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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Humanitarian crisis in Sudan

Dominique Hyde, Director for External Relations at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who had just returned from Sudan and South Sudan, reported on seeing despair and unimaginable humanitarian needs of too many people. The war had erupted without a warning and turned previously peaceful Sudanese regions into conflict zones, while the world had remained scandalously silent. It was shameful that atrocities committed in Darfur 20 years before were still happening today with impunity. The overwhelming majority of refugees from Sudan were women and children; in Chad, for example, they constituted 90 percent of the refugees. In Darfur, thousands of people were struggling to find shelter and had difficulties finding drinking water and food.

The situation was getting worse, and there was an increase in displaced unaccompanied minors, said Ms. Hyde. She reported of many cases of children who had gone looking for work and then disappeared. There were over 400,000 displaced people in the White Nile State, and all of the basic services were simply overwhelmed. The White Nile State had already been hosting over 300,000 South Sudanese refugees before the war. Schools had been closed for seven months, and the health situation was disastrous. More than 1,200 children under five had died in the White Nile State because of measles alone. Government workers were not receiving salaries, and hospitals were out of basic supplies, she said. Thousands of people were still crossing into Chad daily, and the transit centres were overcrowded. Conditions were ripe for an outbreak of cholera. Ms. Hyde said she had never witnessed such a situation in her 30-year long career. The numbers were staggering, and Sudan, South Sudan, and Chad were already among the poorest in the world. The Regional Refugee Response Plan was only 39 percent funded across the affected five countries. A separate plan which aimed to reach 18 million people in need inside Sudan had received only one third of the required funding.

Speaking of gender-based violence, Ms. Hyde gave an example of a woman and her daughter who had fought against a person who wanted to rape them after having killed their mother and grandmother in front of them, and got seriously injured in the incident. She emphatically stressed the need for accountability, in addition to mental health and psychosocial support. An undignified humanitarian response was primarily happening because there was insufficient funding. UNHCR welcomed the resumption of the Jeddah talks and was hoping for a ceasefire.

More information from the UNHCR about the situation in Sudan can be found here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the previous day, the Security Council had discussed the situation in Sudan and South Sudan, hearing from Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who said the outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan in April had interrupted encouraging signs of dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan earlier in 2023, and effectively put on hold the political process with regard to the final status of Abyei and border issues.

Responding to questions, Ms. Hyde explained that the underfunding meant that inside the country, UNHCR and partners were not able to provide shelter and adequate amounts of water and food. In South Sudan, it was impossible to create new transit centers, and build appropriate water and sanitation centres. It was not possible to provide adequate medical services either. Because of what was happening in Gaza, some of the funds that would have gone to Sudan were now redirected to the Middle East. The fighting was horrendous, and the gender-based violence was rampant. Coordination among the UN agencies and NGOs was superb, confirmed Ms. Hyde, but many actors were in the same situation regarding the lack of sufficient funds. On another question, Ms. Hyde specified that the United States was the major donor, followed by the European Union and Germany. This time, support was lacking from individuals and the private sector, she said. Ms. Hyde explained that part of the reason for the overcrowding of transit routes from Sudan was because of the rains, which had destroyed and damaged roads. There was no capacity to transport people by air. The High Commissioner for Refugees was in New York now; he had raised the issue of Sudan at both the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Ms. Vellucci referred to the press release by the World Food Programme, which stated that in South Sudan, data from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification showed that more than 1.6 million children under five years of age were expected to suffer from malnutrition in 2024. Flood-affected areas were facing the worst malnutrition due to the spread of water borne diseases and crowded conditions, aggravated by limited access to food and livelihoods. In Sudan, the intensifying conflict was pushing hunger to record levels with over 20 million people now facing severe hunger. WFP had so far delivered life-saving food and nutrition assistance to 2.7 million people in 17 of Sudan’s 18 states - including in some of the most hard-to-reach areas in the Darfurs. WFP was scaling up to reach 6.6 million people in Sudan with food, nutrition, and resilience support by the end of the year.

Israel and Palestine: one month of the conflict

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reminded that the previous day the Secretary-General had addressed the extremely dire situation in Gaza, appealing for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that today marked one month since the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel and killing, mostly of civilians, which could not be justified. People in Israel were frightened and worried about more than 200 hostages taken on 7 October. WHO continued to call on Hamas to immediately release all the hostages, many of whom needed urgent medical attention.

At the same time, nothing justified the horror endured by civilians in Gaza, stressed Mr. Lindmeier. Civilians there needed water, food, healthcare. The level of death and suffering was hard to fathom. Over 11,000 people were now reported to have been killed in Gaza, over 0.5 percent of the total population of Gaza. An average of 160 children were dying per day; 4,104 children were recorded to have been killed so far. WHO also mourned the health workers who had died in Gaza, and at the same time extremely proud of those keeping the system running under the most difficult of circumstances. Sixteen health workers had been killed on duty, informed Mr. Lindmeier. WHO was working to support health workers in Gaza and was once again pleading for their safety. WHO had so far delivered eight trucks of medical supplies, including anesthesia; patients were being operated without anesthesia, as the supplies brought in were still insufficient. Protection of health workers, facilities and supplies needed to be always respected, he emphasized.

Answering questions from the media, Ms. Vellucci said that the UN should be represented at the humanitarian conference on Gaza in Paris on 9 November, but it was not yet known at which level. UN was not considering air drops at the moment; that was an expensive measure of last resort, and a serious deconfliction was a prerequisite for it to happen. Mr. Lindmeier stated that air drops could provide some relief for a limited group of people. The needs in Gaza, however, were humongous and impossible to meet just from the air. Lifting of the siege and guaranteeing access were necessary, which had to be done by the road rather than the air. The ground logistics was there, the convoys were ready, but unhindered, safe access was not guaranteed. Until 6 November, more than 500 trucks had come into Gaza; the real needs were to have 500 trucks come in every day.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Lindmeier explained that the Gaza Ministry of Health’s latest figures of this morning reported 11,000 dead. Drinking water and water for sanitation were among the priority needs in the Gaza Strip, said Mr. Lindmeier. WHO had been able to bring supplies to two northern hospitals thus far. He reminded that over 350,000 people in Gaza had chronic diseases. The only cancer-treating hospital in Gaza, the Turkish hospital, had not been operating for several days now. Mr. Lindmeier stressed that any attack on health was prohibited under the international humanitarian law. There were rules in war, which ought to be respected by all combatants. WHO could not verify what was under the hospitals, but it could confirm what was in the hospitals.

Also answering questions, Ms. Vellucci said that the Secretary-General had been extremely vocal in stressing that even wars had rules. The UN was trying to do everything possible to ensure protection of civilians and improve their situation. The organization was working hard with various counterparts to bring about a humanitarian ceasefire. The Secretary-General had been speaking to a number of Israeli officials, including the President, she informed. Mr. Lindmeier confirmed that talks were happening at various levels, from the top diplomatic level to the ground level, coordinating with actors on the ground, such as the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent societies. He emphasized, once again, the importance of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Gaza.

Mr. Lindmeier said that 102 attacks against healthcare had been recorded in Gaza, 121 in the West Bank, and 25 in Israel. More than 1.5 million people had been displaced in Gaza so far, and nearly half were sheltering in UNRWA facilities, informed Ms. Vellucci. UNRWA said that 48 of its facilities had been damaged since 7 October.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), answering questions, said that the total of 561 trucks had entered since 21 October; none of them had contained fuel, which was still banned by the Israeli authorities. Mr. Lindmeier said that everything depended on fuel supplies: desalinating plants, baby incubators, bakeries… At the moment, 14 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were not functioning, due to the lack of fuel or the damages they had experienced.

On another question, William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the response to the displacement within Lebanon was led by the Government of Lebanon; UNHCR was providing necessary support to collective shelter. UNHCR was repairing the Lebanese German University in Tyre, which was hosting internally displaced people.

Announcements

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the 2023 Global TB Report would be presented in a virtual press conference at 4 pm. A press release under embargo had been shared.

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control would hold its tenth session of the Conference of Parties in Panama from 20 to 25 November. An opening virtual press conference would be held on 14 November at 3 pm. 

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reminded that today at 2 pm, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would present its Least Developed Countries Report 2023. Speakers would be Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary General, and Junior Davis, Chef, Policy Analysis and Research Branch, UNCTAD Division on Africa, LDCs and Special Programme.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that on 16 November, the fifth edition of the Young Activists Summit would feature five impressive young laureates who were working hard to improve the lives of their communities.

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