Syria; Polio Campaign; World Down Syndrome Day; FAO and more

Syria: The UN Security Council has adopted a statement supporting U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s plan to try to end Syria’s year-long unrest.

The statement said Syria will face “further steps” if Mr. Annan’s six-point peace proposal is rejected. The plan calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and access for humanitarian aid agencies.

It expresses “gravest concern” about the deteriorating situation in Syria and says it has resulted in a “serious human rights crisis and a deplorable humanitarian situation.” It also gives “full support” to Mr. Annan’s efforts to bring an “immediate end to all violence and human rights violations” in Syria. The Security Council statement calls for Mr. Annan to report back to the council in a “timely manner,” after which member states will consider “further steps as appropriate.”

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday welcomed the UN Security Council’s “clear and unified” message to the Syrian government, saying the adoption of statement marks a “turning point” in the international community’s response to the year-long crisis in the Arab country.

West/Central Africa Polio campaign
: A UN-backed campaign will seek to vaccinate more than 111 million children under the age of five against polio in 20 African countries in just four days.

The campaign, which will kick off on Friday, is intended to serve as a massive boost in efforts to eradicate the disease, and will involve national health ministries and UN agencies, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers who will go from door-to-door immunizing children.

Out of the 20 targeted countries, Nigeria is the only polio endemic country, and throughout its immunization period – which will start a week later for logistical reasons – it aims to provide 57.7 million children with two drops of oral vaccine each.

World Down Syndrome Day
: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the world to reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, deploring the stigma and discrimination they continue to face.

He noted that the discrimination can be as invidious as forced sterilization, and as subtle as segregation and isolation through both physical and social barriers.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
: Top United Nations officials warned today about the dangerous bond between racism and conflict, urging the international community to address grievances before they explode into catastrophic conflict.

“Racism and racial discrimination have been used as weapons to engender fear and hatred. In extreme cases, ruthless leaders instigate prejudice to incite genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message marking this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which focuses on the theme of racism and conflict.

The Secretary-General further noted that the UN was contributing to the global fight against racism by fostering inclusion, dialogue and respect for human rights.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) today announced they are increasing their efforts to promote private investments in agricultural businesses in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region.

The support will come through a series of new technical assistance projects that seek to develop policies and legal frameworks that create a favorable investment climate and foster private sector involvement in agribusiness in countries like Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

The projects, produced by FAO in conjunction with EBRD, will include policy discussions between government and private agricultural businesses and will address issues such as improvement of rural infrastructure, increasing food safety standards and developing local skills through adequate training.