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Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Health Organization.

Severe hunger in north-eastern Nigeria

Thomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), warned that the WFP might soon be forced to cut food rations to more than half a million women, men and children in north-eastern Nigeria unless urgent funding was secured to continue life-saving operations in crisis-ridden Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

The cuts would come as severe hunger had reached a five-year high in the country in the wake of years of conflict and insecurity – a situation that had been worsened by the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19, high food prices and limited food supply. Continued attacks on communities by non-state armed groups, harsh lean season conditions, and a severe reduction in household purchasing power – all contributed to a bleak outlook for the most vulnerable people in northeast Nigeria.

Current food security analyses showed that 4.4 million people in northeast Nigeria did not know where their next meal was coming from; and over 1 million children were malnourished. Moreover, the number of internally displaced had surpassed two million in September 2021.

Without additional resources, in a matter of weeks the food assistance agency would run out of funds for emergency food distribution and nutrition support. To sustain humanitarian operations in northeast Nigeria until March 2022, WFP urgently required USD 197 million, including 55 USD million by December to avoid cutting rations.

Answering questions from journalists, Mr. Phiri explained that the main cause of the present situation was insecurity, with non-State armed groups targeting civilians. The situation was dire for 1,7 million people, of which 800 000 were only one step away from famine.

The full press release is available here.

Photos are available here.

Call on States to expedite family reunification procedures for Afghan refugees

Shabia Mantoo, for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that while political developments in Afghanistan had not led to large-scale cross-border displacement, many among pre-existing Afghan refugees and asylum seekers remained separated from their families owing to the inaccessibility of family reunification procedures. To ensure the preservation of family unity and to help protect lives on account of the exceptionally challenging situation in the country, UNHCR was therefore urging states to prioritize and simplify family reunification admission procedures. 

The principle of family unity was protected under international law and in binding regional legal instruments. However, UNHCR was worried that many Afghan refugees could face considerable administrative barriers – including prohibitive costs, lengthy waiting times and inflexible documentation requirements – in realising this legal right.

While a few countries had recently committed to fast-tracking, including through the adoption of humanitarian visa programmes, and prioritizing reunification procedures for Afghan families, UNHCR was urging states to ease these arrangements and to apply liberal and humane criteria in identifying qualifying family members, also considering diverse family compositions and structures. UNHCR was also urging countries to take into account the constraints that refugees may face in being able to meet taxing administrative and documentation requirements for these admissions. 

Answering questions, Ms. Mantoo insisted that refugee resettlement programs were distinct from family reunification schemes. The latter could complement humanitarian programmes by facilitating entry for refugees to other countries and helping refugees access protection and long-term solutions. Today’s appeal was really about responsibility and burden sharing, as most of the refugees were hosted by developing countries.

Babar Baloch, also for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the Refugee Agency hoped to fly three planes from Tajikistan to Mazar-e-Sharif (in northern Afghanistan) this week to bring in 100 metric tons of aid. This relief was badly need with winter coming. UNHCR hoped to aid some 500 000 Afghans this winter. Blankets, stoves, kitchenware, plastic sheets, and food: these were the very basic items that Afghans needed right now. The reopening of Kabul airport was crucial to resume the internal humanitarian air service.

Mr. Baloch also said that UNHCR was present in the field as well as in Kabul. UNHCR depended on the Taliban for security and for access to many parts of the country. The Refugee Agency’s focus was to make sure that displaced persons could receive the help they needed.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, added that, in September, the World Food Programme had reached 4 million people across all Afghanistan with food and nutrition assistance – three times the number reached in August. Ms. Vellucci also said that yesterday, the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General had stressed that it was “critical that Kabul airport and other airports in Afghanistan be running up to international standards”, and that the UN “had been continuing to operate [its] humanitarian air service”, while colleagues in the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan had also been operating planes.

Situation in Ma’rib and humanitarian concerns in Yemen

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, David Gressly, had issued yesterday a statement on the recent escalation of fighting in Yemen.

In his statement, Mr. Gressly had expressed deep concern regarding the security situation in the Al Abdiyah District in the Ma’rib Governorate where movement in and out of the district was restricted for about 35,000 people, including nearly 17,000 vulnerable people who had found refuge there after fleeing the conflict in neighboring areas. This inability to move in and out limited the delivery of life-saving aid and prevented the sick and wounded from receiving medical care.

The Humanitarian Coordinator had called on all parties involved in the fighting to agree now to a cessation of hostilities for Al Abdiyah District to allow for the safe passage of civilians and aid workers, and for the evacuation of all of those wounded in the fighting.

Other recent flashpoints in Yemen included Shabwah and Al Bayda governorates. Fighting, shelling and air strikes also continued in Sa’ada, Hajjah, Hudaydah, and along nearly 50 other front lines. Across Yemen, 235 civilians had been killed or injured last month, the second highest monthly casualty figure in two years. More than 20 million people needed humanitarian assistance and protection in Yemen, including 12 million people in acute need. Aid agencies were now helping nearly 13 million people across Yemen.

Taking questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke stressed that OCHA was asking specifically for an immediate, local cease-fire in the Al Abdiyah District, where people wounded in the fighting did not have access to medical and humanitarian aid. It was an active warzone and the OCHA presence needed on the ground was not there at all.

Ms. Vellucci added that yesterday, 14 October, Hans Grundberg, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, had briefed the Security Council on his consultations with Yemeni, regional and international actors on the political process and on the possible end of the conflict in Yemen. In all these discussions, the Special Envoy said he had focused on how to move forward towards a sustainable political solution to end the conflict. The Yemeni counterparts he had spoken to had, without exception, stressed the necessity to end the war.

Mr. Gressly’s full statement is available here.


Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), reminded that UNCTAD would hold its 7th World Investment Forum next week. Journalists would be sent summaries of the main events during the week. Registration was required to attend the opening ceremony and any of the 95 events to be held during this Forum.

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, would be in Geneva next week to discuss with sister agencies the response to the Afghanistan crisis. A briefer would be held on Thursday 21 October at 10 a.m. Also, UNDP was launching a series of reports – before and during the COP26 – calling for enhanced climate ambitions, including the revised version of the People Climate vote that would include G20 data on citizens’ perceptions of the climate emergency and a global campaign titled “don’t choose extinction”. A virtual briefer by the Administrator would be held Friday 22 October at 2:20 p.m. (to be confirmed) under strict embargo on what to expect from COP26 and headlines coming from upcoming reports.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on Monday 18 October, at 11 a.m., WHO and the State of Qatar, in collaboration with FIFA, would launch a new partnership on making the next World Cup, and other sportive mega-events, healthy and safe. Also on Monday, WHO would appoint a new WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Sports and Health. A media advisory would be released later today.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service in Geneva, said the Human Rights Committee was concluding this morning its review of the report of Armenia. The Committee would next consider the reports of Botswana (20 and 21 October) and Ukraine (25 and 26 October).

Also, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would close its 70th session this afternoon at 5:30 p.m.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would open next Monday its 80th session (18 October-12 November) during which it would review the reports of Maldives, Sweden, Egypt, Yemen, Indonesia, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, South Sudan, and South Africa.

Alessandra Vellucci reminded that Geir O. Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, would hold a press conference next Sunday, 17 October, before the sixth session of the Constitutional Committee Small Body, which would start its meeting on Monday. A note had already been sent out to correspondents.

Ms. Vellucci also announced that on 22 October, at 9 a.m., the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) would talk to journalists on the establishment of a “rapid-response mechanism for the protection of environmental defenders under the Aarhus Convention”. In attendance would be – among others – Olga Algayerova, UNECE Executive Secretary, and the chair of the Aarhus Convention compliance committee.

In another announcement, Ms. Vellucci said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the other Rome-based food agencies would organize numerous events on 15 and 16 October for World Food Day. All meetings could be followed on FAO’s website). In Geneva, FAO would organize a series of activities, including an exhibition in Geneva main station.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that the Secretary-General had addressed, yesterday, the Sustainable Transport Conference, which was taking place now in Beijing, stating that the Conference was “an important opportunity to galvanize action by all, to build the sustainable transport systems we need for a green, inclusive and equitable future”. The Conference was also important on the way to the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Ms. Vellucci added.