REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of theUnited Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that the previous week, he had witnessed in both Ukraine and Romania the dedication and commitment of the thousands of local volunteers to the refugees and their communities. No one in Ukraine was left unscathed by the ongoing conflict: an estimated 18 million people – one third of the Ukrainian population – would require humanitarian assistance, and 10 million had been displaced, including almost 6.5 million still within the country. The town of Mariupol was a top priority, as civilians there were living in unacceptable conditions without electricity and running water, lacking food, water and basic items. There was an urgent need for access for those who wanted to leave the city and to bring in essential supplies.
Ukrainian Red Cross teams had reached more than 400,000 people across the country, distributing 1,600 tons of relief aid, including food, bedding and blankets and providing accommodation, first aid and psychosocial support, transporting people to hospital and helping to reunite families through the Red Cross hotline. They had helped more than 79,000 people to get to safety from areas such as Sumy and Kherson region.
National Red Cross societies in the neighbouring countries had reached almost 1 million people with life-saving aid. Romanian Red Cross teams had been working constantly at border crossings since the beginning of the crisis, providing basic items as well as SIM cards and mobile charging stations.
In addition to the trauma and injuries suffered as a result of the conflict, the emerging health crisis resulting from the impact on health facilities and the elevated risk of infectious disease from lack of access to health care and clean water would last far longer than the conflict. Psychosocial support was a critical part of the Red Cross response, as millions of tired, stressed people arrived at borders and needed help to cope and to rebuild their lives. Current activities included establishing child-friendly spaces, helping to reunite separated loved ones.
The Ukrainian Red Cross would be holding a press conference on their Facebook page at 11 a.m. today to give their report directly from Ukraine.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Rocca said that there had not been any contact with the small group of Ukrainian Red Cross volunteers who had remained in the city of Mariupol; the only information available had come from those who had managed to escape, who reported that there was no access to water, electricity or food. The possibility of disease outbreaks in Ukraine was a result of people having to live in shelters without electricity and water. Any intentional attacks on health facilities or medical workers would be a violation of international law.
Also answering a question, Mr Rocca said the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, had, in implementation of the organization’s mandate of neutrality, visited both Ukraine and the Russian Federation and engaged with the Government authorities. Those contacts were now the target of misinformation and disinformation on social media that risked putting the lives of Red Cross staff and volunteers at risk. The Ukrainian Red Cross was involved in evacuating civilian populations where possible, as evacuations came under the ICRC, but no part of the Red Cross family would be involved in forced evacuations.
Mr Rocca’s hopes, like those of the whole international community, of the discussions expected today in Turkey between the parties to the conflict were for dialogue, an immediate ceasefire, peace and a dignified solution that would end the suffering of the affected communities.
Jenelle Eli, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaking from Warsaw, Poland, said that she had seen refugees at border crossings into Romania who were so weak that they could not walk; they were all exhausted, hungry and thirsty, and suffering from the cold. Red Cross teams and local volunteers welcomed them with everything that they could find, including wheelchairs, toys for the children and assistance with contacting their loved ones. The emotional and psychological impact on the refugees was huge, as home was not only a physical place and a community, but stability, history and hope. Nevertheless, the refugees had shown amazing resilience, with older persons caring for the young and families for other families; and local communities had opened their hearts and their homes. The Red Cross response also included cash-in-hand payments to refugees to allow them to identify and meet their own needs.
Jarno Habicht, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that nearly 7 million Ukrainians were displaced within the country, which was putting an immense strain on the health system. Only half the country’s pharmacies remained open and many of them did not have the necessary supplies. Many health workers were displaced themselves or unable to work. Since 24 February, there had been 74 attacks on health care facilities, which had left 72 people dead and 42 injured. Such violations of international law were unacceptable.
In the previous seven days, WHO had delivered medical supplies, including trauma supplies and medication for chronic diseases to areas east of the Dnipro river, where it was urgently needed. It was also working with partners to bring supplies to Poltava and Odesa. Tetanus antitoxins and 50,000 tourniquets would be provided in the coming days to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health for the health facilities where medical staff were working round the clock. The Health Cluster, which included 50 different organizations, had become more active over the previous 10 days and national non-governmental organizations were supporting the work being done in the field.
Responding to questions, Dr. Habicht said that many health care workers had moved either to other regions of the country or elsewhere, meaning that those who remained had a huge workload. WHO was in dialogue to ensure that emergency medical teams could carry out their work.
Rein Paulsen, for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said that FAO was deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on food security in Ukraine. It had so far conducted an initial assessment in 19 of the country’s 24 oblasts which showed that food shortages could be expected within 3 months, as only 49 per cent of winter wheat and 39 per cent of rye was likely to be harvested in the regions affected by the fighting. The current year’s spring planting was also severely impacted – only one in five large agribusinesses had the fuel they needed to plant crops, land was not being prepared and less than 60 per cent of the necessary wheat seed and only 48 per cent of fertilizer supplies were available, in addition to the shortage of labour.
FAO had received only 10 per cent of the $50 million it had called for in its appeal, but with that had been able to support 14,600 families and supply 744 tons of seed. It would be providing two-weekly updates on the situation.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that a convoy had yesterday reach Kharkiv carrying food rations, medical supplies and household items for thousands of people, which the Ukrainian Red Cross would distribute to thousands of people within the city and in some hard-to reach suburbs. Of over 1,100 buildings destroyed in the city, more than 1,000 were residential units, and a shopping centre had been hit on 24 March, leaving 6 dead and 15 people injured.
Using the humanitarian notification system with Ukraine and the Russian Federation, facilitated by OCHA, the United Nations and partner organizations had managed to channel aid to over 900,000 people since 24 February, but needed a guarantee of safe passage from the parties to the conflict.
Ewan Watson, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that ICRC had this weekend sent 60 tons of food and relief supplies to Kharkiv, part of the 500 tones it had channelled into Ukraine in the recent period. It had also sent over 140 additional staff, including surgeons, to the country, the teams working to support hospital staff, together with drugs and war-wounded kits to towns such as Poltava and Donetsk.
The deepening humanitarian crisis inflicted on civilians was abhorrent and, although ICRC had made detailed proposals, the parties had yet to meet many of their core obligations under international humanitarian law. Time was running out for the civilians in Mariupol, where security guarantees were needed to allow evacuations to take place and aid to be brought in. The parties must also inform ICRC of any prisoners of war they held and allow it to visit them. They must treat the dead with dignity, inform their families and allow their bodies to be returned.
Peter Maurer, President of ICRC had recently visited Kyiv and Moscow, in the context of the organization’s mandate of neutrality and to protect civilians. That did not in any way legitimize the claims of any party to sovereignty or territory. The surge of misinformation and false narratives being spread on social media to discredit ICRC had real potential to jeopardize ICRC staff and action.
In answer to questions, Mr. Watson said that the misinformation and disinformation appearing on social media and in some mainstream press was wholly incorrect. ICRC had not been involved in and would never support any forced evacuations, from Mariupol or anywhere else. It had made detailed proposals to the parties concerning the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol more than three weeks previously but there still seemed to be an impasse on such evacuations.
ICRC had no clear figures on prisoners-of-war or deaths but, once again, reminded all parties of their obligations in that respect under international humanitarian law, including the need to protect and respect prisoners and treat them in a human manner.
Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), responding to questions, said that IOM hoped to provide updates on the numbers of internally displaced persons in Ukraine in two weeks’ time, based on information from colleagues on the ground.
Andrew Harper, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the world’s attention needed to be drawn to the tens of millions of displaced persons elsewhere in the world. South Sudan was the country of origin of the largest refugee population in Africa. Prolonged flooding and further displacement there was expected to worsen when the wet season began in May. Record rainfall in the past three years had decimated subsistence farming and 800,000 livestock had perished. Thirty-three out of 79 counties were badly affected by the flood waters, which had not significantly subsided. Thousands of people had been displaced in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, while others were marooned in dike-ringed compounds, trying to hold back floodwaters with mud, sticks and plastic sheeting.
Access was a huge impediment for humanitarian relief and it was unlikely that routine prepositioning of supplies could take place before the rains, meaning that the existing catastrophe would be further exacerbated. If support for the people of South Sudan was not stepped up, the climate crisis, coupled with ongoing insecurity, meant that resources would further shrink, leaving people with no means to survive.
Responding to questions, Mr. Harper said that, although the arable areas of in the south and west of the country had not been directly impacted by the floods, the routes to markets had been cut off, so ways needed to be found to help those communities protect their crops and seed for the future.
In addition, violence, much of it based on ethnic disputes, was endemic in the country, which meant that villagers resisted moving from their own villages. Funding was needed, particularly for heavy earth-moving equipment to shore up flood defences. UNHCR was endeavouring to work pragmatically, in close cooperation with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the peace-keeping forces, providing support as directly as possible, as government capacity did not exist in many areas.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the 2022 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis was being launched today, calling for over USD 881 million to support 1.4 million people, both refugees and the host communities. The launch would be co-hosted by the Government of Bangladesh and attended by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the support for the refugees provided by the Government and people of Bangladesh, together with the effective collaboration with the key partner organizations, had been essential in coordinating the response throughout disasters such as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, cyclones and fires that had hit the refugee population and the local communities. The international community was being called on to assist the Rohingyas to live in dignity until repatriation became possible.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the High-level Pledging Event on Supporting the Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan 2022 would take place on Thursday, 31 March 2022, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Event would be convened by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, joined by Member State co-hosts, the Governments of Qatar, the United Kingdom and Germany. The ministerial-level meeting would be livestreamed on UN webtv. The result of the pledging would be shared shortly after 7 p.m.
Information for the media, embargoed until 6 a.m. on 31 March, would be shared at a press briefing with the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Mr. Laerke also said that an update on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan would be given by the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, on Friday 1 April, at 12 p.m.
Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the aim of the High-level Pledging Event for Afghanistan was to bring the international community together to focus on the needs of all those affected by the crisis in Afghanistan, especially women, girls and minority groups. WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were also holding a high-level meeting, hosted by Qatar, from 29 to 31 March 2022, on interim priorities for the health sector in Afghanistan over the coming 18–24 months, against the background of economic instability, severe drought, rising malnutrition and the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional USD 220 million was needed to support the health needs of 12 million people affected.
Mr. Lindmeier also said that an embargoed virtual press briefing would be held on the new WHO global postnatal care guidelines at 3 p.m. today, embargoed until 10 a.m. on 30 March.
Mr. Lindmeier further said that the WHO Director-General would hold a press briefing on COVID-19, the situation in Ukraine and other health emergencies tomorrow, 30 March, at 5 p.m.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) would hold a hybrid press briefing at 9 a.m. on 30 March to launch The State of World Population 2022 Report, “Seeing the Unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy”, with Monica Ferro, Director, UNFPA Geneva Office.
Ms. Vellucci also announced that the Human Rights Council would today hear the presentation of country reports and oral updates on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, South Sudan and Mali.
She also said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public plenary meeting next Thursday, 31 March, at 10 a.m. It would be the last public plenary of the first part of the Conference on Disarmament session for 2022. The second part of the session was due to begin on 16 May and last until 1 July.