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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 Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Meteorological Organization, Unitaid, and the World Health Organization.

Climate Action Summit 2020

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 12 December, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and France would co-convene the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, in partnership with Chile and Italy, exactly five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. The Summit would be a major step on the road to the next UN Climate Conference, COP26, which would be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November 2021. The Summit would be live streamed and available on demand. The list of participants was available on the Summit website.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the Summit would highlight the fast-growing coalition of countries, cities, regions, businesses and investors committing to net-zero emissions and boosting ambition in climate finance, and resilience and adaptation. As mentioned recently, greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere were at high levels, and the COVID-19 related effects were just a blip in the big picture. The five years since the Paris Agreement had been among the warmest on record, and November 2020 had been the warmest November on record. Climate change continued to disrupt the Arctic; if the trend continued, it was unlikely that the Arctic would be anything alike to it was today. What happened in the Arctic did not stay there but affected the rest of the world. Ms. Nullis also informed that today was the International Mountains Day.

Ms. Vellucci shared the UN Secretary-General’s message on the International Mountains Day, in which he stressed, inter alia, that mountain regions hosted more than a quarter of terrestrial plants and animals and 30 per cent of key biodiversity areas on land.

Ethiopian refugee arrivals to Sudan

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR, working with the local authorities, had now registered nearly 50,000 Ethiopian refugees who had crossed into eastern Sudan, with some reporting having to evade armed groups to reach safety. Since 6 December, the number of refugees escaping ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region had been trending downward to under 500 per day.

UNHCR was very worried about the safety and condition of the Eritrean refugees in Tigray who had been caught in the conflict and had had no access to services and supplies for more than a month. UNHCR echoed the UN Secretary-General’s call for unfettered access to Tigray in order to reach people in need, and the joint UN call for all parties to allow freedom of movement to affected civilians seeking assistance, safety, and security within the Tigray region or outside the affected areas. UNHCR and partners have appealed for USD 147 million to cover the needs and to support the government of Sudan, which continued to welcome and host refugees.

Full press release is here.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP was continuing to provide food supplies to refugees crossing from Tigray and necessary logistics services to other actors. So far six supply hubs had been set up for storing food and other vital commodities. WFP was also transporting humanitarian workers to the affected area by air, said Mr. Phiri. WFP had dispatched enough food to feed 60,000 people for one month; however, that food had been borrowed from other programmes; so far, 48,000 people had been reached. The number of arrivals had slowed, but the WFP was struggling to deal with multiple crises across Sudan. The WFP was appealing to donors to give generously so the WFP could continue to save lives in this crisis. Over the next six months, the WFP was facing a USD 153 million shortfall over the next six months for the needs of the most vulnerable people across Sudan.

Responding to questions, Mr. Baloch said that the arriving refugees were talking about a two-week long journey on foot on which they were facing multiple difficulties. UNHCR was appealing to all parties to allow an unimpeded movement of displaced persons. UNHCR demanded safe and secure access to those in need. Any refoulement would be absolutely unacceptable, stressed Mr. Baloch.

Afghanistan

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), read a statement by Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, who completed a week-long visit to Afghanistan and drew attention to the massive increase in humanitarian needs due to COVID-19, conflict and climate change. Mr. Rajasingham said that humanitarian agencies were stepping up to keep pace with massively increasing needs. Next year, they aimed to reach almost 16 million people with assistance — 5 million more than six months earlier. In 2021, USD 1.3 billion would be needed to help almost 16 million people. More than ever, the UN called on the international community to generously support the people of Afghanistan at this critical time.

Venezuelan refugees and migrants

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), warned of unprecedented levels of trauma and despair among newly arrived refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Many were arriving in dire conditions to host communities hard hit by the pandemic. Urgent support was critically needed to protect and assist them. As borders remained closed across the region, people were crossing through informal routes where illegal armed actors and smuggling and trafficking networks operated. In the context of a massive economic downturn and with the pandemic affecting the region, host communities could be hesitant or resistant to welcome new arrivals. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and associated mobility restrictions, UNHCR and

partners continued to adapt humanitarian activities to respond to intensified needs.

UNHCR press release can be read here.

Angela Wells, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stated that the economic and social impact of COVID-19 had been particularly severe on the well-being of the 4.6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela hosted in 17 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. The pressures due to COVID-19 mobility restrictions and the consequent socio-economic decline had been compounded by the difficulties they faced in regularizing their situations in host countries and fewer opportunities to pursue regular migration pathways.

Over the past months, the IOM had seen a worrying increase in migrant smuggling, as many were compelled to move through irregular, dangerous pathways when confronted with mobility restrictions and closed borders. In a region traditionally marked by availability of legal pathways and a welcoming attitude towards Venezuelans, that was a new and worrying trend. IOM also estimated that an average of 30 percent of refugees and migrants in the region, and as high as 50 percent in some countries, were in an irregular situation.

In partnership with UNHCR, the IOM called on the international community to support its newly launched USD 1.44 billion regional plan to respond to the growing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, and the communities hosting them, across 17 countries.

More information is available here.

Displacement in Yemen

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), warned that hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Yemenis were at heightened risk of food insecurity as livelihoods had been lost to the combined effects of ceaseless violence and COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest UN food security survey in Yemen, food insecurity was prevalent in areas of conflict, where half of Yemen's four million displaced population resided. Nearly 40 per cent of the most vulnerable displaced families said that they had no access to income and 37 per cent were already eating less.

Women were disproportionately impacted, in a country where socio-cultural norms often

restricted their access to work. To put food on the table, many displaced families were selling off belongings, pulling children out of school and sending them to work, begging on the streets, or eating just once a day. Despite a funding crunch, the UNHCR was stepping up its support to the displaced families and their hosts in Yemen through direct cash assistance this winter.

Mr. Baloch stressed that six years of conflict had taken a brutal toll on civilians, pushing one in eight Yemenis into displacement. Action was needed now to shield them from hunger and famine.

UNHCR press release is here.

The window to prevent famine in the country was narrowing fast, added Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP). Especially concerning was the situation of children and pregnant or nursing women, the particularly vulnerable categories. Some 24.3 million out of 30 million Yemenis needed humanitarian assistance of some kind. This was a disaster and a ticking time bomb, and the world needed to act now, stressed Mr. Phiri.

Libya

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 14-15 December, the Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, together with the other co-chair of the Economic Working Group of the Berlin Process, including Egypt, the United States and the European Union, would convene a meeting of representatives of Libya’s main financial institutions at the Palais des Nations to agree on critical policy reforms. Those efforts were being done with a to addressing the needs of the Libyan people and establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.

COVID-19

Responding to a question, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that for the time being the pandemic was continuing everywhere. There had been media reports on certain allergic reactions to vaccines, which was up to national authorities to look into. The fact that those events were being reported and analyzed was positive. Lessons had been learned from the Ebola experience and from earlier SARS outbreaks, said Ms. Harris. A lot of candidate vaccines were currently coming through, which the WHO was reviewing. Some 11 to 12 vaccines were at the moment going through the Stage 3 trial. No vaccine had been endorsed by the WHO; WHO had not issued any emergency listing thus far. The WHO was not a regulatory authority, stressed Ms. Harris. When analyzing vaccine candidates, the WHO looked at three aspects: safety, efficacy, and manufacturing standards. All the data would need to be reviewed carefully by the WHO. Ms. Harris emphasized the importance of journalists using reliable, trusted sources and spreading science-based information.

[Later on, Dr. Harris informed that journalists could find more details on vaccines at the page: https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-are-vaccines-developed]

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, reminded journalists of the UN Secretary-General’s initiative “Verified”, and the initiative “Team Halo”.

Other announcements

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed that on 14 December at 11 a.m., the ILO would hold a virtual press conference to present a new report - Migrant pay gap: Understanding wage differences between migrants and nationals, which analyzed how migrant wages had evolved in 49 countries. The report detailed the difficulties faced by migrants in receiving the same pay as nationals, as well as gender discrimination affecting women migrants and the difficulties migrants have in getting a job that corresponds to their level of education. The speakers would be Michelle Leighton, Chief Labour Migration Branch, and Rosalia Vasquez- Alvarez, Econometrician, Wage Specialist.

Ahead of the Universal Health Coverage Day, the message of the UN Secretary-General had been distributed to the media, said Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service. Herve Verhoosel, for Unitaid, stated that in 10 years, Unitaid-founded Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) had made available more than 15 billion doses of treatments in low- and middle-income countries, resulting in USD 1.6 billion of savings. Unitaid called for stronger commitment for equitable access to health innovations. In mid-November, Unitaid had reaffirmed its support to the MPP through the approval of a new USD 34.3 million grant for the next five years. Unitaid called on the private sector and donors to continue and expand their collaboration with mechanisms such as the MPP and engage in the ACT-A global collaboration to ensure equitable access to safe and effective innovative health tools.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, informed that today, 11 December, the UN Secretary-General would address the Nobel Peace Prize Forum 2020 as a keynote speaker and guest of honour, via a pre-recorded video message. The event would take place in Oslo, Norway, and would begin at 3 p.m. It will be livestreamed here. The statement of the Secretary-General had been distributed to accredited media under embargo.

A high-level event would be held on 15 December to launch the initiative Together to #ENDviolence to inspire the end of community violence against children and catalyse the political and financial commitments needed to end this violence at home, at school, online and within communities. Registration was possible here.

Finally, Alessandra Vellucci on behalf of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), informed of the Global Launch of the 2020 Human Development Report: ‘The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene’ on 15 December at 6:30 p.m. It would be co-hosted by UNDP and the Government of Sweden, and webcast live in English, French and Spanish. A UNDP virtual press conference under embargo would be held on 14 December at 2 p.m., with Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Administrator, Director, UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, that will present the report focusing on the African insights (including how the new Planetary Pressure index plays out in the ranking of African countries).

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