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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Central Sahel

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that on 20 October, the Government of Denmark, in partnership with the United Nations, the Government of Germany and the European Union would host a high-level humanitarian event on the Central Sahel. The high-level event would feature a ministerial round table, which followed up on a virtual senior officials’ meeting held on 8 September that focused on operational lessons learned and forward-looking plans relating to humanitarian action, development and peace efforts, including special attention to the impact and consequences of COVID-19. The meeting had three main objectives:

  1. Instil a much more acute sense of urgency among policymakers about the situation in the Central Sahel, and emphasize that the challenges had to be addressed in a comprehensive way;

  1. Raise money for humanitarian action, as the response plans in the three countries were only about 40 per cent funded;

  1. Encourage both donor countries and Sahelian countries themselves to offer specific, longer-term policy commitments that would help build resilience and stave off future humanitarian needs in the region.

The humanitarian situation had deteriorated sharply, while the needs were rising, and more than 13 million people needed humanitarian assistance. The region could become one of the biggest crises in the world. It was hoped that the donors would pledge generously.

More information on the upcoming humanitarian even can be found here.

Boris Chesrikov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), warned of disastrous consequences in Africa’s Sahel region unless humanitarian efforts were urgently supported in what had become the world’s fastest growing displacement and protection crisis.

Commitments expected to be made at a Ministerial Roundtable for the Central Sahel on 20 October could restore a sense of urgency to a region grappling with myriad overlapping challenges. Armed conflict, extreme poverty, food insecurity, climatic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic converged in the Sahel. Across the wider region, over 2.7 million people had been forced to flee their homes. Shelter, water, sanitation, health, and other basic assistance needs were now immense. More than 1.5 million internally displaced people and 365,000 refugees had fled violence in the Central Sahel, including over 600,000 this year alone.

Mr. Chesrikov said that humanitarian actors were struggling to meet the snowballing needs of displaced communities and their hosts. UNHCR had dramatically scaled up in the Central Sahel this year. Resources were needed beyond the end of this year for UNHCR and its partners to continue to scale up assistance. The 20 October pledging conference would be an opportunity for donors to demonstrate commitment so the most devastating effects could be averted.

Full press release can be found here.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that the Central Sahel was facing a serious food and nutrition crisis, with some people in parts of northern Burkina Faso on the verge of a hunger catastrophe. Some 7.4 million people in the region currently did not know where their next meal would come from. The WFP was particularly concerned about two provinces in Burkina Faso – Oudalan and Soum, which had been driven into the humanitarian emergency phase of food insecurity. The upsurge in fighting was putting an additional pressure to people who were already highly vulnerable to climatic shocks, with many dependent on seasonal humanitarian assistance. Many people had been forced to abandon their fields and livelihoods, and now depended on host communities who themselves faced immense challenges. The region was on a tipping point that could see an irreversible slide into chaos, with the risk of a spill-over of instability into the border areas of neighbouring countries around the Gulf of Guinea. This could precipitate further deterioration in food security in West Africa.

In August, the WFP had reached nearly 3.4 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and assistance was being scaled up to reach 5 million people. WFP urgently needed USD 178 million to respond to the growing needs of the region, stressed Mr. Phiri.

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the multiple crises converging in the Central Sahel, including a surge in armed violence and the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19, were worsening conditions for children in one of the world’s poorest, least-developed regions. A record 7.2 million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger now required humanitarian assistance, which was up two-thirds in just one year. Over a million children had been forcibly displaced from their homes. Safe water, so critical for the survival of young children and for preventing COVID-19, was scarcer than ever, particularly so among those displaced. Over 4,000 schools had been closed by targeted attacks even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Violence against children, including rape and sexual violence, had increased, especially in Mali. UNICEF was working with partners to reach children with life-saving therapeutic food, immunization against deadly diseases, and access to safe water and sanitation. As of mid-October, UNICEF had received less than one third of what it needed for its operations in the three countries. Central Sahel would need far more resources both now and in the years to come, stressed Ms. Mercado.

Resumption of evacuation flights from Libya

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that the UNHCR had evacuated the previous night a group of 153 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers out of Libya to the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger. This UNHCR-chartered flight marked the resumption of life-saving evacuations from Libya, ending a seven-month long suspension. Humanitarian flights had had to be halted in March, due to public health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, which had led to the suspension of air traffic in many countries.

Those evacuated were nationals of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. The resumption of evacuation flights was especially important now, given the volatile situation in Libya, the rapid spread of the coronavirus and its health and socio-economic impact on refugees and asylum seekers, who had found it increasingly difficult to support themselves and their families.

Full press release is available here.

Peaceful holding of elections in Bolivia

Ravina Shamsadani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today urged Bolivia’s authorities, political and other actors to refrain from any actions that could undermine the peaceful conduct of the general elections taking place on 18 October. In light of the political and human rights crises unleashed during the previous attempt to carry out these elections a year before, Bachelet expressed hope that Sunday’s elections would take place in a calm, participatory and inclusive manner, in an environment that ensures respect for the human rights of all people in Bolivia.

“It is essential that all sides avoid further acts of violence that could spark a confrontation. No one wants to see a repeat of last year’s events, which led to extensive human rights violations and abuses, including at least 30 people killed and more than 800 injured – and ultimately to everyone losing out,” said the High Commissioner in her statement.

World Hypertension Day

Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that many countries were experiencing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and the flu season in Northern hemisphere was also coming up. The virus was particularly prying on people with non-communicable diseases. High blood pressure was not on hold and it affected 1.13 billion people around the world, most of them living in low- and middle-income countries. Addressing COVID-19 and high blood pressure at the same time was very important for saving and improving lives and livelihoods. Not helping people to manage their blood pressure was even more damaging in times of crises, as today. Today, the WHO was launching a new report and a number of fact sheets; the report showed that the right policies could reduce blood pressure. Access to medicines, monitoring, and training health care personnel, including on how to properly measure blood pressure, were all factors that could contribute to keeping this disease under control. Dr. Mikkelsen said that countries ought to align COVID-19 recovery and stimulus plans with the need for urgent action on hypertension.

COVID-19

Responding to questions, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that interim results from the Solidarity Therapeutics Trial, coordinated by the WHO, indicated that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients. The study, which spanned more than 30 countries, looked at the effects of those treatments on overall mortality, initiation of ventilation, and duration of hospital stay in hospitalized patients. More information on the study can be found here.

World Food Day

Arif Husain, Chief Economist for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the new WFP’s Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 report highlighted the countries where a simple meal such as rice and beans cost the most, when compared with people’s incomes. There were three factors at play here. One was conflict, which drew millions of people from their homes and disrupted their livelihoods. Food security and peace had to go hand in hand, said Mr. Husain. Another factor was the climate: much more frequent and extreme climate shocks made food more unaffordable to many people. The income inequality, unemployment and poverty, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, were another aggravating factor. Out of the top 20 countries with highest food insecurity, 17 were in the sub-Saharan Africa, with South Sudan topping the list. In South Sudan, since the onset of the pandemic, the daily income spent on food by someone living in South Sudan had risen 27 points to 186 percent. In Sudan as well, prices were about 200 percent higher than they had been in 2019.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), referred to the Secretary-General’s message on the World Food Day, in which he said that the award of this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace to the World Food Programme recognized the right of all people to food, and our common quest to achieve zero hunger. In a world of plenty, it was a grave affront that hundreds of millions went to bed hungry each night.

Sustainable urban mobility and spatial planning handbook

Jean Rordiguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), informed that today the UNECE was launching a handbook on sustainable urban mobility and spatial planning to help steer cities’ green recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic had profoundly impacted urban mobility and had raised fundamental questions about its future role at the heart of urban development. The handbook recalled that the transport sector produced about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, and approximately 42 percent of the 105,000 road traffic deaths recorded annually in the UNECE region occurred in built-up areas.

Building on city experiences, the handbook outlined a series of practical recommendations: 1) public transport improvements had to be given priority with appropriate funding; 2) in this respect, key priorities had to include the replacement of polluting bus fleets; the promotion of electro-mobility; the development of modern trams and intermodal hubs; and drawing up appropriate land management policies; 3) walking and cycling needed to be supported not just in urban cities centres but on a much larger scale, in combination with other modes of transport, especially public transport; and 4) cities could make the most of a new generation of Intelligent Transport Systems by harnessing financial and technological opportunities offered by digitization.

Full press release is here.

Other announcements

Sophy Fisher, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 21 October, the ILO would be publishing a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the garment sector in Asia Pacific. The report assessed the impact of the crisis on supply chains, factories and workers in ten major garment-producing countries of the region following the collapse in retail sales in countries where stringent lockdowns were imposed. The ten garment producing countries covered in the report were Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam. This report and accompanying press release would be available under embargo from 19 October; the embargo would lift at 11 am Geneva time on 21 October. The ILO office in Bangkok would be holding an embargoed virtual presser, in English on 21 October at 10 a.m. Geneva time.

Cahterine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that UNCTAD would publish on 21 October its second Global Trade Update. The economic and social disruptions brought about by COVID-19 had resulted in a substantial reduction in global trade. Already on a downward trend, global trade had taken a sharp downturn in the Q2 2020. Preliminary data for Q3 suggested that, while rebounding from Q2, global trade growth had remained negative in Q3. The Global Trade Update analyzed the supply of COVID-19 related products and showed that middle- and low-income countries had been largely priced out from access to COVID-19 related products. No briefing was planned on this update.

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