Tag Archives: WorldBank

A hard row to hoe for Nigeria to reach food self-sufficiency

On the outskirts of Nigeria’s northern city of Kano is bustling Dawanau, West Africa’s largest grain market. Fortunes change hands here daily, with sacks of millet, sorghum, and cowpeas loaded onto trucks for delivery to countries as far afield as Chad, Mali, and Senegal.

But away from the hubbub of Dawanau, the smallholder farmers who produce more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s food face an uphill battle to maintain that supply.

Northern Nigeria’s vast plains are ideal for agriculture – and rice is an especially lucrative crop. The staple is a must-have at any social event and a cornerstone of some of the country’s most popular dishes, including the ubiquitous spicy favourite, “Jollof”.

Nigeria is both the largest rice producer in Africa and the continent’s biggest importer. The supply shortfall is made up with imports – mainly from Thailand and India – valued at more than $8 million per day.

As with rice, so with wheat, maize, and other grains: Nigeria, with a population of 190 million, is a significant producer, but also a net importer.

So given its abundant arable land, why can’t Nigeria support its farmers to grow more food and plug the foreign exchange drain?

The answer lies in the dominance of oil. Until the country’s oil boom in the 1970s, agriculture was Nigeria’s economic mainstay, able to meet both local demand as well as generate export earnings.

Crude oil changed that. With staggering amounts of easy money sloshing through the political system, agriculture languished.

Today, Nigeria’s annual food import bill is around $20 billion.

But a combination of dwindling oil revenues and dollar shortages has persuaded the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to make agriculture a priority again.


Under the slogan of “We must produce what we eat”, the government is encouraging agribusiness as a way to drive economic growth, and as the path out of poverty and food insecurity for millions of smallholder farmers.

The government has set ambitious targets of becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2018, and turning a net exporter by 2020.

To create incentives for domestic production, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has restricted the allocation of dollars for the imports of 41 food items, and hiked import duties – from 10 to 60 percent in the case of rice. It has also restricted imports across land borders to crack down on smuggling.

When Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, announced earlier this year that he was making a $1 billion investment in Nigeria’s rice production, it seemed to vindicate the government’s approach.

The Dangote Group plans to produce one million tonnes of parboiled milled rice over the next five years, equivalent to 16 percent of domestic demand.

Other big players have also jumped in, including the Lagos-based conglomerate TGI, which opened a rice mill in August with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, and Olam Nigeria, part of Singapore-based Olam International, which plans to boost its existing rice output.

A number of government initiatives are in place to promote small-scale agriculture. They include the CBN’s $300 million Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, introduced in 2015 to provide cheap loans and input subsidies for hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers.

The World Bank is also supporting the government’s agricultural transformation strategy with a $200 million loan to support small- to mid-scale rice production.

The government’s grow-your-own push seems to be working. Cereal production has increased, despite the impact on farming of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, and rice yields are also up, helped along by higher rice prices.

Hard work with little help

But most Nigerian farmers still struggle, noted Mahmoud Daneji, managing director of the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority.

He is critical of the government’s top-down approach. “You may have a very laudable programme, but in as much as there is no input from the potential beneficiaries, it will definitely fail,” he told IRIN.

Daneji ticked off a list of problems farmers face that includes the lack of access to quality seeds, fertiliser, effective agricultural extension systems, and access to credit for those who need it.

Despite the raft of initiatives aimed at boosting output, farmers still typically work with their bare hands in fields lacking irrigation, live in areas with poor roads that limit their access to markets, and are facing a growing threat of climate change without advice on how to adapt.

In a survey last year, farmers cited the lack of fertiliser as their biggest problem by far, despite a long-running government input programme. Nearly three quarters of respondents said they were unaware of any government interventions aimed at helping them.

Abdulrashid Magaji, chair of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, told IRIN that’s because the bulk of government programmes rarely reach their intended target. They go instead to “political favourites and close associates of politicians,” he alleged.

For example, the CBN launched the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending in 2013 to increase access to bank credit.

But this year only 3,700 farmers out of 523,000 in Kano are on track to receive the loans. The vast majority are unaware of how to access the much-needed financing through NIRSAL, said Magaji.

Nigeria’s disconnected farmers have to rely on middlemen, reducing their profits, because of a broken value chain, inadequate storage facilities, and a lack of organised market information systems.

“Here, our farmers are left on their own,” said Jibrin Jibrin, director of the Centre for Dryland Agriculture at Kano’s Bayero University. “Economists from the World Bank will tell you not to protect the market, but the system doesn’t work for our farmers.”

Dangote’s rice and tomatoes

Dangote’s rice initiative is taking on some of these issues. Its “outgrower scheme” plans to provide inputs such as seeds and fertiliser, as well as training for nearly 50,000 medium and smallholder farmers who then provide their land and labour.

The company says it will pay the farmers the average market price for their rice at harvest, after recouping the cost of the inputs it provided.

But the majority of the smallholders who spoke to IRIN in Kano were unconvinced by the scheme. They doubted they would really get a fair price, and that they could meet the company’s quality control standards.

Some pointed to the failure of an earlier Dangote project, a $13 million tomato paste factory set up in Kano last year, as reason to be concerned.

The plant is currently lying idle even though it signed deals with some 5,000 farmers to supply the tomatoes that would be turned into an annual production of over 400,000 tonnes of paste. 

On paper it made perfect sense. Nigeria produces some 1.5 million tonnes of tomatoes each year, tomato paste is an ingredient in most Nigerian meals, and, with the government threatening to ban imported paste, a local factory seemed an investment winner.

But farmers were unable to produce the quality and quantity of tomatoes the state-of-the-art plant needed.

Firstly, a pest, the Tuta absoluta moth, wiped out much of the harvest. But then it was the same old underlying problems – a lack of fertiliser, poor irrigation, low quality seed, difficult roads and no cold storage – that really undermined progress.

The poverty of rural infrastructure means Nigeria’s post-harvest losses could be as high as $9 billion annually – much of that burden falling on small-scale producers.

Since the 1970s there have been a raft of high-profile government campaigns to fix agriculture. Incrementally, Nigeria seems to be slotting the pieces into place, but getting to the final stage – a country able to feed itself – still eludes policy-makers.

“I pity myself, I pity farmers, I pity the association, because we have a lot of problems,” said Magaji, chair of the farmers’ union. “Sincerely speaking, we have a long way to go.”


Can Everyone, Everywhere in the World Get Health Insurance? A New UN Report Shows How

Universal Health Coverage means health insurance for everyone, everywhere on the planet. It is one of the top Sustainable Development Goals that the international community pledged itself to achieve by 2030 — just 13 years from now.

This week, the World Health Organization released a major progress report detailing how close we are to a world where everyone has access to decent healthcare. The report finds profound inequity in who receives health coverage — the rich stay healthy and the sick stay poor. But it also shows how this improbable goal might actually become a reality.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) – health care for everyone – sounds like jargon but it’s actually a simple truth of human life. Affordable health care should not be a privilege for the wealthy, but a right belonging to everyone. The report defines UHC as this, “UHC means that everyone – irrespective of their living standards – receives the health services they need, and that using health services does not cause financial hardship.”

Giving people access to essential health care doesn’t just make them healthier – it makes them better educated, more productive, and wealthier. Right now, we’re falling short on that access. Really short. The World Bank and the World Health Organization have co-released a new report measuring progress on Universal Health Coverage, and it’s very first statistic is grim: more than half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services. That statistic is based on an index indicator representing health service coverage, based on tracer indicators of coverage of specific essential services like child immunization, treatment for high blood pressure, and antiretrovirals for HIV.

The numbers don’t improve when you go deeper. The number of people who are covered with most essential services is estimated at 2.3 to 3.5 billion in 2015. The remaining 7.3 billion people do not receive the essential health services they need. Coverage of essential services is highest in East Asia and North America, and lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

As one would expect, there are serious equity issues in health care. Health care is the province of the rich, or at least the middle class. Looking at seven basic maternal and child health services, the report found that less than one-fifth of mothers and infants in households in the poorest 20% in low-income and lower-middle-income countries received at least six of the seven interventions. In the richest 20% of the population, 74% of mothers and infants received at least six of those services. These kind of equity gaps can continue or worsen even as national averages for health coverage improve.

Catastrophic and impoverishing spending on health care is getting worse. Catastrophic spending is defined as non-reimbursed spending beyond a household’s ability to pay – it’s estimated at either 10% of 25% over total household income. Impoverishing spending is spending that takes up so much of the household budget that all other expenses are driven down to below poverty line levels. Paraphrasing the report, both the percentage and the size of the global population facing catastrophic payments have increased at all thresholds since 2000. At the 10% threshold for catastrophic spending, the region with the fastest increase in population facing catastrophic payments is Africa (+5.9% per year on average) followed by Asia (+3.6% per year).

It will be, as the report states, a long road to UHC. But at least we’re on that road now. Universal health coverage is a global goal – and is in fact part of Sustainable Development Goal 3. Coverage of essential services is trending up – it increases at a little over 1% a year. (So, in a a bit less than 100 years we’ll have UHC even if we don’t take any useful action.) Finally, the tracer indicators for use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria, and provision of HIV care are actually very good: coverage of antiretroviral treatment for HIV increased from 2% in 2000 to 53% in 2016, and use of insecticide-treated nets for malaria prevention increased from 1% in 2000 to 54% in 2016.

It’s clear that where there is will for improving health care, it does take place.



A home to call your own – even if it is a slum

Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya, home to more than 250,000 people. Yet it has only one graveyard and only one group of people are buried here. While others are laid to rest in their ancestral lands up-country, the Nubians are the only ethnic group that considers Kibera their homeland.

A tiny community, Nubians were only officially recognised as a Kenyan ethnic group as recently as 2009, and for decades had been denied full citizenship rights.

Originally from Sudan, they were recruited by the British over a century ago to serve as colonial troops, and were rewarded for their service with land in what was then a remote area, miles away from the centre of Nairobi. They called it Kibra, the Nubian word for “forest”.

In a nation where ethnic identity and political power remain closely linked to land, Nubians’ exclusion from formal land tenure not only impeded their struggle for recognition but kept them powerless in the midst of land grabs as Nairobi urbanised.

Within a matter of decades, Nubians watched as their farms and once thick, dark forests transformed into one of the most well-known slums in Africa.

Now a wrong has finally been righted for the 13,000-strong community. In June, President Uhuru Kenyatta granted Nubians a communal land title deed for 288 acres in Kibera, a watershed moment in a long fight for rights to their land.

But this victory for one oppressed minority doesn’t resolve the broader challenges thrown up by Kenya’s rapid urbanisation and neglect of its informal settlements.

Multiple forms of marginalisation intersect in slums like Kibera, where residents lack access to the most basic of services, and reforms have repeatedly stalled.

Memories of home

Ahmed Adam, 75, is a member of the Kenya Council of Nubian Elders. His grandfather was among the original colonial King’s African Rifles regiment who first settled in Kibra, recognition by the British for their role in two world wars.

Even as a grandfather of 20 children, Adam has only a small, plaster-walled house on a slope of shanty-houses that overlooks the area where his childhood home once stood, across the now-foul river.

“There, life was good,” Adam said, reflecting on his childhood home. “Not like here where you can’t even breathe and there is dirt everywhere. Everyone lives close together. It smells… Our life here on our land is not good.”

In 1979, Adam was living in the house built by his grandfather decades before when he was given notice by the government to evacuate. After seven days, bulldozers arrived at dawn to demolish his home.

For every estate that was being built within Kibera – many in the name of “affordable housing” – Nubian families like Adam’s were evicted, without compensation or resettlement to this day. Nubians for years also faced discrimination in getting statutory documents like IDs.

“I have been actively fighting for these 288 acres for six good years, but I am not the first. I am the sixth generation,” explained Shafi Ali Hussein, chairman of the Nubian Rights Forum, a paralegal organisation based in Kibera.

The Kenyan government owns the land on which Kibera stands but for many years did not officially recognise the settlement. Kibera always seemed on the cusp of demolition, and as a result was deliberately and systematically denied public services like a permanent water supply.

Nubians were “squatters on our own land,” said Hussein. Not only did the Nubian community face chronic government neglect, they also had the particular misfortune of fighting for indigenous land rights within one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa.

Kibera became bloated with low-wage migrant workers sucked into the city looking for work. Today, the river running through the slum, black and foul, is barely distinguishable from surrounding plastic waste. But as recently as 30 years ago, its banks were lined with sugarcane, and the river even hosted a sailing club.


Land in Kibera, unregulated and thus tax-free, was illicitly acquired and developed by civil servants, businessmen, and even churches. As Nubians’ privileged military status became obsolete after independence and the arable land in Kibera shrank, their economic situation deteriorated.

They resorted to building low-income shacks and renting them out. To this day, rent is still the main – albeit precarious – source of income for many Nubian households. These are not absentee landlords: in most respects they share the same struggle as the slum dwellers they rent out to.

Kenya’s long-standing land grievances remain a contentious and emotive issue. Where political power is still heavily informed by ethnicity and belonging, the rhetoric of land disenfranchisement is a powerful tool for mobilising mass support.

It was what fuelled the post-election violence in 2007-2008, the worst ethnic clashes in the country’s history. Land reform became a priority as Kenya reworked its constitution in the aftermath of the unrest.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga played a major role in developing the politically unifying National Accord, which included Agenda Four, a set of policies created to address “long-standing issues” like land reform.

However, throughout Odinga’s two decades as an MP representing Kibera he was by no means on the Nubians’ side.

In fact, most Nubians consider him the greatest opponent to what they regard as land justice. They especially resent the influx of people from Odinga’s Luo ethnic base in western Kenya, allegedly to build himself a “vote reservoir” within Nairobi.

Odinga and his political allies have deliberately used Nubians’ status as landlords as a wedge issue to mobilise political support among tenants, in a community in which there are multiple political players.

Nubians have also opposed the low-income housing projects that activists have promoted as a means to support the urban poor. They regard them as the permanent settlement and development of others on their own land.

Development for whom?

The pressure of urbanisation on settlements like Kibera is unrelenting. Just over 60 percent of urban households in Kenya live in slums, according to the World Bank. These poorly serviced informal shanties were meant to be temporary, but over time have become permanent homes.

There have been high-profile attempts to improve living conditions in Kibera, like the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, a collaboration between the government and UN-Habitat that began in 2001 spearheaded by then-prime minister Odinga.

But the decanting site completed in 2008 – meant to temporarily house slum residents as their areas were redeveloped into modern high-rises – was left empty for over a year and then gentrified as poor coordination and legal opposition from prominent Kibera landlords stagnated progress and created an administrative void.

Today, many of the high-rises are rented out to other tenants by the intended beneficiaries, who have themselves moved back into the slums.

“They will become concrete slums before they’re even commissioned, because they’re not designed with the intention of creating homes,” said Sheikh Issa Abdulfaraj, chairman of the Kenya Nubian Council of Elders. “They are just dormitories for people working in industrial areas.”

Abdulfaraj highlights the important difference between the Nubian vision for a new and improved Kibera and the government’s top-down development plans.

Nubians want a better Kibera, but more importantly, their own Kibera – a motherland for the Kenyan Nubian diaspora.

“There is a difference between these mushrooming housing projects… and creating a metropolis which is a home and town for the Nubians,” said Abdulfaraj. “All those other people have their own reserves, up-country homes. The Nubians don’t have such things. This is all we have.”

Although some Nubian elders agitated for the land title to include the full 700 acres of Kibera, the final compromise gave 288 acres to the Nubians and left the rest under government ownership.

Consequently, Nubians continue to advocate against housing projects that establish permanent housing on their land, including a World Bank resettlement project that has introduced multi-story housing to resettle Kibera residents whose homes lie along the new railway corridor.

“Whatever the government does for them on their land is between them and the government,” said Hussein. “But the 288 is our portion.”

In his address to a delegation of the Nubian community in June 2017, Kenyatta promised to work with them to formalise Kibera’s infrastructure, including roads, sewage, water, and electricity, so that Kibera “will not be a tourist venue for people coming to see African poverty, but rather a place where the whole world can see how the poor man takes himself out of poverty to become a rich man.”

That is the hope for all who live in Kibera – that the government, alive to its responsibilities, will deliver on building a better community for everyone.


Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday night.  Tomorrow, he will attend the opening of the high-level session of the Universal Health Care forum organized by the Government of Japan.  He’s expected to tell the audience, which will include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that universal healthcare is at the centre of our vision of a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future.  While in Tokyo, the Secretary-General will deliver a lecture on human security at Sophia University, where he will also have an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with students.  The Secretary-General will also hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe, to be followed by an official lunch hosted by Mr. Abe.  During his stay in Japan, the Secretary-General will have discussions with the Japan Civil Society Network on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and he will also meet with parliamentarians and other senior Japanese officials.  He’s expected to hold a press conference before departing to New York.  The Secretary-General will be at the office on Friday.

**Health Care

And on the occasion of this universal health care forum in Tokyo, our colleagues at the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report today, showing that at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.  The report “Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report” also reveals that each year, large numbers of households are being pushed into poverty because they must pay for health care out of their own pockets.  Currently, 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member.  For almost 100 million people, these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on just $1.90 or less a day.

**Central Africa

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, told the Security Council this morning that the overall situation in the region remains marked by tense socio-political situations, economic difficulties and continued attacks and horrific abuses carried out by armed groups against civilian populations, including Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Regarding Cameroon, he stressed the need to redouble our prevention efforts to ensure that prevailing tensions do not deteriorate in the context of the 2018 elections, with the situation in English-speaking regions of the country of particular concern.  His briefing is available in our office.


In a briefing to the Security Council yesterday afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman outlined some key considerations involving the return of Rohingyas to Myanmar from Bangladesh.  He said that returns must be supported by reconciliation efforts, and the time frame must allow for this and other measures to ensure that return is sustainable.  Returns should be to the ‘original place of residence’ or to a safe, secure place near to their destination of choice, as envisaged by the arrangement reached between the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Mr. Feltman said that the reference to freedom of movement in the arrangement is positive, but the qualifier ‘in conformity with existing laws and regulations’ which are currently extremely restrictive, is a serious limitation.  He added that eligibility criteria for return must be applied in the broadest possible manner, and he underscored the important role that the UN, through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), can play in all aspects of a return operation.

**South Sudan

The humanitarian community in South Sudan launched today an appeal for $1.72 billion to provide critical and life-saving assistance in 2018 to 6 million people affected by conflict, displacement, hunger and a deteriorating economy.  Since the conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013, about 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including nearly 1.9 million people who have been internally displaced and more than 2 million people who have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries.  As the conflict continues, rates of hunger and malnutrition have risen, and food security partners report the risk of famine as significant for thousands of people in multiple areas, if early actions are not taken.  Also marking four years since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, appealed for urgent action by all sides to settle the conflict and put an end to the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis and Africa’s largest refugee crisis.  The world cannot continue to stand by as the people of South Sudan are terrorized by a senseless war, he said.


Our humanitarian colleagues continue to call for the urgent medical evacuation of some 500 people in besieged eastern Ghouta in Syria.  Yesterday, our health partners reported the death of a 29‑year‑old woman, who was suffering from cancer.  She is the fifteenth person identified for urgent medical evacuation in eastern Ghouta to die due to a reported lack of adequate medical care.  Her death comes one day after a 9‑year‑old girl reportedly died while waiting for evacuation.  Eastern Ghouta remains under siege, with nearly 400,000 children, women and men in need of life-saving assistance.  Civilians must be able to seek medical care.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate medical evacuation of the sick and wounded in a safe, timely and systematic manner, everywhere in Syria.


The UN Migration Agency (IOM) has released a new study that shows that 90 per cent of displaced Iraqis are determined to return home.  This is similar to the long-term intentions recorded in 2016.  More than 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their places of origin so far in 2017.  In total, since the start of the crisis in 2014, IOM estimates that more than 2.8 million displaced Iraqis have returned, while more than 2.9 million people remain displaced.


Yesterday, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Honduras:  The Secretary-General is closely following developments in Honduras.  He is concerned about the incidents of violence following the 26 November election and trusts that the authorities will uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The Secretary-General calls upon the country’s political leaders, and particularly the presidential candidates, to exercise their leadership with responsibility in this crucial moment for the future of Honduras.  He encourages them to resolve their differences through dialogue within the mechanisms established by the Electoral Law.  The Secretary-General also calls on all Hondurans to exercise restraint and maintain the commendable civic spirit demonstrated with their participation in the elections.  The Secretary-General expresses appreciation for the efforts of international observers and others supporting the process.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warn today that three months after hurricanes Irma and Maria barrelled through the Caribbean, 350,000 children remain in need of support across the region.  In Dominica, over 35 per cent of children — particularly those living in shelters — are yet to be enrolled in education activities.  In Antigua & Barbuda, many children and families remain in shelters and are unable to return home.  Working in collaboration with Governments and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, UNICEF has been providing not only immediate humanitarian relief to the affected populations but also working to ensure longer term recovery and resilience.  More details on this are available online.

**Electronic Waste

A new report released today by our colleagues from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the UN University says that electronic waste rose by eight per cent in just two years.  Meanwhile, only 20 per cent of this waste is being recycled.  The report shows that a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated in 2016 — up from 3.3 million metric tonnes in 2014.  This is equal in weight to almost nine Great Pyramids of Giza or 4,500 Eiffel Towers.  Experts foresee a further 17 per cent increase — to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021 — the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.  The full report is available online.


And UNICEF is also announcing today that funding for its Vaccine Independence Initiative, a mechanism to help countries secure a sustainable supply of life-saving vaccines, has more than doubled in the past year, increasing from $15 million to $35 million.  Over 60 low-income countries currently benefit from Gavi [Vaccine Alliance] support to purchase life-saving vaccines.  As countries’ economies grow and transition away from Gavi support, the Vaccine Independence Initiative gives them access to short-term bridge “loans” so that they can purchase vaccines while waiting for the release of national budget funds.  Since 2016, the Vaccine Independence Initiative has helped provide an estimated 91 million doses to children in 23 countries faster than would have otherwise been possible.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education.  He is here to brief you on urgent funding needs for children trapped in humanitarian crises, as well as the results of the Education Cannot Wait Fund.  And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden, Chair of the Security Council Children and Armed Conflict Working Group.  He will brief you on his recent trip to Sudan and also on achievements made this year.  Before we get to our guest, are there any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know, at the extraordinary summit meeting, Organization of Islamic [Cooperation] (OIC) yesterday in Istanbul, the Palestinian Authority said that they will no longer recognise the US role in the search for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  What are the implications of that decision in regard to the structure and role of the Quartet?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the United States remains one of the partners in the Quartet, and the Quartet will remain involved in the search for a solution, a two‑state solution, in the Middle East.  What our concern is is we want to make sure that the parties themselves are willing to hold talks with each other.  And, in line with that, the United Nations, both in its independent role and through the Quartet, will work to do what it can to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table for talks.  Yes?

Question:  You mentioned emergency evacuations being denied in Ghoutah, was it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Now, there’s only one good hospital where you would evacuate these people to.  That is in Damascus or in that area.  So, is Damascus denying the evacuation?  If so, why not say so?  And if someone else is denying it, why not say?  Nobody can write a story on this.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ve made clear our concerns that the Government authorities have been preventing travel.  As you know, eastern Ghoutah is in the suburbs of Damascus, and so some of the nearest hospitals are a short while away if we could get the access, and we have said that both on the ground in Syria and here in the past.

Question:  So, the access is being denied by Damascus?  I mean, by the Government.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, obviously, we’ve had problems with a number of parties, but, in this case, in the case of eastern Ghoutah, our main concern is to make sure that the Government allows us to have the access to bring people to the nearby hospitals.  Yes, in the back.  Are you done?  Okay, then you.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Cameroon.  I just… one just generally, can we get Mr. François Fall to have a stakeout or some kind of media availability?  He came out of the Council just now and ran by.  He didn’t answer a question on Patrice… Patrice Nganang and… and… nor did he answer about… basically, his briefing seems to conclude with the death of security officers, which has taken place, but absolutely nothing on the death of civilians.  So, I wanted to know, can you give a little bit more flavour beyond the paragraph in his open briefing?  And will he make himself available at a stakeout or in some other way while he’s in New York?  And, finally, I did… there’s a photo of António Guterres with Paul Biya, I guess, on the steps of the Élysée Palace.  Do you have any readouts of any of his meetings at that One Planet Summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he did not have a meeting with President Biya, nor was one scheduled.  I believe he met with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, to discuss climate change issues.  We don’t have any extensive readouts because there wasn’t a large number of meetings with Heads of State or Government.  And, regarding Mr. Fall, of course, it’s his determination whether he wants to do a press availability, but we’ve raised that before.

Question:  I guess I wanted…  Can you then ask him whether he raised, in the… in the consultations anything to do with press freedom in Cameroon?  Because one of the participants in the… in the… in the… in the consultations said basically that he didn’t.  It’s not in his briefing.  And, obviously, there are not only… not just the one I’ve asked about, journalists detained, still restrictions on the Internet, and it’s nowhere in his briefing.  So, is he… is there… is there something outside of the Security Council process that he’s doing, or… or is he doing nothing on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he’s in touch with the Member States bilaterally, as well as through the Council, but regarding the public record, we’ve provided the actual remarks that he delivered in the Security Council.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow‑up on Mr. Abbadi’s question.  If I’m not mistaken… if I understood you correctly, you said it’s up to the parties to choose who will be the peace broker, but it seems that the… one of the parties, at least, the Palestinians but also the 57 countries of the OIC, now rejects the US as a peace broker.  So, what do you think is the way forward now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, for us, the focus has been and continues to be on making sure that the parties engage in talks with each other.  The United Nations has offered its own role and expertise as a broker for peace in this process, and we’ve done this many times in the past, and we’re willing to play our part to make sure that the parties can engage in talks with each other.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  On the… the OIC conference also… summit also announced that they will recognise Jerusalem East as the capital of Palestine.  Do you have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You know where we stand on the question of Jerusalem as something that needs to be resolved through the final status negotiations.  Ibtisam, did you have a question or have you… okay.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thanks.  Do you have any update on the humanitarian help and on Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  For today… let’s see.  One second.  No.  I mean, I… as… the last thing we have is the basic briefing information that you had on Yemen earlier, where Mr. [Mark] Lowcock had made clear our concerns about the level, the lower level, of access that we’ve had to the ports.  We want to continue to be using the ports to the fullest, and that includes Hodeidah and Al Saleef, as well as the airport in Sana’a.  But, at the end of last week, I think we had made clear that there were several ships that had been allowed to berth at the Hodeidah and Saleef ports, but we want to have a greater amount of traffic.  So, we’re still trying to expand the amount of deliveries.

Question:  So, just a follow‑up to understand… so you still don’t have fully access?  And are you in contact with… somebody from the Coalition to try to… I mean, are you still getting… they are still refusing to give you a full access to deliver humanitarian aid?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re working with the Coalition authorities to get more access.  It has begun and we’re getting some access, so there are ships coming in.  And there have been ships that have been able to offload their cargoes.  But, at the same time, we want a greater pace of deliveries so that roughly 7 million hungry people can have their needs tended to.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, actually, is the National Memory Day for the Nanjing massacre victims in 1937.  Around 300,000 people had been killed by their Japanese invaders on 13 December.  So, would you like to make a comment on this?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any particular comment to make on this.  Obviously, we mourn all those who have died in past wars and conflicts.  As you know, the Secretary‑General is himself in Japan, and he will be making remarks over the course of his trip while he’s there.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about China Energy Fund Committee, Burundi, and the budget.  On China Energy Fund Committee, you’d said on Monday that DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] had gone forward on 21 November with the million dollars because they hadn’t… they hadn’t yet read closely.  At least I took that to…

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s not what I said.

Question:  They had not yet digested the indictment.  What changed then?  We’ll go back to that.

Deputy Spokesman:  What I said is that the invitation and the event had been organised well before the indictment.

Question:  But, I said, why then after… thereafter they decided to suspend their business with this company that’s in the indictment for bribery?  So I said, what changed in terms of the UN’s knowledge of the company between 21 November and the date at which DESA stopped doing business with them?

Deputy Spokesman:  They reviewed their dealings with the organisation, and they came to that decision.

Question:  Okay.  So if they… if DESA reached that conclusion, I’m wondering why the UN Global Compact, which one would actually think has a higher standard and since it’s a… the vehicle for companies to espouse human rights and anti‑corruption, why the cen… the 100 per cent funder of the NGO and the beneficiary of the alleged bribing scheme is still a member of the UN Global Compact.  Can you explain what standards are being applied by the Global Compact?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that is a matter for them to review.  If they come to a decision to make a change, they’ll make that change.

Question:  But how… and how… is it just the director?  Who makes the determination?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, the Global Compact reviews all this.  It has its own Secretariat.

Question:  Okay.  And the other thing is, I’m sure you’ve seen there’s stories and… and I’m sure you’re aware that, in the Budget Committee, proposals have been made for more substantial cuts than… than the Secretary‑General has proposed.  He’s proposed 200 million.  There’s a proposal for 2… an additional $250 million in cuts.  And I wanted to ask you about… part of it, I’ve heard from a Budget Committee official, is the regional commissions to face… as well as special political commissions, DPI [Department of Public Information].  And I wanted to know, number one, are there contingency plans to implement it?  Do you have any response to this desire for cuts?  And Ms. [Alicia] Bárcena, who I know is the head of a regional commission, is this… I’d asked Stéphane [Dujarric], I think, what… she was, you know, sitting behind the Secretary‑General in the presentation to the Budget Committee.  Is this her role?  What’s the… what is the response to the… the desire to cut these regional commissions?  Can you justify their current budget?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding this, this is a matter that’s up for discussions among the Member States, and we’ll let the Member States discuss amongst themselves how to proceed forward with a budget.  And so, the matter is in their hands, and we’re not going to comment while they’re dealing with it.  Yes, one more question, and then we’ll go to our guest.

Question:  Yeah, back to Jerusalem.  And in regard… in light of the past days’ developments and today’s, does… did the Secretary‑General or does he intend to make any contact with the parties?  And, second, does he intend to make any concrete steps in order to revive the peace process, the negotiations process, other than calling on the parties to resume negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you heard what Mr. Mladenov, Nickolay Mladenov, said in his briefing to the Council last Friday.  That’s where our… where we stand for now.  If there’s any new initiatives down the line, we’ll let you know at that point.  But the sort of state of play that we’ve had has been expressed both in the statements by the Secretary‑General and by Mr. Mladenov.  And with that, let us go to Gordon Brown.

Half the world lacks access to essential health services – UN-backed report

13 December 2017 &#150 At least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services, and nearly 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty each year due to the out-of-pocket health expenses they must pay, according to a United Nations-backed study.

&#8220It is completely unacceptable that half the world still lacks coverage for the most essential health services,&#8221 said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in a press release.

&#8220A solution exists: universal health coverage allows everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship,&#8221 Mr. Tedros added.

The study, Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report, co-authored by the World Bank and WHO, notes that 800 million people spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member.

A solution exists: universal health coverage allows everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardshipWHO Director-General

For almost 100 million people, these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on just $1.90 or less a day.

&#8220The report makes clear that if we are serious &#8211 not just about better health outcomes, but also about ending poverty &#8211 we must urgently scale up our efforts on universal health coverage,&#8221 said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

Wide gaps exist in the availability of services in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In other regions, basic health care services such as family planning and infant immunization are becoming more available, but lack of financial protection makes it difficult for families to pay for these services.

Even in more affluent regions such as East Asia, Latin America and Europe, a growing number of people are spending at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on out-of-pocket health expenses.

Inequalities in health services are seen not just between, but also within countries: national averages can mask low levels of health service coverage in disadvantaged population groups.

Source: World Health Organization

In low- and lower-middle income countries, only 17 per cent of mothers and children in the poorest fifth of households received at least six of seven basic maternal and child health interventions, while 74 per cent for the wealthiest fifth of households did so.

The report is a key point of discussion at the global Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017, currently taking place in Tokyo, Japan. In addition to Mr. Kim and Mr. Tedros, attendees include heads of State and ministers from over 30 countries. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will address the Forum on Thursday.