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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Chief, Radio, Television and Webcast Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization.

Ukraine: Increasing debt creating unstable futures for millions

Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Regional Director for Europe, joining the briefing from Budapest, said that after two years of war, the urgent needs of millions of Ukrainians – whether living on the front lines, internally displaced or having been forced to flee the country – were growing increasingly intractable and taking a major toll on their finances and mental health. As what appeared to have become a protracted conflict entered its third year, humanitarian and governmental actors, as well as the private sector, must also focus on the frayed socioeconomic fabric and the growing psychosocial impact on Ukrainians, both in and outside the country, particularly children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. 

According to a survey of 10,000 people commissioned by the IFRC, more than half of Ukrainians in Ukraine and around Europe experienced financial hardship, leading to growing debt and to accepting underpaid or dangerous jobs. In neighbouring countries, a third of Ukrainians reported having to borrow money to get by, and some families spent over a fifth of their income servicing debt. Nearly half of Ukrainians said that they lived with anxiety about their future; a third had sought some form of mental health support. Meanwhile, in the hardest-hit oblasts in Ukraine, people were facing food and water shortages and had little access to medicine, all the while experiencing regular bombardment. 

She urged all actors to allocate continued funding and resources to help maintain what should be normal services such as health-care infrastructure, emergency response capacity and vocational and social integration initiatives. The same commitment and collaboration to deliver aid seen at the start of the conflict was needed now just as much as it had been then. It was not the time to turn a blind eye. Solidarity must not wane. 

See the full press release here.

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service, recalled that that the updated Ukraine reconstruction and recovery needs assessment – a joint effort by the World Bank, the European Commission, the United Nations and the Government of Ukraine – had been released the previous day. As of 31 December 2023, the total cost of reconstruction and recovery was estimated at USD 486 billion over the next ten years, up from USD 411 billion a year earlier.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. Bischoff Ebbesen said that the Russian Red Cross was involved in the IFRC’s emergency appeal and activities and had a sizeable programme for the people arriving in Russia from Ukraine. However, she could not speak to the financial situation of those people because the survey had been conducted in European Union countries. It was the International Committee of the Red Cross that operated in the Russian-controlled regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Donors were increasingly focusing their aid on the areas of most intense conflict, but the millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) should not be forgotten. For example, amid dwindling aid, cash transfers to host families were being reduced, which could jeopardize their ability to continue supporting IDPs. In addition to shelter, the greatest urgency was helping displaced Ukrainians to pay for utilities.

Situation in Gaza

Responding to questions raised, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Office’s position remained that, in keeping with the Geneva Conventions, persons in need of humanitarian assistance had a right to receive that assistance and to be protected wherever they were.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), recalling that medical facilities should not be militarized, said that WHO was deeply alarmed at reports that Al Nasser hospital was barely functioning. More damage to the complex meant more lives lost. Critically ill patients remained at the hospital, so there was an urgent need to deliver fuel, guarantee the continuation of life-saving services and identify the most critical patients and ensure their safe removal elsewhere. WHO was coordinating the request for urgent access to the hospital. No agency could replace UNRWA in terms of the scope of aid and services it provided; therefore, he urged donors to maintain their funding for the agency.

Tommaso della Longa, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that 17 IFRC staff and volunteers had lost their lives since the start of the conflict, including 14 from the Palestine Red Crescent Society in the Gaza Strip and three in Israel. IFRC was deeply concerned about the situation in Rafah and the possible implications for civilians in such a highly densely populated area. 


Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service, recalled that the Secretary-General of the United Nations was in Munich for the Security Conference. He would be giving a statement that afternoon at 1.45 p.m., then participating in a panel discussion with the Heads of State or Government of Barbados, Ghana and Colombia, among others.

He announced that the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Mr. Omar Zniber, would hold a press conference on Wednesday, 21 February, at 10 a.m., concerning the Council’s fifty-fifth regular session. In addition, the thirty-first session of the HRC Advisory Committee would take place on 19−23 February. While not webcast, the meetings were open to accredited media. The Advisory Committee would continue its work on the impact, opportunities and challenges of neural technology and on the human rights implications of new and emerging technologies in the military domain. 

Mr. Zaccheo said that the eighty-seventh session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would close that afternoon, at 5 p.m. The Committee would be issuing its concluding observations on the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Greece, Italy, the Niger, Oman, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would be concluding its review of the report of Ireland that morning and would be holding constructive dialogues with Iraq (19 and 20 February, p.m.), Indonesia (20 and 21 February, a.m.) and Sweden (21 and 22 February, p.m.).

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances would open its twenty-sixth session on 19 February, at which it would review the reports of Cambodia (19 February p.m. and 20 February a.m.) and Burkina Faso (20 February p.m. and 21 February a.m.). On the afternoon of 26 February, the Committee would hold a dialogue with Honduras under article 29 (4) of the Convention.

The Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting that morning under the presidency of Mr. Anupam Ray of India. Indonesia would assume the presidency on 19 February, followed by Iran (18−29 March and 13−24 May), Iraq (27 May−21 June), Ireland (24−28 June and 29 July−16 August) and Israel (19 August−13 September).