PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
21 October 2022
Humanitarian crisis in Somalia
Laura Turner, World Food Programme (WFP) Deputy Country Director in Somalia, reported that the WFP had been able to sustain a massive assistance programme in currently the largest operation of the WFP globally. In September alone, the WFP had reached 4.2 million people, double the number of just a few months earlier. However, the WFP remained very concerned about the dire situation around the country, as the conditions continued to worsen and there were still no rains. If this trend continued, famine was expected to materialize before the end of the year. In her 20-year long humanitarian career, Ms. Turner said she had never experienced a looming catastrophe of such proportions. She shared a heartbreaking story of a family she had recently encountered, who had lost their livelihood and two of whose children had already perished.
Food assistance alone would not prevent loss of life, stressed Ms. Turner; an integrated, comprehensive response was imperative. WFP and partners were also trying to increase access to hard-to-reach areas, which were exactly those areas where famine was projected. WFP was extremely grateful for the timely support from the major funding partners but building long-term resilience in light of the climate change was equally important. WFP had borrowed USD 90 million from its internal bank to finance its Somalia’s relief operations, which had allowed it to almost double its activities there. WFP required USD 300 million just to sustain what it was doing right now for the next six months. Other requirements, such as clean water and health, had to be addressed at the same time.
Dr. Mamunar Rahman Malik, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Somalia, said that Somalia was on the brink of an unprecedented health crisis unless action was taken now. Every single man, woman, and child were facing hunger at a scale not seen since the 2011 famine. Close to 4.2 million people received food assistance every month, but 1.8 million children – half of the country’s children – still faced severe acute malnutrition today. One out of every seven children in Somalia was missing out on life-saving vaccines as a result of displacement. WHO was providing health care close to the people despite security concerns and broken and fragile health system. Dr. Malik informed that the WHO was delivering services through over 150 community outreach centers, 100 nutrition stabilization centers, and 280 primary health care centers, while some 2,000 health community workers had been deployed in the drought-affected districts. Over 1.2 million children had received measles vaccines in the recent months, and two more million were expected to be vaccinated in the coming weeks. Dr. Malik stressed that health crises proliferated in contexts where food was insufficient and hygiene unsatisfactory. He spoke of seeing children dying hourly following long walks from drought-affected areas to rehabilitation centers. More people would be dying of disease than famine if the world did not act now.
Responding to questions, Laura Turner, for the WFP, said that famine had not been declared yet because the three established thresholds had not been passed yet: 20 percent of households in an area suffering extreme lack of food; 30 percent of children under five suffering acute malnutrition; and two adults or four children out of every 10,000 population in an area dying every day. Acute malnutrition and mortality thresholds had been passed but extreme lack of food had not, thanks to humanitarian assistance. However the situation was dire, with or without a formal famine proclamation. Ms Turner also said that Somalia was incredibly dependent on wheat imports from Ukraine, but the WFP was giving mostly cash to Somalis so that they could afford buying more expensive wheat right now. Annabel Symington, for the World Food Programme, explained that so far, the WFP had procured six vessel loads of grain under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Dr. Mamunar Rahman Malik, for the WHO, stressed once again that the world should act now; there was still a little window of opportunity to take action to prevent deaths caused not only by the drought but also by preventable diseases.
In 2011, over 250,000 people had died because of famine, the speakers reminded.
Devastation in South Sudan following fourth year of historic floods
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR was urging international support for humanitarian efforts in South Sudan in the face of record-breaking rains and floods for a fourth consecutive year, and the threat of worse to come as the climate crisis accelerated.
Two-thirds of the country was currently experiencing flooding, informed Mr. Cheshirkov. Over 900,000 people had been directly impacted as waters had swept away homes and livestock, forced thousands to flee, and inundated large swathes of farmland, worsening an already dire food emergency. Boreholes and latrines had been submerged, contaminating water sources and risking outbreaks of diseases. As the climate crisis was ratcheting up, extreme weather was wearing down the resilience of displaced communities hit by repeated disasters.
South Sudan was one of UNHCR's most underfunded crises having received less than half of the USD 214.8 million needed this year. Underfunding was preventing UNHCR from stepping up support to internally displaced people, including through flood response and mitigation.
Without sufficient funds, UNHCR was prioritizing life-saving support. Globally, Mr. Cheshirkov said, the climate emergency was increasingly driving displacement and making life harder for those already uprooted. Those least responsible for global heating were now being hit hardest.
Full statement can be found here.
Replying to questions, Mr. Cheshirkov said that preventing sexual exploitation and abuse remained among UNHCR’s top priorities. As of mid-October, UNHCR’s operations in South Sudan were funded at only 44 percent, so the organization had to prioritize both its lifesaving and prevention work.
Authorities’ response to demonstrations in Chad
Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, said that the previous day the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson had expressed concern about the violence in the context of the demonstrations. UN called on the authorities to ensure the security, safety, and human rights of all Chadians. UN also expressed its solidarity with the population impacted by severe floods throughout the country and called on international partners to continue to provide assistance to Chad during this unprecedented natural catastrophe.
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk deplored the lethal use of force against protesters in several cities in Chad, including killings by live ammunition. OHCHR had also received reports of violence by protesters following the lethal repression, including attacks on property. OHCHR called for calm and for all sides to show restraint.
The authorities said some 50 people had been killed and nearly 300 injured in 20 October demonstrations against the 24-month extension of the transition. OHCHR had also received reports that at least 500 people had been arrested.
OHCHR reminded Chad that it was bound by its obligations under international human rights law to protect and respect human rights, including the right to life, and to ensure the exercise of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression. Defence and security forces had to refrain from the use of force against peaceful protesters and ensure that force was not used unless strictly necessary and, if so, in full compliance with the principles of legality, precaution, and proportionality.
OHCHR press statement is here.
Answering to the questions from the media, Ms. Shamdasani explained that the decision for the President of the Transition to remain in power for another 24 months had led to protests called by several political parties. Security forces had then used some live ammunition against the protesters. The Government had also announced suspension of the activities of the political parties which had called for protests.
Mass protests planned to mark one year since the coup in Sudan
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that, ahead of mass protests planned for the following week to mark one year since the 25 October coup, OHCHR called on the Sudanese authorities to ensure that people could exercise their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion, and expression; and to ensure that security forces refrain from the use of force, which has marred previous protests. People’s expression of longstanding grievances had to be facilitated rather than suppressed.
OHCHR urged the military authorities to ensure that ongoing investigations into human rights violations committed following the coup were expedited and conducted in full compliance with international norms and standards, and that all those found responsible be held to account.
OHCHR press statement is here.
Escalation of hostilities in Northern Syria
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that an escalation in hostilities in northern Syria this month had resulted in the deaths and injuries of civilians. This worrying development had also been marked by the targeted killing in eastern rural Aleppo of a social media activist and his pregnant wife.
OHCHR feared that this latest rise in hostilities involving a number of parties, particularly Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and some of the Turkish-affiliated armed groups, could spread and impact other areas in northern Syria, including Aleppo and Idlib. Over a seven-day period from 12 to 18 October, OHCHR verified the killing of at least seven civilians, including four women and three children, in northern Syria. At least 11 others had been injured.
Ms. Shamdasani stressed that it was essential that parties to the conflict take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects in the conduct of hostilities and adopt all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.
Full press release is here.
In a response to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that there were reports of several air strikes and land-based strikes being conducted by pro-government forces. Respect of civilians and civilian infrastructure by all parties was of paramount importance, stressed Ms. Shamdasani.
Situation in Burkina Faso
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Griffiths had completed a short mission to Burkina Faso where he had gone to meet displaced people in Djibo in the north first, and later met President of the Transition Ibrahim Traoré in the capital Ouagadougou.
In Djibo, hundreds of thousands of people had sought safety due to a devastating conflict and the impact of a dangerously changing climate, and Mr. Griffiths had met with community leaders and displaced people there. He had received three simple requests from them: first, to reopen the road by which food and other supplies entered the town; second, people asked for aid to both the displaced and the host community; third, people, asked for the conflict to end so that they could return to their homes.
Mr. Laerke reminded that the USD 805 million response plan was only a third funded.
Humanitarian Coordinator Griffiths’ statement can be found here.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that the WMO would send a media advisory shortly with all WMO activities ahead of COP27. Starting on 26 October, WMO would release the annual Greenhouse Bulletin in New York. This report was different from the one on emissions produced by UN Environment Programme, which would be released on 27 October. A provisional state of the climate report would be released in Sharm el-Sheik on 5 November. On 2 November in Geneva, a report would be launched on the state of regional climate in Europe. There was press availability, depending on interest.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was reviewing today the report of Switzerland.
The Human Rights Committee would hold its next public meeting on 27 October at 3 pm to review its report on the follow-up of concluding observations.
24 October would be the United Nations Day, reminded Ms. Vellucci. The Disarmament Week would also take place between 24 and 30 October, with the goal of raising awareness on the importance of disarmament (#DisarmamentWeek)
Finally, the 2022 Young Activists Summit, to be held at UN Geneva on 2 December, had just released the list of its laureates – six inspiring young people making a difference. More information can be found here.