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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 Human Rights Council, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Development Programme.

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that the universal periodic review (UPR) of the Sudan had been postponed to 9 a.m. on 2 February at the request of the Chargé d’affaires a.i. The new head of delegation for the UPR was Mr. Howaida Ali, the acting Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Justice. As a consequence of the postponed review, the report would now be adopted on Friday, 4 February, at 4 p.m. The current round of reviews would conclude the third cycle of UPR, which had seen 100 per cent participation, a very positive achievement.

Drought in Ethiopia

Gianfranco Rotigliano, Representative in Ethiopia of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the Afar, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples', and Somali regions of Ethiopia were experiencing severe drought, affecting the livelihoods and food security of nearly 7 million people. The already difficult situation would worsen if the next rainy season, expected in April, was to fail. In two of the regions, where the rate of acute malnutrition had already been above the global emergency rate, more than 220,000 children and 100,000 pregnant or lactating women were in need of urgent nutritional support, with a sharp increase expected by March if no action was taken. Some population displacement had already begun, with young children being left behind with relatives and older children leaving school. There was an urgent need to shore up wells and water distribution systems and to improve nutritional centres within the next two to three weeks. UNICEF was requesting $32 million to support the regional authorities, which had reached the limit of their resources and were diverting funds from other projects.

In response to journalists, Mr. Rotigliano said that the conflict in Tigray had not had an impact on the situation thus far. Since the affected areas were not densely populated, coronavirus disease was not expected to cause additional problems unless the situation required the establishment of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). While it was not known how many children had been killed or injured due to the hostilities, 56 had been killed in recent air strikes on IDP camps in Tigray.

Update on Myanmar

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), drew attention the statement of the Secretary-General in which he said that 1 February marked one year since the Myanmar military had overturned the democratically elected civilian Government and arbitrarily detained members of Government and that he stood in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations for an inclusive society and the protection of all communities, including the Rohingya. She also drew attention to the press conference by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar and to the statement by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar about possible crimes against humanity having been committed in that country. Lastly, she recalled that the press conference by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, initially scheduled on Tuesday 1 February, had now been postponed.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that a record $826 million was requested under the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar in order to provide 6.2 million people with assistance. The 2022 plan was more ambitious than last year's and reflected the growing crisis that had plunged an estimated 14.4 million people, including 5 million children, into humanitarian need. More than 400,000 people had been displaced since the military takeover, many living in appalling conditions without adequate food, shelter, sanitation, protection or medical care. The economic and political turmoil of 2021, combined with the devastating impact of COVID-19, had driven half the population into poverty. Over 13 million people were moderately or severely food insecure, routine health services had been disrupted and the education of millions of children had been interrupted. The ability to save lives and reduce suffering on such a scale would depend on increased funding, improved access and the removal of bottlenecks. Humanitarian agencies must be allowed access to displacement sites to conduct needs assessments and deliver life-saving aid.

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), recalled that the High Commissioner had stated that it was time for an urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and to ensure that the perpetrators of systematic human rights violations and abuses were held to account. The High Commissioner had met the previous week with extremely courageous civil society actors who, despite accounts of torture, intimidation, exploitation, intensified ethnic and religious persecution, arbitrary arrests and detentions and indiscriminate attacks against villages, continued to advocate for the restoration of civilian rule.

Replying to questions, Mr. Laerke said that the amount requested for the Humanitarian Response Plan was based on needs and was independent from level of access. While the relationship with the de facto authorities was difficult and OCHA did not have the full access it needed, it did have access to some areas and was trying to deliver aid to urban areas in particular.  

Also replying to a question, Ms. Shamdasani said that since the coup, OHCHR had documented 1,500 civilian deaths. That figure was only for deaths in the context of protests and military custody and did not include the thousands of people reportedly killed in the armed conflict. At least 11,787 people had been arbitrarily detained for voicing their opposition to the military, of whom 8,792 remained in custody.

Disappearance of women activists in Afghanistan

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was very alarmed at the disappearance of six people abducted in Kabul two weeks ago in connection with the recent women’s rights protests. Despite the de facto authorities’ announcement on 29 January of an investigation into the disappearances, the individuals’ whereabouts remained unknown. There had also been reports that the homes of other women had been searched in relation to their participation in protests, bringing into focus what appeared to be a pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment of civil society activists, journalists and former Government officials and security forces personnel. Control over dissent appeared to be tightening.

OHCHR called on the de facto authorities to publish the findings of their investigation into the abduction and disappearance of the women activists and their relatives – and into all reports of similar events – and to hold those responsible to account in line with international human rights law. All those arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released. The Office also urged Taliban leadership to clearly instruct the rank-and-file not to engage in reprisals against peaceful demonstrators exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.     

The full briefing note is available here.

Health-care waste in the context of COVID-19

Maggie Montgomery, World Health Organization (WHO) Technical Officer, Water, Sanitation and Health Department of Environment, Climate and Health, said that the report Global analysis of health care waste in the context of COVID-19: status, impacts and recommendations” had been launched that day. The most important finding was that COVID-19 had increased waste in facilities up to ten-fold. Considering that two in three health-care facilities in least developed countries had not had systems to segregate or safely treat waste before the pandemic, the extra waste had put a tremendous burden on health-care workers and the communities surrounding disposal areas. The good news was that a number of remedial actions could be taken, for instance refraining from overusing gloves, using less and greener packaging, increasing use of safe reusable items such as masks and investing more in recycling.

In response to journalists, Dr. Montgomery said that air pollution caused by burning waste was the source of greatest risk, but waste pickers in places where there were no safe disposal systems were also at significant risk. Gloves accounted for a larger share of the waste than masks did, but overall vaccine-related waste had overtaken personal protective equipment (PPE) waste. High-income countries were, by and large, treating their waste safely in-country. It was important to note that the report had examined the amount of waste that was not being treated rather than the volume produced. That being said, 4.5 trillion additional disposable masks had been produced in 2020 and, while it was the public that was generating the most waste, the health sector had a concrete role to play in addressing the issue. People in all countries were wearing excessive PPE, a problem that predated the pandemic. Gloves were not recommended unless there was exposure to bodily fluids, which was not typically the case for vaccinations. WHO guidance on masks was that where high-quality reusable masks (FFP2 standard) were available, which was mostly in high-income countries, they should be used. WHO also encouraged the recycling of masks into products with low transmission risk, such as construction and road materials.

Record lightning strikes

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that WMO had established two new world records for megaflashes of lightning. The longest single flash had covered a horizontal distance of 768 km across parts of the southern United States on 29 April 2020, a whopping 60 km more than the previous record set in Brazil in October 2018. The greatest duration for a single lightning flash – 17.102 seconds – had been measured over Uruguay and northern Argentina on 18 June 2020. 

The results were important for scientists because they improved understanding of the dynamics of lightning. They were also important to the general public as a stark reminder that lightning, a major hazard that claimed many lives each year, could strike far away from the source region. The public safety message was “When thunder roars, go indoors”. The only lightning-safe locations were substantial buildings and inside fully enclosed metal-topped vehicles. The record events were not linked to climate change. The detection of such enormous mega-lightning flashes was the result of technological advancements, including the use satellites to monitor far greater areas of the Earth than ever before. 

Replying to a question about recent flooding in Brazil and Ecuador, Ms. Nullis said that those events were probably linked to La Niña, which was reaching its peak. However, the weather, including heavy precipitation, was generally becoming more extreme due to climate change.

Announcements

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the special report on human security entitled “New Threats to Human Security in the Anthropocene” (under embargo), to be launched on 8 February, showed a growing sense of insecurity among people everywhere despite years of development growth. The report examined a cluster of threats that had shifted to become more prominent, including threats stemming from digital technologies, inequalities, conflicts and the ability of health-care systems to tackle new challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of the Human Development Report office, Pedro Conxeicao, was available for interviews. The global launch, with UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and top decision-makers and development thinkers from around the world, would be held on Zoom on 8 February, at 8 a.m. To register, click here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that ITU had launched a new community platform, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), aimed at stepping up global collaboration on the use of AI to drive sustainable development. The AI for Good Neural Network was designed to accelerate exchanges among government and industry and to foster partnerships to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Vellucci said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public plenary on Thursday, 3 February, at 10 a.m., in room XIX, under the presidency of Ambassador Li Song of China.

She also said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which had opened its eighty-ninth session on 31 January, in hybrid format, would review the report of the Netherlands on the afternoons of 1 and 2 February, from 3 to 5 p.m., and the report of Madagascar on 3 February (3–5 p.m.) and 4 February (10 a.m.–noon).

Lastly, she recalled that the Secretary-General would be travelling to China for the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

 

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