PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Haiti, spokespersons and representatives of the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Crisis in Haiti
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that the Secretary-General was concerned over the limited progress in the inter-Haitian dialogue towards a lasting and inclusive political solution to restore the country’s democratic institutions. He looked forward to the continued preparations for the deployment of urgently needed security support to the Haitian National Police, through a Multinational Security Support mission, as authorized by resolution 2699 (2023). The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an agreement on the restoration of democratic institutions - providing for credible, participatory, and inclusive elections - to achieving sustainable rule of law and security.
Ulrika Richardson, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti said that Haiti was going through some of the most difficult times in its history. For many people, even leaving the house included risks of being kidnapped, raped, or killed. In the first 11 months of 2023, there had been over 8,000 cases of killings, lynchings, or rape, including group rape of women and young girls. Because of the years of instability, lack of investment and the deescalating economic activity, Haiti was spiraling into a multidimensional crisis with economic, security, and human rights dimensions. There were 5.2 million Haitians in need of humanitarian assistance, said Ms. Richardson. Two out of five Haitians faced acute food insecurity; there was a 30 percent increase in acute severe child malnutrition. About 80 percent of the capital city was controlled or influenced by armed gangs. The violence was expanding beyond the capital.
Haiti used to be food-sovereign, but now depended on food imports, said Ms. Richardson. United Nations tried to stimulate local food production in the north and in the south, which was good both for the local economy and children’s nutrition. The 2023 humanitarian response plan was 33 percent funded, she informed. Many Haitians were hopeful about the upcoming multinational, non-UN, security support mission, which would be led by Kenya. This multidimensional expression of solidarity was a welcome development. The Security Council resolution 2669 (2023) also contained strong language on human rights. Ms. Richardson also spoke of the overcrowded prisons in Haiti, where only three percent of inmates were actually sentenced, while all others were in pre-trial detention.
Responding to questions from the media, Ms. Richardson said that the 2024 humanitarian response plan would be slightly smaller than the 2023 plan of million 720 USD. It was hoped that the multidimensional mission would arrive in the first quarter of 2024. Kenyan police officials were getting briefed on the situation, and a bespoke pre-deployment training for police officers would be held. The exact number of police officers in the mission was not yet known, but it was expected to exceed 2,500, of whom around 1,000 would be Kenyans. Preparations for future elections would take between 12 and 18 months, explained Ms. Richardson. She also explained that the international sanctions targeting financing of the gangs, while having some effect, had led the gangs to increase kidnappings as a source of income. On another question, Ms. Richardson specified that the multinational mission would not be a military, but police mission. The mission, which would not be under the auspices of the United Nations, would also work to train the Haitian police forces. She said that the conditions for Haitians in the neighboring Dominican Republic, where many of them worked in agriculture, were often difficult. There were currently no elected officials on duty in Haiti, as the term of the Parliament had ended.
Global Refugee Forum
Arafat Jamal, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Coordinator for the 2023 Global Refugee Forum (GRF), said that, at the end of a devastating year, humanitarian needs were outstripping resources, and for 114 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, including 36 million refugees, conflict was tearing lives apart. It was also taxing the communities that had so generously hosted these people.
Still, there were hope and a promise of action. From 13 to 15 December, Geneva would host the world’s largest gathering on refugee issues. At the heart of the meeting would be pledges: States and civil society would announce transformative commitments in areas like education, labour market access, peacebuilding, climate change mitigation, and resettlement. UNHCR and the Government of Switzerland expected to host at least seven Heads of State, Vice-Presidents, and Heads of Government; three Deputy Prime Ministers; 30 Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and 95-line Ministers and Deputies. The Forum would be co-convened by Colombia, France, Japan, Jordan, and Uganda. Over 300 refugee delegates – about 10 per cent of attendees – would participate.
Mr. Jamal reminded that the Global Compact on Refugees, from which the Forum emerged, had been ratified in 2018, with the first Forum held in 2019. The Forum had since garnered over 1,700 pledges and initiatives. The world was a different place now and needs were increasing, but the Compact’s core objectives remained crucial. First, host communities needed help. Second, refugees wanted self-reliance. What was also needed was more resettlement and complementary pathways. Another element involved creating conditions so that refugees can return home in safety and dignity.
At the first GRF, the international community had recognized that there were no humanitarian solutions to political problems. Now, there was a growing recognition that more attention ought to be paid to root causes. With focus, and ‘constructive impatience’, allies could be mobilized towards hopeful, substantive commitments and actions that counter complacency, and stabilize and resolve refugee situations. The Global Refugee Forum provided a platform to do just that - it was a moment for unity and action; a chance to engage in modern multilateralism and make things right.
Matthew Saltmarsh, also for UNHCR, informed that there would be a press conference on the first day of the Forum, 13 December, around 2 pm, with the High Commissioner Filippo Grandi. Other briefings by other parties at the event would also be held. The updated programme was available online. Accreditation process for the media was now closed.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that one of the many side events of the Global Refugee Forum would be a Ciné-ONU event with the screening of “The Swimmers” and a discussion with the refugee Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini. The event would be held at Cinerama Empire in Geneva on 12 December at 8:30 pm.
Replying to questions, Mr. Jamal said that the biggest victory of the Global Compact was that there was a broad understanding that there were no humanitarian solutions to the refugee problem, but that they lay at the development sphere. It was hoped that the countries which had not signed up to the Compact would do so. Mr. Jamal explained that the internally displaced people were not specifically covered by the Global Compact and were not addressed by the Global Refugee Forum as such. UNRWA’s Commissioner-General would participate in the Forum; all major UN agencies would be represented. Regarding the 2019 pledges, Mr. Jamal said that about one third of the 1,700 pledges made in 2019 had been closed; some pledges were ongoing, while others had not yet been implemented. Mr. Jamal explained that the pledges to be made at the Forum would not go towards UNHCR but were meant to address country situations. Mr. Saltmarsh said that a media kit would be made available at the start of the following week. VIPs were forecast to arrive between 8 and 9 am on the first day of the Forum, 13 December; the first plenary would be held from 9 am to 1:30 pm. Ms. Vellucci confirmed that the GRF would be webcast at UNTV. Among the confirmed VIPs would be the King of Jordan, the Vice-President of Colombia, and the Prime Minister of Lebanon, informed Mr. Jamal. Hope for the GRF was to show unity and solidarity even if the situations of refugees could be difficult at home.
Worsening health crisis in Sudan
Dr. Mohammad Taufiq Mashal, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Sudan, reminded that it was almost eight months since conflict had broken out in Sudan. Fighting had spread from Khartoum to several states across the country, affecting all of Sudan’s people, and plunging the country into a humanitarian crisis. At least 12,260 people had been killed since April 2023, and over 33,000 people had been injured. Many more people had lost their lives due to the disruption of the health system and the lack of access to urgent surgery, medicines for heart diseases, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and dialysis services, lack of access to maternal and child health care, lack of treatment for severe acute malnutrition or due to disease outbreaks.
Sudan was facing the world’s largest displacement crisis: every 15th Sudanese was now displaced. Disease outbreaks were worsening and spreading: cholera had spread from three to nine states, including larger cities and areas where conflict was ongoing with over 5,400 suspected and confirmed cases and 170 deaths; 11 states were reporting over 4,500 cases of suspected measles cases and 104 deaths; 14 states were reporting over 6,000 cases of dengue and 56 deaths.
Dr. Mashal stressed that the WHO continued to use every available avenue to distribute supplies to where they were needed across Sudan, including cross-border routes to access hard-to-reach areas with supplies. WHO was currently preparing to dispatch medical and diagnostic supplies to Darfur and Kordofan as part of a larger UN convoy. WHO also supported 21 mobile clinics in eight states to reach internally displaced people with primary health care; and was fully operating ten cholera treatment centres through supplies, equipment, operational costs, staff incentives and expert advice.
Answering questions from the media, Dr. Mashal reminded that Sudan was a very large country with 18 states; Darfur and Khartoum were currently the most affected ones. There were inter-agency cross-border humanitarian missions from Chad to western Darfur, explained Dr. Mashal. WHO had also activated supply and dispatch hubs in three other states. There were some 3.2 million children who were believed to be malnourished. Millions of women and girls were at the risk of gender-based violence. The health emergency response plan had received only USD 39 million and lacked another USD 69 million.
Food Price Index
Upali Galketi Aratchilage, Senior Economist at the Markets and Trade Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Rome, informed that in November, the FAO Food Price Index had remained unchanged, as a decline in the Cereal Price Index and a marginal drop in the meat price index had been counterbalanced by increases in the other three price indices, vegetable oils, dairy and sugar. International food prices were now 11 percent below what they had been in November 2022, or 25 percent below the peak it had reached in March 2022.
The Cereal Price Index had fallen, reflecting declines in maize and wheat prices. The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index had increased after declining for three consecutive months with higher palm and sunflower oil prices. The FAO Dairy Price Index had increased for the second consecutive month, reflecting increases in butter and milk powder prices, amidst increased purchases by Northeast Asian buyers, which had coincided with limited inventories and increased internal demand in Western Europe. The FAO Sugar Price Index had increased, reflecting market concerns over global export availabilities in the current season amid worsening production prospects, especially in Thailand and India, largely reflecting El Niño-related dry weather conditions. Finally, the FAO Meat Price Index had fallen marginally in November, marking the fifth consecutive monthly decline, as global exportable availabilities had been more than adequate to meet currently subdued global import demand despite challenging production conditions due to animal diseases.
Further details are available here.
Humanitarian situation in Afghanistan
Eloi Fillion, outgoing Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan, who had just completed his assignment in the country, stated that the ICRC had been present in Sudan for more than four decades. The ICRC had more than tripled its operations between 2021 and 2022, to compensate for the dramatic immediate suspension of international funding. Organizations like the ICRC had thus started to fill in the gap left after the departure of several development actors. ICRC had been supporting the health services in the country, including the 33 largest hospitals in the country. Due to the political impasse and the continuing restrictions on women’s rights, many development actors and private investors had not yet returned to Afghanistan, explained Mr. Fillion. Afghanistan today faced the crisis not only connected to decades of the conflict, but large contractions of humanitarian funding available was forcing humanitarian players to reduce their programmes. There were no prospects of the economy improving. ICRC was maintaining a robust operation in Afghanistan, but not at the level of the previous two years, which was worrying at a time when the needs in the country were increasing.
Answering questions from the journalists, Mr. Fillion said that 2021 to 2022, the ICRC had tripled its budget, but had to cut down its operations in 2023 by about one-third. For 2024, the ICRC operation in the country was projected to be at the same level as in 2021, before the Taliban takeover. However, the economic indicators were going down and the needs were increasing. The ICRC had had to review its priorities in the country; the main focus would be on protection activities, including restoring family links and visiting people in detention. ICRC was still running seven orthopedic centres, a service that would be continued. ICRC would continue to engage with armed and security forces with regard to their behaviour in conflict and maintaining law and order in the country. On the other hand, livelihood programmes and support to water and electricity authorities, for example, would be dramatically cut in 2024. In 2022, the budget of the ICRC Delegation in Afghanistan had been CHF 220 million, and in 2024 the budget was expected to be around CHF 100 million.
Humanitarian situation in Gaza
Responding to questions from the media, Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that it had been two months since the horrendous attacks against Israel and the start of Israel’s campaign against Gaza. Even the closest allies of Israel had described this campaign as indiscriminate bombing. The situation was getting more and more horrible by the day. There were now reports of children begging and crying for water; less than two liters of fresh water were believed to be available per person right now – far below the very minimum basic needs. People were cutting down telephone poles to heat themselves. Society was simply breaking down, said Mr. Lindmeier. WHO convoys had been stopped more than once, and today’s evacuation operation to the North had been suspended. He stressed that the situation in Gaza was beyond belief; the health system was on its knees; Gaza could not afford to lose any more ambulances and hospitals. The fear was that the South could experience the same fate as the North. The world should not turn its eyes away from Gaza.
Mr. Lindmeier repeated that 70 percent of victims in Gaza were women and children, and WHO reiterated that a child was dying in Gaza every ten minutes. The death toll in Gaza was now approaching 17,000, of whom at least 7,100 children. Trauma yards resembled battlefields. This callousness had to end. Humanitarian ceasefire was necessary now.
Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the Global Status Report on Road Safety would be launched in a virtual press briefing on 11 December at 4 pm, under embargo until 13 December.
Regarding the WHO Executive Board’s special session on 10 December, Mr. Lindmeier reminded that a session was called at the request of at least ten of the 34 members of the Board. The only item on the agenda would be the health situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; 16 members of the Board were sponsoring a draft decision, he informed. Dr. Tedros would address the meeting in the beginning. The session, which was expected to start at 9:30 am, would be hybrid, so some members would be joining remotely. It would be webcast live.
Ki Jung Min, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), informed that the theme for the International Mountain Day, on 11 December, would be Restoring Mountain Ecosystems, in the context of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Five Years of Action for the Development of Mountain Regions. A new publication, jointly developed by FAO, UN Environment Programme, and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, would be launched that day at the FAO Pavilion at COP 28, at 2 pm GST, or 11 am Geneva time. This report, “Restoring Mountain Ecosystems” explained how mountain ecosystems – and the millions of rural people who depended on them - were under threat and particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that on 11 December, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would launch the 2024 Global Humanitarian Overview. The event would take place in Room XVII at the Palais des Nations from 10:30 am. Parallel events would be held in Doha and Addis Ababa.
She reminded that on 11 and 12 December, Palais des Nations would host a high-level event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The full programme was available here.
Today, the situation in the Middle East would be on the agenda of the Security Council, and the Secretary-General would address the meeting, confirmed Ms. Vellucci.
Today, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would present its findings on Bolivia, Morocco, Germany, South Africa, Bulgaria, and Viet Nam at a press conference at 1:30 pm today. CERD would close its 111th session at 4 pm today.
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families would close today at 5:30 pm its 37th session and issue its concluding observations on the three countries reviewed: Uruguay, Kyrgyzstan, and Sao Tome and Principe.
Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that the next press briefing on 12 December would be fully virtual.