REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Humanitarian response to attacks in northern Mozambique
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR continued to work around the clock to assist thousands of people in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. A recent attack by insurgents on the coastal town of Palma had forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes, with thousands more reportedly trapped in the area. Civilians had been arriving in Pemba, Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez by foot, road and boat since 24 March. Humanitarian flights, which had initially evacuated hundreds of people, had been suspended pending further clearance by authorities.
UNHCR teams in Pemba had received worrying reports that over 1,000 displaced people had been prevented from crossing the border with Tanzania. UNHCR was following up on those reports, and it called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and to asylum procedures for those escaping violence and seeking protection. Three years of turmoil in the north of the country had displaced nearly 700,000 people in Mozambique – most of them during the last year. UNHCR officials had warned that this number could exceed one million by June this year if the violence did not stop.
UNHCR was putting in place measures in anticipation of more arrivals in the coming days. Together with its partners, it had distributed relief items, including blankets and sleeping mats. It was identifying and referring people in need of urgent assistance, tracing lost family members and training partner organizations in the protection of displaced people from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
Recalling that the current humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado was compounded by a fragile situation resulting from chronic underdevelopment, consecutive climatic disasters and recurrent disease outbreaks, including that of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Mr Baloch stressed that the USD 19.2 million UNHCR appeal for Cabo Delgado was less than 40 per cent funded and that more resources were badly needed.
The full briefing note can be found here: UNHCR - UNHCR scales up response as thousands flee attacks in northern Mozambique.
Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch said that although UNHCR had been unable to establish a presence in the town of Palma since 24 March, humanitarian agencies were working to provide assistance in other areas of Cabo Delgado. The Agency was seeking clarification from the Tanzanian authorities regarding the reports, received from displaced persons reaching Pemba, that more than 1,000 refugees had been turned back at the border with Tanzania.
Responding to journalists, Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that United Nations agencies were still struggling to access Palma. Both food assistance and evacuation flights remained suspended owing to the deteriorating security situation. The United Nations continued to appeal for access to the affected area and was working to pre-position food in the neighbouring districts of Montepuez and Mueda. Hunger was continuing to rise in Palma as many people’s livelihoods had been interrupted by the fighting and they were struggling to survive. Some of those who had arrived in Pemba had told WFP officials that they had not eaten for weeks.
Health insurance scheme in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect refugees and host communities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UNHCR had taken steps to ensure that an additional 20,000 refugees could access the country’s national health insurance scheme, taking the number assisted with health insurance to 120,000. The scheme aimed to provide access to medical care for the most vulnerable among the nearly 800,000 Afghan refugees hosted in the country.
In 2020, UNHCR had covered the costs of insurance premiums for some 100,000 vulnerable refugees enrolled in universal public health insurance. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn increasing vulnerabilities amongst refugees, UNHCR had agreed to temporarily increase the number of refugees covered by the scheme.
Despite the challenges, the Islamic Republic of Iran had continued to generously give refugees access to education and health services. It was one of only a handful of countries in the world to offer refugees the option of enrolling in national health insurance for essential secondary and tertiary public health services in the same way as Iranian nationals. The national insurance scheme allowed for free COVID-19 treatment and hospitalization, and subsidized the cost of surgeries, dialysis, radiology, laboratory tests, outpatient care and more.
However, Mr. Baloch warned that against a backdrop of rising needs, UNHCR funding for its response in the country was increasingly constrained, hindering its ability to adequately respond to rising needs. The 2021 UNHCR funding appeal of USD 97 million was only 7 per cent funded.
The full briefing note can be found here: UNHCR - 120,000 refugees assisted to access Iran's health insurance scheme.
Replying to journalists, Mr. Baloch said that the figure of 800,000 Afghan refugees had been estimated by the Iranian authorities, and did not include unregistered refugees. He recalled that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan together hosted nearly 2.4 million Afghan refugees, who needed continuing protection. UNHCR was working hand-in-hand with the Iranian authorities to make sure that the national COVID-19 response policy included refugees.
Food security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP was calling for urgent intervention to scale up support to millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who were facing a critical lack of food. About 27.3 million people were now critically hungry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, making it the country with the highest number of people in urgent need of food security assistance.
Conflict remained a key cause of hunger, with the conflict-affected central and eastern provinces worst hit. Other key factors compounding this crisis include the slump in the economy and the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. Behind the numbers were harrowing stories of families who had been deprived of access to their land or forced to flee for their lives. WFP staff had met families who had returned to their villages to find them destroyed and their crops looted. Some had survived by eating wild tubers or cassava leaves boiled in water.
The most severely affected populations were displaced persons, refugees – mostly from the Central African Republic, returnees, host families, persons affected by natural disasters and female-headed households. Poor populations in urban and peri-urban areas and those living in landlocked areas with low purchasing power and little access to food through markets were also vulnerable to hunger.
As part of its famine prevention work, WFP was providing food to 8.7 million people in Democratic Republic of the Congo. It also aimed to continue its work to prevent and treat malnutrition, which affected 3.3 million children in the country. To prevent millions of most-at-risk persons from plunging deeper into hunger, WFP needed USD 662 million 2021. If donors did not step up, breaks in food assistance and the suspension of life-saving activities would become inevitable.
A joint FAO-WFP news release can be found here: Scale of acute hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo “staggering”, FAO, WFP warn | World Food Programme.
Potential for CO2 storage in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia
Jean Rodriguez, for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) said that ECE would today issue a press release on the publication of its analysis of the potential for CO2 storage in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Using publicly available data, the new analysis identified, for the first time, storage potential in oil reservoirs of more than 62 gigatons of CO2in the eastern part of the UNECE region, with 56 gigatons in Russia alone. The study looked at the potential offered by deep saline aquifers and depleted oil reservoirs and identified 17 suitable fields in the region. Storage capacity had been identified in the Volga, Western Siberia and Yamal regions of the Russian Federation, as well as in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
The study was carried out to support the exploration of alternative decarbonization strategies and to help countries in the UNECE region to deploy carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) technologies. In a report published last month, ECE emphasized the urgent need for the deployment of CCUS technologies in order to deliver on the Paris Agreement. Getting to net zero emissions would require eliminating 90 gigatons of CO2 emissions across the ECE region alone within the next 30 years. At present, 19 CCUS facilities worldwide were injecting and permanently storing about 40 million tons of CO2 annually; a massive scale-up would be needed to achieve the level outlined in the Sustainable Development Scenario of the International Energy Agency.
The study suggested that enhanced oil recovery, which is the injection of CO2 in oil fields to recover extra oil, could be the catalyst for CCUS implementation. Today, enhanced oil recovery was carried out only until the tipping point at which carbon dioxide costs exceeded the revenues gained from recovering extra oil. Yet, enhanced oil recovery could be used to a much larger scale, increasing the volume of carbon dioxide injected so that emissions linked to the additional oil produced were partly or fully offset. The International Energy Agency estimated that operations to co-exploit oil production and CO2storage could double CO2 storage, which suggested that enhanced oil recovery could play an important role during the initial phases of CCUS development and make CO2 storage economically viable.
The study also called for the development of appropriate policy mechanisms to support rapid CCUS deployment in the region. It argued for the creation of a certification scheme for tradable carbon storage units, each representing a ton of CO2 securely stored in a geological reservoir. The trading of such units would support CCUS deployment and create market mechanisms for climate change mitigation.
World Health Day
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that in his message for World Health Day to be observed on 7 April, the UN Secretary-General had highlighted the inequalities and injustices of our health systems. While, thanks to the COVAX initiative, more nations were now beginning to receive Covid vaccine supplies, most people in low- and middle-income countries still had to watch and wait. As the world recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, policies needed to be implemented and resources had to be allocated so all could enjoy the same health outcomes. That meant achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. And it meant delivering universal health coverage so everyone, everywhere, could thrive. On this World Health Day, he urged everyone to commit to work together for a healthy, equitable world. The full statement can be read here: https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sgsm20672.doc.htm
Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that on 7 April, for World Health Day, WHO would be launching a campaign with the theme of “Building a fairer, healthier world”. COVID-19 had exposed stark inequities in access to and coverage of health services, as well as a socioeconomic impact that varied widely between countries and regions. Within countries, people who already faced discrimination, poverty and social exclusion were the hardest hit by the pandemic, as more of them were falling ill and dying from the disease.
In preparing to build back after the pandemic, it was critical to put in place policies and allocate resources so that the situation of the most vulnerable groups would improve faster and so that marginalized groups and individuals enjoyed the same level of health and well-being as other groups. Such an approach would entail tackling poverty and health inequities; supporting the necessary investments in health and well-being to build sustainable societies and strong economies; promoting a more equitable sharing of our resources; ensuring food security and nutrition; and finally, turning the tide on climate change. It would also require the health sector to deliver universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere.
To mark World Health Day, WHO would issue a global call to action, supported by the website of the “Building a fairer, healthier world” campaign in six languages (World Health Day 2021 (who.int)) It would also hold a global press conference on 6 April at 4 p.m. CEST, attended by several world leaders, and would issue a press release. Furthermore, on 7 April at 2 p.m., a virtual webinar would be held with the WHO Director-General (for details, see Webinar - An urgent call to work together to tackle health inequities (who.int)). The WHO Director-General would also release a video statement on 6 April to mark the occasion of International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Replying to questions from journalists, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the decision to allow people to attend religious services was one for local authorities, taking into account the level of community transmission. WHO recommended that people attending such events should try to avoid crowded places and indoor settings, and that they should maintain social distancing and wear a mask.
On the topic of vaccination, she pointed out that research was being undertaken on the level of immunity that the new COVID-19 vaccines would provide over time. One aspect of that research was the testing of people’s antibody levels in order to determine whether they had antibodies able to neutralize the virus. It remained unclear whether and when vaccinated persons would require booster shots. WHO was not yet recommending that countries introduce vaccination passports in the context of their entry requirements, since it was unclear that vaccines prevented transmission, and if yes, for how long, which implied that such passports would not necessarily guarantee that cases could be imported from other countries. The prospect of vaccination passports also raised the issue of discrimination, since certain groups did not have access to vaccines or could not be vaccinated for various reasons. Dr. Harris stressed that States should not rely solely on vaccination to prevent transmission, but continue to apply health measures and testing.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that according to the spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General, as of 5 April the COVAX Vaccine Global Access Facility had shipped more than 36 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 86 countries and aimed to deliver 201 million doses by the end of May. The spokesperson had emphasized the need for greater financial support for the COVAX Facility in order to work as fast as possible on the rollout, and had noted that the issue of vaccine inequity and unequal distribution remained troubling.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that on 6 April, the UN Secretary-General had released a message to mark the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, in which he underlined that as vaccines spread hope and spectators returned to arenas, the world of sport had a crucial contribution to make in forging a safe and sustainable recovery. The full statement could be read here: https://www.un.org/en/observances/sport-day/message.
On 7 April, events would be held to commemorate the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. 2021 marked the 27th anniversary of the genocide, in which over a million Tutsi, moderate Hutus and others were systematically killed over a three-month period. In Geneva, the commemorative events would be held in a hybrid format, with a ceremony at the Palais des Nations that would be addressed by the UNOG and UNOV Director-Generals, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations in Geneva and a genocide survivor. The event would be broadcast on webtv.un.org from 3 to 4:30 p.m. A commemoration would also be held in New York, at 11 a.m. New York time, also webcast on webtv.un.org, that would be attended by the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations in New York. The event would also include the testimony of a child survivor.
Ms. Vellucci also said that the thirty-second session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families would be held virtually from 6 to 16 April. The session would open today at 4 p.m. and the Committee would review the report of Chile on 7, 8 and 9 April, also at 4 p.m.
* * *