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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid press briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Labour Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Danish Refugee Council.

Pakistan floods response

Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the aftermath of the floods was continuing to impact over 33 million people, including Afghan refugees. UNHCR had already completed four airlifts to Pakistan, with at least six more scheduled in the coming days. The urgent need was to reach the communities in situ, stressed Mr. Ratwatte, and federal and provincial disaster response authorities were doing a great job in this process. Pakistan had been hosting millions of Afghan refugees for decades, and the international community ought to ramp up its support for Pakistan now.

In Afghanistan, around 3.4 million conflict-displaced internally displaced persons (IDPs) needed an increase in the support they were receiving; some 40 percent of them had expressed readiness to return home despite the challenges. More than a million internally displaced persons had returned home since the middle of last year, which was a positive development, said Mr. Ratwatte. The Humanitarian Response Plan of USD 4.4 billion was only 40 percent funded for the time being. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the major refugee hosting country, needed a significant boost in support right now.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that over 1,460 health facilities in Pakistan were affected, of which 432 fully damaged and 1,028 partially damaged, the majority in Sindh. There were limited stocks of emergency medicines, supplies, and minor surgical items for dealing with trauma patients. The ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19, AWD, typhoid, measles, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, HIV, and polio were at risk of being further exacerbated. Increasing cases of AWD, typhoid, measles, and malaria were already being reported in flood-affected areas. Newborn mortality rates and severe acute malnutrition rates were at risk of increasing due to disruption of services.

Mr. Jašarević stated that there was an urgent need to scale up disease surveillance, restore damaged health facilities, ensure sufficient medicines and health supplies, and provide mental health and psychosocial support to affected communities. WHO had delivered USD 1.5 million in essential medicines, emergency stockpiles, and was appealing for USD 19 million for health-related actions as part of the overall UN humanitarian appeal.

Responding to questions, Mr. Ratwatte, for the UNHCR, explained that the UNHCR was preparing its contingency stocks available in the region for possible further displacements. On Afghanistan, Mr. Ratwatte explained, the UNHCR was taking the lead among UN agencies when it came to internal displacement. Together with UN partners, the UNHCR was investing in education, health, and livelihoods to make it possible for both the refugees and the IDPs to safely and voluntarily return home. Mr. Jašarević said that more than 4,400 medical camps had been set up by the WHO and partners in Pakistan with the objective of reaching people in need wherever they were. WHO was using its existing polio infrastructure in Pakistan to support these temporary medical camps. He stressed that UN agencies worked closely together on the ground, and the WHO was leading the health cluster.

Looming famine in Somalia

Wafaa Saeed Abdelatef, head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Somalia, connecting from Mogadishu, said that an alert had just been issued for Somalia regarding the looming famine. Bay was not the only region facing this deep humanitarian crisis; 74 districts across the country were affected. Some 1.5 million children, or almost one half of all children under the age of five, were likely to have acute malnutrition. Of those, 385,000 would need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. In some areas, water prices had increased by more than 50 percent, informed Ms. Abdelatef. No matter how much food malnourished children ate, they would not get better if the water they were drinking was not safe.

Some 730 children were reported to have died in nutrition camps across the country, but it was reported that this number could be more as many deaths might go unreported. There was a worry about measles infections, said Ms. Abdelatef. The current drought was the third in a decade, and it was worst than the 2011 drought, in which as many as 260,000 people had perished. The UN humanitarian response plan was currently some two-third funded. Famine could still be averted if the aid was scaled up significantly and urgently.

Invited by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Audrey Crawford, Country Director of the Danish Refugee Council in Somalia, speaking from Mogadishu, stated that famine was on the doorstep. Over one million people had been internally displaced this year so far, in search of food and water. Ms. Crawford said that provision of basic services needed to be scaled up and help those who were displaced. Provision of water for human consumption and provision of basic therapeutic services were among priorities, said Ms. Crawford. Rapid reaction was also needed for basic sanitation, as well as for common services to reach populations who were hard to access. Frontline Somali NGOs had the local know-how and could reach such populations in non-government controlled areas. With the needed scale-up, the famine could be avoided, stressed Ms. Crawford.

Alyona Synenko, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaking from Nairobi, stated that nearly half of the population, some 7,8 million people, were suffering the devastating consequences of the drought, which had lasted for four consecutive seasons.

The number of children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications admitted to the stabilization centers run by the ICRC had increased by almost 50 percent compared to the previous year. The levels of water at the available sources had lowered, and its quality deteriorated, while predictions for the upcoming rainy season remained pessimistic.

Each month, tens of thousands of Somalis in rural areas abandoned their homes, because they did not have enough water to survive and maintain a livelihood. Having lost crops or animals, hungry and desperate, people asked local drivers to transport them on credit, so they could reach camps for the displaced, she said. Since the end of last year, more than 150,000 families, nearly one million people, in conflict-affected places had received life-saving cash from the ICRC. People told the ICRC that they used the money to feed their children, pay debts, and some even managed to invest in a small business. The stark reality was that those severe droughts could no longer be treated as emergencies: they had become so frequent that millions of Somalis now accepted extreme weather as normal, stressed Ms. Synenko.

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), added that more than 80 percent of those displaced were women and children. Protection concerns were growing as the drought was getting worse. UNHCR was on the ground delivering shelter, water, protection, and cash assistance, among other services. UNHCR was leading shelter setup and maintenance activities, informed Ms. Mantoo.

Answering to questions from the media, Ms. Crawford, for the Danish Refugee Council, explained that one of the ways to monitor mortality was through monitoring graveyards. Victor Chinyama, for UNICEF, clarified that 730 children had died in food and nutrition centres across the country between January and July, where they had been receiving emergency assistance. He emphasized that the outlook was grim, as all preconditions for a famine were there, which as why the alarm had been rung this week. Ms. Synenko, for the ICRC, explained that the higher number of displaced persons meant higher vulnerability, especially for women, girls and unaccompanied minors. Ms. Mantoo, for the UNHCR, noted that there had been a 200 percent increase in gender-based violence compared to 2020. Some 1.7 million children were out of school, and several hundred thousand others were at the risk of dropping out.

Also answering a question, Jens Laerke, for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), specified that the Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia for 2022 stood at USD 1.46 billion, 67 percent of which was funded, most of which had arrived very late. As the money would run out soon, an additional boost of financing was very much needed.

Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that 10 September would mark the 20thanniversary of our host country Switzerland’s membership in the United Nations. On that occasion, a scaled model of the Palais des Nations would be unveiled at the SwissMiniatur park in Melide, Ticino. The event would be attended by the President of the Swiss Confederation and the Director-General of UN Geneva. Journalists were kindly invited to participate by registering with the Swiss Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva or through UNIS.

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed that on 12 September an estimate report on global slavery would be released by the ILO, IOM and the Walk Free Foundation. The report would include an updated, comprehensive statistical picture and desegregated data; the last report had been published in 2017. The report would be released at 9 am; embargoed copies would be sent to the media shortly. Limited interview slots were available with the ILO Director-General and ILO technical specialists, as well as with the IOM and the Walk Free Foundation. Interested journalists could get in contact with her in advance.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), reminded that the WMO would release its bulletin on air quality and climate on 7 September. A report on the state of the climate in Africa had also just been released, and interviews with the experts were possible. On 13 September, the WMO would release its annual “United in Science” report, informed Ms. Nullis. A press conference with the WMO Secretary-General would be held on 13 September at 3:30 pm.

Ms. Vellucci informed that 7 September would be the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, on which occasion the Secretary-General had issued a message calling on all countries to work together to combat air pollution.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the second round of public hearing on the international pandemic preparedness and response treaty would be held 9-13 September. All interested stakeholders were invited to submit video statements on what could be done internationally to better protect against another pandemic. Selection of submissions would be published on the WHO website on 29-30 September. He also said that the WHO would be closed on 8 and 9 September, due to the Jeûne genevois holiday.

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that of a press conference “A perfect storm in Africa: climate, conflict and drought hit hardest those forced to flee” to be held on 7 September at 3:30 pm. Speakers would be Abdouraouf Gnon-Konde, UNHCR Representative Burkina Faso, Mamadou Dian Balde, UNHCR Representative Ethiopia, and Magatte Guisse, UNHCR Representative Somalia.

Ms. Vellucci informed that on 7 September at 2 pm there would be a press briefing by the Ambassador Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, ahead of the 51st session starting on 12 September.

On 9 September at 1:30 pm, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would hold a press conference to present findings on Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lao, New Zealand, Singapore, and Ukraine, the countries it had reviewed during the current session. The Committee was closing its session on 9 September.

Speakers would be Jonas Ruskus, Vice-Chair of the Committee, Saowalak Thongkuay and

Risnawati Utami, Members of the Committee.

This morning, the Committee on the Rights of the Child would be ending the review of Germany.

The next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would take place on 7 September at 10 am to discuss the Conference’s draft annual report.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that UN Geneva would be closed on 8 September, for the Jeûne genevois holiday.

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