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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Human Rights Council.

Conflict in Gaza

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that early today, team leaders of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Safety and Security in Gaza had been informed by their liaison officers in the Israeli military that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours. That amounted to approximately 1.1 million people, and the same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities – including schools, health centres, and clinics. The United Nations considered it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences. Thus, the UN strongly appealed for any such order to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation. Senior officials, including the Humanitarian Coordinator, were working to this end.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that a new flash appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territory called for USD 294 million for 77 humanitarian partners to address the most urgent needs of 1,260,000 people in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. The appeal brought together the work and funding requirements of the humanitarian community in OPT, including 13 UN agencies, 29 international non-governmental organizations, 35 national NGOs, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. More details are available here.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO joined the wider United Nations in appealing to Israel to immediately rescind orders for the evacuation within the next 24 hours of 1.1 million people living north of Wadi Gaza, and an end to hostilities and violence in the Gaza Strip, where unimaginable human suffering was unfolding. With ongoing airstrikes, civilians had no safe place left to go. The Palestinian Ministry of Health had informed the WHO that it would be impossible to evacuate vulnerable hospital patients from the north of Gaza. Health system in the Gaza Strip was at a breaking point. Time was running out to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe if fuel, water, food and life-saving health and humanitarian supplies could not be urgently delivered to the Gaza Strip amidst the complete blockade. Hospitals had only a few hours of electricity each day as they were forced to ration depleting fuel reserves and rely on generators to sustain the most critical functions. Even these functions would have to cease in a few days, when fuel stocks were due to run out.

Mr. Jašarević said that medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases for the treatment of the sick were now in short supply. There was also a shortage of blood in hospitals. Six of the seven main hospitals in Gaza were only partially functioning. As of 12 October, at 6 pm, 76 health attacks had been confirmed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including 34 attacks on health care in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the current offensive resulting in 11 fatalities of health care workers on duty, 16 injuries, 20 ambulances and 19 health facilities affected. The Gaza Emergency Operation Centre, supported by the WHO, had sustained heavy damages.

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stressed that civilians could never be used as bargaining chips. More than 2,700 people, including civilians, had already been killed in both Israel and Gaza. OHCHR urged Palestinian armed groups to halt the use of inherently indiscriminate projectiles, which violated international humanitarian law, as well as attacks directed against civilians. OHCHR also urged Israel to ensure full respect for international humanitarian and human rights law in any and all military operations. Air and artillery strikes had already led to the destruction of large parts of densely populated neighbourhoods in Gaza, and rhetoric from high-level officials raised concerns that a message was being sent to the members of the Israeli Defense Forces that international humanitarian law has become optional rather than compulsory. It was absolutely crucial that Israeli leaders made it unambiguously clear that military operations had to be conducted in full compliance with international law.

As stressed by the High Commissioner in the UN General Assembly this week, it was of the utmost importance that an urgent solution would be found to the 56-year-old conflict. OHCHR was at the disposal of both Israelis and Palestinians to do what we can to help the region break from this vicious cycle of bloodshed, hatred and polarization. The violence had to stop.

Full statement is available here.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that hundreds of children had already been killed and injured, and every hour in Gaza the number of children killed was rising. The images and stories were clear: children with horrendous burns, mortar wounds, and lost limbs, and hospitals were utterly overwhelmed to treat them. This had to stop.

UNICEF was calling for an immediate cease fire as 1.1 million people – nearly half of them children - had been warned to move out of the way ahead of a what was expected to be a ground assault on one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but with nowhere safe for civilians to go. Children and families in Gaza had practically run out of food, water, electricity, medicine, and safe access to hospitals, following days of air strikes and cuts to all supply routes. Humanitarians had to be able to safely access children and their families with lifesaving services and supplies – wherever they might be. In every war, the ones who suffered the most were children. This was tragically true today, concluded Mr. Elder.

Responding to questions from the media, Mr. Elder, for UNICEF, said that the latest figure from the Palestinian Ministry of Health indicated that 447 children in Gaza had been killed, but the real number was likely to be higher. It was not possible for children in Gaza to keep safe under the current circumstances; only a ceasefire or allowing children and women out of the Gaza Strip could help keep them safe. Ms. Shamdasani, for the OHCHR, stressed that the violence needed to stop. The use of hate speech and incitement were clearly condemned by the High Commissioner; political leaders around the world needed to take action in that regard. Over 12,000 UN, primarily UNRWA, staff were currently in the Gaza Strip, said Mr. Gómez. Diplomatic efforts were continuing to secure safe delivery of humanitarian aid and safe passage of civilians out of Gaza. UN reiterated its call for the hostages to be released. Mr. Jašarević said that the WHO was ready to move in prepared medical supplies the moment it was allowed to enter Gaza Strip. On another question, he said that the Ashkelon hospital was reported to have been attacked and one medic died.

Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, specified that the flash appeal of almost USD 300 million addressed the urgent needs of 1.26 million people, mostly in Gaza. The most urgent priority was to deescalate, he reiterated. The United Nations did not have the capacity or the mandate to conduct an evacuation of the population in Gaza; the UN stressed the need for the Israeli military to rescind the order for the 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate from the north to the south of Gaza. The Rafah border crossing into Egypt was not operational at the moment, said Mr. Laerke. Aid agencies had some food stocks in place, which were being rapidly depleted, as nothing was going in. It was hoped that humanitarian actors would have access to all civilians in need and as soon as possible. Ms. Shamdasani added that many violations of the international humanitarian law were likely to be happening in Gaza now. OHCHR was closely monitoring how the complete siege was impacting the population on the ground. Intentionally starving civilians was defined as a war crime; executing civilians and taking hostages were also war crimes, explained Ms. Shamdasani. Respecting the international humanitarian law was not optional; it was mandatory for all. Lack of respect of the IHL by one side did not absolve the other side of respecting it. Proper investigations would be necessary, and accountability was needed, which had regrettably been missing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. OHCHR had seen reports of the use of prohibited white phosphorus weapons, but more information and access were needed. OHCHR was collecting information and would cooperate with the International Criminal Court as needed. Ms. Shamdasani confirmed that the OHCHR was in contact with the Permanent Missions of both Israel and the State of Palestine.

Earthquake in Herat, Afghanistan

Eujin Byun, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR was today launching an urgent appeal for USD 14.4 million to scale up its assistance for those affected by the tragic recent earthquakes in western Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people in the province of Herat had been affected, requiring immediate assistance. The tremors, in quick succession, had left more than one thousand dead and thousands of others injured. Those estimated figures were likely to increase as the full scale of the disaster became apparent.

With over 35 years’ presence in Afghanistan, UNHCR was working closely with national and international partners to support those affected as part of an inter-agency humanitarian response. UNHCR teams had been on the ground since day one and are scaling up the response, delivering tents, blankets, and other relief items including solar lamps and hygiene kits to those who had been displaced and lost everything. UNHCR called on the international community to urgently support people affected by the earthquake, stressing the importance of acting now to provide much-needed help ahead of the upcoming winter months.

Full statement can be read here.

Answering questions, Ms. Byun said that Afghanistan had already been a severely underfunded crisis; not only should aid be increased for the affected people in the country, but also for Afghan refugees in the neighbouring countries. She confirmed that the High Commissioner for Refugees would deliver his closing remarks at the UNHCR Executive Committee today, which would be livestreamed; there was no indication that there would be a press conference. Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that the WHO’s immediate response to Afghanistan had been made possible by the generosity of the donors; as more detailed assessments came in, there would be a full picture of the needs and the WHO would subsequently appeal to the donors for additional support.

UNHCR reports progress in refugee education

Eujin Byun, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), shared that global enrolment of refugees in higher education had increased to 7 per cent in 2023, continuing year-on-year gains in each of the past four years. The enrolment rate represented a significant increase from one per cent reported in 2019. Among factors contributing to the rise were the steadfast commitment of education and government stakeholders that had led to increasing support from higher education institutions in host countries, which continued to offer places or reduce fees to ensure more equitable access for refugees; ongoing improvements in data collection; and the expansion of the flagship Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative, known as the DAFI scholarship programme. 

With the current 7 per cent enrolment rate representing a halfway mark in reaching this target, UNHCR was calling for increased investment to expand higher education opportunities. Ahead of this year’s Global Refugee Forum – the largest gathering on refugee issues, to be held in December – UNHCR was urging states and the private sector to come forward with commitments to increase funding for and access to higher education. Contributions could be made to UNHCR's 15by30 global pledge on refugee higher education and self-reliance. UNHCR statement is here.

Results of the 2023 Global Survey on Persons with Disabilities and Disasters 

Omar Amach, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), informed that today was the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction. The purpose of this day was to remind countries that there was much they could do to reduce and manage disaster risks before they led to disasters. There were a lot of drivers of disaster risk, with climate change being a well-known example, but there were other drivers that received less attention, such as the role of inequality. The theme of this year’s International Day was “fighting inequality for a resilient future.” To better understand the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, UNDRR had published a report on our second Global Survey on Persons with Disabilities and Disasters.

Stefanie Dannenmann-Di Palma, Disability Focal Point at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), speaking from Brussels, said that 16 percent of the global population experienced disabilities. Disasters were increasing worldwide because of the climate change, and persons with disabilities were disproportionately affected. There was an alarming absence of progress with protecting persons with disabilities when disasters struck. Urgent action was needed to involve the disability community in the processes. The report, conducted between January and March 2023, had received 6,342 responses from persons with disabilities from 132 countries around the world; 84 percent of respondents did not have personal preparedness plans for disasters. The good news was that 8 percent had reported that local response plans took into consideration their needs as persons with disabilities. Serious actions were needed to involve persons with disabilities in devising plans for disaster risk preparedness and reduction. It was time that persons with disabilities were directly involved in decision-making because they knew the best what was needed for themselves. UNDRR stressed that no one was safe from disasters until everyone was safe.

UNDRR report is available here, and the press release can be found here.

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), referred to the Secretary-General’s message, in which he reaffirmed the commitment to investing in resilience and adaptation, and building a safe and just future for everyone, everywhere.

Report "The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security 2023"

Jose Rosero Moncayo, Director of the Statistics Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Rome, said that the world was facing an unprecedented number of disasters and crises, and the shocks experienced due to unaddressed risks had led to millions being pushed into homelessness and starvation. The sustainability of agrifood systems was essential for providing livelihoods and ensuring global food security. However, agriculture remained as one of the most exposed and vulnerable sectors in the context of disaster risk, given its profound dependence on natural resources and climate conditions.

The new report offered a critical look at how agriculture and its subsectors had been affected by disasters over the past three decades and showcased opportunities for proactively addressing risks in agriculture.

Over the last 30 years, an estimated USD 3.8 trillion worth of crops and livestock production had been lost due to disaster events, corresponding to an average loss of USD 123 billion per year, or 5 percent of annual global agricultural gross domestic product. In nutritional terms, this translated in loss of dietary energy estimated at 147 kcal per person per day at the global level. The report demonstrated that investment in farm-level disaster risk reduction good practices could achieve better results than previously used practices. In addition, anticipatory actions undertaken in several countries demonstrated that for every USD 1 invested in anticipatory actions, rural families can gain up to USD 7 in benefits and avoided agricultural losses. Finally, the report outlined three key priorities for action: 1) to improve data and information on the impacts of disasters on all subsectors of agriculture; 2) to develop and mainstream disaster risk reduction approaches into policy and programming; 3) to enhance investments in resilience as they provide benefits in reducing disaster risk in agriculture.

More information is available here.

Announcements

Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that the 54th regular session of the Council would conclude today after five weeks of meetings and deliberations. The Council had adopted 35 resolutions and was now considering its final draft resolution – on technical cooperation with Cambodia. Among other decisions, the HRC had established a fact-finding mission in Sudan, approved the established of a regional human rights office in the Caribbean region; and renewed seven mandates. Summaries of all HRC meetings can be found here. Mr. Sim reminded that today was the last day of the mandate of the International Investigative Commission on Ethiopia, which would issue its final report today. The 55th regular session of the Council would be held from late February to early April 2024, with the exact dates to be confirmed later.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that the World Investment Forum 2023 would be held in Abu Dhabi from 16 to 20 October. The aim of this event would be to channel investment flows towards sectors that would drive development: investing in health, food security and climate action, for example.

The stakes were high, as there was a shortfall of USD 4,000 billion a year to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries. More information would be available in the media centre on the World Investment Forum page.

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that 16 October would be the World Food Day. An exhibition would be held in Bar Serpent at the Palais des Nations. Secretary-General’s statement on the occasion of the World Food Day can be watched here.

On 16 October at 12 noon, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would hold a press conference to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Chad. Speakers would be Violet Kakyomya, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Chad; Madeleine Alingué, Secretary of State, Economic properity and international partnerships of Chad; and Laoukein Kourayo Medard, State Minister, Minister of Production and Agricole Transformation or Chad.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was reviewing today the report of Guatemala.

The Human Rights Committee would begin on 16 October consideration of the report of Kuwait.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would close at 5:30 pm today its 74th session and issue its concluding observations on the six States parties reviewed: Chad, State of Palestine, Brazil, France, Qatar, and Armenia.

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