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UN Geneva Press 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 World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Fund, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Health situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr. Boureima Hama Sambo, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking from Kinshasa, stated that the overall health situation in the DRC was worsening, with alarming levels of violence, climate shocks and epidemics. Particularly in the eastern parts of the country, civilians were caught in fighting, and the DRC was now the second largest displacement crisis globally, second only to Sudan: close to ten million people were on the move. Poverty and hunger affected a quarter of the population, or 25.4 million people. Cholera and other infectious diseases were on the rise, and malnutrition was putting an additional stress on vulnerable populations. There had been at least 50,000 suspected cases and 470 deaths from cholera in 2023; this was particularly serious among internally displaced populations. The country was also battling a major epidemic of measles, with over 28,000 cases and 750 deaths so far in 2024.

Dr. Sambo explained that women and girls were paying the high price of armed conflict and displacement: 30,000 cases of gender-based violence had been reported in DRC in 2023 - among the highest in the world​. In addition to the conflict challenges, severe flooding had also affected local communities recently, adding an additional strain to the fragile health systems. The still emerging outbreak of mpox had been on the rise since December 2023, with over 4,000 cases, 27 deaths, and the highest fatality rate in the world. More than 65 percent of suspected cases and around 85 percent of suspected deaths in the country were among children under 15 years of age. Youngest children were most susceptible to death. A threat of mpox spreading to neighbouring countries was growing, and the outbreak was growing among sex workers and men having sex with men. Meningitis, polio, yellow fever, rabies, Ebola, and a number of other diseases continued to circulate in the country, said Dr. Sambo. WHO was working closely with the national authorities on vaccination campaigns for polio and cholera, scaling up mental health and social support in the Kivu provinces, and delivering supplies. Humanitarian response remained severely underfunded. The world should not turn a blind eye on the situation which could have knock-off effects on the region and the world.

Dr. Rosamund Lewis, Technical Lead for mpox at the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasized that the expanding geography of mpox, high fatality rate, and increasing sexual transmission of the virus were all reasons of concern. WHO continued to monitor and respond to the global outbreak, as close to 30 countries had reported cases in February 2024. WHO was working closely with the DRC authorities on case prevention, control, and treatment. 

Responding to questions from the media, Dr. Sambo explained that the 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC stood at USD 2.6 billion, of which the health response part amounted to million 624 USD, to cover the needs of 8.7 million people. Only 14 percent had been collected so far, while the health needs were mounting. He said that access remained a challenge, particularly in the eastern parts of the country, where M23 continued to fight with government forces. Oral cholera vaccines had been successfully secured, and the WHO had vaccinated five million people, many of them children, in November. The case fatality rate of anthrax was very high, going up to 20 percent, and it remained a worrisome health threat. Dr. Lewis explained that the WHO was very concerned about mpox in children, where fatality rates in youngest children stood at one in ten. She reminded that very first human case of mpox had been detected in Zaire, now DRC, in a nine-month-old boy in 1970. There was a clear concern about the further spread of mpox, both zoonically and through person-to-person. 

Weather Kids campaign

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), informed that on 21 March, UNDP had launched the newest “Weather Kids” campaign to put the spotlight, once again, on the urgency of climate action. Next two years were the world’s best chance to keep on track to limit global warming and beat the climate crisis, said Ms. Bel.

Boaz Paldi, Chief Creative Officer at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that 1.3 billion media impressions had been reached across over 80 countries in just the first day of the campaign. Some 32 of those had been activations in which countries had created their own national language versions of the film. The videos had been played on at least 142 television stations, including major American outlets such as CNN and FOX. It was expected that the campaign would only grow from here on; India and the UK were launching their campaigns today, for example. It was an incredibly important time to be campaigning for climate action. Studies showed that the best way to motivate people to take action was to remind them of their own children and the future ahead. A snowball effect and expansion to social media were expected. Mr. Paldi stressed that the campaign was optimistic in nature, and that it was hoped that the limit of 1.5 degrees warming was within reach. 

The original ”Weather Kids” video can be viewed here and the campaign website is here

World Water Day

Thomas Croll-Knight, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said that today was the World Water Day with the focus on “water for peace”. The 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, known as the UN Water Convention, was a unique treaty serviced by UNECE that helped countries work together on shared rivers, lakes and groundwater. Mr. Croll-Knight informed that 153 countries worldwide shared waters with their neighbours, and more than 60 percent of global freshwater flews across national boundaries, such as in the Congo, Danube, Amazon and Mekong, in the basins of lakes such as Lake Geneva or the Great Lakes.

With rising water scarcity worldwide, cross-border water cooperation was considered crucial for regional stability, conflict prevention and sustainable development. Climate change impacts such as drought and flooding, as well as pollution and rising demands on use, were putting increasing stress on water resources, in both developing and developed countries. This could be a source of tension and conflict, but this stress was also a powerful driver of cooperation, since addressing water challenges in shared basins required working together across borders.

The Water Convention today had 52 Parties; its membership had been expanding fast, especially in Africa. While momentum for cooperation was strong, progress was still not fast enough. As shown by new data from the Third reporting exercise on SDG indicator 6.5.2 on transboundary water cooperation, coordinated by UNECE together with UNESCO, only 26 of the 153 countries worldwide sharing water resources had all their transboundary basin areas covered by operational arrangements for water cooperation, compared to 24 in 2020. 

Full press release can be found here

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), read excerpts of the Secretary-General’s message, in which he emphasized that action for water was action for peace, today more needed than ever. Cooperating to safeguard water could power and sustain peace. Water stewardship can strengthen multilateralism and ties between communities and build resilience to climate disasters. 


Alessandra Vellucci, for the for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 26 March at 4:30 pm, there would be a hybrid press conference to present the report on obstacles to the implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia. Speaker would be Antonia Urrejola, international human rights expert appointed to identify and verify obstacles to the implementation of the Colombia 2016 Peace Agreement. 

The Human Rights Council today continued the general debate under item 5 - human rights bodies and mechanisms. After that, the Council was expected to adopt Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba.

The Human Rights Committee would have on 27 March a public meeting devoted to the follow-up of its concluding observations and of its views. The day after, on 28 March, the Committee would close its 140th session and issue its concluding observations on the seven countries reviewed: Chile, Namibia, Somalia, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Serbia, and Guyana.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would close this afternoon its 30th session and issue its concluding observations on the seven country reports reviewed during the session: Kazakhstan, Zambia, Bahrain, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, as well as its conclusions on the follow-up of inquiries concerning Spain and United Kingdom.

Ms. Vellucci informed that 23 March would be the World Meteorological Day

In view of the ongoing liquidity crisis of the UN Secretariat, Ms. Vellucci informed that all details on the specific incoming cost-saving measures at the Palais des Nations would be shared later today. The focus would be on optimizing the UN’s footprint and costs while continuing to deliver on the mandate. Essential conference services would continue uninterrupted, and there would be no changes on journalists’ offices at the Palais des Nations. A dedicated briefing for the media with the UNOG Director of Administration could be organized if there was interest by the press.