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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Jens Laerke, Spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by representatives and spokespersons of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Pakistan floods

Dr. Palitha Mahipala, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Pakistan, speaking from Islamabad, informed that the scale of the humanitarian crisis was unprecedented, with one third of the country under water. More than 33 million people were affected. Dr. Mahipala, traveling across the country, had witnessed tremendous destruction; the Government of Pakistan had declared a national emergency and the WHO had also declared its own highest level of emergency. Over the past few weeks, torrential monsoon rains had broken a century-long record and dumped more than five times the 30-year average for rainfall in some provinces, killing more than 1,200 people, and injuring over 6,000 people, while washing away or damaging over 1.1 million houses and destroying vital infrastructure. Floods were expected to further intensify, warned Dr. Mahipala.

Disruption of health services was taking place, leaving the most vulnerable at a particular risk. There was now a high risk of water-borne, deadly diseases spreading rapidly -- diarrhoea, cholera, dengue, malaria. Without adequate sanitation, communities were increasingly having to resort to open defecation, putting them at high risk of contracting diseases. There was an urgent need to provide sufficient medical care and supplies, including mental health care support. WHO was aiming to assist as many people in need as fast as possible, he stressed. WHO was also focused on identifying and detecting any possible disease outbreaks and react immediately. WHO was working with partners in the flood-affected districts and providing medical care and supplies. Dr. Mahipala said that the WHO had dedicated US$10 million for this emergency, in addition to using the country team’s funds. Access remained a major challenge, as well as limited stocks of medical supplies.

Further information about the WHO activities in Pakistan is available here.

Abdullah Fadil, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Pakistan, speaking from Islamabad, said that an estimated 16 million children were affected by the floods, and UNICEF was aiming to assist 3.4 million of those. Over 400 children were known to have perished, and numerous schools had been destroyed or seriously damaged, affecting children’s access to education. Exacerbating this horrendous situation, many of the 72 hardest-hit districts had already been amongst the most vulnerable ones in Pakistan, and 40 per cent of children had already been suffering from stunting before the floods. Many children were now at heightened risk, without a home, school, or even safe drinking water. Preparations were necessary for the upcoming winter, while a more urgent response was needed to prevent infectious and water-borne diseases. UNICEF was expecting two planes full of supplies including medicines, nutrition, bed nets, etc. UNICEF’s motto was “For Every Child”, stressed Mr. Fadil, and the world ought not to forget the children of Pakistan who were now in dire need of help.

More information about UNICEF’s response in Pakistan can be found here.

Chris Kaye, the World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director for Pakistan, speaking from Dubai, reminded of the Flash Appeal of US$160 million for which contributions were now starting to come in, which was very much welcome. One of the biggest challenges was logistics, stressed Mr. Kaye. The situation in Pakistan had been grave even before the floods, with 43 percent of Pakistanis being food insecure. There was a major problem with the region as a whole, including Afghanistan, where the challenge would be to restart agricultural production which would help the people feed themselves. WFP was becoming increasingly concerned how the floods would affect the people of Afghanistan.

Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that the UNHCR was mobilizing resources and staff to scale up its assistance in Pakistan to support local communities and refugees in areas devastated by the catastrophic floods. Working with Pakistan’s disaster management authorities, UNHCR was quickly releasing thousands of tents, as well as blankets, plastic sheets, buckets, and other household items in the badly affected Khyber Pakhtunkwa and Balochistan provinces, where UNHCR had distributed 10,000 tents and other aid items.

Mr. Saltmarsh reminded that Pakistan and its people had hosted millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades, with some 1.3 million currently registered in the country. UNHCR’s assistance was a sign of solidarity with the country and its people: while deploying its existing stocks in the country, originally meant for our Afghan refugee and host community operations, UNHCR was also moving further relief items from the regional stockpiles in Termez, Uzbekistan and looking at other options.

UNHCR statement is available here.

Responding to questions, Abdullah Fadil, for UNICEF, said that measures were put in place to prevent exploitation of vulnerable children, but emphasized the logistics remained a major challenge. Chris Kaye, for the WFP, stated that Pakistan was a main point of entry of food into Afghanistan, which was now affected by the floods. Climate change was having a devastating impact on the whole region, emphasized Mr. Kaye. Matthew Saltmarsh, for the UNHCR, said that the Agency had a refugee support programme within the country, which was helping both Afghani refugees and Pakistani host communities.

Food Price Index

Boubaker Ben-Belhassen, Director of the Markets and Trade Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Rome, informed that the barometer for world food commodity prices, which tracked monthly changes in world prices of five major food commodity groups – cereals, vegetable oils, meat, dairy products and sugar – had declined for the fifth consecutive month in August, as quotations for most benchmark items dropped. Food Price Index was down 1.9 percent compared to July although remaining 7.9 percent above its value a year before. The FAO Cereal Price Index had decreased by 1.4 percent from the previous month, while the FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index had decreased by 3.3 percent from July, reaching a level slightly below that of August 2021. At the same time, the FAO Dairy Price Index had decreased by 2 percent in August, while remaining 23.5 percent above its August 2021 value, and the FAO Meat Price Index had declined by 1.5 percent from July, remaining 8.2 percent higher its value a year ago. Finally, the FAO Sugar Price Index had decreased by 2.1 percent to its lowest level since July 2021.

Mr. Ben-Belhassen explained that the lower prices were still not being reflected at the retail level, and the continued high prices of energy and gas were still keeping the production and transportation costs high. He opined that the recent decreases in world prices did not mean market stability. As long as the energy prices remained high, he expected that the food prices for consumers would also stay elevated. Lower production and higher prices of rice would particularly affect Sub-Saharan Africa, said Mr. Ben-Belhassen in a response to questions. The Black Sea Grain Initiative had helped improve the global food situation, he said, but that had not yet translated to better access at the consumer level.

More information on the latest Food Price Index is available here.

OHCHR report on China

Responding to questions, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that Michelle Bachelet had not been threatened, but that she and the Office had indeed been under pressure to both publish and not publish the report, as the outgoing High Commissioner had said it herself the previous week. It was hoped that the report would serve as a starting point for further initiatives and cooperation with the Government of China. OHCHR stood ready to support China in addressing the issues raised in the report; China’s official response to the report was annexed to it, reminded Ms. Shamdasani. The report included numerous recommendations for the Government of China, but also for the international community. Ms. Shamdasani said that details of bilateral contacts were not revealed.

On another question, Ms. Shamdasani explained that Ms. Bachelet’s replacement had not been announced yet. Until then, Nada Al-Nashif, the Deputy High Commissioner, was an acting head of the OHCHR.

Myanmar

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the United Kingdom's former Ambassador to Myanmar, Vicky Bowman, and her husband had just been sentenced to one year in prison by the country's military authorities. They joined hundreds of others sentenced to prison in trials which failed to meet international standards.

Announcements

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), reminded of a hybrid press conference at 3 pm today, at which the latest annual Air Quality and Climate Bulletin would be presented. The report would be under embargo until 7 September. Today’s speaker would be Dr. Lorenzo Labrador, WMO Scientific Officer. A report on the state of climate in Africa would be issued on 8 September, informed Ms. Nullis.

Jens Laerke, chairing the briefing, informed that the Human Rights Council President, Federico Villegas, would hold a press conference on 7 September at 2 pm, ahead of the 51st regular session of the Council, which would start on 12 September.

Monika Gehner, for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), introduced David Hirsch, the new Senior Communications Officer at the ITU. Mr. Hirsch informed that from 26 September though 14 October, the ITU’s 2022 Plenipotentiary Conference (PT-22) would take place in Bucharest. ITU's 193 Member States would elect ITU’s next secretary-general and senior management team. All relevant documents are here: Media advisory about registration. Newsroom. About PP-22. About the elections. All ITU backgrounders. Communication package.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was meeting in private until the end of the session, scheduled for 9 September at 3 pm, when it would issue its concluding observations on the reports reviewed during the 27th session.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning its review of South Sudan.

The Conference on Disarmament was discussing its draft annual report in a public plenary today.

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