Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



Source link

#Making #water #engine #climate #action

Israel’s appetite for high-tech weapons highlights a Biden policy gap

Within hours of the Hamas attack on Israel last month, a Silicon Valley drone company called Skydio began receiving emails from the Israeli military. The requests were for the company’s short-range reconnaissance drones — small flying vehicles used by the U.S. Army to navigate obstacles autonomously and produce 3D scans of complex structures like buildings.

The company said yes. In the three weeks since the attack, Skydio has sent more than 100 drones to the Israeli Defense Forces, with more to come, according to Mark Valentine, the Skydio executive in charge of government contracts.

Skydio isn’t the only American tech company fielding orders. Israel’s ferocious campaign to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip is creating new demand for cutting-edge defense technology — often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies.

Already, Israel is using self-piloting drones from Shield AI for close-quarters indoor combat and has reportedly requested 200 Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones from another U.S. company, according to DefenseScoop. Jon Gruen, CEO of Fortem Technologies, which supplied Ukrainian forces with radar and autonomous anti-drone aircraft, said he was having “early-stage conversations” with Israelis about whether the company’s AI systems could work in the dense, urban environments in Gaza.

This surge of interest echoes the one driven by the even larger conflict in Ukraine, which has been a proving ground for new AI-powered defense technology — much of it ordered by the Ukrainian government directly from U.S. tech companies.

AI ethicists have raised concerns about the Israeli military’s use of AI-driven technologies to target Palestinians, pointing to reports that the army used AI to strike more than 11,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli defense ministry did not elaborate in response to questions about its use of AI.

These sophisticated platforms also pose a new challenge for the Biden administration. On Nov. 13, the U.S. began implementing a new foreign policy to govern the responsible military use of such technologies. The policy, first unveiled in the Hague in February and endorsed by 45 other countries, is an effort to keep the military use of AI and autonomous systems within the international law of war.

But neither Israel nor Ukraine are signatories, leaving a growing hole in the young effort to keep high-tech weapons operating within agreed-upon lines.

Asked about Israel’s compliance with the U.S.-led declaration on military AI, a spokesperson for the State Department said “it is too early” to draw conclusions about why some countries have not endorsed the document, or to suggest that non-endorsing countries disagree with the declaration or will not adhere to its principles.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview that “it’s very difficult” to coordinate international agreement between nations on the military use of AI for two reasons: “One is that the technology is evolving so quickly that the description constraints you put on it today may no longer may not be relevant five years from now because the technology will be so different. The other thing is that so much of this technology is civilian, that it’s hard to restrict military development without also affecting civilian development.”

In Gaza, drones are being largely used for surveillance, scouting locations and looking for militants without risking soldiers’ lives, according to Israeli and U.S. military technology developers and observers interviewed for this story.

Israel discloses few specifics of how it uses this technology, and some worry the Israeli military is using unreliable AI recommendation systems to identify targets for lethal operations.

Ukrainian forces have used experimental AI systems to identify Russian soldiers, weapons and unit positions from social media and satellite feeds.

Observers say that Israel is a particularly fast-moving theater for new weaponry because it has a technically sophisticated military, large budget, and — crucially — close existing ties to the U.S. tech industry.

“The difference, now maybe more than ever, is the speed at which technology can move and the willingness of suppliers of that technology to deal directly with Israel,” said Arun Seraphin, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies.

Though the weapons trade is subject to scrutiny and regulation, autonomous systems also raise special challenges. Unlike traditional military hardware, buyers are able to reconfigure these smart platforms for their own needs, adding a layer of inscrutability to how these systems are used.

While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do, multiple manufacturers told POLITICO.

Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng confirmed that users are able to customize the Nova 2 drones that the IDF is using to search for barricaded shooters and civilians in buildings targeted by Hamas fighters.

Matt Mahmoudi, who authored Amnesty International’s May report documenting Israel’s use of facial recognition systems in Palestinian territories, told POLITICO that historically, U.S. technology companies contracting with Israeli defense authorities have had little insight or control over how their products are used by the Israeli government, pointing to several instances of the Israeli military running its own AI software on hardware imported from other countries to closely monitor the movement of Palestinians.

Complicating the issue are the blurred lines between military and non-military technology. In the industry, the term is “dual-use” — a system, like a drone-swarm equipped with computer-vision, that might be used for commercial purposes but could also be deployed in combat.

The Technology Policy Lab at the Center for a New American Security writes that “dual-use technologies are more difficult to regulate at both the national and international levels” and notes that in order for the U.S. to best apply export controls, it “requires complementary commitment from technology-leading allies and partners.”

Exportable military-use AI systems can run the gamut from commercial products to autonomous weapons. Even in cases where AI-enabled systems are explicitly designed as weapons, meaning U.S. authorities are required by law to monitor the transfer of these systems to another country, the State Department only recently adopted policies to monitor civilian harm caused by these weapons, in response to Congressional pressure.

But enforcement is still a question mark: Josh Paul, a former State Department official, wrote that a planned report on the policy’s implementation was canceled because the department wanted to avoid any debate on civilian harm risks in Gaza from U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.

A Skydio spokesperson said the company is currently not aware of any users breaching its code of conduct and would “take appropriate measures” to mitigate the misuse of its drones. A Shield AI spokesperson said the company is confident its products are not being used to violate humanitarian norms in Israel and “would not support” the unethical use of its products.

In response to queries about whether the U.S. government is able to closely monitor high-tech defense platforms sent by smaller companies to Israel or Ukraine, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was restricted from publicly commenting or confirming the details of commercially licensed defense trade activity.

Some observers point out that the Pentagon derives some benefit from watching new systems tested elsewhere.

“The great value for the United States is we’re getting to field test all this new stuff,” said CSIS’s Cancian — a process that takes much longer in peacetime environments and allows the Pentagon to place its bets on novel technologies with more confidence, he added.



Source link

#Israels #appetite #hightech #weapons #highlights #Biden #policy #gap

Wildfires Threaten More Homes and People in the U.S. Than Ever Before

Smokey the Bear is famous for warning against forest fires—but for most U.S. homeowners, grass fires and shrubland fires are actually more of a threat. And there twice as many houses within the perimeters of wildfires today, compared with 30 years ago, meaning far more people and homes are at risk, according to a new study published on Thursday in Science.

Forest fires are well known for their ferocity. They accounted for just 33 percent of houses destroyed by wildfires in the early 2000s, however, the study authors found after analyzing the locations of homes within wildfire perimeters since the 1990s. In contrast, 64 percent of such houses were destroyed by grassland or shrubland fires. This is because even though forest fires are particularly destructive to buildings, much more of the area burned in the U.S. is made up of grasslands and shrublands, says the study’s first author Volker Radeloff, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We had a hunch,” he says, “but the actual numbers surprised us.”

Grassland fires have been responsible for some of the most devastating losses in recent years. Fueled by strong winds, the fire that leveled the Hawaiian town of Lahaina in August tore through hillsides of invasive grasses—and became an urban conflagration that destroyed more than 2,000 structures and killed at least 99 people. In December 2021 the Marshall Fire in Colorado’s Boulder County destroyed more than 1,000 buildings and killed two people as it jumped from grasslands to suburban neighborhoods.

Two factors have contributed to the doubling of the number of homes within wildfire boundaries. Fifty-three percent of this effect could be blamed on an increasing amount of area burned: wildfires are more common and intense than they used to be. The other 47 percent was caused by the increased expansion of homes into what experts call the “wildland urban interface,” or WUI—anywhere that houses are in or butt up against natural areas.


Credit: John Knight; Source: “Rising Wildfire Risk to Houses in the United States, Especially in Grasslands and Shrublands,” by Volker C. Radeloff et al., in Science, Vol. 382. Published online November 9, 2023



The movement of more people into such places has compounding effects, says Timothy Juliano, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who was not involved in the new study. Not only are more homes at risk from wildland fires; these environments now have more residents who might start a fire. “More people [means] more probability of these types of things happening,” Juliano says.

Between 1990 and 2020, the size of the WUI in the U.S. grew in area by 31 percent and the number of homes inside it grew by 46 percent. It now contains a total of about 44 million homes. Texas is currently the fastest-growing state for WUI housing, Radeloff says.

Homeowners in forested areas are often relatively well aware of their fire risk, says Sarah Anderson, a professor of environmental politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new study. But people living next to a grassy or shrub-covered open space may not realize the danger. “This paper probably implies that we need to do a lot more public education,” Anderson says.

More than two thirds of U.S. buildings destroyed in wildfires were in the West, and 79.5 percent of buildings burned in them were in shrublands and grasslands, the researchers found. And the study may even underestimate these numbers because the researchers used a dataset for destroyed structures that only ran from 2000 through 2013. Thus, the analysis excluded several hugely destructive fires, such as the one in Lahaina, the Marshall Fire and the 2018 Camp Fire, a forest blaze that devastated the town of Paradise, Calif.

“California has lost 43,000 structures during the decade after this data was collected,” says Yana Valachovic, forest adviser and county director at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. “It would be good to see how that might change the statistics, let alone the losses in Colorado, Oregon and Washington [State], during this period.”

Map of the continental U.S. The color of each state indicates the percentage of houses within the wildland-urban interface. The figure for most states is between 20 and 60 percent. Iowa and Illinois fall below 10 percent while several states exceed 60 percent.


Credit: John Knight; Source: “Rising Wildfire Risk to Houses in the United States, Especially in Grasslands and Shrublands,” by Volker C. Radeloff et al., in Science, Vol. 382. Published online November 9, 2023



Regardless of the exact numbers, the study’s message is important, says Valachovic, who was not involved in the research. About 11 percent of homes that are exposed to wildfires are destroyed, according to Radeloff and his team’s analysis, and there are ways to improve the survival rate.

For example, Valachovic says, homeowners can protect themselves by screening vent openings so that embers can’t land in attics or eaves; by pulling vegetation and wood mulch away from foundations; and by installing metal panels to replace any sections of wood fencing that contact the house. (In the Marshall Fire, wood fences provided a pathway for the blaze to move between homes.)

Zoning regulations are another way to protect houses in the WUI, Valachovic says. Homes that are spread out and have lots of vegetation around them are less likely to catch fire if their neighbors go up in flames—but they are in increased contact with wildlands, where fires usually start. Plus, firefighters may struggle to respond in spread-out communities. WUI communities in which homes are clustered together have less exposure to wildlands. They may suffer when fire does find its way to a home, however, because the flames can easily spread from one house to another. There are tradeoffs to these styles of development, Valachovic says, and conversations around them need to happen.

“We’ve really got to talk about how you manage the landscape around your community,” she says, “but you’ve also got to talk about how to manage the community.”

Source link

#Wildfires #Threaten #Homes #People

Beyond forgetfulness: Why we must act on Alzheimer’s disease now

In the face of an increasingly aging population, today’s reality reveals a harsh truth: health systems in the EU and beyond are ill-equipped to provide early and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and embrace innovative treatments that could help to preserve memory and, with it, independence.  

Recent advances suggest that timely intervention may hold the promise to slow the memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, making early diagnosis more critical than ever before. Yet without the necessary health care infrastructure in place to diagnose and provide treatment, we risk missing the crucial early window and the opportunity to delay — and hopefully in the near future prevent — distressing symptoms for patients and heartbreaking experiences for families.  

The EU and its member countries have the opportunity to be remembered for leading in this space by increasing funding for research, improving health care infrastructure to support accurate diagnosis and timely intervention, and enhancing support services at a national and regional level. The forthcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are the ideal moments to make that pledge. For individuals, families and health care systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb unless we invest in our future health today.  

The EU is not prepared for Alzheimer’s disease  

In Europe, approximately 7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a number set to double to 14 million by 2050.1 On top of the physical and emotional distress this will cause, there are direct financial and social implications on families and communities, with Alzheimer’s costs expected to reach a staggering €250 billion by 20302 — bigger than the GDP of Portugal3 — placing an additional and substantial weight on global health care systems that are already struggling under cost and capacity burdens.4 

Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

That’s why MEP Deirdre Clune is leading the call for a European Parliament hearing to discuss a focused EU strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients,” argues Clune. “Therefore, the EU must create a strategic framework which lays out clear recommendations for national governments and recognises the toll of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on societies across Europe, encourage innovation and take on board best practices to develop effective and efficient approaches. Together, with a unified approach and firm commitment, the EU can pave the way for better Alzheimer’s care.”

In the next EU political mandate, policymakers must answer the call by developing a comprehensive EU Beating Dementia Plan that specifically addresses the unique challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and building on established coordinated action plans for other significant health burdens, such as the EU Beating Cancer Plan. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s, RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper is a useful resource, calling for policymakers to rethink Alzheimer’s and offering policy recommendations to make tangible changes to improve the lives of people living with the disease.  

EU member countries must commit to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology and integrated care that can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage and ensure timely intervention resulting in the preservation of memory and, thereof, independent living and normal social functioning.  

Laying the foundations at national level  

While action is certainly needed at the EU level, huge opportunity lies at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the chance to apply well-funded national dementia plans that tailor their strategies and responses to address the distinct needs of their populations, making a real and meaningful impact on the people and health systems in their country.  

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Italian MP Annarita Patriarca, co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, affirms: “Primary responsibility of a member state is to ensure to all citizens the greatest standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. Thus, it is necessary to put in place a strong collaboration between the public and private sector to strengthen investments in neurological diseases. Improving patients’ diagnostic and care pathways, especially in a disease area like AD with such a high unmet medical need and societal impact will be the core focus of the intergroup.” 

Additionally, during the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference: a priority for the country in July, members of the Italian Parliament importantly put forward legislative and regulatory solutions to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis. 

Leading the conversation on the international stage   

Amid the growing burden of Alzheimer’s disease globally, this is a moment for policymakers to hold each other accountable. Member countries are uniquely placed to do this within the EU but also across the wider health care ecosystem, calling on countries and leaders to honor prior commitments that prioritized investment in relieving major health burdens, including Alzheimer’s.  

Encouragingly, the May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué specifically recognized and supported dementia as a freestanding issue, breaking away from the typical categorization with NCDs. Moreover, the G7 health ministers published a joint Communiqué spotlighting the priority to “enhance early detection, diagnosis and interventions, including developing care pathways and capability and capacity building of health and primary care providers by strengthening primary health care (PHC)”.  

These promising steps mean that Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves but also acts as a line in the sand to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in. Collectively, EU countries must assume a leading voice within the international fora, ensuring that Alzheimer’s disease remains a global health care priority and receives the investment it warrants. 

Time to commit to action in Alzheimer’s disease  

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month, and its theme Never Too Early, Never Too Late, reiterates the importance of early diagnosis. It presents a valuable foundation to initiate discussions on country- and regional-level strategies to drive and strengthen diagnostic infrastructure and services for the prevention, diagnosis, case management, monitoring and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories.

“Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories,” shares Frédéric Destrebecq, executive director of The European Brain Council. “By recognizing the urgency of the situation and making concerted investments, we can forge a path toward a more compassionate, empowered future for individuals, families and communities impacted by Alzheimer’s, and remember all those who’ve been lost to this devastating disease.”

It is never too early, never too late, to be remembered for taking action against this debilitating disease.  

References:  

1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

2 – Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, Kuca K. Predictions of Alzheimer’s disease treatment and care costs in European countries. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210958. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210958 

3 – Published by Statista Research Department, 20 J. GDP of European countries 2022. Statista. June 20, 2023. Accessed August 1, 2023. https://www.statista.com/statistics/685925/gdp-of-european-countries/. 

4 – The Economist. Why health-care services are in chaos everywhere. Available at:  https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2023/01/15/why-health-care-services-are-in-chaos-everywhere. Accessed: July 2023.  



Source link

#forgetfulness #act #Alzheimers #disease

Labs: the (overlooked) building block of Universal Health Coverage

Hepatitis C (HCV) — a potentially life-threatening virus that infects 1.5 million new people around the world every year — is highly treatable if diagnosed early.[1]

Unfortunately,  access to quality screening is far from universal. Countries like Egypt — one of the countries with the highest prevalence of HCV in the world — demonstrate the impact screening can have. In 2015, HCV was prevalent in an estimated 7 percent of the country’s population and accounted for 7.6 percent of the country’s mortality, presenting a significant health care and societal burden.[2]

But since then, Egypt has turned a corner. In 2018, the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population launched a massive nationwide HCV screening and treatment campaign as part of its 2014-2018 HCV action plan.[3] The campaign’s results were inspiring: by July 2020, Egypt had screened more than 60 million people[3] and treated 4 million residents.[2] Today, Egypt is set to be the world’s first country to eliminate HCV within its borders.[2]

The results of Egypt’s HCV screening program speak to diagnostics’ power in contributing to improved health outcomes around the world. Among the essential components of any health system is the capacity for prevention, which includes timely screening and detection. But a preventive approach based on timely diagnosis won’t work without the right infrastructure in place.

Strong laboratories as a cornerstone of building better health care

Matt Sause, CEO Roche Diagnostics | via Roche

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the critical role well-functioning laboratory services play in health systems with good reason.[4] Around the world, clinicians increasingly rely on  laboratory tests for diagnostic and treatment decisions. These tests help them make more informed decisions that result in better care and potentially improved outcomes for patients.

The challenges facing labs today — and tomorrow

Two key challenges facing laboratory systems today are underfunding and insufficient resources. Despite their central importance, laboratories struggle to garner the political and financial support they need to be as effective as possible. For example, it’s estimated that while lab results drive approximately 70 percent of clinical decision making, laboratories make up only 5 percent of hospital costs.[5]

After all, it’s the health care systems with strong, resilient labs that will be best placed to manage future pandemics and ever-growing health threats like heart disease and dementia.

What’s needed is a political commitment to provide everyone with access to accurate and timely diagnosis that paves the way to effective treatment and health. And putting this commitment into practice can only be achieved and sustained through coordinated multistakeholder efforts and public—private partnerships. This is not just a worthwhile investment for patients, but also the wider health care system in the long run. After all, it’s the health care systems with strong, resilient labs that will be best placed to manage future pandemics and ever-growing health threats like heart disease and dementia.

Another challenge is the health care workforce. Effective use of diagnostics requires qualified people to drive it, with expertise in pathology and laboratory medicine. Yet the world currently faces a laboratory staffing shortage. For diagnostics in particular, baccalaureate degree programs in laboratory science have previously been on the ‘endangered list’ of allied health professions.[6] In the end, inadequately trained staff, frequent turnover and scheduling problems all make quality lab results more difficult to guarantee.

This UHC ambition is only possible when backed by a network of strong laboratories that help ensure individuals can access high-quality diagnostics services without financial burden in all health care systems.

And that’s not all: inadequate infrastructure and staffing shortages are more present in low-income, rural communities, which exacerbate the broader diagnostics gap troubling global health care today. Many low-income countries lack an integrated laboratory network that can fully provide high-quality, accessible and efficient laboratory testing services for the entire population. In fact, a commission convened by The Lancet concluded that 81 percent of these populations have little or no access to diagnostics.[7]

The path to Universal Health Coverage

Put simply, innovative diagnostics are only meaningful if they reach people where and when they’re needed. Advancing this equity is at the heart of the WHO’s vision for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030. The goal? To guarantee all people have access to high-quality services for their health and the health of their families and communities, without facing financial hardship.

This UHC ambition is only possible when backed by a network of strong laboratories that help ensure individuals can access high-quality diagnostics services without financial burden in all health care systems. To do this, UHC should explicitly include diagnostics services. Financially, it’s savings from screening, early diagnosis and targeted treatment that make UHC feasible. Health care systems will have to undergo a systemic shift from focusing on treatment to focusing on prevention. And that’s just not possible when clinicians don’t have access to fast, accurate and cost-efficient lab results to inform their clinical decision-making. Policies and regulations that safeguard UHC goals of access and health equity are essential to make progress toward UHC.[8] The Saving Access to Laboratory Services Act (SALSA), in the United States, is an example of how national policies can help to ensure sustainable laboratory networks and contribute to equitable access to essential healthcare.

Stronger labs can not only help health care systems make savings in the routine management of population health; investing in them also helps to reduce costs and prepare in advance for any future public health crises.

This year has already seen encouraging progress toward achieving UHC through enhanced diagnostics capacity. The adoption of the resolution on strengthening diagnostics capacity at the World Health Assembly in May was an important signal of growing international political support for diagnostics. It was also a call to action. The next step for this month’s United Nations General Assembly and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit is channeling political support for diagnostics into the development of an action-oriented declaration.

To put us closer to UHC, this declaration should commit to ensuring that national health plans include access to timely detection and prevention. That starts with supporting laboratory systems and establishing National Essential Diagnostics Lists that identify the most critical diagnostic tests to help diagnose patients quickly and accurately so that they can receive needed treatment. At Roche, we’re advocating that governments, industry, civil society and other policy stakeholders will come together around concrete plans and shared resources that strengthen diagnostics and the lab infrastructure that makes them effective. In line with our commitment to increase patient access to important diagnostic solutions by 2030, we plan to do our part.


[1] Hepatitis C. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-c (Accessed 22.08.2023)

[2] Egypt’s Ambitious Strategy to Eliminate Hepatitis C Virus: A Case Study. Hassanin, A. et al. Available at:   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8087425/ (Accessed 22.08.2023)

[3] Hepatitis C in Egypt – Past, Present, and Future. Roche Diagnostics. Available at: https://diagnostics.roche.com/global/en/article-listing/egypt-s-road-to-eliminating-hepatitis-c-virus-infection—a-stor.html (Accessed 22.08.2023)

[4] Monitoring the Building Blocks of Health Systems. World Health Organization. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/258734/9789241564052-eng.pdf (Accessed 14.07.2023)

[5] The Cost-effective Laboratory: Implementation of Economic Evaluation of Laboratory Testing. Bogavac-Stanojevic N. & Jelic-Ivanovic Z. J Med Biochem. Volume 36, Issue 3, 238 – 242. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6287218/

[6] Ensuring Quality Cancer Care through the Oncology Workforce: Sustaining Care in the 21st Century: Workshop Summary. National Academy of Sciences. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK215247/ (Accessed 14.07.2023)

[7] Essential diagnostics: mind the gap. The Lancet Global Health. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(21)00467-8/fulltext (Accessed 14.07.2023)

[8] Private Sector Commitments To Universal Health Coverage. UHC Private Sector Constituency 2023 Statement. https://www.uhc2030.org/fileadmin/uploads/UHC2030_Private_Sector_Commitments_Statement_April2023.pdf (Accessed 29.08.2023)



Source link

#Labs #overlooked #building #block #Universal #Health #Coverage

Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup

CHIȘINĂU, Moldova — Tens of thousands of Moldovans descended on the central square of the capital on Sunday, waving flags and homemade placards in support of the country’s push to join the EU and make a historic break with Moscow.

With Russia’s war raging just across the border in Ukraine, the government of this tiny Eastern European nation called the rally in an effort to overcome internal divisions and put pressure on Brussels to begin accession talks, almost a year after Moldova was granted EU candidate status.

“Joining the EU is the best way to protect our democracy and our institutions,” Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told POLITICO at Chișinău’s presidential palace, as a column of her supporters marched past outside. “I call on the EU to take a decision on beginning accession negotiations by the end of the year. We think we have enough support to move forward.”

Speaking alongside Sandu at what was billed as a “national assembly,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola declared that “Europe is Moldova. Moldova is Europe!” The crowd, many holding Ukrainian flags and the gold-and-blue starred banner of the EU, let out a cheer. An orchestra on stage played the bloc’s anthem, Ode to Joy.

“In recent years, you have taken decisive steps and now you have the responsibility to see it through, even with this war on your border,” Metsola said. “The Republic of Moldova is ready for integration into the single European market.”

However, the jubilant rally comes amid warnings that Moscow is doing everything it can to keep the former Soviet republic within its self-declared sphere of influence.

In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned that his country’s security forces had disrupted a plot to overthrow Moldova’s pro-Western government. Officials in Chișinău later said the Russian-backed effort could have involved sabotage, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking. Moscow officially denies the claims.

“Despite previous efforts to stay neutral, Moldova is finding itself in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — whether they want to be or not, they’re party of this broader conflict in Ukraine,” said Arnold Dupuy, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

“There’s an effort by the Kremlin to turn the country into a ‘southern Kaliningrad,’ putting in place a friendly regime that allows them to attack the Ukrainians’ flanks,” Dupuy said. “But this hasn’t been as effective as the Kremlin hoped and they’ve actually strengthened the government’s hand to look to the EU and NATO for protection.”

Responding to the alleged coup attempt, Brussels last month announced it would deploy a civilian mission to Moldova to combat growing threats from Russia. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the deployment under the terms of the Common Security and Defense Policy, will provide “support to Moldova [to] protect its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Bumps on the road to Brussels

Last week, Sandu again called on Brussels to begin accession talks “as soon as possible” in order to protect Moldova from what she said were growing threats from Russia. “Nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said. A group of influential MEPs from across all of the main parties in the European Parliament have tabled a motion calling for the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of the year.

But, after decades as one of Russia’s closest allies, Moldova knows its path to EU membership isn’t without obstacles.

“The challenge is huge,” said Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “They will need to overcome this oligarchic culture that has operated for 30 years where everything is informal, institutions are very weak and large parts of the bureaucracy are made viable by vested interests.”

At the same time, a frozen conflict over the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, could complicate matters still further. The stretch of land along the border with Ukraine, home to almost half a million people, has been governed since the fall of the Soviet Union by pro-Moscow separatists, and around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there despite Chișinău demanding they leave. It’s also home to one of the Continent’s largest weapons stockpiles, with a reported 20,000 tons of Soviet-era ammunition.

“Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself, so we will need to solve this before membership,” Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, told POLITICO.

“We do not know now what a solution could look like, but the fact that we do not have an answer to this very specific element should not prevent us from advancing Moldova’s European integration in all other areas where we can,” Mureșan said.

While she denied that Brussels had sent any official signals that Moldova’s accession would depend on Russian troops leaving the country, Sandu said that “we do believe that in the next months and years there may be a geopolitical opportunity to resolve this conflict.”

Ties that bind

Even outside of Transnistria, Moscow maintains significant influence in Moldova. While Romanian is the country’s official language, Russian is widely used in daily life while the Kremlin’s state media helps shape public opinion — and in recent months has turned up the dial on its attacks on Sandu’s government.

A study by Chișinău-based pollster CBS Research in February found that while almost 54 percent of Moldovans say they would vote in favor of EU membership, close to a quarter say they would prefer closer alignment with Russia. Meanwhile, citizens were split on who to blame for the war in Ukraine, with 25 percent naming Russian President Vladimir Putin and 18 percent saying the U.S.

“Putin is not a fool,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name, shouting at passersby on the streets of the capital. “I hate Ukrainians.”

Outside of the capital, the pro-Russian ȘOR Party has held counter-protests in several regional cities.

Almost entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs, Moldova has seen Russia send the cost of gas skyrocketing in what many see as an attempt at blackmail. Along with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the World Bank reported that Moldova’s GDP “contracted by 5.9 percent and inflation reached an average of 28.7 percent in 2022.”

“We will buy energy sources from democratic countries, and we will not support Russian aggression in exchange for cheap gas,” Sandu told POLITICO.

The Moldovan president, a former World Bank economist who was elected in 2020 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, faces a potentially contentious election battle next year. With the process of EU membership set to take years, or even decades, it remains to be seen whether the country will stay the course in the face of pressure from the Kremlin.

For Aurelia, a 40-year-old Moldovan who tied blue and yellow ribbons into her hair for Sunday’s rally, the choice is obvious. “We’ve been a part of the Russian world my whole life. Now we want to live well, and we want to live free.”



Source link

#Moldova #ramps #membership #push #fears #Russiabacked #coup

Putting health back in health care

Advances in medical science and technology are rapidly changing and as we saw with the pandemic, diagnostic tests play a pivotal role in health care decision making. They inform treatment decisions, save costs and, most importantly, deliver better outcomes for patients. Unfortunately, these life-changing innovations are all too often not available to many of the people who need them most. Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

If you’re following the policy trend at large — or even if you’re not — this is where we inevitably turn to discussions of the role of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in the pursuit of better access to screening and diagnosis. Population health is not only in the best interest of individual countries, but as evidenced by a global pandemic, it is important to global health as well. UHC — ensuring people can access the health care they need, when they need it, without financial hardship — is foundational to improving world health care.  

Currently, 47 percent of the global population and 81 percent of people in low and lower-middle income countries have little or no access to life-saving diagnostics.

So, where do we start? With better access to diagnostics.

After the world faced a global pandemic and pulled together, we all learned vital lessons which must not be forgotten. First and foremost, we saw that by working together and sharing information early, we could develop diagnostics and vaccines faster. This learning must extend beyond times of crisis.

We also saw that health systems with well-developed diagnostics infrastructure were more effective at containing and controlling the pandemic. And they were better able to continue providing essential diagnostic tests and treatment monitoring for patients with other diseases such as cancer.        

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As the world responded to urgent calls for better access to COVID-19 tests, hopes were also expressed that this would spark innovation leading to widespread testing, vaccines and treatments, which ultimately would reduce the spread of the pandemic.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a public health concern, the urgency galvanized companies to work at full speed. The first Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for SARS-CoV-2 were available for limited laboratory use within eight days. Only 64 days later PCR tests were authorized for use and available for scaled-up testing in major health centers.[1]

Normally, it would take years to bring a new test to market. Here — through focus and collaboration — we managed to do so in months.

As reported by the Lancet Commission, investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Driven by necessity, countries invested in diagnostics capabilities to fight the virus and, as reported by The Lancet, real change was seen at a pace that would previously have seemed impossible.

Why stop there? 

Ann Costello, Global Head of Roche Diagnostics Solutions | via Roche

The recommended WHO Resolution on strengthening diagnostics capacity represents an important step toward recognizing access to diagnostics as a policy priority as well as establishing concrete policy measures, to ensure equitable and timely access. It would pave the way for a considerable shift in strengthening our health care systems, driving progress toward global health equity and global health security.

As reported by the Lancet Commission[2], investing in diagnostic capabilities has been shown to lead to fewer misdiagnoses, better use of resources, and better patient care.

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of sustainable, efficient and resilient health care systems. This in turn would reduce late-stage health care expenditures, including long-term costs of chronic disease management and disability, and better manage costs for patients, payors and governments. 

Increasing access to diagnostics is crucial to controlling and potentially even eradicating certain diseases like cervical cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis and malaria.

Laboratories are an essential component of a sustainable, efficient and resilient health system. But only if there’s enough of them and trained staff to run them. 

The crux of the matter is that staff shortages in both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries continue to create a barrier to diagnostic services. 

How short-staffed are we? Well, to put a number on it, an estimated shortage in diagnostic workforce capacity saw a need for an additional 480,000-576,000 staff to support diagnostic testing.[2] And who loses when we don’t have enough skilled laboratory professionals? Patients.

Investment in diagnostics such as improving laboratory infrastructure and workforce development must also be supported by smart local regulatory approaches. This will ensure that patients, regardless of where they live, have timely access to innovation and safe, effective diagnostics.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

This can be through adherence to international best practices, such as those created by International Medical Device Regulators Forum and implementation of regulatory reliance models — where one regulatory body (or the WHO) relies on the decisions, such as marketing authorizations, inspections and product changes, already made by trusted authorities and recognized institutions.

Governments should prioritize expansion of professionals with expertise in pathology and laboratory medicine[3] and introduce laboratory personnel as a key component of workforce initiatives to address the needs of currently over-burdened health care systems. 

A new golden age for health care?

Roche is building partnerships to increase access to diagnostic solutions in low- and middle-income countries and to strengthen targeted laboratory systems through workforce training classes. In May 2022, Roche entered a partnership with the Global Fund to support low- and middle-income countries in strengthening critical diagnostics infrastructure. The aim is building local capacity to tackle infrastructure challenges to improve diagnostic results and manage health care waste. This is in line with Roche’s ambition to double patient access to innovative, high-medical-value diagnostics for people around the world.

Health care could enter a new golden age, shifting our focus from primarily treating disease to preserving health through prevention and by helping people live longer, more healthy lives.

To achieve the golden age we need to learn from the past. All public and private stakeholders have a duty to work together to ensure diagnostics continue to improve health outcomes around the world by bringing this important resolution to life. 

Where a person lives should no longer be the key determining factor in their health. We have a tremendous opportunity here, let’s take it. 


[1] Accelerating diagnostic tests to prevent a future pandemic. Bill Rodriguez. Cepi. Available at: https://100days.cepi.net/100-days-mission-diagnostic-test-future-pandemic/ (Accessed 04.04.2023)

[2] The Lancet Commission on diagnostics: transforming access to diagnostics. Fleming, Kenneth A et al.The Lancet, Volume 398, Issue 10315, 1997 – 2050. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(21)00673-5.pdf

[3] https://www.ihe.net/ihe_domains/ihe_pathology_and_laboratory_medicine/ (Accessed: 04.04.2023)



Source link

#Putting #health #health #care

The EU greenwashed fossil gas. Today, we are suing.

Last July, EU policymakers decided to greenwash fossil gas. Today, the WWF European Policy Office, Client Earth, BUND and Transport & Environment are taking them to the European Court of Justice.

We are doing it to reassert a basic truth: all fossil fuels are dangerous for the planet. Only last summer, European cities baked under fierce heatwaves, rivers across our continent ran dry, and whole swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal were burned by unprecedented wildfires. In the midst of this devastation, the EU approved a new chapter of its supposed green investment guidebook — the EU Taxonomy — which stated that fossil gas-fired electricity is ‘green’. In fact, fossil gas is a fossil fuel that can cause plumes of methane that harm the climate just as badly as coal.

However, under the guise of climate action, the gas Taxonomy could divert tens of billions of euros from green projects into the very fossil fuels which are causing those heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. This is while scientific experts at the International Energy Agency and the United Nations continue to stress that we must halt any expansion of fossil fuels and invest exclusively in developing clean energy sources. Even the EU’s own experts have said we must use much less gas by 2030. The gas Taxonomy is not just at odds with the science: it also flies in the face of market dynamics. Renewable investments across the world reached $500 billion last year, which shows that there is already a massive, readily available alternative to gas-fired power.

For all these reasons, having previously filed a request for the Commission to review the gas Taxonomy, we are filing a case at the CJEU today. We will argue that the gas Taxonomy, and the Commission’s refusal to review it, clash with the European Climate Law, the precautionary principle, and the Taxonomy Regulation — the law on which the Taxonomy is built. It also undermines the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. We expect a judgment within the next two years.

Fossil gas at the heart of two European crises

Europe faces two interlocking crises: an inflation crisis and a climate crisis. Fossil gas is at the heart of both. Had we decided to invest with more determination in renewables and energy efficiency even just 10 years ago, our continent would not have been so dependent on energy imports. We would not have faced such great spikes in energy and food prices, which disproportionately hurt our poorest citizens. We would be closer to meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Instead,  largely due to decades of industry pressure — the gas lobby spends up to €78 million a year in Brussels alone — our continent has remained extremely dependent on destructive fossil fuels. That dependency must end. It is high time to direct billions of euros into installing more renewables more quickly, with a focus on secure, cheap wind and solar power. It is time to expand the technologies to back them up, such as building insulation, energy storage, and strong grids. And above all, it is time to stop the lie that putting money into any fossil fuel will help the green transition. That is the purpose of our legal case.

Policymakers and financial institutions beware

EU policymakers are increasingly inserting references to the EU Taxonomy into other policies. If our case is successful, and the Taxonomy’s gas criteria are overturned, any legislation tying gas financing to the Taxonomy would become inapplicable.

Policymakers beware: the Taxonomy is on shaky ground, and you should not use it to justify new gas investments. Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off. They may even incur steep losses if they have made investments based on EU policies only to find that gas has been struck out of them.

Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off.

Financial institutions also face real reputational, financial and legal risks from the gas Taxonomy. Fossil gas is excluded from the global green bond market. Leading institutions such as the European Investment Bank or the Dutch pension federation have openly criticized the Taxonomy’s greenwashing. What is more, taxonomies in several other countries exclude fossil gas-fired power, so the European one lags behind. Any financial institution that uses the EU Taxonomy to justify investing in fossil gas assets therefore risks direct, robust and repeated attacks on its reputation.

The inexorable public policy shift towards energy efficiency and renewables, and the plummeting price of wind and solar power, have made fossil gas-fired power uncompetitive. Investments in more fossil gas, even if encouraged by the EU Taxonomy, would quickly result in stranded assets and could even cause billion-euro losses. Financial institutions must guard against these risks by stopping their support for gas expansion now.

Finally, if our case is successful, financial institutions could find they have purchased or sold products mislabeled as ‘green’. They must be careful to verify the legal consequences of such an event, particularly for its impact on any climate claims they have made.

Our message to the EU

Policymakers and financial institutions should note that the Taxonomy faces four further court cases: one from the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, one from Greenpeace, one from the Trinational Association for Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and another from MEP René Repasi. The EU’s greenwashing is now being discredited from all sides – amongst scientists, in financial markets, and soon, we expect, by the judiciary.

Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

Victor Hugo once said that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Today, despite much fossil fuel lobbying, denial and delay, it is the turn of the green transition. Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

See you in court.



Source link

#greenwashed #fossil #gas #Today #suing

West must move faster to prevent a catastrophe in northern Syria

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

On the “treacherous night” of the deadly earthquake that shook northern Syria, Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official living in Raqqa, was startled awake as his apartment swayed.

“My body was trembling, noise filled the place; the building turned into a swing, leaning left and right,” he said.

With his wife and mother in tow, Nassan scrambled down three flights of stairs, joining neighbors who, “like birds fleeing snakes of prey,” made their chaotic exit. The stairwell echoed with the cries and screams of terrified children.

The scenes outside were “beyond endurance,” Nassan said — telling, coming from a man who witnessed the siege of Kobani and the vicious battles between Kurds and the Islamic State militants there. But, he added, the “pain of the earthquake has been “deepened by the failure of others to help.”

Of all the places to be tested by the grinding of tectonic plates, this is one that just didn’t need to suffer more pain and grief.

The Syrians of Idlib and northern Aleppo, many displaced from elsewhere in the war-ravaged country, have endured barbaric conflict, a gruesome descent into hell, for over a decade. They’ve suffered barrel bombs; their hospitals and markets have been targeted; they’ve been starved; and they’ve been preyed upon by the jihadists of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Idlib was turned into a large “kill zone” by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers, as rebels and their families were funneled into the area, corralled like cattle awaiting slaughter.

Adding insult to injury, since 2018, Turkish authorities have been deterring Syrian asylum seekers from crossing the border and declining to register them. Turkey has also mounted unlawful deportations and coerced some to return to northern Syria, while the European Union — fearful of another migration surge — has raised few objections to this breach of the Geneva Convention.

Along the arc of northern Syria, the widespread complaint by Arabs and Kurds alike is that since the defeat of the Islamic State, they’ve been abandoned by the international community. That sense of desertion is now being compounded as they dig mass graves and grapple with the effects of a devastating earthquake.

Since the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake flattened towns, destroyed homes and crushed thousands of lives on February 6, the world’s focus has mainly been on Turkey — that’s where Western media and international rescue crews, aid and equipment have been heading.

But across the border, there’s been scant assistance.

Sent into rebel-held Idlib, a member of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, said, “What sticks in my mind is that some people were standing above the rubble and hearing the voices of their families and relatives a few meters away, but they could not do anything to rescue them due to the lack of equipment and the absence of an international response to help.”

Predictably, Moscow and Beijing haven’t been lagging in their efforts to try to spin the events in Syria. “The sanctions imposed by the US and its allies are hampering relief and rescue work . . . such a humanitarian disaster is not enough to melt the cold-blooded heart of the US,” goaded the Global Times, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the “collective West” of ignoring what’s taking place in northern Syria, blaming the economic sanctions against the Assad government for prolonging suffering.

Of course, these are crocodile tears coming from a Chinese Communist government that’s incarcerated over a million Uyghurs since 2015. It’s also strikingly indecent of Russia to claim sympathy for the north of Syria, where it shunned the laws of war and rehearsed the bombing campaigns and egregious tactics it’s now using in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, one doesn’t have to be a Russian or Chinese propagandist to question the West’s sluggishness in anticipating the scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in northern Syria, or in developing an action plan to ease the suffering in Idlib and northern Aleppo.

Last week, EU officials slammed the complaints of neglect coming from northern Syria. “I categorically reject the accusations that EU sanctions may have any impact on humanitarian aid. These sanctions were imposed since 2011 in response to the violent repression of the Syrian regime against its own civilian population, including the use of chemical weapons,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič told reporters. “There is nothing there that would hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid and emergency assistance, especially not in the situation in which Syrian people find themselves after this terrible earthquake,” he added.

The EU says it’ll provide additional emergency support to both Turkey and Syria, and emergency humanitarian assistance worth €6.5 million. But officials say the bloc will also require safeguards to ensure aid effectively reaches those in need and isn’t misused by the Assad government — something that’s plagued humanitarian assistance in the past.

Indeed, funneling aid into northern Syria is fraught with logistical and political nightmares. Idlib is controlled by a variety of feuding rebel groups, with a large part held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist militant group that’s been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and, much like the Assad government, has been accused of manipulating international aid.

Additionally, of the five border crossings from Turkey into northern Syria, only one has been authorized by Turkish authorities to handle humanitarian aid — although Ankara has now said it’s considering reopening more crossings to allow aid into both opposition-held and Assad-controlled areas.

But time is of the essence, and the scale of the crisis unfolding requires a momentous step change.

Mercy Corps reports that there aren’t enough structural engineers in northern Syria to inspect buildings, and even small aftershocks risk further collapse. There’s also very little coordination on the ground, with extremely limited information available on shelter options for survivors.

Fuel for heating and cooking is becoming a major challenge as well. “There is limited availability, and what is available is of poor quality and very expensive. People are burning trash to stay warm, and aid deliveries will be dependent on consistent access to fuel for trucks,” said Mercy Corps. Meanwhile, food is hard to procure, prices are skyrocketing, and access to clean drinking water is becoming a critical problem, with assessment teams worried about pollutants leaking into water sources.

On Friday, the United Nations warned that over 5 million Syrians may be left homeless after the earthquake. “That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Thankfully, in the past few days, 20 U.N. aid trucks have crossed into rebel-held areas, but most were carrying pre-planned provisions that had been delayed due to the earthquake. And on Friday, the U.N. announced it was releasing an additional $25 million in emergency funding for Syria, bringing the total to $50 million so far.

However, NGO assessment workers say this is far short of what’s needed — and they argue that Western powers will have to rethink the sanctions regime.

While humanitarian aid isn’t barred by Western sanctions, there are plenty of other things desperately needed in northern Syria that are, including fuel and construction equipment critical to rescue efforts, to prop up battered buildings and to rebuild, so the displaced aren’t left to shelter in tents.

The United States has moved faster than the EU in recognizing that sanctions risk impeding quake assistance, issuing a six-month waiver for all transactions related to providing disaster relief to Syria.

 Navigating the political dilemmas all this will bring — getting in front of Assad exploiting the earthquake to force a normalization of relations, getting Turkey to coordinate with the Kurds of northern Syria, and dealing with HTS and the other feuding rebel groups — is undoubtedly going to be a tall order.

Aside from the imperatives of compassion, a slow and inadequate Western response will also feed into African and Middle Eastern countries’ perception — kindled by Moscow and Beijing — that Western powers only pay attention to them when they want or need something.

And if these challenges aren’t confronted, the immediate humanitarian crisis risks turning into a catastrophe.



Source link

#West #move #faster #prevent #catastrophe #northern #Syria