UN Geneva Press Briefing - 31 May 2024
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Press Conferences | IOM , FAO , OCHA , DDR , WHO , ITU , WMO

UN Geneva Press Briefing - 31 May 2024

UN GENEVA PRESS BRIEFING

31 May 2024

 

Alessandra Vellucci of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Papua New Guinea, the Department of Peace Operations, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Organization for Migration, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunication Union and the World Meteorological Organization.

 

 

Update on the ongoing landslide response in Papua New Guinea 

Richard Howard, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea, speaking from Port Moresby, said only seven bodies had been recovered from the landslide site. An estimated 7,849 people had been affected by the landslides and would receive humanitarian support. Some 150 structures around the landslide site had been destroyed. A geotechnical team had arrived from New Zealand today to survey the terrain. The security situation was still affected by tribal fighting but was not yet impacting aid delivery. The bridge leading to the site area, which collapsed on May 28 had been repaired, but was still unstable. Immediate needs included removing bodies, geotechnical analysis, food supplies, clothing, shelter, medical supplies, water purification, relocation support, logistical support, and information management support for the Government.

 

A key challenge included the safety of the landslide area; it was thought that water was under the rubble, which could prevent heavy machinery from being used to assist with recoveries. Security in the area was another challenge, as conflict dynamics were unpredictable, and the distribution of relief supplies could trigger additional conflict. The priority was for safe search operations to be carried out as soon as possible. An unprecedented number of partners had mobilized to support the response. This was a significant coordination challenge for the UN, who were working hard to ensure a fast, well targeted, and accountable response. The international response had been overwhelmingly positive, and this was appreciated by the local Government. There was a need to move towards early recovery, to help the Government find long-term solutions to address future disasters and help the community rebuild sustainably.

 

Serhan Aktoprak, Chief of Mission in Papua New Guinea, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also speaking from Port Moresby, said despite support, operational challenges remained. Organizational capacity needed to be established and maintained, to ensure effective and timely responses. This was where the UN and partners could contribute. Robin Yakumb had been appointed to oversee operations in Wabag, which was positive news. The team had worked closely with Mr. Yakumb, and he had their full support. The displacement matrix tracking team had prepared a detailed map of the area which would be disseminated widely after the press conference. IOM was currently mobilizing capabilities to establish a communications support hub, which would help solve communications challenges.

 

Responding to questions, Mr. Aktoprak said since 24 May, two neighboring tribes, located halfway between the capital and the disaster site, had started fighting over a dispute that went back over several years, originating from two families of the neighboring tribes. Since 25 May, 12 people had been killed and many homes and shops had been burnt down. Women and children had become displaced. When the tribes were fighting, they did not immediately pose a threat to passers-by; however, the dangers arose because some criminal groups wished the capitalize on this chaos, through robberies and looting. For this reason, humanitarian convoys were provided with military security. Currently, no attacks had been recorded on the UN or humanitarian convoys, but this was always a risk. This issue was not connected to the one of landslides.

 

Responding to questions, Mate Bagossy, Humanitarian Coordination Advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team in Papua New Guinea, speaking from Port Moresby, said the total affected population including those in need was 7,849 individuals, or 1,427 households. As per IOM's first displacement tracking matrix, among those, there were 1,650 individuals or 315 households that were displaced. The rest had remained in their houses but would be subject to relocation or evacuation at later stages.

 

Updates on the food security situation in Afghanistan and the severe flash flood impacts in Northern and Northeastern Region

 

Richard Trenchard, for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Afghanistan, speaking from Kabul, said this week the FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) had released the latest IPC (Integrated Phase Classification) report. The latest IPC report for Afghanistan provided an estimate of the current levels of food insecurity, and a projection covering the period from now until the post-harvest period, May-October 2024. The figures indicated a continuing positive trend, with 14.2 million people estimated to be currently facing acute food insecurity, 37 per cent of Afghanistan’s total population, and a further fall to 12.4m people in the post-harvest period, equivalent to 28 per cent of the population. The latest numbers revealed a dramatic fall from early 2022, when nearly 23 million people were facing acute food insecurity, around 55 per cent of the population.

 

This fall was due to the resilience of Afghanistan’s farmers, the relative improvements in climatic conditions following four years of drought, and the growing stabilization in the Afghan economy. It was also the result of enormous levels of humanitarian and non-humanitarian assistance in 2022 and 2023, including both WFP-led humanitarian food assistance and FAO-led emergency agricultural assistance. However, 14 million people meant that Afghanistan remained amongst the world’s largest food insecurity crises. The food security situation remained extremely fragile, particularly due to the likelihood of climate-induced shocks and the fragility of the economic context. The current funding situation for FAO and WFP remained bleak, risking reversals in positive trends. The consequences of inaction or delayed action were high, including increased levels of malnutrition and food insecurity; highly vulnerable rural livelihoods; and increased displacement risks.

 

Mr. Trenchard then provided an update on severe flash flood impacting the Northern and Northeastern Region. In May this year, the people of Afghanistan had suffered unprecedentedly strong and destructive flash floods across a wide number of provinces, causing devastation across the country’s communities and vital agricultural lands. Mr. Trenchard had returned from a three-day trip to Baghlan, one of the provinces worst hit and what he had seen was numbing: communities erased by devastating flood surges, with nothing remaining but a thick layer of mud baking hard and boulders, some as large as cars. Some families had lost everything; houses, vital livestock and agricultural crops, only a few days away from the first good harvest after four years of drought. The latest assessments indicated more than 600 fatalities, particularly children and almost 150,000 directly affected, some 50,000 hectares of agricultural land destroyed, more than 20,000 livestock destroyed and over 100,000 orchard trees destroyed. FAO had responded, unblocking irrigation canals, helping communities dispose of dead livestock and working to keep sick animals alive. But more needed to be done to help farmers plant summer crops on flood ravaged fields that would soon be as hard as concrete. The people of Afghanistan must not be forgotten.

 

Responding to questions, Mr. Trenchard said women in Afghanistan played a vital role in agriculture. In some areas, women could be seen working in the fields, but less so in other areas. However, this was not due to restrictions but rather cultural practices. Women all across the country were involved in livestock and the sector was the biggest employer for women. There were no restrictions on Afghan women working in agriculture. Restrictions on work largely affected women in urban areas, rather than rural areas. The drop in funding was in part, due to the spiralling, multiple crises across the world. There had also been unexpected shocks including earthquakes in Iran and the returns from Pakistan, as well as the restrictions in December 2022 banning Afghan women from working for non-governmental organisations, which shocked the donor community. But the challenge for Afghanistan was primarily the pull of the other crises.

 

Inter-Agency Standing Committee statement on the situation in Sudan

 

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said nineteen global humanitarian organizations, including 12 UN agencies, today warned that if they continued to be prevented from providing aid in Sudan a famine would likely take hold in large parts of the country; more people would flee to neighbouring countries; children would succumb to disease and malnutrition; and women and girls would face even greater suffering and dangers.

 

The Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee said in a statement that time was running out for millions of people, including 3.6 million acutely malnourished children. In March and April of this year, nearly 860,000 people were denied humanitarian aid. Aid workers were also being killed, most recently on 25 May when a Médecins Sans Frontières staff member was killed when shelling hit his house in Al Fasher in Darfur. Other aid workers had been injured and harassed, and humanitarian supplies were being looted. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Principals urgently requested the parties to the conflict to: take immediate measures to protect civilians and end sexual and gender-based violence; facilitate humanitarian access through all cross-border routes; and immediately cease denying, obstructing, or politicizing humanitarian action, among other actions.

 

The full statement is available here.


Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said yesterday the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, reminded all parties of their obligations to avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

 

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke said he had also seen the reports that the Sudanese Armed Forces had refused to go into negotiations with the Rapid Support Forces. If this was their position, it was not the one OCHA would like them to adopt. It was hoped the generals could find a way to solve their differences without violence. Famine was on the horizon, with 3.6 million children who were acutely malnourished. UNICEF would provide updated figures soon.

 

Gaza

 

Responding to questions, Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the United States military floating pier was not a UN operation. All ways of getting aid in were welcome. If this was not working, this was bad news. However, this project could never be the major pipeline for aid. The only way to get aid in at scale and speed was at land crossings, which was where the challenges lay. They needed to be open and safe. OCHA insisted that the Israeli authority’s facilitation of aid delivery did not just stop at the border. The aid that was getting in, but it was not getting to the people who needed it, which was a major problem. There needed to be additional help. All parties needed to live up to their obligations under the law and provide safe and unimpeded access, so OCHA could access the drop off point and get aid to the people. The people in Gaza were certainly not getting the amount they desperately needed to prevent famine. Currently, very little aid was going around.

 

Responding to further questions, Mr. Laerke said he could not provide truck numbers at the moment, but the official numbers of trucks were being tracked online by UNRWA.

 

Responding to questions, Alessandra Vellucci, said the United Nations would not comment on the draft bill being discussed before Israeli parliament to designate UNRWA as a terrorist organization. The UN had been vocal in the defense of UNRWA, which was the backbone of the humanitarian activities in the region.

 

In response to questions, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said a post-monitoring survey had been conducted, which showed that showed 95 percent of children aged six to 23 months, were eating two or less different food groups per day, as opposed to the optimal eight. Most shockingly, 85 percent of children did not eat for a full day. These were children under five who were not getting food all day. Were the supplies getting through? No, children were starving.

 

Responding to further questions, Mr Laerke said the consequences of the seizure of the Philadelphi corridor, was difficult to predict. The situation on the ground was fluid. More military action was generally unhelpful for humanitarian action. Military action needed to cease, and this was the only way aid could be distributed properly.

 

2024 Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Symposium

 

Gabriella Ginsberg-Fletcher, for the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), Disarmament Demobilization & Reintegration (DDR), said next week, the annual symposium on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) would be hosted in Geneva. This was the biggest meeting on DDR of the year, bringing together specialists from around the world within and beyond the UN, including national and regional DDR actors. All were welcome to attend the high-level opening event on the morning of June 4th, from 09:00 – 11:30am, in the Varembé Conference Centre, to gain a better understanding of DDR. DDR worked across the entire peace continuum, with UN entities, member States, regional organizations and other partners, preventing recruitment into armed groups, mitigating threats posed by armed groups, and supporting those who had left armed groups.

 

The United Nations Department of Peace Operations (DPO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were co-organizing the DDR symposium and high-level event next week, with financial support from Switzerland. Thomas Kontogeorgos, Chief of the DDR Section at the UN Department of Peace Operations, and Glaucia Boyer, the Global Adviser on Reintegration and DDR, at the United Nations Development Programme, were both in Geneva, and were available next week to speak more about the symposium. Experts from around 20 countries would also be present, as well as governmental authorities, UN agencies, funds and programmes and strategic partners. Journalists looking for interviews or further information should contact Sarah Bell or Ms. Ginsberg-Fletcher. At the end of the week-long exchange, the DDR Community aimed to propose a DDR pact for the future, which would signify the DDR community’s commitment to the Secretary General’s New Agenda for Peace. UNDP and DPO would be able to connect with the media after next week, to share insights from the event.

 

Responding to questions, Ms. Ginsberg-Fletcher said the high-level opening event was accessible to everyone and was off UN premises, so a UN badge was not required. The rest of the week was open only to participants of the DDR symposium. She would share her notes and the list of participants. Those looking for access to interviews could coordinate with her or Sarah.

 

Responding to a question on why the event was closed to the media, Ms Ginsberg-Fletcher said the event was the annual symposium for practitioners to reflect internally, but the high-level opening would be for all. Ms Ginsberg-Fletcher said representatives from national DDR commissions were attending the event. Other events had included engaging with ex-combatants of armed groups, but this event was not for them. She would consult with her UNDP colleagues and would share any further information she could.

 

Announcements

 

David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said the WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event and ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit would both conclude Friday afternoon. ITU would host a press conference at 13:00 CEST featuring brain-machine technology at the International Conference Center Geneva (CICG), and with remote access. Reporters were encouraged to come early to account for the occasional long lines and wait times and pick up their secondary badge which was required for access. There would be two closing releases provided to reporters today, on both events.

 

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said WMO would be releasing the new report on El Nino and La Nina on Monday, and would send out a press release later today, embargoed for Monday morning at 10 a.m. Geneva time. On Wednesday, WMO would release the temperature predictions for the forthcoming five years. This report was compiled with long range forecasting centers led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office and would be released to coincide with the major climate policy speech by the UN Secretary General in New York. A press conference would be held with the WMO Deputy Secretary General and a WMO expert at 3 p.m. Geneva time in the Palais. The Conference would be embargoed to coincide with the end of the delivery of the UN Secretary General's remarks, and therefore would not be live cast on UN Web TV. It was hoped that the Director of Europe's Copernicus Climate Change Service would also join. WMO hoped to send out all the materials under embargo by Monday afternoon, or Tuesday.     

 

Alessandra Vellucci for the United Nations Information Service, said the International Day for Peacekeepers was being celebrated in Geneva at 3 p.m. today and it was hoped that journalists would attend. The final location would be decided later due to weather. The President of the International Association of Peace Soldiers and the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nepal would speak. Also, for the first time, a Major General representing SWISSINT, the centre for peace operation outside Switzerland, would speak at the event.

 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would close its 88th session this afternoon at 5pm at the Palais des Nations.

 

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families would open next Monday at 10am, during which it would review the reports of Türkiye, Senegal, and Congo.

 

Ms. Vellucci also read a statement on behalf of the World Trade Organization (WTO). On 9 June 2024, the WTO would welcome the public to its headquarters in Geneva as part of its activities to commemorate its 30th anniversary. The Open Day offered an opportunity for visitors to learn about the work of the WTO, explore its historic building and take part in various activities. The opening ceremony would be held in the Council Room, with opening addresses delivered by the WTO Director General Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala, the General Council Chair Ambassador Petter Ølberg of Norway and representatives of the Swiss authorities. No registration was required.

 

Today, 31 May, was World No Tobacco Day and 3 June was World Bicycle Day.


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