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Human RightsWorld News in Brief: Ukraine attacks in Donetsk, Afghan quake costs, ‘forever...

World News in Brief: Ukraine attacks in Donetsk, Afghan quake costs, ‘forever chemicals’ dumped in US, benefits of multilingual education

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Briefing journalists in New York, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric cited the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, which said the damage had occurred after a water filtering station was hit.

The city had a pre-war population of 220,000 people, now reduced to 90,000. 

The attacks also caused civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure on both sides of the frontlines, according to both the Ukrainian Government and Russian-installed authorities in the occupied territory east of Kramatorsk. 

“On the humanitarian response, aid organizations immediately delivered assistance, including emergency repair materials, to communities on the Ukrainian side of the frontline”, said Mr. Dujarric.

Aid to Kurakhove

And humanitarians provided aid to the front-line town of Kurakhove, which has been impacted by 10 years of hostilities, following Russia’s initial annexation of territory in 2014.

The aid consisted of 13 tonnes of medical and hygiene supplies, including for people with disabilities, and other supplies to support civilians whose access to basic services is severely disrupted, the Spokesperson added.

Afghanistan: More than $400 million needed for post-earthquake recovery

A staggering $402.9 million will be needed to support recovery and reconstruction efforts in western Afghanistan following the devastating earthquakes last year, according to a UN-backed report published on Wednesday.

More than 1,500 people were killed, and 2,600 were injured, in the series of earthquakes which struck Herat province on 7, 11 and 15 October 2023.

People living in Herat Province, Afghanistan, are coming to terms with the devastation caused to property by the earthquake.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report– published by the UN together with the World Bank, the European Union, and the Asian Development Bank – surveyed nine districts, covering some 2.2 million people.

It highlights the scale of the disaster, which caused direct physical damage up to $217 million and losses reaching nearly $80 million.

Housing was the most severely affected sector and represents 41 percent of the total recovery needs, or $164.4 million.  Nearly 50,000 homes were damaged in the earthquakes, with 13,516 being completely destroyed. 

Education followed in second place, and the report noted that 180,000 students and 4,390 teachers currently face disruptions. Meanwhile, the agriculture sector, which accounts for the majority of jobs and income in the affected areas, has suffered considerable setbacks. 

The assessment revealed that over 275,000 people were affected, including pregnant women, infants, and people with severe disabilities.

The earthquakes hit vulnerable communities with limited resilience to handle multiple shocks. Herat is among provinces hosting the largest numbers of Afghans who have been internally displaced due to conflict and drought, resulting in severe impacts on access to services, land, and shelter which has only worsened.

The report stressed the need to transition from immediate humanitarian aid to long-term recovery, prioritizing strategies for building community resilience, service restoration, earthquake-safe housing, social protection, and access to basic services.

US companies dump ‘forever chemicals’ with impunity: UN experts

In the United States, the DuPont and Chemours chemical companies are dumping toxic so-called “forever chemicals” into the local environment, completely disregarding the rights and well being of residents along the lower Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

That’s according to a group of nine independent UN human rights experts, who released a statement on Wednesday warning of the dangerous effects from the chemicals, commonly referred to as PFAs, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, and said members of impacted communities have reportedly been denied access to clean and safe water for decades.

PFAs come from products such as shampoo, nail polish and the synthetic coating on carpets or fabrics. 

They are known as forever chemicals because they do not easily degrade in nature and can cause harm for decades, even centuries.

Even though the companies are aware of the toxic impact of PFAs, they continue to discharge them, the experts said.

They also raised alarm over exports of PFAs and hazardous waste from the Netherlands to the United States, in apparent breach of international law.

Inadequate and insufficient

The experts said enforcement and remediation measures have been inadequate where legal action has been taken against the two companies. 

“Health and environmental regulators in the United States have fallen short in their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses, including providing the public – particularly affected communities in North Carolina – with the type and amount of information necessary to prevent harm and seek reparation,” the experts said. 

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent experts have raised these concerns with the US Government, which has yet to reply.

Special Rapporteurs and other experts work on a voluntary basis and do not receive a salary, serving entirely in their individual capacity. 

Multilingual education, a useful tool for tackling learning crisis

Finally, Wednesday is International Mother Language Day, and education, science and culture agency UNESCO is calling on all countries to pursue a policy of multilingual education. 

That’s because it’s key to fighting the current global learning crisis, having produced positive results in the past. 

According to a recent agency study, children are more likely to start reading earlier when they are taught in their mother tongue during the earliest school years.

Lessons from Africa

Proof can be found across Africa. The continent has the world’s highest linguistic diversity, but only one in five children are taught their mother tongue.

To change that, Mozambique expanded bilingual learning to a quarter of its schools, and children are already performing around 15 per cent better in basic reading and mathematics, UNESCO said.

While people communicate in more than 6,700 languages around the world, 40 per cent of them are threatened with extinction in the long term, due to falling numbers of speakers.

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