This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.
Libya: Heavy shelling, COVID-19 pandemic creates ‘perfect storm’
In Libya, ongoing heavy fighting has raised concerns yet further about the likely devastating impact of the new coronavirus on people there, particularly those forced to flee violence many times.
The development follows a renewed military push by the UN-recognised Government of National Accord last week to take six key coastal towns and push back the forces of the opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) that have been shelling the capital, Tripoli, home to the country’s main institutions, including the State oil company and central bank.
Stephanie Turco Williams, Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, warned that the virus risked overwhelming an already “decimated” health system.
And she told journalists on Thursday that the situation for people who are impacted by the fighting while under lockdown is getting worse; with some of the heaviest shelling in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, but it is also being felt downtown, she said:
“You have a situation now where the population is under a 24-hour curfew because of the pandemic. You have there with families who have been displaced from their homes in southern Tripoli multiple times, moving further and further into densely populated areas of Tripoli and now being affected by this horrible, intense shelling and the appearance of new weapons being; and the appearance on the battlefield of new weapons being brought in from outside.”
Developing countries crippled by debt need urgent relief
To developing countries overall now, where leading UN economists said on Thursday that far too little constructive support has been provided to help them escape from crippling debt related to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the UN Trade and Development agency UNCTAD, urgent measures are needed to head off what it has called a “looming debt disaster” in emerging economies.
Some welcome steps have already been taken, including the decision on 13 April by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cancel debt repayments due by the 25 poorest developing economies for the next six months.
This alone was estimated at around $215 million.
That IMF decision was followed two days later by the leaders of the G20 leading economies (or G20), who announced the suspension of debt paybacks for 73 of the world’s poorest countries from May to the end of the year.
Welcoming these measures, UNCTAD economist Richard Kozul-Wright said that they would free up sorely needed resources which could be used to respond to the pandemic, and which are normally dedicated to paying off external debt.
But he insisted that more “systematic, transparent and coordinated measures towards writing off developing country debt across the board” are urgently needed.
A trillion dollar write-off would be closer to the figure needed to prevent economic disaster across the developing world, Mr Kozul-Wright added.
Message of solidarity from UN chief as millions of Muslims begin ‘very different’ Ramadan
As millions of Muslims around the world begin the holy month of Ramadan, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has offered words of comfort as the Islamic world prepares for “a very different” observance this year.
During the religious event, which marks the Quran’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims fast and pray. It is also a time for families to gather and celebrate.
In his message, Mr Guterres noted that many community activities will be affected by measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people in conflict zones will once again be tragically marking this month with war and insecurity all around. I recently called for an immediate global ceasefire to focus on our common enemy — the virus. I repeat that appeal today, recalling the words of the Holy Quran, and I quote, ‘And if they incline to peace, then incline to it.’”
Ramadan is also about supporting the most vulnerable, the UN chief explained, before thanking Governments and Muslims everywhere “who live by their faith, supporting those fleeing conflict in the best Islamic tradition of hospitality and generosity”.
This was a remarkable lesson in a world where so many doors have been closed to those in need of protection, even before COVID-19, Mr Guterres said.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.