UN Says 49 Bodies Found in Congo Mass Graves

The United Nations said Wednesday peacekeepers discovered mass graves in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, following a series of attacks blamed on a local militia.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters one grave in the village of Nyamamba contained 42 bodies, including six children. Seven bodies were found in a grave in the village of Mbogi.

The graves are located in Ituri province, where Haq said there has been a “significant deterioration of the security situation in Djugu and Mahagi territories.”

Haq said since December, the U.N. peacekeeping mission has said at least 195 civilians have been killed and 84 people abducted in incidents linked to two armed groups, CODECO and Zaire.

The U.N. says more than 1.5 million people have been displaced in Ituri, and the attacks have hampered humanitarian efforts.

Source: Voice of America

General Assembly Confirms Inger Andersen of Denmark Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, Following Recommendation by Secretary-General

Following the recommendation of the Secretary-General, after consultation with Member States, the General Assembly confirmed Inger Andersen of Denmark as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for a further four-year term beginning on 15 June 2023 and ending on 14 June 2027. Ms. Andersen is currently serving her initial four-year term.

Before becoming Executive Director in 2019, Ms. Andersen was engaged in international development economics, environmental sustainability and policymaking for over 30 years. She served as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature from 2015 to 2019. Prior to that, Ms. Andersen was Vice-President of the Middle East and North Africa Region at the World Bank (2011-2015) and Vice-President for Sustainable Development and Head of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research Fund Council (2010-2011), following a long career with the World Bank, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations focusing largely on sustainable development in Africa and the Middle East.

Source: United Nations

Yellen to Meet with Chinese Finance Minister in Switzerland

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet with her Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier Liu He, in Switzerland on Wednesday to discuss economic developments between the two nations.

The Zurich talks will be a follow-up to the November meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. The two world leaders agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication.

Strains between the world’s two leading economies have been growing despite their trade ties. The Biden administration has blocked the sale of advanced computer chips to China and is considering a ban on investment in some Chinese tech companies, possibly undermining a key economic goal that Xi set for his country. Statements by the Democratic president that the U.S. will defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion have increased tensions.

The meeting comes ahead of Yellen’s travel to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa this week in what will be the first in a string of visits by Biden administration officials to sub-Saharan Africa during the year.

Africa is crucial to the global economy due to its rapidly growing population and significant natural resources. China’s deepening economic entrenchment in African nations, surpassing the U.S. in trade with the continent to become one of the world’s largest creditors, is also a motivator for the U.S. to deepen ties with African nations.

Yellen has spoken at length publicly about China’s financing practices on the continent, calling them “economic practices that have disadvantaged all of us.”

She has also called on China explicitly to end its relationship with Russia as the Kremlin continues its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. and its European and Asian allies have imposed sanctions and an oil price cap on Russia in retaliation for the war, putting China in a difficult spot as it had promised a “no limits” friendship with Russia before the invasion began.

It will be Yellen’s first in-person meeting with Liu since taking office and follows three virtual meetings between them.

Source: Voice of America

UN Chief Condemned Deadly Attack At DR Congo Church

UNITED NATIONS– United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, strongly condemned a deadly attack at a church, in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), his spokesman said, yesterday.

Citing preliminary reports, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman, said, at least 12 civilians were killed and 50 others injured, when an explosive device was detonated during Sunday service, at a local church in Kasindi of the North Kivu province.

The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, is providing medical evacuation to the injured, in coordination with Congolese authorities, Dujarric said.

Guterres “expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and the people and government of the DRC, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” said the spokesman.

The secretary-general stressed the need to hold the perpetrators of the attack to account, and noted that the United Nations Mine Action Service, is supporting the Congolese authorities in investigating the incident, he added.

Guterres also reiterated that, the United Nations, through his special representative in the DRC, will continue to support the Congolese government and people, in their efforts to realise peace and stability in the east of the country, the spokesman said

Source: Nam News Network

Health Care Facilities in Poor Countries Lack Reliable Electricity

A new report finds nearly a billion people in the world’s poorer countries are treated for often life-threatening conditions in health care facilities that lack a reliable electricity supply. A joint report by the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the International Renewable Energy Agency, “Energizing Health: Accelerating Electricity Access in Health-Care Facilities,” has just been issued.

Health officials say electricity access in health care facilities can make the difference between life and death.

Heather Adair-Rohani is Acting Unit Head, Air Quality, Energy and Health at the World Health Organization. She says it is critical that health care facilities have a reliable, always functioning electricity supply available.

“Imagine going to a health care facility with no lights, with no opportunity to have a baby warmer functioning,” said Adair-Rohani. “To have medical devices functioning and powered all the time. It’s absolutely fundamental that we have this electricity. This is an often-overlooked infrastructure aspect of health care facilities that are desperately needed to continue to provide care to those most vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries.”

The report finds more than one in 10 health facilities in South Asia and sub-Saharan African countries lack any electricity access. It adds power is unreliable for half of all facilities in sub-Saharan Africa.

It notes electricity is needed to power the most basic devices such as lights and refrigeration as well as devices that measure vital signs like heartbeat and blood pressure. It says increasing the electrification of health-care facilities is essential to save lives.

Adair-Rohani adds it is important to maintain these systems once they are installed to ensure their reliability and functionality.

“Reliable decentralized renewable electricity in health care facilities can really ensure the resilience of climate change for health care facilities so that they can provide care in the most dire circumstances and provides emergency preparedness so that yes, indeed, when there is a hurricane or floods or what have you, they still are able to have some form of power to provide emergency care as needed,” said Adair-Rohani.

Authors of the report say healthcare systems and facilities increasingly are affected by the accelerating impacts of climate change. They say decentralized sustainable renewable energy solutions are available. For example, they note solar photovoltaic systems are cost-effective and clean and can be rapidly deployed on site.

The authors say building climate-resilient health care systems can meet the challenges of a changing climate while ensuring the delivery of quality health care services.

Source: Voice of America

Constantine, Former and Last King of Greece, Dies at 82

Constantine, the former and last king of Greece who spent decades in exile, died Tuesday. He was 82.

Doctors at the private Hygeia Hospital in Athens confirmed to The Associated Press that Constantine died late Tuesday after treatment in an intensive care unit but had no further details pending an official announcement.

When he rose to the throne as Constantine II 1964 at the age of 23, the youthful monarch who had achieved glory as an Olympic gold medalist in sailing was hugely popular. By the following year he had squandered much of that support with his active involvement in the machinations that brought down the elected Center Union government of Prime Minister George Papandreou.

The episode involving the defection from the ruling party of several lawmakers, still widely known in Greece as the “apostasy,” destabilized the constitutional order and led to a military coup in 1967. Constantine eventually clashed with the military rulers and was forced into exile.

The dictatorship abolished the monarchy in 1973; a referendum after democracy was restored in 1974 dashed any hopes that Constantine had of ever reigning again.

Reduced in the following decades to only fleeting visits to Greece that raised a political and media storm each time, he was able to settle again in his home country in his waning years when opposing his presence no longer held currency as a badge of vigilant republicanism. With minimal nostalgia for the monarchy in Greece, Constantine became a relatively uncontroversial figure.

Constantine was born June 2, 1940, in Athens, to Prince Paul, younger brother to King George II and heir presumptive to the throne, and Princess Frederica of Hanover. His older sister Sophia is the wife of former King Juan Carlos I of Spain. The Greek-born Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II, was a relative.

The family, which had ruled in Greece from 1863 apart from a 12-year republican interlude in 1922-1935, was descended from Prince Christian, later Christian IX of Denmark, of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gluecksburg branch of the Danish ruling family.

Before Constantine’s first birthday, the royal family was forced to flee Greece during the German invasion in World War II, moving to Alexandria in Egypt, South Africa and back to Alexandria. King George II returned to Greece in 1946, following a disputed referendum, but died a few months later, making Constantine the heir to King Paul I.

Constantine was educated at a boarding school and then attended three military academies as well as Athens Law School classes as preparation for his future role. He also competed in various sports, including sailing and karate, in which he held a black belt.

In 1960, at age 20, he and two other Greek sailors won a gold medal in the Dragon Class — now no longer an Olympic class — at the Rome Olympics. While still a prince, Constantine was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee and became an honorary member for life in 1974.

King Paul I died of cancer on March 6, 1964, and Constantine succeeded him, weeks after the Center Union party had triumphed over the conservatives with 53% of the vote.

The prime minister, George Papandreou, and Constantine initially had a very close relationship, but it soon soured over Constantine’s insistence that control of the armed forces was the monarch’s prerogative.

With many officers toying with the idea of a dictatorship and viewing any non-conservative government as soft on communism, Papandreou wanted to control the ministry of defense and eventually demanded to be appointed defense minister. After an acrimonious exchange of letters with Constantine, Papandreou resigned in July 1965.

Constantine’s insistence on appointing a government composed of centrist defectors that won a narrow parliamentary majority on the third try was hugely unpopular. Many viewed him as being manipulated by his scheming mother, dowager Queen Frederica.

“The people don’t want you, take your mother and go!” became the rallying cry in the protests that rocked Greece in the summer of 1965.

Eventually, Constantine made a truce of sorts with Papandreou and, with his agreement, appointed a government of technocrats and then a conservative-led government to hold an election in May 1967.

But, with the polls heavily favoring the Center Union and with Papandreou’s left-leaning son, Andreas, gaining in popularity, Constantine and his courtiers feared revenge and prepared a coup. They were instead surprised by a coup led by a group of lower-ranking officers who proclaimed a dictatorship on April 21, 1967.

On Dec. 13, 1967, Constantine and his family flew to the northern city of Kavala with the intention of marching on Thessaloniki and setting up a government there. His counter coup, badly managed and infiltrated, collapsed and Constantine was forced to flee to Rome the following day. He would never return as reigning king.

To his final days, Constantine, while accepting that Greece was now a republic, continued to style himself King of Greece and his children as princes and princesses even though Greece no longer recognized titles of nobility.

For most of his years in exile he lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, and was said to be especially close to his second cousin Charles, the Prince of Wales and now King Charles III.

While it took Constantine 14 years to return to his country briefly to bury his mother, Queen Frederica in 1981, his visits increased and, from 2010, made his home there.

He is survived by his wife, the former Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, youngest sister of Queen Margrethe II; five children, Alexia, Pavlos, Nikolaos, Theodora and Philippos; and nine grandchildren.

Source: Voice of America

Australian Open Tennis Tournament Not Testing for COVID-19

One year after Australia deported Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic for refusing to get vaccinated, Australian Open tournament officials say players this year will not be tested for COVID-19 and would even be allowed to compete even if they had the virus.

Tournament director Craig Tiley told reporters Monday they are telling players and tournament staff to stay away if they feel ill, but otherwise they will not be tested. If they have already been tested, they will not be required to disclose their status.

Tiley said the tournament just wanted to “follow what is currently in the community.”

The new policy is a stark change from the strict protocols of the past two years, when spectators were banned from the tournament, matches were played in a bio-secure “bubble,” and nine-time tournament champion Djokovic was not allowed to play.

Last week, during a Cricket match in Sydney between South Africa and Australia, Australian Cricketer Matt Renshaw was allowed to play in a five-day test match despite testing positive for COVID.

Riley said, “It’s a normalized environment for us and, not dissimilar to cricket, there will potentially be players that will compete with COVID.”

The more relaxed rules for sports reflects Australia’s more relaxed rules regarding COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, the nation — and Melbourne in particular -— endured some of the longest and strictest lockdowns.

But in the past year, mandates regarding safeguards such as testing, and mask-wearing have been replaced.

Source: Voice of America

A child or youth died once every 4.4 seconds in 2021 – UN report

NEW YORK/GENEVA/WASHINGTON D.C., 10 January 2023 – An estimated 5 million children died before their fifth birthday and another 2.1 million children and youth aged between 5–24 years lost their lives in 2021, according to the latest estimates released by the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).

In a separate report also released today, the group found that 1.9 million babies were stillborn during the same period. Tragically, many of these deaths could have been prevented with equitable access and high-quality maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health care.

“Every day, far too many parents are facing the trauma of losing their children, sometimes even before their first breath,” said Vidhya Ganesh, UNICEF Director of the Division of Data Analytics, Planning and Monitoring. “Such widespread, preventable tragedy should never be accepted as inevitable. Progress is possible with stronger political will and targeted investment in equitable access to primary health care for every woman and child.”

The reports show some positive outcomes with a lower risk of death across all ages globally since 2000. The global under-five mortality rate fell by 50 per cent since the start of the century, while mortality rates in older children and youth dropped by 36 per cent, and the stillbirth rate decreased by 35 per cent. This can be attributed to more investments in strengthening primary health systems to benefit women, children and young people.

However, gains have reduced significantly since 2010, and 54 countries will fall short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target for under-five mortality. If swift action is not taken to improve health services, warn the agencies, almost 59 million children and youth will die before 2030, and nearly 16 million babies will be lost to stillbirth.

“It is grossly unjust that a child’s chances of survival can be shaped just by their place of birth, and that there are such vast inequities in their access to lifesaving health services,” said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Children everywhere need strong primary health care systems that meet their needs and those of their families, so that – no matter where they are born – they have the best start and hope for the future.”

Children continue to face wildly differentiating chances of survival based on where they are born, with sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shouldering the heaviest burden, the reports show. Though sub-Saharan Africa had just 29 per cent of global live births, the region accounted for 56 per cent of all under-five deaths in 2021, and Southern Asia for 26 per cent of the total. Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are subject to the highest risk of childhood death in the world – 15 times higher than the risk for children in Europe and Northern America.

Mothers in these two regions also endure the painful loss of babies to stillbirth at an exceptional rate, with 77 per cent of all stillbirths in 2021 occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Nearly half of all stillbirths happened in sub-Saharan Africa. The risk of a woman having a stillborn baby in sub-Saharan Africa is seven times more likely than in Europe and North America.

“Behind these numbers are millions of children and families who are denied their basic rights to health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank and Director of the Global Financing Facility. “We need political will and leadership for sustained financing for primary health care which is one of the best investments countries and development partners can make.”

Access to and availability of quality health care continues to be a matter of life or death for children globally. Most child deaths occur in the first five years, of which half are within the very first month of life. For these youngest babies, premature birth and complications during labour are the leading causes of death. Similarly, more than 40 per cent of stillbirths occur during labour – most of which are preventable when women have access to quality care throughout pregnancy and birth. For children that survive past their first 28 days, infectious diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria pose the biggest threat.

While COVID-19 has not directly increased childhood mortality – with children facing a lower likelihood of dying from the disease than adults – the pandemic may have increased future risks to their survival. In particular, the reports highlight concerns around disruptions to vaccination campaigns, nutrition services, and access to primary health care, which could jeopardize their health and well-being for many years to come. In addition, the pandemic has fuelled the largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades, putting the most vulnerable newborns and children at greater risk of dying from preventable diseases.

The reports also note gaps in data, which could critically undermine the impact of policies and programmes designed to improve childhood survival and well-being.

“The new estimates highlight the remarkable global progress since 2000 in reducing mortality among children under age 5,” said John Wilmoth, Director, UN DESA Population Division. “Despite this success, more work is needed to address persistent large differences in child survival across countries and regions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Only by improving access to quality health care, especially around the time of childbirth, will we be able to reduce these inequities and end preventable deaths of newborns and children worldwide.”

Source: World Health Organization