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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Meteorological Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria and the World Health Organization.

Tropical Cyclone Emnati expected to hit Madagascar

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Tropical Cyclone Emnati was forecast to make landfall on the east coast of Madagascar, between Mananjary and Manakara, today at around 6 p.m. GMT. Emnati was a large and dangerous cyclone likely to cause considerable damage. The fourth tropical storm to hit Madagascar in the space of a month, it was following a similar path to that of Tropical Cyclone Batsirai, which had caused devastation and loss of life on 5 February.

Emnati was expected to make landfall as a Category 2 tropical cyclone, bringing high winds and destructive gusts of between 150 and 200 km/h. Fortunately, fears that the storm might intensify to strong Category 3 or even Category 4 tropical cyclone had not materialized.

However, heavy rainfall was expected to increase the risk of severe flooding and landslides. At sea, a cyclonic swell associated with 10-metre waves offshore and a 1-metre sea-level rise might cause significant flooding in coastal areas. The national meteorological and hydrological service, Météo Madagascar, had today issued a red alert for coastal areas along the east coast. WMO hoped that the accurate forecasts and preparations by humanitarian agencies on the ground would keep casualties to a minimum.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Tropical Cyclone Emnati was likely to add to the damage caused in recent weeks by Tropical Cyclone Batsirai, Tropical Storm Dumako and Tropical Storm Ana. An estimated 270,000 people had been affected by Batsirai, which had struck central Madagascar on 5 February. Some 21,000 people remained displaced, and 20,500 homes had been destroyed, flooded or damaged in that event.

Humanitarian actors were racing to protect the residents of central and eastern regions who had experienced the fury of the previous three storms. Response teams had been deployed to support the Government-led response: a 10-person United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team had arrived on 9 February with experts from OCHA and partner NGOs. Additional OCHA staff from the region had been deployed in Madagascar and more capacity had been mobilized. The response covered health consultations, distribution of cash and hot meals to displaced families, restoration of access to clean water and the provision of shelter items to help families return to their homes.

An emergency allocation of USD 2.5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund had been confirmed last week, focusing on food and cash assistance, emergency health care, shelter and household items and water purification supplies. Part of that allocation would help address protection risks, particularly relating to gender-based violence and child protection and getting children back to school. Some USD 26 million would be required to support the Batsirai response over the coming three months, but those requirements were likely to rise further owing to the impact of Emnati.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. It had completed its preparatory activities and reinforced its staff presence ahead of Emnati’s expected arrival. The cyclone was likely to increase the vulnerability and the needs of households affected by the previous tropical storms, including in terms of food security. WFP was concerned that expected road closures might have an impact on the food supply, which might in turn drive up prices and further hamper households’ access to food.

Preparatory activities had included the deployment of staff and the pre-positioning of food and non-food items in areas located in the path of the cyclone. WFP had provided training on rapid household assessments and registrations of beneficiaries. It had reinforced its presence in Manakara and maintained its response teams in Tamatave and Mananjary to continue assistance to affected populations. A small team had also deployed to Farafangana. WFP was providing five-day food rations to over 3,500 people that had sought refuge in 14 shelters in the urban commune of Mananjary. It had stored almost 148 metric tons of food in Manakara and expected to deliver additional stocks by road after the passage of Emnati. WFP was coordinating with the relevant government ministry to provide food items for the preparation of hot meals for those most affected by the cyclone. Moreover, an Mi-8 helicopter operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service had arrived in Madagascar and would be used to perform an aerial assessment of affected areas. The helicopter could transport up to 20 passengers and 4 tons of cargo to hard-to-reach areas.

In response to journalists, Clare Nullis said that it was tropical cyclone season in the Indian Ocean basin and so cyclones were to be expected. It was rare, although not unprecedented, to have clusters of tropical cyclones tracking in the same area in close succession. Climate change, demographic shifts and changes in land use, were increasing communities’ exposure and the impact of tropical storms. In its Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had projected that Madagascar would experience increases in heavy precipitation and pluvial flooding, in average tropical cyclone wind speeds and in the proportion of Category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones.

Jens Laerke, responding to journalists, explained that the people of Madagascar were determined to get back on their feet. The Government was leading an effective response and welcomed support from the international community. Funding had been allocated to ensure that emergency responders were aware of and were able to combat gender-based violence, which was a particular problem in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Situation in Ukraine

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), responding to journalists, said that in a statement issued by his spokesperson on 21 February, the Secretary-General of the United Nations had urged all relevant actors to focus their efforts on ensuring an immediate cessation of hostilities, protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure, preventing any actions and statements that may further escalate the dangerous situation in and around Ukraine and prioritizing diplomacy to address all issues peacefully. United Nations staff were on the ground in eastern Ukraine and would continue to support the people there, including through the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), responding to journalists, said that the Office had received reports of increased insecurity in eastern Ukraine, in the context of the hostilities which had been ongoing for the past eight years. The Office had a humanitarian response plan that predated recent events and focused on pre-existing humanitarian needs. Thus, on Friday, 18 February, a convoy had delivered humanitarian supplies to non-Government-controlled areas. However, funding remained short, and the Office urged the donor community to provide additional resources. The Office constantly carried out contingency planning for different scenarios, considering that the best way to address contingencies was reconfigure and adjust plans that were already in place.

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), responding to journalists, said that UNHCR continued to closely monitor what was a volatile and unpredictable situation and stood ready to meet any new humanitarian needs that might arise. UNHCR had a long-established presence in Ukraine.

Alessandra Vellucci, responding to a question, said that the United Nations had 1,510 staff members in Ukraine, including 149 international staff and 1361 national staff. In total, 100 international and national staff operated in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The United Nations was fully committed to staying and delivering in eastern Ukraine. Staff numbers remained stable, although, in the light of the evolving situation on the ground, the temporary relocation of small numbers of non-essential staff and dependants was allowed.

Update on Syria

Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, responding to journalists, said that the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria is pleased to note that agreement is in place to convene the 7th Session of the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee in Geneva in the early part of the second half of March, and to have 8th and 9th sessions of the Committee in May and June. While logistics are still being confirmed, it is planned that the 7th Session will be held the week of 20 March 2022. Further details, including media accreditation information, shall be communicated in due course. The Office had issued a transcript of the press stakeout of the Special Envoy, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, after his meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Mr. Faisal Mikdad. Mr. Pedersen was scheduled to brief the Security Council on Friday, 25 February.

Announcements

Answering a question, Dr. Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, would meet today with the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization. She would be willing to provide further information to interested journalists.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting this morning, the first under the presidency of Ambassador Alicia Victoria Arango Olmos of Colombia. The Conference had just adopted a decision on the work of the Conference for 2022, in which it established five subsidiary bodies on the items of the Conference’s agenda. Meetings of the subsidiary bodies were expected to commence in mid-March.

On behalf of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Vellucci informed that Ambassador Federico Villegas of Argentina, President of the Human Rights Council in 2022, would hold a hybrid press conference on 23 February at 10 am. A note for correspondents had been issued in respect of the Council’s forty-ninth session (28 February–1 April 2022), which contained useful information on access to documents and meetings. Correspondents should be aware that space in the meeting room was extremely limited and that Room XX would be used as an overflow room.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was currently holding its seventy-first session, would today begin its review of the report of Uzbekistan. In the afternoon, it would continue its review of the report of Serbia.

Lastly, Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would conclude its eighty-first session on the afternoon of Friday, 25 February.

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