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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies , International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization.

Cyclone Mocha update

Ramanathan Balakrishnan, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator a.i., United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said there was an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar due to Cyclone Mocha, an emergency within an emergency.

The damage had been far worse than expected. Barely a building has escaped damage in areas of highest impact along the coast between Sittwe and Rathedaung in Rakhine state. Houses, camps, schools, health clinics and bridges had been destroyed by the cyclone. Mocha was one of the strongest cyclones to have hit the country, with wind speeds of more than 250 kilometres per hour. Hundreds of thousands of people had been left without a roof over head as monsoons loom. Humanitarian organisations were now racing against time to provide safe shelter and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.

One internally displaced person from the Sittwe camps said his shelter was destroyed while his family took refuge at an evacuation site. Those camps were also submerged with water from storm surge. Internally displaced persons needed water, food and medical care, as well as support to rebuild their shelters.

The cyclone had hit one of the poorest areas, leaving communities extremely vulnerable. Conflict-affected parts of the north-west and north-east had been severely affected by flooding. Humanitarian partners were distributing food aid, shelter support, water and hygiene items and mobile health teams were supporting people on the ground. Thousands of people had already received support, and OCHA was preparing a two-week distribution plan to support affected communities in Rakhine and Chin.

OCHA was today launching a 330-million-dollar flash appeal requesting an urgent injection of funds to assist 1.6 million people affected by Cyclone Mocha and its aftermath. It was requesting funds for activities to support vulnerable people in the highest impact zone across Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing and Kachin. The Appeal included a combination of USD 211 million in prioritised activities from the 2023 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan that were being pivoted or scaled-up, plus USD 122 million for new activities to support half a million people newly affected by this disaster.

Those affected by the cyclone were facing a long and miserable monsoon season if funds were not received soon. The international community needed to dig deep in response to this crisis on top of a crisis.

In response to questions, Mr. Balakrishnan said preparedness activities had commenced as soon as the cyclone was detected. Training of first responders had been carried out before the cyclone. OCHA was now focusing on building community resilience, as communities were always first responders and how they responded determined whether communities could be built back better.

Gwyn Lewis, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, said Cyclone Mocha hit Bangladesh  on 14 May, and although Bangladesh was fortunate to escape the full force of the cyclone, the impact on coastal areas of the country and the Rohingya refugee camps was quite devastating. More than 400,000 Bangladeshis were impacted, and 40,000 refugees were damaged or destroyed.

The Government of Bangladesh had a sophisticated disaster management system in place. Hundreds of thousands of people were moved from their homes to shelters in the hours before the storm. In the Rohingya camps, some of the most vulnerable or at-risk families were moved to safer ground. As a result, many lives were saved, but there had been a heavy impact on homes and infrastructure.

For the Rohingya refugees, Cyclone Mocha came at the heels of food ration cuts and a devastating fire in March, where 16,000 refugees lost their homes. Due to funding shortages, UNHCR was being forced to cut food rations for a second time on 1 June. Rohingya refugees would receive only 67 per cent of the needed food ration. Reduced assistance was likely to increase the already high acute malnutrition rates in the camps. Parents were already eating less and skipping meals so that their children could eat. Refugees were still living in bamboo and tarpaulin structures that could not protect them from cyclone winds or monsoon rains. Safer and more weather resistant shelters were needed.

The lack of funding for the 2023 Appeal for the Rohingya Refugee Response in Bangladesh, currently at 16 per cent funding, also meant some of the needed preparedness work for the monsoons had not been completed.

UNHCR was appealing for USD 42.16 million to support the government of Bangladesh’s response, including USD 36.5 million for the Rohingya response and USD 5.6 million for the most affected families in Bangladesh.

The Bangladeshi Red Crescent, government workers, volunteers and Rohingya refugees themselves had bravely been at the forefront of the cyclone response. Both Bangladeshis and Rohingya men and women were trained and equipped as first responders to help their community stay safe before, during and after the cyclone. Now they were helping rebuild.

UNHCR called on the donor community to support the emergency response and help rebuild lives in Bangladesh and in the Rohingya camps. This would assist refugees to become self-reliant, support their communities while in exile, and to prepare for rebuilding their lives when they could voluntarily and safely return to Myanmar.

In response to questions, Ms. Lewis said UNHCR had worked with the government to evacuate 17,000 people from their homes. Refugees were living in bamboo and tarpaulin tents, which would have been devasted if the cyclone had hit the camps. UNHCR was working to construct permanent structures to increase the resilience of refugee camps to disasters.

Paul Dillon for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was coordinating with relevant actors to ensure critical and life-saving assistance reached the most vulnerable in Myanmar affected by the cyclone.

Ahead of the cyclone making landfall, IOM deployed surge support staff to Rakhine  to prepare stocks of fuel and cash, hibernation kits containing essential water, food and hygiene items and conducting a stocktaking exercise of response kits and resources.

IOM staff were now evaluating the full impact of the cyclone. Health teams in Rakhine were providing mobile health services and were prepared to provide supplementary health services to populations in need in cyclone-affected areas. Funds were being reallocated from existing programmes to support needs, underlining the need for further international support.

Humanitarian situation in Sudan

Pierre Kremer, Deputy Director for Africa, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said another ceasefire was likely to be announced in Sudan today, however there was a level of scepticism as to whether it would actually be implemented.

More than 75,000 refugees had fled Sudan, mostly from Ouaddai and Sila regions. Of the 52,755 people registered, 66 per cent were children, and 15 per cent had special needs. Chad, one of the poorest countries in the region, had received 30,000 refugees fleeing Sudan in its Borota camp, more than 80 per cent of whom were women and children. The situation in Sudan could lead to a steady increase in displaced populations in the coming weeks.

Refugee camps were lacking resources. IFRC had mobilised more than 800 volunteers in Chad to assist refugees at the border. These volunteers provided protection, monitoring, aid and support to UNHCR transit camps.

Refugees in Chad were living too close to the border in unsafe situations; literally sleeping amongst scorpions. IFRC had been scaling up its local humanitarian response plan to support relocation of these refugees. However, it was unlikely that it would achieve its objective of relocating at least 28,000 refugees before the rainy season. The Borota camp was inaccessible during the rainy season. It needed provisional set-ups, pre-positioned stocks, and humanitarian service points to assist these communities, with a focus on water, food, health services and protection.

To prevent a major humanitarian disaster in the area, IFRC needed to urgently support relocation, establish humanitarian service points at the border, and strengthen operational response capacities of local branches and volunteers. Host communities had been extremely welcoming, but they too were impoverished and needed support, particularly in the areas of water management, health centres, livelihoods, and the environment. IFRC aimed to support at least 10,000 refugees and respective hosting communities.

In response to questions, Mr. Kremer said there were risks of being bitten by snakes and scorpions in the camps, which threatened both refugees and humanitarian workers sleeping on the ground.

IFRC hoped that an agreement would materialise through peace talks to allow for international organisations to provide increased support. IFRC had been able to provide the minimum level of assistance in Port Sudan is spite of difficulties in accessing the region. It aimed to strengthen the work of the Red Crescent in the region.

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan Volker Perthes told the Security Council yesterday that the conflict showed no signs of slowing down despite repeated declarations of ceasefires by both sides. There were depleted supplies and a lack of access to humanitarian assistance for many. Desperate efforts were being made to survive another day of this war. There were reports of serious human rights violations.

The immediate priorities for the United Nations mission in Sudan were to achieve a stable ceasefire with a monitoring mechanism, prevent the ethnicization of the conflict, protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief, and prepare for fresh political processes with a broad range of civil and political actors, including women.

Announcements

Christian Lindmeier for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, 23 May at 5 p.m., the World Health Organization (WHO) would hold a hybrid press conference to launch the final report of the Council on the Economics of Health for All. Speaking would be Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Council Chair.

The Council was created in November 2020 to rethink how economic services and practice could be used to achieve health for all, not the reverse. The Council had spent the last two years examining economic production, financing of health for all, innovation for health and public benefit and means of building public sector capacities to achieve health for all. The report would present key recommendations to achieve a paradigm shift in the relationship between well-being and economics.

Mr. Lindmeier also provided information on day three of the World Health Assembly, which featured a plenary and general debate in which various States would make statements. The list of speakers could be found online or on the World Health Assembly app. The focus of the day was public health emergency awareness and response measures. Topics being discussed included the report of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme; the implementation of the WHO International Health Regulations; the strengthening of WHO’s response to health emergencies; WHO’s work in emergencies; the report of the WHO Director-General; and the implementation of resolution 75.11 on health emergencies. Member States would discuss and vote tomorrow on two draft resolutions and one draft decision on the health situation in Ukraine in Committee A. Committee A would also discuss the Global Health for Peace Initiative. A strategic roundtable would also be held on protecting and investing in health workers.

In response to questions, Mr. Lindmeier said that Dr. Tedros could be available to answer questions related to the Council on the Economics of Health for All report at the press conference.

The Secretariat was laying out the agenda for the World Health Assembly, but it was up to member States to make interventions and discuss the politicisation of the health agenda.

Obstetrics and Periodontal Therapy would be discussed later this week in Committee B.

Yesterday, member States committed to a 20 per cent increase to assessed contributions. This would help protect one billion more people’s health. Discussions of details of these contributions would occur over the next two days in Committee B.

Member States had requested discussion items to be merged. There was thus no clear timeline on when topics would be discussed.

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS)in Geneva, said the United Nations Secretary-General would deliver remarks at the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict at 3:30 p.m. Geneva time, and at the Economic and Social Council at 5:00 p.m. Geneva time on the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, which was a central theme to the statements he delivered at the G-7 over the weekend and at the World Health Assembly on Sunday.

This morning, the Conference on Disarmament was holding a plenary meeting devoted to “disarmament and the gender perspective in the context of the Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda”, as part of a general debate on the “comprehensive programme of disarmament”.

On Tuesday, 23 May at 2 p.m., United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would hold a hybrid press conference on the health conditions of Palestine refugees in the Near East. Speaking would be Akihiro Seita, UNRWA Director of Health.

On Wednesday, 24 May at 10 a.m., United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk would hold a hybrid press conference with Geneva-based journalists.

 

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