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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Meteorological Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Situation in the occupied Palestinian territory

Georgios Petropoulos, Head of the Sub-office of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza, speaking from Rafah, said that the situation had reached even more unprecedented levels of emergency, following the Israeli military operation in Rafah. The largest impediment to humanitarian activities came from the fact that all crossings into Rafah were now closed. Movement of humanitarian staff and medical evacuations of civilians were limited. OCHA was working with Member States to find a rapid, sustainable solution to bring fuel and humanitarian aid into Rafah, as not having fuel would have immediate, adverse effects. Protection of civilians and influx of supplies had to remain priorities. Without fuel, numerous hospitals, mobile clinics, and ambulances would not be able to function. Safe water production in Rafah had already ceased, he said. As of today, out of the 12 bakeries in south Gaza, eight had had to stop operating because of the lack of fuel. Unless the supply of fuel resumed immediately, humanitarian, communication and banking activities would all have to halt within days, warned Mr. Petropoulos.

Hamish Young, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Senior Emergency Coordinator in Gaza, speaking from Rafah, said that in his 30-year long humanitarian career, he had never been involved in a situation as devastating, complex, or erratic as this. The previous day, he had walked around Al-Mawasi, the so-called “humanitarian zone” that people in eastern Rafah were being told to move to. More than 100,000 people had fled Rafah in the last five days and the stream of displacement continued. The roads to Mawasi were jammed – many hundreds of trucks, buses, cars, and donkey carts loaded with people and possessions. Mr. Young had even seen someone trying to move their latrine on the back of a donkey cart – just one example of how desperate people were. Open defecation was on the rise, and displaced people were subject to even greater risk of disease, infections, malnutrition, dehydration and other protection and health concerns. 

Mr. Young explained that for five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid had entered the Gaza Strip and the humanitarian agencies were scraping the bottom of the barrel. If not corrected, the lack of fuel could grind humanitarian operations to a halt. Without fuel, for example, the maternity wards in Emirati hospital could not function, while approximately 80 babies were born there every day. Without fuel, the water desalination plants, and the water wells could not function, the sewage system could not operate, and UN trucks could not bring the critical, lifesaving humanitarian aid to the people in need. Mr. Young said that over 14,000 children had reportedly been killed already, and a ground offensive in Rafah would undoubtedly result in this number increasing dramatically. He had seen firsthand many children who had lost limbs, who have suffered horrific burns. Mr. Young stressed the immediate need for fuel. Aid had to flow; hostages had to be freed; Rafah should not be invaded; children ought to be protected, not killed.

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the previous day a WHO team had visited the Naser medical complex, which was not fully functional, but there had been some improvements thanks to international support: dialysis patients were being accepted and blood tests were being conducted again, for example. Without fuel, however, all the lifesaving treatments could no longer be done, warned Ms. Harris. Missions to the north had been suspended to save fuel. The sewage system had to be repaired throughout Gaza Strip. If one was not killed by bombs, they could die of thirst, hunger, or infectious diseases.

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), read an X post by Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in which he informed that the previous day, Israeli residents had set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA Headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem. This had taken place while UNRWA and other UN agencies’ staff had been on the compound. While there had been no casualties among UNRWA staff, the fire had caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas. 

Answering questions from the media, Georgios Petropoulos, for OCHA, said that some 30,000 people had been leaving Rafah per day since the IDF had moved into the area. OCHA did not have sufficient tents, beddings, and other necessary supplies in the areas to which the population was now moving; and further supplies could currently not go in. The Erez crossing into northern Gaza remained open, through which humanitarian supplies continued to come in, but that was far from sufficient to meet the needs of two million people across Gaza Strip. Margaret Harris, for the WHO, said that some 9,000 people needed medical evacuation, but nobody was coming in and out. At least 30 people were confirmed as having died of hunger and dehydration. WHO-established malnutrition centers in both the north and the south needed fuel and supplies to keep going. 

Both Mr. Petropoulos, for OCHA, and Hamish Young, for UNICEF, said that the local population continued to be warm and welcoming towards UN humanitarian workers. Shelling was still very much going on, Mr. Young said. Evacuation orders were received from the IDF through established channels, but local people in Rafah were also receiving them through social media and leaflets. Every action that would stop a military incursion into Rafah should be supported, stressed Mr. Petropoulos. People’s physical safety and wellbeing had to be put first. Fuel should be coming in regularly and not in one-off deliveries, he said. Ms. Harris stated that all surviving hospitals were already massively overcrowded. Destroying access to healthcare was catastrophic for everyone, emphasized Ms. Harris. 

Floods in Brazil

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the previous day, the Secretary-General had stated that he was deeply saddened by the loss of lives and damage caused by heavy rains and flooding in the south of Brazil. The United Nations team on the ground stood ready to assist the people of Brazil at this difficult time. The Secretary-General further noted that such disasters were a reminder of the devastating effects of the climate crisis on lives and livelihoods; he reiterated his call for swift international action to curb the chaotic effects of climate change.

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refuge Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR was working with federal, state, and municipal authorities, and partner organizations in Brazil to mitigate the severe impact of the extreme weather events, including heavy rains, strong winds and cold, that had devastated areas of Brazil's southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. Massive floods had killed at least 107 people and affected more than 1.7 million, according to official figures. Another 134 people were missing. Those affected included some 41,000 refugees and others in need of international protection, including many Venezuelans and Haitians.

In coordination with local authorities, UNHCR was distributing relief items such as blankets and mattresses and assessing the needs of the affected population. UNHCR was also providing technical support to facilitate communication with the impacted communities so that refugees and migrants would have access in their own language to official information on protection recommendations and risks in the places where they lived. Extreme weather events in Brazil had been frequent and more devastating in recent years, including droughts in the Amazon region and severe rains in Bahia and Acre states, all of which UNHCR had responded to.

UNHCR estimated USD 3.21 million was needed to support the most urgent needs, including direct financial assistance to affected individuals and the provision of essential relief items. 

Meteorologists were warning of further high-intensity rain and strong winds across the state until this weekend. Finally, Mr. Spindler stressed that severe climate events disproportionately affected refugees and other people requesting international protection. 

Full statement can be read here

Replying to questions, Mr. Spindler, for UNHCR, said that the UNHCR had been present in Brazil for several decades, with the primary objective of assisting the authorities with the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees. In Brazil, as in many countries of Latin America, refugees lived amid local communities rather than in camps, so UNHCR was providing support to the local people as well as refugees. UNHCR’s assistance to the areas hosting refugees came within the broader response led by the Brazilian authorities. UNHCR also worked with a number of local partners, through which it was providing assistance. Mr. Gómez, for UNIS, reminded that the UN team in Brazil was led by the Resident Coordinator. Misinformation and disinformation remained a major concern, not only in Brazil, but around the world, stated Mr. Spindler. Brazil was a country prone to natural disasters, which was why it was important to work on prevention, he said. 

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), responding to another question, said that the WMO State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2023, released this week, highlighted the vulnerability of the entire region to climate change. A huge area of Brazil, several times the size of Switzerland, was affected by floods, she explained. El Niño played a major role in the Brazilian floods, but the impact of the climate change was as important. Every fraction of a degree of global warming meant that our weather, already on steroids, would become more extreme. April 2024 had been the warmest month on record, she informed, making it the eleventh month in a row to be recorded as the warmest ever. Ms. Nullis emphasized the importance of the “Early Warnings for All” initiative; the early warning system in the case of Brazil had helped reduce the number of victims. Brazilian meteorological services regularly issued accurate and timely early warnings. While the response by the authorities was rapid and efficient, the scale of the disaster made the response more difficult.


Responding to a question, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the current, very intense negotiations among WHO Member States on a pandemic preparedness treaty would end today. Next steps would be discussed and announced later today, she informed. The World Health Assembly, at the end of May, would consider the outcome of the negotiating process.

Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), informed that the Diplomatic Conference on Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge

would begin at WIPO on 13 May at 10 am, and it would be webcast on WIPO’s website. There would be 1,200 attendees; any journalists who wanted to be there should get in touch with Mr. Harris and be there early. A number of government ministers from around the world were expected to attend. 

Rolando Gómez, for the for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the Secretary-General was in Nairobi attending the UN Civil Society Conference, which is part of preparations for the Summit of the Future. He would be giving a press conference at 2:15 pm today, which would be webcast at UNTV. 

The Committee Against Torture would conclude its 79th session today and issue its concluding observations on the six countries reviewed during this session: Austria, Honduras, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, and Finland. 

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning its review of the report of Mali. This afternoon, it would review the report of Panama under Optional Protocol on the sale of children.

On 13 May, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would open on 13 May at 10 am its 88th session, during which it would review the reports of Republic of Korea, Montenegro, Singapore, Estonia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Brazil, and Rwanda.