefing about the Israeli security forces’ actions towards Palestinian protesters, the OHCHR spokesperson noted that “in some instances, particularly when the police entered the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound using tear gas, stun grenades, sponge-tipped bullets, physical force and in some cases, that appeared unwarranted, disproportionated or indiscriminate.”

Two top UN-appointed independent rights experts added their voice to concerns on Tuesday over Israel’s “aggressive response” to protests in East Jerusalem, before calling on Israel “as the occupying power”, to immediately lift eviction threat from hundreds of Palestinian households.

“Re-establishing calm in Jerusalem is important, but creating the conditions for justice and equality in the City are even more important”, said Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

“Neither short-term calm nor long-term peace will be accomplished as long as the national and individual rights of the City’s Palestinian population are routinely abrogated,” they said, noting that Israel occupied East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in 1967.

“Over the past five decades, it has built 13 settlements, housing more than 220,000 Jewish settlers, in East Jerusalem,” the experts said, insisting that two “inherently discriminatory” Israeli laws were used as the basis for the eviction threat of Palestinians.

Humanitarian needs

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the region, Lynn Hastings, issued a statement calling for the escalation in fighting to stop “to avoid more deaths and injuries.”

She said needs would likely rise in the Gaza Strip, especially with the drain on healthcare due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while movement of humanitarian personnel and the entry of goods subject to Israeli blockade, “must be continuously allowed.”

“All parties have obligations under international humanitarian law; the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality in the use of force, must be adhered to”, she said. “Airstrikes in densely populated areas, risk violating these principles.”

Vaccine inequity posing ‘significant risk’ to global economic recovery: UN report

The World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) mid-year report warned widening inequality is threatening global growth, projected at 5.4 per cent this year. 

Vaccine access critical 

“Vaccine inequity between countries and regions is posing a significant risk to an already uneven and fragile global recovery”, said UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris.  

“Timely and universal access to COVID-19 vaccinations will mean the difference between ending the pandemic promptly and placing the world economy on the trajectory of a resilient recovery, or losing many more years of growth, development and opportunities.” 

The mid-year forecast updates the WESP report published in January by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). 

It examines the performance of the world economy since the pandemic began, as well as the impact of global policy responses and post-crisis recovery scenarios. 

A mixed picture 

The 5.4 per cent in projected global growth this year follows a sharp contraction of 3.6 per cent in 2020, and reflects an upward revision from the original forecast. 

While the world’s two largest economies – China and the United States – are on the road to recovery, growth remains fragile and uncertain in several countries in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Many countries will not see economic output return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or 2023. 

“For a vast majority of developing countries, economic output will remain below 2019 levels for most of 2021”, the authors said.  “Amid insufficient fiscal space to stimulate demand, many of these countries will face low and stagnant growth and the prospect of a lost decade.”  

Trade strong but uneven 

The report also details strong but uneven recovery in global trade, which has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels due to demand for electrical and electronic equipment, personal protective equipment, and other manufactured goods. 

Economies which depend on manufacturing have fared better, however countries which rely on tourism, or commodities, are unlikely to see a quick rebound.  

Tourism services in particular, will remain depressed due to slow lifting of restrictions on international travel, coupled with fears of new waves of COVID-19 infection. 

Women hit hardest 

The pandemic has pushed an estimated 114.4 million people into extreme poverty, with women accounting for around 58 million of that total. 

The report found that while women have been at the forefront of the crisis— 

representing most health workers, caregivers and essential service providers—they have also been the hardest hit in several ways. 

During the pandemic, labour force participation shrunk by two per cent worldwide, compared to only 0.2 per cent during the global financial crisis in 2007-8, but more women than men were forced to leave their jobs to meet family demands. Women-owned businesses have also fared disproportionately worse, according to the report. 

COVID-19 has also dealt sharp blows to services for women’s health, and reproductive health, and the disruption to education has helped undermine global progress towards gender equality.  There has also been a spike in gender-based violence, which UN Women has labelled a “shadow pandemic.” 

Ensure inclusive recovery 

As women are also underrepresented in decision-making surrounding the pandemic, and in economic policy responses, the report highlighted why recovery must be inclusive.  

“The pandemic has pushed nearly 58 million women and girls into extreme poverty, dealing a huge blow to poverty reduction efforts worldwide, and exacerbated gender gaps in income, wealth and education, impeding progress on gender equality”, said Hamid Rashid, Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch at DESA, and the lead author of the report. 

“Fiscal and monetary measures to steer recovery must take into account the differentiated impact of the crisis on different population groups, including women, to ensure an economic recovery that is inclusive and resilient.”

ISIL crimes against Yazidis constitute genocide, UN investigation team finds

In his final briefing to ambassadors, Karim Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the team, known as UNITAD, reported that investigators have reached a “landmark moment” in their work. 

They have finalized initial case briefs on two key priorities: attacks against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar region in northern Iraq, and the mass killing of unarmed cadets and military personnel at Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014. 

“I am able to announce that based upon independent and impartial investigations, complying with international standards and UN best practice, there is clear and convincing evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constituted genocide,” he said. 

‘Convert or die’ 

Mr Khan recalled that the crimes committed by ISIL, also known as Daesh, “shocked the conscience of humanity”, as manifested by the group’s ultimatum to convert, or die. 

“A full scope of criminality is displayed in the awful criminality of Daesh against the Yazidi community”, he said.  “Executions, slavery, sexual slavery. Crimes against children that are horrific, and really chill one’s soul, that how on earth could such things be allowed to happen.  Yet they did.” 

UNITAD has supported the return of the remains of more than 100 Yazidis recovered from nine mass grave sites in the village of Kojo.  

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, who was kidnapped by ISIL, told ambassadors that her people had experienced the worst atrocities known to humankind. 

“I will never forget the grief in my mother’s eyes when she realized her sons had been executed – not knowing she would face the same fate”, Ms Murad said.  

“I can still feel my niece’s hands being ripped out of mine as we were separated and loaded onto buses like cattle. And I can still calculate what my body was worth to those who bought and sold it.” 

Chemical weapons capacity 

ISIL’s brutality affected all communities in Iraq, as the incident at the Tikrit Air Academy has also shown. The cadets, mainly Shia Muslims, were led away and many were massacred. An ISIL propaganda video of their murder was clear evidence of the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide, according to Mr Khan. 

“One doesn’t even need to look into the content of the video, though we’ve done that and we’ve had language experts to analyze it,” he stated. “But it’s by the title of the video that Daesh broadcasted: Kill them wherever you find them.” 

Investigations have also revealed ISIL’s “demonstrated capacity” to manufacture and deploy chemical and biological weapons, focused on the group’s takeover of Mosul University, in Iraq’s second city which they occupied until the end of 2017. 

ISIL attracted combatants from the region and abroad. Drawing on the expertise of scientists and medical professionals in its ranks, the group began “weaponizing” chlorine from water treatment plants, testing biological agents on prisoners, and firing 40 mustard gas rockets on the Turkmen Shia town of Taza Khurmatu. 

Crimes must be prosecuted 

Mr Khan leaves UNITAD shortly, and next month assumes the post of Prosecutor with the International Criminal Court. 

UN teams in Iraq gathered a “mountain” of information, including testimonies, forensic evidence from mass grave sites and digital data extracted from ISIL hard drives.  Investigators have also completed an initial case brief identifying individuals and companies that provided financial services to ISIL. 

Meanwhile, work continues to ensure “no victim, no child of humanity, is left behind”, Mr Khan said, pointing to progress surrounding crimes targeting the Sunni, Shia, Christian and other communities. 

He emphasized, however, that it was not sufficient to simply document ISIL’s crimes, and UNITAD continues to support developments towards legislation that will allow for ISIL members to be prosecuted. 

“Legislation of course is needed to ensure that Iraq has the legal architecture in place to prosecute this haemorrhage of the human soul: not as common crimes of terrorism, heinous though they are, but as acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he said.

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5 things you should know about the state of the global economy

IMF/ Jake Lyell
Dock workers unload fresh fish from a boat in Casablanca, Morocco.

1) US and China bounce back, but a slow recovery for developing countries 

While economic output in the United States and China is expected to grow robustly and lift global growth, many developing economies are not expected to return to pre-pandemic output levels anytime soon. The pandemic is far from over for most developing countries where vaccination is advancing slowly, and fiscal pressures have intensified.

2) The situation of the most vulnerable has become even more precarious

Lockdowns and social distancing measures resulted in large job losses in contact-intensive and labour-intensive service sectors, which predominantly employ women. The pandemic has also exposed the vulnerability of informal employment, which is the main source of jobs in many countries and which offers less job security, social protection and access to healthcare.

IMF/Lisa Marie David
An egg vendor sits in her stall in Quiapo, Philippines.

3) Global trade recovery is strong, particularly in Asia

Merchandise trade has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, buoyed by strong demand for electrical and electronic equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other manufactured goods. Trade in services remains constrained by restrictions on international travel. While exports from Asian economies have soared, exports from Africa, Western Asia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States has stalled.

4) The COVID-19 crisis has inflicted more harm on women and girls

This crisis disproportionately affected women, who suffered significant job and income losses, contributing to the worsening of gender poverty gaps. Burdened by increased home care duties, many girls and women gave up on schools, and the workforce altogether. Returning to school and work might take longer or may not happen at all for many of them, further widening gender gaps in education, income and wealth.

ILO/Kivanc Ozvardar
Women textile workers perform quality control tests at a factoy in Izmir, Turkey.

5) Countries need to do more to address the uneven impact of the COVID-19 crisis

There is an urgent need for countries to formulate better targeted and gender-sensitive policies to drive a more resilient and inclusive recovery from the crisis. Though on the frontlines of the pandemic, women have been under-represented in pandemic related decision-making and economic policy responses. The severe and disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls call for more targeted policy and support measures for women and girls, not only to accelerate the recovery but also to ensure that the recovery is inclusive and resilient.

UN Women/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard
A rice mill worker fills a sack with rice in Ratchathani province, Thailand.

COVID’s grip keeps world in ‘perilous situation’

Despite decreased instances in most regions, including the two worst-affected – the Americas and Europe – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists at a regular press briefing, “any decline is welcome, but we have been here before”. 

“Over the past year, many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths, have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, and individuals have let down their guard, only for those hard-won gains to be lost”, he warned. 

Trending upward in Southeast Asia  

In Southeast Asia however, COVID cases and deaths are increasing rapidly and there are countries in every region where the figures are ticking up, according to the WHO chief. 

On behalf of the WHO Foundation, Tedros launched the “Together for India” appeal to help fund the UN agency’s work in the country, including the purchase of oxygen, personal protective equipment and medicines.  

Noting the spread of variants, increased social mixing, the relaxation of public health and social measures, as well as inequitable levels of vaccination, he said: “Globally, we are still in a perilous situation”. 

Vaccine access disparity 

While vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, the “shocking” global disparity in access remains “one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic”, underscored the WHO chief. 

Despite early results suggesting that vaccines might also drive down transmission, he explained that while high and upper-middle income countries represent 53 per cent of the world’s population, they have received 83 per cent of its vaccines. 

And by contrast, low and lower-middle income countries, which account for 47 per cent of the global population, have received just 17 per cent of the shots supplied by manufacturers so far. 

“Redressing this global imbalance is an essential part of the solution”, that also requires a combination of public health measures. 

“Vaccines prevent disease. But we can also prevent infection with public health tools that have been so effective in so many places”, said Tedros. 

Words to the wise 

Tedros advised leaders to use every tool at their disposal to “immediately drive transmission down” and if a country is seeing figures trend downward, to surge its capacity for keeping the pressure on. 

“Even in countries with the highest vaccination rates, public health capacities must be strengthened to prepare for the possibility of vaccine-evading variants, and for future emergencies”, he said. 

To individuals, the WHO chief reminded that every contact with someone outside their household presents a risk that varies according to type, duration and level of contact. 

“The more contacts, the higher the risk”, he said. 

Zero transmission goal 

Tedros said there would come a time when everyone will be able to unmask, meet up at close range and safely participate in concerts, sporting events and rallies, once their country has no transmission. 

To get there, he urged all States to develop and implement “comprehensive and cohesive” national plans, based on the 10 pillars of WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. 

“How quickly we end the pandemic, and how many sisters and brothers we lose along the way, depends on how quickly and how fairly we vaccinate a significant proportion of the global population, and how consistently we all follow proven public health measures”, he concluded.

Free up ‘bottlenecks’ stifling Africa’s agri-food sector, urges FAO chief 

“Let’s unblock the bottlenecks that are holding back potential by increasing coordination and upskilling human capacity in African nations”, urged QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

Speaking at the launch of FAO’s latest report, Public Expenditure on Food and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, he added that funds must also be unlocked and public finance systems streamlined, “so that the scarce resources we have do not go unspent”. 

Based on “rigorous analysis over the last 15 years, made possible thanks to strong collaboration with our Members in the region”, the FAO chief explained that the report brings to light a gap between long-standing political commitments and the financial realities facing 13 sub-Saharan countries. 

Penalizing agriculture 

Despite meetings of African Union (AU) Member States, beginning in 2003, where they vowed to fuel social and economic growth by pledging 10 per cent of their national budgets to food and agriculture, this undertaking remains unfulfilled. 

A survey of the Monitoring and Analysing Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP) programme, an FAO initiative that tracks public expenditure in Africa, revealed that only Malawi has consistently met that target. 

In some years, Mali has also achieved it, but Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda, have never succeeded in doing so.  

In some cases, food and agriculture hover at only three per cent of national budgets, and on average, little of that is made available for food and agricultural development. Insufficient implementing capacity has also left a fifth of the funding undisbursed.  

According to the report, agriculture is being implicitly penalized.  

Spend better  

Marco Sánchez, Deputy Director of FAO’s Agri-food Economics Division, outlined research showing that technical efficiency in agriculture, increases dramatically as spending nears $80 per capita. And while it begins to taper off after that, most African countries come nowhere near that amount.  

While acknowledging a “narrow fiscal space” to expand public investment in Africa – particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic – he argued that it was possible to generate efficiency gains through better spending.  

According to the report, the lion’s share of national expenditure on food and agriculture in Africa subsidizes fertilizer, tools and other inputs, which Mr. Sánchez said tend to exhibit diminishing returns over time. 

At the same time, FAO Chief Economist Máximo Torero, stressed the importance of generating quality data to guide agricultural investment decisions, with today’s report being a significant step along that path.  

Moreover, public investments should be monitored more closely, and their results used to catalyse private investment.

Middle East Envoys express deep concern over East Jerusalem violence

The violence on Friday has been described as some of the worst seen in Jerusalem for many years. Some 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli Police were reportedly injured in fighting around Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. On Saturday, protesters reportedly threw stones at police, who responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Envoys said that they were “alarmed by the provocative statements made by some political groups, as well as the launching of rockets and the resumption of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel, and attacks on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank”.

Imminent risk of eviction

The Quartet representatives went on to declare their concern regarding the possible evictions of Palestinian families from homes, in which they have lived in for generations, in two neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan – and their opposition to “unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment”.

This is a reference to a court case involving several Palestinians who face eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organization. The risk is considered to be imminent for four of the families.

The UN has called for on the Israeli Government to halt all forced evictions and on Thursday, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), warned that, if they take place, the evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah case would violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

Saturday’s fighting took place on Laylat-al-Qadr, the most holy day in the Muslim month of Ramadan, after large numbers of worshippers had prayed at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound. In their statement, the Quartet

Envoys called on the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and to avoid measures that would further escalate the situation during this period of Muslim Holy Days.

“We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites”, the statement continues. “All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists and to speak out against all acts of violence and incitement”. 

The statement concluded with a reiteration by the Quartet Envoys of their commitment to a negotiated two state solution.

UN News/Reem Abaza
Traffic passes by the Old City in Jerusalem.

37 Palestinian children injured and arrested

On Sunday, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, urged the Israeli authorities to refrain from using violence against children and release all those children detained.

In a joint statement, Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, and Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Special Representative in the State of Palestine, noted that 29 Palestinian children have been injured over the past two days, and a further eight arrested. “A one-year-old toddler was among those injured. Some children were taken for treatment at hospitals, with injuries in the head and the spine. This comes amid reports that nearly 300 people were injured in the area”.

The senior UNICEF officials said that the agency had received reports of ambulances being restricted from arriving on location to assist and evacuate the injured, and that an on-site clinic was reportedly hit and searched.

The statement called for all children to be protected from violence and kept out of harm’s way at all times, for families’ rights to access all places of worship to be preserved, and for those injured to be assisted without restrictions.
 

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