REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons of the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General had expressed disappointment for the reports of ceasefire violations from the region; these violations were unacceptable. The Secretary-General had condemned any targeting and attacks against civilian-populated areas anywhere and regrets the loss of life and injuries. The Secretary-General had again reminded the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to refrain from any action that could also risk widening the fighting beyond the immediate zone. He had called on all parties again to fulfil their agreements to a humanitarian ceasefire and other commitments announced in Moscow, and expressed the availability of the UN to provide humanitarian support if requested.
On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Martin Schüepp, ICRC Eurasia Regional Director said that, more than two weeks in a period of intense violence, hundreds of thousands of people across the region were directly or indirectly affected by the conflict. Civilians were dying or suffering life-endangering injuries. Homes, businesses, and once-busy streets were being reduced to rubble. Healthcare facilities and health workers were struggling to cope or even suffering reported direct attacks. ICRC hoped that the humanitarian ceasefire agreement would be abided by, and that it would translate into meaningful relief for those affected. As such, the ICRC remained ready to facilitate the handover of bodies of those killed in action or the release of detainees, but the sides needed to agree on a format between themselves. The ICRC was in continuous discussion with them, passing proposals back and forth, but was not involved in the political negotiations. The ICRC was distributing emergency cash assistance and hygiene kits to hundreds of families, and emergency medical kits to hospitals. Projecting that at least tens of thousands of people across the region would need support over the next three months, the ICRC had issued an emergency appeal for an additional 9.2 million Swiss francs.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization, said continued hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan would cause direct disruption to healthcare and a further burden on health systems that were already stretched during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both countries had seen recent increases in COVID-19 transmission. As of 11 October, Armenia’s newly reported cases had doubled in 14 days, and in Azerbaijan new cases had increased by approximately 80 per cent in over the past week. Escalations in military conflict would create the environment for the virus to spread. The mobilization of troops for conflict, and the related displacement of populations, all added to the ability of the virus to take hold. WHO was, and would continue to, support the COVID-19 response in both countries and was expanding its operations to respond the increased health needs that continued hostilities will inevitably incur, this included preparations for increased COVID-19 transmission.
Mr. Schüepp, responding to a journalist’s question, said the ICRC had front lines workers on both sides of the line of contact, and was looking to further step up its efforts to respond to needs. It had not been able to access all the locations concerned, which prevented it from having a full picture of the situation.
Mr. Jasarevic said that, while WHO had a global surveillance system for attacks on health workers and health facilities which would be deployed soon, it could not, for now, provide figures on this matter.
Nobel Peace Prize 2020
Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director for the World Food Programme (WFP), noting that there were so many actors in the humanitarian sector, said that it was an honour to be recognized by the Nobel Academy. In 2019, humanitarian workers had felt the brunt of conflicts, and this highlighted the difficult conditions in which they worked to deliver much needed assistance. Out of the 13 major food crises in the world, 10 were driven by conflict. Hunger could be an effect of conflict, but it could also be a cause. The prize underscored that multilateralism could overcome many of the crises the world faced.
Responding to questions, Mr. Abdulla said WFP’s funding needs had been increased by the COVID-19 pandemic: not only had there been more people driven into hardship, but people who were already in difficult situations saw their problems exacerbated. WFP still faced serious funding shortfalls in Sahel, Syria and Yemen, notably. Stressing the economic value of building resilience, Mr. Abdulla said that even more important that helping people post-crisis was to prevent them from falling into crises. About one dollar spent to prevent crises could save up to six or seven dollars in money spent to respond to a crisis.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, recalled that yesterday, the World Food Week had been launched – a message by the UN Secretary-General had been shared with the media. She also recalled that 16 October is World Food Day and on this day this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization would also celebrate its 75th anniversary under the theme “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.” In Geneva, a World Food Day Exhibition would take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Gare Cornavin train station in partnership with Partage and the City of Genève. A Forum on Sustainable Food was also being organized with several events taking place in the city.
Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns, Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that measures to control COVID-19 depended on local risk assessments. National lockdowns should not be the default control measure, but movement restrictions might be among a range of measures governments could consider in certain geographical areas. Some countries had needed to use stay-at-home orders to manage rapid increases in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations. However, WHO continued to view major movement restrictions that kept people mostly at home and curtailed the ability of many to freely work or socialize, as a last resort in suppressing COVID-19 in order to avoid overwhelming health systems. Such measures were not sustainable solutions because of their sizeable economic, social and broader health impacts. The range of public health measures that were known to be effective for preventing transmission should be implemented, including hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, mask wearing and staying home when sick. It was also important to have robust systems for testing, isolating, tracing and quarantining contacts.
Responding to questions, Mr. Jasarevic said herd immunity should be achieved through vaccination campaigns – in other words by protecting people, not by exposing them to the virus. In response to a question about large rallies and political events, he said that WHO had no broad instructions but rather recommended that countries considered their own contexts to put in place targeted and local measures.
Cash grants for refugees in Iran
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that UNHCR had stepped up its cash assistance to support thousands of extremely vulnerable refugees whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the continuing coronavirus pandemic in the Islamic Republic of Iran. But further funding was needed to support many more who are facing increased hardship and destitution. Iran hosts nearly a million refugees, mostly Afghans who have sought safety in the country from a four-decade long conflict in Afghanistan and live side by side with Iranians. Iran’s economy had already been under substantial strain during the past two years, but COVID-19 has severely worsened economic conditions. In just one year, the price of basic food items such as oil, rice and eggs has increased by some 21 per cent, while the cost of transportation has soared by some 50 per cent, according to government figures. Although refugees had not been disproportionately infected with COVID-19 compared to the national population, the economic impact of the pandemic on their lives had been particularly shattering. Refugees had shown incredible resilience in the face of COVID-19, but UNHCR was worried that more may resort to negative coping mechanisms, unless they receive more support.
Full press release is available here.
Responding to a question about American sanctions, Mr. Baloch said the economic situation in Iran was very challenging for the refugees and the host population. Iran had been a generous host for refugees for many decades. In providing support to Iran, UNHCR was facing underfunding, with only 36 per cent of funds needed this year having been received even though the end of the year approached.
8th United Nations Conference on Competition and Consumer
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that every five years, UNCTAD organizes the United Nations Conference on Competition and Consumer Protection. The 8th Conference would be held next week in a hybrid format. This quinquennial Conference is the highest-level meeting on competition and consumer protection at the multilateral level. The Conference provides an occasion for members of Government, heads of competition and consumer protection authorities and senior officials from all countries to establish direct contacts and promote voluntary cooperation and the exchange of best practices to continue advancing the welfare of consumers in open markets, leaving no one behind. The surge of e-commerce during the pandemic was increasing the need of strengthening competition and consumer protection in the digital economy. The High-Level segment of the Conference would focus on “Leaving no one behind in the post COVID-19 world: The contribution of competition and consumer policies, in particular in the digital economy.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), recalled that today was
International Day of Disaster Reduction, and that, on this occasion, a video message by the United Nations Secretary-General had been shared with journalists.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization, said a virtual press conference would be held on COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers on Tuesday, 13 October 2020 at 12.30 p.m. Furthermore, a press briefing on WHO’s tuberculosis report would be held tomorrow, and a press briefing on World Hypertension day would be organized on Friday.
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