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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 in Geneva, chaired the hybrid press briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Meteorological Organization.

Conflict in Ukraine

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), connecting from Lviv in Ukraine, said that 500,000 children had been forced to flee their homes in just seven days, which was unprecedented. We also had to think of those who could not escape, including children in collective children’s homes and children with disabilities. Thousands of children had to spend numerous nights in cold bunkers and underground shelters. Humanitarian needs were multiplying by the hour, and many people were cut off from essential services, including health care. A UNICEF humanitarian convoy was on its way, but as long as the conflict continued, the demand would outstrip the supply. Mr. Elder spoke of multiple examples of solidarity he had witnessed on the ground in Ukraine.

Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), connecting from Palanca in Moldova, said that the rate of the ongoing exodus was phenomenal. Numbers were increasing hourly, with immense lines of cars on the borders. Ms. Williams spoke of families she had encountered who had told her of the dilemmas they faced whether to leave their homes to protect themselves and save their children, or to stay with their other family members. The latest figures from previous night showed that there were already over one million refugees, with at least as many internally displaced persons within Ukraine. A UNHCR convoy with supplies was on its way to Moldova from Greece. All efforts were made to scale up the humanitarian response. Shabia Mantoo, also for the UNHCR, added that the current figure stood at 1,045,000 people who had fled Ukraine. Latest information could be accessed at the UNHCR portal.

Dr. Flavio Salio, Emergency Medical Team Network Leader at the World Health Organization (WHO), connecting from the Poland-Ukraine border, said that the first WHO cargo shipment with emergency supplies had arrived in Warsaw, was now moving towards the border, and would cross soon into Ukraine. WHO was assessing the needs at both Polish and Ukrainian sides. Possible medical evacuations of civilians would also need to be looked into carefully; safe humanitarian access was paramount in this regard. Christian Lindmeier, also for the World Health Organization (WHO), added that within Ukraine, the WHO was looking into setting up field hospitals and supporting local medical centers. There would be no setting up of field hospitals in neighboring countries. Tarik Jašarević, another WHO spokesperson, would be in Poland as of tonight.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that OCHA welcomed the reports that the two sides had agreed to facilitate safe passage of civilians from conflict areas. Millions of people needed safe passage and humanitarian assistance. Such passage ought to guarantee dignity and safety of civilians. Humanitarian agencies should also have safe and unhindered access to all areas in need. In recent days, many cities had experienced relentless shelling, which had affected access to essential services. Dwindling cash reserves and empty ATM machines were affecting people’s abilities to purchase necessities.

Mr. Laerke stressed that OCHA had not yet received anything in writing from the two sides; there was no written confirmation on the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Immediately after the two humanitarian appeals had been launched by OCHA and UNHCR on 1 March, more than USD 1.5 billion had been pledged, which was impressive. Still, those pledges were not money in the bank; money was urgently needed and had to be transferred to the involved agencies.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), added that as of 9:30 today, that over 1.2 million people had fled Ukraine; more than half of them were in Poland. Among them there were over 78,000 third-country nationals from 138 countries; IOM was concerned over the reports of xenophobia and racism those people had faced on their journey. Such reports needed to be addressed. IOM had eight field offices in Ukraine, ready to be mobilized as soon as the situation allowed. Mr. Dillon also specified that the wait time along the Ukrainian-Polish border ranged from 24 to 36 hours.

Responding to questions, Mr. Elder said that UNICEF’s global hub was in Copenhagen, Denmark, from where supplies were being sent to Ukraine. The western city of Lviv had received an unprecedented influx of people, and medical services were trying to cope, and preparing for an increase in injured people, including children. The funding needs had tripled over the past week, and, as long as the bombing continued, the needs would continue to outstrip the supplies. Mr. Elder said that the verified figures of children killed or injured were very likely an underestimate. There was an absolute necessity for UN humanitarian agencies to be able to reach people in need.

On another question, Ms. Ghedini-Williams said that the UNHCR appeal from earlier this week seemed to be on the way to be fully funded; exact numbers would be provided subsequently. Over USD 85 million funding had been already volunteered from the private donors in the last days; the IKEA Foundation, H&M, and Volkswagen were among those donors. There were many individual donations in addition to corporate ones. She reminded of other crises, including Yemen and Ethiopia, where the appeals were only partially funded.

Dr. Salio, replying to a question, stated that the plan was to establish trauma stabilization medical points – triages – as close as possible to the points where people were being injured. It was also important to establish a support network outside of Ukraine, for people with medical needs crossing into other countries.

Several journalists raised questions about the banning of Russian journalists from certain countries and the reported harassment of Russian nationals. On another question, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the journalists accredited to UN Geneva, no matter where they were from, could continue to do their work normally.

Northern Ethiopia conflict

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that the UNHCR was appealing for USD 205 million to deliver life-saving assistance and protection to over 1.6 million people displaced due to the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Sixteen months of conflict in northern Ethiopia had created a humanitarian crisis. Civilians, including refugees and internally displaced people, had been displaced, amid widespread reports of gender-based violence, human rights abuses, loss of shelter and access to basic services, and critical levels of food insecurity. More than two million Ethiopians had fled in search of safety within the country, and almost 60,000 across the border into Sudan. Several camps and settlements hosting Eritrean refugees had been attacked or destroyed, further displacing tens of thousands within Ethiopia.

Of the USD 205 million, USD 117 million would support the needs of Ethiopian IDPs and Eritrean refugees in the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray regions of Ethiopia, while USD 72 million would help UNHCR support Ethiopian refugees in Sudan. Some USD 16 million would be used for preparedness as part of contingency measures for any potential influx into neighbouring countries (Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan).

Full press release is here.

COVID-19

Dr. Janet Diaz, Clinical Management Lead for COVID-19 response at the World Health Organization (WHO), informed of the just-released ninth update of WHO’s guideline on therapeutics, which included a recommendation that casirivimab-imdevimab not be used for patients infected with the Omicron variant. WHO had updated its living guidelines on COVID-19 therapeutics to include a conditional recommendation on molnupiravir, a new antiviral medicine. This was the first oral antiviral drug to be included in the treatment guidelines for COVID-19. As this was a new medicine, there was little safety data. WHO recommended active monitoring for drug safety, along with other strategies to mitigate potential harms. Because of those concerns and data gaps, molnupiravir should be provided only to non-severe COVID-19 patients with the highest risk of hospitalization. Those were typically people who had not received a COVID-19 vaccination, older people, people with immunodeficiencies and people living with chronic diseases. More information is available here.

Regarding post-COVID19 conditions, Dr. Diaz said that current estimates showed that between 10 and 20 percent of COVID-19 patients experienced long COVID, with symptoms including fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. They needed access to neurologists, mental health specialists and to rehabilitation in general. Cardiovascular complications had also been reported, said Dr. Diaz.

Geneva announcements

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), stated that on 8 March, there would be a meeting at the WMO of leaders of the Water & Climate Coalition, which included heads of state, ministers, and experts. A hybrid press conference would be held at the WMO on 8 March at 1:30 pm by the WMO Secretary-General and the President of Hungary. A press release would also be issued.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that today at 2 pm, there would a virtual press conference by theInterparliamentary Union (IPU) to launch the report «Women in Parliament in 2021». The report would be presented by Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General.

On 9 March at 12:30 pm there would be a virtual press conference by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic . The Commission would present its latest report. Speakers would be Paulo Pinheiro, Hanny Megally, and Lynn Welchman, members of the Commission.

 

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