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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 the spokespersons of the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Situation in Tigray, Ethiopia

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that an agreement had been reached recently between the UN in Ethiopia and the Federal Government to facilitate access to aid organizations to provide assistance to civilians affected by the month-long conflict.

In the town of Shire in Tigray, UNHCR staff together with partners had already distributed water, high energy biscuits, clothes, mattresses, sleeping mats and blankets to an estimated 5,000 internally displaced. However, there were still disturbing reports regarding the Eritrean refugee camps in the region, which remain incommunicado. Fears were that many Eritrean refugees might have already fled the camp in search of safety. Inside neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopian refugee arrivals continued, and the total number had now crossed 47,000. Many refugees said that they preferred to remain near the border to wait for family members still in Ethiopia, or in hopes they would be able to return home soon. Refugees also said that they were fearful of more violence inside Tigray.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP welcomed the signing of the agreement allowing access to humanitarian actors into Tigray and border areas with Amhara. WFP’s priority was to locate Eritrean refugees who had been receiving its aid before the hostilities. Before the conflict, the WFP had been providing nutritional support to 42,000 people in the region. Up to two million people from Tigray would need assistance, the UN estimated. Mr. Phiri stressed that the WFP was ready to respond to the increased needs as soon as those were assessed. Country-wide, the WFP, NGOs and the Federal Government had enough resources to respond to the short-term needs. Through the logistics cluster, the WFP was providing logistics support to partners.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the conflict had disrupted the delivery of health services and supplies; the WHO graded the emergency as Grade 2. WHO expected the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an increase in communicable diseases, such as malaria. Emergency health supplies to treat 10,000 patients over three months had been dispatched to Tigray; other materials were ready to be dispatched as soon as the humanitarian corridor opened. WHO staff had been repurposed and stood ready for deployment as soon as the situation permitted. WHO Operations Support and Logistics focal person was coordinating with the Logistics Cluster, WFP and UNICEF to plan for an expediated action once the corridor opened.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), added that the agreement announced by the UN on 2 December was an agreement with the Federal Government to secure enhanced access. There were still certain operational, logistical and security issues. An assessment mission had already been dispatched to the of Afar, covered by the agreement.

Relocation of Rohingya refugees

Responding to questions on the relocation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to the distant island of the Bhashan Char, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the United Nations had not been involved in the preparation of the relocation or the identification of refugees to be relocated. UN’s long-standing position was that the Rohingya refugees would need to be allowed to make their own informed decisions. There were reports from the camps that some refugees might be pressured to move to the island. The UN would continue to assess the situation and the needs, which would include onsite visits to the island.

Yellow fever outbreak in Nigeria

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that since 2017 Nigeria had been battling successive yellow fever outbreaks. The latest outbreak, detected in early November, had already caused many deaths across five states. The country was facing many concurrent outbreaks of other infectious diseases and a humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the country. The response was particularly challenging in the current COVID-19 context.

As of 24 November, the outbreak had encompassed five states in Nigeria: Delta, Enugu, Bauchi, and Benue and Ebonyi. A total of 530 suspected cases had been reported, including 48 laboratory confirmed cases, with a total of 172 deaths. Mr. Jašarević stressed that the response was challenging as Nigeria was currently facing many concurrent outbreaks of Lassa fever, circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus, measles, monkeypox and cholera as well as humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the country.

WHO was supporting the Nigerian health authorities to respond to this outbreak. Preventing outbreaks from occurring in high-risk countries via preventive vaccination was of key importance. In Nigeria, those efforts were based on the introduction of the yellow fever vaccine into the routine immunization (RI) programme since 2004 and the conduction of preventive campaigns to rapidly increase protection. WHO recommended vaccination against yellow fever for all international travelers from nine months of age going to Nigeria; that was also a condition of entry to the country. Mr. Jašarević reminded of the key facts about the yellow fever, stressing that the vaccine provided highly effective, affordable and safe lifelong protection.

COVID-19

Responding to a question, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated the WHO was in contact with all governments about Covid-19 through different channels.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that there had been 16 new COVID-19 cases among UN Secretariat staff since the update on 17 November. To date, there had been a total of 174 positive COVID-19 cases among UN Secretariat staff since March.

Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that this morning, the Human Rights Council was holding a meeting on the human rights situation in Belarus. The meeting was being webcast live at webtv.un.org. The meeting should conclude around noon today; a press meeting summary would follow.

Other Geneva announcements

Alejandro Laguna, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), informed that UNEP’s Annual Emissions Gap Report, to be launched on 9 December, assessed gap between the global temperature rise we were headed for by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial times, and the emission cuts actually needed to limit this rise in line with the Paris Agreement. This year the report would discuss the potential impact of green recovery from COVID-19 on emissions going forward. The report would also feature ways of closing the emissions gap. Interviews could be arranged, and embargoed materials would be shared.

Mr. Laguna also informed that the UNEP Champions of the Earth event would take place on 11 December. Prizes were awarded under five categories and past winners include Michelle Bachelet and the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. Interviews were possible.

Finally, the UNEP Young Champions of the Earth ceremony would be held on 15 December. The prize recognised environmentalists aged between 18 and 30 by offering seed money, mentorship, and a platform to present their ideas and solutions for the planet. Embargoed materials could also be shared, and interviews arranged.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that today at 2 p.m., the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) would hold a press conference to launch its 2020 World Intellectual Property Indicators report. The speakers would be Daren Tang, WIPO Director General, and Carsten Fink, WIPO Chief Economist.

Also today, around 4 p.m., there would be a hybrid briefing by the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria to provide an update on the conclusion of the fourth round of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. The speaker would be Geir O. Pedersen, the Special Envoy.

Ms. Vellucci informed that on 8 December at 2.30 p.m. there would be a virtual press conference by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to present latest figures from UNDP Climate Promise covering 114 countries national determined contributions. Speaker would be Cassie Flynn, UNDP Climate Advisor.

On 8 December at 1:30 p.m., a hybrid press conference would take place ahead of the World Press Freedom Conference 2020, which would be held virtually on 9-10 December. The press conference would also highlight the recently published 2020 European Broadcasting Union’s News Report. Chief of UNESCO’s Geneva office, Vincent Defourny, and Head of News at EBU, Liz Corbin, would speak, among others. Responding to a question, Ms. Vellucci said that there was a letter of intent to cooperate between the UN and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

On 9 December, the eve of the Human Rights Day, at 10:30 a.m., there would be a press conference by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The theme would be reflections on 2020 and looking ahead to 2021, the need to recover better and stand up for human rights.

A hybrid Special Meeting would be held at the Palais des Nations, Room XX, on 8 December, from 10:30 a.m., to mark the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which had been on 29 November. The meeting would be opened by the UN Geneva Director-General.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that the annual UN international media seminar on peace in the Middle East would be held virtually at webtv.un.org on 8 December, from 4 to 5:45 p.m. Geneva time, and 9 December, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Geneva time. Those interested are encouraged to use the hashtag #UNMediaSeminar to send their questions to the panelists via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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