REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Human Rights Council, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Health Organization.
Impact of ten years of war on children in Syria
Bo Viktor Nylund, Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Syria, said that regrettably the situation for children in Syria was getting worse. There was a triple crisis going on: the continued conflict, the economic downturn, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two out of three families reported they could not meet their basic needs; the price of the food basket significantly increased while the value of the Syrian pound had gone down. Boys and girls were increasingly having to turn to negative copying mechanisms, such as child marriage and child labour. UNICEF believed that more than 13 million people in Syria needed humanitarian action, and almost half of those were children, said Mr. Nylund.
Some five million children had been born in Syria over the past ten years and had known nothing but death and destruction. Children were still being killed and maimed. The protection of children in Syria hung by a thread. Since 2011, at least 12,000 children had been verified to have been killed or maimed in Syria; full figures were likely to be higher. Grave violations continued, especially in the northwest of the country, where nine out of ten attacks on schools were occurring. Education used to be the pride of Syria, with enrolment rates consistently over 97 per cent; now some 3.5 million children were out of school, said Mr. Nylund. This would have a devastating effect on the country in the years to come. More than 700 education facilities and personnel had been confirmed to have been under attack in the ten years of conflict.
Speaking of UNICEF’s actions, Mr. Nylund said that in 2020 UNICEF had been able to reach more than 12 million people across Syria with lifesaving assistance. While the humanitarian response was not going to solve the crisis, it was critical that UNICEF continue to get the support to help Syrian children. UNICEF’s response to the needs of Syrian children and their families was one of the largest in our history with a total of USD 1.4 billion required for 2021.
Responding to questions, Mr. Nylund said that UNICEF strongly collaborated with the rest of the UN team and with the Syrian Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
New coalition to support school feeding worldwide
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that the WFP had begun to convene a coalition of stakeholders to support governments to restore and boost access to school feeding for the most vulnerable children. At the request of the African Union and member states such as Finland and France, the school feeding coalition - composed of stakeholders drawn from governments, development agencies, donors, academia, the private sector, UN agencies and civil society organizations - employed a “big tent” approach where all stakeholders interested in school feeding can converge.
One in two schoolchildren, equivalent to 388 million children worldwide, had been receiving school meals when the pandemic struck - the highest number in history, according to the State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 report. By April 2020, 199 countries had closed schools leaving 370 million children without school meals. Therefore, the intiative came at a crucial time. The coalition, which would be built during the course of 2021 and launched at the Food Systems Summit in September, had already gained support from stakeholders. Mr. Phiri stressed that school feeding was a game changer for children, parents, smallholder farmers and indeed for the entire community. Activities helped stave off hunger, support long-term health and helped a child learn and thrive, which was especially true for girls.
Extreme water shortages in Somalia
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that tens of thousands of people in Somalia had been forced to leave their homes because of the extreme water shortages. Poor seasonal rains had been recorded the previous year. Displaced people had told OCHA they were moving in search of water for themselves and their animals. Water shortages would also increase the risk of disease outbreaks. Some USD 13 million had been released from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund to scale up the response, said Mr. Laerke. One billion was needed in funding, but so far only 2.5 per cent had been received.
Since November 2020, some 83,000 people had been displaced because of the water shortages, said Mr. Laerke answering a question. That number was likely to increase.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that 29 draft resolutions had been tabled thus far; two more were expected today. They covered a wide range of themes and country situations; nine were country-specific and 22 were thematic draft resolutions. They would be considered on 22 and 23 March. Today, the Council would continue its interactive discussion with the Commission on South Sudan, to be followed by the High Commissioner’s report on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Assistant Secretary-General for Peace and Peacebuilding Affairs would speak on Myanmar, to be followed by a discussion on country situations. Interactive discussion on the situation in Myanmar with the Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews would also be held today.
More information on the Council’s forty-sixth session is available here.
Responding to questions, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said there was no date yet on the release of the report of the investigative mission to China. Dr.Harris explained that a few countries in Europe had suspended use of a specific batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine distributed in the European Union, based on reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in persons who had received vaccine from that batch. This was decided as a precaution whilst a full investigation was being finalized. Vaccine benefits continued to outweigh the risks, advised the European Medecines Agency’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee. WHO would report on the AstraZeneca vaccine after a review by its own Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. More than 268 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered thus far, and no deaths had been reported to date.
When asked about response to variants she stressed that public health preventive measures- avoiding crowding, closed spaces, wearing masks, physical distancing, testing, tracking, tracing, quarantine and self-isolation if infected - worked, and had to be applied all together, along with the vaccination. Not one single bit of the response could be ignored. The whole world was interconnected, and until everyone was safe, nobody was safe, and everyone had to do their part.
Dr. Harris also informed that the Sinopharm vaccine was currently in the final stages of the emergency use listing process done by WHO. She stressed that every country made their own decision about the vaccine approval.
One year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), referred to a statement by the UN Secretary-General on the first anniversary since the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the global COVID-19 pandemic. The SG stated that the global vaccination campaign represented the greatest moral test of our times. It was also essential to restart the global economy, and help the world move from locking down societies to locking down the virus. COVID-19 vaccines had to be seen as a global public good.
Mr. LeBlanc informed that the UN was launching a new #OnlyTogether multimedia campaign, which would emphasize that only together could we protect healthcare workers and the world’s most vulnerable people, revive our economies, and end this pandemic and recover.
Full Secretary-General’s statement is available here.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 18 March, UNCTAD would publish an update on the global economy. The report would be embargoed until 7 a.m. Geneva time. The report would look at who had done better and worse than expected the previous year. It would explain why UNCTAD had upgraded its forecast for 2021, but also have a warning about complacency given the weakness of international cooperation in the face of the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression. Speakers at a virtual press conference on 16 March at 4 p.m. would be Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at UNCTAD, and Nelson Barbosa, Professor of Economics at the University of Brasilia.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), informed that the Regional Forum 2021 (10-18 March) would discuss the sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and action and delivery on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the UNECE Region. High-level speakers included Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, ECOSOC President Munir Akram, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova, UNOG Director-General Tatiana Valovaya, and others. The high-level segment would be complemented by 12 peer learning round tables and more than 25 side events and pre-meetings, facilitating a truly multi-stakeholder exchange. For the first time this year, in addition to civil society and youth representatives, dedicated meetings would gather SDG advocates from the private sector, parliaments, and local governments. The plenary sessions would be broadcasted live on UN Web TV and most peer learning round tables would be livestreamed on YouTube. Programme and details can be found here.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 15 March between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. there would be a virtual press stakeout by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, following his briefing to the Security Council. The exact time would be communicated later.
The Conference on Disarmament had held a public plenary meeting this morning.
The Human Rights Committee would close on 26 March its one-hundred thirty-first session, during which it had reviewed the reports of Finland and Kenya.
The twenty-fourth session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was beginning today at 12:30 p.m. its review of the report of Estonia, which would continue on 15 and 17 March, from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day.
* * *