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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations 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 World Food Program, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Health Organization.

Human Rights Council Announcements

Rolando Gomez, from the Human Rights Council, drew attention to the Council continuing its talks with the Special Rapporteur on Burundi today. At 11 a.m., the Council would hear the oral update by the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on the situation in that country stemming from the Russian aggression, as well as an update on the events that occurred in late February and March 2022 in the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions. This would be followed by an oral update on the human rights situation in Belarus, and later with a private meeting on the complaint procedure at 5:30 p.m. On Monday, the Human Rights Council would hear from the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and an oral update on Myanmar. The general debate on country situations would run over to Tuesday.

World Trade Organization announcement

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said that the Public Forum of the World Trade Organization would take place between the 27 and 30 of September 2022 under the theme “Towards a sustainable and inclusive recovery: ambition to action”. Featuring 144 sessions and over 650 speakers organized by World Trade Organization member governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, academia and international organizations, the Forum would look at how trade can contribute to post-pandemic economic recovery, examining, in particular, how trade rules could be strengthened and government policies improved to create a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive trading system.

Hurricane Fiona impact on Caribbean

Regis Chapman, Country Director of the World Food Program Multi Country Office in the Caribbean, shared an update from the Caribbean where the climate and economic crises threatened the future of life and livelihoods in the region.

Three days ago, he said, Hurricane Fiona had hit the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Category 3 storm, while also impacting the Bahamas as it moved on towards Bermuda. Before then, Fiona had left a significant impact on Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with mudslides, damage to property and widespread loss of power. Fiona was a reminder that the entire Caribbean had to stay prepared to face any level of impact from storms. 

This week also marked five years since Hurricane Maria swept across Dominica and took with it 226 per cent of that island nation’s Gross Domestic Product. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria had shaken the Caribbean, causing major losses and bringing the climate crisis squarely into focus as well as the need for the region to strengthen its emergency preparedness. Since then, the World Food Program re-established a presence in the region and had been collaborating with governments and regional bodies to support resilience to shocks and strengthen emergency response capacities.

The Program was concerned that a growing number of people were having to buy cheaper or less preferred foods or skip meals while increasingly relying on negative coping strategies that would impact their future food security. The number of people estimated to be food insecure moved from 2.8 million in February to 4.1 million people in August. Food insecurity was now touching 57 per cent of the population.

Mr. Chapman stipulated that the conflict in Ukraine shifted the positive outlook for post-COVID recovery in the Caribbean. Global food prices increased sharply since the start of the Ukraine conflict, driving up local food prices. The increase in food prices destabilised and impacted access, availability, and utilisation of food.

On average, food inflation in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean rose by 10.2 per cent across 20 countries as of March 2022. People were compromising their future livelihoods by selling productive assets or spending savings to meet their food needs.

The World Food Program, Mr. Chapman continued, was partnering with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to build a regional logistics hub and centre of excellence in Barbados. This facility would provide appropriate warehousing and training solutions designed to enhance Caribbean emergency preparedness and readiness, as well as provide a facility from which large-scale humanitarian responses could be launched.

The Program was increasing its support by contributing to these efforts to support smallholder farmers and large producers to diversify and ensure more sustainable food systems, reduce bottlenecks in the regional supply chain and increase intraregional trade. The international community was urged to increase investments to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis on the region and strengthen resilience to shocks.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization, added that Hurricane Fiona hit the American island of Puerto Rico on 18 September, bringing torrential rains and causing considerable damage including power outages as well as some casualties. It caused landslides, brought down trees and power lines, made roads impassable and led to the collapse of a bridge in a mountainous region.

More than 40 per cent of the island was covered with 15 inches (380 mm) of rain. The devastation occurred five years after Hurricane Maria wreaked huge damage and loss of life in Puerto Rico. She added that Fiona carried winds of up to 140 km/h, with torrential rains and life-threatening and catastrophic flooding along with mudslides and landslides. After tracking over the Dominican Republic, Fiona strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, as it headed toward Bermuda. Some slight weakening was forecast to begin later today, however Fiona was forecast to be a large and powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds when it approaches and moves over Nova Scotia, Canada, tonight and Saturday. Elevated automated stations in Bermuda were reporting sustained winds between 60-65 mph (95-105 km/h), while Environment and Climate Change Canada was issuing warnings for “what looks to be a historic storm for Eastern Canada.” 

Answering questions, Regis Chapman said that those storms had a massive impact on small islands, as did other natural disasters such as last year when 20 per cent of the population was displaced due to a volcano eruption in St Vincent and Grenadine. He also said those first days of storms were always extremely challenging with loss of communication and loss of power. 

UNHCR survey: Ukrainian refugees need support to integrate workforce

Matthew Saltmarsh, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, shared the results of a survey ‘Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine,’ released today by the UN Refugee Agency.

Based on 4,800 responses from Ukrainian refugees hosted in countries across Europe and beyond, between August and September 2022, the survey provided insights into the challenges that refugees were facing, as well as their intentions. Seven months after the onset of the international armed conflict in Ukraine, refugees remained grateful for the warm reception they had received across Europe. Most of them were highly educated and willing to work and contribute to their host countries, but they needed sustained support to help ensure socio-economic inclusion.

Indeed, most Ukrainian refugees (82 per cent) intended to return home to reunite with their families, however not within the next three months. Some 70 per cent of refugees possessed higher education qualifications and two-thirds were previously working in Ukraine. Refugees were eager to re-enter the labour market, which would lessen their reliance on welfare, but currently less than one third were employed or self-employed. Refugees were seeking to play a more active role in their host countries, but they needed additional support to do so. Many mentioned the need for classes in local languages, support to ensure their skills were formally recognized and help with childcare services to enable them to work outside the home. Without work, many were struggling to make ends meet and find adequate housing. Nearly half were staying with hosts, and 20 per cent were living in collective sites or hotels, while a quarter were renting. Many were deeply concerned about finding alternative sustainable solutions ahead of winter. Other pressing needs remained such as psychological support and specialized help for children with disabilities and older people. Some 87 per cent of refugees were women and children.

Almost seven million people were displaced in Ukraine, and the United Nations Refugee Agency was conducting repairs and insulation on homes for vulnerable families preparing for winter. More than 815,000 received food and non-food items, including winter clothes, while more than 31,000 received emergency shelter materials. The UN refugee agency aimed to distribute emergency shelter kits for over 1 million people by the end of the year and urged for continued support from generous host countries to ensure refugees had access to adequate assistance, as well as socio-economic inclusion.

Update on the cholera outbreak in Syria

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization, commented on the current cholera outbreak affecting Syria across six governorates: Aleppo, Hassakah, Deir Ez-Zor, Lattakia, Damascus, and Homs.

As of 20 September, the outbreak claimed 23 lives and infected 253 people. As part of WHO’s response, a shipment of medicines and supplies (oral rehydration solution, medicines, rapid cholera tests, chlorine tablets for water purification) had landed in Damascus airport to cover 2,000 severe cases and 190,000 mild cases. The shipment content was distributed to health facilities in northeast Syria where the outbreak was concentrated. Other shipments were also expected. Ms. Chaib further explained that the source of the infection could be linked to drinking water from untreated sources or from consuming contaminated food due to irrigation with unsafe water. The World Health Organization priority, she continued, was to stop the spread of this deadly disease by continuing to support rapid-response teams, expand surveillance, testing and contacting tracing, while raising awareness among affected and at-risk communities on how to protect themselves. The World Health Organization was also working with partners to test water quality and distribute chlorine tablets to affected communities.

 Answering questions, Fadela Chaib said the outbreak was linked to contaminated water near the river of the Euphrates. As people could not afford to buy bottled water, the WHO had shipped supplies to purify the water as the outbreak would not be controlled if water was still being drunk from this primary source. The second source, she continued, was contaminated food coming from land that had been irrigated with the contaminated water. On the demographics of those affected by the outbreak, Ms. Chaib said that it had spanned across populations of all age and gender, and that the contamination was still ongoing. She added that it was distributed over an age group spanning from 1 to 99 years old and that 10 per cent were children under the age of 5, but none of the children of this range had died. More cases in females (600) than male (500) were reported.

Announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), announced a press conference today at 1:30 p.m. by the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.

The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights would hold a press conference on Tuesday 27 September at 3:30 p.m. to present the findings of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances on Mali, Czech Republic and Uruguay.

Mr. LeBlanc added that the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would both close their sessions today.

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families continued this afternoon with its report on Syria. It would be continued next Monday morning.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be opening on Monday its 72nd session.

Today was the International Day of Sign Languages and several events were taking place at the UN in Geneva.

Monday 26 September would be the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. On this occasion Mr. LeBlanc shared a message from the Secretary-General, in which he said: “On this day we reject that nuclear disarmament is some impossible utopian dream. In eliminating these devices of death, it is not only possible but necessary at a moment of rising geopolitical division, mistrust and outright aggression… Eliminating nuclear weapons would be the greatest gift we could bestow on future generations on this important day. Let us commit to forging a new consensus around diffusing the nuclear threat for good and achieving our shared goal of peace”.

 

 

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