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01-06-2021 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 1 June 2021


350,000 people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Goma

Jackie Keegan, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the Agency continued to assist thousands of people affected by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo near the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 22 May. Some 350,000 people were estimated to be urgent need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 450,000 people had fled Goma, about 120,000 arriving in the town of Sake, North Kivu. Most of the 8,000 people who had crossed the border into Rwanda had since returned. Many of the displaced were being sheltered by host families, while others were staying in overcrowded churches and schools. Displaced people were in urgent need of housing and basic items, and were unable to return to their homes following an evacuation order for the eight neighbourhoods of Goma that were most at risk of another eruption.

Immediately after arriving in Sake, UNHCR had begun assisting people who had left Goma followed the evacuation order. Since 28 May, it had been providing communal shelters to decongest schools and churches, and core relief items including tarpaulins, blankets and hygiene kits. The assistance had been provided as part of the international community’s ongoing efforts, but was not enough to cover all the needs. Assessments on the ground showed that shelter, food and water were all urgently needed. UNHCR was now focusing on building a site that would allow the displaced persons to leave schools and churches, and permit children to get back into the classroom. It had also sent a team to Rutshuru, 70 kilometers northeast of Goma, to assist efforts there and connect with a large number of refugees who were already in the area

UNHCR had already been facing a huge challenge North Kivu province before this latest displacement, as conflicts and violence had uprooted over 2 million people in the province, including 450,000 in 2021 alone.

The full briefing note can be found here UNHCR - Some 350,000 people in urgent need of help in Goma.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that according to individual assessments carried out by the Organization’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo had forced more than 415,000 people, nearly half of whom were minors, to leave Goma. About 114,000 people had moved to Masisi and a further 77,000 had travelled to Rutshuru, while roughly 52,000 people had crossed the border into Rwanda. Displaced persons had fled mainly on foot but also by boat, vehicles, motorcycles, buses and trucks. People were still mobile, with some leaving and a small number returning to Goma.

Should the displacement last, IOM considered that it would be to prevent the spread of epidemics, facilitate humanitarian assistance and send children back to school. It was particularly concerned about the health hazards linked to the eruption itself, the lack of access to clean water and the increased burden on health facilities. To address the risk of outbreaks, particularly cholera, and mental health and psychosocial needs, IOM was boosting disease surveillance efforts among displaced and host communities, looking for ways to scale up services, and supporting health facilities through donations, training and more.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP had started providing emergency food rations to those displaced from their homes in the Goma area. Together with partners, it had delivered food to approximately 16,000 internally displaced people in Sake, and had extended food distribution to nearby Rutshuru and Minova. In addition, displaced persons would receive a 10-day ration of flour, pulses, oil and salt from 31 May.

The families that had fled were completely reliant on the Government and aid agencies to meet their basic needs. WFP had responded to the eruption by immediately loading food onto trucks and delivering it to the towns where thousands of people were desperately waiting for food assistance. Based on its assessments, it aimed to reach 40,000 people in Sake, 65,000 in Minova and 60,000 in Rutshuru, while also providing emergency food assistance to those who had crossed the border into Rwanda. In the coming days, WFP would work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to deliver food to 300 children who had been separated from their families.

Responding to journalists, Jackie Keegan, for UNHCR, said that the Agency had been working on the ground in Sake since 28 May and was coordinating with UNICEF and NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance, including food and water deliveries, and to reunite separated children with their families. Most of the people in urgent need of assistance were concentrated in Sake. WFP was organizing daily flights from Kinshasa and Bukavu to allow humanitarian workers to access the area. Not all of Goma had been evacuated; the Agency was still able to access its facilities in parts of the city. Despite the constant aftershocks, UNHCR had maintained a small team of international staff in Goma in order to support its broader efforts in North Kivu province. She had observed that some people were returning to the parts of the city that had not been prioritized for evacuation, although the Government did not yet recommend the return of the displaced persons.

Operational update on Tigray

Tomson Phiri, for WFP, said that since March WFP had provided emergency food assistance to over 1 million people in north-western and southern zones of Tigray region, where a total of 5.2 million people, or 91 percent of the region’s population, needed emergency food assistance due to the conflict. On Monday, Aster Beyene, a 43-year-old mother of seven from a remote rural village, who lost both her home and crops due to the conflict, became the one millionth person to collect wheat, split peas and vegetable oil from WFP.

WFP was responsible for emergency food assistance across north-western and southern zones of Tigray and planned to scale up its operations to reach 2.1 million people in its operational areas. It coordinated its response with partners and was one of three food providers operating in different zones, with WFP responsible for the north-western and southern zones. Since April, WFP had managed to access all 13 districts of north-western zone and three districts of the southern zone, assisting a total of 1.05 million people. It had also assisted 33,000 people in the eastern zone, and had recently launched a second six-week round of emergency food assistance in Korem and Ofla, two districts that had been added to its operational area. In addition, WFP was leading the emergency nutrition response across all Tigray and was scaling up to reach people in as many as 70 districts. Access, especially in rural areas, remained the primary challenge. Since February WFP had delivered 315,000 emergency nutrition rations to women and children, including pregnant and nursing women. WFP remained alarmed at the impact of conflict on already high levels of hunger and the large number of people in need of assistance. Accordingly, it was calling for US$203 million to continue to scale up its response in Tigray to save lives and livelihoods during the rest of 2021.

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Phiri added that conflict has interrupted or delayed food distribution. WFP was working closely with partners, local leaders and communities to improve access and deliver the life-saving food and nutrition support to end growing hunger in Tigray. Moreover, given that insecurity was challenging the ability of responders to assist people in need, WFP considered that a ceasefire was vital for reaching all people in need of life-saving support.

Refugee vaccination in Asia and the Pacific

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that with COVID-19 raging in many parts of the world, UNHCR was particularly concerned about shortages of vaccine in Asia and the Pacific, including for refugees and asylum-seekers. Consequently, it urged immediate and stronger support for the COVAX initiative, a worldwide effort aimed at achieving equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Such support would be critical for saving lives and curbing the impact of the virus, particularly in developing nations. Those countries hosted most of the world’s 80 million forcibly displaced people, yet so far, had benefited from only a fraction of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines. UNHCR stressed that no one could be left behind in the global effort against the coronavirus, and that the pandemic will be defeated only once vaccinations become available everywhere on an equitable basis.

Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contributed to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees were living in the largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world, the number of cases has increased considerably in the last two months.

There had also been a worrying increase in the number of cases among refugees and asylum-seekers in Nepal, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. While efforts were under way to mitigate the spread of the virus, preventive measures need to be complemented with intensified vaccinations. UNHCR therefore added its voice to the calls for countries with surplus doses to donate to COVAX, and for manufacturers to boost supplies to the facility.

The UNHCR briefing note is available here: UNHCR - UNHCR urges stronger support for refugee vaccinations in Asia

Answering a question, Mr. Mahecic said that the refugees in Cox’s Bazar were included in the national vaccination plans. Regarding the number of cases, the figures available to UNHCR were based on people who approached medical facilities to get tested. However, it was possible that the true number of cases might be.

COVID-19 situation in Nepal

Dr. Rajesh Pandav, for the World Health Organization, said that in recent weeks, Nepal had experienced a dramatic and rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The number of cases now exceeded 500,000 and over 7,300 deaths had been recorded. Last week, the country had reported over 47,000 new cases and over 1,000 deaths: the situation remained critical. Test positivity remained extremely high at about 35 per cent, while RT-PCR testing was at the upper limit of available capacity, indicating that the true case load was higher than reported. The wide circulation of the B1.617.2 variant had also been detected, but limited genome sequencing capacity did not allow for the real-time monitoring of its spread and dominance.

With new variants still emerging in the Asian region and a reliable supply of vaccines still lacking, there was a high likelihood that Nepal would witness another surge in cases. The health system was still experiencing acute shortages of essential supplies and human resources; especially oxygen, critical life support equipment and trained critical care workers. Hospitals had been forced to turn away patients and health-care workers were compelled to keep working despite their exhaustion and, in many cases, testing positive themselves.

To prepare country for the next wave, Nepal needed support from international partners to increase its hospital capacity. Moreover, the country’s reliance on imported liquid oxygen had had a detrimental impact, leading to heartbreaking stories in which patients had lost their lives due to delay in receiving oxygen. Nepal urgently needed to install oxygen plants at all COVID-19 hospitals with more than 50 beds. Concomitantly, support was needed to scale up public health interventions to prevent and contain the spread of infections. Screening and testing at border points and in communities; effective contact tracing and stringent but humane quarantine and isolation were especially important.

WHO and UNICEF had provided support for preparation and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in Nepal. However, the campaign had stalled owing to delays in supply, and only 2.1 million people, had received a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. He therefore appealed for support for and solidarity with Nepal, and called on all countries that had reserves of vaccines to consider sharing them with Nepal as a stop-gap measure, while the country continued its efforts to secure supplies through the COVAX facility. Nepalis had rightfully earned their reputation for being some of the most friendly and generous people in the world. Now they needed the world to reciprocate the generosity and to respond to the needs of Nepal.

Replying to questions from journalists, Tarik Jašarević (WHO) said that that while the Organization understood that Governments wished to protect their populations, it urged them to reconsider vaccinating low-priority groups and instead share their extra vaccine doses through the COVAX facility, so that priority groups all around the world could be vaccinated. COVAX had already shipped 72 million doses to 125 countries. It was intended that 5 per cent of doses procured through the facility would be allocated to high-risk groups in humanitarian settings.

Seasonal climate update and start of the hurricane season

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that today marked the start of the meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere. It also marked the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season was expected in 2021, even as many communities in the Caribbean, Central America and United States of America recovered from the record-breaking 2020 season. In 2021, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast a a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms, of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 5 major hurricanes. By comparison, 30 tropical storms, including 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes, had been recorded in the 2020 season.

WMO expected another active hurricane season because El Niño Southern Oscillation conditions were currently in the neutral phase, meaning that neither El Niño nor La Niña was likely to dominate the tropical Pacific in the next few months. Air temperatures were expected to be above average between June and August, especially in the northern hemisphere.

All naturally occurring climate events now took place in the context of human-induced climate change, which was increasing global temperatures, exacerbating extreme weather and impacting seasonal rainfall patterns. In a press release, WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas had said that “La Niña has a temporary global cooling effect, which is typically strongest in the second year of the event. This means that 2021 has got off to a relatively cool start – by recent standards. This should not lull us into a false sense of security that there is a pause in climate change.”

The WMO press release can be found here: https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/la-ni%C3%B1a-ends

World Environment Day and the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Alejandro Laguna, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that World Environment Day had been celebrated on 5 June since 1974. It provided a global platform for awareness-raising and action on urgent environmental issues, and thousands of events were organized across the world. This year, the host country was Pakistan, and the theme was ecosystem restoration.

On 5 June, UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) would launch the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030. The General Assembly had proclaimed the Decade following a proposal for action by over 70 countries. The Decade would provide a hub for everyone interested in restoration to find projects, partners, funding and knowledge, and aimed to build political momentum for restoration and initiatives on the ground.

Mark Grassi, for UNEP, said that UNEP welcomed the news that in the coming days, the Parliament of North Macedonia was due to vote on whether to proclaim a new national park on Shar Mountain, an area in which almost half of the country’s plant species, and much other biodiversity, could be found. The new park would also afford more space for the estimated 50 critically endangered Balkan lynx that remained in North Macedonia, and would help to halt land degradation. It represented the missing piece of a puzzle to create one of the largest transboundary protected areas in Europe. UNEP planned issue a press release and share a media package with footage and photos on the topic.


Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that Nobel laureate and economist Esther Duflo would deliver the seventeenth edition of the prestigious Raúl Prebisch Lecture online at 3 p.m. on 15 June. The lecture, entitled “Good economics for hard times” would focus on how countries could better address pressing socioeconomic challenges and ensure an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would deliver the lecture during the second edition of the United Nations Trade Forum, to be held on 14 and 15 June. The forum was one of the events leading up to quadrennial ministerial conference of UNCTAD, scheduled to take place online from 3 to 7 October in Barbados. A media advisory would be sent out on 2 June.

Daniel Vertesy, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that today ITU was launching its 2020 ICT Price Trends report, an annual publication that examined and compared the retail price information and communication services for more than 200 countries arounbd the world. The COVID-19 pandemic had made us all aware of the importance of broadband networks for economic and social prosperity. The report aimed to identify affordability gaps between and within countries and reported on the progress made by countries in reaching broadband affordability targets. It also revealed that although services were becoming more affordable worldwide, the digital divide remained an issue. Consumers in developing countries typically paid a share of their monthly income four times greater than that paid by consumers in developed countries.

Jovana Miocinovic, for ITU, said that the report could be easily found on the ITU web page, together with links to data and statistics and a visualization tool.

Michele Zaccheo, on behalf of the International Labour Organization, said that on 2 June at 11 a.m., the ILO would hold an embargoed press conference at which it would launch its report World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021. The report looked at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global labour market and the prospects for recovery. Speakers would include the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, and the Director of the ILO Research Department, Richard Samans.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that on Thursday, 3 June at 2 p.m., the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNEP would hold a press conference on the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030. Speakers would include Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the UN in Geneva, Bruno Pozzi, Director of the UNEP Europe Office, Mette Wilkie, Director of the FAO Forestry Division and Tim Christophersen, Head of the UNEPO Nature for Climate Branch. An embargoed press release and an embargoed opinion article by UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen would be shared with the media.

Mr. Zaccheo further said that the Conference on Disarmament was today holding a public plenary meeting, under the Presidency of Ambassador Salomon Eheth of Cameroon, devoted to a debate on item 3 of its agenda, prevention of an arms race in outer space. Mr. Bassem Hassan of the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations, Ms. Nathalie Archinard of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Ms. Laetitia Zarkan of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and Mr. Michael Spies of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs would give presentations. Following these presentations, delegations are invited to inform the Conference of their national space security, policies, strategies or doctrines, on a voluntary basis, in accordance with GA resolution 75/36.

Finally, Mr. Zaccheo noted that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would conclude its eighty-seventh session on Friday, 4 June at 4 p.m.

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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 1 June 2021 / 1:35:29

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