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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by the representatives and spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Pakistan floods appeal

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that the United Nations was issuing a flash appeal of USD 160 million as part of a six-month response plan to react to the worst floods in Pakistan in decades. Over 1,000 people had died and over one million homes had been damaged so far. Some 500,000 people, displaced by the floods, were sheltering in temporary accommodation. Some 3,500 kilometres of roads were damaged, informed Mr. Laerke. The six-month emergency plan, which was being launched today, focused on three key objectives: delivering lifesaving and livelihood assistance; preventing large outbreaks of communicable diseases; and making sure that people could access protection and assistance in a safe and dignified way. The UN was already supporting the response, but the people of Pakistan urgently needed international solidarity and help. The flash appeal funds would provide 5.2 million people with food, water, sanitation, emergency education, protection and health support. Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke explained that the launch was led by the Government of Pakistan, which was also leading the overall response, with the support of the United Nations.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), added that flooding did not only mean that people were drowning, but they were also suffering from crash injuries and traumas, electrical shocks, lack of safe drinking water, damaged health facilities, and many other issues. Pregnant women were experiencing immense problems accessing health facilities, for example. Therefore, the call for emergency funding was paramount.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), stressed that the weather was becoming more extreme because of the climate change. Just some months back, Ms. Nullis reminded, Pakistan had been experiencing an extreme heat wave and droughts. Now, India and Pakistan were both experiencing above-average rainfalls, and the Pakistani meteorological service had been issuing warnings for a while.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that some of the areas most affected by the flooding had already been among those most affected by malnutrition. UNICEF was looking into ways to expand its child-protection services on the ground.

Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), reminded that there were some 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees in the country. UNHCR would be stepping up its resources and staffing to ensure it could respond to the needs adequately.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, referred to the video message by the UN Secretary-General, in which he recalled that South Asia was one of the world’s global climate crisis hotspots. People living in those hotspots were 15 times more likely to die from climate impacts. As we continued to see more and more extreme weather events around the world, it was outrageous that climate action was being put on the back burner as global emissions of greenhouse gases were still rising. Mr. LeBlanc informed that the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, Julien Harneis, would speak at the UN Spokesperson’s noon briefing in New York today.

Update on the SAFER tanker in the Red Sea

Russel Geekie, for the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Yemen, speaking from Sana’a, said that progress was being made on the funding to prevent a catastrophic oil spill from a decaying tanker in the Red Sea. Some USD 66 million had been raised thus far for the emergency phase; 17 countries and organizations had pledged funds. Less than USD 14 million was now needed to start the emergency phase of the operation - transporting oil safely from the SAFER to another vessel. The United Nations was asking donors who had pledged funds to disperse them urgently, as the emergency operation could not start until the funds had been received. There was currently only USD 10 million in the bank. In the meantime, the SAFER continued to decay and could explode at any time; if actions were not taken, the only question would be when the disaster would happen, which would be the fifth worst such incident in human history. Mr. Geekie stressed that a relatively modest amount was needed to prevent immense costs later.

Responding to questions, Mr. Geekie said that it was hoped that the operation would start in the coming weeks or months. The fundraising effort had started in the spring, he explained. The vessel, built in 1976, had not been maintained since the start of the conflict in Yemen. Money was the main obstacle; both parties to conflict agreed that this operation had to be done, and they pledged not to obstruct the works. While USD 80 million was not a small amount of money, it was comparatively small to potential costs later.

Report on hygiene in health care facilities

Dr. Rick Jonhston, World Health Organization (WHO) lead for the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, spoke about a new global report on the status of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in healthcare facilities around the world. The report found that only half of healthcare facilities around the world benefited from basic hygiene services in 2021. The situation tended to be better in hospitals than in primary health care centers. Only about a third of healthcare facilities in least developed countries, for example, had adequate hygiene conditions. In 2021, 78 per cent of all healthcare facilities had had reliable water services; that meant that 1.7 billion people lacked water services at their health facilities, said Dr. Johnston. The safe management of health waste was very much neglected; in the poorest countries, only about a third was properly treated.

The report relied on over 500 national assessments, and it was the most comprehensive overview of WASH services globally. Both WHO and UNICEF were committed to further helping countries improve their WASH services in their health facilities, stressed Dr. Jonhston. The joint press release is available here.

Answering questions from the media, Dr. Johnston said that Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest average of adequate WASH services; the challenges were by far the greatest in that region. For instance, sepsis was a main cause of death in healthcare facilities, often caused by poor hygiene. Every year, around 670,000 newborns lost their lives to sepsis, which was preventable through basic WASH services. The costs required were not very prohibitive, and less than an estimated USD 10 billion was needed to reach satisfactory WASH standards.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that UNCTAD would hold its Second Illicit Trade Forum in Room XVII at the Palais des Nations on 6 and 7 September. Ms. Huissoud explained that the Illicit Trade Forum sought to address the complex issues of illicit trade from a trade and development perspective. Illicit trade was worth two trillion dollars a year. The Forum would address the following issues: illicit trade in times of crisis; mitigating illicit trade in maritime transport; trade in falsified medicines, and illicit financial flows related to trade, tax, and criminal activities. The programme would soon be available here, and registration to follow the event online was possible here.

Ann Vaessen, for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, informed about a report on the results for the past year, which would be presented on 6 September, under embargo till 7 September. The report would provide an update on the progress, challenges and trends regarding the triple challenge of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stated that on 8 September, UNDP would launch the 2021/2022 Human Development Report, Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World”. Embargo time would be 6 a.m. Geneva time on 8 September. An embargoed media briefing would be held on 1 September at 3:30 p.m. Geneva time, via Zoom; registration was needed. Speakers at the briefing would be Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator; Pedro Conceiçao, Director, and Yanchun Zhang, Chief Statistician at the Human Development Report Office of UNDP.             

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that today at 1:30 p.m., there would be a hybrid press conference by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to present findings on the USA, Azerbaijan, Benin, Nicaragua, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, and Suriname. Speakers would be Verene Shepherd, Chair of the Committee, Pansy Tlakula and Mehrdad Payandeh, Committee Members. The Committee would close its 107th session at 4 p.m. today.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding this morning the review of the reports of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This afternoon, it would start consideration of the report of Singapore.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child had opened yesterday its 91st session. This morning it was concluding its review of the report of North Macedonia, while it would consider the report of Ukraine this afternoon.

The Conference on Disarmament had held this morning a public plenary meeting, under the presidency of Ecuador.

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