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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 Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons of the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

Nobel Peace Prize 2020

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed that the WFP had just been awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the WFP had been able to deliver help and services to people around the world, who were at risk of both infection and hunger. Thanks to its global logistics network, the WFP had made it possible for several other humanitarian actors to continue to do their work. This was a humbling moment for everyone working and volunteering at the WFP, as well as for the local communities the WFP was serving. Mr. Phiri said that the WFP not only provided short-term food aid, but also assisted people to become self-sustainable and be able to feed themselves. The WFP was entirely voluntarily funded and expressed gratitude to the donors who had provided record support to the WFP this year. They saw how their support for the WFP was making a real difference on the ground. WFP continued to appeal to the donors to continue with their generous support; until the vaccine for COVID-19 is found, food remained the best vaccine and best available remedy to combat undernourishment and hunger and nourish people to health. COVID-19 had left a few places untouched and a few lives unchanged. More people needed food assistance than in the past, said Mr. Phiri.

Mr. Phiri then shared some of his personal experiences from working with the WFP in Zimbabwe and Mozambique for the past nine years. Mr. Phiri also said that

The WFP Executive-Director and the UN Secretary-General would issue statements later. (The UN statement is available here, and the WFP statement is available here.)

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that thus far the United Nations agencies and Secretary-Generals had won the Nobel Peace Prize 11 times; the WFP’s award was the twelfth. It was great acknowledgment of the important work done by the WFP to combat hunger and help achieve Zero Hunger, SDG #2.

Millions of migrants stranded around the world

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that effective international cooperation was urgently needed to address the circumstances of millions of migrants stranded worldwide due to mobility restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. For the first time, global data was available and showed that 2.75 million migrants were stranded worldwide. It should be clear that migrants could be returned to home in an organized manner; many migrants had indeed managed to return home. The data had been collected from over 300 locations in some 101 countries. The data, based on July 2020 figures, as comprehensive as they were, were likely still an underestimate, and represented only the known cases of migrants stranded worldwide. When stranded, some migrants were at a higher risk of exploitation and abuse. IOM has repeatedly called for migrants to be included in national COVID-19 responses. Migrants often face xenophobia, stigma and attacks, stressed Mr. Dillon. Some migrants were housed in unsanitary conditions, where basic distancing and hygiene were not possible. Recently, the UN had highlighted the difficult conditions of over 400,000 seafarers, some of whom had been stuck at sea for as long as 17 months.

Some 200,000 migrants were stranded in the European area, and close to one million in Asia Pacific, Mr. Dillon said in response to questions. Ms. Dillon specified that the 2.75 million figure did not include those people who might have been stranded before the onset of COVID-19. It represented cases of migrants stranded abroad, from public or official sources and direct requests to IOM, in need of different types of assistance including food, water, shelter and/or return assistance.

IOM press release can be read here, while the brief “COVID-19 Impact on Stranded Migrants” can be found here.

Response to the Beirut blast – update

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed that the WFP was stepping up its response to the Beirut blast by providing cash assistance for up to 50,000 people (10,000 families), to help them meet basic needs such as food items such as bread and rice as well as to pay for healthcare. The blast had come as Lebanon faced its worst ever financial crisis, at a time of soaring unemployment and salary cuts with many families struggling to make ends meet. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures had resulted in food becoming a major concern for many people due to rising prices and the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, which had lost 80 per cent of its value since previous October. 

WFP was now seeing needs rising, even in wealthy neighbourhoods, and some middle-class residents requesting support. WFP had provided food parcels to local partners and NGOs to support community kitchens providing more than 3,000 meals per day to affected families and volunteers cleaning up debris in the neighbourhoods. In order to help stabilize the flour supply and the price of bread, WFP had also brought into Lebanon 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour. Mr. Phiri said the WFP would continue to accept applications for assistance through a dedicated self-registration website launched earlier in September.

Displacement in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that the UNHCR was rushing support to tens of thousands of people who have been recently displaced in the aftermath of brutal attacks and fighting by the armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

More than 50,000 people had fled in the aftermath of a recent upsurge in fighting in North Kivu. The displaced included an overwhelming number of children, including many who were unaccompanied by either a parent or guardian. Brutal attacks blamed on the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) had killed at least 13 people at a site hosting forcibly displaced people in Mbau village, Beni Territory, on 21 September. In fear for their lives, many others had fled from the nearby fields where they were working, leaving everything behind.

To respond to the needs of those forcibly displaced and their local host communities, UNHCR, its humanitarian partners and local authorities were providing aid, including shelter assistance, healthcare, water and sanitation and protection. UNHCR was also assisting forcibly displaced people in Pinga, an area in North Kivu, where ongoing fighting had reached an alarming stage endangering innocent lives. The new displacements in North Kivu and Ituri added to the over 3.4 million persons already internally displaced in the two provinces. There were currently 5.5 million people internally displaced in the DRC, one of the largest displaced population globally and the largest in Africa. UNHCR needed USD 168.2 million to respond to refugee and IDP needs in DRC this year, but had only received 61 per cent to date.

Full press release is available here.

Situation around the Moria camp

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that four weeks after the fires had destroyed the Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesbos, UNHCR was reiterating its call that urgent action and improvements are needed to avoid further deterioration of living conditions for some 7,800 refugees and asylum-seekers currently sheltered in the emergency site in Kara Tepe. Colder weather and the onset of winter would only bring more hardship for the people there. There were critical gaps in drainage, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services that needed to be addressed without any delay.

Heavy rains on 8 October had exacerbated the situation for residents in the emergency site.

The current tented site was not equipped to provide necessary protection against the elements and low temperatures. At the request of the Greek authorities and in support of the government-led humanitarian response, UNHCR was delivering gravel to help lessen the risk of flooding in tented and common areas. As the weather was becoming colder and wetter, UNHCR was providing insulation kits, flooring with pallets and plywood sheets for family tents.

UNHCR urged immediate action on all Greek Aegean islands. On Samos, where almost 4,500 people continued to stay in inadequate and overcrowded conditions, most slept in summer tents or makeshift shelters in the woods, outside the reception centre meant to accommodate only 650. UNHCR was encouraged by this month’s efforts to decongest overcrowded sites across the Aegean islands, through government-led transfers of the most vulnerable asylum seekers and recognized refugees to the mainland.

UNHCR press release can be read here.

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Referring to a message of the UN Secretary-General, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), stated that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought renewed attention to the importance of strengthening disaster risk reduction. Many countries were facing multiple crises simultaneously. To eradicate poverty and reduce the impacts of climate change, the public good had to be placed above all other considerations. For these reasons, the 2020 International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was all about strengthening disaster risk governance to build a safer and more resilient world.

Denis McLean, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), stated that, looking at the mass casualty events which had occurred in the previous twenty years, the death tolls in each case could have been significantly reduced if there had been greater focus on disaster risk governance for the more effective and efficient management of disaster risk.

The early failures to prepare for a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 underlined the importance of disaster risk governance as the theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, 13 October. Warnings about the probability of a global pandemic had often been ignored or brushed aside in the daily concerns of government which, considering the human and economic costs of COVID-19, did not seem so significant now.

A virtual press conference on the launch of Human Cost of Disasters Report 2000-2019 would take place on 12 October at 11 am. The speakers would be Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNDRR, and Debarati Guha-Sapir, Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

State of Climate Services report on Early Warning Systems

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the WMO with partners had compiled a detailed report on the state of climate services around the world, with the focus on early warning systems. Those systems were vital in saving lives due to the changing weather patterns. There were some success stories of how such systems saved lives and limited economic losses. A hybrid press conference would be held on 13 October at 9:15 am, with Prof Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General (briefing virtually), and Dr. Maxx Dilley, Deputy Director, in charge of Climate Services Department, WMO (in Room XIV).

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was meeting in private until the public closure of its 68th session, on 16 October, 4 p.m.

The Human Rights Committee would open on 12 October, at 4 p.m., its virtual 130th session, mainly devoted to review of individual communications.

Mr. LeBlanc informed that 9 October was the World Post Day.

10 October would be the World Mental Health Day. Mr. LeBlanc reminded that the UN Secretary-General has issued his latest policy brief on COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage. COVID-19 had shown that universal health coverage, strong public health systems and emergency preparedness were essential to communities, to economies, to everyone.

Finally, Mr. LeBlanc said that 11 October would be the International Day of the Girl Child. The Secretary-General’s message on this occasion had also been shared with the media. This year’s theme, “My Voice: Our Equal Future” called to amplify the voices of adolescent girls, and put their needs at the forefront of laws, policies and practices in every country and community around the world. The gaps between girls and boys remained unacceptably wide, said the Secretary-General in his message.

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