PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
16 May 2023
Aftermath of cyclone Mocha in Myanmar and Bangladesh
Ramanathan Balakrishnan, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, speaking from Yangoon, said that Mocha had hit the Rakhine State with brutal force on 14 May. It had been a truly terrifying experience for those in the path of the cyclone, who were now facing a massive cleanup and reconstruction effort. After hitting the coast, the storm had moved inward, bringing flooding to the areas where there had already been millions of people displaced by conflict. Mobile connectivity was being slowly reestablished. Many IDP shelters in this impoverished part of the country were made of bamboo, which indicated that the levels of devastation were likely to be high. Humanitarian teams were standing by, and it was hoped that they would have access as soon as possible to conduct the necessary assessment.
Mr. Balakrishnan informed that 5.4 million people were expected to have been in the path of the cyclone; among those, 3.9 million people were considered most vulnerable. It was a nightmare scenario for the cyclone to hit such vulnerable, already distraught areas. Copying capacities were stretched to the limit, and the need for humanitarian support was high, as there was a massive task ahead of the humanitarian community. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar was currently less than 10 percent funded; more financial support from donors was thus urgently needed. As many as 17 million people in Myanmar were in need of humanitarian help – as many as in Ukraine, stressed Mr. Balakrishnan.
Dr. Edwin Salvador, Regional Emergency Director at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for South-East Asia, speaking from Delhi, said that in Myanmar and in Bangladesh the WHO was working with local and national authorities to help the affected communities. In Myanmar, the WHO was anxious to get reports from the areas believed as being most damaged. Roads from Yangoon to Sittwe in Rakhine seemed to be open, so a WHO team was heading that way today. WHO staff would reach the affected areas as soon as possible. WHO was collecting information from various sources and was prioritizing supplies and equipment requested by the health cluster partners. There was a risk of water-borne diseases, warned Dr. Salvador.
In Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, the WHO had prepositioned supplies in its containers in the camp. Vulnerable health facilities had been identified and those most vulnerable had been relocated. No casualties had been reported so far; there was some minor infrastructure damaged to four clinics in the camp. Medical mobile teams were planning to stand down today unless there was a change in the health needs. Dr. Salvador said that the WHO continued to stand ready to provide necessary support and work with the government and partners.
Rajeev K.C, Disaster Risk Management Delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaking from Yangoon, said that the cyclone Mocha had made three landfalls in Myanmar. First responders to all three areas had been Myanmar Red Cross volunteers. IFRC was not able to collect primary data from the field because of the existing limitations. He reminded that Rakhine was one of the poorest states in Myanmar, where almost half of housing structures were considered poor, and a detailed assessment was needed. Red Cross volunteers were working in the Madaya region. The cyclone’s impact seemed to be forgotten by the international media, noted Mr. K.C. The IFRC was supporting the most vulnerable people in the areas of shelter, health, WASH, and restoring family links. Access remained one of the key challenges in Myanmar, he said.
Responding to questions, Mr. Balakrishnan said that the UN had established open communication channels with all authorities in Myanmar and had asked for unrestricted access to affected communities. Politicization of humanitarian aid should not be allowed to happen, he stressed. He reiterated that the Humanitarian Response Plan of USD 764 million had been less than 10 percent funded, even before the cyclone. There were media reports of deaths and missing people caused by the cyclone.
Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the refugee camps in Bangladesh had been severely affected. While over 21,000 Rohingya individuals and over 4,000 households had been affected in the camps, she explained, no casualties had been reported. Humanitarian teams had begun post-disaster assessments. Immediate priorities were shelter, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical supplies. The cyclone had hit at a particularly difficult time for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Only 16 percent of the funding appeal was funded currently.
Refugee children education in Chad
Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), speaking from London, said that UNHCR and ECW had made a joint mission to border regions of Chad with Sudan, where refugees had been fleeing from Darfur. The number of newly arrived refugees was constantly increasing. ECW had allocated USD 3 million for the refugee children, who represented some 70 percent of the newly arrived refugees. Ms. Sherif said that, since the conflict had erupted in Sudan on 15 April, over 200,000 people had crossed the borders to the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan to flee the violence. UNHCR estimates that this number could reach 860,000.
Responding to questions, Ms. Sherif said that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had released USD 3 million to Chad, and the Government of Chad was about to launch a refugee response plan. She emphasized the importance of education in emergencies, which was the main way to empower children and future generations. Refugees tended to stay away from their countries for prolonged periods of time, and education gave them hope for the future, but also protection and, often, nutrition. Not going to school meant that children were more exposed to sexual violence, child marriage, early pregnancies, or being recruited in armed groups. Education also provided a way for many children to deal with their traumas. Refugee children were very motivated to go to school, and their parents were very much appreciative of that opportunity. Education provided children with hope and resilience for the future. Chad, an already poor country, was severely affected by climate change, added Ms. Sherif. The security provided by the Chadian Government made it relatively easy to operate in the country, she noted.
Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), added that initial protection reports from Chad showed that about half of families arriving from Sudan had children of school age, 83 percent of whom had been attending school in Sudan. It was crucial to continue with their education while they were in exile. Early marriage and child labour were two of the main concern among the refugee children population in Chad.
Weapons contamination in Ukraine
Andrew Duncan, Head of the Weapons Contamination Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ukraine, speaking from Kyiv, stated that in areas affected by hostilities, farmers often faced an impossible choice: whether to risk their lives by planting their crops, or to keep safe but lose their income. In Ukraine, April and May are crucial season for crop planting. Ukraine’s production was not only critical for the country’s own needs, but also for feeding the world. Significant portions of Ukraine’s arable land were contaminated by weapons, said Mr. Duncan. Many farmers could not access their fields because of the ongoing hostilities and shifting front lines. There was a constant risk that tractors could activate land mines. The iconic black soil of Ukraine was crucial for producing affordable grain necessary to feed many people around the world. Significant resources were needed for weapons decontamination in both short and long term. Affected areas needed to be surveyed and mapped before a long process of decontamination could commence. ICRC was working with the Ukrainian Red Cross on educating local population about the danger of landmines and UXOs. The consequences of weapon contamination across Ukraine were endure for years to come, and resources would hence also be needed in the years to come.
Answering questions from the media, Mr. Duncan said that what was crystal clear was that contamination was increasing on a daily basis. The key thing was to continue evaluating the contaminated or possibly contaminated land. That required a professional, systematic approach, which was a huge task, made more difficult by the fact that the hostilities were continuing. He said that clearance was being undertaken at the moment, with a number of organizations on this task, coordinated by UNDP. There was an exponential rise in the number of people affected by weapons contamination. He said that landmines were being put into the ground as part of defensive operations.
David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), informed that 17 May was the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. The theme this year was “Empowering the least developed countries through information and communication technologies.” The ITU called on the public and private sectors to make pledges for universal connectivity and digital transformation in these countries through its Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. ITU would host an event showcasing the work done with partners, on 17 May from 2:30 p.m.; reporters were welcome to the event, and remote participation was also possible.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) informed that on 17 May at 12 p.m. noon, the WMO would present its Global Climate Update with predictions for 2023-2027. Speakers would be Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, and Leon Hermanson, Met Office climate scientist.
The World Meteorological Congress would take place from 22 May to 2 June. A press release under embargo would be sent out on 19 May. The focus of the Congress would be on early warning. The first morning of the Congress would be opened by the Swiss President and would be attended by a number of high-level officials.
Carla Drysdale, for the World Health organization (WHO), reminded that the World Health Assembly would take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 21 to 30 May. Dr. Tedros would deliver his main address on 22 May around 10 a.m. Six daily strategic round tables would bring together experts to discuss key global health priorities.
Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 17 May at 8:45 a.m., there would be a hybrid joint press conference by OCHA and UNHCR to launch the Revised Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan 2023 and the Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan (May - October 2023). Speakers would be Ramesh Rajasingham, Head and Representative of OCHA in Geneva, and Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, UNHCR.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was reviewing today the report of Spain.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning the review of the report of Finland.
The Conference on Disarmament, which was starting this week the second part of its 2023 session, under the presidency of Finland, was having this morning a public plenary meeting.
Finally, he informed that this week was the Global Road Safety Week. Road traffic injuries were a leading cause of death and injury worldwide. Today was also the International Day of Living Together in Peace.