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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 in Geneva, chaired the hybrid press briefing which was attended by the spokespersons of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Road Safety Fund, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and the Human Rights Council.

Worsening food crisis in the Sahel

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the Sahel was currently experiencing some of its driest conditions in many years. In just three years, the number of people approaching starvation had skyrocketed from 3.6 million to 10.5 million in five countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The current crisis was expected to outpace previous years due to compounding factors including insecurity, an increase in poverty due to COVID-19, and dramatic rises in the cost of staple food.

While needs were sky high, resourcing to support the vulnerable was at rock bottom, forcing the WFP into the difficult position of having to take from the hungry to feed the starving. In Niger, for example, a shortage of funding meant that the WFP was cutting food rations by half. WFP required USD 470 million for the following six months to continue operations in the Sahel where, despite a challenging security context, it had worked with humanitarian partners to maintain lifesaving support reaching 9.3 million people in the five countries in 2021.

More information in available here.

Rations had had to be cut by half in Niger due to the lack of funds, explained Mr. Phiri in response to questions. During the two years when the WFP had been aiding Niger, the number of families who had been able to have normal diets had doubled, he said.

Eritrean refugees displaced in clashes in Ethiopia’s Afar region

Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that the UNHCR was working with the Ethiopian authorities and partners to provide emergency aid to thousands of Eritrean refugees who had fled the Barahle refugee camp and its environs in the Afar region after fighting had engulfed the area. 

So far, over 4,000 refugees were in Semera, where the UNHCR, together with Ethiopia’s Government Refugees and Returnees Service and other partners, were providing immediate support with shelter, relief items, food as well as clean water. UNHCR had also set up protection desks where the most vulnerable among the refugees, including separated children and others with specific needs, were being identified and provided with support. 

UNHCR condemned the attack on the refugee camp and reiterated the call for cessation of hostilities to avoid further destruction and potential loss of life for refugees and Ethiopians alike, and so that much needed humanitarian assistance could reach them. 

Full briefing note is available here.

Answering to journalists’ questions, Mr. Cheshirkov stated that the UNHCR’s primary concern was for the wellbeing and safety of the Eritrean refugees. UNHCR was extremely worried about those cut off from aid and not reachable. Hostilities had to cease, and unhindered humanitarian access had to be provided, he stressed.

Growing violence towards displaced civilians across eastern DR Congo and visit of the UN Secretary-General

Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR was shocked by reports of eight major attacks in the Ituri Province impacting displaced people in the first ten days of February, characterized by killings, kidnappings, looting of livestock and food, and torching of homes. 

Most recently, on 15 February, militia fighters had massacred 17 people with machetes in the locality of Lando, Djugu Territory. Eight children had been among those killed; a mother and her two children had been burned alive as assailants had set shelters ablaze. 

UNHCR was calling on all parties involved to immediately halt the violence against civilians, including displaced populations, many of whom had been forced to flee multiple times. Large-scale and repeated displacements were overwhelming the resources of neighbouring settlements where people had sought safety. The continued lack of funding to the region and across DRC is inhibiting provision of desperately needed assistance, with UNHCR’s programmes in need of USD 225.4 million to meet the urgent needs of the displaced. 

UNHCR briefing note is available here.

There were more than 120 active armed groups in the Itari Province, reminded Mr. Cheshirkov in a response to questions. Some of the recent attacks had been likely perpetrated by CODECO, which was among most active armed groups.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed about the just launched Humanitarian Response Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo for 2022. A total of USD 1.88 billion was sought to provide humanitarian assistance to 8.8 million vulnerable people. In 2021, only 39 percent of the needs had been funded, which was clearly insufficient for humanitarian agencies to meet the needs of the affected populations.

Ms. Vellucci said that on 22 February the UN Secretary-General would arrive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he would attend the 10th Summit of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region. Prior to arriving in Kinshasa, the Secretary-General would travel to North Kivu and Ituri, where he would meet with local authorities and people displaced by conflict, and he would express his solidarity with those who continued to be deeply affected by violence in the region. While in Kinshasa, the Secretary-General was also scheduled to meet with President Felix Tshisekedi and senior members of the Congolese government, as well as civil society leaders.

It was important for the Secretary-General to be physically in the country and meet with the affected populations, said Ms. Vellucci responding to a question.

Rainy season in the Horn of Africa

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that a new seasonal forecast for the drought-stricken Horn of Africa had just been issued. It showed higher chances of a good rainy season in many parts of the region, but that was coupled with caution and warnings that stakeholders should still prepare for “worst case scenarios.”

The March-to-May season was a very important rainfall season, accounting for up to 70 percent of the total annual rainfall in some countries. A renewed failure of the rains would have massive socio-economic consequences after two years of persistent drought which had already decimated livestock and agriculture and undermined health and well-being in one of the world’s most fragile regions. An estimated 12-14 million people are classed as severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, according to OCHA and other relief agencies.

The seasonal outlook forum, a WMO-designated Regional Climate Centre, stressed that global climate models’ forecasts had relatively low skill in the March-April-May season. It was very important to consult our weekly and monthly forecasts and downscaled national ones. Ms. Nullis also emphasized that the rains might not offset the accumulated deficit.

Responding to questions, Ms. Nullis reiterated that the current forecast was that significant parts of Somalia would see decent rainfall. Nonetheless, humanitarian actors ought to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Regarding the flooding in the Brazilian city of Petropolis, Ms. Nullis said that preparations had to be made for more intense and heavier rainfalls in the future. Investments ought to be made into early warnings systems; infrastructure and city planning were also important factors in this regard.

COVID-19 Global Research and Innovation Forum and COVID-related measures at UN Geneva

Dr. Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, Co-Lead R&D Blueprint for epidemics, Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO), reminded that the First Global Research and Innovation Forum had taken place in 2020, following the onset of the pandemic. WHO across the house worked with nearly 5,000 scientists, meeting weekly on different topics, which helped identify knowledge gaps. The upcoming, Third Forum would look at the progress made with an eye on the future. One of the questions was on how best to prepare for another pandemic. During the Forum, discussions would be held on what had been achieved, including vaccine creation and distribution, and the ongoing research agenda. Experiences would also be shared on therapeutics. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, would be the keynote speaker, said Dr. Henao-Restrepo. The previous Forum had been followed by close to 30,000 people, she informed, and it was hoped that the upcoming session would again reach broad audiences around the world.

On questions from the media, Ms. Henao-Restrepo said that the Forum’s report would be available 24 hours before the start of the Forum. Livestream of the Forum could be accessed here.

Responding to questions, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that masks were no longer mandatory at the Palais des Nations when sitting at one’s desk, provided that distance with other colleagues was kept. Masks remained mandatory when moving around the premises and in meeting rooms. The requirement to have a COVID certificate for eating in the cafeteria had also been lifted. The management was looking into a possible lifting of telecommuting requirements, but not imminently; capacity in meeting rooms could also possibly be increased. Media would be kept abreast of all decisions.

The next, seventy-fifth World Health Assembly would be held from 22 to 28 May, informed Tarik Jašarević, also for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that Ambassador Federico Villegas of Argentina, President of the Human Rights Council in 2022, would hold a hybrid press conference on 23 February at 10 am. The forty-ninth regular HRC session, which would be held in Room XIX, would last from 28 February to 1 April. Detailed information was available on the session’s dedicated page. The high-level segment included 129 speakers for the moment; 76 of them were registered to speak in person and the rest would send virtual messages. Mr. Gomez reminded that the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, “the think-tank of the Council”, would be meeting 21-25 February; a press release had already been distributed.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that the UN Secretary-General would be in Geneva on 28 February to deliver opening remarks at the Council. He would also participate in a press conference related to the release of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Nexus Academy

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), informed that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (DAC), UN agencies and NGOs would launching the Nexus Academy, which would take place at the Palais des Nations from 2 to 3:30 pm. The event would be hybrid with attendees both in-person and online.

Rachel Scott, also for UNDP, said that the Nexus Academy was a ‘common good’ designed and delivered by DAC members, the UN system, NGOs and a broad range of stakeholders. The Academy would on the success of the DAC Recommendation and aim to forge a common understanding of nexus approaches to ensure that organizations and the people they employed have the knowledge, skills, and capacities to translate those approaches into practical actions. It would be a knowledge- and experience-sharing platform which would help learn how to work together more effectively to address the needs on the ground. The material for the Academy was crowd sourced. Over 400 people had already applied for the March Academy, so the interest was already booming.

Registration for the launch event is possible here.

United Nations Road Safety Fund

Stephanie Schumaher, for the United Nations Road Safety Fund, informed that Global Film Festival for Road Safety would be held on 21-22 February in the context of the 75th Inland Transport Committee’s Anniversary. The focus this year was on smart and safe mobility. More than 90 films from over 40 countries would be featured in the festival. The opening would be held in Tempus 3 on 21 February and would be screened online as well.

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