This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter
Today in The Geneva Observer, an ode to the courage and tenacity of some people with an outstanding vision who work on behalf of our planet and its people. This week, four of them will be awarded the Right Livelihood Award, a prestigious international prize, commonly referred to as “the alternative Nobel Prize.” More on this below.
In our Briefing, we report on the UN at its best and at its worst. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is raising the alarm about the fate of the most vulnerable in the dire situation created by the pandemic, while the UN’s Development Programme is, once again, facing allegations of massive corruption.
Also in The G|O, IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva writes on our site that “keeping the global focus on low-income countries” is both a moral and a security imperative. “Insecurity in poor countries translates to instability for the rest of the world,” writes Georgieva, whose name is already mentioned as a possible contender to replace António Guterres. The Bulgarian-born economist, steeped from her early youth in philosophy and a profound reformer at heart, has been on a crusade ever since her nomination at the top of the IMF a year ago to convince rich countries to help poor ones. She’s largely credited for having weaned the institution from its adherence to “austerity policies” for which it had been synonymous. Money has never been so cheap, “so spend, keep the receipts, but spend,” she has been heard saying since the pandemic has hit globally. She explains why in her piece, co-written by Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch Development and Cooperation Minister.
One in thirty-three people in the world today needs financial help. That’s 12 more than the previous years. The upward trend will most likely endure, and their potential helpers are in dire financial straits themselves because of the pandemic. International organizations and NGOs based in Geneva will be under major financial stress next year, all while they try to respond to the social, humanitarian, and economic crises that will unfold next year as a result of the pandemic, climate change, and conflicts.
According to the new global appeal launched by OCHA this Tuesday, 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This means 1 in 33 people worldwide needs help—a significant increase from 1 in 45 people a year ago. The UN and partner organizations aim to assist 160 million people most in need across 56 countries, which will require US$35 billion. But funding will be an issue, and, in 2020, the gap was a clear indication of the challenges that lie ahead.
The Global Humanitarian Overview 2020 presented initial funding requirements of US$29 billion to assist 109 million of the 168 million people in need. By April, requirements had reached US$31 billion following the finalization of several response plans in the first quarter of the year and the addition of the COVID-19 crisis in March. By mid-November, requirements had reached US$39 billion to assist 265 million of the 441 million people in need in 64 countries. Despite high levels of contributions this year—over US$17 billion—the gap between requirements and funding is larger than ever: US$22 billion. If COVID-19 altered the landscape of the humanitarian response in 2020, international organizations have decided to integrate the pandemic into their ‘regular’ Humanitarian Programme Cycle for 2021.
The largest appeals will involve Syria, where an additional 1.9 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2021; Yemen, where after almost six years of protracted conflict and economic blockades, half the population is in acute need; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where increasing numbers of people are suffering from acute food insecurity, the economic situation is deteriorating, food prices are rising, and populations are affected by flooding and localized conflict; Afghanistan, where an additional 4.5 million people are in need due to escalating poverty, rising food insecurity, political instability, and widespread conflict; and Ethiopia, where the desert locust infestation and the pandemic have resulted in a further 2.1 million people needing humanitarian assistance. The recent conflict that has broken out in the Tigray region also risks severely deepening the humanitarian crisis.
In light of the challenge, Oxfam International, Save the Children, CARE International, Humanity & Inclusion, International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council, and World Vision International are calling for the international community to scale up engagement with actors on the ground to facilitate better access to the most vulnerable people. They also called on governments to commit funding now to support the scale-up of the global humanitarian response in 2021 and ensure that country-specific and regional humanitarian appeals are fully funded.
Fraud allegations and climate change
Tomorrow, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be calling to mobilize global, urgent climate action. In a major upcoming address to mark the five-year anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, Guterres will highlight the present situation and pathways forward toward a safer, more sustainable, and equitable future.
His speech will follow revelations about allegations of massive fraud and corruption linked to the multibillion-dollar Global Environment Facility, part of the portfolio of projects under the United Nations Development Program. Documents seen by the Financial Times, dated November 2020, described “financial misstatements” worth millions of dollars across UNDP’s portfolio of GEF-funded projects around the world.
In a 2019 investigation called “Greed and Graft at The UN Climate Program,” Foreign Policy Magazine had already revealed alleged major misappropriations at GEF-UNDP.
The latest audit of the UNDP’s GEF-funded projects highlighted problems, including signs of “fraudulent activities” at two country offices and “suspicions of collusion among the various project managers” at another, without naming the countries.
The report covers 2018 and 2019 and is the first review of its kind since 2013. But it comes against a backdrop of rising concern from some donor countries over management and oversight issues at the UNDP. Twelve donor countries—including the US, France, Australia, and Japan—have since sought an independent review of the UNDP’s handling of that project.
In a written response to the FT, the UNDP said it “takes all cases of financial mismanagement and other irregularities extremely seriously,” adding that its GEF projects were some of the organization’s “most closely monitored.” While there have been “allegations of misuse of funds” at certain projects, such complaints affected “a tiny fraction—1.4 percent” of the UNDP’s GEF-funded portfolio, it added.
The 2020 Right Livelihood Awards
In the late seventies, adventurer Jakob von Uexküll paid a visit to the Nobel Foundation. He had been struck and inspired by the fact that everywhere he went, often working in difficult circumstances, some extraordinary people were courageous in overcoming challenges to make the world a better place. In 1969, the Nobel Prize in Economics was created, and von Uexküll thought the Nobel Foundation might be willing to create a prize for environment and poverty. The scope of the Nobel Prizes, he thought, was too restrictive. A more holistic approach was needed. The Nobel Foundation turned him down. Honoring and supporting “people solving global problems,” in 1980, The Right Livelihood Awards were born from that rejection. Jakob von Uexküll created his own foundation and started the awards 40 years ago in Stockholm. Supported since 2007 by a Swiss-based Foundation and by the Swiss Government, the RLA opened its Geneva office in 2015, a natural move as many of its laureates regularly engage with International Geneva. “We honor and support courageous people solving global problems.”
Lottie Cunningham-Wren: In Nicaragua and beyond, ignoring frequent threats on her life, she has fought to strengthen indigenous land rights and to advance the rights of women within indigenous communities.
Brian Stevenson: In the US, Stevenson has dedicated his life to the pursuit of racial equality and to the abolition of the death penalty.
Alex Bialiatski: For almost 25 years, Alex Bialiatski has campaigned for democracy and freedom in Belarus.
Nasrin Sotoudeh: Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has advocated for the rule of law and the rights of political prisoners, opposition activists, and politicians, women, and children. She has been imprisoned frequently since 2010. In 2019 she was sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes. With #StandUp4Nasrin, RLA, and Pen America have organized an online campaign demanding her permanent release from jail. The 2020 Right Livelihood Award Ceremony will be streamed on December 3.