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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

 

Rhéal LeBlanc , Chief of Press and External Relations at theUnited Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization.

Somalia Drought Emergency

Etienne Peterschmitt, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in Somalia, said that FAO, World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were sounding the alarm on the deteriorating food security and nutrition situation in Somalia. The FAO alerted the international community that the country was on the brink of devastating and widespread hunger, starvation and death.

Since the beginning of the year, the food security situation had only worsened for the people of Somalia.

A historic fourth seasonal rainy season had now largely failed, food prices continued to soar, and humanitarian assistance remained out of reach for millions of Somalis as resources to meet the needs remained limited. It was a perfect storm for famine if action was not taken now.

The latest food security analyses showed that 7.1 million people, or 45 per cent of the country, were in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) phase 3, “Crisis”, or worse food security outcomes. Families in the most affected areas did not have enough to eat and were using crisis-coping strategies to stave off hunger.

Out of the 7.1 million, around 2.1 million people were in IPC phase 4, “Emergency”, signified by very high acute malnutrition and rising levels of mortality among children and adults.

And some 213,000 people were in IPC phase 5, “Catastrophe”, a 160 per cent increase in the number of people facing extreme lack of food, facing starvation death and destitution since the last FAO report mid-April.

Any hope of seasonal rains coming to the aid of Somalia’s productive sectors in the first half of 2022 was also now gone.

Cumulative seasonal Gu rains between March and early June were 40-70 per cent below average, and the replenishment of pasture and water sources, and food production was simply not enough to avert a worsening situation in Somalia until the start of the next rainy season in mid-October.

Local food and water prices continued to rise due to low agricultural productivity and poor water availability, making staple food items out of reach of everyday Somalis. Rising global prices had put further upward pressure on the prices of imported goods, which usually accounted for the bulk of the domestic gap in food availability.

With dried up pasture and water sources, some 3 million livestock had also died since mid-2021 due to drought and diseases.

Some 1.5 million children faced acute malnutrition through the end of the year, and of these now 386,400 face severe acute malnutrition and, as such, they are at increased risk of death.

FAO and other UN agencies were acting in response, channelling limited resources into famine prevention interventions.

Partners, authorities and local communities had scaled up their activities, reorienting responses towards famine prevention and targeting the most vulnerable people in areas of highest need.

FAO was helping rural families by providing lifesaving cash transfers to purchase essentials such as food, water and medicine, as well as livelihood items. It was also providing food security information and analysis and water monitoring through its Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and its Somalia Water and Land Information Management programmes.

However, it had not received the support required for 2022 for these lifesaving and livelihood safeguarding interventions, and hundreds of thousands of Somalis were at a very real risk of starvation and death.

FAO’s Famine Prevention Plan had a funding gap of US$105 million dollars to increase immediate access to food and basic needs in rural areas, safeguard livelihoods and restart seasonal food production.

It was calling on the international community to act fast while there was still some hope of preventing collapse of livelihoods, further and potentially massive population displacement, and widespread famine in Somalia.

El-Khidir Daloum, World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director in Somalia, said that Somalia was in the worst situation in four decades. The situation had deteriorated significantly since April, the last time that the WFP briefed on the situation. It was not too late to avert famine, but urgent action was needed.

The world should not wait for a formal declaration of famine to act swiftly, and at scale – by then it would be too late. Hundreds of thousands of lives were already at risk. Immediate action was needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

WFP had already pivoted into full famine prevention mode, racing against time to stop the worst from happening. It was working to scale up to reach over four million people with lifesaving food and nutrition support. It was directing its limited resources to the people and areas where the needs are greatest, focusing on saving the lives most at risk – including the recently displaced, the people facing greatest food insecurity, new and expectant mothers, and young children.

Since April, the WFP had been forced to make hard choices in terms of prioritising the distribution of resources. It was taking food out of the mouths of the hungry to feed the starving.

Camps for internally displaced persons in locations like Dolow were getting visibly larger, with new groups of makeshift shelters springing up week by week as the drought worsened. There was a desperately urgent need for more resources to meet this escalating hunger crisis.

WFP alone had a funding gap of US$ 274 million required to scale up lifesaving food and nutrition assistance across the next six months. It currently had less than a third of what it needed. The overall Humanitarian Response Plan in Somalia was only 18 per cent funded.

The late scaling up of relief response in 2011 was now seen as one of the key factors in the famine that killed a quarter of a million people. It was not too late to stop the worst from happening in Somalia again. However, the WFP was urgently calling on the international community to immediately provide the resources needed to alleviate the situation.

More information on the situation can be found in the joint FAO-OCHA-UNICEF-WFP press release.

Worsening Hunger Crisis in Horn of Africa Region

Rania Dagash-Kamara, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Regional Director, Eastern and South Africa, said that if the world did not widen its gaze from the war in Ukraine and act immediately, an explosion of child deaths was about to happen in the Horn of Africa.

An estimated 386,000 children in Somalia were now in desperate need of treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition, an increase of more than 15 per cent in the space of five months.

Across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, more than 1.7 million children were in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Four rainy seasons had failed in the space of two years, killing crops and livestock and drying up water sources. Forecasts suggested that the next October to December rains are likely to fail too, making this likely to become the longest drought in recent history in the region.

All three countries had recorded a significantly higher number of severely malnourished children admitted for treatment in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021.

Death rates were also concerning. This year, in the worst affected areas in of the Horn of Africa, three times as many children had already died from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications in in-patient treatment centres compared to the whole of the previous year.

Between February and May, the number of households without reliable access to clean and safe water almost doubled, from 5.6 million to 10.5 million.

The lives of children in the Horn of Africa were also at increased risk because of the war in Ukraine. Somalia alone used to import 92 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but supply lines were now blocked. The war was exacerbating spiralling global food and fuel prices, meaning many people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could no longer afford the basic food stuffs they needed to survive.

These pressures were also impacting UNICEF’s response. The cost of the life-saving therapeutic food UNICEF used to treat children with severe acute malnutrition was projected to rise by 18 per cent globally over the next six months. This meant that UNICEF would require an estimated additional US$12 million more than expected in the Horn of Africa alone.

UNICEF and other agencies had been repeatedly sounding the alarm bell on this crisis, but appeals were drastically underfunded.

UNICEF was calling on G-7 leaders to act early in future emergencies and invest in long term resilience work, like nutrition, water, education and cash transfer programmes. Somali children were living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Significant changes in donations were needed to adequately support families to weather these cyclical climatic shocks.

More information in UNICEF’s press release.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that four consecutive rainy seasons had failed in the Horn of Africa, a climatic event not seen in forty years. Inaction would be more costly than action. Increased investments were needed to mitigate a catastrophe.

isk factors for outbreaks were increasing because of the drought, massive displacement, food insecurity, limited access to health care and low immunisation rates. Food insecurity in the region was contributing to increased health risks and needs, putting health institutions under increased pressure.

Cooperation amongst key sectors was needed to mitigate the crisis. The response needed to be based on joint alliances, data sharing, analysis and aligned strategic priorities.

Mr. LeBlanc added that the Secretary-General had been calling for an end to the war, as it was having a devastating impact on a wide range of countries. The United Nations was very preoccupied by Ukraine’s ability, as well as that of Russia, to export grains and other food resources to countries that were most in need. The Secretary-General had created a Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance to study the broader impact of the Ukraine war, and Mr. António Guterres and other senior UN officials, including Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, had held discussions with the Russian and Ukrainian authorities on how to unblock the move of staples. The Global Crisis Response Group’s second report was expected to be issued shortly.

Health Situation in Ukraine

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said in response to questions that the risk of a cholera outbreak in Mariupol was high as people had less access to safe drinking water due to damaged piping. Neighbouring Oblasts and Mariupol had a history of cholera outbreaks. However, there were no confirmed reports of a cholera outbreaks. WHO was not physically on the ground in Mariupol, but would work with partners to provide support.

World Food Safety Day

Dr. Simone Moraes Raszl, Scientist, Multisectoral Action in Food Systems (AFS), Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, World Health Organization (WHO), said that on June 7 the United Nations was marking the fourth global World Food Safety Day, led by two of its specialized agencies, WHO and FAO, together with the Codex Alimentarius Secretariat.

World Food Safety Day aimed to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. Globally, 1 in 10 people were affected by foodborne diseases annually. The magnitude of the public health burden due to foodborne diseases was comparable to that of malaria or HIV AIDs, and this was believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Most foodborne diseases were preventable with proper food handling and education.

This year’s theme, ‘Safer food, better health’ stressed that safe food is essential to human health and well-being. When food was not safe, nutritional goals could not be achieved.

When food safety was improved, hunger, malnutrition and infant mortality reduced. Children missed fewer days at school. Adults had lower work absenteeism.

WHO and FAO were supporting their Member States in efforts to provide safe food for all and to enable the population’s trust in the safety of the food to protect their health. Events such as World Food Safety Day helped by bringing focus to the food safety community and the critical role they play.

On May 27, the World Health Assembly adopted an updated WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety, 20 years after the first one. This was a milestone in its work to promote health, keep the world safe and protect the vulnerable. The strategy aimed to strengthen national food safety systems, support multi-sectoral collaboration and innovative public health approaches.

Today at 14:00 CET, WHO and FAO would host a virtual celebration including video messages from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, followed by panel discussions on the need to transform food systems to deliver better health and on food safety in different settings.

Everyone had a role to play in keeping food safe. All people needed to work together to achieve safer food for better health.

More information on food safety can be found on the WHO’s dedicated webpage and campaign information related to World Food Safety Day can be found on this webpage.

Markus Lipp, Senior Food Safety Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that food security was a focus for FAO, and there could not be food security if food was not safe.

In the context of current global disruptions, food safety needed additional attention. Available food should not be making people ill. Sustainable development goals could not be met if food was not safe.

FAO supported food trade, mainly through the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which set international food safety standards that were acknowledged under the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. Jointly with WHO, FAO had established food safety standards on a scientific basis in 1956.

FAO was working to mitigate foodborne antimicrobial resistance through appropriate management of antimicrobial drugs, and by preventing the residuals of antimicrobial drugs from entering the food stream in quantities that would be deteriorating to human health.

It was also working to strengthen food control systems to ensure that all countries had access to safe, nutritious food.

Mr. Lipp said that FAO was calling for the adoption of a “One Health” approach. The health of humanity was linked to that of the environment, plants and animals – in particular as plants and animals were the sources of our food.

FAO also called for planning ahead using foresight. Humanity needed to be ready for the problems of tomorrow and respond to those problems more effectively.

With approximately 193 million people acutely food insecure and in need of urgent assistance, food insecurity was already on the rise in 2021. On World Food Safety Day, FAO wished to reiterate that there could be no food security without food safety. It wished to draw the world’s attention to the need for safe and nutritious food for everyone, everywhere.

Announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, announced that three press briefings would be held over the coming days.

The first was the opening of the 2022 Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. This would be held on Tuesday, 7 June at 12 p.m. Geneva time. Speaking would be Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions [he was finally replaced by Carlos Martin-Novella, Deputy Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions], and Rémi Nono Womdim, Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention.

The second was the presentation of the 50th session of the Human Rights Council, which was being held on Wednesday, 8 June at 10 a.m. Geneva time. Ambassador Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council would be speaking.

The final press conference would be the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s presentation of its World Investment Report 2022 – International Tax Reforms and Sustainable Investment. Speaking at the conference would be Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary-General, and James Zhan, Director, UNCTAD Division on Investment and Enterprise.

Tomorrow was World Ocean Day, and UNIS would soon share information about the World Ocean Conference, to be held in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July 2022. The world’s ocean had grown to their highest temperature on record in 2021. Something needed to be done to save the oceans, and the World Ocean Conference would focus on solutions to the problems that the ocean faced.

Today, the General Assembly was scheduled to hold its 75th plenary meeting, and would be electing the president of the Assembly. The Secretary-General was due to make a statement at the Assembly.

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