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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, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by spokespersons of the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Meteorological Organization.

Yemen

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that about 20 million Yemenis were food insecure today, out of whom ten million were acutely food insecure. By the end of 2020, some 40 percent of the population could be severely food insecure, some predictions showed, and it was very well possible that those were underestimates. The food prices had skyrocketed, and on average they were 140 percent higher than the pre-conflict averages. For the most vulnerable, even a small increase in food prices was devastating. The gains made in 2018 and 2019 might be lost now that the conflict was intensifying, and the economic decline was continuing. The highest levels of food insecurity could be found along the conflict frontlines, said Mr. Phiri.

WFP staff on the ground were saying that some families were being displaced for a third or even a fourth time, further diminishing their abilities to cope. In April 2020, food assistance had been reduced by half, and unless more funding was made available, further cuts might be necessary. Some USD 500 million was needed in order to provide food assistance over the coming six months, stressed Mr. Phiri.

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stated that acute malnutrition rates among children under five were the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, with more than half a million cases in southern districts, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. The analysis, covering southern Yemen, revealed a near 10 percent increase in cases of acute malnutrition in 2020. The greatest increase was in cases of young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with a 15.5 percent rise during 2020. This left at least 98,000 children under five at high risk of dying without urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The situation in northern Yemen might be equally bad, if not worse, said Ms. Mercado.

To save lives and avert a further worsening of the situation, the United Nations and partners needed more than USD 50 million to urgently scale up nutrition programmes, including treatment for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. At the same time, funding was also needed to scale-up food, water, sanitation and health programmes including immunization. Ms. Mercado reminded that nearly 80 per cent of the population – over 24 million people - required some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. Over half of the population did not even have access to drinking pipe water.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), reminded that Yemen was the WHO’s most complex operation. Almost 18 million people needed health care services in 2020, with affected districts distributed in all 22 governorates. The health system had been devastated; only half of the health facilities were fully functioning. Those that remained open lacked qualified health staff, essential medicines, and medical equipment like masks and gloves, as well as oxygen and other necessary supplies. For three years, Yemen had witnessed a downward spiral of diseases such as cholera which was the worst cholera outbreak in modern times, diphtheria, dengue, measles, malaria and now COVID-19 and a polio outbreak emergence after years of declaring Yemen as a polio-free country. For people who had chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, the treatment was limited.

On COVID-19 in Yemen, Mr. Jašarević said that by 25 October, there had been 2,064 confirmed cases, with 601 deaths and 1,361 recoveries in 11 governorates. There were concerns that those figures were underestimates, as some people were likely reluctant to ask for care because of the stigma attached. There had also been two new cases of cVDPV1 (polio); the total number of children paralysed by cVDPV1 was 17, including one case from 2019. A total of 182,476 suspected cholera cases had also been reported during the first eight months of 2020, with a 71 per cent reduction compared to the same period of 2019. Measles outbreaks were taking place in several districts, a direct consequence of the low immunity among children. COVID-19 had further complicated the situation and led to a decline in immunization rates. Finally, stressed Mr. Jašarević, if resources were not provided by the end of the year, a total of nine million people could lose access to basic health care services. For the health response plan in Yemen, there was currently a 65 percent funding gap.

Responding to a question, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that for several months the humanitarian agencies had been warning that Yemen was approaching the cliff, and now the most vulnerable – children under five – were falling over that cliff. What the world could do was to fully fund the Humanitarian Response Plan, which was still woefully underfunded; only 42.3 percent of the funds had been received so far.

Upcoming election in Myanmar

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR had serious concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar ahead of its general elections on 8 November. Those included violations of the right to political participation, particularly of minority groups, including, disproportionately, the Rohingya Muslim and ethnic Rakhine population in Rakhine State.

While the elections represented an important milestone in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the civic space was still marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence. Myanmar’s discriminatory citizenship and electoral laws conferred different sets of political rights to different classes of citizens, affecting most clearly the Muslim minorities who were largely excluded from citizenship. An internet shutdown effectively remained in place in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin states, severely limiting the ability of residents to enjoy their right to receive and impart information, including on COVID-19 and the elections. OHCHR called on the Government to take measures to ensure that the right to political participation can be exercised by all, without discrimination of any kind.

Full briefing note is available here.

Upcoming election in Cote d’Ivoire

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR urged the Government of Cote d’Ivoire to ensure accountability in relation to reports that at least 20 people had been killed in inter-communal clashes and in confrontations between security forces and supporters of opposition parties in several localities of Côte d’Ivoire in the run-up to the 31 October elections.

Inter-communal clashes had occurred in the towns of Bongouanou in the east and in Dabou in the south-east of the country, between 17 and 21 October. In various opposition demonstrations in other towns and in the capital Abidjan, unidentified individuals had assaulted, threatened and intimidated protestors using machetes and knives with apparent impunity. On some occasions, voting stations had been damaged, people’s voting cards destroyed, and private businesses were looted. Given the history of electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire, the OHCHR appealed to all parties to refrain from using discriminatory and provocative language along ethnic affiliations that could lead to more divisions in society and, ultimately, to violence. OHCHR urged the state authorities to keep people accountable for their actions, regardless of their political affiliations, said Ms. Shamdasani in a reply to a question.

OHCHR briefing note can be found here.

Upcoming election in Tanzania

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR had been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space in Tanzania, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders and other activists. This repression of dissenting voices had intensified in the lead up to the elections, when the rights to freedom of expression and political participation should be upheld, not repressed. The elections would take place on 28 October.

OHCHR called on all relevant actors to ensure that the elections take place in a peaceful, inclusive and participatory manner, with people being able to cast their votes free of fear and intimidation.

Full briefing note is available here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, referred to the previous day’s message by the UN Secretary-General in which he urged all political leaders and their supporters to participate in this exercise peacefully and refrain from violence. He also called on the authorities to provide a safe and secure environment, which would allow Tanzanians to exercise their civil and political rights.

Violence in Cameroon

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the population continued to pay a heavy price in the ongoing crisis in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon. Serious human rights violations and abuses continued to be reported, involving both security and defense forces and armed separatist groups amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest vile, merciless attack on a school on 24 October perpetrated by a group of men armed with guns and machetes had resulted in the killing of at least six children between the ages of 9 and 12. The attack on Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, in the south-west, had left another 13 children injured, of whom seven are reportedly in critical condition.

OHCHR strongly condemned the attack. The killing and maiming of children as well as attacks on educational facilities constituted serious violations of international law and the perpetrators had to be held accountable with due regard for international human rights standards. OHCHR reminded the authorities of their obligation to protect access to education. Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that the identity of the perpetrators had not yet been conformed and that the attacked school had not been protected by the security forces. The root causes of the problem had dated back for decades, including the linguistics issues, explained Ms. Shamdasani.

 

Full press release can be found here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), read part of the statement by the Secretary-General in which he extended his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wished a swift recovery to the wounded. The Secretary-General urged the Cameroonian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that those responsible would be held accountable. The Secretary-General also called on all armed actors to refrain from attacks against civilians and to respect international humanitarian and international human rights law.

Tropical cyclones and typhoons

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that hurricane Zeta had made landfall along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico just north of Tulum with estimated maximum winds of 130 km/h or a category 1 on the Saffir Simpson scale; it would then move on to Louisiana in southern United States. Zeta was the 11th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season to date. Only two other Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, since 1851, had had more than eleven Atlantic hurricanes by October 26: 1950 and 2005. The next named storm which forms would be called Eta.

Ms. Nullis also said that in the Western North Pacific basin, Typhoon Molave was approaching landfall the Vietnamese coast as the equivalent of a strong Category 2, low category 3 hurricane. Central Vietnam had been battered by repeated tropical storms over the past four weeks. Heavy downpours had triggered flash floods and landslides, affecting the lives of thousands of people, and reportedly killing dozens of people. Molave would worsen the situation; its remnants were expected towards Cambodia and Laos, bringing more heavy rainfall there.

COVID-19 questions and responses

Responding to questions, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that there was a level of immunity being developed by a person affected by COVID-19, but it still remained to be seen how strong and long-lasting such immunity would be. Immunity acquired through vaccination might not be the same as the immunity acquired by getting the virus. Collective immunity was being developed by protecting people from the virus rather than exposing them to the virus. Letting the collective immunity develop by letting people get infected was not a recommended course of action, as it would cause more suffering and deaths.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that today at 3 pm, a joint appeal for open science would be launched by UNESCO, WHO, CERN and the OHCHR. Through this appeal, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) would jointly call on the international community to take all necessary measures to enable universal access to scientific progress and its applications. The joint appeal would be broadcast live at webtv.un.org.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) informed that on 27 October at 12 noon, there would be a hybrid press conference on El Niño/La Niña. Speakers included Dr Maxx Dilley, Deputy Director, in charge of WMO Climate Services Department, Gavin Iley, Humanitarian Expert and Wilfran Moufouma Okia, Senior Scientist.

Ms. Vellucci informed that on 30 October at 1:30 pm UN-Habitat would launch the UN-Habitat World Cities Report 2020 on the Value of Urbanization and promotion of World Cities Day. The speakers at the hybrid press conference would be Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, Eduardo Moreno, Head of Knowledge and Innovation, UN-Habitat, Paola Deda, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and Daria Cibrario, Director Geneva Cities Hub, in Room XIV.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had opened on 26 October its virtual 77th session. CEDAW should meet in private until the end of the session on 5 November at 5 p.m.

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