PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
World Humanitarian Day
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said World Humanitarian Day (August 19), was established in response to the tragic attack in Iraq, 20 years ago. 22 United Nations colleagues were killed in a suicide bomb attack targeting the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, on Canal Street. Ms. Shamdasani had visited Iraq last week with the High Commissioner, paying tribute to colleagues who had been killed in the attack and to colleagues who had lost their lives in Rwanda, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere. The High Commissioner said World Humanitarian Day was a chance to honour the United Nations’ colleagues who worked every day to save lives and the memory of those lost too soon, and to stand in solidarity with those who continued to work, despite the odds.
Daniel Johnson, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), recalled the message issued by Secretary-General António Guterres, who said humanitarian workers should not be targets, as was the case in Baghdad. On that day, 22 colleagues of the United Nations had lost their lives, including Special Representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello. World Humanitarian Day also intended to illustrate that funding for humanitarian aid was far off track. In a message, the Secretary-General had underscored the importance amid rising geopolitical tensions of ensuring that the United Nations could facilitate ongoing dialogue to parties in conflict and provide supplies to every conflict and war.
A memorial ceremony had been held outside Palais Wilson this morning at 10am, with survivors, family, and friends of those from the attack in Iraq in attendance. The ceremony of commemoration would start at 4pm in Room 20, with Ahmad Fawzi as the Master of Ceremonies, and would end at 5:30pm. The High Commissioner, survivors and others would make comments at the ceremony.
Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said United Nations colleagues were in Iraq as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq. Regarding security, this was a broader question for the United Nations, and she wouldn’t speak on behalf of each of her colleagues. The situation today was very different to 20 years ago. There were clear security measures in place to ensure the protection of staff.
Mr. Johnson said the United Nations had launched a new campaign #nomatterwhat which was a commitment from humanitarian actors to deliver aid, no matter the obstacles.
Niger human rights update
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said Human Rights Chief Volker Türk had expressed grave concerns for the people of Niger, following last month’s military coup, calling on the generals to immediately restore constitutional order. Nearly half of the population was mired in extreme poverty and millions were reliant on humanitarian assistance. Since the coup, their situation had worsened. The landlocked country’s borders had been shut, trade had come to a standstill, there had been severe power cuts, and food prices had risen. The High Commissioner called for full and free access for humanitarian assistance, including goods, flights, and personnel, to allow critical food, medical and other relief supplies into the country. Mr. Türk also raised concerns about the decision by coup leaders to prosecute President Mohamed Bazoum and those working with him for high treason, as well as restrictions on civic space.
Daniel Johnson, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), referred to a recent update shared by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which noted that already before the coup, over 3 million people in Niger were severely food insecure. According to the World Food Programme, around 7.3 million moderately food insecure people could see their situation worsen because of unfolding crises. There needed to be an exemption to sanctions and borders, to avert a rapid deterioration of the food security and malnutrition situation. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Niger sought 584 million dollars in funding, but only 39 per cent of that had been received.
Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said the High Commissioner was calling for coup leaders to restore constitutional order. OHCHR had visited Niger in December 2021, and had noted that civil society was extremely strong on the ground, with significant resolve. The election had brought a lot of hope, but unfortunately, the coup had taken this hope away, as well as the platform to combat the serious problems being faced by the country. Any military option raised potential human rights concerns. This was the sixth coup in the region in the past three years. OHCHR insisted that any sanctions imposed needed to be carefully targeted, to assess the human rights impact on the population. There were many trucks stranded at the border containing humanitarian aid, due to sanctions. OHCHR was calling for humanitarian exemptions to these sanctions. The coup leaders had cut off the broadcast signals for France International and France 24, making the situation for journalists even more difficult. Ms. Shamdasani said she would rather not speculate on the potential involvement of the Wagner group. OHCHR had issued various reports which outlined the impact of private military, non-state actors on the ground.
Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said as of July this year, Niger was hosting 730,000 forcibly displaced people. The refugees and asylum-seekers were mainly from Nigeria, and to a lesser extent, Mali and Burkina Faso. The internally displaced persons were primarily living in camps. Niger hosted the emergency transit mechanism, which was a center for some of the most vulnerable displaced people. UNHCR worked closely with partners to deliver aid within the country and support forcibly displaced populations. They had been responding with assistance, aid, and protection activities in recent weeks. There had not been significant cross-border movements of people yet, but UNHCR was monitoring the border situation closely and was ready to respond if needed. UNHCR would not make any specific comments on the involvement of the Wagner group.
Gang violence in Haiti
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said reports from Haiti this week underscored the extreme brutality of violence being inflicted on the population. On the night of 14-15 August, a local municipal representative, his wife and child were shot and killed in their house in Port-au-Prince by alleged gang members, apparently due to the man’s support for a local self-defence group set up to confront the gangs. Hours earlier, on 14 August, five men and two women from the same family were burned alive when their home in the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood was set on fire by the Grand Ravine gang. These neighbourhoods, as well as the Savanne Pistache neighborhood, had been targeted by the Grand Ravine gang since 25 July. The violence intensified between 11 and 15 August, with gang members killing or injuring 28 people, and looting or setting on fire at least 50 homes. Between 1 January and 15 August this year, at least 2,439 people had been killed in Haiti and a further 902 injured, while 951 people had been kidnapped. In response to the ongoing gang violence, there had been a rise in self-defence groups, which also led to violence. Since 24 April to mid-August, more than 350 people had been lynched by local people and vigilante groups. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Haiti in February this year, called for urgent action to support the Haitian police in addressing the grave security situation and restoring the rule of law.
Daniel Johnson, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the International Organization for Migration had reported that 200,000 people in Haiti had been displaced by gang violence, and 5.2 million people in the country required humanitarian assistance, including 3 million children.
Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said the 2,439 people killed between 1st of January and 15th of August included those who had been lynched by self-defence groups (350 people).
State of the Climate in South-West Pacific report
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said this morning, WMO had launched its State of the Climate in South-West Pacific 2022 report at a ministerial meeting, at the conclusion of the Pacific Met Week. The State of the Climate report showed how weather-related disasters and climate change impacts were unravelling the fabric of society in the South-West Pacific. Sea level rise threatened the future of low-lying islands, while increasing ocean heat and acidification harmed vital marine ecosystems. The three-year-long La Niña event had a clear influence on temperatures in 2022. But despite its temporary cooling influence, it was still a warm year for the region. The El Niño effect, which followed three years of La Niña conditions, would likely continue during the rest of the year. WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said this would have a large impact on the South-West Pacific region, due to the higher temperatures, disruptive weather patterns and more marine heatwaves and coral bleaching. Early warning systems were one of the most effective ways of reducing damage from disasters.
High-impact weather in many parts of the world continue this summer of extremes
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the summer of extremes continued. July was the hottest month ever recorded. Moderate and severe heat warnings had been issued in Europe for the next few days, including in Switzerland, France and Poland. Most of Switzerland would be in a heatwave, starting tomorrow. Meteo-Suisse had issued a Level Three Amber alert, with high temperatures during the day and at night. The dry conditions had fueled terrible fires in Tenerife, Spain, earlier this week, and Japan had seen an exceptionally prolonged heatwave which broke temperature records. Canada’s wildfire season was off the charts, with more than 600 fires out of control, including at the Arctic Circle. Hurricane Hilary in the Untied States had intensified rapidly to a Category Four hurricane, fed by warm ocean temperatures. This was expected to intensify on Saturday. Hurricane Hilary would approach via the Californian peninsula and was expected to produce rainfall amounts of up to 152 mm, which was a huge amount of rain in a short time. There was a risk of flash-flooding in the area, so it was essential people followed early warnings. This was extremely unprecedented for this typically arid area.
Álvaro Silva, Climate Expert at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), speaking from Lisbon, said this was the “new normal” and should not come as a surprise. The frequency and intensity of many extremes, such as heatwaves and heavy precipitation, had increased in recent decades. There was high confidence that human induced climate change from greenhouse emissions, was the main driver. There was a need to look at atmospheric circulation patterns and weather systems and the effect contributing to some of the extreme weather events. Some of these were related to the behavior of the jet stream, which generated working patterns leading to extreme events. There could be a heatwave operating in one region, and heavy rainfall and below average temperatures occurring simultaneously in a region close by. Further in-depth research was needed to explain the extremes of this summer.
Responding to questions, Ms. Nullis said that July was traditionally the warmest month of the year. She could not predict whether August would be the hottest month on record, however the sea surface temperatures were very high.
Mr. Silva said this month there was a continuation of well above-average temperatures, but it was too soon to say whether this would be the hottest month on record. The global temperature was well above average and much higher than previous years.
Call for increased investment in health care service in Afghanistan
Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said WHO had launched a new Alert, calling for increased investment in healthcare service provision in Afghanistan, particularly in underserved areas which were vulnerable due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. After decades of instability, exacerbated by severe drought and natural disasters, Afghanistan was facing a prolonged humanitarian crisis, with millions of people living with poor or no access to health and food, putting them at severe risk of malnutrition and disease outbreaks. The revised Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 revealed 28.8 million people required immediate assistance, up from 18.4 million prior to August 2021. WHO required an additional USD 125 million in funding to continue to sustain basic health needs for the remainder of 2023.
Responding to questions, Dr. Harris said the vulnerability of women and girls in Afghanistan had further intensified. They faced increased barriers in accessing health care, not just in the ban on workforce participation but also due to the ban education. She did not have the specific details on whether women could see male doctors. Overall, women were facing increased obstacles in accessing healthcare, which was critical.
Daniel Johnson of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the World Humanitarian Day event would start at 4pm in the Palais des Nations today. Meetings next week included the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was concluding its review of Senegal this morning, to be followed by Turkmenistan on Monday and Tuesday next week. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding Mongolia’s report this morning, following up next week with Austria, Israel, Mauritania, Germany, and Paraguay, with follow-up enquires on Hungary and the United Kingdom, on Monday August 21 and Monday August 28.
International days included the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to Victims of Terrorism on August 21.