The Culture of Peace: Change our World for the Better in the Age of COVID 19

The UNAOC Young Peacebuilders is a peace education initiative that is designed to support young people in gaining skills that can enhance their positive role in issues of peace and security and in preventing violent conflict. Credit: UNAOC

By Nihal Saad
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2020 – Last year, we paid tribute to the 20th Anniversary of the 1999 Declaration of the Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. Today, we need to ask ourselves if we had genuinely carried out our moral responsibilities to transition from a culture of hatred and violence to a culture of tolerance and peace.

Did we live up to the commitment we made in 1999 that every one of us needs to consciously make peace and nonviolence a part of our daily existence? I think not.

Given today’s global context, the COVID 19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s vulnerabilities, divisions, falsehoods and brutal inequalities. The ugly truth is that there is no such thing as “we are in the same boat”.

Theoretically, or virtually, maybe we are. But in real life this is a myth or as the UN Secretary General put it few months ago “while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some of us are in superyachts while others are clinging to the floating debris.”

Since this global human crisis took its toll on all of us – the forces of division and hate too have been exacerbating the lives of vulnerable communities including religious and ethnic minorities, migrants, women, children and youth.

Even old people and those with disabilities were not spared. It is especially appalling to witness a surge in hate speech, xenophobia, racism and despicable forms of discrimination. These evil forces sow fissures and holes in the fabric of our societies triggering a viscous circle of violence.

However, there is always a reason to be optimistic. Last December, the General Assembly adopted 3 resolutions on the Culture of Peace . Res A/74/476 emphasized the importance of fostering interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue.

This powerful tool, which has been often overlooked, is at the core of the work of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations which is particularly committed to promoting inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue as a soft power tool for combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, and incitement to violence against persons based on religion or belief.

In this context, today provides an opportunity not only to renew our commitment to the Declaration and the program of action on a culture of peace, but also to commit to taking results-oriented action towards uprooting all forms of discrimination and eliminating inequalities through promoting diversity and broadening the space for intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

In this context, I would like to give a quick overview of the work of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations :

    1. As per the mandate received by the Secretary-General in the aftermath of the attacks against mosques that took place in March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, UNAOC elaborated the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites: In Unity and Solidarity for Safe and Peaceful Worship, which was launched by the Secretary-General on 12 September 2019. The Plan is anchored in relevant United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and Human Rights Council resolutions, as well as key religious sources. It provides a framework for action with specific recommendations addressed to all relevant stakeholders to better prevent, prepare and respond to possible attacks against religious sites. More importantly, the Plan emphasizes the need to foster intercultural and interreligious dialogue to build inclusive and resilient societies.

A Global Communications Campaign, aimed at underscoring the role of individuals, particularly youth and the global faith community, in the protection of religious sites, will be launched soon.

    2. Over the past year and since the pandemic started, we broadened our outreach to the religious leaders and faith-based organizations heeding the call of the UN Secretary General on religious leaders to support the UN actions in addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic through promoting solidarity unity and compassion. The High-Representative for UNAOC and the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide issued a joint call for “Solidarity, Unity and Compassion”re-affirming the need to strengthen interfaith and intercultural dialogue as well as standing up against stigma and polarization.

    3. In our capacity as rotating co-Chair of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, a statement was issued on 18 April by the IATF with the endorsement of the forty members comprising the IATF Multi-Faith Advisory Council calling on religious leaders and FBO to extend their support and – within their respective spheres of influence and authority – promote and advocate with Member States and other stakeholders for the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 and to help implement the Plan so that essential humanitarian relief operations can reach populations in the most fragile and vulnerable contexts.

    4. In support of the document on Human Fraternity co-signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el Tayeb in Feb 2019, we co-organized and supported the initiative “Prayer for Humanity” on 14 May 2020 spearheaded by HH Pope Francis and HE the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the UN Secretary General. Many eminent religious figures across the faith spectrum as well as prominent politicians joined the initiative.

    5. Adhering to a whole-of-society approach that includes support to grassroots and youth-led organizations through our multiple programs such as the Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA), a flagship project with BMW Group which supports the development of innovative and impactful projects by grassroots organizations that encourage intercultural dialogue and contribute to peace, prosperity and building more inclusive societies. Those projects ranged from Srilanka and Myanmar to Canada, Latin America and the MENA region.

    6. Under our Young Peacebuilders programme, a training and advocacy program, we have successfully trained young women and men from MENA and Europe and enhanced their competencies on conflict transformation and conflict resolution, mediation, promotion of non-violent activism, overcoming negative stereotypes, prejudices and polarization as drivers of violent extremism conducive to terrorism. The tailor-made blended curriculum allowed programme participants to work on specific issues related to peacebuilding and prevention of conflict and radicalization in their respective communities.

Moreover, we are very pleased to be joining forces with other leading UN entities such as UNESCO , the UN Office on Counter Terrorism and UNCCT in a number of projects .

With UNESCO and UNCCT we are gearing up to launching the project Intercultural dialogue and socio-emotional competencies for peacebuilding” (a Videogames Project) that supports young people in designing concrete game-based methodologies that develop relevant competencies for intercultural dialogue and social and emotional learning to prevent violent extremism in selected countries in South Asia.

Under the aegis of #YouthWagingPeace, UNESCO MGIEP, UNAOC and the Sri Lanka Commission for the UNESCO brought together and built the social and emotional, critical media and project management skills of 35 young leaders from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar), who are working on the ground to prevent violent extremism through education. The young civil society leaders designed 30 community-wide activities to be implemented in 6 countries directly impacting over1,000 community level stakeholders.

Under the Youth Solidarity Fund, UNAOC selected and provided seed funding to five youth-led organizations, whose projects focus on: Promoting religious pluralism, cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence in Africa

UNAOC continued to encourage exchanges and collaboration between young civil society leaders from different cultures and faiths under its Fellowship Programme.

Concluding, it is never too late to reverse course. Fulfilling goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “building peaceful, just and inclusive societies,” is more imperative now than ever before. Allow me to re-iterate that words like dialogue, tolerance, diversity and respect mean little if not supported by concrete broad range of actions under an international umbrella of sincere cooperation from state and non-state actors.


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A World Without Hunger Is Also About Protecting Food

Concern about food loss and food waste has become an increasingly important focus of attention when discussing ways to eliminate hunger

Controlling the loss and waste of food is a crucial factor in reaching the goal of eradicating hunger in the world. Credit: FAO

By Mario Lubetkin
ROME, Sep 17 2020 – Concern about food loss and waste has become an increasingly important focus of attention when discussing ways to eliminate hunger which, according to the latest FAO report, already exceeds 690 million people.

The Rome-based international organization estimates that 14 percent of food, valued at $ 400 billion a year, is lost because: it spoils; it is spilled before it becomes a final product or when it is on retail; consumers discard it; it is removed from sale as it does not meet all the quality standards; the date indicated on the product is not legible; or the item has expired.

There are several reasons why food loss occurs along the food chain for example, dairy, meat or other products can spoil during transport due to improper transport or inadequate cold storage systems.

Food losses are higher in developing countries in the south, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa at 14 percent, and South and Central Asia at 20.7 percent, while in developed countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, the average loss is lower and does not exceed 5.8 percent.

The main losses affect roots, tubers and oil crops (by 25 percent), fruits and vegetables (by 22 percent), and meat and animal products (by 12 percent.)

Mario Lubetkin. Credit: FAO

The Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Qu Dongyu, recalled the importance of this issue that “means wasting scarce natural resources, increasing the effects of climate change and losing the opportunity to feed a growing population in the future.” Moreover, urging the public and private sectors to promote, leverage and scale-up policies, innovation and technologies.

The Chief Economist at FAO, Máximo Torero, related this debate to the effects of COVID-19 that has revealed the vulnerability of food systems “which must be more solid and resilient.”

In this regard, the Chief Economist recalled that the United Nations designated 29 September 2020 as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, which “shows how this neuralgic issue is becoming increasingly important.”

Reducing food loss and waste can lead to important benefits, such as increasing the amount of food that is available for the most vulnerable, the reduction of greenhouse gases, the reduction in the pressure from land and water resources, as well as an increase in productivity and economic growth.

Other measures that can help reverse the current trends include: technological and operational innovation; finding solutions for post-harvest management; more adequate food packaging; more flexible regulations and standards on aesthetic requirements for fruits and vegetables; and government policies aimed at reducing food waste.

In addition, guidelines to redistribute surplus good-quality food to those in need through a food bank and the establishment of new alliances, even outside the food sector for example, with the main actors in the climate field can also contribute to positive change.

Nutritious food is the most perishable one, and therefore the most vulnerable to loss. Not only food is lost, but its safety and nutrition is impaired

Lawrence Haddad
Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition

Decreasing the levels of food waste also has a direct impact on the improvement of the most negative effects of climate change.

Reducing food losses by 25 percent would offset the environmental damage that future land use for agriculture would cause. This means not destroying forests to produce more food, and avoid devastating consequences that contribute to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Strategies and effective interventions such as: technological innovation efforts; new regulations of food production and safety policies; and efforts to package food correctly and in a healthy way, occupy more time in the agendas of governments, parliaments, local authorities, the private sector and civil society.

One of the many examples of successful agricultural innovation used in different parts of the world, such as in Kenya and Tanzania, is solar power technology for cooling milk. This innovative solution helps to avoid the loss of milk without generating the additional emission of greenhouse gases. This same technology allows Tunisia to save three million liters of water per year.

Lawrence Haddad, the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), recalled that “nutritious food is the most perishable one, and therefore the most vulnerable to loss. Not only food is lost, but its safety and nutrition is impaired.”

According to recent reports, three billion people cannot afford healthy diets, 13 percent of adults are obese and 39 percent are overweight, while in 2017, 4.5 million deaths related to obesity were recorded worldwide.

Nutrition is another component of the same debate. The move to healthy diets around the world would help control the increase in hunger, while leading to huge savings.

This shift is estimated to, almost entirely, offset the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, which are estimated to reach $ 1.3 billion a year by 2030.

Meanwhile, the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions related to the food sector, estimated at $ 1.7 billion, could be reduced by up to three quarters.

While specific solutions will vary from country to country, and even within countries themselves, general responses consist of interventions throughout the entire food supply chain, in the food environment and in the political economy that makes up the trade, public spending and investment policies.

The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition Report (SOFI) suggests that governments should incorporate nutrition into their approaches to agriculture to make efforts to reduce cost-increasing factors in food production, storage, transportation, distribution and marketing, for example, by reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste; and to support small local producers to grow and sell more nutritious food and ensure their access to markets.

It also proposes giving priority to children’s nutrition as the category with the greatest needs (191 million children under the age of five have growth problems and 38 million suffer from obesity according to SOFI’s 2019 data).

Therefore, it is necessary to promote a change in behaviour through education and communication and integrate nutrition into social protection systems and investment strategies at the national level.

Communication is another component that must be included in this great effort to reduce food loss.

As stated by Geeta Sethi, Global Lead for Food Systems at the World Bank, “combating food loss and waste with accurate information and objective data at the national level represents an attempt to create a food system that benefits the health of the planet and human beings.”

“In order to know what are the policy priorities of a country and what investments and interventions are necessary accordingly, we need good data and information”, she added, recalling the technical platform recently launched by FAO for the measurement and reduction of food losses and waste (SDGs/DATA.)

China, through its president, Xi Jinping, made a strong call in August to address the issue of food waste that he described as “shameful”, “shocking” and “distressing”, which was followed closely by the country´s different communication systems, such as the main television channels and the different video platforms, announcing sanctions for those who encourage poor nutrition or disproportionate intake.

This issue has been a permanent subject of reflection for Pope Francis, who has denounced the “mechanisms of superficiality, negligence and selfishness” that underlie the culture of food waste, and has recalled that “in many places, our brothers and sisters do not have access to sufficient and healthy food, while in others, food is discarded and squandered. It is the paradox of abundance.”

“Family, schools and the media have an important role in education and awareness. No one can be left behind in the fight against this culture that is suffocating so many people, especially the poor and vulnerable people in society,” added the Catholic Pontiff.

He also highlighted that “if we wish to build a world where no one is left behind, we must create a present that radically rejects the squandering of food”, since “together, without losing time, by pooling resources and ideas, we can introduce a lifestyle that gives food the importance it deserves.”