PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
15 September 2023
Libya and Morocco in the aftermath of natural disasters
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (UNOCHA), said that nearly 3,000 lives had been lost in Morocco, but those early figures were likely to be overtaken by events as authorities and rescuers got access to the areas where many were still buried. OCHA was standing by for any requests for assistance by the Government. The focus in the first days was on finding survivors and those who had lost their lives so that the former could be aided immediately, and the latter interred.
In Libya, where an appalling catastrophe had taken place, there were speculations of up to 20,000 dead, with some 4,000 casualties being confirmed thus far. In this tragedy, climate and lack of capacity had collided to create such an immense catastrophe. Over 300,000 people had already needed humanitarian aid in Libya even before the floods. A UN disaster coordination team had been deployed from Geneva to Morocco and then to Libya, informed Mr. Griffiths. Challenges in Libya included communicating and coordinating with the two rival governments, access, assessing the scale of damages, and prioritizing aid.
Mr. Griffiths emphasized that both cases were massive reminders of the omnipresence of climate change, which was stretching governments’ capacities to the limit. A USD 71 million emergency appeal for Libya had been launched, which included mental health support, as the floods had caused unimaginable traumas.
Responding to questions, Mr. Griffiths explained that the team deployed from Geneva included experienced professionals, who had then been joined by UN staff already on the ground. When there was no coordination, chaos ensued, which led to an additional loss of lives. OCHA was in very close contact with the Moroccan authorities, said Mr. Griffiths, who expected to shortly receive a formal request for assistance in the second stage of disaster recovery. Adding a maritime access option for Libya made sense, he said.
Mr. Griffiths emphasized that both disasters required an immediate, massive response. Disaster, search, and rescue teams were trained to be on the ground within 24 hours; the roster of such UN teams was able to respond to more than one disaster at the time. In Morocco, a lot of investment had been put into disaster recovery capacities, explained Mr. Griffiths; the UN stood ready to support to the degree needed in the current phase of helping survivors. In Libya, there was a major need for equipment to find survivors, but shelter, food, primary medical care (as there was a worry of cholera), and psychosocial care were also urgently needed.
Benoit Carpentier, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Societies (IFRC), speaking from Marrakech, spoke of the devastation he had witnessed in the country. The disaster had affected different parts of the country. The epicenter had been 75 km from Marrakech, but even villages several hundred kilometers away were affected. IFRC coordinated with local and national authorities, as well as local communities. The Moroccan Red Crescent had over 8,000 volunteers; the focus was on search and rescue, providing food and water, and psychosocial support. Hundreds of thousands of people needed shelter now; storms and cold temperatures were expected in the coming week. It would take months and even years to reconstruct and rebuild the affected cities and villages, said Mr. Carpentier. Behind all the numbers of casualties, there were individual people, individual stories and tragedies, reminded Mr. Carpentier.
Tamer Ramadan, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) country delegation in Libya, speaking from Cairo, said that the situation in Derna was complicated in terms of access and the increasing number of affected people. There was only one road leading from Benghazi to Derna, he explained. A lot of relief materials had arrived by plane from countries in the region, and the IFRC was deploying additional relief materials as well as surge teams. IFRC was providing first aid, temporary shelter, evacuation; IFRC was also providing dead body management, which was also of paramount importance. The Federation had launched a CHF 10 million to support rescue, relief, and recovery operations. Mr. Ramadan stressed that the crisis was not in Derna only, but in other places in the región, where IFRC teams were trying to assist affected populations.
Answering questions, Mr. Ramadan said that there was still hope to find survivors in Libya, but the more time passed, the les hope there was. Some people might still be cut off from communication channels to let their families know that they were fine. Division of tasks among humanitarian actors had been in place for over ten years, and the system worked well. Definite numbers on casualties would be available only upon the completion of the ongoing assessment, cautioned Mr. Ramadan; updated figures would be provided today. A lot of relief aid had reached Derna, including from the IFRC and its partners; more materials were on the way towards Derna and other cities in need.
Health risks amidst dead bodies in conflict and natural disasters
Bilal Sablouh, Regional Forensics Manager for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaking from Nairobi, said that dead bodies from conflicts or disasters did not cause disease outbreaks or epidemics. This misunderstanding often led to quick disposal of bodies, which meant that families were not able to do proper and dignified burials. Bodies needed to be documented and buried in labeled body bags; graves needed to be marked and listed, which would make it easier for the loved ones to conduct proper dignified burials afterwards. The work to recover and bury the dead in both Morocco and Libya would take time, said Mr. Sablouh. Those involved in the recovery of bodies could also be at risk from unexploded ordnance, which might have moved with water. ICRC with its partners would continue to work to dispel the unfounded fears of the risks associated with dead bodies.
Andrew Thomas, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that unnecessary rush to dispose of bodies after natural disasters or conflict 0 families of their right to conduct dignified burials.
Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that having access to safe drinking water was one of the priorities in the aftermath of disasters. Dead bodies were not the main cause of water pollution, but they should be kept away from drinking body sources if possible; there were multiple pollutants at play in such situations. Safe and dignified burials were the priority following disasters. Ms. Harris explained that in Morocco, as elsewhere, the WHO was working closely with the host country government, which was taking the lead with the health response.
Benoit Carpentier, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Societies (IFRC), speaking from Marrakech, said that taking care of the dead bodies and those grieving were both important, and reiterated that there was no immediate health risk as such stemming from dead bodies.
Mr. Sablouh, responding to a question, reiterated the concern about unexploded ordnance which had been moved by the floods. This was a major concern for the ICRC, and the scale of the issue was not yet known, added Crystal Wells, also for the ICRC.
Full joint statement is available here.
ICRC/IFRC/WHO Manual for the Management of the Dead After Disasters can be read here.
Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators
José Rosero Moncayo, Director of the Statistics Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that at the midpoint to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the new FAO report offered a critical look at how far we had progressed thus far. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General had raised alarm and called for a drastic rescue plan for the SDGs. The following week, the SDG Summit in New York would look into those issues, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, escalating conflicts and raising prices around the world. The timely release of the FAO report provided food for thoughts for the decision-makers, said Mr. Moncayo.
While the world had already been off track to reach the SDGs, recent years had further reversed progress. For example, the proportion of the world population suffering from hunger stood at over 9 percent, reminded Mr. Moncayo. Meanwhile, forest areas around the globe continued to shrink. Many SDG indicators were still struggling with substantial gaps, which was one of the most salient topics to be discussed at the SDG Summit. What could not be measured could not be improved, said Mr. Moncayo. Therefore, there was a need to speed up investment in data gathering and analysis. FAO remained committed to do everything possible to rescue and bring the SDGs back on track.
More information is available here.
Mr. Moncayo explained, responding to questions, that every of the 247 SDG indicators had an agency which was its custodian.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), said that the SDG Summit on 18-19 September would be a defining moment for Heads of State and Government to deliver the bold commitments needed to urgently put the world back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. With only seven years remaining for the implementation of the Goals, only 15 per cent of SDG targets were on track to being achieved. Against this sobering backdrop, the Summit would be an opportunity for all sectors of society to accelerate action on the SDGs. The ActNow challenge, run by the Department of Global Communications, aimed to surpass 100,000 individual SDG-related actions.
Today in New York, at 4 pm Geneva time, the UN Deputy Secretary-General and other speakers would hold a press briefing ahead of the Summit and the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly. The briefing would be live on UN Web TV.
Global Fund’s results report
Ann Vaessen, for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, spoke about the Global Fund’s 2023 Results Report, to be published on 18 September (when the embargo would be lifted). The good news was that in 2022, thanks to the tireless efforts, adaptations and innovations by governments, communities and partners, the Global Fund partnership had put an unprecedented number of people on antiretroviral treatment for HIV; they had found and put on treatment more people with TB than ever before; and they had distributed a record number of mosquito nets to prevent malaria. All those were better than pre-COVID results, stressed Ms. Vaessen.
Despite this progress, the world was still off track to reach the SDG 3 related to HIV, TB, and malaria by 2030. Efforts, in particular, needed to be redoubled to eliminate inequities connected to those diseases. In many countries where the Global Fund invested, progress had been made more difficult due to the interconnected crises, including climate change, conflict, and reversal of human rights in many places, including gender equality.
On a positive note, the Global Fund partnerships were uniquely placed to help accelerated progress through game-changing innovations, optimizing their deployment alongside existing tools to maximize the impact of every dollar. For HIV, the dapivirine vaginal ring – the first effective, woman-controlled HIV prevention option – provided an additional new tool to give girls and women the power to protect themselves from HIV infection. For TB, key innovations included new diagnostic tools, such as mobile X-rays and lower-cost molecular diagnostics, new treatments, such as the bedaquiline, pretomanid, linezolid and moxifloxacin combination therapy for drug-resistant TB and the new short course tuberculosis preventive treatment called 3HP. For malaria, there were a range of innovations in vector control, prevention, diagnosis and treatments that would help us combat the alarming trends in infections and deaths. For example, dual active ingredient bed nets, combining pyrethroid and chlorfenapyr, which would be available at scale from 2024, were dramatically more effective than standard pyrethroid-only bed nets, informed Ms. Vaessen.
Human Rights Council
Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that currently the Council was discussing the rights of older persons. This afternoon, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights would present a report on economic, social and cultural rights in the context of recovery from COVID-19. Today, at 1 pm, Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, would present her report on the impact of unilateral measures on the right to health.
On 18 September, informed Mr. Sim, the Council would discuss the topics of arbitrary detention, slavery, promotion of democratic and equitable international order. The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia would hold a press conference on 18 September at 1:30 pm. Further details on HRC54 can be found here.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning the review of the report of Togo. On 18 September, at 11:30 am, the Committee would have a public meeting in the Palais des Nations to launch its General Comment 26 on children’s rights and environment with a special focus on climate change.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances was reviewing this morning the report (on additional information) of the Netherlands. On 18 September, at 10 am, it would begin consideration of the report of Nigeria.
The annual session of the Conference on Disarmament officially closed today.
On 21 September, from 4 to 6 pm, informed Ms. Vellucci, next Geneva Peace Talks would take place in Room XVII at the Palais des Nations. The event would consist of several speakers sharing their inspirational stories of peace.