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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section 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, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Food Programme and the Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that the Council had held a short meeting that morning on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, at which the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan had delivered statements. At 3 p.m., the Council would hold a meeting on Nicaragua, including an oral update by the Deputy High Commissioner, a concerned country statement and an interactive dialogue.

At 10 a.m. on 15 December, there would be a one-hour oral update on the human rights situation in Ukraine, during which the Deputy High Commissioner would present the latest report with updated information.

A special session on the grave human rights situation in Ethiopia, requested by the European Union and supported by more than 50 States, would be held on 17 December. A draft resolution would be considered at the special session.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, would be giving the Council’s year-end press conference on the activities of the Council in 2021, in hybrid format, on Thursday, 16 December at 10:30 a.m.

WFP ramps up assistance in Afghanistan

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP was rapidly ramping up humanitarian operations in Afghanistan to assist more than 23 million people facing severe hunger in the country in 2022, as inflation and currency depreciation were making it even more difficult for the population to feed itself. WFP had assisted 15 million people so far in 2021 – 7 million in November alone, up from 4 million in September. In addition, WFP had been able to preposition food in strategic locations across the north-east and central highlands, where heavy winter snows could cut off communities from assistance.

The needs were enormous: according to the latest WFP phone surveys, an estimated 98 per cent of Afghans were not consuming enough food. Families were resorting to desperate measures, with 9 in every 10 households now buying less expensive, less nutritious food, 8 in 10 eating less and 7 in 10 borrowing food to get by.

WFP had dispatched over 50,000 metric tons of food in November, for a total of over 200,000 metric tons in 2021. It had also increased its storage capacity by 40 per cent since August. The WFP-managed United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) was providing a regional air bridge linking Pakistan and Tajikistan to Kabul, as well as domestic services across the country to transport humanitarian responders to the frontlines of the crisis. UNHAS had operated 2,497 flights in 2021.

WFP was also working to provide nutrition treatment and malnutrition prevention for 1.6 million children and pregnant and breastfeeding women; school meals, take-home rations and cash transfers for 1 million children; and training in vocational skills and environmental management for 1.1 million people.

The full operational update is available here.

In response to a question, Mr. Phiri said that most of the people whom WFP had assisted in October had received food assistance, though some cash assistance had been distributed to internally displaced persons in Kabul. WFP was planning to provide families with electronic vouchers for redeeming food without the need for cash.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that donors had been very responsive in 2021, providing USD 753 million for the flash appeal – 124 per cent of the USD 606 million sought – and USD 729 million for the Humanitarian Response Plan, which sought to raise USD 869 million.

Announcements

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that a meeting of high-level officials in follow-up to the first Global Refugee Forum, held in 2019, would take place virtually on 14 and 15 December. Nearly 1,400 pledges had been made at the Global Refugee Forum to better support refugees and host communities on issues such as employment, education, legal and policy developments to expand protection and inclusion, fiscal support, solutions to displacement, clean energy and infrastructure. The world had changed since then, of course, with the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The meeting would bring together senior government officials, refugees and various stakeholders to take stock of progress on how the world responded to refugee situations, to advance the disbursement of the pledges made in 2019, to identify challenges, to commit further support and to strengthen international cooperation. The event would also spotlight several key areas, including the COVID-19 response, climate action and displacement, regional support platforms, and resettlement and complementary pathways.

The full programme of the meeting is available here.

The full text of the press release can be accessed here.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that an Arctic temperature record of 38°C (100.4°F) had been set in Verkhoyansk, Russian Federation, on 20 June 2020. The heat seen in Siberia in 2020, which had resulted in devastating fires and ice loss in the Arctic Sea, would have been almost impossible without climate change. Investigators at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes noted that the new record was clearly indicative of warming across Siberia, and that the Arctic was warming at almost twice the global average. A new temperature record of 18.3°C had been set in the Antarctic in 2020.

Verification was also under way of readings of 54.4°C in Death Valley, California, which held the record as the world’s hottest place, and of a new European record of 48.8°C measured in Sicily in August 2021.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be presenting its Arctic Report Card that afternoon.

In the light of recent meteorological events in the United States, it was worth noting that the Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes kept data on many phenomena, including tornadoes and weather-related mortality. For example, the highest death toll in a tornado was 1,300 people, following an event in Bangladesh in 1989, and the longest distance travelled by a tornado was 352.4 km over 3.5 hours in the United States in 1925. WMO extended its condolences to the population affected by the tornados on 10–11 December.

Replying to a question on the extreme cold seen recently in the Nordic countries, Ms. Nullis said that considerable research was being conducted into whether the jet stream was weakening, causing it to buckle in certain places and leading to arctic air masses dropping to lower latitudes and remaining there for extended periods of time.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said that FAO was releasing a series of regional overview of food security and nutrition (SOFI) reports that week. The reports covering Europe and Central Asia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and North Africa and the Near East would be released on 13, 14, 15 and 16 December, respectively. The regional edition of the FAO flagship SOFI report used the latest hunger and malnutrition data to track the progress of the above-mentioned regions towards meeting global sustainability targets, particularly the zero hunger targets under Sustainable Development Goal 2.

Mr. Adriano Timossi was available for further information and interview requests.

Mr. LeBlanc also said that the President of the General Assembly would be holding his year-end press conference, which could be followed on UN Web TV, on 14 December at 11 a.m. EST.

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