March Digital News Recap

A number of milestones and landmark dates were reached in March, including International Women’s day, while the Syrian war ticked into its eighth year. UN staffers were busy at various conferences and meetings, promoting and advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Secretary-General, António Guterres, was in Tunisia for the Arab League Summit. There, Mr Guterres hoped to deepen the relationship between the United Nations, the League of Arab States and the peoples of the Arab world. In recent years, the citizens of the Arab World have felt the effects of war in Yemen and Syria, the rise and fall of Daesh (Islamic State) and the persistent denial of autonomy for the people of Palestine, among other tragic events. The Secretary-General spoke of a number of key areas that the UN is working on to provide a better future across the region, including the uplift of peace and security, abolition of sectarianism, and providing effective, responsive governance. Additionally, creating jobs and economic opportunities, the uphold of human rights, advance of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and the promotion of the rule-of law, diversity, fundamental freedoms and democratic values. Action to further these drivers include an agreement to develop an Arab Regional Counter Terrorism Strategy and continued humanitarian operations and political solutions in Syria and Yemen.

Melissa Fleming, the Chief Communications of the UN Refugee Agency, tweeted this video of children playing in war-torn Souran in Syria. Such is the level of destruction that children have had to resort to using broken buildings to play and entertain themselves. In a video that shows the imagination and potential of children to innovate, a chance to get an education in a safe environment should be a minimum not a luxury.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, tweeted a powerful image of a father carrying his child down a main road. Millions have been displaced across the world due to violence, war, natural disaster and starvation and the number of people affected is growing. The world is currently facing the highest levels of displacement ever in history (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)), with an estimate 65 million people forced from their homes by war, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies, of which more than 21 million are refugees. All regions have been affected. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees since 2011, and another 6 million people are displaced within Syria. In Nigeria, more than 2 million people have been forcibly displaced, including the 1.8 million who have fled from violence caused by the militant group Boko Haram since 2014. While, more than 3 million have left Venezuela in recent years, primarily due to a lack of basic services and widespread starvation. Let us remember these are desperate people fleeing life-threatening conditions.

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Vice Secretary-General, Amina J Mohammed, tweeted this video. Gender equality is important in itself and can be instrumental in reducing global inequality, diversifying the economy and reducing conflict, among other issues. Allowing women to make their own choices, participate in public decisions and take leadership roles can help to overcome these. Not conforming to stereotypes and norms but expression of freedom and autonomy over mind and body can make every woman freer and happier.

The Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, spoke of the successful General Assembly high‑level meeting on the relationship between climate change and sustainable development. The meeting focused on the protection of the global climate in the context of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Secretary-General was also present; he launched an appeal for aid for the millions affected by cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Disasters such as cyclones are becoming increasingly common, so adapting lifestyles to more climate-friendly behaviour, mitigating the impacts of such disasters, and helping those affected are vital to protect the livelihoods of those most vulnerable to such conditions.

An example of climate-friendly adaptive action is the use of carbon neutral vehicles. With support from UNDP, Bhutan has brought in 300 electric vehicles to be used as taxis in order to maintain its carbon neutral status, as administrator at the United Nations Development Programme, Achim Steiner, noted. Bhutan has been a progressive nation across a number of areas. As well as environmentally friendly policies around transport and forestry, Bhutan has centred much of its policy on improving happiness, not just economic growth. In fact, the country centralises its vision on four key pillars – good governance, sustainable socioeconomic development, environmental conservation, and preservation and promotion of culture. If more (and larger) countries were so progressive, the effects of climate change might not be so severe.

The work of the United Nations is more easily achieved with widespread support and action. The use of social platforms, such as Twitter, by UN staffers to share their experiences, work and promote awareness is thus valuable to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately greater prosperity for all.