PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by representatives and spokespersons of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Health challenges in Ukraine
Dr. Jarno Habicht, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine, said that Ukraine’s health system was resilient, but was facing many challenges since the attacks on critical infrastructure, especially since the beginning of October. Lack of electricity and water meant that hospitals and other health centers could not deliver the necessary care. Since 24 February, WHO had noted at least 700 attacks against health care, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. Health care should never be a target, stressed Dr. Habicht.
Dr. Habicht listed the recent deliveries WHO had made in Bakhmut, Kherson, and Dnipro, which allowed for health care facilities to continue with their indispensable work. Since the Russian invasion on 24 February, WHO had procured over 2,000 metric tons of medical supplies for Ukraine. WHO had also trained thousands of health workers in numerous areas. Over the past 10 months, around 9 million people across the country had been reached by the WHO and its 100 health cluster partners.
The winter would see an increase in diseases, as people struggled to heat their homes. Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases were on the rise. Availability of health services would be further affected because of the continuous attacks. Numbers of car accidents and street injuries were increasing as well because of the lack of electrical power and dark roads. Dr. Habicht stressed that mental health needs should not be neglected. Ongoing budget support, including for health, would be necessary throughout 2023. Humanitarian and development support were of equal importance, emphasized Dr. Habicht.
Responding to questions from the media, Dr. Habicht said that the WHO staff were staying in Ukraine over the holiday season and would continue to deliver for the people of Ukraine. There were over 200 WHO staff in the country, he explained. Generators were needed across the country, and the priority was being given to hospitals. Smaller-size generators for primary healthcare centers were also needed. Regarding attacks on health, WHO was monitoring and recording such incidents. Health system was functioning, but there was an increasing number of challenges because of the duration of the conflict and the intensity of attacks against infrastructure.
Food security situation and humanitarian response in Somalia
Etienne Peterschmitt, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Somalia, speaking from Mogadishu, said that Somalia had been lingering on the brink of famine due to a historic drought triggered by five consecutive poor rainy seasons, skyrocketing food prices and intensifying conflict. While the situation remained dire, there was still time to turn the tide by addressing the immediate needs of rural communities who are among those at greatest risk.
The message in the recent IPC report was clear: humanitarian assistance had to be both scaled up and sustained if a famine in Somalia were to be prevented, and not just delayed. The IPC report found that about 6.4 million Somalis were facing acute food insecurity in the coming months. That number could increase to 8.3 million people by April 2023, and the number of Somalis facing catastrophic food insecurity - famine conditions - could increase to over 700,000 by June 2023, if humanitarian assistance was not scaled up and sustained. Of great concern were the approximately 1.8 million children who were likely to be malnourished, including over 500,000 of them who were likely to be severely malnourished, through July 2023.
Earlier projections of famine had so far been averted because funding to humanitarian assistance had covered a sufficient portion of the most basic needs for a few months at a time, keeping famine thresholds at bay, for now, said Mr. Peterschmitt. With the support of our resource partners, FAO had reached more than 700,000 people across 35 districts with cash, more than 40,000 people with agricultural inputs such as seeds, feed, and fertilizers, treated 11 million animals to support their survival and trucked 27 million liters of water to areas with severe water shortage in 2022.
El-Khidir Daloum, World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director for Somalia, also speaking from Mogadishu, said that the latest data from the Famine Review Committee and the IPC showed that the thresholds for a famine declaration had not yet been met in Somalia. This had all been made possible by increased attention and funding from the international community.
However, the data also showed that the situation in Somalia remained critical. The longest drought in over 40 years was still ongoing, with no end in sight. It was still destroying livelihoods and killing people. It was therefore essential that the resources keep flowing to sustain and increase the humanitarian scale-up in Somalia, integrated across multiple sectors: food assistance, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Humanitarian response alone would not suffice, as investment had to continue in recovery and in long-term, sustainable solutions, under the leadership of the Government of Somalia, to protect Somalis against future climate shocks.
In recent months, WFP alone had stepped up to deliver life-saving food and nutrition to more vulnerable people in Somalia than ever before, close to 5 million people in November, many of whom were in priority areas. This lifesaving assistance had prevented the worst outcomes from occurring, thanks to the work of the Government of Somalia and the support of generous donors, particularly the US Government. WFP was proud to support the Federal Government’s flagship Baxnaano social safety net programme, which was now reaching more than a million Somalis with predictable cash transfers to insulate them against shocks. Mr. Daloum emphasized the importance of building long-term resilience.
Answering questions from the journalists, Mr. Peterschmitt said that, technically speaking and using the IPC as the framework, the level of famine had not yet been reached. That did not mean that there was no excess mortality, and that people were not dying because of the lack of water and nutrition. Mr. Peterschmitt highlighted the strong engagement of the Somali Government, including through the special envoy on drought. At this stage, no data could be provided on the number of deaths. Mr. Daloum stated that the international community was putting in tremendous work to ensure that famine did not happen. Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 asked for USD 2.2 billion to support 7.6 million people in the country.
COVID-19 in China
Answering questions on possible new Covid-19 variants in China, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that over 500 variants all over the world were being tracked at the moment; five of them were of particular concern. Every country in need of assistance or support should be provided help by other countries and the international community. It was difficult to have precise snapshots of numbers of severe cases and deaths in real time. Governments, including the Government of China, were advised to prioritize vaccination of vulnerable people, including the elderly, and health workers.
UK-Rwanda asylum seeker arrangement
Responding to a question, Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UK-Rwanda arrangement on transfer of asylum seekers was incompatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNHCR had issued a legal analysis on this matter and continued to remain seized on the issue.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that as announced yesterday by the UN Secretary-General, the International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan, co-hosted by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations, would be held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 9 January 2023. The conference would be live webcast at UNTV. UNDP was in the lead of organizing the conference. A curtain raiser was likely to take place on 5 January, with the UNDP Administrator and the UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan.
Speaking on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, Ms. Vellucci informed that on 21 December at 4 pm Geneva time, the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen would brief the Security Council. His remarks to the Council would be shared following the briefing, which could be followed on UN WebTV.
Ms. Vellucci informed that Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at UNIS, would be leaving the UN Secretariat at the end of 2022. She thanked him for the hard work, kindness, and professionalism over the last 7.5 years. Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), provided a tribute to Mr. LeBlanc on behalf of the spokespersons of United Nations agencies in Geneva, and wished him all the best in the future. Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service, thanked all the spokespeople and journalists he had been working with over the past years. He also thanked Ms. Vellucci for her steadfast support over the years.
Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that today was the last press briefing of the year. The first press briefing of 2023 would take place on 3 January. A list of spokespersons on duty during the holiday period was going to be circulated by UNIS.