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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

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 Meteorological Organization, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization.

State of Climate in Asia

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that WMO had released the multi-agency report State of the Climate in Asia 2020, which showed that extreme weather and climate change affected every part of Asia, threatening sustainable development. In 2020, tropical cyclones, floods and droughts had induced an estimated average annual loss of approximately US$ 238 billion in China, US$ 87 billion in India and US$ 83 billion in Japan. The report also provided an overview of land and ocean temperatures, precipitation, glacier retreat, shrinking sea ice, sea level rise and severe weather and examined their socioeconomic impacts. 2020 had seen the highest known temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle, sea surface temperatures rising faster than the global average, an acceleration in glacier retreat and further loss of protective mangroves.

The release of the provisional State of the Climate for the first nine months of 2021 would coincide with the start of COP26 on 31 October. The Water and Climate Coalition and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility would be holding launch events on 2 and 3 November.

In response to a journalist, Ms. Nullis said that WMO had set up an alliance of large international agencies to address the gap in funding for and inadequate coordination of meteorological observation.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for United Nations Information Service (UNIS), recalled that the Emissions Gap Report 2020 would be published that day at an event at 3.15 p.m. EST in which the Secretary-General, António Guterres, and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Ms. Inger Andersen, would take part.

The food situation in Afghanistan

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), recalled that the most recent IPC Report had been released on 25 October, along with footage and photographs.

Mary-Ellen McGroaty, WFP Country Director in Afghanistan, said that the hunger numbers in Afghanistan were devastating and poised to increase further, to 22.8 million people suffering from acute food insecurity, as the winter and lean season gripped the country. The damage would be irreversible for the millions of children who would fall sick because of hunger and malnutrition. The crisis was advancing at a pace and scale that she had not witnessed in over 20 years with WFP.

An already dire situation had deteriorated amid drought, an economic implosion and the devasting legacy of decades of conflict, compounded by the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Household reserves were disappearing at an incredible rate, the country had lost 40 per cent of its GDP and had seen the suspension of international budget support, a liquidity crisis had set in, with salaries going unpaid, jobs were being lost in the formal and informal sectors alike, State social protection programmes had been suspended, essential services had broken down, and food and fuel prices were skyrocketing. An extra 700,000 people had become displaced in the first seven months of 2021. Households across the country were resorting to inconceivable and desperate coping mechanisms, such as selling their children, migrating or joining radical groups. Hospitals were filling up with severely malnourished children, many of whom would die.

WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations system were on the ground and had been able to scale up quickly. WFP and FAO had a combined plan to reach 18 million people by the end of 2021. Over 170 trucks were on the road every day in Afghanistan, getting food into communities. WFP, FAO and UNICEF were working together to get food into the supply chain and scale up the nutritional and agricultural response. However, a massive humanitarian response was required now and for the next year at least.

Richard Trenchard, representative in Afghanistan for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said that 18.8 million people in Afghanistan were facing acute food insecurity, in other words hunger on a daily basis. What had begun in late 2020 as a drought crisis had transformed into a far bigger, more complex situation. The country’s farmers would have a key role to play in bringing Afghanistan back from the brink of catastrophe. That was why it was critical that, in parallel to the crucial work that WFP and other humanitarian partners were doing to save lives, work was also undertaken to accelerate the recovery of agriculture and protect vital agricultural livelihoods. As long as farmers had seeds in their fields and maintained their herds, they could sustain rural communities and avert catastrophe. Otherwise, the country would face ever-diminishing food supplies and incomes, as well as accelerating displacement.

While the winter snows would provide water for the coming season, they would also render large parts of the country inaccessible for entire months. Hence the importance of prepositioning humanitarian assistance. Accordingly, there had to be an immediate and massive increase in humanitarian assistance, the economic situation had to be remedied and international donor assistance had to be unlocked in large amounts to support basic services.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. McGroaty said that US$ 220 million were needed per month to be able to provide even reduced food assistance to all those in IPC3 and IPC4. Humanitarian agencies were being allowed to operate, though access remained a challenge in some areas and was not homogenous. It was necessary to separate politics from humanitarian imperatives; otherwise, millions were at risk of severe hunger.

Also replying to questions, Mr. Trenchard said that FAO had been working in Taliban territory for years and was afforded operational independence. Access had been a major constraint earlier in 2021 but had since improved greatly. The bigger problem was the economic implosion and guaranteeing the winter wheat planting season.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that the flash appeal issued during the ministerial conference on Afghanistan held in Geneva in September, calling for US$ 606 million was only 45 per cent funded.

Steps to ease movement at Pakistan-Afghanistan border

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR welcomed the recent announcement by Pakistani authorities to ease the movement of people and goods through official border points with Afghanistan. The new steps helped reduce fears and risks that many would be pushed into the hands of human smugglers and traffickers. Nearly 700,000 Afghans had been internally displaced by the conflict in 2021. Increased international support was urgently needed to maintain protection for more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees already in Pakistan and nearly 800,000 in Iran. Both countries also hosted a large population of unregistered Afghans. UNHCR called on neighbouring countries to continue extending protection to those seeking safety. 

Inside Afghanistan, UNHCR continued to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to displaced people. Nearly half a million people had received UNHCR assistance so far in 2021, and the Agency was arranging further airlifts of humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan. In addition to emergency relief for the displaced, UNHCR also continued to work in communities where former refugees had returned by investing in infrastructure. 

UNHCR was appealing to the international community to urgently increase financial contributions for displaced Afghans who remained extremely vulnerable and desperately required support to survive the coming winter.

The full briefing note is available here.

Replying to a journalist, Mr. Baloch said that for the time being, the number of Afghans arriving at the border with Pakistan remained low.

Central African Republic refugees start returning home

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had restarted an operation to help thousands of people who had fled as refugees from the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo return voluntarily to their home country. Two convoys of 250 people had left Mole camp since 22 October. Voluntary repatriation had begun in November 2019 but had been halted in March 2020 due to COVID-19 border closures and postponed again in December 2020 owing to violence around the presidential elections in the Central African Republic. People were returning only to areas where security had improved in the past six months. UNHCR and its partners would soon be organizing voluntary repatriation flights for refugees living in Inke camp.

So far, almost 10,000 people living in camps in North and South Ubangi province had signed up for voluntary repatriation. UNHCR was providing cash assistance to the returning refugees and was working with the Government of the Central African Republic on reintegration projects. More than 206,000 Central African refugees lived in camps and with host communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNHCR and its partners planned to assist 6,500 of them to return home in 2021.

The full briefing note can be found here.

Burundian refugees voluntarily returning home

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that a convoy carrying 343 Burundian refugees had returned to the country from Uganda on 25 October, bringing the number of refugees who had voluntarily returned to Burundi in 2021 to more than 60,000.

UNHCR was assisting with the returns and had conducted assessments to ensure that the decision to return was voluntary, free and informed and that repatriation took place in safety and dignity. On arrival at one of five reception centres, returning families were given household items and cash assistance to help them restart their lives. However, more support was needed to achieve sustainable reintegration for the individuals returning, as well as for communities in Burundi receiving them.

UNHCR was calling for more funding for the 2021 Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan, which outlined the requirements to support the returns, sustainable reintegration and community resilience. Only 10 per cent of the US$104.3 million needed to support return and reintegration in Burundi had been committed.

More than 180,000 Burundian refugees had returned home since 2017, with a notable increase since July 2020 after the country’s national elections. However, nearly 270,000 Burundian refugees remained in exile, generously hosted by Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa and Zambia.

The full briefing note is available here.

In response to a question, Ms. Mantoo said that UNHCR was concerned about reports of human rights violations being committed in Burundi. For that reason, it was assisting only refugees who had made a free and informed decision to return and was advocating for borders to remain open and asylum procedures accessible.

Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030

Dr. Etienne Krug, Director, Department of the Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization (WHO), said that since the invention of the automobile, 50 million had died on the world’s roads. Another 50 million were injured each year, and traffic accidents were the leading cause of death among young people around the world. The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030 would be launched on 28 October, at 2 p.m.

The Global Plan built on lessons learned from countries that had drastically improved their road safety but also focused on the need to shift to healthier modes of transportation. It pushed for greater involvement of young people and the private sector in shaping the new model of transportation. Its aim was to halve deaths and injuries caused by road accidents over the next 10 years.

Replying to questions from journalists, Dr. Kruger said the problem was a global one; however, countries with little regulation or enforcement – on issues such as speeding, impaired driving, seat belts, child seats and infrastructure – to accompany a growing number of cars tended to have worse outcomes.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the Trade and Development Report 2021 would be published on 28 October, at 7 a.m., in time for the start of COP26. In addition, the Review of Maritime Transport 2021, an important analysis of world trade in a context of high pressures on global supply chains, would be issued on 18 November. A press conference would be scheduled around 11 November.

Sophy Fisher, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that ILO would be holding a virtual press conference on 27 October, at 10 a.m., to launch its eighth Monitor on the impact of COVID-19 on labour markets (under embargo until noon on 27 October). Speakers would be ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and Sangheon Lee, Director, ILO Employment Policy Department.

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the new campaign “Don’t choose extinction” would be launched on 27 October to raise awareness of the negative impacts of climate change on the planet and humankind, with a focus on the need to phase out financing of fossil fuels. A briefing would be held at 3.30 p.m. and would include supporters of the campaign, actors Aïssa Maïga and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that a press conference of the World Health Summit would be held at 2 p.m. on 26 October on the topic of harnessing the economy to achieve health for all. Speakers would include WHO Director-General and economist Mariana Mazzucato. The next WHO global COVID-19 press conference was scheduled for Thursday, 28 October, at 4 p.m.

In response to journalists, Ms. Harris said that the statement of the Emergency Committee, following its meeting on 22 October, was expected that day.

WHO had asked that booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines for the general population should be delayed in order to free up supply for countries that had yet to administer first doses.

The candidates for WHO Director-General were expected to be announced by the end of October, she added.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that the Special Envoy for Syria was scheduled to brief the Security Council on Wednesday, 27 October, at 4 p.m. The briefing would be open and a transcript would be circulated after Mr. Pedersen concluded his remarks.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the Human Rights Committee, whose 133rd session would run until 5 November, was concluding its review of the report of Ukraine that morning.

He also said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would be reviewing the report of Egypt on 26 October and the report of Yemen on 27 October. It planned to review the reports of Indonesia on the mornings of 28 and 29 October, Ecuador on those afternoons, Kyrgyzstan on the mornings of 2 and 3 November, the Russian Federation on those afternoons, South Sudan on 4 November and South Africa on 5 November. The eightieth session would run until 12 November, in room XXIII of the Palais des Nations.

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