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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Human Rights, the United Nations Trade and Development, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Telecommunication Union, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Situation in Gaza

Jason Straziuso, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), informed that the ICRC and 11 Red Cross national societies had combined efforts to open a field hospital in Rafah to help address the overwhelming medical needs emanating from the ongoing conflict. Baby "Sanad" had been born on 10 May, the first trial day or soft opening. Those efforts aimed to complement and support the essential work performed by the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in providing urgent care. Since the beginning of hostilities, PRCS staff and volunteers had continued to courageously provide emergency medical services to communities in Gaza, amidst unacceptably high levels of loss, said Mr. Straziuso. 

The 60-bed field hospital was meant to complement and support PRCS work as the medical and humanitarian community attempts to meet vast health needs in Gaza. The field hospital would provide emergency surgical care; obstetric/gynecological, maternal, and newborn care; pediatric care; and outpatient department; mass casualty management and triage capacities were also included. The ICRC field hospital, implemented in coordination with the PRCS and supported by Red Cross Societies of Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Norway, and Switzerland, would be able to provide medical care for roughly 200 people a day. 

More information and a video showing construction of the field hospital can be found here

Responding to questions from the media, Elizabeth Throssell, for the United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that thousands of Palestinians had been killed and thousands more injured in Gaza. UN ground team in Gaza was trying to conduct their own verification of casualty figures, when conditions allowed, in line with the established global methodology. Figures did get revised and analyzed, stressed Ms. Throssell. Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), explained that the Ministry of Health in Gaza had now provided more details on verified, identified victims, which had not changed the overall tally of overall reported casualties. Those two figures were not mutually exclusive, as one category included all reported casualties, and the other just the fully verified ones. Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the most comprehensive update on casualty figures by the Ministry of Health specified that some 25,000 victims had now been fully identified, while 10,000 remained missing and were yet to be identified. Some 60 per cent of all casualties were women and children, and every single death was one too many, he said. Dead bodies were registered in morgues and hospitals when conditions allowed. As many as 8,000 dead people still lay under rubble and in active combat areas, their bodies could still not be collected and identified. The fact that there are now 25,000 identified victims was a step forward, reiterated Mr. Lindmeier. Such a slow process was typical in every conflict, with people on the move and limited healthcare facilities. Once every body had been recovered and registered, we could expect to have comprehensive, definite figures.

On the death of an international staff member in Gaza, Rolando Gómez, for UNIS, said that a statement by the Secretary-General on this matter had been shared. The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of a UN Department of Safety and Security staff member, an Indian national, and injury to another staffer when their UN vehicle was struck as they had traveled to the European Hospital in Rafah. The Secretary-General condemned all attacks on UN personnel and called for a full investigation. No place in Gaza was safe, stressed Mr. Gómez. UN always informed Israeli authorities of all movements of its convoys, he reiterated. The hit UN vehicle had been clearly marked as such. 

Mr. Straziuso, for the ICRC, said that the new field hospital, which was very close to the European hospital in Rafah, was well supplied for about a week; some 15 trucks with supplied had arrived a week earlier. Separate from the field hospital, the ICRC had a surgical team at the European hospital, which had about three days of supplies left. 

Update on flooding in Afghanistan

Timothy Anderson, Acting Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Afghanistan, speaking from Kabul, said that on 10 and 11 May, flash floods had swept across northeastern Afghanistan, impacting 18 districts in three provinces: Baghlan, Badakhshan, and Takhar. There had been widespread destruction, death, and injury in areas where people were least able to absorb shocks. WFP’s current information indicated that about 540 people were dead and injured, around about 3,000 houses fully or partially destroyed, 10,000 acres of orchards destroyed, and 2,000 livestock killed. Many survivors had nowhere to return and no resources. Survivors were very worried about their damaged agricultural land, which was their sole source of livelihood. 

These were the same communities for which WFP had propositioned food in the winter, and two of the districts in Baghlan and Badakhshan were in so called ‘hunger hotspots’, which meant when other areas were faring better because of the harvest season, those communities would still need food assistance over the summer just to survive. With the impact of the floods, those families had been now left in catastrophic conditions. The floods had come after one of the driest winters; a disaster after disaster, pounding communities into destitution over and over again. So far, WFP had provided survivors with emergency food assistance and would provide other necessities and cash assistance shortly. WFP needed to help those people not only through this crisis, but also to help them prepare and become resilient for future climate shocks. Women-led households, the elderly, and the persons with disabilities, more than others, continued to rely on the WFP for assistance necessary for their survival. 

Rolando Gómez, for UN Information Service, referred to the statement by the Secretary-General on the Afghanistan floods, in which he reiterated that the UN and its partners in Afghanistan were coordinating with the de facto authorities to swiftly assess needs and provide emergency assistance.

Answering questions from the media, Mr. Anderson, for the WFP, explained that the WFP remained very keen that all beneficiaries, male and female, were adequately and equally covered with its aid. To date, there had been no reported issues regarding female staff of the WFP or its cooperating and implementing partners. On another question, he explained that there was a strong negative correlation between a reduction of food assistance and a rise in reported cases of malnutrition. Mr. Anderson said that the overall food funding request for 2024 stood at around USD one billion, of which 30 per cent was funded. In terms of donor-funding, Mr. Anderson said that today’s environment was very competitive when it came to humanitarian funding, with many serious crises competing for limited resources. Looking forward, the WFP was looking to implement longer-term resilience, livelihood projects.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that several health facilities remained non-operational following the flooding. WHO had so far delivered seven metric tons of medical supplies and immediately deployed medical experts to the affected areas. Seventeen mobile health teams had been deployed by the WHO and partners to support provision of healthcare. 

Impact on civilians amid intensified Russian attacks in Kharkiv region of Ukraine

Elizabeth Throssell, for United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR was deeply concerned at the plight of civilians in Ukraine, particularly in the Kharkiv region, as Russian armed forces had stepped up their attacks in recent days. This assault had seized more Ukrainian territory, triggered further displacement and potentially threatened Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. 

At least 6,000 people were believed to have fled or been evacuated from areas on the border. 

The OHCHR human rights monitoring team in Ukraine, which was continuing to analyse information from the ground, had verified that at least eight civilians had been killed and some 35 injured in the Kharkiv region since the 10 May. This followed a pattern of civilian casualties documented for April, when at least 129 civilians had been killed and 574 injured, the majority amid attacks by Russian armed forces along the frontlines. Continuing attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, which since March had affected millions across the country, had also meant daily power cuts in many parts of Kharkiv.  

OHCHR once again called on Russia to immediately cease its armed attack against Ukraine - in line with the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly, the binding provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice, and with wider international law - and to withdraw to internationally recognised borders. 

Full statement is available here.

Responding to questions, Ms. Throssell said that people were being evacuated from the areas of heavy fighting, which was very distressing for them. OHCHR staff in Kharkiv and monitoring teams across Ukraine were continuously collecting information on what was happening. She repeated the OHCHR’s call on all parties to avoid or minimize civilian casualties when conducting operations. Ms. Throssell reminded of the OHCHR’s global mandate, and the High Commissioner regularly engaged with leaders and Permanent Missions in Geneva. Establishing accountability for human rights violations was part of the OHCHR’s mandate, even if that could take a while. 


Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that on 17-19 May, UNCTAD head Rebeca Grynspan would visit the Panama Canal to understand the impact of the drought preventing some ships to cross the Canal, disrupting international trade, and listen to stakeholders. The current situation there illustrated the nexus between climate change and trade. From Panama, Ms. Grynspan would head to Barbados where UN Trade and Development would hold the first Global Supply Chain Forum  focused on disruptions in the global value chain, be it due to pandemic, climate change or geopolitical crisis. More than 500 participants from 100 countries were expected to attend. Ms. Huissoud referred to UNCTAD’s earlier report Navigating Troubled Waters which contained latest data, analysis and recommendations.

David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), informed that the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day would be marked on 17 May. This was the annual commemoration of the ITU’s founding. This year, the focus was on the fact that building a sustainable future demanded innovative thinking and action, especially in the digital world. More information is available here

Rolando Gómez, for the for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed about the Secretary-General’s statement on fighting in El Fasher in Sudan, in which he had expressed his grave concern by the outbreak of fighting in El Fasher, which put over 800,000 civilians at risk. He urged the parties to immediately stop the fighting and resume ceasefire negotiations without further delay. 

He also informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning its review of the report of Egypt. This afternoon, it would begin consideration of the report of Bhutan.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was reviewing today the report of the Republic of Korea. 

Finally, the Conference on Disarmament was having this morning the first public meeting of the second part of its 2024 session, still under the presidency of Iran.