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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing which was attended by spokespersons of the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Situation in north-west Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that earlier this week, the UN Secretary-General had addressed the Security Council on the situation in Syria, informing the Council that the conditions in the country were worse than at any time since the beginning of the conflict. He had appealed to the Security Council to reach consensus on cross-border transportation of humanitarian aid.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O Pedersen would brief the UN Security Council today at 4 p.m. Geneva time; the briefing would be webcast at webtv.un.org. The Office of the Special Envoy would distribute the transcript of the briefing.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), warned that the levels of the food insecurity in Syria were the worst since the beginning of the conflict. Today an estimated 12.4 million Syrians were food insecure, which amounted to nearly 60 percent of the population who did not know what they would eat the following day. It was increase of 4.5 million people in only one year. Food prices continued to rise and had risen by 247 percent over the previous year. Families had exhausted their savings over the many years of conflict. More than 70 percent of families had told the WFP staff on the ground that they were buying food on credit. The percentage of the severely food insecure people had doubled in just one year.

WFP alone was providing support to 1.35 million Syrians in the region, said Mr. Phiri, while continuing to preposition food in the northwest Syria. Allowing cross-border food delivery from Turkey to Syria was of critical importance, stressed Mr. Phiri. WFP would continue to negotiate delivering food across the frontlines from Damascus, but as of today, there was no viable alternative to cross-border deliveries. The renewal of a UN resolution allowing the continued cross-border operation into northwest Syria through Turkey was critical. Millions of lives were at stake, stressed Mr. Phiri. 

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that more was needed to reach those in the difficult situation in northwest Syria. People were worse off today than 11 months earlier, when the Security Council had last reviewed the issue. Cessation of cross border supplies could lead to much more illness and deaths, warned Mr. Lindmeier. The COVID-19 response was heavily reliant on the UN for vaccine deployment; less than 0.5 percent of the population had received one dose thus far. If cross-border authorizations were not renewed, it would be difficult to roll out mass vaccination and provide other critical care for non-communicable, chronical diseases. Conditions had not yet been created for a cross-front line convoy from Damascus as across-the-board political support for such deliveries was still lacking. Failure to renew deliveries across the Turkish-Syrian border could launch the north-west Syria into yet another humanitarian catastrophe. No humanitarian convoys had crossed into northwest Syria from Damascus over the past 11 months, confirmed Mr. Lindmeier.

The situation was terrible in Syria because it was already a ten-year long conflict, and many people had been displaced multiple times, explained Mr. Phiri answering a question from a journalist. The coping mechanisms of most Syrians were depleted by now. Mr. Lindmeier added that any disease in a vulnerable, fragile population was spreading more easily. Vaccination rates against COVID-19 were very low.

Worsening situation for children in sub-Saharan Africa

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stated that Sub-Saharan Africa was in the throes of a deadly uptake in COVID-19. At the present rate of infections, the current surge would exceed the previous one within weeks, as more contagious variants spread, vaccines continued to be perilously slow in reaching Africa, and hospitals were pushed beyond capacity.

For example, Uganda had had a 2,800 percent increase in new COVID-19 cases between March and June 2021, and the availability of oxygen in Uganda had become a life-or-death situation. Namibia had the highest death rate in Africa; hospitals were full and there were not enough oxygen tanks. In South Africa, a third wave was threatening to be even worse than the previous two, stretching an already strained healthcare system.

The effect on children was dire: loss of parents and grandparents who cared for so many children; less education and more abuse; more anxiety and stress for children, as isolation, confinement, and loss of income took their toll; worsening health care: antenatal visits, routine immunizations, and malaria treatment were down, leading to a reversal of positive trends.

The economic situation was causing poverty records to be shattered, and not a single country had been spared.

Mr. Elder said that UNICEF continued to support governments, WHO and other partners to tackle the COVID-19 health crisis and the secondary impacts on children and their families. The clearest pathway out of this pandemic was a global, equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Ultimately, the global vaccination race would be won when Member States make sustainable plans to fully fund and supply COVAX, while supporting the expansion of vaccine manufacturing capacity. Governments had to prioritise keeping schools open and safe, which could be achieved by applying guidance including spacing, different shifts, masking, and handwashing.

Namibia’s infection and death rates were indeed high for such a sparsely populated country, said Mr. Elder in a response to a question. Mr. Lindmeier added that Namibia was experiencing shortages in oxygen and trained health workers. The impact of the pandemic on AIDS orphans was grave, as many grandparents, as primary caregivers of such children, were succumbing to COVID-19.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), informed that the UN Secretary-General was still in Belgium, where he would meet with the King and the Queen, and address today’s 5th Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters entitled “Building Back Better Towards More Resilient and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World”, which would be webcast live on webtv.un.org

Alessandra Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), stated that today at 12:30 p.m., FAO and the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT would launch a new publication entitled “Indigenous Peoples' food systems: Insights on sustainability and resilience from the frontline of climate change” on a high level virtual event opened by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. The publication analysed eight different Indigenous Peoples food systems in Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Arctic and Africa, identified threats affecting their food security, and warned about their future and the impacts their disappearance would have on humanity's ability to adapt to climate change. The event can be watched live at FAO webcast.

Ms. Vellucci, on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Council today was holding discussions and hearing reports from experts on the right to education, the rights of internally displaced persons, on violence and discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and on discrimination against women and girls.

Today, at 1:30 p.m. there would be a press conference to present the Human Rights Council report on gender theory by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On 28 June at 10:30 a.m., there would be a presentation of the Human Rights High Commissioner’s report on racial justice and equality in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Speakers would be Peggy Hicks, OHCHR Director of Thematic Engagement; Mona Rishmawi, Chief, Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch; and Sara Hamood, Team Leader, Racial Justice Team.

On 29 June at 3 p.m., Tourism and Covid-19: assessing the economic consequences, a new report, would be presented by Ralf Peters, of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and Zorica Urošević, UN World Tourism Organization Representative in Geneva. The report would be embargoed until 30 June at 7 a.m.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would close its 79th session on 1 July at 5 p.m.

The Human Rights Committee would open on 28 June at 12:30 p.m. its 132nd session (virtual), during which it would review the report of Togo.

Responding to a question, Ms. Vellucci confirmed that the Libyan talks would indeed take place in Switzerland the following week; the meeting would be facilitated by the UN Support Mission in Libya, and more information would be shared in due course.

Regarding the issue of holding conferences in person at the Palais des Nations, Ms. Vellucci said that UNOG was studying the situation and the impact of the latest COVID-19 guidance by the Swiss authorities on its activities.

 

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