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15 Jun, 2011

Renewed Efforts Urged To End Practice Of ‘Son Preference’

In This Dispatch:

1. Renewed Efforts Urged To End Practice Of ‘Son Preference’

2. New Initiative Launched To Boost Crops And Protect Environment

3. UN Cultural Agency Calls On Libyans And NATO To Protect Heritage Sites

4. Cutting Smog And Soot Could Have Fast And Broad Benefits

5. Lauding Immunization Pledges, Unicef Says They Will Save Millions Of Lives


Jun 14 2011 — Five United Nations agencies have banded together to call for urgently addressing gender-biased sex selection favouring boys, a common practice in many parts of South, East and Central Asia that they say fuels a culture of discrimination and violence.

“Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women’s human rights,” says a statement issued by the agencies, which have reviewed the evidence behind the causes, consequences and lessons learned regarding “son preference.”

Often under intense pressure to produce a son, women seek to discover the sex of a foetus through ultrasound. The discovery of a female foetus can then lead to its abortion.

Sex selection can also take place before a pregnancy is established, or after the birth of a girl, through child neglect or infanticide, they add. Over decades, the practice has caused a sex-ratio imbalance in many countries particularly in South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia – with ratios in some places as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls.

“There is huge pressure on women to produce sons… which not only directly affects women’s reproductive decisions, with implications for their health and survival, but also puts women in a position where they must perpetuate the lower status of girls through son preference,” they say.

“It is also women who have to bear the consequences of giving birth to an unwanted girl child. These consequences can include violence, abandonment, divorce or even death,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The imbalance between the number of men and women owing to sex selection can in some areas lead to the trafficking of women for forced marriages from other regions or the sharing of brides among brothers, the agencies point out.

“Renewed and concerted efforts are needed by governments and civil society to address the deeply rooted gender discrimination which lies at the heart of sex selection,” the experts noted.

They propose concrete steps to tackle the problem, including the collection of more reliable data on the extent of the problem and the factors driving it; guidelines on the use of technology for health professionals; supportive measures for girls and women, such as incentives for families with only daughters; and other legal and awareness-raising actions.


Jun 13 2011 — Building on the lessons learned from the Green Revolution of the 1960s, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new initiative to grow more food to feed the world’s growing population in an environmentally sustainable way.

The agency notes in a news release that there is no option but to further intensify crop production in order to feed a world population projected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050.

To eradicate hunger and meet demand by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70 per cent in the world and 100 per cent in developing countries, it adds.

“The key to meeting the challenge lies in sustainable crop production intensification, or Save and Grow,” FAO stated, referring to the new approach that is outlined in a book by the same name and published by FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

The Save and Grow model “applies external inputs at the right time and in the right amount – no more and no less than plants need,” says the agency.

Green Revolution technology produced more than enough food for a world population that doubled from three to six billion between 1960 and 2000, FAO states, while pointing out that it focused on raising crop production without much attention to the environment.

The new approach draws partly on conservation agriculture (CA) techniques which do away with or minimize ploughing and tilling, thus preserving soil structure and health.

The Save and Grow toolkit also includes elements such as precision irrigation, which “delivers more crop for the drop,” and ‘precision placement’ of fertilizers, which can double the amount of nutrients absorbed by plants.

Another element is integrated pest management, whose techniques discourage the development of pest populations and minimizes the need for pesticides.

“Such methods help adapt crops to climate change and not only help grow more food but also contribute to reducing crops’ water needs by 30 per cent and energy costs by up to 60 per cent,” notes FAO.

The new approach, the agency also points out, will require significant support to farmers so they can learn the new practices and technologies, while governments will also need to strengthen national plant-breeding programmes and overall domestic and foreign investments to the agriculture sector need to be increased.


Jun 14 2011 — The United Nations cultural organization has called on the warring parties in Libya to protect two World Heritage List sites, one of which has reportedly been shelled already and the other that is said to be a potential target of NATO air attacks.

The Old Town of Ghadamès, known as “the pearl of the desert,” was shelled by Government forces over the weekend, according to media reports. Other reports have said that NATO has refused to rule out the possibility of bombing the Roman town of Leptis Magna, east of Tripoli, which allegedly has warehouses of Government arms.

“The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today called on parties involved in the armed conflict in Libya to ensure the protection of the World Heritage site of the Old Town of Ghadamès and its immediate surroundings,” the agency said in a press release.

“She also appealed to the parties involved not to expose the World Heritage site of Leptis Magna to destruction and damage, following reports that this site is also under threat.”

Ghadamès, an oasis town, is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities, and an outstanding example of a traditional settlement that also contains Roman ruins, UNESCO said. Leptis Magna, an old Roman seaport, is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean region.

In March Ms. Bokova said Libya and the allies participating in air strikes following a Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians must respect The Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols.

“From a cultural heritage point of view, (Libya) is of great importance to humanity as a whole,” said Ms. Bokova in a letter to the Permanent Representatives to UNESCO of each of the countries concerned.

“Several major sites bear witness to the great technical and artistic achievements of the ancestors of the people [of Libya], and constitute a precious legacy.”

UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.


Jun 14 2011 – Fast and relatively short-term action to curb soot and smog could improve human health, generate higher crop yields, reduce climate change and slow the melting of the Arctic, according to a United Nations-backed study released today.

The study, compiled by an international team of more than 50 researchers and coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), “complements urgent action needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions,” the two agencies said.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: “The experts spotlight how a small number of emission reduction measures – targeting, for example, recovery of methane in the coal, oil and gas sectors through to the provision of cleaner burning cook stoves; particle traps for diesel vehicles and the banning of open burning of agricultural wastes – offer dramatic public health, agricultural, economic and environmental benefits.”

The report specifically recommends reductions in emissions of methane and black carbon. Black carbons are a major component of soot and are formed from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels wood and biomass, including emissions from cars and trucks, cookstoves, forest fires and some industrial facilities.

Methane contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a major component of urban smog, and a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant harmful to human health and ecosystems.

“Big cuts in emissions of black carbon will improve respiratory health; reduce hospital admissions and days lost at work due to sickness… Close to 2.5 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could on average be avoided annually worldwide by 2030 with many of those lives saved being in Asia, it is estimated,” UNEP and WMO said in a joint press release.

Fast action might also reduce losses of mountain glaciers while reducing projected warming in the Arctic over the coming decades by two thirds.

Big cuts in ground-level ozone could also contribute to reduced crop damage equal to between 1-4 per cent of the annual global maize, rice, soy bean and wheat production.

The report concludes that cutting these so-called “short-lived climate forcers” can have immediate climate, health and agricultural benefits. This is because, unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries, black carbon only persists for weeks.

But the researchers also said that while fast action on black carbon and ground-level ozone could play a key role in limiting near-term climate, “immediate and sustained action to cut back CO2 is crucial if temperature rises are to be limited over the long term.”

The findings were released today in Bonn, Germany, during a meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


Jun 13 2011 — The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today congratulated the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) on its London conference in which public and private donors pledged $4.3 billion, which it said will save millions of lives.

“The generosity and commitment of the donors at today’s GAVI replenishment conference will benefit the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable children around the world,” UNICEF said in a press release.

“The outcome of this pledging conference is exciting and tremendous news which will save millions of lives of the most threatened children around the world,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “And UNICEF renews its pledge to redouble our own efforts to help governments and other partners deliver vaccines to the hardest to reach children.”

The children’s agency said while 82 per cent of the world’s children receive vaccines, “one child in five, those most vulnerable to disease and living in the hardest to reach communities, lack access to these life-saving medicines.”

UNICEF, a founding member of GAVI, supplies nearly 60 per cent of the world’s children with vaccines. In 2010, UNICEF purchased on behalf of GAVI and developing countries around 2.53 billion doses of traditional and new vaccines worth $750 million.

Despite significant progress in reducing childhood mortality, nearly two million children still die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, UNICEF said.

Launched in 2000, the GAVI Alliance is a global health partnership of private and public sectors comprised of, among others, developing world and donor governments, private sector philanthropists such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the financial community, developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, research and technical institutes, civil society organizations and multilateral organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank.