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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 Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Ukraine

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service recalled the Secretary-General’s views on the ongoing situation in Ukraine, saying that he was deeply concerned by the continuing attacks on Ukrainian cities, resulting in numerous civilian casualties and destruction. The Secretary-General was greatly concerned by the continuing appalling humanitarian situation in the besieged city of Mariupol, which had been largely destroyed by weeks of unrelenting Russian attacks. The Secretary-General reminded all parties to take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure, and to enact an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, to help evacuate residents and deliver assistance. Genuine negotiations needed to be given a chance to succeed and to bring a lasting peace. The Secretary-General and the UN stood ready to support such efforts.

Jakob Kern, World Food Programme Emergency Coordinator for the Ukraine Crisis, speaking from Lviv, said that the humanitarian situation inside Ukraine continued to worsen. The WFP was scaling up its response to the conflict in Ukraine, estimating that around 6 million people needed food and cash assistance. WFP was complementing and supporting the tremendous efforts of the Government of Ukraine to aid the most vulnerable families, women, children and elderly. Food assistance into previously inaccessible areas such as Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel and Borodianka, was being ramped up.

WFP had mobilized more than 60,000 metric tons of food for its Ukraine response, enough for 2 million people for two months. 1.7 million people in Ukraine had been reached, through in-kind food assistance to families in encircled and conflict-affected areas, and USD 3.6 million in cash-based transfers in areas where markets were functioning. WFP had delivered 113 metric tons of food to vulnerable families in the encircled cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and Severodonetsk through four UN interagency humanitarian convoys - enough for 20,000 people for ten days. 1.4 million out of the total 1.7 million reached, were families trapped in encircled and partially encircled areas of the country, however many of the most vulnerable remained out of reach behind conflict lines. In Mariupol, more than 100,000 people were in dire need of food, water, and other essential supplies.

WFP appealed to all parties to allow humanitarian access to families trapped in the encircled areas of Ukraine. It was estimated almost half of the people in the country were worried about finding enough to eat. The problem was not availability of food but rather access to food, be it physically or economically. WFP was working with partners to respond to the dire needs of families and, were developing strategic interventions to support the government in restoring the countries supply chains and preserving market functionality.

Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat, and in the top three for maize, barley and sunflower seeds. Production of wheat in 2021 was approximately 40 million tons, and another 50 million tons for the other three commodities. It was estimated that 20 percent of planted areas would not be harvested in July, and the spring planting area would be about one third smaller than usual. The main challenge to the agricultural economy in Ukraine related to exporting existing stocks of grains for the 2022 harvest and generating cash to buy seeds and fertilisers for the next planting season.

Ukraine used to export up to 6 million tonnes a month of grain and oilseeds via seaports that were now blocked, meaning an estimated 15 million tons of grains would not have space in the silos around the country. If Ukraine could not export its current stocks, farmers may not be able to harvest at cost, let alone plant the next year’s crop. The lack of Ukrainian grains on the world market influences the food prices around the globe, with WFP spending US$ 70 million more per month to buy the same amount of food as last year.

Bhanu Bhatnagar, Spokesperson and Media Relations for the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking from Lviv, Ukraine, said that WHO had so far delivered 218 tonnes of emergency and medical supplies and equipment to Ukraine, with around two-thirds having reached their intended destinations, in the east and north of the country.

The 15 generators, which were planned to be delivered to hospitals across Ukraine, would begin their journeys from WHO’s Lviv warehouse today. Three were destined for Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in eastern Ukraine, two diesel generators would be transported to Mariupol and one diesel generator was planned to be distributed to Severodonetsk in Luhansk oblast. The generators would only be moved when the safety of the personnel and cargo could be ensured. These generators would help meet the minimum needs of referral hospitals, enabling doctors and healthcare workers to provide surgery, trauma and emergency care, among other services. Mr. Bhatnagar said that patient care was heavily dependent on access to reliable power supply, and even a momentary power failure could have serious consequences. There were only 10 oxygen plants across the country supplying hospitals and health services. WHO had a contingency plan in place with the Ministry of Health in case of disruptions.

WHO had identified a Berlin-based aid organization to coordinate ambulance transport of patients from L’viv to Poland as part of the MED Evac system being implemented by the European Commission. The first successful transfer of 10 trauma patients from L’viv to Rzeszow in Poland, and then onwards to Germany by plane, was made last week. Independent Emergency Medical Teams (EMT), with guidance from WHO, were setting up surgical support and repairing damaged surgical buildings in Sumy oblast. Two hospitals in Mykolaiv were being provided with direct surgical support, while other EMTs provided clinical care support and mobile healthcare in western and eastern oblasts. WHO were currently assessing the possibility of building a network of warehouses to reach affected areas, on top of existing storage locations. As of today, WHO had verified 147 incidents of attacks on health care in Ukraine. At least 73 people have died and 52 have been injured in the attacks.

Responding to questions, Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), that the UNHCR had issued a statement which strongly opposed the planned partnership between the United Kingdom and Rwanda, regarding asylum seekers from Ukraine who would be flown out to Rwanda when they arrived in the UK. Ms. Mantoo said that since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there was an increase in refugee movement to neighboring countries. The latest numbers showed that 4.9 million refugees had fled Ukraine since February, with numbers still growing. More third country nationals were fleeing initially, but that number was currently lower.

Responding to questions, Mr. Bhatnagar said that there was currently no access to Mariupol, but that WHO was in position to deliver the generators and supplies as soon as they were able to. They feared the worst for the health care system in Mariupol. The fate of the generators and staff was of prime importance, and implementation would occur as soon as possible. Of the 147 verified attacks, 132 had impacted health facilities, 16 had impacted ambulances and 24 had impacted personnel, with the overall number being higher than 147, but impacting numerous factors. It was estimated that between 120,000-150,000 people still required assistance, however it was difficult to estimate how many were left after the evacuations.

Also responding to questions, Mr. Kern said there was no access to Mariupol yet, and permission needed to be agreed on by all parties. At least 48 hours were required to safely deliver food and other items. Discussions were ongoing.  

Horn of Africa Drought

Michael Dunford, Regional Director for East Africa with the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking from Nairobi, highlighted that there were many crises which deserved media attention. He highlighted that millions of families in drought-affected parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were facing severe hunger as the possibility of a fourth consecutive failed rainy season loomed. Almost a month into the current rainy season and the desperately needed rain has so far failed to materialise. With no rain and no resources, the number of hungry people due to drought could spiral from the currently estimated 14 million to 20 million through 2022.

In Ethiopia, crops had failed, over a million livestock had perished and an estimated 7.2 million people required assistance. In Kenya the number of people in need of assistance had risen more than fourfold and the rapidly escalating drought had left 3.1 million people acutely food insecure. In Somalia, some 6 million people (38 percent of the population) were facing acute food insecurity and, there was a very real risk of famine in the coming months if the rains didn’t arrive and humanitarian assistance was not received. In 2016/17, catastrophe due to drought was avoided in the Horn of Africa through early action. In 2022, due to a severe lack of resourcing, there were growing fears that it may not be possible to prevent the looming disaster. WFP last appealed for funding in January –US$473 million was now needed for the next six months to scale-up humanitarian assistance across the three countries.

The lack of funding meant that WFP was being forced to prioritise food and nutrition assistance in some areas. In Somalia, WFP had been forced to prioritise nutrition treatment over prevention and may soon need to prioritise emergency food assistance. The situation in the Horn of Africa had been further compounded by the fallout of conflict in Ukraine, with the cost of food and fuel soaring to unprecedented highs. The cost of a food basket had risen, in Ethiopia (66 percent) and Somalia (36 percent) which depended heavily on wheat from Black Sea basin countries. Mr. Dunford said these populations were exhausted and we were heading to a severe situation unless it could be pulled back from the precipice.

Chimimba David Phiri, Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said the current food security situation across the eastern Horn of Africa after three consecutive seasons of below-average rains, continued to deteriorate. Unfortunately, rainfall during the period of mid-March to mid-April this year had been well below-average and forecasts for the remainder of the season did not look favorable. It was estimated that between 15 and 16 million people were highly food insecure in the region through May 2022, just because of the drought. Cropping households, had experienced three seasons of below-average harvests and below-average household food stocks. For pastoral households, this meant three seasons of below-average rangeland conditions and limited milk access for children.

It was estimated that more than 3 million livestock had died. In Somalia, up to 30 percent of households’ herd had died since mid-2021. Many areas of concern had been plagued by macroeconomic challenges and rising food prices and recently by desert locusts. In a worst-case scenario, it was possible that some households would face catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). FAO launched a drought response plan on 17 January 2022 for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, asking for US$ 130 million to assist 1.5 million people, and had only received US$ 50 million, which was insufficient. Mr. Phiri called for action and said investments on resilient food system needed to be significantly scaled up.

Responding to questions, Mr Dunford, said these were the driest conditions in the horn of Africa for 40 years, and the severity of the drought would be determined including by how the international community was able to respond. The loss of human life could only be minimized if WFP were given the funding they required. The needs in Africa had already been increasing prior to the conflict in Ukraine. This year, 5.2 billion USD were required, and with the Ukrainian crisis, WFP would struggle to reach this amount. Mr. Dunford confirmed that with the current low level of funding, the WFP could not respond to increasing needs. It was estimated that in Somalia there were 81,000 in IPC 5, a catastrophic state; there were another 1.4 million people in ICP 4. These populations risked falling into famine-like conditions. Anecdotal evidence had been received about children dying from conditions caused by malnutrition. WFP had appealed for funding in February and received less than 4 % of the money they needed. Due to the gap in funding, WFP were cutting prevention programs and focusing on the treatment of undernourished children. If this went on there would be populations that would be unable to be reached.

Responding to questions, Mr. Phiri said that the resilience which had been built over the past 40 years was beginning to crumble. It was important for the international community to realize this could be worse than anything seen for a long time. The increase in desert locusts were tied to a lack of funding, which made it difficult for the communities to continue to resist the locusts. Three million livestock were already dead, which was a symptom of things to come for human beings unless rapid action was taken. FAO were looking for 130 million USD and had received 50 million USD so far.

Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, announced that the

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would begin the consideration of the report of Luxembourg. Other countries to be reviewed during this session included Estonia and Kazakhstan.

She also announced that the Committee Against Torture was opening its 73rd session this morning, during which it would review reports from Iceland, Cuba, Kenya, Montenegro, Iraq and Uruguay.

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