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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 (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Syrian Constitutional Committee

Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that the sixth session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body of 45 members had convened on Monday in Geneva and would work until Friday. The convening followed a series of meetings with the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, together with the Co-Chair nominated by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mr. Ahmad Kuzbari, and the Co-Chair nominated by the Syrian Negotiations Commission, Mr. Hadi al-Bahra. The Special Envoy had also met with the Middle Third civil society delegation. As the Special Envoy had noted, and as the Co-Chairs had agreed, the Constitutional Committee had now begun a process of drafting. All delegations had stated their commitment to presenting draft constitutional texts and to begin to identify provisional areas of agreement and disagreement, including by proposing amendments and submitting revisions.

The Envoy had also stressed that the constitutional process was important but on its own could not resolve the conflict. There were many other issues, and he would therefore also continue to work to facilitate a wider process to progress the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254. The Special Envoy was meeting with the Co-Chairs this morning, and two sessions with the Small Body were scheduled for today.

South Sudan floods wreak havoc on vulnerable communities

Arafat Jamal, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that over 700,000 people in South Sudan were currently affected by the worst flooding in decades. Unrelenting floods from weeks of heavy rains had swept away homes and inundated farmlands. Families and livestock had been forced to seek safety on higher ground and in neighbouring towns.

 In Upper Nile State alone, UNHCR teams had met about 1,000 people who had walked for seven days to reach the town of Malakal. Women, children, and elderly people had arrived exhausted and hungry, some having not eaten in days. Others had been marooned on islands surrounded by water, sheltering under trees and unable to cross to safety.

Rains were expected to continue for the remainder of the year, with an anticipated increase in the number of people needing humanitarian assistance. In addition, climatic stresses, both flooding and drought, had sparked inter-communal conflict as communities were forced to seek and share refuge in ever smaller patches of higher ground.

Together with the humanitarian country team and the Government of South Sudan, UNHCR was delivering urgently needed support to the most affected, including hygiene items, food, emergency shelter and solar lanterns. The Government had already allocated USD 10 million to flood response efforts. With devastating flooding expected to continue as the climate crisis intensified, UNHCR called on the international community to urgently assist affected communities to rebuild and protect people’s lives and livelihoods. 

The full briefing note can be found here: UNHCR - South Sudan floods wreak havoc on vulnerable communities

In response to questions from the journalists, Mr. Jamal said that humanitarian, development and peace-keeping agencies were discussing how to prevent large-scale inter-communal conflict. The total humanitarian budget for South Sudan, which stood at USD 1.7 billion, was 40% underfunded.

10,000 children killed or maimed since fighting began in Yemen

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the Yemen conflict had reached another shameful milestone. Since the outbreak of hostilities in March 2015, 10,000 children – the equivalent of four children every day – had been killed or maimed. He had recently travelled to the country, where he had met children, pediatricians, teachers and nurses, all of whom had shared personal stories that mirrored that of their country: they were on the brink of total collapse.

 Yemen’s humanitarian crisis had arisen from a tragic convergence of four factors: a violent and protracted conflict, economic devastation, shattered social services and a critically under-funded United Nations response. As a result, four out of five children – more than 11 million in total – now needed humanitarian assistance. Some 400,000 suffered from severe acute malnutrition. More than two million children were out-of-school and two thirds of teachers had not received a regular salary for more than four years. A staggering 15 million people (more than half of whom were children) did not have access to safe water, sanitation or hygiene.

UNICEF was supporting the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in 4,000 primary health care facilities and 130 therapeutic feeding centres. It was providing emergency cash transfers to 1.5 million households every quarter, benefiting around 9 million people. It was providing safe drinking water to more than 5 million people.

Yet without an end to fighting, more children, who bore no responsibility for the crisis, would die. UNICEF urgently needed more than USD 235 million to continue its life-saving work in Yemen till mid-2022. Otherwise, the agency would be forced to scale down or stop its vital assistance for vulnerable children.

 The full briefing note can be found here: ‘Shameful milestone’ in Yemen as 10,000 children killed or maimed since fighting began (unicef.org)

 In response to journalists’ questions, Mr. Elder said that, in addition to conflict-related injuries and deaths, a child died of a preventable illness in Yemen every 10 minutes. The situation was urgent and continued to deteriorate; the World Food Programme had warned that 5 million people were one step away from famine. During his mission he had visited a UNICEF facility that provided prosthetics and physiotherapy and he had met children who had shown incredible spirit and resilience in spite of their injuries.

Update on the situation in Tigray, Ethiopia

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that on 18 October, the UN Secretary-General had expressed deep concern over the escalation of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, as illustrated by the air strikes in Mekelle, Tigray. He had reiterated his call for all hostilities to stop, had underlined that all parties must avoid the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure, and had urged the parties to prioritize the welfare of the people and provide the necessary support for critical humanitarian assistance.

According to Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), local health workers had reported that three children had been killed and one person injured in an airstrike on the outskirts of Mekele on the morning of 18 October. A second airstrike later in the day had reportedly injured nine people and caused damage to houses and a nearby hotel. OCHA again reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. It called for unrestricted and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need of supplies, fuel, cash, and other support. Hundreds of humanitarian workers were in northern Ethiopia and ready to respond to existing and increasing needs.

October 2021 update of the Global Report on Food Crises

Luca Russo, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that the Global Report on Food Crises 2021 was a publication of 16 agencies that looked at the topic of acute food insecurity and the number of people requiring urgent humanitarian assistance. While the main report had been published in May, FAO had published updated figures on 13 October, based on the data available until 10 September 2021. The new figures showed that in many countries, the number of people facing acute food insecurity exceeded that of 2020, as a result of high levels of conflict, economic shocks, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, weather extremes and natural disasters, or a combination of those drivers.

In 42 of the 55 countries and territories that were included in the report and covered in the September update, the number of people in the “crisis” phase (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) phase 3) or worse, had risen from 135 million in 2020 to 161 million in 2021, a 19 percent increase. Owing to data gaps, the September 2021 figure did not include data for 13 countries or territories that had qualified as food crises in 2020. Nearly 35 million people were in the “emergency” phase (IPC phase 4) or worse in 36 out of 39 countries and territories, representing a considerable rise since 2020, when 28.4 million people were in those phases in 38 countries or territories. The most significant increases in the number of people in phase 4 had occurred in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen. The number of people in the “catastrophe” or “famine” phase (IPC phase 5) was more than four times higher than in 2020, with an estimated 584 000 people in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. The worsening situation reflected deepening humanitarian emergencies in some of the largest food crises, yet it appeared that humanitarian assistance was decreasing.

Release of the report State of the Climate in Africa 2020

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that WMO had released the report State of the Climate in Africa 2020, one of a series of regional reports, on 19 October. The report – a collaborative product of WMO, the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa, international and regional scientific organizations and other UN agencies – showed how changing rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and more extreme weather were contributing to mounting food insecurity, poverty and displacement in Africa. The report highlighted Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability and showed how the potential benefits of investments in climate adaptation, weather and climate services and early warning systems far outweighed the costs.

In his foreword to the report, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas stated that: “During 2020, the climate indicators in Africa were characterized by continued warming temperatures, accelerating sea-level rise, extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides and droughts, and associated devastating impacts. The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system”. The report added to the scientific evidence about the urgency to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, step up the level of climate ambition and increase financing for adaptation.

For the WMO press release, see Climate change triggers mounting food insecurity, poverty and displacement in Africa | World Meteorological Organization (wmo.int)

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that on 19 October, UNCTAD would publish its new Global Investment Trends Monitor, which reported that global investment flows had rebounded in the first half of 2021. The outlook for infrastructure investment was strong due to COVID-19 stimulus packages, but investment in industry remained weak. Global foreign direct investment flows in the first half of 2021 had reached an estimated USD 852 billion, showing stronger than expected momentum and recovering more than 70% of the loss induced by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

 

At an event during the seventh World Investment Forum, UNCTAD would confer Investment Promotion Awards on investment promotion agencies from Costa Rica, Mauritius, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the Seychelles. The 2021 awards were being given in recognition of the role that investment promotion agencies had played in supporting government efforts to strengthen health-care systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that members of the media wishing to attend the twelfth Ministerial Conference of WTO, to be held in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December, could now apply for accreditation. The deadline for receiving applications was 16 November 2021 (midnight CET). A detailed explanation of the media accreditation procedure was available on the WTO website. All press conferences and media background briefings, the opening session, the plenary session (speeches by ministers) and the closing session would be broadcasted on the WTO website. A limited number of places would be available to journalists wishing to attend the opening and closing sessions in person at the International Conference Centre Geneva.

Alejandro Laguna, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that UNEP would launch the 2021 edition of its Production Gap Report on 20 October. The embargo would be lifted on that day at 6 a.m. Geneva time. The report, which had first been first launched in 2019, measured the gap between governments’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the global production levels consistent with meeting the Paris Agreement temperature limits. In 2020, the report had concluded that countries planned to increase their fossil fuel production over the next decade, even as research showed that the world needs to decrease production by 6% per year in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The 2021 edition provided country profiles for 15 major producer countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The Marine Litter and Microplastics Assessment report would be launched by UNEP on 21 October at midnight. Materials would be shared with journalists as soon as they were available.

The twelfth edition of the Emissions Gap Report would be released on 26 October. The report was a yearly review of the difference between predicted greenhouse emissions by 2030 and the level of emissions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. According to last year’s edition, the world was still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C. The report would reveal whether countries had taken advantage of the opportunity of a low-carbon recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to narrow the gap.

Jean Rodríguez, for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters and the fourth session of the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers were taking place this week in Geneva. 

The Aarhus Convention, which had entered into force 20 years ago, linked environmental and human rights to ensure a safe and healthy planet for future generations. The COVID-19 pandemic had demonstrated the need for a smoother transition to digitalization in order to ensure effective environmental democracy. Delegations were expected to make more ambitious commitments to the effective use of electronic information tools in engaging the public. 

On Thursday 21 October, a joint High-level Segment of the two bodies was expected to lead to the adoption of the Geneva Declaration, which would reinforce Governments’ commitment to promoting access to information and inclusive public participation practices for sustainable large-scale infrastructure and spatial planning. Guinea-Bissau was expected to become the first country from outside of the UNECE region to accede to the Aarhus Convention. 

The Meetings of the Parties were expected to adopt a decision on the establishment of a new rapid response mechanism for the protection of environmental defenders, in response to alarming reports that they faced harassment, threats and violence for their work. At a press conference on this topic on Friday, the Executive Secretary of UNECE, the Chair of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and a representative of the non-governmental organization Earthjustice would brief journalists on that development.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that on Monday, 25 October, WMO would announce its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which was an annual report on atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other major greenhouse gases. Speakers at the virtual event would include WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas and Oksana Tarasova, WMO Chief of Atmospheric and Environment Research Division.

On 26 October, WMO would release the report State of the Climate in Asia 2020. On Sunday 31 October – the first day of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-26)– WMO would release of the provisional report on the State of the Global Climate 2021, with data for the first 9 months of the year. A press conference would be held, also with Secretary-General Taalas, at 4 p.m. CET.

The extraordinary session of the World Meteorological Congress continued. On 18 October it had agreed on a new unified data policy, which was a sweeping update to existing policy and was needed to support the huge increase in demand for weather, climate and water services. The data policy resolution was part of a three-part package which also included the establishment of a Global Basic Observing Network and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on the occasion of the Global Media and Information Literacy Week, UNIS was organizing a Ciné-ONU Geneva session including the screening of the documentary “The media, the world and I”, followed by a debate on “How today’s news production impacts the way we see the world” at Cinerama Empire on Sunday 24 October at 11 a.m.

Sunday 24 October was also UN Day and on this occasion, the UN Office at Geneva was presenting a video programme entitled “The choice before us: from global challenges to stronger multilateralism”, with the participation of UNOG Director-General Tatiana Valovaya, Alanna O’Malley, Professor at the University of Leiden, Volker Türk, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, Youssef Nassef, Coordinator of Adaptation at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Suerie Moon, Co-director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. The programme would be presented on 22 October at 3:30 p.m. Geneva time on webtv.un.org

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