REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP), and UNITAID.
Tropical storm Eloise
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Eloise, currently a severe tropical storm, was expected to intensify and reach tropical cyclone intensity and make landfall overnight tonight in Mozambique, as the equivalent of a category II strength on the Saffir Simpson scale, bringing high winds, heavy rainfall and the risk of coastal flooding to a large area. Eloise had impacted Madagascar before crossing the Mozambican Channel, causing damage and several reported casualties. Eloise was expected to make landfall near the city of Beira, which had been hit by Idai in 2019 and was still recovering from it, said Ms. Nullis. Winds of up to 100km/h were expected to hit large swathes of coastal Mozambique, to be followed by heavy rainfall. Zimbabwe, Botswana and the north part of South Africa would also experience heavy rainfall. A storm surge of 1.5 meters above normal tide levels was anticipated.
Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), added that the IOM had about 160 staff in the storm’s immediate path, many of whom were describing the resilience and courage, but also exasperation of people on the ground. There were more than 350 families already in a collective center, plus additional people seeking shelter in government buildings, schools and churches. IOM was working with the authorities to anticipate possible effects of COVID-19, ensuring that people were wearing masks and social distancing was being observed. The next 24 to 36 hours would be very difficult; the current focus was position supplies to cover the needs during and in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone. Mr. Dillon said there were still some 100,000 people in settlement sites following cyclone Idai almost two years earlier; Idai’s total damages amounted to over USD 2.2 billion.
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that ahead of tropical storm Eloise, the World Food Programme had mobilized contingency stocks to support 100,000 people. A total of 640 metric tonnes of food was available in central and southern hubs for the first phase of the Eloise emergency response. Although the WFP had been significantly investing in disaster preparedness efforts over the past years, including the mapping of key river basins using UAVs to inform Government’s preparedness and evacuation plans, the WFP did not have dedicated resources to respond to the ensuing Cyclone Eloise needs, said Mr. Phiri.
Health needs in Tigray, Ethiopia
Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, due to the conflict and disruptions, the WHO was concerned about the potential for a number of diseases to spread in this region, including malaria, COVID-19, measles, cholera, meningitis and yellow fever. Additionally, many hospitals and clinics were only partially functioning or had to close. Access was one of the major challenges. Vulnerable populations needed to have access to health services, and the health care workforce needed to have access to the population. Conditions had to be created for health care workers to be able to return home and return to work. The availability of supplies and presence of health care workers were two critical conditions that needed to be met for health services to resume, stressed Dr. Soce Fall, adding that an estimated more than 4.5 million people needed assistance.
Dr. Teresa Zakaria, Health Emergency Officer at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the WHO and partners had visited several affected communities in the region. The situation was particularly severe outside of main cities, where people had even more difficulties to access health services. WHO had not been able to access the entire Tigray region, so the organization still did not have a full picture. Thus, much more was needed to reach those in need. The incidence of COVID-19 in the region was higher than the country’s average, which represented a major risk. Cases of measles had been reported among children, along with over 9,000 recorded cases of malaria, said Dr. Zakaria. The Tigray region was also located on the meningitis belt and was susceptible to yellow fever.
In a response to questions, Dr. Zakaria added that the rate of malnutrition in Tigray was higher than in the entire country. She explained that the WHO was concerned about the health and wellbeing of the entire population of Tigray, which was affected by the conflict. With most disease-prevention activities interrupted and based on the history of outbreaks, the risk of COVID-19, measles, cholera, malaria, yellow fever and meningitis spreading was very real. However, without a functional disease surveillance system, the WHO was not able to gauge the epidemiological situation of the region.
Security situation in the Al Hol camp in Syria
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), shared serious concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Al Hol camp in Syria. There were reports of at least 12 Syrian and Iraqi camp residents being murdered, including one woman, between 1 and 16 January, in this largest camp for the internally displaced people in Syria. Al Hol hosted some 62,000 people. The recent rise of violence jeopardized the ability of the United Nations to continue delivering aid to residents, including water, shelter, good and hygiene distribution. The safety and wellbeing of people in Al Hol was of paramount importance, underscored Mr. Laerke, who stressed the need to find durable solutions.
Responding to a question, Mr. Laerke said the camp was controlled by Kurdish troops.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), added that an estimated 94 per cent of the population in the camp were women and children, and some 86 per cent of all residents were Iraqi and Syrian.
Intercommunal violence in Darfur
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR had received deeply disturbing information about two deadly incidents of inter-communal violence in Darfur over the previous week. OHCHR feared the lack of security and chronic impunity in the region left it vulnerable to further serious violence.
On 16-17 January, 160 people had been reportedly killed and 215 injured in clashes between armed men of the Masalit and Arab communities around the Krinding camp for internally displaced people in West Darfur. In a separate incident, on 18 January, 72 people had been reportedly killed and 73 others were injured in South Darfur’s Gereida locality following clashes between armed men from the Falata tribe and the Reizigat tribe. Those incidents raised serious concerns about the imminent risk of further violence in Darfur, in an environment where decades-old ethnic and tribal tensions, stoked by the previous regime, continued to fester. OHCHR called on the Government of Sudan to promptly ensure the full implementation of its National Plan for the protection of civilians, and to restore public order and the rule of law in Darfur. OHCHR also urged the judicial authorities to take immediate action on the findings of a previous report into intercommunal violence between 29-31 December 2019 in El Geneina, West Darfur, as a crucial step in the fight against impunity.
OHCHR press briefing note is available here.
In a response to a question, Ms. Shamdasani explained that while the Sudanese authorities had pledged to deploy 12,000 troops to Darfur to take over from UNAMID, that had not happened yet.
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said UNHCR was concerned by recent violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, which had caused thousands of people to flee their homes in search of safety – including across the border into Chad. The intercommunal clashes, which had started on 15 January in West Darfur and spread to South Darfur the following day, had claimed the lives of 250 people – including three humanitarian workers – and displaced more than 100,000. Among the newly displaced, some 3,500 Sudanese had arrived in Ouaddaï Province in eastern Chad. Those refugees, most of them women and children, had been hosted in four very remote locations that lack basic services or public infrastructure, where they have been sheltering under trees.
UNHCR briefing note is here.
Displacement in the Sahel
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the UNHCR was calling for an end to the unrelenting violence in Africa’s Sahel. It had now displaced more than two million people within the borders of their countries for the first time ever. Needs were surging across a region where multiple crises converged, including armed conflict, extreme poverty, food insecurity, climatic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The humanitarian response was dangerously overstretched, and UNHCR was urging the international community to redouble its support for the region. States had to act now to help Sahel countries address the root causes of this forced displacement, to boost strategic and sustainable development, and to strengthen institutions such as schools and hospitals, many of which have shut due to ongoing violence. Internal displacement in the region had quadrupled in just two years. The Sahel also hosted over 850,000 refugees, mainly from Mali. Across the region, UNHCR and its partners were working to provide critical assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced people and their hosts, such as shelter, aid items, and cash.
Full briefing note is available here.
COVID-19 rapid tests
Herve Verhoosel, for UNITAID, said UNITAID and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) were announcing an important step towards ensuring equitable access to antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19. The initial agreement would increase capacity on the part of the companies involved to supply antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests, enough to meet about 50 per cent of the total estimated antigen testing needs of low- and middle-income countries. It would also cut in half the price of those tests.
Some 264 million test kits could be produced in the coming twelve months following this agreement. FIND and UNITAID were working as members of the ACT-Accelerator. Mr. Verhoosel said that testing had played a critical role since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling patient care as well as providing decision makers with vital data to inform test-trace-isolate strategies and lockdowns. Despite the introduction of two Ag RDTs in September 2020, testing capacity remained highly centralized in many countries, and often insufficient to meet the current demand. The tests could detect the new variants of COVID-19. Further agreements focused on technology transfer and scale up of regional manufacturing capacity were expected to be signed in the coming weeks.
Universal Periodic Review
Rhéal LeBlanc, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), said the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group was reviewing Austria this morning, while in the afternoon it would adopt the reports for reviews of Micronesia, Lebanon, Mauritania, St Kitts and Nevis, Australia, and St Lucia.
Mr. LeBlanc said the United Nations Secretary-General had welcomed the decision by the new United States President, Joseph Biden, to return the US to the Paris Agreement.
The Secretary-General further welcomed the United States’ stated re-engagement with the World Health Organization. Supporting the WHO was absolutely critical to the world’s efforts for a better coordinated response against COVID-19.
Finally, the Secretary-General welcomed the positive steps announced by the US administration relating to migration and refugees. The Secretary-General was hoping to see the United States join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
Today, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was entering into force, which was also warmly welcomed by the Secretary-General, who hailed it as an important step towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
Mr. LeBlanc also informed that the Secretary-General had convened a high-level Replenishment Conference for the Peacebuilding Fund. It would be held virtually on 26 January to mobilize critical support from Member States for conflict prevention and peacebuilding to meet the Fund’s USD 1.5 billion requirements for the period 2020-2024. Journalists would be able to follow it on webtv.un.org.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed a press conference today at noon on the publication of the Global Investment Trends Monitor n°38 - (New FDI data for 2020). The report would be under embargo until 24 January at 7 p.m. The speakers would be James Zhan, Director, Division on Investment and Enterprise, UNCTAD, and Astrit Sulstarova, Chief, Investment Trends and Data Section, Division on Investment and Enterprise.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee would be meeting at the Palais des Nations the following week. Today at 3 p.m., Geir O. Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, would hold a hybrid press conference.
On 25 January at 12 noon, there would be a press conference by the International Labour Organization on the launch of the 7thILO Monitor on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work, which would be under embargo until 25 January at 1 p.m. Speakers would include Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and Sangheon Lee, Director, ILO Employment Policy Department.
On 26 January at 2 p.m., the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would present its report World’s largest survey of public opinion on climate change: a majority of people call for wide-ranging action, embargoed until 27 January at 6:01 a.m. The speaker would be Cassie Flynn, UNDP Climate Advisor.
Finally, Mr. LeBlanc informed about three events the following week to commemorate the Holocaust: “Keeping the Memory Alive – Dimensions in Testimony”, an innovative video project featuring interactive biographies of survivors on the exterior walls of the Beth Yaacov Great Synagogue of Geneva, from 25 to 31 January; the Ciné-ONU screening of the documentary “The Albanian Code” on 26 January at 5 p.m., followed by a discussion; and the official commemorative ceremony at the Palais des Nations on 27 January at 12 noon, which would be webcast live at webtv.un.org, and would feature a testimony of Fanny Ben-Ami, a Holocaust survivor.
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