PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of
the Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Update on Ebola in Uganda
[On 20 September 2022, Uganda has declared an Ebola disease outbreak caused by the Sudan ebolavirus species, after the confirmation of a case in Mubende district in the central part of Uganda. ]
Dr Janet Diaz, Head of Clinical Management at the World Health Organization (WHO), said she had just returned from a visit in Uganda, where she had taken stock of the current situation, assessed the needs of the health facilities in affected areas and provided support to health authorities and partners. Ms. Diaz had evaluated, in particular, the availability of staff, supplies, structures, systems of referral, and safety – the “Five S” that permit optimized supportive care, and therefore the saving of lives, even without a proven vaccine, or therapeutics, against the Sudan Ebola virus.
As part of the ministry-led coordinated response, the national clinical management (CM) pillar had set up Ebola care facilities in affected districts with the support of operational partners and WHO: there were about 300 beds available for surge response in affected areas. WHO and operational partners were working to support the Ministry of Health to establish more bed capacity; at least 3 new facilities were in construction. WHO hoped that a decentralized approach with the local authorities in the lead would be more acceptable to the community and at the same time preserve essential services, which was key.
Furthermore, over 80 WHO experts were on the ground, including three international Ebola virus disease clinical experts who had been providing clinical mentorship to the clinical staff. WHO was also supporting the national authorities to ensure that, in case of more surges, adequate supplies and medicines would be readily available.
Ebola responses were complex but with good coordination and collaboration, strategic objectives could be met, including stopping the outbreak and ensuring patients with suspected or confirmed with Ebola virus disease received safe and quality care.
Answering questions from journalists, Dr Diaz said the most recent figures were 136 confirmed cases, 21 probable cases, and 53 deaths, the fatality ratio standing therefore at 38.9%. Fadela Chaib, also for the World Health Organization, explained that in the absence of therapeutics against the Sudan ebolavirus, early detection of cases greatly enhanced survival rates. Three vaccine candidates were under consideration. WHO was assessing the propagation risk to neighbouring countries. Ugandan authorities would have to decide whether to close schools, taking a risk-based approach.
Funds Drying Up as Hunger Looms in Mozambique’s North
Tomson Phiri, the World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Communications Officer for Southern Africa, introduced Antonella d’Aprile, WFP Country Director and Representative in Mozambique. Ms. d’Aprile warned that the Programme would be forced to suspend its life-saving assistance to one million people in Northern Mozambique by next February, at the peak of the lean season, unless additional funding was urgently received. WFP needed USD 51 million.
The funding situation had been worrying for some time: since past April, WFP had been forced to halve the food rations to families due to limited funding and increasing needs. Families were now receiving less than 40 percent of their minimum caloric needs, and recent data indicated a further aggravation of food insecurity and hunger. To make matters worse, attacks had intensified in the recent months, spreading to neighbouring provinces, pushing more people to flee their villages. These people had been displaced and traumatized multiple times.
In times of COP27, WFP reminded that Mozambique was one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Only this year, tropical storms and cyclones had hit the north and center of Mozambique, affecting 900,000 people. Croplands had been inundated, condemning communities to further food insecurity and malnutrition.
Despite the widespread violence and the funding situation, WFP had managed to expand the delivery of food and nutrition to remote areas, reaching people in desperate need. WFP needed funding now to avert not only hunger in the short-term, but also to address the root causes of chronic food insecurity in Mozambique.
Answering questions from journalists, Ms. d’Aprile stressed that 50% of the people displaced had children, who would be the first to suffer in case of a worsening food situation. Regarding security conditions, there was no UN peacekeeping mission in Mozambique. The Southern African Development Community had, however, deployed military forces, in addition to national ones, and they were supporting the humanitarian efforts.
Food Outlook: Biannual Report on Global Food Markets
Boubaker Ben Belhassen, Director of the Markets and Trade Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that, according to the latest Biannual Report on Global Food Markets (to be published today), market conditions for major food commodities could ease somewhat in 2022-2023; that food import bills were expected to reach now record highs in 2022; and that import bills for agricultural inputs – energy, fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds – would also see a sharp increase.
While basic food stuffs could benefit from easing market conditions, many factors – including conflicts, bleak economic prospects and sudden changes in trade policies – were causing uncertainties to the stability of the global food markets. The easing was due to a forecast growth in cereal production which should lead to a buildup in inventories. For rice, global production should drop this year due to unfavorable weather and hikes in input prices; however, supplies were forecast to remain abundant un 2022-2023 thanks to large stocks. Global trade in sugar was expected to rise thanks to large quantities available compared to last year. Global trade dairy product would likely drop in 2022, for the first time in twenty years.
Global food import bills were expected to reach new highs in 2022, rising to nearly USD 2 trillion, up USD 180 billion from 2021, the bulk of the increase driven by higher cost of the imports. Economically vulnerable countries were finding it increasingly difficult to finance their food imports, which could in turn have serious consequences for food security. At the same time, the prices of agricultural inputs were augmenting in an alarming manner, with bills having increased by nearly 50% in 2022; higher prices of energy and fertilizers were the main factors (90%) explaining this increase.
According to the data on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, 10.2 million tons of grain and other food products had been exported from Ukraine from the beginning of the Initiative until 10 November, which had improved food availability; it could be complemented by other measures to improve food access, Mr. Ben Belhassen noted.
Answering questions, M. Ben Belhassen added that FAO also compiled data on food and fertilizer exports from Russia. FAO also was looking into the effect of “excessive speculative behavior” on food prices: experience from 2007-2008 suggested that this impact would be transitory; and, at the same time, present changes in prices could still be explained by demand and supply, as witnessed by the effect of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The possible termination of that deal at the end of November, Mr. Ben Belhassen added, could have very serious implications on prices and availability. The impact would be immediately felt by countries that depend on import from the Black Sea region, such as countries in the MENA region. The impact would also be felt in Ukraine, since the Initiative had had a stabilizing effect for the farmers there.
Also on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), also indicated that the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Ms. Rebeca Grynspan, and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator , Mr. Martin Griffiths, would be meeting with a high-level delegation from the Russian Federation, led by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Sergey Vershinin, today in Geneva, and that they would continue consultations in support of the efforts by the Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres on the full implementation of the two agreements signed on 22 July in Istanbul. It was hoped that the discussions would advance progress made in facilitating the unimpeded export of food and fertilizers originating from the Russian Federation to the global markets. No media opportunities were foreseen.
Extreme hardship for forcibly displaced families this winter
Olga Sarrado, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), warned that this coming winter would be far more challenging than in recent years, and that many displaced families would have no option but to choose between food and warmth.
UNHCR estimated that 3.4 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt would need critical assistance to prepare for and cope with winter. Millions of Ukrainians uprooted from their homes by the current war were facing winter in displacement or were living in damaged homes or in buildings ill-suited to protect them from the biting cold, with disrupted energy, heating and water supplies and lost livelihoods. In Afghanistan, where winter temperatures can easily plunge to -25 degrees Celsius across parts of the country, many displaced and conflict-affected families would be left exposed to the elements.
Despite worsening humanitarian needs, the funding outlook for life-saving aid programmes and assistance remained bleak. Owing to funding shortfalls, UNHCR had recently been forced to scale back essential programmes in several countries. The Agency was therefore launching a global winter fundraising campaign to help forcibly displaced families, in the above-mentioned countries, meet their most urgent needs during the coldest months of the year.
Answering journalists, Ms. Sarrado explained that UNHRC needed USD 700 million until the end of the year. The funding would help provide those uprooted with warm winter clothing, thermal blankets, home repairs, solar panels and lamps, gas cylinders and cash assistance to cover other essential winter needs, including heating.
UNHCR teams were at work inside Ukraine in favor of displaced persons in the country. In Afghanistan, the refugee agency was planning to support 400 000 persons with financial assistance to cope with winter-related expenses.
More information about the campaign is available here: https://donate.unhcr.org/winter.
UNHCR had also called on Dominican Republic authorities, on 3 November, to refrain from forced returns of Haitians until the situation in Haiti had stabilized, Ms. Sarrado reminded in answer to another question.
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, informed that the Universal Periodic Review Working Group would today examine the human rights records of Algeria; on Monday, it would review the human rights records of the Philippines (in the morning) and Brazil (in the afternoon).
Mr. Gomez added that the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel , would conclude, this afternoon, its first round of public hearings, with the two last testimonies. A closing statement by the President of the Commission, summarizing the proceedings, would be sent to journalists as soon as possible. The Commission of Inquiry intended to hold further public hearings in the near future to hear the first-hand experiences of Israeli and Palestinian witnesses and victims.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) would hold a press conference on Thursday, 17 November, 10 a.m., to launch its Landmine Monitor 2022 report. Speakers would be Hardy Giezendanner, UNIDIR Conventional Arms & Ammunition Senior Researcher, with colleagues.
Ms. Vellucci also informed that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) would open its 108th session next Monday, during which it would review the reports of France, Brazil, Bahrain, Botswana, Jamaica and Georgia. As for the Committee Against Torture (CAT), it would review of the report of Australia starting next Tuesday morning.