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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, United Nations Trade and Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

World Food Safety Day

Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that today the United Nations was observing the World Food Safety Day. Every day, an estimated 1.6 million people got sick from eating unsafe food; about 40 percent of that burden was carried by young children, under the age of five. Food safety hazards did not have borders, and often incidents spanned many countries. Food safety was an essential part of food security: only when food is safe can it meet nutritional needs. This year, World Food Safety Day campaign theme, Food safety: prepare for the unexpected, not only underlined the importance of being prepared to manage food safety incidents so that they did not become emergencies, but also the importance of taking time to plan, prepare and being ready to act in an emergency context. WHO hosted the Secretariat of the FAO/WHO International Food Safety Authorities Network, INFOSAN, which served as a key platform for uniting food safety to effectively address and communicate food safety events that have the potential to cross borders. 

Dr. Branca stressed that governments should consider these three actions: 1. ensuring that the food safety component was clear in National Action Plans for Health Security; 2. for food safety authorities, ensuring that INFOSAN and IHR focal points were connected and had the risk communication plans updated; 3. moving towards integrated surveillance systems for animal, environmental and human health. In a world with increasing health threats, when the unexpected happened, preparedness and rapid exchange of information were key to reducing illness, related costs, the impact on livelihoods and saving lives, stressed Dr. Branca.

Markus Lipp, Senior Food Safety Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Rome, said that the 2024 World Food Safety Day slogan was “Food safety is everyone’s business”. FAO saw safe food as fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Safe food was also one of the prerequisites to fulfil FAO’s strategic plan to enable Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and, ultimately, Better Lives. When food was produced and traded in a safe and sustainable agrifood system, it contributed to a healthy life and improves sustainability by enabling market access and productivity, which drove economic development and poverty alleviation, especially in rural areas. 

Through the FAO/WHO International Food safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), which was marking 20 years in 2024, FAO and WHO helped national authorities and food businesses to strengthen prevention, preparedness and response to food safety incidents and emergencies by fostering a global community of practice among food safety professionals. INFOSAN facilitated global cooperation among national food safety authorities, helping to prepare these competent authorities with the information necessary to respond rapidly to food safety events in global trade, which could cross the world very quickly. Mr. Lipp explained that when governments and food safety authorities knew about an incident, the more data there was, the quicker the source of contamination could be identified and mitigated. He emphasized the importance of not only action, but also preparedness. 

Further information on the World Food Safety Day is available here

Responding to questions, Francesco Branca, for the WHO, said that unhealthy diet was a key factor for non-communicable diseases, which were a major burden on public health. WHO was recommending a set of cost-effective policies to its Member States, which included taxing unhealthy drinks and foods and subsidising products contributing to healthy diets, working better with consumer information, and using public authorities’ purchasing power to offer healthier food to their populations. Regarding H5N2, Dr. Branca said that no transmission to humans had been demonstrated through consuming poultry or other products exposed to the virus. In any case, WHO generally recommended thorough cooking of all meat products, not only poultry. Markus Lipp, for the FAO, said that there had never been demonstrated foodborne transmissions of avian influenza; thus, the risk was currently considered as negligibly low. The death in Mexico on 24 April was not attributable to H5N2, clarified Christian Lindmeier, also for the WHO. It was a multifactorial death, explained Mr. Lindmeier. All hospital staff and earlier contacts of the deceased person had been tested negative, but the investigation was still ongoing. 

Food Price Index

Monika Tothova, Senior Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), stated that the Food Price Index had increased in May for the third month in a row, strengthening by 0.9 percent, following a seven-month long declining trend, but was still down 3.4 percent from its corresponding value one year ago. The increase had been led by higher prices for cereals and dairy products offsetting decreases in quotations for sugar and vegetable oils. The FAO Cereal Price Index had increased by 6.3 percent from the previous month, with global export prices of all major cereals increasing. Wheat prices had increased the most, largely due to growing concerns about unfavourable crop conditions for the 2024 harvests. The FAO Dairy Price Index had been up 1.8 percent, underpinned by increased demand from the retail and food services sectors ahead of the summer holidays as well as market expectations that milk production in Western Europe might fall below historical levels. The FAO Sugar Price Index, meanwhile, had decreased by 7.5 percent, mainly driven by the good start of the new harvest season in Brazil. The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index had declined by 2.4 percent. Lower palm oil quotations due to seasonal output increases and ongoing weak global demand had more than offset higher prices for soy oil, due to increasing demand from the biofuel sector, and firmer prices for rapeseed and sunflower oil due mainly to diminishing export availabilities in the Black Sea region. Finally, the FAO Meat Price Index had decreased marginally, by 0.2 percent, as international prices of poultry and bovine meats fell while those of pig and ovine meats increased. 

Ms. Tothova stressed that global commodity prices had direct implications for the food security. Many hunger hotspots faced growing hunger crises while conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks continued to drive vulnerable households into food crises. 

More details are available here

Sudan crisis - internal displacement to pass ten million

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that the Secretary-General had strongly condemned the attack reportedly carried out on 5 June by the Rapid Support Forces in the Wad Al-Noora village, Gezira state, said to have killed over 100 people. He urged all parties to refrain from any attacks that could harm civilians or damage civilian infrastructure. The Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, Ramtane Lamamra, was continuing his engagements to advance peace efforts in Sudan. The United Nations remained committed to supporting international mediation efforts and to working with all relevant stakeholders to help bring an end to the conflict.

Mohamed Refaat, Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), speaking from Port Sudan, said that the human toll of the conflict in Sudan was immense. Were ten million displaced persons not enough to lead to global action, asked Mr. Refaat. 

IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix, which issued weekly statistics, recorded 9.9 million people internally displaced across all 18 states in Sudan this week – 2.8 million prior to the April 2023 war, and 7.1 million since. More than half of all internally displaced persons were women, and over a quarter were children under the age of five. In addition, more than two million Sudanese had crossed borders into neighbouring countries, principally to Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt. Before 15 April 2023, displacement had primarily affected Darfur and Kordofan states, but now the dynamics had changed, and there were millions of displaced from other parts of the country, including Khartoum. 

Mr. Refaat explained that the war had left many migrants and refugees inside Sudan strained and without resources, and their plight was often even more neglected. In 2023, the IOM had recorded a threefold increase in the numbers of Sudanese taking perilous journeys out of their country, but Sudanese were still choosing internal displacement as their first line of safety. A large majority of the IOM’s own national work force were displaced persons themselves. Seventy per cent of the people forced to move in Sudan were now trying to survive in places that were at risk of famine, mainly in the Darfur region, while humanitarian access was patchy or non-existent. In Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, the intensifying conflict had left more than 800,000 civilians trapped in a merciless onslaught of fighting and aerial bombardments. There were also 600,000 IDPs in the Al Fasher area, informed Mr. Refaat. Essential infrastructure, including health care, had collapsed. Prices of food, water and fuel have skyrocketed, making these basic essentials unaffordable. Crucial roads out of Al Fasher were blocked, preventing civilians from reaching safer areas, while at the same time limiting the amount of food and other humanitarian aid coming into the city. For the UN, Al Fasher was currently inaccessible. Mr. Refaat specified that the IOM was planning to assist 1.7 million people in Sudan this year, but its response was only 19 percent funded. Aid agencies were struggling to deal with the growing needs, and the funding was insufficient. 

More information is available here.

Answering questions from the media, Mr. Refaat, for the IOM said that the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and OCHA colleagues were taking the lead in negotiations regarding access. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy was also in the region trying to secure safe humanitarian access. Answering a question, Ms. Vellucci said that the World Food Programme was urgently expanding its assistance within Sudan, aiming to help an additional five million people by the end of 2024, doubling the number of people that it had intended to help in its planning at the beginning of the year. The health system in Sudan was collapsing, added Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO). In the hard-to-reach areas, less than 30 percent of health facilities were still functioning. Over 11,000 cases of cholera had been reported, along with outbreaks of malaria and dengue. WHO was particularly concerned about people who could not access necessary medical care for their chronic diseases. WHO had supported vaccination campaigns for measles, cholera, and polio, in addition to providing support to fight malnutrition. 

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UN efforts had been hampered by the lack of funding; out of USD 2.7 billion needed to reach 14 million people in Sudan, only 16 percent was funded. For helping refugees from Sudan, USD 1.4 billion was needed for 2.7 million people in five countries; this was only nine percent funded. With a famine on the horizon, much more life-saving aid had to be delivered now. Alpha Seydi Ba, also for the UNHCR, spoke of witnessing people arriving from Sudan to Chad in a very bad shape. Many women and children had experienced an unimaginable trauma. Before the current war, Chad had already been hosting 400,000 refugees from Sudan. Due to the lack of funding, it was difficult to meet the needs of the displaced and provide adequate shelter, food, access to education, medical and psychological support. 

Neglected humanitarian crisis in the Sahel

Alpha Seydi Ba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that the UNHCR was deeply concerned about the fast-growing humanitarian crisis in the Sahel Region. In the Central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, over 3.3 million people were forcibly displaced due to relentless conflict, exacerbated by the worsening effects of the climate crisis, according to April 2024 data. This staggering forced displacement of civilians demanded immediate international action to prevent it worsening. The security situation in the Central Sahel is volatile, forcing people to flee their homes in search of safety and protection. Protection risks were widespread, including thefts, attacks on civilians, gender-based violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Furthermore, the lack of adequate shelter, clean water and sanitation exacerbated the dire conditions faced by the displaced while the persistent insecurity prevented many from returning home, often leading to repeated displacement within countries and, increasingly, across borders.

Mr. Ba explained that while 2.8 million people had been internally displaced within Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in the last four years, the number of refugees from these three countries had soared to 550,000 during the same period. The increase in cross-border movement underscored the deepening of the crisis and the continued necessity to respond to needs in the Sahel by investing in protection, assistance, and durable solutions. UNHCR was advocating with the international community to maintain aid during political instability in the Sahel region to prevent exacerbating the existing problems and increasing the likelihood of future crises. UNHCR also called for investment in essential protection and social systems, as well as supporting communities before they are forced to move. UNHCR required USD 443.5 million to cover urgent humanitarian needs in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and the Gulf of Guinea countries.

Full statement is available here

Replying to questions from the media, Mr. Ba said that the humanitarian crises were, first of all, political crises. UNHCR was calling on all actors to facilitate humanitarian access and was continuing to work with the parties to ensure that. 

Climate change impacts on health of pregnant women, children, and older people

Anayda Portela, Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that reports in recent years had reminded us all of the adverse effects of climate change on human health. It had taken some time to integrate health into the climate change agenda, but now there was wide awareness that the climate crisis was also very much a health crisis. While work was undertaken to mitigate climate change and reduce emissions, we also had to invest to protect the most at-risk populations. A series of WHO papers on the impacts of climate change at key life stages, released this week, provided important scientific evidence on how the health of pregnant women, newborns, children, adolescents and older people was affected by air pollution and different climate hazards, including wildfires, flooding, and extreme heat. These studies showed clearly that climate-related natural hazards had some serious mental and physical health impacts in pregnancy, and for younger and older people, explained Ms. Portela. Older people, for example, were more likely to suffer heart attacks and respiratory problems in high temperatures. High temperatures were also associated with hypertension and gestational diabetes in pregnancy. Children might struggle more to learn while in school, which affected their education. A reduced cognitive capacity in both children and older people was also identified in the study.

Mr. Portela said that the papers identified direct effects on health but also showed the different pathways for indirect effects, including reduced crop outputs and food shortages, increased vector-borne disease, increased stress impacting on mental health, as well as more difficult working and living conditions, which are foundations for our overall health. WHO was urging governments to prioritize climate change as a health issue, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience. WHO also promoted specific actions that protect health at different life stages, including ensuring health and care services were prepared to address the needs of those most at risk when climate disasters occurred.

More details are available here

UN Trade and Development 60th anniversary

Catherine Huissoud, for United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 12, 13 and 14 June, UNCTAD would be celebrating its 60th anniversary. On 12 June, at 2 pm, there would be a session with the heads of state; 13 June would be reserved for interventions by ministers and experts; the final day, 14 June, would hear from the economists. Due to the very limited space, there would be no seats for the press in the Tempus hall on the first day, informed Ms. Huissoud, but direct transmission and recordings would be provided throughout the event. A stakeout with the Secretary-General was expected in the Tempus hallway on 12 June at 3:30 pm, which could be attended by 25 accredited journalists. Two photographs and two cameramen would cover the event.

Answering questions, Ms. Huissoud said that the presidents of the Comoros, Madagascar, and Cameroon, and East Timor, would attend on 12 June, as well as the Vice-President of Costa Rica, and Guy Parmelin, Swiss Federal Councillor. There was no specific outcome document expected from the event, she explained. 

More information on UNCTAD’s 60th anniversary can be found here


Speaking on behalf of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Alessandra Vellucci informed that the WTO's Ninth Global Review of Aid for Trade would take place at the WTO from 26 to 28 June under the theme "Mainstreaming Trade into Development Strategies". The event would examine how the USD 687 billion of investments mobilized through the Aid-for-Trade Initiative had helped developing and least-developed economies participate more fully in global trade and what more could be done to leverage trade to spur economic growth, achieve development goals and build resilience against future shocks. The event would be opened by the WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the OECD's Secretary-General, Mathias Cormann, and Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Barbados. Registration to attend in person was open until 10 June. 

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), reminded that on 10 June at 2 pm, UNHCR's Annual Report Global Trends in Forced Displacement 2024 would be presented by Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Tarek Abou Chabake, UNHCR Chief statistician. The report would be under embargo until 13 June, when the report would be officially released. 

Ms. Vellucci finally informed that on 10 June at 10 am,Omar Zniber, President of the Human Rights Council, would hold a press conference ahead of the 56th regular session of the Council.