The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has created the largest disruption to education in history and prolonged school closures could further entrench inequalities in access to learning, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General said, underlining the need for “bold steps” to address the crisis.
Describing education as “the key to personal development and the future of societies,” António Guterres issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief launched alongside a new global campaign called Save our Future.
“As the world faces unsustainable levels of inequality, we need education — the great equalizer — more than ever,” he said. “We must take bold steps now, to create inclusive, resilient, quality education systems fit for the future.”
The UN estimates that the pandemic has affected more than one billion students worldwide.
Despite efforts to continue learning during the crisis, including through delivering lessons by radio, television and online, many are still not being reached.
The UN chief said learners with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind.
Even those students who can access distance learning face challenges, as success depends on their living conditions, and other factors such as fair distribution of domestic duties.
A learning crisis existed even before the pandemic, the Secretary-General said, as more than 250 million children were out of school.
Furthermore, only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries was leaving school with basic skills.
“Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,” said Guterres. “The knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality, among others, are deeply concerning.”
The policy brief calls for action in four key areas, starting with the reopening of schools once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control.
The UN chief also called for greater investment in education, as low- and middle-income countries had already faced an annual funding gap of $1.5 trillion prior to the pandemic.
“Education budgets need to be protected and increased,” he said.
“And it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance.”
Education initiatives must also seek to reach those at greatest risk of being left behind, he continued. They also should be sensitive to the specific challenges faced by girls and boys, and women and men, while also addressing the digital divide.
ActNow steps up public engagement for sustainable lifestyles
In light of the worsening climate impacts around the world and strong public concern about the climate crisis, the United Nations (UN) is stepping up engagement of its global audiences, calling on everyone everywhere to turn the recovery from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) into an opportunity to do things right for the future.
Driving the effort, the UN’s ActNow campaign offers a gamified experience for individuals to learn, engage and take action for a more sustainable future.
The UN’s worldwide consultation on the occasion of the organization’s 75th anniversary identified the climate crisis and the destruction of the natural environment as the most overwhelming medium- and long-term concerns for people in all regions.
A new mobile app in support of ActNow helps people to directly address those concerns. It allows users to not only log and track a set of everyday actions but also see the impact they are making in terms of CO2, water and electricity saved. Impact metrics along with educational journeys, challenges, tips and quizzes provide engaging entry points for users to develop sustainable habits. The app was developed by the tech start-up AWorld (because there is no Planet B).
Targeting primarily individuals in the 20 major economies (G20), which account for 78 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the ActNow campaign encourages people to take 10 everyday actions for a healthier planet, such as driving less, buying local produce, eating more plant-based meals, and making clothes last longer.
Since the original launch of the campaign at the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2018, ActNow has seen close to 800,000 individual climate actions logged through a chat bot.
COVID-19 has not stopped the climate crisis. Carbon emissions are quickly returning to pre-COVID levels, and greenhouse gas concentrations have reached new record highs. The damage inflicted by climate change continues to mount — from worsening wildfires, floods and storms, to rising food insecurity and economic loss.
Pasig, Tullahan rivers get intense cleanup
With Manila Bay still undergoing rehabilitation, it is vital that bodies of water leading to the bay are also being cleaned to ensure that the rehabilitation process will not go over the timeline.
As such, multinational conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is targeting to dredge a total of 700 thousand tons of garbage from the Tullahan River and Pasig River every year, as cleanup operations in Tullahan continue to remove 600 tons of garbage daily since operations resumed in June.
Along with the massive P1 billion Tullahan-Tinajeros dredging and cleanup project and the planned Pasig River cleanup, SMC is also looking to dredge major rivers and water tributaries in Bulacan that lead to Manila Bay.
The dredging project also aims to further help government’s flood mitigation initiatives, even as it prepares for the construction of the P734-billion Manila International Airport in Bulacan.
SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang lauded government’s efforts to cleanup and rehabilitate Manila Bay, which entail removing silt, trash and other obstructions from tributaries that restrict the free flow of water and cause heavy flooding, particularly in northern Metro Manila and many parts of Central Luzon, including Bulacan.
Silt and trash that ultimately end up in Manila Bay have affected the marine ecosystem and traditional fishing grounds.
“Government has done a really good job cleaning up Manila Bay. Water quality has improved a lot. But we all need to pitch in and do our part to sustain these initial gains,” Ang said.
“Cleaning the tributaries leading to Manila Bay would entail massive cost and we understand that government has to prioritize more urgent basic needs during the pandemic. We are here to support the government in whatever way we can,” he added.
An SMC hydrology study has identified the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System (MMORS) as one of the major tributaries leading to Manila Bay that will need constant dredging.
Aside from MMORS, SMC also indicated the Malolos stream and the Tullahan River, the latter acting as a spillway for water coming from Angat and Ipo Dams.
“Aside from the dredging and cleaning, the rivers in Bulacan will need to be widened and deepened in order to increase their capacity to carry excess rainwater or water coming from upstream and thus reduce flooding,” Ang said.
“Flood mitigation in Bulacan is something we committed to the people from day one. It’s not just to benefit the airport. More importantly, it will benefit the entire province, Metro Manila, and parts of Central Luzon,” he added.
Ang said on a daily basis, SMC extracts an average of 600 tons of silt and solid waste from the initial 5.25-km part of the Tullahan from Bagumbayan South in Navotas City to Barangay Catmon in Malabon City.
The entire Tullahan-Tinajeros river system stretches 27 kilometers from the La Mesa Dam to Navotas City.
As of 14 September, more than 29,000 cubic meters or metric tons of dredged soil and solid waste were collected from the river, and to fast-track operations, SMC acquired larger excavators, a fleet of barges, tugboats, cranes and dump trucks and is looking to acquire more equipment as the project progresses.
“We are looking to complete the Navotas-Malabon section in two years and we are expecting to dredge a total of one million cubic meters from this section alone. From there, we will move to the Valenzuela and Caloocan section of the Tullahan River,” Ang said.
The accumulation of trash and silt has reduced the depth of many sections of the Tullahan River to just one to two meters. A DPWH study stated the need to increase the depth of the Tullahan River to five meters to increase its capacity and reduce flooding in nearby areas.
“By dredging, cleaning, deepening and widening these rivers, we will be able to improve water quality enough to attract marine life again and for these rivers to be utilized as an alternative means of transport,” Ang said.
“This a sustainable and long-term solution to the perennial flooding in Bulacan. It will be a major, coordinated effort between many stakeholders, local government units and residents,” he added. “The airport project will not worsen the flooding as we have set in place flood mitigation measures that will help the whole province as well. We will make sure that this airport will live up to its promise to bring positive change in the community and the lives of many Filipinos.”
COVID illustrates world ‘woefully under prepared’
Despite efforts to break the global cycle of panic and neglect seen throughout multiple disease outbreaks, the United Nations (UN) health agency chief said on Friday the new coronavirus has shown that the world was “woefully under prepared.”
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank set up the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) two years ago to break the cycle, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media press briefing that “reviews and reports are only as good as the recommendations that are implemented.”
“COVID-19 has shown that collectively, the world was woefully under prepared,” Tedros said.
Since the turn of the millennium, SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola — and most recently, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have all demonstrated the increasing occurrences of viruses making the zoonotic leap from animals to humans.
In a new report, the GPMB lays out critical lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic so far, as well as some concrete actions which can be taken to protect ourselves moving forward.
Developing “muscle memory,” which is done through repetition, “is key to pandemic response,” according to the WHO chief, who cited how Thailand drew from its experience with SARS and H5N1 to swiftly scale up an effective track and trace system that has left them among the least affected nations in the world by COVID-19.
“The whole world” must do this to strengthen preparedness.
While acknowledging that there will certainly be future novel viruses and unknown diseases, the WHO chief stressed that “the only way” to confront these global threats is “as a global community, united in solidarity and committed to long-term cooperation.”
‘Sink or swim together’ — WHO
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an “unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response,” the chief of the United Nations (UN) health agency said, unveiling a plan to have two billion doses of coronavirus vaccine available by the end of 2021.
Roughly 64 percent of the global population lives in a nation that has either committed to, or is eligible to join, the coronavirus Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, which enables participating governments to spread the risk and costs of vaccine development and provide their populations with early access to vaccines.
Working together through the COVAX Facility “is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Speaking at a press briefing with the international vaccine alliance GAVI, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the WHO chief said commitment agreements have been secured and the COVAX Facility would begin signing contracts with vaccine manufacturers and developers.
The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk, according to the WHO chief.
“The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a shared endeavour, not a contest that only the rich can win,” he upheld. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery.”
So far, $3 billion have been invested in the ACT Accelerator — only a tenth of the required $35 billion for scale-up and impact.
Tedros stressed that $5 billion is needed “immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines.”
“Our challenge now is to take the tremendous promise of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX to scale,” he said, adding “we are at a critical point and we need a significant increase in countries’ political and financial commitment.”
The WHO chief cited estimates suggesting that once an effective vaccine has been distributed, and international travel and trade is fully restored, “the economic gains will far outweigh” the $38 billion investment required for the Accelerator.
“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Tedros said.
UN announces 17 SDG Young Leaders
The United Nations (UN) recognized 17 young advocates for sustainable development, who are leading efforts to combat some of the world’s most pressing challenges and inspiring the younger generation for a better future for all.
The Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) represent the diverse voices of youth from every region of the world, and are collectively responsible for activating millions of young people in support of the SDG.
According to Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, amid unprecedented times, the 2020 Class is a “clear example” of how the youth are leading the way in shaping a more sustainable and inclusive future for all.
“Despite being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, young people around the world continue to demonstrate immense resilience, resourcefulness and leadership in finding innovative solutions to recover better and achieve the SDG,” she said.
The group of 17 will come together as a community to support efforts to engage young people in the realization of the SDG, both through strategic opportunities with the UN and through their existing initiatives, platforms and networks, according to the Youth Envoy’s office.
The 17 are announced every two years by the envoy.
Aged between 18 and 29, they hail from across the globe — coming from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Ireland, Liberia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, Turkey, Uganda and the United States.
SMC leading by example
With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) still showing no signs of slowing down, the government, along with concerned agencies and the private sector, is doing its best to ensure that the welfare of the public will still be prioritized despite the pandemic.
In this light, San Miguel Corporation is also extending a helping hand in the government’s pandemic response as its chief, SMC president and COO Ramon Ang, has spearheaded a quarterly blood and convalescent plasma donation drive across its facilities nationwide.
Marking the company’s 130th anniversary, SMC is responding to the urgent need of replenishing the blood supply at the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and contributing to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
“Fewer people are donating blood since the pandemic started to date, yet there is a growing demand for blood to be able to perform transfusions needed in emergent cases,” Ang said.
“I can’t think of a more meaningful way to mark San Miguel’s 130th anniversary than to help replenish the Philippine Red Cross’ blood bank. While we’re still dealing with a pandemic, many more non-COVID-19 patients are in need of blood to get the care they need,” he added.
The need for blood is of utmost importance in this time of the pandemic as it is commonly used in the treatment of cancer patients, accident victims and people with blood disorders. Dengue season has also set in, and PRC’s blood reserves also play a vital role in treating dengue patients.
“We just want to help in any way we can. This is a San Miguel group-wide effort that we will do every quarter. Our employees across the country are encouraged to donate. I believe, together, we can all make a difference,” Ang said.
The convalescent plasma from the blood of a COVID-19 survivor, on the other hand, is important as it was proven to be a valuable alternative therapy for patients still infected and battling the respiratory disease.
People who have recovered from COVID-19 and who volunteer to donate convalescent plasma have a unique ability to help up to three patients currently suffering from the virus.
“We feel very honored to be supporting and collaborating with the Philippine Red Cross and Senator Richard Gordon on their efforts to help not just COVID-19 patients but also the many other patients who require blood for various purposes. We hope that through this partnership we can contribute to efforts to save lives,” Ang said.
The drive was launched simultaneously via ZOOM in six different SMC facilities around the country.
Among these were the Purefoods Hormel Plant in General Trias, Cavite; the Manila Toll Expressway Systems Inc. facility in Silangan Laguna, San Miguel Brewery’s community clinics in San Fernando, Pampanga, Mandaue, Cebu, and Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, and the SMC Head Office Complex in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila.
Ang also donated blood simultaneously with PRC chairman and CEO Senator Gordon in their respective offices. The event was participated in by over 400 SMC employees.
Each participant underwent a physical assessment and blood and plasma screening by PRC prior to the launch.
“We also want to help address the stigma of testing positive for COVID-19. As we’ve seen, anyone can contract the virus. When you treat someone like an outcast just because they’ve contracted the virus, you not only treat that person unfairly, you make it less likely for people to come forward and test, or quarantine,” Ang said.
“I hope our employees who have recovered will donate plasma and see this as an opportunity to help others who are still fighting it,” he added.
Since March, when community quarantine restrictions were implemented across the country, SMC has led private sector response to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the health sector.
Out of the over P13 billion the company spent on COVID-19 efforts, P500 million was used to purchase personal protective equipment and various life-saving medical equipment. It also donated testing booths and kits to Metro Manila LGU.
The company has also spent close to P100 million to operate Better World EDSA, a COVID-19 testing lab dedicated to helping the country meet its expanded testing goals and ensuring a safer restart of the economy. It has also provided 5,000 medical frontliners in Cebu with life insurance worth P2 million each.
Ang also announced plans to build, through the RSA Foundation, a state-of-the-art hospital to better prepare the country’s health care system to deal with a health crisis. The hospital will specialize in research on infectious diseases and put special focus on providing outpatient care for disadvantaged Filipinos.
Countries must ‘get their hands dirty’
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has upended a world embroiled in chaos, unleashing catastrophic health, social and economic consequences along with irreparable harm to humanity, according to UN-backed report published recently.
“A World in Disorder,” issued by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent monitoring and accountability body which prepares for global health crises, notes that the coronavirus has killed close to a million people, impacting health systems, food supplies and economies.
“We can no longer wring our hands and say something must be done,” said Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It’s time for countries to get their hands dirty and build the public health systems to ensure a pandemic of this magnitude and severity would never happen again,” he added.
According to “A World in Disorder,” it would take 500 years to spend as much on preparedness to equal what COVID-19 is costing the world, which GPMB says will be in the trillions.
Last year, the Board warned that the world was unprepared for a deadly pandemic and called for urgent action to break the cycle of panic and neglect that has characterized past responses to global health crises.
The new report provides a harsh assessment of the global COVID-19 response, calling it “a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly.”
According to GPMB, “the world cannot afford this.”
In many countries, leaders have struggled to take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practices, leading to a profound and deepening deficit in trust that is hampering response efforts, GPMB highlighted.
Affordable, available vaccine sought
The persisting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to top a long list of global concerns, the UN chief told journalists, noting that “the grimmest of milestones” is upon us.
“The outbreak remains out of control,” Secretary-General António Guterres declared in his press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High Level Week, noting that soon one million lives will be “lost to the virus.”
Recognizing that many pin their hopes on a vaccine, he said, “Let’s be clear: there is no panacea in a pandemic.”
“A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term,” stressed the world’s top diplomat. “We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.”
He emphasized that because the virus “respects no borders,” a vaccine must be seen as “a global public good,” affordable and available to all, but it requires “a quantum leap in funding”.
Moreover, people must be willing to be vaccinated, but a proliferation of misinformation on vaccines is fueling vaccine-hesitancy, and igniting wild conspiracy theories, noted the UN chief.
He spoke of “alarming reports” that large populations in various countries are reluctant or outright refusing to take a new coronavirus vaccine.
“In the face of this lethal disease, we must do our utmost to halt deadly misinformation,” affirmed the Secretary-General.
Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March, recognizing the coronavirus as “the number one global security threat in our world today.”
More research on coronavirus effects needed
More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among children and adolescents, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that while children may have largely been spared many of the most severe effects, they have suffered in other ways.
Joining the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined that since the start of the COVID pandemic, understanding its effects on children has been a priority.
“Nine months into the pandemic, many questions remain, but we are starting to have a clearer picture. We know that children and adolescents can be infected and can infect others,” he said.
“We know that this virus can kill children, but that children tend to have a milder infection and there are very few severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.”
According to WHO data, less than 10 percent of reported cases and less than 0.2 percent of deaths are of people under the age of 20. However, additional research is needed into the factors that put children and adolescents at an increased risk.
In addition, the potential long-term health effects in those who have been infected remain unknown.
Referring to closure of schools around the world, which has hit millions of children, impacting not only their education but also a range of other important services, the WHO Director-General said that the decision to close schools should be a last resort, temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.
The time during which schools are closed should be used for putting in place measures to prevent and respond to transmission when schools reopen.
“Keeping children safe and at school is not a job for schools alone or governments alone or families alone. It’s a job for all of us, working together,” Tedros said.
“With the right combination of measures, we can keep our kids safe and teach them that health and education are two of the most precious commodities in life,” he added.
Although children have largely been spared many of the most severe health effects of the virus, they have suffered in other ways, said Director-General Tedros, adding that closure of schools hit millions of children globally.
Given different situations among countries, some where schools have opened and others where they have not, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO issued updated guidance on school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19.
Based on latest scientific evidence, the guidance provides practical advice for schools in areas with no cases, sporadic cases, clusters of cases, or community transmission. They were developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN agencies in June.