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 World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria and the World Meteorological Organization.
Dr. Paloma Cuchi, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Poland, said that there were now 6.5 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine and 3.3 million Ukrainian refugees, including 2 million in Poland [ NB: these figures were later updated by the UNHCR spokesperson – see below ]. While the Polish Government was providing access to basic services, education and health care, the needs were enormous and would only grow since most of those arriving wished to stay in Poland so that it would be easier to return home once conditions permitted. The most immediate health needs related to dehydration, prenatal care and mental health support, but there was also tremendous need for assistance in treating acute and chronic illnesses. Through its emergency logistics centre in Poland, WHO had so far deployed 109 metric tons of aid and was preparing for a massive influx of arrivals should the situation deteriorate rapidly.
Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said later that day, the ILO Governing Body would be discussing a draft resolution, put forward by 47 member States, on the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation from the perspective of the ILO’s mandate. The full text of the draft resolution was available on the Governing Body page of the ILO website. The Ukraine discussion would not be open to the public, but a press release on the outcome would be issued.
In response to questions from journalists, Dr. Cuchi said that WHO was in direct communication with the authorities in Ukraine regarding the availability of medication and supplies; a shipment was due to arrive in early April. Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), added that, in the period 24 February–18 March, a total of 62 attacks on health care, in which 15 people had died and 37 had been injured, had been verified. Such attacks were a violation of international law.
Also in response to questions, Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the latest figure was 3.557.000 refugees. UNHCR stood ready to react, both in neighbouring countries and in Ukraine, to any increase above the projected number of 4 million refugees. Taken together, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons amounted to nearly one quarter of the entire population of Ukraine. No breakdown of the number of refugees in Western Europe was available, as those countries were managing their own responses, but there were 2.1 million refugees in Poland, 543,000 in Romania, 367,000 in Moldova, 317,000 in Hungary, 253,000 in Slovakia, 252,000 in the Russian Federation and 4,000 in Belarus. In several of those countries, UNHCR was supporting the refugee response through, inter alia, cross-border aid delivery, cash assistance and child protection. UNHCR had a modest office in Moscow, as well as a partnership with the Russian Red Cross. The Agency had not been able to confirm reports that individuals were being forcibly transferred from Mariupol to the Russian Federation.
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP was exploring ways of reaching populations in need in besieged cities, including through vouchers and emergency food rations, but airdrops were not being considered at that time owing to their prohibitive cost.
Replying to a journalist, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, stressed that the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva did not have the mandate to speak about the political situation in Ukraine but that she had expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call for peace.
Food security in Haiti
Pierre Honnorat, World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director in Haiti, said that, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, more than 40 per cent of the population of Haiti was food insecure, with 1.5 million people in need of emergency support. The basic minimum basket of food – comprising rice, beans, wheat flour, maize, oil and sugar – had risen from $20 to $30, and prices were projected to increase further, not least because of the conflict in Ukraine. As food insecurity fueled insecurity, migration and sexual violence, WFP efforts were two-pronged: an emergency response and development activities to boost resilience. Amid dwindling donor contributions, the rise in operational costs was all the more worrying.
Patrick David, Deputy Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Haiti, said that the food situation in Haiti was the result of natural disasters, below-average rainfall and a deteriorating economic situation compounded by insecurity, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Moreover, small farmers faced unfair competition from large importers. While immediate needs could be met through food assistance, there was also a need to invest in agriculture and improve access to social protection.
Replying to journalists, Mr. Honnorat said that wheat was imported mainly from the Russian Federation and Canada and that most of WFP’s supplies came from the Americas, so the concern was not so much one of availability but one of cost. Distribution of assistance was complicated by the security situation, especially in the southern part of the country, and was becoming increasingly difficult. WFP needed $51.3 million to maintain its current operations. Mr. David added that some 200,000 children were undernourished.
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was alarmed by the ongoing violence in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, which had forced thousands to flee since the start of 2022. A series of attacks by unidentified non-State armed groups between January and mid-March had displaced some 24,000 people within Nangade district; they needed urgent humanitarian assistance and protection services. Some 5,000 people had also sought protection in the neighbouring district of Mueda. Those fleeing violence had suffered and witnessed atrocities, including killings, the decapitation and dismemberment of bodies, sexual violence, kidnapping, forced recruitment by armed groups and torture.
UNHCR and partners were working closely with local authorities to address the needs of both recently and previously displaced communities in Mueda, totalling 134,515 people. They were providing shelter materials and household items, monitoring protection risks and supporting authorities in managing displacement sites. Major gaps remained, however, especially in the provision of mental health and psychosocial support to unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and older persons. As of March 2022, only 11 per cent of the US$ 36.7 million required to deliver life-saving assistance was funded.
The full briefing note can be found here.
Mr. Cheshirkov also said that UNHCR, alongside the Government of Mozambique and humanitarian partners, was rushing to assist thousands of families affected by Tropical Cyclone Gombe, which had made landfall in Nampula Province on 11 March 2022, the strongest storm since Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in early 2019. While less severe, Tropical Cyclone Gombe had damaged critical infrastructure and cut power and communications in Nampula City, the nearby Maratane refugee settlement and sites hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Cabo Delgado Province. UNHCR was mobilizing urgently needed shelter and other essential items from its stockpiles to assist 62,000 refugees and IDPs, as well as host communities.
The full briefing note can be found here.
Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the election of the new ILO Director-General would take place in closed session on Friday, 25 March. Beginning at 10 a.m., there would be several rounds of secret ballots, with the candidate with the lowest vote in each round dropping out, until the winning candidate gained 51 per cent of the vote. A press release announcing the winner would be issued as soon as the name of the elected candidate was known. At that point, the session would become public and the Director-General elect would make a statement to the Governing Body, which would be broadcast on the ILO website. Interviews with the Director-General elect could be requested in writing. The candidates’ vision and CVs and the recordings of the candidate public dialogues held in February 2022 were available on the ILO website.
In response to a question, Ms. Yarde said that a discussion had begun the previous day in the Governing Body on a report concerning developments in Myanmar following the coup in February 2021 and the subsequent impact on workers and employers and the application of international labour standards. Options being considered included: the establishment of a commission of inquiry; the holding of a special sitting of the Committee on the Application of Standards during the next International Labour Conference to examine the application by Myanmar of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87); and the establishment of a standing monitoring arrangement under which Myanmar would be requested to report annually. The discussion was ongoing, and a press release detailing the outcome would be issued when a decision had been taken.
In response to another question, Ms. Yarde said that the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations had published observations on the application of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) and the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122). Both comments examined the situation in respect of discrimination and free choice of employment of ethnic and religious minorities inside and outside Xinjiang, China.
Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said that the seventh session of the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned and United Nations-facilitated Constitutional Committee was convening in Geneva for the second day. In advance of the meeting of the Small Body, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen had noted that Syria remained one of the gravest crises in the world and that there was a clear need for progress towards a political solution. Mr. Pedersen hoped to see the Constitutional Committee work with a sense of seriousness, purpose and determination to achieve the progress that the situation demanded. Mr. Pedersen would brief the Security Council on Thursday, 24 March, at 10 a.m. EST, and would update the media on 25 March at the conclusion of the seventh session.
World Meteorological Day
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that World Meteorological Day would be celebrated on 23 March, at 2 p.m., under the theme “Early Warning and Early Action”. In the face of more extreme weather events, it was no longer enough to forecast what the weather would be – people needed to know what the weather would do and how they should respond to it. There would be an embargoed press release containing the details of a new early warning initiative.
In response to a question, Ms. Nullis said that eastern Antarctica – the driest, windiest, most remote and inhospitable place on earth – had been seeing unprecedented heat caused by an atmospheric river. On 18 March, Concordia station had recorded a temperature of -12°C, or 40°C above the average value for the area and 20°C higher than the previous March record. It remained to be seen whether those temperatures marked a new trend. In addition, Antarctic Sea ice had been at its lowest on record in February, falling below 2 million km2.
Replying to a journalist, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), noting that recombinant variants were common, said that WHO was monitoring the recently identified COVID-19 recombinant, which thus far had not been shown to be more transmissible. There would be an update on variants of concern on 23 March.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council was continuing its general debate on country situations. It would also hold a panel discussion on the protection of human rights in the COVID-19 recovery and would hear the presentation of reports by a series of subsidiary bodies, followed by a general debate on their work.
Ms. Vellucci announced that on 24 March, at 11.15 a.m., the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would hold a hybrid press conference to provide an update on the global economy (report under embargo until 3 p.m. on 24 March). Speakers would include UNCTAD Secretary-General Ms. Rebeca Grynspan and the Director of UNCTAD Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, Mr. Richard Kozul-Wright.
She said that the Human Rights Committee would adopt its annual report at a public meeting on Thursday, 24 March, at 3 p.m. At the closure of its 134th session on 25 March, at 11 a.m., the Committee would issue its concluding observations on Bolivia, Cambodia, Iraq, Israel and Qatar.
She also said that, at the closure of its twenty-sixth session on 25 March, at 5 p.m., the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would issue its concluding observations on Hungary, Jamaica, Mexico, Switzerland and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
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