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18 February 2020
In one of the last bastions of polio on the planet, millions of children are being given a fighting chance against the paralyzing and potentially fatal disease.
During his first official visit to Pakistan as UN Secretary-General, António Guterres stopped at a kindergarten in Lahore on Tuesday, as the country kicked off its initial nationwide polio campaign for the year.
While there is no cure for polio, vaccination can protect a child for life, and the campaign this month aims to reach more than 39 million children.
“Polio is one of the few diseases we can eradicate in the world in the next few years. This is a priority of the United Nations and I am extremely happy to see it is a clear priority for the Government of Pakistan,” said Mr. Guterres.
“My appeal to all leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, is to fully support the Government of Pakistan and other governments around the world to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.”
Along with Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only place in the world with wild poliovirus transmission, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last year, the country saw a resurgence of polio, with 144 cases; up from 12 in 2018. So far this year, there have been 17.
In Pakistan, nearly one-third of children aged 12 to 23 months miss out on basic vaccines, either because they live in hard-to-reach areas, or due to misconceptions about the importance of immunization.
Veteran vaccinator Farzana Shakeel has been pelted with stones, shouted at, and even threatened during anti-polio vaccination campaigns in Karachi.
“To this day, many people in my community think that vaccines are a conspiracy to prevent them from having more children, or to harm them in some way,” she said.
While at the kindergarten, the UN chief vaccinated three children against polio.
He also met with frontline workers from the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme, a 265,000-strong force that goes door-to-door during vaccination campaigns to ensure as many children as possible are protected against the disease.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which manages the procurement and distribution of over 1 billion doses of polio vaccines worldwide each year, supports the programme in Pakistan, including through leading in vaccine supply and strengthening partnerships with local communities to build trust in vaccines.
More than 60 per cent of the programme’s workers are women, and they are critical to rallying support from parents, caregivers and communities.
Vaccination points also are set up at railway stations, bus stops and other transit points nationwide, targeting children who are travelling or on the move, with some 1.7 million vaccinated in 2018.
Immunization activities and other measures are further coordinated with a similar programme in neighbouring Afghanistan, given the frequent population movements between the two countries.
Pakistan’s polio eradication programme currently is re-strategizing its operations and approach to better respond to increased transmission of the virus, according to the WHO Representative in the country.
Dr. Palitha Malipala said this includes incorporating high-level commitment to polio eradication across the political sector and ensuring that health workers are not targeted.
“We will continue to support the Government of Pakistan, who spearhead this initiative in country, to overcome the challenges of the last year and put in place robust measures to ensure a polio-free world for future generations,” he said.
17 February 2020
Pakistan’s solidarity and compassion for hosting Afghan refugees is a remarkable blueprint that the rest of the world should follow.
“Working towards solutions for the Afghan people is not just a sign of solidarity; it is in the world’s best interest,” added Mr. Guterres.
For his part, Mr. Grandi said Pakistan, and Iran, had been with Afghan refugees through “bitter times of hardship and loss, renewed conflict and uncertainty.”
“And through years of efforts to rebuild a fractured nation and secure the peaceful future that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” he added.
Both UN leaders remarked on the “story of solidarity and compassion”, the solidarity of the people of the host countries; and the courage and resilience of the Afghan people, with Mr. Guterres noting that has seen “compassion play out in real time here in Pakistan.”
At a press conference alongside Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the UN chief said: “Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good supporting Afghan refugees and it’s time for the international community to assume its responsibilities, and to support Pakistan very meaningfully.”
Underlining the fact that Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees for 40 years, the Secretary-General noted that since 1979, it has regularly been the world’s top refugee-hosting country.
“Even though major conflicts have since unfortunately erupted in other parts of the globe and the refugee population has soared, Pakistan today is still the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country,” Mr. Guterres said.
We must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to your own national efforts. As we look to the challenges ahead, the global community must step up — UN chief Guterres
Mr. Grandi noted that today, Pakistan and Iran together continue to host 90 per cent of registered Afghan refugees globally – some 2.4 million people. In addition, temporary labour migration and other forms of cross-border movement in the sub-region mean that both countries also host large non-refugee Afghan populations.
But despite Pakistan’s own challenges, the South Asian country’s use of innovative technology in refugee protection, insisting that many initiatives are now recognized as a global model of good practice, said the Secretary-General.
These include biometric registration, access to the national education system, health care and inclusion in the economy.
The UN has worked with the Pakistan authorities to support Afghan refugees, Mr. Guterres said, by implementing aid and development projects across the country – and also by helping Afghans return home.
For them to be able to stay in Afghanistan, he appealed for peace, but also effective reconstruction that creates conditions for their successful return and reintegration.
“We know the solution lies in Afghanistan,” said the Secretary-General, who noted that the as the Afghan conflict “drags on and on,” the deep impact of the protracted nature of conflict, poverty and forced displacement are clearly evident.
Echoing that sentiment, Mr. Grandi explained that amid the fighting in Afghanistan, “more than 400,000 people were displaced within the country last year alone, by conflict, drought and other natural hazards; and just 8,000 refugees were able to return home through the voluntary repatriation programme.”
Mr. Guterres went on to reaffirm that the preferred durable solution for refugees has always been voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity to their country of origin. This is also true for Afghan refugees.
And Mr. Grandi added: “Working on solutions is all the more important as efforts to revitalize the peace process in Afghanistan continue and hopefully gain momentum. Afghan displacement can only be solved by peace, and peace will be strengthened by solving forced displacement.”
“Returns to Afghanistan, as we both said, have hit a historical low. Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned. Now is the time for the international community to act and to deliver,” stated the UN chief.
He added that the UN was working together on a region-specific Support Platform to assist voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan, while providing help to refugees and their host communities in both Pakistan and Iran.
“Peace efforts leading to intra-Afghan negotiations will pave the way, but sustainable peace and security hinges on better integrating our work on humanitarian, development and peace efforts,” said the UN chief, adding: “Done right, this work can be a model for the rest of the world.”
Calling for a realistic approach and acknowledging the “big challenges lie ahead”, Mr. Guterres stressed that the message of the conference – and the presence of so many senior Government officials from all over the world – “is a testament of hope and commitment to a new partnership for solidarity and a better future for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and for the world.”
Later on Monday, at the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) in Islamabad, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the heroic 157 Pakistani peacekeepers that sacrificed their lives “to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world.”
The Centre, which is part of the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, is one of the most important institutions in the world that support peacekeeping activities in an extremely competent and professional way.
According to UN data, Pakistan is the sixth largest contributor of troops and police, with more than 4,000 uniformed personnel serving in nine United Nations peace operations, including in some of the most dangerous UN missions, such as in the Central African Republic and Mali.
“Pakistani officers are playing an important part as Force Commanders and Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistan contributes critical equipment, including a helicopter unit in Mali”, said Mr. Guterres, noting also that Pakistan was the first country to endorse the Declaration of Shared Commitments on Action for Peace, known by the shorthand A4P.
The implementation of the A4P by Pakistan was not limited to the enhancement of partnership, it also encompasses many other aspects of the Declaration, including on ‘women, peace and security’.
In that regard, the country has deployed the first-ever Pakistani Female Engagement Team to South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Pakistan is a leader in championing women peacekeepers and an example for other troop contributors”, said the Secretary-General.
He said that this inspiring all-women Pakistani team has implemented successful projects on vocational training, medical outreach and psychological support, and improved information-gathering that feeds into security assessments.
In his experience, as High Commissioner for Refugees, and while being in some of the most dangerous areas in the world, Mr. Guterres saw firsthand how essential it was to have women peacekeepers – both military and police – in order to gain the confidence of populations, to gain the confidence of communities.
“They can do things that us, men, are not able to do – gain the confidence and create conditions for more effective action of our peacekeeping units”, he maintained.
16 February 2020
“One of the main purposes of my visit is to spotlight the real Pakistan — with all its possibility and potential,” Mr. Guterres told reporters in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, alongside Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
The UN chief started out his day in Islamabad by meeting with refugees from Afghanistan, Yemen and Tajikistan. On Monday, he will speak at an international conference marking 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, one of the world’s largest and longest-standing refugee populations.
Organized by the Pakistan Government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the conference will also be addressed by the agency’s chief, Fillipo Grandi. The Secretary-General is also expected to meet with refugees and senior Pakistani officials during the visit.
Speaking to reporters after participating in a tree planting ceremony and delivering an address on climate change and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres said it was time for the world to take a step back and “look at Pakistan through a wider frame.”
Indeed, he said, the role Pakistan had played in sheltering and protecting Afghan refugees with limited international assistance, as well as its support to UN peacekeeping, and its steps to take concrete climate action with the ‘10 Billion Tree Tsunami’ campaign among other initiatives, were vital aspects of the South Asian country’s contribution to the region and the wider international community.
“The United Nations will continue to support Pakistan, and I call on other countries to support Pakistan and indeed show similar leadership in sharing this responsibility in this region and around the world,” said Mr. Guterres.
In his ‘Special Talk on Sustainable Development and Climate Change’, Mr. Guterres noted that “like other developing countries, Pakistan has contributed little to the problem yet faces disproportionate vulnerability because of it.”
Commending Prime Minister Imran Khan for highlighting climate change in his address to the UN General Assembly last September, the Secretary-General also congratulated Pakistan on becoming co-chair of the Green Climate Fund, the UN-backed mechanism that helps developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance their ability to respond to climate change.
Noting Pakistan’s climate-focused initiatives like the ‘10 Billion Tree Tsunami’ campaign and the Clean and Green Pakistan Movement, he expressed his admiration for the decision to abolish plastic bags in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country.
“Plastic pollution is today one of the central concerns that we have, especially for the protection of our oceans”, said the UN chief, who held up a bag made of fabric, and urged everyone in attendance to use similar ones when the did their shopping.
The answer to the climate crisis is global solidarity backed by global action, said the Secretary-General, adding: “We are in a battle for our lives. But I firmly believe it is a battle that can be won.”
Indeed: “Technology is on our side. We have all the tools and knowledge we need to move from the grey economy to the green economy as it was seen in the slides. We have the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As he went on to urge scaled-up action towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Mr. Guterres acknowledged that today’s challenges to sustainable development and human progress do not respect borders. “They are not confined to individual nations,” he explained.
He noted that Pakistan was among the first nations to integrate the SDGs, including through a national poverty alleviation programme – Ehsaas, or compassion, to expand social protection and safety nets and to support human development. A national youth development programme – Kamyab Jawan – seeks to create 10 million jobs for young people in five years.
But “we are off-track globally”, according to the UN chief, especially in the areas of hunger, inequality, biodiversity and climate action.
“Gender inequality – in business, in the home, in schools, in government, in the technology sector – is denying women and girls their rights and opportunities across the world,” he continued and added that vulnerable populations, such as migrants, young people and persons with disabilities, remain at risk of being left behind.
“Our collective efforts are not approaching the scale we need to deliver the SDGs by 2030,” he said, but stressed that the recently launched Decade of Action calls on governments, businesses, civil society and individuals everywhere to combine to create “unstoppable momentum” for the Goals.
Earlier on Sunday, the Secretary General and the head of the UN refugee agency, Mr. Grandi, met with three generations of Afghan refugees, listened to their compelling stories and expressed solidarity and compassion with their cause.
Though this marks Mr. Guterres’ first trip to Pakistan in his capacity as UN chief, he noted that he had visited the country many times during his tenure as UN High Commissioner of Refugees. “I gained an enormous admiration for the resilience, courage, determination, generosity and the solidarity of Afghan refugees,” said Mr. Guterres, adding that he had “drawn inspiration from their courage”.
UN News also had an opportunity to meet some of the refugees, who despite their hardships, had been able to help others and to give back to their communities.
Fazal Nabi, a 35-year-old, born in Pakistan, is passionate about helping refugees with disabilities. He drives a rickshaw to earn his living but spends most of his earnings buying equipment to help persons with disabilities.
Asked what he dream of doing if he took up another job, Mr. Nabi said that he would like to open a factory to manufacture assistive technologies, mobility aids or tools that could ease the everyday lives of persons with disabilities.
A reporter at the joint press conference asked a question about tensions in Jammu and Kashmir and the Secretary General explained that he had offered, from the beginning, his good offices in relation to the situation, noting however that “good offices can only work when accepted by both sides”.
He maintained the UN position that the relevant resolutions of the Security Council on the issue should be implemented and for effective de-escalation, dialogue, and another very important condition: full respect for human rights and [fundamental] freedoms of those in Jammu and Kashmir.
When asked about ceasefire violations in the disputed region, the UN chief mentioned his visit to the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), noting that it “should have full freedom of movement; it has on the Pakistani side – we hope that this will also be achieved on the other side, and we will be strengthening its equipment capacity in order to better be able to implement its mandates”.