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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 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Health Organization.

Drought in Somalia

Victor Chinyama, Chief of Communication for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Somalia, said that the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa was hitting hardest in Somalia, where about 90 per cent of the country was facing drought and 4.1 million people – a quarter of the population – was in need of urgent humanitarian and food assistance. Malnutrition had reached crisis levels, with 1.4 million children, nearly half of the under-5 population, likely to have acute malnutrition, including 330,000 who would need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The crisis was also one of water: 2.6 million people, and rising, needed emergency water supplies. In some areas, water prices had shot up by 72 per cent. The lack of water heightened the outbreak of diseases; for example, measles cases in 2021 had been double the combined 2019 and 2020 caseload, and at least 60,000 people were at risk of contracting diarrheal diseases, including cholera.

Families were taking desperate measures to survive. Since November 2021, some 500,000 people had been displaced in search of food, water and pasture, adding to the existing 2.9 internally displaced population. The displaced were particularly vulnerable to death. In Somalia, the situation was compounded by the presence of Al-Shabaab, which controlled – and denied access to – several of the worst-affected areas. In 2021, 1,200 children, including 45 girls, had been recruited into armed groups and more than 1,000 had been abducted.

Therefore, the time to act was now. When the international community waited for a famine to be officially declared, it was often too late. UNICEF had put out an appeal for USD 48 million and needed USD 7 million by the end of March to be able to continue providing ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat severe acute malnutrition beyond June.

In response to questions, Mr. Chinyama said that the situation was linked to climate change. There simply was not sufficient rain, resulting in crop yields barely above half the expected levels. The current crisis came on the heels of many crises over the past decades, and donors were focused on other events, such as the election in Somalia. He hoped that a recent pledge of USD 8 million by the United Kingdom would encourage other donors to come forward. An estimated 100,000 children were at very high risk. Marixie Mercado, for UNICEF, added that a child with severe acute malnutrition was 11 times more likely to die of measles or diarrhea than a well-nourished child.

In response to other questions, Mr. Chinyama said that international support to Somalia should also consider long-term developmental issues rather than be provided primarily when emergencies struck. That said, the Government of Germany, in cooperation with UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, had been implementing the Resilience Programme to help communities withstand shocks. The three-year, 50-million-euro programme targeted 25,000 households in the most difficult and remote areas of Somalia by, inter alia, improving agricultural inputs, enhancing farming methods and the treatment of livestock diseases, addressing the quality of water sources and providing school meals. In addition, the United Nations was running a joint programme on local governance.

Imminent executions in Singapore

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR urged the Government of Singapore to halt the imminent execution of two men who had been jailed for drug offences. Roslan Bin Bakar and Pausi Bin Jefridin had remained on death row for the past 12 years, and their execution was scheduled for 16 February. There were also concerns that one or both men had intellectual disabilities. The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences was incompatible with international human rights law. The death penalty could be imposed only for the “most serious crimes”. Globally, the death penalty had not been proven to be an effective deterrent, but individuals on death row, as well as their families, suffered a range of human rights violations.

The full briefing note is available here.

Replying to a journalist, Ms. Shamdasani said that both men had lawyers, who had lodged several appeals – including another unsuccessful one that day – to have the sentences commuted and to ensure that the fact that at least one of the men had intellectual disabilities was taken into account. The last execution in Singapore had taken place in November 2019. A constitutional review was pending in another death row case.

WHO updates

In response to questions on the situation in Tigray, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that some of the aid had arrived in Mekele and was being stored there because a fuel shortage was preventing the distribution of the supplies to medical centres.

In response to questions regarding coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Mr. Jašarević reiterated that, while it might seem in many countries with high vaccine coverage and lower rates of severe disease, hospitalization and death that the pandemic was ending, it was vital to bear in mind that the risk would remain unless those same conditions were created everywhere. Therefore, every effort should be made to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid-2022. If that target was achieved, then the acute phase of the pandemic could end in 2022. The aim of the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa was to build biomedical capacity in lower-income countries in preparation for future pandemics.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that UNCTAD would publish its Global Trade Update on Thursday, 17 February, at 7 a.m. The update showed that, after reaching a record high in 2021, global trade was expected to slow in the first quarter of 2022. In the fourth quarter of 2021, trade in goods had remained strong and trade in services had finally returned to its pre-pandemic levels. Trade in developing countries had outperformed that in developed countries, and South-South trade growth had been above the global average. In 2022, delays in global supply chains would persist but the regionalization of trade flows would increase. The document would be shared at midday on 16 February, under embargo until publication.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said that, from 21 to 25 February, ministers and transport leaders from around the world would come together for the seventy-fifth anniversary session of the UNECE Inland Transport Committee (ITC) under the theme “75 Years of Inland Transport Committee: Connecting Countries and Driving Sustainable Mobility”. At the ministerial session on 22 February, participants would adopt a resolution on “Ushering in a decade of delivery for sustainable inland transport and sustainable development” and would reflect on the ITC’s past achievements, current role and future trajectory. Side events would include the Global Road Safety Film Festival and high-profile exchanges on safer and cleaner used cars for Africa; automated and autonomous vehicles, connectivity and e-mobility; and Euro-Asian transport connectivity.

Ms. Vellucci announced that the United Nations Communications Group would hold a hybrid briefing Wednesday, 16 February, at 9.30 a.m., to announce UN Geneva priorities for 2022.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would be reviewing the report of Uzbekistan on the mornings of 15 and 16 February and the report of Peru on the afternoons of those same days. On 17 and 18 February, it would also be reviewing the reports of Lebanon (mornings) and the Dominican Republic (afternoons).

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be reviewing the report of Belarus on the mornings of 15, 16 and 17 February and the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the afternoons of 14, 15 and 16 February. Other reports to be reviewed during the seventy-first session were those of Czechia (17 February, 3–5 p.m., and 18 February, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3–5 p.m.), Serbia, Uzbekistan and Bahrain.

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