PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives from the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Floods Hit Somalis Recovering from Prolonged Drought
Petroc Wilton, World Food Programme (WFP) Communications Officer in Somalia, said Somalia was a country at the epicentre of climate change, with the most vulnerable people in the country bearing the brunt of it. In 2023, that had been seen with terrible clarity.
At the start of this year, the longest drought in Somalia’s recorded history had pushed the country to the brink of famine. Catastrophe was barely averted, partly due to a massive humanitarian scale-up, but there had been no respite for the families battling to recover.
Deadly floods had now hit Somalia in force, made worse by El Niño, which was bringing torrential rain in eastern Africa while threatening drought in the south of the continent. Towns and districts along the Juba and Shabelle rivers had been inundated and, as of the most recent update, half a million people had been driven from their homes to seek the safety of higher ground – with numbers increasing at a terrifying rate.
Mr. Wilton had just come from a week in Beletweyne, on the Shabelle river, where streets, bridges and schools were now flooded. He saw hundreds of people fleeing from the rising waters, with trucks and donkey carts with family members perched atop piles of furniture. He saw camps for internally displaced people abandoned to the rising waters. He saw a deserted school where the playground had become a lake; a hospital where staff were making desperate plans to keep the water out as long as possible.
WFP had been able to mitigate some of these impacts before the floods hit. Working very closely with the Government of Somalia, it had activated an anticipatory action plan – its first for floods in Africa – to deliver pre-emptive cash transfers and warning messages to families where forecasts indicated the rains would be heaviest, and to pre-position boats in strategic locations along both rivers.
The plan had been working. A woman named Madina, who was 80 years old, told Mr. Wilton that she had been able to buy food at a time when she had had nothing, right after evacuating to a camp on higher ground. Another woman, Meymuna, told Mr. Wilton that the warning messages on local radio had helped her prepare to evacuate.
These anticipatory action programmes had given more families the information and means to protect themselves from the floods, or to move before the waters came. That meant fewer people in need of humanitarian assistance.
However, the bombardment of climate shocks, from drought to floods, were prolonging the hunger crisis in Somalia. The drought killed millions of livestock and ruined endless hectares of pastures and farmlands; now, these devastating floods were crippling Somalia’s ability to recover.
Livelihoods and lives were at risk. 4.3 million people – a quarter of the population – were forecast to face crisis-level hunger or worse. Sustained support from the international community was essential, not just for humanitarian relief, but also for wider anticipatory action and for longer-term, sustainable resilience programmes that would enable Somalia to break the cycle of crisis driven by unrelenting climate shocks.
In response to questions, Mr. Wilton said this was the rainy season in Somalia. Floods were not uncommon, but the current floods were particularly extreme due to El Niño. This was perhaps a once-in-a century event, and the humanitarian consequences were dire.
WFP was focusing on food needs. 4.3 million people, including one million children, would be facing crisis-level hunger needs by the end of the year. 43,000 people had died due to hunger caused by the drought. The risk of further deaths was high.
The funding crunch was very real. Currently, WFP had funding to reach less than half of the people in extreme hunger. It had had to scale down its activities from last year due to a lack of funds. There were competing crises across the world, but the world needed to not turn away from Somalia now. The crisis was not over.
Conflict made it difficult to get into the areas that needed support and flooding further exacerbated the situation. This was a perfect storm of compounding effects that made delivery of aid difficult.
Claire Nullis for World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that rainfall patterns in Somalia were exacerbated by El Niño. In the context of climate change, heavy rainfall was becoming more extreme. WMO had been calling on the region to prepare for El Niño since June. Heavy rainfall was expected this week over south-western Somalia and other neighbouring nations. Similar devastation was occurring in parts of Kenya. WMO partners on the ground, including WFP, were taking anticipatory action. Forecasts did make a difference and save lives.
Humanitarian Situation in North Kivu
François Moreillon, Head of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Delegation, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said anger and disarray were growing in east DRC. The population was exhausted, once again paying a heavy price since the resumption of clashes between the Armed Forces of the DRC and allies against the M23 armed group.
There were some 450,000 additional displaced people in North Kivu, while the total number of displaced people in the country had reached a record 6.9 million. In recent months, people's lives had oscillated between fighting and brief moments of calm.
Hundreds of thousands of people were crammed into camps where living conditions were extremely precarious. Most of the humanitarian assistance deployed by the organizations was concentrated in camps. However, it still fell short of the scale of the needs. Some more remote rural areas, particularly in the Massif and Rutshuru territories, were out of reach and had received little or no assistance, Mr. Moreillon said.
While repeated displacement was a nightmare for families, it also put a strain on host communities, who were on the front lines of the response.
Disinformation and hate speech against certain groups were spreading dangerously, including on social networks, raising fears of a spiral of violence. The danger was real because these messages contributed directly or indirectly to threatening the security or dignity of civilian populations.
Sadly, there had also been a significant increase in the recruitment of minors within the communities, particularly in the Massif and Rutshuru regions. Adolescents were most at risk, especially young boys, while young girls were more at risk of sexual violence.
Last week, the ICRC was able to cross the front line again and was able to provide emergency aid to the most isolated populations, some of whom had not received any assistance since the beginning of the fighting.
This was a forgotten crisis. The ICRC dramatically lacked resources and funds to respond to the major humanitarian challenges that the country and its population were currently experiencing.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Moreillon indicated that it was important that the funds arrived. This is the main challenge for next year, to have the capacity to help as many people as possible. He said he had a budget for this year that had been revised downwards to around 85 million Swiss francs. He expressed fears that the lack of funding would cause humanitarian actors to revise their responses downwards. All the while, the figures for the crisis in the DRC were worsening. The country now had 6.9 million internally displaced people, the highest level of displacement of any State in the world.
Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
In response to questions on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Fatima Sator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that the ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger would meet with the Israeli Foreign Minister and family members of hostages today at ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva. There will be no access at ICRC headquarters for journalists to speak with the families or officials. This was not the first time that the President had met with hostages or their family members. The ICRC would not issue any communications on this topic further to the news release issued this morning. The organisation had been communicating about attacks on humanitarian convoys on X.
ICRC had been strongly requesting permission to visit hostages to check on their well-being, provide them with medication and to exchange information with their loved ones. It was proud that it had facilitated the release of four hostages thus far. Ms. Sator said that the ICRC was frustrated that it could not do more. One of the organisation’s mandates was continued dialogue with the concerned parties.
Margaret Harris for the World Health Organization (WHO), responding to questions, said WHO was very concerned by the situation in hospitals in occupied Palestinian territory. There were over 30,000 reported cases of diarrhoea in Gaza, and nine times as many people in shelters than they were designed for. This was why WHO was begging for a ceasefire to happen now.
Al-Shifa was the largest and most sophisticated hospital in Gaza. There were people who were very sick there, including babies requiring dialysis. It housed over 700 patients, 400 health staff and 3,000 internally displaced persons. There was not enough food; staff were struggling to obtain water. Staff were doing everything they could to keep the hospital functioning. Thanks to their efforts, WHO still described Al-Shifa as a functioning hospital. If care could not be provided there, patients needed to be moved to another location safely. Even in ideal circumstances, moving hundreds of patients would be difficult. The risks to patients in the hospital were dire. There needed to be a focus on saving lives, not taking lives. Al-Shifa staff could do much more if they were permitted. It was extraordinary that staff were keeping their 700 seriously sick patients alive.
WHO deliberately did not report which hospitals had been attacked or shut down to protect the facilities and reporters. Health care should never be a target. Hospitals were protected by humanitarian law. Half of the attacks on health care were in Gaza and half were in the West Bank. Over two-thirds of hospitals had shut down.
Dr Harris said WHO had 20 inpatient deaths reported in the last 48 hours. WHO did not have a break-down of who had died. Staff were concerned about sniper attacks, but there was no information about such attacks leading to fatalities. Hospitals did not have enough fuel to keep machinery functioning. There was also not enough fuel to move supplies into Gaza. WHO was ready to support saving lives in any way possible.
In the territory, there had been the largest number of attacks on health ever recorded in a short period. There was an increasing trend of attacks on health care around the world. Hospitals needed to be protected places. They should never be transformed into places of death and despair.
People could not be evacuated because people in the hospitals were very sick. Moving them would kill them. People in Gaza were in need of complex healthcare support. There were 11 hospitals in the south that were currently full.
WHO was communicating with its staff in Gaza as often as possible. These staff had very little access to food and water. WHO also spoke with Ministry of Health personnel and did its best to gather information from all sources. WHO had a full team in Gaza and had sent more people in. It was standing by to do what it could, but it could not do much without a ceasefire.
Edward Harris for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said that this Friday, 17 November, legendary ABBA star Björn Ulvaeus and WIPO Director General Daren Tang would launch a new online platform to raise creators’ awareness of intellectual property (IP) rights and related management practices, aiming to ensure that they received recognition and fair reward for their work.
The platform, “Creators Learn Intellectual Property” (CLIP), developed together with Music Rights Awareness Foundation, was an innovative, user-friendly and free to use online learning platform that would be filled with curated content from experienced musicians and mentors who would help creators make better business choices.
A press conference with Mr. Ulvaeus and Mr. Tang would be held at WIPO on Friday at 4 p.m., followed by a CLIP launch presentation, music and a reception. An embargoed press release would be circulated later today.
Claire Nullis for World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on 15 November at 11 a.m., the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) would hold a press conference to launch their Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Speaking would be Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, and Dr. Oksana Tarasova, senior scientific officer at WMO. WMO would soon send out the Bulletin under embargo and a press release on the release was available here.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said today, the United Nations Women’s Guild Geneva’s annual Bazaar was being held today at the Palais des Nations. The Bazaar’s goal was to gather funds for women and children in developing countries. This year’s Bazaar was organised under the goal “United for children and a clean environment”. Ms. Vellucci called on all to benefit from this opportunity and participate.
Today at 3 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva would hold a press conference on the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Speaking at the press conference would be Eliyahu Cohen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel, as well as several family members of persons reportedly held hostage by Hamas. The press conference would be held in-person only. Attendees were strongly advised to arrive at 2:15 p.m. All persons needed to be seated by 2:45 p.m.
Ms. Vellucci reported that Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was travelling to Geneva and would give a press conference this Thursday, 16 November at 3:30 p.m. at the UN Geneva press briefing room.
The Young Activist Summit would also be held this Thursday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Palais des Nations. The keynote speaker at the Summit would be Prince Albert II of Monaco. The laureates were from Myanmar, Burkina Faso, India, Colombia and Sudan. The event would be broadcast on UN Web TV.
The Committee Against Torture was beginning this morning its review of the report of Egypt.