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17-02-2023 | Press Conferences

Bi-Weekly Press Briefing 17 February 2023



17 February 2023


Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reminded of the flash appeal for Türkiye for USD 1 billion to help 5.2 million people. The flash appeal for Syria of almost USD 400 million had been issued several days before, and there was nowUSD 54 million in the bank. A total of 143 trucks had thus far crossed into Syria through the northern border, informed Mr. Laerke.

Caroline Holt, Global Director for Operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), informed that the IFRC had requested CHF 200 million to support both countries recovering from the earthquakes. This amount could change as needs assessments on the ground were being updated. Access to clean water and sanitation was critical in this situation, and it was paramount to support national societies in this regard. Syria’s vulnerabilities were rather specific, following 12 years of conflict, noted Ms. Holt; Syrian people had demonstrated a huge among of resilience, but needed global solidarity now more than ever. There were fuel shortages on the ground, she said. IFRC Secretary-General was in Gaziantep right now, after having visited Aleppo. The search-and-rescue was coming to a close, but life-saving aid was as needed as ever. Psychosocial support was also prioritized by national Red Crescent societies. The needs on the ground could not be met by any actor alone, concluded Ms. Holt.

Fabrizio Carboni, Regional Director for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had just returned from a six-day visit to Syria, where he had travelled with the ICRC President. Palestinian camps within Syria had also been hit hard by the earthquakes, reminded Mr. Carboni. The magnitude of destruction and loss in Aleppo were shocking; not only was the physical infrastructure damaged, but immense psychological and emotional toll on local people, volunteers and ICRC staff was also immense. Homes on both sides of the frontline had been affected; the shared suffering should help put politics aside. The affected areas should be flooded with aid, and all corridors ought to be opened and accessible. Having presence on the ground at the time of the earthquakes, the ICRC could react fast and deliver initial aid to people in need within hours. Over the past 12 years, the ICRC had been working on preserving and maintaining critical infrastructure, to ensure, for example, that drinking water remain accessible. The ICRC was there to stay and continue helping the people of Syria.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA,explained that a total of 143 trucks loaded with aid, provided by six UN agencies, had crossed into Syria from 9 to 16 February. Three border crossings were currently open; it was expected that trucks would continue to cross every day.The aid, provided by IOM, UNHCR, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, included tents, non-food items such as mattresses and blankets, winter clothes, cholera testing kit, essential medicines, and food.

Also answering questions, Ms. Carboni, for the ICRC, said that half of the ICRC staff in Aleppo no longer had homes; they were temporarily staying at hotels. One staff member had lost 23 members of his family, Mr. Carboni said. Humanitarian workers had to take care of themselves and their families while helping all other affected people.

Tens of thousands arrive to Ethiopia from Somalia

Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that more than 60,000 Somalis, mainly women and children, had fled to Ethiopia’s Somali region in the past few weeks to escape clashes and insecurity in the city of Laascaanood, in Sool region. More than half of them had arrived earlier this week. Exhausted and traumatized, they had arrived with very little, only taking what they could carry. Many of them had lost loved ones in the clashes or had been separated during flight.

In response to this sudden influx, UNHCR was working with the Ethiopian Government’s Refugees and Returnees Services and regional authorities, together with UN and NGO partners, setting up temporary reception centers and providing immediate life-saving aid. Relief items, including blankets, jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, and mosquito nets, had already been distributed to over 1,000 vulnerable families.

Full statement is available here.

More assistance needed for Congolese refugees in Africa

Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to experience one of Africa’s most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises. UNHCR and 69 aid organizations today launched a Regional Refugee Response Plan to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and protection to refugees from the country in 2023.

The plan sought USD 605 million to support Congolese refugees who had found safety in neighbouring countries across the Southern and Great Lakes regions; it also aimed to provide support to their local host communities. More than one million Congolese refugees and asylum-seekers were hosted across the African continent, the majority in Uganda (479,400), Burundi (87,500), and Tanzania (80,000).

UNHCR and partners were calling on the international community to ensure continued support for these generous host countries, so vulnerable refugee populations could be provided with protection, shelter, food, health, education, and other basic services.

More details are available here.

Tropical cyclone Freddy

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that tropical cyclone Freddy, category 4, was heading towards Madagascar, where it was expected to make landfall on 21 February. What was unusual about Freddy was that it had started on the other side of the Indian ocean and had travelled a long route, quite a rare occurrence. The impact on Madagascar was difficult to predict at this stage. It was hoped that early warnings would limit the loss of life. Ms. Nullis reminded that Madagascar had been hit by four tropical cyclones within one month a year earlier, which had led to widespread loss of life and devastation.

Responding to questions, Ms. Nullis said that weather balloons had an important role to play in collecting meteorological data. She would prepare and share an information note on this topic.


Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed about the release of new global maternal mortality statistics for the last five-year period just after midnight on 23 February. An embargoed press conference would be held on 21 February.

The following week, a meeting would also be held on the composition of Influenza Virus Vaccine for use in the 2023-24 Northern Hemisphere Influenza Season. A press conference was likely to take place on 24 February.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), stated that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was concluding this morning the review of the report of Tunisia.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would conclude this afternoon its review of the report of Portugal.

The Conference on Disarmament would have at 3 p.m. today a public plenary meeting, the last one under the Presidency of Egypt. Ethiopia would assume the Presidency the following week.

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Bi-Weekly Press Briefing 17 February 2023 / 38:27

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