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04-06-2021 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 4 June 2021


Update on COVID-19 ACT Accelerator

Dr. Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to the Director-General, World Health Organization, and Head of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator Hub, stated that the G20 Global Health Summit, the World Health Assembly, and the COVAX financing summit had all taken place in recent days. The IMF had also made a case for full financing of the COVAX mechanism and asked the world to aim for even more ambitious targets, such as vaccinating at least 40 percent of population in each country. As Dr. Tedros said, a “sprint” was now needed to achieve such ambitious goals.

Dr. Aylward stressed that we were in a fundamentally different position today to beat COVID-19 compared to just a year earlier: there were vaccines, fast and affordable tests, and a range of treatments to alleviate the conditions of the sick. More than two billion vaccine doses had been produced and distributed in over 212 countries and territories, while COVAX had reached 127 countries by now with some 80 million doses. WHO had just placed another Chinese-made vaccine, Sinovac, on its emergency listing. However, warned Dr. Aylward, some 75 percent of all global vaccine doses had gone to only ten countries, and over 60 percent thus far counted for only three countries – China, India, and the United States, while the low-income countries had received a disproportionately small percentage of vaccines. Financing alone was not enough; access to vaccines mattered as much. Beating the pandemic would require an extraordinary action by countries in a position to help both financially and with vaccine doses.

Responding to numerous questions, Dr. Aylward said that COVAX was open only to the vaccines on the WHO emergency listing. Dr. Aylward praised the decision of the US to donate 80 million of vaccine doses to the COVAX mechanism in June. Many countries had signed bilateral donation agreements since the establishment of the COVAX mechanism, which had affected the numbers of doses assigned to each country. Brazil was doing a fantastic job in scaling up vaccine production, said Dr. Aylward in a response to another question. He explained that the official global financing gap mark stood at USD 18 billion, but after accounting in for the recent COVAX financing summit, the number would go to under USD 17 billion, which included mostly diagnostics, testing, and treatment, such as oxygen and dextamethasone, in addition to vaccines.

Dr. Aylward further explained that there was a commitment of some 150 million doses of vaccines to be donated through COVAX, but relatively few of those were committed for June and July, and there would be a need for twice as many vaccine donations to achieve the immediate target of vaccinating 250 million people in the least and less developed countries. The overall aim was to get as many vaccines to as many places as possible and as quickly as possible. The goal was to prevent serious illness and death, and all approved vaccines were helping to reduce those risks, stressed Dr. Aylward. Three factors were needed to speed up the production of vaccines: secure a free flow of raw materials; use any idle capacity anywhere in the world to help the production; and start catalytic investments today in places that currently were not making products.

Food Security Situation in Sudan

Marianne Ward, Deputy Country Director Operations in Sudan for the World Food Programme (WFP), emphasized that 9.8 million people, or 21 percent of the country, were acutely hungry. With the lean season lasting until the last quarter of 2021, over the next six months the WFP was still USD 48 million short to meet the needs of those people. It had been a tough year in Sudan, including problems with displacement, droughts, and locusts, among other factors. Furthermore, the basic food basket for Sudan had increased 220 percent compared to a year earlier.

Ms. Ward explained how the WFP had been expanding its school feeding programmes. The situation was extremely difficult and there was a need for continuous international support. Sudan had a huge agricultural potential which was waiting to be put to good use. After the lifting of the sanctions, Sudan was now once again open to business in the way it had not been for 30 years. There was also a hope that some long-lasting conflicts could be coming to an end. Nutrition and malnutrition were both an emergency and structural issues in Sudan, said Ms. Ward.

More information on the WFP’s work in Sudan is here.

Dominique Burgeon, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization Liaison Office in Geneva, added that acute food insecurity meant that people had to cut down on both the quality and the quantity of the food they were eating. An integrated food security package, including agriculture support, community resilience building, and food assistance, was necessary.

Displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that deadly attacks by the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) had forced some 5,800 people to flee multiple displacement sites in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri Province.

On 31 May, ADF had simultaneously attacked displacement sites and villages near the towns of Boga and Tchabi, killing 57 civilians – including seven children – who had been shot and attacked with machetes. In Boga town alone, 31 women, children and men had been killed. Bereaved family members told UNHCR partners that many of their relatives had been burnt alive in their houses.

Insecurity in the area was also affecting humanitarian work. Health centres were forced to temporarily suspend their activities and evacuate their staff to Bunia, Ituri’s capital city.

UNHCR teams were currently on the ground assessing the needs of forcibly displaced people and the host community.

UNHCR briefing note is here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that on 1 June, the Secretary-General had also issued a statement strongly condemning the attacks in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and supported the efforts to bring peace and stability to this region of the country. The mandate of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, included taking action to secure protection of civilians, said Ms. Vellucci in a response to a question.

New asylum law in Denmark

In an answer to a question, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR strongly opposed efforts to outsource or externalize asylum processing to third countries. Such moves ran contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention and threatened to erode the international protection system. UNHCR had raised repeatedly its concerns and objections to the Danish Government’s proposal and has offered advice and pragmatic alternatives. UNHCR would continue to engage in discussions with Denmark.

Full comment by UNHCR is here.

World Food Safety Day

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that on 7 June, the United Nations would mark the third global World Food Safety Day 2021, led by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with the Codex Alimentarius Secretariat.

Dominique Burgeon, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization Liaison Office in Geneva, stated that food safety was a big part of food security. Every year, some 600 million fell ill and 420,000 people died from eating food contaminated by viruses and bacteria. It also led to serious productivity losses.

World Food Safety Day aimed to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. Food safety was a shared responsibility, and everyone had a role to play including governments, industry, producers, business operators and consumers, which was reflected in the slogan of the day ‘Food safety is everyone’s business’.

FAO was fully engaged with promoting food safety standards, through Codex Alimentarius, to direct support to a number of countries. In a response to a question, Mr. Burgeon said that food security depended on availability, access, utilization, and stability. Food safety was an issue of people’s education, including farmers and consumers, but also of regulatory frameworks.

More information on the World Food Safety Day is here.

International Labour Conference

Sophy Fisher, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed that the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) would hold a plenary session on 7 June, and would be addressed by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Guy Parmelin; ILO’s Director-General, Guy Ryder; and the Chairperson of the Governing Body would also present their report, which would cover two years.

The items on the June segment of the ILC agenda included: a special COVID-19 outcome document; the ILO’s programme and budget for 2022-23; the recurrent discussion on social protection; reports on the application of labour standards during the pandemic; the World of Work Summit; the World Day Against Child Labour, and the launch of a report on child labour.

More information on the ILC, and to follow the Conference live, use this link.

Other announcements

Dominique Burgeon, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), informed about the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aimed to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. The Decade would be formally launched by the United Nations on 5 June, the World Environment Day.

Mr. Burgeon also informed that the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing was today, and that there would be an online event at 3 p.m. Geneva time: Closing the net on IUU fishing. It would be a digital talk with an incredible line-up of experts and ocean lovers to learn how IUU fishing was impacting our lives and our ocean and what could be done to stop it.

Finally, Mr. Burgeon said that the just published FAO Food Price Index posts showed fastest monthly increase to reach highest value since September 2011. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 127.1 points in May, 4.8 percent higher than in April and 39.7 percent higher than in May 2020.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that UNCTAD would publish the following week the 2021 edition of the UNCTAD Development and Globalization: Facts and Figures which is dedicated to Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Their contributions and vulnerabilities would be key aspects of the discussions during our upcoming UNCTAD 15 Conference hosted by Barbados in October 2021.

A virtual press conference would take place on 9 June at 11:30 a.m.

Sophy Fisher, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), also said that the joint ILO/UNICEF report Child Labour: 2020 Global estimates, trends and the road forward, to be launched on 10 June, would outline the latest trends and numbers of children in child labour, globally and by region. The report would include estimates of those at additional risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic; breakdowns by age; and latest data on children in hazardous work. Embargo was in place until 10 June 1 a.m. Geneva time. ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, and UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, would present the report in a virtual press briefing on 9 June from 5:30 to 6:30 Geneva time.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that the Conference on Disarmament would hold on 8 June, at 10 a.m., a public plenary meeting, devoted to a debate on item 4 of the Agenda - effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding today at 4 p.m. its 87th session.

5 June would be the World Environment Day, and on that occasion the Secretary-General would participate in the launch of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration Launch, 3 p.m. Geneva time.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci informed that as of today, 270 cases of COVID-19 had thus far been reported among staff of the UN Secretariat in Geneva.

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