PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Radio, TV and Webcast Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Human Rights Council.
Health and malnutrition situation in the Greater Horn of Africa
Liesbeth Aelbrecht, World Health Organization (WHO) incident manager, speaking from Nairobi,
spoke of a surge in disease outbreaks and the highest number of malnourished children in years, with millions of people affected, in the context of a deteriorating food insecurity outlook. Today, as many as 48 million people were facing crisis levels of food insecurity, which at a household level meant that they were skipping meals and were likely to have depleted their savings and essential livelihood assets.
Those 48 million people included six million who were facing emergency levels of food insecurity.
About 11.9 million children under the age of five were likely to face acute malnutrition in 2023.
Ms. Aelbrecht explained that conflict, climate, and the food crisis had displaced 18 million people in the region. Large-scale displacement was often accompanied by a deterioration in hygiene and sanitation and coupled with the acute scarcity of water these conditions largely contributed to an increased risk of outbreaks. At this point, all seven countries in the region were battling measles outbreaks while there were cholera outbreaks in four countries. Malaria was endemic in the region and, in some places, the leading cause of death. Other current disease outbreaks included dengue, hepatitis E, and meningitis.
Ms. Aelbrecht specified that in Somalia alone, an estimated 1.8 million children under five needed malnutrition treatment services, including close to 478,000 children with severe wasting. Humanitarian efforts had made a huge difference in averting famine in Somalia and elsewhere, but it was not over yet. Longer-term investments were needed in addition to the multisectoral humanitarian assistance. WHO was asking for USD 178 million to carry out urgent, life-saving work in 2023 to help the Greater Horn region.
Responding to questions, Ms. Aelbrecht explained that the USD 178 million would be only for WHO’s response in the seven affected countries in 2023. Large part of reported deaths were in Somalia, she said. It was very challenging to access populations in need; attacks on health care, particularly in South Sudan, certainly affected WHO’s ability to deliver.
Conflict’s toll on the displaced in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was greatly alarmed as violent clashes between non-state armed groups and government forces drive hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In February alone, nearly 300,000 people had fled across Rutshuru and Masisi territories in North Kivu Province.
UNHCR teams and partners were mapping the displacement and the needs of those forced to flee. Violence had particularly surged from the Kitchanga region in Masisi territory towards the strategically important city of Sake, with 49,000 people displaced in the week of 17 February.
Civilians continued to pay the heavy and bloody price of conflict, including women and children who had barely escaped the violence and were now sleeping out in the open air in spontaneous or organized sites, exhausted and traumatised. UNHCR and partners were urgently scaling up humanitarian and protection assistance to tackle urgent needs stemming from overcrowding and inadequate shelter in spontaneous sites, as well as limited access to food and clean water. While all efforts were made to provide protection and assistance to those displaced close to Goma, UNHCR was deeply concerned about restricted humanitarian access to displaced populations in other parts of North Kivu Province as the major routes to those impacted areas had frequently been inaccessible in recent months as a result of the on-going conflict.
UNHCR strongly reiterated its call on all actors in eastern DRC to stop the violence which was taking an enormous toll on the civilian population. Mr. Saltmarsh stressed that the DRC was the largest internal displacement crisis in Africa, with 5.8 million people internally displaced, mainly in the east of the country. UNHCR’s operation was currently only 8 per cent funded.
Full note is available here.
Answering questions from the journalists, Mr. Saltmarsh said that there were also reports of looting, arbitrary arrests, gender-based violence, and community violence in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, in which some 132 armed groups were operating. He explained that the United Nations had a “One UN” approach in the DRC, which hosted refugees from a number of countries, in addition to all the internally displaced persons. Humanitarian access was restricted and sporadic, depending on where clashes were taking place. UNHCR could manage displacement sites only in relatively stable areas.
Romina Woldemariam, World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Emergency Coordinator, speaking from Johannesburg, stated that Cyclone Freddy had been first spotted way back in February, and had initially hit Madagascar on 21 February, affecting 226,000 people. On 24 February, Freddy had made another landfall in Mozambique, affecting some 170,000 people. On 5-6 March, the cyclone had returned to Madagascar, and damage assessments were currently under way. Freddy was expected to hit Mozambique once again on 11 March, before possibly heading to Malawi. WFP had had a chance to preposition food, informed Ms. Woldermariam, which had allowed it to reach people in need quickly. WFP was currently scaling up its efforts to meet the needs of some 150,000 people on the eastern coast of Madagascar. Ms. Wondermariam emphasized the importance of advance preparedness by both the government and the humanitarians, which had made a quick response possible.
More about WFP’s activities in Madagascar is available here.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Freddy was on track to break the record as the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record, which would be determined by the WMO at a later stage. According to the latest forecast from WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre La Réunion, Freddy might make its second landfall in northern Mozambique in of the province of Zambezia tonight. The cyclone would have a slow movement near the coasts, contributing to amplify its influence. In terms of intensity, the warmer waters might contribute to the intensification of Freddy, with a possible rapid intensification in the next 6 to 12 hours.
Over the next 72 hours, explained Ms. Nullis, there would be destructive winds, storm surge on landfall and extreme rainfall over large areas including NE Zimbabwe, SE Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. Expected rainfall totaled from 200 to 300 mm, but locally it was marked with more than 400-500 mm over the landing area, which was more than twice the usual monthly rainfall in a matter of days. The death toll had been quite limited thanks to early warning, forecast and timely action on the ground, said Ms. Nullis.
Antarctic sea ice extent lowest on record in February
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that sea ice extent in Antarctica had reached an all-time minimum in February for the second consecutive year. Arctic sea ice extent was the second lowest on record. Sea ice had a big influence on global, regional and local weather patterns, and vice versa, and is a key climate indicator in WMO’s State of the Global Climate reports. Experts in WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch network are monitoring the situation. Globally, it had been the fifth warmest February on record, with many extremes in temperature and precipitation, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Europe had its second warmest winter on record.
More information is available at the WMO website.
Sixth IPCC synthesis report
Andrej Mahečić, for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the Sixth IPCC synthesis report would be released on 20 March and presented at a hybrid press conference in Interlaken at 2 pm that day. The report would mark the closing chapter of the sixth assessment cycle, through which the IPCC had delivered six major reports. The synthesis report was essentially integrating the findings of the six reports released during the cycle. The report would feed into COP28 later this year, said Mr. Mahečić.
Journalists were encouraged to register for the press conference and access to embargoed materials before 14 March. Journalists accredited to UN Geneva would only need to submit their UN accreditations. Further information can be found here.
Human Rights Council
Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that today the Council was concluding its general debate, to be followed by a full-day meeting on the rights of the child and the digital environment. The Council would then start an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, Nazila Ghanea, who would present her report and spell out her vision for the mandate she assumed last August. On 13 March, the Council would hold interactive dialogues with three thematic experts – on persons with disabilities, promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. At 1:30 pm, the Commission would hold a press conference in Room B.128. Finally, the Council would hold its annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities which would address the development of care and support systems to achieve community inclusion under the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that today at 2 pm there would be an open online webinar on the Marburg virus R&D.
Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 15 March, the ILO would be launching a report on key workers, who had played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic and their relevance in the daily functioning of economies. The report, part of the World Employment and Social Outlook series, provided a detailed description of the situation of key workers around the world, including their working conditions, wages, and the challenges they face. It was based on data from 90 countries and covers mortality rates, occupational safety, and health, working hours, pay, social protection and trade union representation. A press conference would take place online on 15 March at 9 am.
Ms. Yarde also informed that the ILO Governing Body would meet from 13 to 23 March. Among the items on the agenda, government, employer and worker representatives would discuss the Director-General’s proposal for a Global Coalition for Social Justice. The Coalition would bring together ILO constituents and multilateral organizations and other stakeholders to tackle some of the major social and economic issues that had led to a rise in poverty and inequalities in recent years. The Governing Body could not be followed online, but it could be attended physically at ILO headquarters; those interested to attend should contact Ms. Yarde.
David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2023 would take place at the International Conference Centre in Geneva on 13 March. This annual forum would take stock of the positive impact of information and telecommunication technologies on people's lives. The summit featured physical and remote participation; pre-registration was required by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding today its review of the report of Georgia.
The Human Rights Committee was considering the report of Panama today.
Finally, Mr. Zaccheo said that the next date for the plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament was yet to be announced.