“…wars and rumours of wars… for all these things must come to pass. Nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom… famines and pestilences and earthquakes in unusual places…” Matt. 24:6-7
INSIDE THIS WEEK’S EDITION: Terrorists have their eyes on biological weapons; More concerns about Ebola; Venezuelans flee to Ecuador in record numbers; Jesus the only way to salvation? When we think it is peace; Fight to end hunger faces challenges; Nothing can stop the return of Jesus Christ; What is the Lord’s Day?
WITH JUST ONE CLICK ON THE ADS TO YOUR RIGHT AND YOU SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE CHRISTIAN WATCHMAN
Week of August 19 – August 26, 2018
Terrorists potentially target millions in makeshift biological weapons ‘laboratories’, UN forum hears
Rapid advances in gene editing and so-called “DIY biological laboratories”which could be used by extremists, threaten to derail efforts to prevent biological weapons from being used against civilians, the world’s only international forum on the issue has heard.
At meetings taking place at the United Nations in Geneva which ended on Thursday, representatives from more than 100 Member States which have signed up to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – together with civilian experts and academics – also discussed how they could ensure that science is used to positive ends, in line with the disarmament blueprint set out by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Although the potential impact of a biological weapons attack could be huge, the likelihood is not currently believed to be high. The last attack dates back to 2001, when letters containing toxic anthrax spores, killed five people in the US, just days after Al Qaeda terrorists perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
You could be talking of epidemics on the scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, or even a global pandemic that could result in millions of deaths – Daniel Feakes, UN Geneva
Nonetheless, the rise of extremist groups and the potential risk of research programmes being misused, has focused attention on the work of the BWC.
“There’s interest from terror groups and we’re also seeing the erosion of norms on chemical weapons,” said Daniel Feakes, head of the BWC Implementation Support Unit at the UN in Geneva.
“That could spread to biological weapons as well,” he said, adding that “at the worst, you could be talking of epidemics on the scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, or even a global pandemic that could result in millions of deaths.”
In a bid to stay on top of the latest biological developments and threats, the BWC’s 181 Member States hold a series of meetings with experts every year, traditionally in the summer. The reports that are discussed during these sessions are then formerly appraised in December.
At the eight-day session just ended, science and technology issues were debated for two days – a measure of their importance.
Among the developments discussed was the groundbreaking gene-editing technique CRISPR. It can be applied – in theory – to any organism. Outside the Geneva body, CRISPR’s use has raised ethical questions, Mr. Feakes said, but among Member States, security ramifications dominated discussions.
“Potentially, it could be used to develop more effective biological weapons,” he said, noting that the meetings addressed the growing trend of “DIY biological labs”. However, the meetings also focused on the promotion of “responsible science” so that “scientists are part of the solution, not the problem”.
In addition to concerns that the Biological Weapons Convention lacks full international backing, the body has also faced criticism that its Members are not obliged to allow external checks on any illegal stockpiles they might have.
The issue highlights the fact that the BWC lacks a strong institution, its handful of administrators dwarfed by larger sister organizations including the OPCW – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The OPCW’s 500-strong staff – based in the Hague – have weapons inspectors training facilities, Feakes notes, explaining that the BWC’s focus is therefore much more “about what States do at a national level”.
Concern for the future
Looking ahead, and aside from the rapid pace of scientific change, the biggest challenge is keeping the Biological Weapons Convention relevant – which appears to still be the case today.
“There are no States that say they need biological weapons,” Mr. Feakes says. “That norm needs to be maintained and properly managed. You can’t ban CRISPR or gene editing, because they can do so much good, like finding cures for diseases or combating climate change. But we still need to manage these techniques and technologies to ensure they are used responsibly.” Gene editing, in simple terms, involves the copying of exact strands of DNA, similar to cutting and pasting text on a computer.
The latest BWC session in the Swiss city also involved key intergovernmental organizations, scientific and professional associations, academic institutions, think tanks and other non-governmental entities.
Formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, the BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons.
It opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It currently has 181 States Parties, and six States that have signed but not yet ratified it.
Child victims of DRC Ebola outbreak need ‘special attention and care’
An ongoing deadly Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has particularly affected children, the UN’s children agency, UNICEF, said on Friday.
The outbreak in North Kivu Province was declared on 1 August and UNICEF reported that so far, two children have died, while six others – who either are infected by the disease or suspected to be – are receiving treatment at two centres in the region.
Meanwhile, more than 50 youngsters have lost their parents to Ebola.
“The children affected by the ongoing epidemic need special attention and care,” said Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative in the DRC.
“Women are the primary caregivers for children, so if they are infected with the disease, there is a greater risk that children and families become vulnerable.”
Ebola is a severe illness with a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most cases occur through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of people infected by the disease, but Ebola can also be contracted through contact with infected animals, such as following butchering, cooking or eating.
Family members and health workers are among those most at risk.
Overall, there have been 78 confirmed or probable cases of Ebola in North Kivu Province, with 44 deaths. Another 24 suspected cases are awaiting laboratory confirmation.
UNICEF and partners have trained nearly 90 psychosocial workers to assist and comfort children in Ebola treatment centres.
These professionals also support children who have been discharged, but who may be at risk of stigmatization within their communities. They also organize awareness-raising activities to facilitate their return.
Mr. Rotigliano pointed out that Ebola’s impact on children can go well beyond being infected with the disease.
“Many children are faced with the illness or death of their parents and loved ones, while some children have lost large parts of their families and become isolated. These children urgently need our support,” he said.
Venezuelan exodus to Ecuador reaches record levels: UN refugee agency steps up aid
One of the largest population movements in Latin American history is under way from Venezuela, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which on Friday confirmed that it is increasing assistance to neighbouring Ecuador, where more and more Venezuelans are arriving each week.
Amid ongoing social and political upheaval in the South American country, more than half a million people have arrived in Ecuador since the beginning of the year, UNHCR’s William Spindler said.
“The exodus of Venezuelans from the country is one of Latin America’s largest mass-population movements in history,” he added. “Since the beginning of the year, some 547,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through the Colombian border at a daily average of between 2,700 and 3,000 men women and children. However, the influx is now accelerating, and in the first week of August, some 30,000 Venezuelans entered the country. That’s more than 4,000 a day.”
In response to the situation, Ecuador has declared a state of emergency in the northern provinces of Carchi, Pichincha and el Oro.
The development means that Ecuador can assign additional resources to Venezuelans, many of whom have endured weeks of hardship on their journey to the border, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said.
“Many of the Venezuelans are moving on foot, in an odyssey of days and even weeks in precarious conditions,” he said. “Many run out of resources to continue their journey, and left destitute are forced to live rough in public parks and resort to begging and other negative coping mechanism in order to meet their daily needs.”
The UNHCR spokesperson noted that Ecuador also had a “long tradition of welcoming refugees” in a region where the movement of people across borders was commonplace.
Nonetheless, the rising number of arrivals have led to “pressure” on asylum registrations.
“Xenophobic reactions to the exodus have been noted in some quarters,” Spindler said. “The majority of the Venezuelans entering Ecuador continue onwards to Peru and Chile. Up to 20 per cent, however, remain in the country, some 7,000 of whom have sought asylum since 2016. The government-run asylum system is feeling this pressure.”
According to UN Migration Agency, IOM, there has been a 900 per cent increase in Venezuelan nationals living abroad on the subcontinent from 2015 to 2017 – up from 89,000 to 900,000.
Worldwide, the number has risen from 700,000 to more than 1.6 million in the same period.
A lack of visa requirements and other bilateral agreements make it relatively straightforward for Venezuelans to move through Latin America.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, IOM spokesperson Joel Millman said that Latin American press reports refer to people’s pursuit of a “Chilean dream”, a reference to the American dream that many migrants are said to pursue when migrating north.