Geneva Press Briefing - 05 March 2024
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Press Conferences

Geneva Press Briefing - 05 March 2024

UN GENEVA PRESS BRIEFING

5 March 2024

 Situation in Gaza

Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, speaking from Jerusalem, stated that more than 30,500 people had been killed in Gaza, while almost 72,000 people had been injured, and an estimated 8,000 people were believed to be under the rubble. Over two million people were experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe and utter desperation, which was leading to regular breakdowns of law and order. People were living in unsanitary conditions and facing extreme food insecurity. The healthcare system was collapsing, with only one third of all hospitals partly functioning. Infrastructural damages across the Gaza Strip were immense, which would take decades, rather than years, to rebuild. WHO and partners had regained access to north Gaza, and on 1 March they had reached the Al-Shifa Hospital to deliver 19,000 liters of fuel and lifesaving supplies for 150 patients and treatments for 50 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Enormous destruction had been observed, along with malnutrition. On 3 March, WHO and partners had been able to access Kamal Adwan and Al-Awda hospital for the first time since 7 October. The situation at Al-Awda Hospital was particularly appalling, as one of the buildings had been destroyed. Dr. Peeperkorn explained that the Kamal Adwan Hospital was the only pediatrics hospital in the north of Gaza and is overwhelmed with patients. WHO managed to deliver 9,500 liters of fuel to each hospital, and some essential medical supplies - just a fraction of the urgent lifesaving needs.

While having access to the north was welcome, what was really needed was sustained and safe humanitarian access; more entries to the north were needed and more paths should be made available. The WHO estimated that some 8,000 Gazans needed to be referred for medical treatment outside of Gaza. Dr. Peeperkorn said that the Al-Shifa Hospital, a level-three facility, had to be supported and revived. There had been over 350,000 cases of upper respiratory illnesses, and a quarter of millions of cases of diarrhea, along with jaundice, scabies, chickenpox and rashes. In the north, one out of six children under the age of two were acutely malnourished, warned Dr. Peeperkorn. Malnutrition had never been an issue before, he said. Now, as many as 90 percent of children under two faced difficulties accessing the right quantity and quality of food. The UN was ready to bring much more food to the north if it was allowed unrestricted and safe access.

Dr. Ahmed Dahir, Head of World Health Organization (WHO) Gaza sub-office, speaking from Gaza, reiterated that, over the weekend, the WHO and partners had been able to visit three hospitals in the north. The routes to the north were in terrible shape, and no videos could fully transmit the real picture on the ground. The health system was struggling to survive. It was heartbreaking to witness the desperation of the people, both health care workers and patients alike. Hospital staff were demonstrating amazing resilience and commitment to their patients, working around the clock in extremely difficult conditions. The Kamal Adwan Hospital was the only pediatric hospital in the north, stressed Dr. Dahir. As of 3 March, 15 children were reported by the Ministry of Health as having died of malnutrition and dehydration at the Kamal Adwan Hospital. Lack of fuel at Kamal Adwan posed a serious threat to patient care, especially in the ICU and the neonatal unit. The hospital received 400 daily trauma, pediatric, and medical cases. There were six operational dialysis machines serving 35 patients daily. Dr. Dahir stressed that the north needed ongoing support. Sustained access for humanitarian partners was of paramount importance.

Responding to numerous questions from the media, James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), referring to a statement by Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that at least ten children in the Kamal Adwan Hospital had died of malnutrition and dehydration as of 3 March. He explained the difficult steps taken by medical staff to keep dehydrated, dying children alive. Around 220,000 children had been affected by infectious diseases in recent weeks. In Rafah alone, there were at least 5,000 children with acute malnutrition; the malnutrition rates in the north were three times higher than those in Rafah. Conditions to declare famine had not been reached yet, but that did not mean that the situation was not already beyond dire. It was hoped that this would not become a chronic emergency that would last for 6, 12 or 24 months. Every child in Gaza would be likely to need some psychosocial support, he said. Their traumas and post-traumatic stress disorder would unfortunately last for many years. The only way out of this would first be a ceasefire and then a sustained peace; Gaza was still home to an approximate 1.1 million children.

Dr. Peeperkorn, for the WHO, reiterated that in Gaza, malnutrition had not been an issue ever before. In northern Gaza, over 15 percent of children under five were suffering of wasting, unprecedented figures globally. A joint London School of Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins University study presented projections of excess deaths in different scenarios. The projections covered the period from 7 February to 6 August and covered three different scenarios: ceasefire; status quo; and escalation. Over the next six months the report estimated that, with no epidemics occurring, the projection for the ceasefire scenario would be 6,550 excess deaths, for the status quo scenario 58,260 excess deaths, and for the escalation scenario 74,290 excess deaths. With epidemics occurring, the projection for the ceasefire scenario would be 11,580 excess deaths, for the status quo scenario 66,720 excess deaths, and for the escalation scenario 85,750 excess deaths.

Only 2,293 patients had been evacuated from Gaza so far, informed Dr. Peeperkorn. Many more patients needed to be evacuated, and Egypt, along with other countries in the region, were ready to receive the gravest patients and their companions. The complex process currently in place would need be simplified and expedited, he said. Mr. Elder explained that “famine” was a critical term because of the coverage it got, but the terminology did not make much difference for malnurtured children on the ground. Dr. Peeperkorn stressed that this scenario could be averted by allowing influx of aid, and safe access to healthcare for all. Gaza had to return to food production as soon as possible. Gaza had been largely food self-sufficient before the current conflict, he reminded. A functional deconflicting mechanism was needed. Dr. Peeperkorn and Dr. Dahir both spoke of the impressive resilience and commitment of Gaza’s health workers and numerous volunteers who did all they could to keep the ravaged health system running against all odds.

Dr. Peeperkorn said that the data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health was quite accurate. The WHO had always received data from the Ministry of Health. Like anywhere else in the world, every two years the WHO would assess the Ministry’s data, and historically the data provided by the Ministry had been rendered accurate and reliable. Dr. Peeperkorn feared that the number of people still under rubble could be higher than currently believed. Over 1,500 amputations had been completed in Gaza since the start of the war, according to the Ministry of Health, said Dr. Peeperkorn in a response to another question. Long-term psychosocial and mental health support for different population groups, including children, adolescents, and health workers, were very much needed.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), clarified that there had been no air drops of aid by the United Nations, which continued to explore all possible avenues. The priority would be to scale up land transport, which could bring in larger quantities of aid. If not now, when was the time to pull the breaks to the fighting and flood Gaza with the much-needed aid, asked Mr. Laerke. In recent days, over 100 trucks per day had been entering Gaza, compared to the daily average of 500 before the war. Much more was needed. Closure of UNRWA would mean breaking the backbone of the humanitarian operation in Gaza, stressed Mr. Laerke. How people were treated in detainment was primarily a human rights issue, said Mr. Laerke answering another question. 

El Niño Update

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the 2023-2024 El Niño event had peaked in late December, being among the five strongest on record. It was now weakening but it would continue to affect the global climate in the coming months. This El Niño had fueled heat trapped by the greenhouse gases. This naturally occurring events were now taking place in the context of the climate altered by human activities, said Ms. Nullis. The latest update from WMO says there was about a 60 percent chance of El Niño persisting during March-May and an 80 percent chance of neutral conditions (neither El Niño or La Niña) from April to June.

“Every month since June 2023 has set a new monthly temperature record – and 2023 was by far the warmest year on record. El Niño has contributed to these record temperatures, but heat-trapping greenhouse gases are unequivocally the main culprit. Ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific clearly reflect El Niño. But sea surface temperatures in other parts of the globe have been persistently and unusually high for the past 10 months. The January 2024 sea-surface temperature was by far the highest on record for January. This is worrying and cannot be explained by El Nino alone,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo.

Ms. Nullis explained that the WMO El Niño/La Niña and Global Seasonal Climate Updates as part of the Early Warnings for All initiative were based on forecasts from WMO Global Producing Centres of Long-Range Forecasts and are available to support governments, the United Nations, humanitarian agencies, and decision-makers to mobilize preparations and protect lives and livelihoods.

More information is available here

Replying to questions, Ms. Nullis said that the WMO issued El Niño updates four times per year, and more frequently if needed. Global seasonal climate update were issued monthly.

Human Rights Council 

Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that today, the Council had started the consideration of the item 3 on the agenda - promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The Council was holding an interactive dialogue with Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse of children. In the afternoon, the Council would hold an interactive dialogue with Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. Finally, the HRC would hold an interactive dialogue with Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The following day, informed Mr. Sim, the Council would hold dialogues on the right of persons with albinism, and the right to healthy environment, and the right to peaceful assembly and association. More information is available here.

Announcements

David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), informed that on 7 March at 2 pm, there would be a press conference with ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin on ITU’s 2024 priorities.

Mr. Hirsch announced formation of the first-ever ITU SG Youth Advisory Board, which was comprised of 12 young digital experts and innovators. The 12 members had been selected from a pool of several hundred candidates and would serve in their individual capacity for two years.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the for the United Nations Information Service, said that today at 1 pm, the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) would present its report “Women in Parliament”. Speakers would be Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary General, and Mariana Duarte Mutzenberg, IPU Gender Programme.

On 7 March at 11 am, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) would release of global intellectual property (IP) statistic filings. The speaker at the virtual press conference would be Carsten Fink, Chief Economist at WIPO.

Ms. Vellucci informed that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would launch its flagship report the new Human Development report and the human development index on 13 March. Report was available on demand, and the media could reach out to Sarah Bel.

The Human Rights Committee, which had started its 140th session on 4 March, would begin this afternoon its review of the report of Chile.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which had also its 30th session the previous day, was concluding this morning its review of the report of Kazakhstan.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci reminded that on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, on 8 March, there would be a public event Peace Begins with Her’: A mosaic of portraits celebrating women and peace. An art activation at UniMail in Geneva, from 11:15 am, would be followed by a panel discussion at 6:15 pm featuring women peacebuilders, representatives of civil society, and academia with opening remarks by State Secretary for Security Policy of Switzerland Markus Mäder. All details are available here.

 


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