UN Weekly Roundup: July 15-21, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Putin withdraws from grain deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on Monday, ending the deal that saw nearly 33 million metric tons of grain exported to global markets, stabilizing prices after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine drove them up. Wheat, corn and soybean prices briefly jumped at the news, as markets became jittery. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he will continue to try to seek a way to stabilize food prices and market supply. Moscow said it left the nearly year-old deal because it is not benefiting enough. While its grain exports were high, it was unable to export its ammonia for fertilizer through a Black Sea pipeline.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council met for a briefing on the humanitarian implications of Moscow’s departure. U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned that millions of people are at risk of hunger and death as a consequence of the deal’s abrupt end. He said that with shrinking options for selling their grain, Ukrainian farmers may have no choice but to stop farming.

Guterres outlines peace agenda for changing world

The secretary-general offered proposals Thursday to deal with what he says is an emerging multipolar world order that is characterized by rising geopolitical tensions, conflicts and emerging technologies. Guterres said new threats to peace create new demands on the organization. He urged acceleration of the 2030 sustainable development agenda, noting the link between development and peace, among other recommendations.

Security Council holds first debate on artificial intelligence

The secretary-general called for global standards to regulate artificial intelligence during a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. It was the first time the council had discussed AI, focusing on its implications for international peace and security.

Heat waves: the new normal?

As global warming intensifies and deadly heat waves spread across the world, becoming the “new normal,” the World Meteorological Organization is calling on governments to adopt heat action plans to protect “hundreds of thousands of people dying from preventable heat-related causes each year.” While this year’s extensive and intense heat waves are alarming, scientists say this is not surprising as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been warning of multiple hazards over the next two decades if global temperatures climb 1.5 degrees Celsius or more.

In brief

— The conflict in Sudan entered its fourth month this week. U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned that battle lines are hardening and urged a redoubling of efforts to ensure the conflict “does not spiral into a brutal and interminable civil war with grave consequences for the region.” Griffiths said Sudan is now one of the world’s most difficult places in which to operate for humanitarian workers. On Friday, Doctors Without Borders said a team of 18 of its workers were violently beaten and whipped by armed men Thursday as they were transporting medical supplies to one of only two hospitals still functioning in the southern part of the capital, Khartoum. Attacks on health care workers and facilities are a violation of international humanitarian law.

— Malawi is the latest country to be affected by World Food Program funding shortfalls. WFP said Thursday that it needs $6.3 million to reinstate rations to 75% for 51,000 refugees living in the Dzaleka refugee camp through June 2024. Starting this month, refugees’ cash allowance will be reduced from $8.50 per person each month to $5.90. Most refugees in the camp, about 45,000 people, reported being food insecure. WFP has been hit with deep funding shortages this year, forcing it to cut rations to millions of vulnerable people including in Haiti, Syria and Jordan.

— WFP said one of its staff members was shot and killed Friday by unidentified gunmen in Turbah, southwest Yemen. Jordanian national Moayad Hameidi had been with the agency for 18 years. He recently arrived in Yemen to head WFP’s Taiz office. The agency said, “Any loss of life in humanitarian service is an unacceptable tragedy.”

— On Wednesday, the secretary-general paid tribute to the 77 U.N. staff who died in the line of service in 2022. They represented 36 nationalities. Guterres said their courage saved lives and their expertise helped to build a better world. He said the U.N. would keep their memories alive through the continuation of their mission.

— The United States officially rejoined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on July 10. Under the Trump administration, Washington pulled out of the Paris-based agency, citing what it said was its anti-Israel bias and need for reform. On Monday, the State Department announced that Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles would represent the U.S. at UNESCO.

Did you know?

Tuesday, July 25, is World Drowning Prevention Day. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children and young people. Every year 236,000 people drown, with over half of them in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected, accounting for 90% of all unintentional drowning deaths. The day is intended to highlight what can be done to avoid these deaths, including teaching swimming and water safety, as well as installing barriers and controlling access to water.

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