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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 (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

UNHCR warns of imminent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that a humanitarian crisis was looming in Afghanistan as the escalating conflict brought an increase in human suffering and civilian displacement. An estimated 270,000 Afghans had been internally displaced since January 2021, bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million. Families who had fled their homes in recent weeks had cited the worsening security situation as the main reason for their flight. UNHCR and partners had been told of incidents of extortion by non-State armed groups and the presence of improvised explosive devices on major roads. The needs of those who had been forced to flee were acute. As part of a coordinated response, UNHCR and partners were providing newly displaced Afghans with emergency shelter, food, health, water and sanitation support and cash assistance, despite challenges in accessing vulnerable groups.

A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence would lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond.

It should not be ignored that Iran and Pakistan together hosted nearly 90% of Afghan refugees – more than 2 million in total – and had granted them protection and access to health and educational services. UNHCR welcomed those Governments’ commitment to providing access to asylum amidst the global health and socioeconomic challenges presented by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. UNHCR stood ready to bolster humanitarian support to all host countries in the case of additional arrivals, and it urged the international community to step up support for the Government and people of Afghanistan and its neighbours at this critical moment, in a spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing.

The full briefing note can be found here: UNHCR - UNHCR warns of imminent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan

Responding to questions by journalists, Mr. Baloch said that about a tenth of the Afghan population was now displaced within the country; internally displaced persons were scattered across many regions. The situation was particularly challenging for Afghan women, who were anxious to preserve the great gains they had made over the previous 20 years, especially in terms of access to education. They wanted peace and stability for their country, not a return to an era in which their freedoms had been curtailed. UNHCR was particularly troubled by reports of rising violence against women, including the targeted killings of students, activists and journalists.

In the current climate of insecurity, it was not always possible to pinpoint who was responsible for attacks, although it was clear that civilians had borne the brunt of the violence. Most displaced Afghans remained inside the country, although some cross-border movements had been reported. UNHCR stood ready to scale up its operation and to work with neighbouring countries to receive any refugees who might flee across the border in search of safety.

Situation in Tigray

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that on 12 July, a WFP convoy of 50 trucks had arrived in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele with 900 metric tons of food, as well as other emergency supplies. It was the first humanitarian convoy to reach Tigray since WFP had resumed operations in the northwest on 2 July following fighting. The convoy had included 29 truckloads of wheat, split peas and vegetable oil – enough to cover the urgent food needs of 200,000 people for a week. Yet, with almost 4 million people in need of emergency food assistance, that was not nearly enough. Stocks of food and fuel were still at alarmingly low levels. Moreover, it had taken the convoy four days to travel 445 kilometres from Semera to Mekele via Abala. It had passed through over ten checkpoints on the way, where the humanitarian cargo had been rigorously checked. For that reason, WFP was extremely concerned about its ability to mount an effective humanitarian response; at the current rate, it could not hope to reach the 2 million people in need of food assistance in Tigray. It therefore appealed to the authorities to allow smoother access to the region.

The WFP news release is available here: World Food Programme convoy reaches Tigray, many more are vital to meet growing needs | World Food Programme (wfp.org)

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the convoy had also transported 40 metric tons of medical supplies in the light of reports that medical equipment and supplies had been removed or destroyed in most of the region’s health facilities. WHO was in the process of procuring vital supplies worth USD 1.9 million for the treatment of malaria, cholera and malnutrition. Those supplies were only a fraction of what was needed but would be invaluable for local authorities and partners to deliver assistance. Deliveries would need to be scaled up in order to resupply health facilities and allow health workers to provide care. WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners were working together to get health system up and running again – an epic task, in which they faced huge barriers.

Replying to questions, Mr. Lindmeier said that medical supplies had been removed or destroyed in approximately 40 health facilities. As a result, the health system was barely functioning. Regarding funding needs, WHO had a combined humanitarian and COVID-19 response budget of USD 34 million, of which only USD 7.2 million had been mobilized, leaving a funding gap of USD 26.8 million.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, noted that on 9 July, the United Nations Secretary-General had welcomed assurances that the Government of Ethiopia would facilitate immediate access to Tigray for humanitarian organizations. The Secretary-General had reiterated his call that all parties must meet their obligations to protect civilians, provide unimpeded humanitarian access and to observe international humanitarian law.

Mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 15 June 2021, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization (SAGE) had updated its interim recommendations on the Pfizer vaccine to give permissive recommendation to use the Pfizer vaccine as a second dose, following a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, if a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine was not available. A clinical trial led by the University of Oxford was currently investigating mixing the regimen of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines among people aged 50 and over. The trial had recently been expanded to include the Moderna and Novovax vaccines. Preliminary findings showed that people who had received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine and a second dose of Pfizer vaccine had a higher likelihood of fever and other mild side effects than if they had received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Those side effects lasted on average a few days and no hospitalizations had occurred. Decisions on the mixing of vaccine regimens should be taken by public health agencies, based on available data, and not by individuals. Further data from mix-and-match studies were needed in order to evaluate immunogenicity and safety.

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier said that recent studies on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant suggested that the vaccine remained about 93% effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization. He recalled that the general advice of WHO was for all countries to vaccinate the most vulnerable people first, including frontline health and care workers. Governments were responsible for formulating their own policies to achieve that goal.

Launch of State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

Dominique Burgeon, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that on 12 July, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, WFP and WHO had launched the 2021 edition of the flagship report State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The main message of the report was that the world was not on track to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Pre-existing drivers, such as conflict, extreme weather events, economic shocks and poverty and inequality, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, had led to a situation in which approximately 768 million people faced hunger in 2020 – an increase of 118 million compared with 2019. In terms of geographical distribution, Asia accounted for the largest number of people facing hunger (418 million), while the prevalence of undernourishment was highest in Africa, where it affected 21% of the population. Negative trends had also been observed in respect of stunting, wasting and obesity. The only positive was a gradual increase in the proportion of children who benefited from exclusive breastfeeding.

The report emphasized that 3 billion people around the world still could not afford access to a healthy diet. Faced with that dire situation, there was a need for everyone to play a part in reversing the negative trends. The report identified six possible pathways for countries to reflect upon so that they could make their food systems more resilient, efficient, sustainable, and inclusive.

Responding to journalists, Mr. Burgeon said that according to the report, the pandemic’s impact on food security had been very severe, albeit varying from one country the next, depending on the resilience of agri-food systems and levels of social protection, among other factors. It was estimated that the number of people facing hunger would begin to decrease from 2021; however, the current trajectory would be insufficient to achieve reach zero hunger. It was estimated that 660 million people would still face hunger in 2030.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that on 12 July, the United Nations Secretary-General had issued a statement in the light of the tragic data on the number of people facing hunger. The Secretary-General had stated that “In a world of plenty, we have no excuse for billions of people to lack access to a healthy diet. This is unacceptable … This is why I am convening a global Food Systems Summit this September. We must come together to urgently make a change. The upcoming pre-summit in Rome at the end of this month will help us define the scope of our ambition and work out how we must address hunger, the climate emergency, incredible inequality and conflict, by transforming our food systems.”

The full statement of the Secretary-General can be found here: High Costs, Persistent Poverty Prevent 3 Billion People from Accessing Healthy Diets, Secretary-General Says ahead of Food Systems Summit, Calls for Change | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases (un.org)

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 14 July at 6 p.m. CEST, UNCTAD would publish a report on the impact of the carbon border adjustment mechanism adopted by the European Union in the context of the European Green Deal with a view to decarbonizing its economy by 2050. The report looked at the potential effects of the carbon border adjustment mechanism on CO2 emissions and trade flows, particularly with developing countries. The report would be under embargo until 14 July at 6 p.m. CEST.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) would hold a virtual press conference on new official data on childhood vaccination. The data would be shared with journalists prior to the press conference and would be under embargo until July 15 at 1 a.m. CEST. Speakers would include Katherine O'Brien, Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, WHO; Dr. Jan Grevendonk, Technical Officer for Immunization Information, WHO; and Ephrem Lemango, Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunization, UNICEF.


Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council would continue its action on draft resolutions throughout the day.

 

On behalf of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ms. Vellucci said that on Wednesday, 14 July at 2 p.m., OHCHR would hold a press conference on the subject of “Freedom of Expression Online: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age”.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Human Rights Committee would next meet in public on 16 July at 4 p.m. to consider the progress report of the Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations on State party reports. The Committee’s 132nd session would close on 23 July.

The seventy-first session of the Committee against Torture had opened on 12 July. Today at 2 p.m. the Committee would hold a short public meeting devoted to the follow-up of articles 19 and 22 of the Convention and to the question of reprisals. It would review the report of Belgium on 15 and 16 July, at 12.30 p.m. on each day.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that the next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament was scheduled for 27 July under the presidency of Ambassador Leslie Norton of Canada.

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