United Nations, Sep 15 (PTI) Vaccinating the world against COVID19, rebuilding sustainably from the pandemic and gender equality would be the "top focus" of President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly Abdulla Shahid as he began his “presidency of hope” of the 193-member world organisation.

The 76th session of the UN General Assembly commenced on Tuesday with outgoing President Volkan Bozkir handing over the gavel to Shahid, the Foreign Minister of the Maldives.

Shahid, 59, was elected as the President of the 76th session of the UNGA on July 7 this year.

The session opened as the world is still grappling with the pandemic, vaccine inequity and security and humanitarian concerns due to the situation in countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar.

“To say that it has been a challenging 18-months would be an understatement. Millions have perished; hundreds of millions have been ill; billions have suffered,” Shahid said in his remarks to the 193-member UN General Assembly after taking the oath of office as President of the 76th session.

“Every day we hear more and more news to ignite our collective anxiety: climate change, disasters, conflict, and instability. These issues dominate our airwaves. The narrative must change... and we must be the initiators of this change,” he said.

Shahid told UN envoys, diplomats and delegates that he has “embraced hope” as the theme of his Presidency.

“I am not naïve, nor do I say this just to use nice-sounding words. I say this because I believe that this is what this moment in time calls for. Hope is never overrated or cliche - those are the words of cynics. Hope is what drives us not to give up, even when the odds seem high.” Highlighting his “five rays of hope”, Shahid said with a view to recovering from COVID19, “vaccinating the world is my top focus." “We simply must close the gap to vaccine access. With this in mind, I will be holding a high-level thematic debate on vaccine equity with leading experts and world leaders,” he said.

Noting that the US, the host country of the United Nations headquarters, has made vaccines universally available to the whole United Nations family, including staff and delegates, Shahid said he is glad to announce that the city of New York will also be offering vaccination and testing resources for all the attendees of the High-Level Week.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti told PTI that he warmly welcomes Shahid as President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

“India looks forward to supporting him in his 'Presidency of Hope'.” In his remarks to the General Assembly, Shahid said his second ray of hope will be rebuilding sustainably from the pandemic and he will work with the Economic and Social Council, the United Nations System, and International Financial Institutions, to help ensure that the socio-economic recovery is forward-thinking.

On gender issues, he said he intends to reconstitute the Gender Advisory Board and reiterated his earlier pledge that he will only participate on those panels that are gender-balanced.

He will also launch the “President of the General Assembly Youth Fellowship Programme”, a signature initiative to empower youth. “By offering opportunities to young diplomats and civil servants from underrepresented countries, we will strengthen the global multilateral system. We will open doors for youth.” On UN reform and revitalisation, Shahid underlined that “we must once again, make the United Nations a forum for all”, a forum of “We the Peoples”.

In his remarks to the opening of the 76th session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the challenges and divisions facing the world today are not a force of nature. “They are man-made.” “By economic systems stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable. By unchecked greed that is destroying our planet. By the lingering scars of colonialism that have never fully healed. By thirst for political and ideological dominance that fuels social unrest, mistrust, terrorism and armed conflicts. But these challenges and divisions can also be corrected." Guterres also stressed that countries need to commit and live up to bold climate targets at COP26 in Glasgow. “The war on our planet must end. The wars on each other need to end, too. It’s time to focus on fighting humanity’s common enemy: the pandemic. The members of this Assembly must speak with one voice — we need peace, now.” Later, talking to the UN reporters, Shahid was asked about the situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar and by when would the Credentials Committee of the UN meet to decide who represents the two nations at the world body.

“Yes, I constituted the Credentials Committee according to the Charter of the United Nations and the standing orders. They will meet soon. Of course, the purpose of the committee is to try and resolve any issues that may come up and I will not prejudge the work that the committee will do. It will not be in line with the ethics of the President,” he said.