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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Rolando Gomez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by representatives and spokespersons of the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Human Rights Council.

Impact of the earthquakes on agrifood systems in Türkiye 

Viorel Gutu, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Türkiye, speaking from Ankara, said that, since the earthquakes in February, FAO had been on the ground in the affected provinces and working closely with the Presidency of Strategy and Budget and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to assess the situation.

FAO’s initial impact assessment report showed that the earthquakes had caused unimaginable devastation in 11 provinces, affecting 14.6 million people and resulting in more than USD 6.7 billion in loss and damage in crop and livestock production, food stocks, and agricultural infrastructure and assets. Those 11 provinces accounted for 20 percent of Türkiye's agricultural production, 15 percent of its agricultural GDP, 18.7 percent of its agricultural and forestry exports, and were a significant contributor to domestic consumption and export.

To address those challenges, FAO was developing a framework to prioritize needs and provide immediate support in the four most affected provinces of Hatay, Adiyaman, Kahramanmaras, and Malatya, plus two districts in Gaziantep. In the immediate term, FAO was utilizing its internal emergency resources to provide immediate support to the targeted areas. In medium to long term, FAO would shift its focus from response to proactively maintaining, restoring, and improving agri-food systems and rural livelihoods. To achieve this, FAO would promote innovative approaches and invest in technology and climate-smart agriculture.

State of School Feeding Report

Carmen Burbano, Head of School Feeding at the World Food Programme (WFP), said that in recent years some 370 million children had lost access to school meals, because of the pandemic. For many children, it was the only meal they would get. Out of 345 million people facing severe levels of hunger, some 153 million were children and youth. Programmes implemented by governments around the world to feed children were thus of utmost importance.

The State of School Feeding Worldwide 2022, launched today, showed that the governments worldwide had mobilized in an unprecedented way to ensure that those children who had lost access to school meals were receiving their meals. Investments had gone up, and more children were now being fed than before the pandemic, informed Ms. Burbano. In Africa, for example, 66 million children were being reached by meals through their schools. On the other hand, WFP was concerned that children in the poorest countries were being left behind and were not benefiting from this latest increase. While even low-income governments had stepped up, donors had stepped back, said Ms. Burbano. The WFP report called for reversals of those trends. Some four million jobs, mostly for women, had been created through those investments. The main message of the report was that the good news had to be extended to children in the poorest countries, and that both donors and governments had to come together on this path.

Responding to questions, Ms. Burbano said that India, which had the largest number of schoolchildren in the world, was leading the way; some 106 million children in the world were currently receiving school meals. In the Asia region, many countries, such as Bangladesh, were moving forward with their programmes.

Gang violence in Haiti

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR was gravely concerned that extreme violence continued to spiral out of control in Haiti. Clashes between gangs were becoming more violent and more frequent, as they tried to expand their territorial control throughout the capital and other regions by targeting people living in areas controlled by rivals. Since the beginning of the year, up to 15 March, a total of 531 people had been killed, 300 injured and 277 kidnapped in gang-related incidents that had taken place mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The High Commissioner urged the Haitian authorities to immediately address the grave security situation. The National Police needed to be strengthened to be able to respond to the huge challenges it faces, in a manner consistent with its human rights obligations.

Full press release is available here.

Girls’ education in Afghanistan

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that this week, girls in Afghanistan should have been starting another year in secondary school with hope and aspiration. But for the past year, girls had not been allowed to attend Grades 6 to 12. OHCHR urged the de facto authorities to open schools to girls at all levels, as well as universities.

The de facto authorities had pledged that all women and girls would be allowed to go to school. OHCHR urged that they honour this promise, without delay.

OHCHR statement can be found here.

Crackdown on civil society in Burundi

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR as seriously concerned by the increasing crackdown on critical voices in Burundi following the recent detention of five human rights defenders and the imprisonment of a journalist. The human rights defenders – Sonia Ndikumasabo, Marie Emerusabe, Audace Havyarimana, Sylvana Inamahoro and Prosper Runyange – had been arrested on 14 February in connection with their human rights work. On 15 March, the Court of Appeal had upheld a High Court ruling to keep them in detention pending trial.

OHCHR urged the Burundian authorities to fully uphold human rights standards regarding freedom of expression and association, release these individuals and quash the charges against them that stem from conduct protected under human rights law.

Further details are available here.

Responding to questions on Mexico, Ms. Hurtado said that, given the increasing role of the armed forces in Mexico, it was crucial that intelligence services in the country be regulated and placed under the civilian oversight.

Human Rights Council

Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that the Council today was continuing its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, to be followed by a report presentation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This afternoon, the Council would hear from the experts on the situation of human rights in Ethiopia, to be followed by the High Commissioner’s oral update on Venezuela. The following day, the Council would discuss human rights situations in Belarus and Venezuela, as well as country situations that demanded the Council’s attention.

At 2 pm today, there would be a hybrid press conference on human rights in Iran by Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the theme of World Tuberculosis Day 2023 was ‘Yes! We can End TB’, which inspired hope and called for high-level leadership, increased investments, faster uptake of new WHO recommendations, adoption of innovations, accelerated action, and multisectoral collaboration to combat the TB epidemic.

TB remained one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers. causing 1.6 million deaths each year and affecting millions more, with enormous impacts on families and communities. Drug resistant TB was a pressing public health concern with an estimated half a million people falling ill with drug resistant TB each year.

Ms. Harris also informed that today at 1 pm, there would be a webinar on the role of communities in fighting cholera outbreaks, which highlighted lessons learned and helped prevent small outbreaks from becoming epidemics.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that the 2023 World Meteorological Day, 23 March, had the theme of the future of weather, climate and water across generations, urging us to live up to our responsibilities and ensure that future generations inherit a better tomorrow. At the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said: “The report echoes the findings of all of the IPCC assessment reports since the 1990. Now with a much higher tone: the earlier theoretical risks have materialized. Climate change is already visible and its human, economic and social problems are growing. This report shows that we are at the moment heading towards 2.2-3.5 degrees warming.”

Ms. Nullis reminded that the UN Water Conference would begin in New York on 22 March. She said that almost 75 percent of all disasters had been water-related in the past 20 years, with at least 1.6 billion people affected by floods and 1.4 billion by droughts and economic damage of almost USD 700 billion. The impacts of climate change were often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers.

Ms. Nullis also informed that the WMO and United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) would later today co-chair a meeting convened by UN Secretary-General to accelerate action to ensure that everyone on Earth is protected by early warnings by 2027. The aim was to inject more political, technological and financial clout to ensure that Early Warnings for All become a reality for everyone, everywhere.

Rolando Gomez, for the UN information Service (UNIS), said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances was concluding this morning its review of the report of Zambia and would begin this afternoon consideration of the report of Argentina.

On 23 March at 6:30 pm at Cinerama Empire in Geneva, there would be a Ciné-ONU event with the screening of the Tunisian film “Under the fig trees”. More information is available here.

Finally, Mr. Gomez informed that today was the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, the International Day of Forests, the Down Syndrome Day, the World Poetry Day, and Nowruz.