PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the virtual briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization.
Brenda Barton, World Food Programme (WFP) Philippines Country Director, said that, notwithstanding its relatively low death toll, Typhoon Odette (known internationally as Rai), had been devastating. It had made landfall nine times over the course of two days in mid-December in an area the size of Austria. The situation was worsening due to continued rains and the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and was compounded by existing high levels of poverty and malnutrition. Some 7 million people were now in need of assistance, up from 2 million initially, telecommunication and electricity networks were shut down in many areas and several communities remained without water. Response to the United Nations appeal for USD 107 million had been tepid thus far, with only USD 4.7 million received.
FAO Food Price Index December 2021
Abdolreza Abbassian, Senior Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and G-20 AMIS Secretary, said that, although global food prices in December 2021 had dipped slightly compared with November, throughout 2021 the FAO Food Price Index had been as much as 28.1 per cent higher than in 2020. Cereal prices had been at their highest level since 2012, on average 27.2 per cent above 2020 prices; vegetable oil prices had risen by 65.8 per cent over 2020; sugar prices had soared to their highest level since 2016; meat prices had been 12.7 per cent above 2020 prices; and dairy prices had been 16.9 per cent higher than the previous year. The monthly increase in prices since the last quarter of 2020 was a signal for producers to produce more, but whether or not 2022 would see an adjustment depended on several factors, including the repercussions of the pandemic, the cost of fertilizer and climate conditions. The world could not afford a decline in production of staple foods.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Abbassian said that depending on the type of crop, increased production could have an impact on deforestation. However, production decisions tended to be made based on longer-term prospects, so the developments that had prompted the price hikes in 2021 were not likely to cause producers to ramp up production in 2022. China was typically quite self-sufficient; its greater recourse to imports in 2021, especially for pork products, which had contributed to the rise in prices, was due to problems that had since diminished. Nevertheless, the country’s size meant that China would always be a significant factor in global prices. The ability of cereal producers to meet demand was quite low, which was a sign that production should be stepped up in 2022, but that would mean even higher prices. The enduringly lower price of rice was helpful, but wheat could become a problem for importing countries, especially in North Africa, because much of the global supply came from the Black Sea region, which was experiencing instability.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that since November 2021, there had been 103 new cases of COVID-19 among United Nations staff in Geneva, bringing the total since the onset of the pandemic to 441 cases.
Replying to journalists, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), referred to the WHO COVID-19 update of 6 January 2022, noting that the main message was that even if the Omicron variant was demonstrated to cause less severe illness, it should not be characterized as mild because the sheer number of cases could overburden the health system. The available vaccines appeared to be effective at preventing severe disease even with the new variant so they should be administered. So far, WHO had granted emergency use listing for the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children 12 and older. When countries were deciding whether to open up vaccination to children, they should consider whether, given the typically mild symptoms COVID-19 caused in children, it was worth prioritizing them over ensuring equal vaccine distribution around the world.
Humanitarian appeals for Afghanistan and the region
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on Tuesday, 11 January, at 11.30 a.m., two humanitarian appeals would be launched, one for Afghanistan and the other for the region. Over half the Afghan population was now in need of humanitarian assistance, and the crisis was driving many people into neighbouring countries. The virtual event would be live streamed on UN Web TV. Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, would be speaking, followed by Nansen Award winner Saleema Rehman, a doctor from Afghanistan.
Ahead of that event, United Nations accredited media were invited to an embargoed hybrid press conference in UNIS press room on Monday, 10 January, at 3.30 p.m., for the launch of the 2022 humanitarian response plans for Afghanistan and the region (under embargo until 6 a.m. on 11 January 2022). Mr. Griffiths and Mr. Grandi would be participating in the press conference.
In response to questions, Mr. Laerke said that those appeals would aim to meet a new set of humanitarian needs for the year 2022. They were, however, only a stopgap measure to halt the downward spiral. Security Council resolution 2615 (2021) was intended to make it easier for donors to give funding and for aid organizations to receive it without the chilling effect of the sanctions imposed on Afghanistan.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that UNOG would be holding a hybrid press conference on Friday, 14 January, at 9.30 a.m., to launch the UN Archives Geneva Platform. The speakers would be: Tatiana Valovaya, UNOG Director-General; Francesco Pisano, Director, UN Library & Archives Geneva; and Blandine Blukacz-Louisfert, Chief, Institutional Memory Section.
Ms. Vellucci also said that the bi-weekly press briefings would return to their hybrid format on 11 January.