Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Business & Politics

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

Tokyo 2020 Candidacy poster

11th August 2020

 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have been happening this summer if it was not for the outbreak of Covid-19. These games, and many mega sporting events before them, have been plagued by human rights abuses of workers. What needs to be done in order to prevent this?

The Olympics and other mega sporting events are exciting events which generally bring people together. The Olympics in particular showcase the pinnacle of sports and athletes. Many watch these games with excitement and pride for the world’s best athletes. It is easy to forget that in order for these events to be held, infrastructure had to be built. It is also easy to forget that in the building of this infrastructure human rights abuses are prevalent. Labourers have been exploited. The building of some major infrastructure has led to deaths. 12 workers died in the construction works for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.

People in favour of these large sporting events often state that the preparation for the events leads to urban development and creates jobs. These jobs are generally in infrastructure and construction. Although job creation can be positive there are aspects of this job creation which make it particularly precarious. For example, in many circumstances the labourers are paid less than expected and often less than a minimum wage. In Brazil only 17% of the total workforce employed for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic sites received above Brazil’s minimum monthly wage.

The Tokyo Olympics have not escaped criticism. The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) issued a report in 2019 which drew to light the labour conditions facing the construction workers who were working on infrastructure for Tokyo 2020. This report highlighted how low pay, overtime hours and poor access to grievance mechanisms created a “culture of fear”. This culture of fear helped allow human rights to be abused.

This came at a human cost. One worker committed suicide as a result of overtime hours worked. He had logged 190 hours of overtime the month prior to his death. He left a note stating “ This is the only answer I could come up with after my body and soul have reached their limits”. The government response to this was to enforce new rules in relation to overtime work. Although these rules are welcome they seem to be without any bite as they did not apply to the Tokyo construction period. Thus the response has been an ineffective one.

The human cost was also visible as there were two on-site fatalities of construction workers. There was a reported unsafe working environment with some workers even having to purchase their own safety equipment. The reason for this is most likely due to their legal status as self- employed workers, which means that their employers do not have to abide by general labour lawsThis legal status is being used to deny people their basic human rights.

 

“20 workers died in the construction works for the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship”

A system is needed to ensure health and safety at construction sites for workers. The London Olympic construction sites recorded zero fatalities. This was seen as a result of London’s Olympic Delivery Authority who embedded principles such as health, safety and security in the procurement process applied when selecting the contractors they worked with. Civil society organizations are also important as a check of safety conditions. These organizations should be allowed to inspect sights and make reports on what they find. Monitoring of these sites by third parties is invaluable and should always be allowed.

Improvements need to be made and the recommendations above should be followed in the future. Integrating health and safety in the procurement process seems to have been highly effective. This ensures that it is not only the main contractors but also the sub-contractors and people further down the complex supply chain who need to adhere to safety standards. This means that the commitment to health and safety will not just be empty promises but actually implemented by all parties.

Migrant workers are often used in the construction of these projects. In Athens, for the 2004 Olympic Games, about 60% of the construction workers were migrants. Although the Tokyo 2020 Sourcing Code contains provisions for suppliers to comply with international human rights and labour standards, there have been complaints about how migrant workers have been treated. Japan’s immigration system has traditionally been closed, but due to an ageing population and a rising demand for labour they have opened up more to migrant workers. Most of the construction workers have come through the Technical Intern Training Programme. However, interns have been recorded fleeing the jobs these programmes provide. Two-thirds of those that fled in 2017 were paid below minimum wage, and roughly 10% of workers on average work 80 hours or more overtime.

The jobs provided are also usually temporary jobs and are therefore unsustainable. In the London Olympics, positive results were gained by non-profit partnerships which supported the transition to sustainable work. This capacity building can be used by the workers in the future to develop hard and soft long-term skills. Thus a capacity building body should be included as a requirement in the bidding process and should cooperate with the organizations. This body would ensure that it is not only primary jobs which are created from the construction but also secondary jobs by training and providing skills to people.

Access to effective grievance mechanisms is a key aspect of preventing further human rights violations. Although grievance mechanisms had been set up for Tokyo 2020, the implementation was weak and there was a lack of information for the workers on these mechanisms, with many even not knowing they existed or how to use them. An effective grievance mechanism should be part of the Olympic Games bidding documentation. This would ensure that if rights are breached there is an avenue which people are aware of and is effective to deal with these breaches.

Mega sporting events are exciting events which have the potential to bring sustainable jobs to an economy if they are organized correctly. Improvements are needed in several aspects of the process in which these events are granted to certain countries. Tackling human rights concerns through the bidding process is one way of ensuring that the country in which this event will take place will take human rights seriously.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Danny Choo

 
 

 

 

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Business & Politics

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

Young Greens outside the Dáil

8th August 2020

 

The General Election of February 2020 feels like a world away now. Not only do the pre-social distancing days seem like a weird alternative universe, but also the hopes for radical change which many, particularly young, people dared to hold as they headed to the ballot box are starting to seem like a crazy dream. As the coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party settle into the Dáil, the political landscape of the next five years is beginning to come into focus. 

Many who hoped for a shift to the status quo are worried that this coalition of the old guard is setting us up for more of the same. The younger generation in Ireland, governed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for as long as they can remember; not only have experienced increasing obstacles to third-level education and affordable housing, but have also been involved in two radical campaigns to change to the Irish constitution in the last five years. With Leo Varadkar only achieving the quota for re-election on the fifth count in his Dublin West constituency in the last election, Micheál Martin only on the sixth count in Cork South-Central, and Eamon Ryan very narrowly retaining his position as leader of the Green Party with 994 votes against Catherine Ryan’s 946; perhaps it is already clear that these three men may not be setting out on the most popular coalition in history.

The ‘Vote Left, Transfer Left’ drive in the lead up to the election in February was propelled by the idea that another five years of the same government who has overseen increased homelessness, widespread emigration and the Direct Provision system, may not also be the people to fix these issues. The hope was for a more left-leaning coalition who could tackle issues of housing, health, immigration and climate action with a more human rights-focussed, less profit-driven approach.

It appeared that Sinn Féin were the party that people pinned these hopes on for this radical change, gaining 24.5% of the vote compared to Fianna Fáil’s 22% and Fine Gael’s 21%. The country’s impatience with the status quo resulted in Sinn Féin’s greatest ever result, while Fine Gael suffered their worst election since 1948. In the 18-24 age group these results were even more stark, with Sinn Féin garnering 31.8% of the vote and the Greens coming in ahead of Fianna Fáil with 14.4%. Overall the Greens enjoyed their best ever result; as the fourth largest party with 12 TDs, their entry into a coalition seemed inevitable, but how do some of the youngest members of the party feel about entering into this current government?

STAND News talked to some members of the Young Greens across the country to find out what their attitude to the new coalition is. As the ‘green surge’ at February’s election came largely from younger members of the population, does this coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the desires of these Green voters? Young voters, particularly first-time voters, have seen radical change to the constitution throughout the lifetime of the last government as well as massive youth-led climate strikes, and are less likely to associate the Green Party of 2020 with their previous stint in government. The last surge of support for the Greens was in the 2007 general election where they had their biggest result to date and gained 6 seats in the Dáil. Despite reservations from many in the party, the Greens entered into the already unpopular coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. 

It is often said that smaller parties in a coalition will bear the brunt of any unpopularity which the government generates, particularly parties with a lot of first-time voters such as the Greens, whose loyalties are easier to shift. The fallout from this coalition was huge, with the Greens losing all 6 of their seats at the 2011 election. Despite an unprecedented opportunity for the Greens to influence the government, they ended up compromising on several of their key issues such as the Shell to Sea campaign and the US military usage of Shannon Airport; not to mention overseeing the post-2008 economic downturn. Despite a two-fold increase in seats and therefore influence in this new coalition compared with 2007, it is difficult to imagine that we will not see a repeat of history for the Greens.

As Conall, PRO for UCD Young Greens told us, it’s hard “not to pre-emptively see our own blood in the water”. The key for any junior partner ensuring delivery of promises within a coalition is commitments to timelines and funding, and despite accepting Eamonn Ryan’s redline of 7% average decrease in emissions, the proposed Programme for Government is incredibly lacking when it comes to specifics. As a member of the UCC Young Greens pointed out, “It’s a fluffy document, with too much wiggle room for [Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael] to get out of things if they prove to be unpopular”.

 

 

“While the party voted in favour of the Programme for Government, the Young Greens nationally voted against it, 65% to 35% in favour”

 

With Fine Gael’s popularity waning significantly in recent years, particularly among younger voters, many are understandably concerned about the survival of the Green Party during and after this government. Not only have the Greens already been wounded before in coalition with Fianna Fáil, but the legacy of Labour’s 2011 coalition with Fine Gael is still keenly felt among those on the left. Conall stated that he “saw the demolition of Labour as a clear sign not to go anywhere near Fine Gael”, as Labour have still yet to rebuild their ground following their loss of 30 seats in the 2016 general election. The unpopularity of this coalition can already be seen among younger Green members.

While the party voted in favour of the Programme for Government, the Young Greens nationally voted against it, 65% to 35% in favour. It is clear that the relationship that many young people in Ireland have with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is more distrustful than that of their parents; and with many politically active young people coming up through the Marriage Equality and Repeal the 8th campaigns, the need to compromise in order to push for change appears less and less necessary. As a member of UCC Greens pointed out, many young Irish people are beginning to feel that “direct action can be more effective than small incremental steps in exchange for self-sacrifice”. Perhaps for smaller, particularly left-leaning parties, there is a freedom to be found outside of government.

Of course, the urgency of the climate crisis cannot be played down, and the necessity for environmentalist policies to be implemented over the course of the next five years is incredibly important. The Young Greens who I spoke to highlighted the encouraging aspects of the Programme for Government; namely the termination of the Direct Provision system, the removal of the Shannon LNG from public funding, and the increased funding for public transport and cycling infrastructure. On the surface, many elements of the Programme for Government are appealing to anyone passionate about combating the global climate disaster. For many members of the Green Party this was clearly seen as a compromise worth making in order to achieve these goals. However, many young members of the Green Party cannot divorce their passion for climate justice from social justice and worry that the Greens may end up being seen as a single-issue party who are detached from other important issues. Julie, Chairperson of Trinity Young Greens, highlights that “the climate action [the PfG] promises comes at the cost of fuel poverty, homelessness and inadequate healthcare”.

As the Programme for Government is always aspirational, and only a fraction of the policies ever get implemented, the lack of costing and timelines leads many Young Greens to worry that the Green priorities will be easily sidestepped when push comes to shove. Already the cracks within the party are beginning to show, as the young Green campaigner Saoirse McHugh announced her exit from the party on Twitter at the end of July. She cited her concerns surrounding the Programme for Government as an important part of her decision, believing that it will serve to link environmentalism with “socially regressive policies”. Separately, a Green-left affiliate organisation, the Just Transition Greens, has been set up by members of the party who are committed to upholding issues of social justice inside and outside of the parliamentary party.

 

 

Obviously young people in Ireland are not a homogenous group, and even the Young Greens aren’t unanimous on any issue, but when looking at the issues which are important to young people, Conall states that “from [his] own experience it would be social justice, housing, and… climate action”. As the Greens have experienced before, even if their climate action policies are all implemented, it is likely that they will likely be blamed for any failures by the government to effectively address social issues such as housing.

Their gains at the general election may have provided them with an opportunity to enact urgent climate action policies, but if it comes at the same cost as the 2007 coalition, there may be no one left in the Dáil to see these policies through in the years to follow. For many Young Greens, immediate gains for climate justice are worth little if they come at the cost of long-term social justice. As Julie explains, “any environmental action that isn’t led by and for the people will fail in the long run”.

Issues such as Direct Provision, public housing, a well regulated rental market, affordable education, healthcare, public transportation, reduction in fossil fuel emissions, homelessness, addiction services, affordable childcare, gender equality, protection for minorities, LGBTQ+ rights, (to name but a few), are all interconnected issues.  It is difficult to solve one without the others. As a UCC member pointed out, many worry that any gains for the Greens will be merely superficial, and hope that their presence in the coalition is “not only to greenwash austerity”.

While the Green Party may have the opportunity to make some very real and important changes over the next five years, it is difficult to know the level of power they will have over the two more senior parties in the coalition. Any unpopular policies introduced by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, overseen by the Green Party, could see them lose their support just as rapidly as it was gained. Will the Greens be able to leverage the divides between the other two parties to their advantage, or have they once again done a ‘deal with the devil’ and will soon pay the price?

 

 

 

Featured photo by

 

 

Survival of the richest: As Brazil’s COVID death toll mounts, its president celebrates his own recovery.

Survival of the richest: As Brazil’s COVID death toll mounts, its president celebrates his own recovery.

Business & Politics

Survival of the Richest: As Brazil’s COVID death toll mounts, its President celebrates his own recovery.

Jair Bolsonaro

7th August 2020

 

At time of writing, Brazil has been devastated by over 2 million Coronavirus cases and more than 90,000 deaths, second only to the United States. In spite of these alarming figures however, the country’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro has regularly dismissed the severity of the disease, calling it a “little flu”, and boasting that his athletic background would save him from becoming seriously ill should he contract the virus. 

Bolsonaro was later held to this claim on 7 July when the president tested positive for COVID-19. After withdrawing for a number of weeks to work remotely at the presidential palace, Bolsonaro posted a message on Twitter confirming that he had received a negative test result. The tweet was accompanied by a photograph of the smiling politician brandishing a box of hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug which scientists have repeatedly deemed ineffective in treating COVID-19.  

Bolsonaro’s latest message to the Brazilian public in light of his own experience with the virus was “What are you afraid of? Face up to it”. The president has consistently claimed that restrictions on businesses will be more damaging than the illness itself and insists that the stay-at-home measures are needlessly hurting the economy. Even though cases are rising in 10 of the country’s 26 states; governors and mayors are continuing to loosen restrictions in many towns and cities in an attempt to avoid further economic devastation. 

While Bolsonaro downplays the severity of the virus and boasts loudly of his recovery, millions of the country’s citizens suffer the consequences of their president’s neglect. Brazil is infamous for its vast wealth disparity. In large cities such as Rio de Janeiro; luxury houses, hotels and white beaches border favelas, low income neighbourhoods comprising flimsy shacks, where about 1.5 million people live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. In these neighbourhoods there are no health services, PPE is scarce, people are unable to work remotely, and the inhabitants live so close together that social distancing is impossible. 

However, perhaps the Brazilian communities most in danger of suffering the effects of COVID-19are the indigenous Amazonian tribes. The six cities with the highest coronavirus exposure are all on the Amazon River, and activists have warned that Brazil’s indigenous communities are at risk of being wiped out completely due to their susceptibility to highly contagious diseases. Brazil’s indigenous population has always been socially and economically vulnerable. The current pandemic has only exacerbated their struggles with poverty, substandard medical care and often, violent land invasions. Furthermore, when the army colonel in charge of the Indigenous health agency flew to Yanomami villages in order to deliver PPE and administer tests, several tribe leaders complained that the endeavour was merely a photo opportunity.

 

“While Bolsonaro downplays the severity of the virus and boasts loudly of his recovery, millions of the country’s citizens suffer the consequences of their president’s neglect”

The Brazilian president, claiming death to be inevitable, remains self-assured in his reckless response to the pandemic, even in the face of growing public scrutiny. In the international press, Bolsonaro is commonly dubbed “the Trump of the Tropics” likened in severity and incompetence to his North American counterpart. There are few countries in the world currently permitting entry to Brazilian citizens, with even Uruguay and Paraguay closing their borders with Brazil. 

On top of international condemnation, Bolsonaro is also experiencing criticism within his own country. Earlier in July, an umbrella group of unions and social organizations representing more than one million Brazilian medical professionals filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. They accused  Bolsonaro of committing a crime against humanity by reacting to the outbreak with contempt, neglect and denial. Around the same time, a judge of the Brazilian Supreme Court blasted the militarization of the Ministry of Health, for bringing about a “genocide” of the indigenous population.

 Additionally, 152 Catholic bishops in Brazil have condemned the president’s pandemic strategy in an open letter, whereby they accused the government of purposely employing arguments, such as the advocation for hydroxychloroquine, that are unscientific in order to normalize a plague that is killing thousands and to act as if this were an accident or divine punishment. Bolsonaro has even encountered opposition within his own government, resulting in the departure of two consecutive health ministers in the months of April and May due to disagreements over measures undertaken to tackle the virus. 

Brazil has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-related deaths a day since early July, and with the number of cases continuing to spiral among vulnerable communities, this worrying trend shows no sign of coming to a halt. Amid the devastation, the country’s leader, despite having experienced the effects of the virus himself, flouts social distancing measures and, at times, refuses to wear a face-covering. Bolsonaro’s illness symbolizes the rampant inequality which exists in Brazil. The president’s recovery from the virus does not demonstrate the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, nor the benefits of leading an athletic lifestyle. Rather, it shows the basic reality that access to quality medical care, which is denied to Brazil’s poorest citizens, means a greater chance of recovery.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jeso Carneiro

 

 

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Business & Politics

Honk Kong’s New Security Law

Honk Kong riot police

3rd August 2020

The civil, political and cultural divides between Hong Kong and mainland China is rooted in the fallout from the First Opium war. In 1842 China ceded the island to Britain in the treaty of Nanking. The 150 years of segregation that followed saw sharp contrasts in the lives of Hong Kong and Chinese citizens. When Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997, it marked the beginning of Beijing’s attempts to re-integrate Hong Kong. The introduction of a new national security law signifies a more forceful and legally binding step in the removal of Hong Kong’s independence and autonomy.

The closed-door nature of the Chinese government creates an air of mystery surrounding the new law. It is assumed that Beijing has always sought to dissolve the distinction between Hong Kong and other cities within the country. While free speech and freedom of religion are values long enjoyed by those who live in Hong Kong, they counter the aspirations of the Chinese communist party. It is thought that the sooner the island could be aligned with Beijing’s ideals, the faster such values could be eradicated, thus discouraging other Chinese citizens from seeking such rights. One need look no further than China’s treatment of the Uighur  Muslims to understand the government’s view on religious expression.

So why now? No one is entirely sure, although there are many theories. The Chinese government is much stronger than it was in 1997, making the introduction of the new law easier now but near impossible 23 years ago. Also, the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made large scale protests unfeasible. 

In July 2014 Hong Kong saw one of the largest pro-democracy rallies in decades, and since then pro-democracy rallies and protests have been commonplace on the island. As large gatherings and rallies have been difficult during the pandemic this meant less pushback from civilians when the new law was introduced. 

In September of this year, Hong Kong will hold legislative Council elections. This new law will help Beijing exert greater control over the political processes and developments. While these are only speculations, the events leading up its announcement meant that the introduction of the law has been rather seamless.

There have been concerns globally regarding the new legislation and for those unfamiliar with Chinese politics, the language used by most media outlets has been less than illuminating. The terms ’pro-democracy protests’ and ’national security law’ hardly seem menacing. But the law threatens the freedoms of those living in Hong Kong and those who have never set foot on the island in a way that has never been seen before. The vague language used makes it very difficult to predict what is now illegal. 

There are four offences identified in the law — secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. The term ’endangering national security’ is also used but not expanded upon. The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning. The new law also threatens press freedom and makes it possible for authorities to remove online material and obtain individuals online data without a warrant or means of speculation.

Suspects who are accused of breaching the incredibly vague law can be extradited to mainland China and tried under mainland law, as the legislation trumps existing laws including current human rights legislation. Possibly the most astonishing thing is that these laws are applicable to everyone in the world. For example, although I have never set foot in Hong Kong or mainland China, the critical nature of this article puts me in breach of the new national security law. 

 

“The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning”

 

Director Zheng Yanxiong of the newly established Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is the man tasked with the law enforcement. He is expected to show little leniency and has a reputation for being a tough taskmaster,  a reputation earned through his involvement in the violent suppression of protests in Wukan in 2016. The effects of the new legislation have been felt almost immediately. Over 370 people who protested the introduction of the law were arrested for offences such as holding flags or signs. A further 8 were arrested for holding blank paper, a crime that can now incur a minimum of 3 years in prison or a life sentence. Reports of individuals deactivating social media accounts that they have previously used to share news on are widespread.

Many countries throughout the world are taking steps which will have a drastic impact on their political relationship with both Hong Kong and mainland China. For the past 30 years, the United Kingdom’s government has had an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Since the announcement of the new Hong Kong security law the UK government has announced that it will suspend the extradition treaty “immediately and indefinitely”. This has come amid fears that any individual extradited to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom would be sent to mainland China and tried under mainland law.

Ivan Ko, a Hong Kong property developer and founder of the Victoria Harbour group has been looking at “Ireland and two other countries” in which to build ‘Nextpolis’. The autonomous city which would spend approximately 500 sq km would become home to tens of thousands of individuals looking to relocate from Hong Kong. The city which could be located in East Cork, East Galway, Drogheda or Dundalk among other suggested locations would consist of an estimated 50% Hong Kongers and 15-30% Irish and European citizens. With an initial population of 50,000, the city will have a “free reforming economic system” within Ireland along with a low taxation system, and independent relationship with the European Union as well as its own border control.

As were previous attributes in Hong Kong, democracy and freedom of religion and expression would be key pillars in the city. While the city remains in the discussion stage, Mr Ko has been in contact with Tim Mawe, The regional director in the Asia-Pacific unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as David Costello, the Consul general of Ireland to Hong Kong. In a statement released on July 26 the Department of Foreign Affairs said “following an initial approach in December 2019, the department had limited contact with the individuals involved to provide helpful realistic guidance about Ireland. Since providing this guidance there has been no further action taken by the department in this matter”. Whether the city plans will go ahead remains unseen.

While the world is still struggling to comprehend this new legislation, we await further fallout from this new law and hope that it does not severely negatively impact the residents of Hong Kong.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jonathan van Smit

 

 

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

Opinion

The Forgotten Generation: The Children of Yemen

Yemen refugee camp

1st August 2020

 

The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is occurring in Yemen right now, and the world is still glossing over it. Five years of war, pitting the internationally-recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels – and civilians are the ones who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. What is already the poorest nation in the Middle East has seen its economy decimated, leaving millions unemployed. Yemen’s health infrastructure has been devastated, leaving its people open to repeated disease outbreaks, malnutrition, and increasing vulnerabilities. And Yemen is an arid country, access to water depends on bore holes and pumping stations which require expensive fuel to operate; even clean water is in short supply. 

Of course, as if the conflict, economic shocks, extensive  floods and desert locusts are not enough, Covid-19 has served to only exacerbate the situation. It has created an emergency within an emergency. Only half of the country’s already insufficient health facilities were functioning before the pandemic; now many of the remaining facilities have been devoted entirely to the care of those suffering from Covid-19, all the while lacking in basic equipment, such as PPE, oxygen and other essential services needed to treat the virus.

The testing and reporting of the virus remains limited, and people with severe symptoms, such as high fevers and laboured breathing, must be turned away from health facilities that are overflowing or simply unable to provide safe treatment. Many health workers are receiving no salaries or incentives.

Overall, more than 24 million people (a staggering 80 per cent of the population) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. According to the Statement on Yemen by the Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of UNICEF, the conflict in Yemen has a disproportionate impact on women and children. Yemen is already acknowledged as one of the worst places on earth to be a woman or a child. After five years of war, over 12 million children and 6 million women of childbearing age need some kind of humanitarian assistance. Safety, health, nutrition and education are already constantly at risk as infrastructure collapses from the violence. For these 12 million children, Yemen has become a living hell.

Children continue to be killed and injured in the violence; twelve children have been recently lost to airstrikes. Damage done to schools and hospitals has led to their closure, disrupting access to both education and health services. Even before the pandemic began, around 2 million children were out of school. Now, that number is closer to 7.8 million – and they  don’t even have the ability to access distanced or online learning as our children do. They can’t even go out to play. 

This is leaving them  even more vulnerable and is robbing children of their futures.The widespread absence from classes and education, combined with a worsening economy, may put older children specifically at an even greater risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage. Of the 3.6 million displaced Yemenis who have been forced to flee their homes, around 972,000 of these, or 27 per cent, are under the age of eighteen. They are now facing much more than the traditional barriers encountered when trying to access healthcare in such harsh conditions. Most of them live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.

 

“Of the 3.6 million displaced Yemenis who have been forced to flee their homes, around 972,000 of these, or 27 per cent, are under the age of eighteen”

The coronavirus will impact children potentially more drastically than in any other country. UNICEF has published some startling numbers. 10.2 million children do not have proper access to basic healthcare. Almost 10 million children do not have proper access to water and sanitation. More than 8 million people, nearly half of them children, are depending directly on the agency WASH for water, sanitation and hygiene services. Almost half a million Yemeni children are already malnourished. 

However, as Covid-19 spreads, it has been calculated that 30,000 children could develop life-threatening, severe acute malnutrition over the next six months. The overall number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to 2.4 million. This malnutrition, combined with the lack of clean water, has left their immune systems already dangerously compromised, meaning that the children have become at immediate risk of life-threatening diseases like malaria and cholera, in addition to Covid-19. It is estimated that a further 6,600 children under five could die from preventable causes by the end of 2020.

Humanitarian agencies are doing everything they can to help: rapidly upscaling proven publish health measures against Covid-19, such as early detection and frequent testing, isolation, treatment and contact-tracing actively promoting personal hygiene as well as social distancing, mobilising supplies and equipment needed for healthcare, and maintaining essential health and humanitarian services. Authorities across Yemen have been called upon to report cases transparently, as well as to adapt measures to further suppress and control the spread of the disease. But help from large governments is required too. 

On 2nd June at a virtual donor conference, mainly Arab as well as some Western countries pledged $1.35bn for aid operations in Yemen. This, however, is far less than the $2.4bn the UN originally asked for, as well as the $3.6bn the UN received last year. Millions of people will not get essential nutritional and vitamin supplements, or immunisation against deadly diseases. Many children will be pushed to the brink of starvation, many succumb to Covid-19, many will suffer from cholera, and many will die. Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief, told Security Council members that the choice was between “supporting the humanitarian response in Yemen and helping to create the space for a sustainable political situation, or watch Yemen fall off the cliff.” 

According to Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative to Yemen the scale of this emergency can simply not be overstated. “As the world’s attention focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic I fear the children of Yemen will be all but forgotten. Despite our own preoccupations right now, we all have a responsibility to act and help the children of Yemen. They have the same rights of any child, anywhere.” Nyanti says that by just standing by, the international community will send a clear message that the lives of innocent children devastated by conflict, economic collapse, and no disease, simply do not matter. She describes her worry during a recent Zoom call with children from across Yemen: “They talked about the fact that they feel there is no one listening to them,” she said. “These children feel forgotten.”

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and that of its children have never been more severe, or funding more constrained. However, although the entire world is undoubtedly suffering as we all fight our own pandemic-induced demons, we and our governments must do our best and do more to remember and to help those children straddling the slim fence between life and death. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by  EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

 

 

 

The West Bank Annexation

The West Bank Annexation

Business & Politics

The West Bank Annexation

Micheal Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan walking at a distance together

Sinead Scales

29th July 2020

 

On May 5 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for his fifth term as Prime Minister of Israel. Among his campaign pledges was the proposed annexation of the West Bank. Annexation is when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory, and is strictly prohibited under international law. This annexation poses a serious threat to the long-sought two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The West Bank, and more specifically the Jordan Valley, is considered pivotal to the survival of a future Palestinian state among Palestinians. Often referred to as their ‘breadbasket’, it holds importance not only as a strategic location along the Jordan River but annexation of this territory would allow Israeli territory to fully encircle Palestinian enclaves. The planned annexation was set for July 1st and sparked renewed fear of an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and the wider region. Neighbouring Jordan, who currently has a peace treaty with Israel, could be forced to adopt a more hard-line stance towards Israel as a result of the annexation of the West Bank.

The West Bank is home to some 2-3 million Palestinians (sources vary) and 400,000-600,000 (sources vary) Israeli settlers in 130 settlements, considered illegal by most of the world. Occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War, the proposed annexation could result in just under 110,000 Palestinians living within the annexed territory. Israel already exercises extensive control over the region, they control the movement of people and goods, along with the resources and the economy of the West Bank. Evictions of Palestinians, to make way for Israeli settlements, are widespread. More than 90% of Palestinian requests for construction are denied, which forces them to build illegally and results in the Israeli demolition of such construction. If the plans for annexation are successful, Palestinians fear more evictions, displacements, and even fewer rights than they previously had. Palestinian farmers who operate in the West Bank have stated that they hardly get enough water, in contrast, Israeli settlers receive 20 times more water.

Palestinians have turned to the United Nations for help in halting the proposed annexation. A Security Council discussion took place on May 20th and resulted in a plea by the Security Council for Israel to abandon their annexation plans. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with Israel and the United States in response to the annexation plans. The Prime Minister of Palestine has suggested that they would declare their own state in the West Bank if Israel proceeds with the plans. The International community, along with many EU countries, are slowly but surely lending their support to the Palestinians in opposing the annexation. UN Special Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, stated that the annexation would lead to a ‘21st century apartheid’ and a ‘cascade of human rights consequences’. Interestingly, Netanyahu is facing opposition from both sides. His plans have also been criticised by Israeli Settlement leaders, who argue that his plan opens a door for a future Palestinian state and restricts the expansion of their settlements in the West Bank. Some accuse Netanyahu of using the proposed annexation to win a tight election and to divert attention away from his pending trial on corruption charges.

 

“Occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War, the proposed annexation could result in just under 110,000 Palestinians living within the annexed territory”

According to a poll by the Israel Democratic Institute, 25% of Israelis oppose annexation, 24.5% support it and 28.5% ‘don’t know’. In contrast, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 66% of Palestinians believe that Israel will proceed with the annexation plans. 31% of those surveyed supported an armed struggle should the annexation plans proceed. The survey also shows that Palestinians are doubtful of the international community coming to their aid, 63% said they didn’t think Jordan would break their peace deal with Israel in and 78% said that the EU, Israel’s most prominent trading partner, would not impose sanctions on Israel. The end of June saw protests by thousands of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and hundreds of Israelis in Tel Aviv in opposition to the annexation of the West Bank.

Netanyahu is capitalising on the extra power afforded to him by the Trump administration. In releasing their Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan in January 2020, the Trump administration has given Israel the green light to annex thirty percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements. Netanyahu has himself stated that the Trump administration has afforded him a “unique, one-off opportunity”. Netanyahu even went so far as to say that he had his “personal relationship with Trump” to thank for his ability to “annex all the settlements in the heart of our homeland”. However, his window of opportunity may be closing, as Trump is up for re-election in November and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has spoken out in opposition of the annexation. Trump’s Peace Plan does little to benefit the Palestinian cause. It forces them to give up their efforts in establishing a capital in West Jerusalem and to accept Israeli security control, among other conditions. There is chaos and confusion amongst Trump’s administration, with the US Ambassador to Israel stating immediate annexation is appropriate and Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Trump, calling for the establishment of an Israeli-American mapping committee to agree the borders, with the notable absence of Palestinian involvement. 

Meanwhile, the proposed annexation date of July 1st has come and gone. Israel is grappling with a second wave of COVID-19, which has quickly outpaced the country’s first outbreak. Members of Netanyahu’s government have urged him to shift his focus from annexation towards the outbreak. This, combined with the widespread condemnation by the International Community and some mixed signals from the United States, has led to the stalling of these annexation plans.

Should this disregard for international law go ahead, there is a stark reality that the West Bank could slowly descend into chaos, imitating the Gaza Strip. Especially given the fact that Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah have now joined forces and have encouraged Hezbollah and Iran to join in their fight against the annexation of the West Bank. With Israeli politicians stating that the annexation awaits a ‘declaration by Trump’, it is clear that the United States is firmly in control of the outcome. Despite widespread condemnation, Russia succeeded in annexing Crimea in 2014 which minimises the potential impact opposition and international law could have in the case of the West Bank. 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Stephen Melkisethian