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23-07-2021 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 23 July 2021


Tigray: operational update from the World Food Programme

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) had completed the first scheduled passenger flight to Mekelle on Thursday, transporting 30 aid workers from multiple humanitarian organisations working to deliver urgently needed assistance to conflict-affected communities across Tigray. It was the first passenger flight into the region in almost a month since commercial flights had been discontinued in late June. UNHAS, managed by the WFP, would operate twice weekly scheduled flights, between Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport and Mekelle’s Alula Aba Nega International Airport facilitating the regular movement of humanitarian personnel and light cargo into and out of Tigray.

The World Food Programme was extremely concerned as the humanitarian response in the region continued to be challenged by a severe lack of sufficient food and other humanitarian supplies, limited communication services and no commercial supply chain. Mr. Phiri said that people in Tigray continued to be severely affected by the restricted access; WFP had nonetheless delivered food to over 780,000 people, including some who had now been reached with food assistance for the very first time. WFP and its nutrition partners were working hard to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy were reached across the Tigray region, but the progress in July had been slow because of the security concerns. All in all, only a fraction of people who needed to be reached were indeed being reached nowadays, warned Mr. Phiri. WFP renewed its call for faster, free and unimpeded access into Tigray to reach millions in need of life-saving food where four million people — 70 percent of the population— had high levels of acute food insecurity and need emergency assistance.

Responding to questions from the journalists, Mr. Phiri stressed that the WFP was communicating and working with all parties to conflict in order to secure a smooth and safe passage of humanitarian workers and goods into the region. While access within Tigray had improved, faster clearances and smoother passages through checkpoints were nonetheless needed. He specified that the WFP was aiming to reach 2.1 million people who were at risk in Tigray. It was projected that over 400,000 people would be suffering from a catastrophic level of hunger from this month on.

Record numbers forced to flee ongoing violence in Burkina Faso

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, as attacks on civilians and security forces by jihadist groups in Burkina Faso became more frequent and increasingly violent, UNHCR was calling for concerted action to address record-breaking numbers of people forced to flee inside the country and across international borders. 

According to new figures from the Burkina Faso Government, more than 1.3 million Burkinabè had been internally displaced in just over two years. Six per cent of Burkina Faso’s population was now displaced inside the country. The speed of internal displacement showed no sign of slowing as attacks on civilians and security forces continued unabated.

Mr. Baloch said that the UNHCR was equally alarmed by an acceleration in the numbers of people from Burkina Faso forced to cross a border to reach safety. Since January, more than 17,500 people had fled to neighbouring countries, nearly doubling the total number of refugees from the country in just six months. Neighbouring Niger was home to 11,400 Burkinabè asylum seekers, up from 7,400 at the beginning of the year. Mali currently hosted 20,000 Burkinabè asylum seekers, with 6,600 people arriving in Timbuktu region this year alone.

In northern Benin, a UNHCR mission had recently registered 179 Burkinabè asylum seekers, but thousands more were reportedly living in border areas inaccessible to humanitarian workers for security reasons. Continuing this worrying trend, Côte d’Ivoire had received its first Burkinabè asylum seekers in May when some 430 people had arrived seeking safety.

More resources were urgently needed to address growing humanitarian needs in Burkina Faso and neighbouring countries. UNHCR’s funding requirements for the Central Sahel in 2021 is USD 259.3 million. So far only half of the funds requested have been received.

UNHCR briefing note is available here.

Answering questions from the journalists, Mr. Baloch explained that displacement in the Sahel was scattered over all countries – Burkina Faso (1.4 million), Mali (more than one million), Niger (0.5 million), Chad (one million), while refugees were also found in Mauritania and Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, there were more than 2.3 million internally displaced persons in the region. As there were more attacks by the armed groups, more people were being displaced.


Responding to a question, Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the previous day, David Beasley, WFP Executive Director, had stated that he was deeply heartened by the announcement from Qatar that it would contribute USD 100 million to humanitarian operations in Yemen, where conflict, COVID and economic decline were driving a grinding hunger crisis which was in danger of slipping into famine without adequate funding. Mr. Beasley said the funding would help to stave off famine in Yemen and save millions of lives.

Mr. Phiri added that the WFP supported 12.9 million people in Yemen, and to prevent famine in Yemen, the WFP needed at least USD 1.9 billion to avert famine in 2021.

First World Drowning Prevention Day

Dr. David Meddings, Department of the Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 25 July the international community was marking the first-ever World Drowning Prevention Day. There had been 2.5 million drowning deaths over the previous decade, he explained. Drowning was now the leading cause of death for children under five in many countries.

It was a preventable problem, which was why the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution in April 2021 establishing this international day. The goal was to raise awareness of drowning as a serious, yet preventable threat, said Dr. Meddings. Drowning disproportionately affected the poor and marginalized populations with least resources to adapt to risks around them. The Western Pacific region had the highest drowning death rate, followed by the African region.

Dr. Meddings specified that flood-related mortality, deaths due to water transport mishaps (e.g. ferry capsizes, boating and fishing mishaps), and intentional drownings were not included in official statistics, meaning that estimates might significantly under-estimate the true burden.

Member States were encouraged to develop drowning prevention programming in line with WHO-recommended interventions, including providing safe places for children away from water and fencing off wells and potentially dangerous water areas. Schoolchildren should also be taught basic swimming/water safety skills. Flood risk management and safe ferry boarding procedures ought to be improved as well. Today, the WHO was issuing new guidance on two interventions - on providing daycare to children, and on providing swimming lessons.

Responding to questions, Dr. Meddings said that most drownings occurred away from the seas and the oceans, usually in smaller bodies of water; in Africa, the large majority of drowning victims were young adult men. As drowning was a multi-sectoral problem, Dr. Meddings explained, it needed to be addressed from various angles. Having an overarching UN resolution on this topic allowed the WHO to take the coordinating role and work with partners on identifying solutions. Swimming classes were relatively easy and cheap to organize in small local bodies of water, said Dr. Meddings. Ferry capsizing or migrant drownings in the Mediterranean were not included in the statistics provided for methodological reasons.

More information on the World Drowning Prevention Day can be found here.


Responding to questions from the media, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that the next press conference with Dr. Tedros would take place the following week; the exact date would be communicated later. Answering a question regarding Chinese authorities’ refusal to allow another investigative mission into the origins of the Covid-19 virus, Mr. Jašarević stressed that this investigation was not about politics or finger pointing. There was an obligation to get to the bottom of the issue and allow scientists to establish the definite origin of the virus. WHO was hoping for a constructive dialogue with China.

Forthcoming approval session and report

Jonathan Lynn, for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated that on 9 August, the IPCC would be releasing the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report dealing with physical basis of climate change. In 2022, two other parts of the report would be published, as well as a synthesis report. The opening part of the IPCC Working Group I meeting, in Geneva on 26 July at 11 a.m., would be streamed live. The press conference on 9 August at 10 a.m. would also be streamed live, and media could register here. Interviews were possible with the authors of the assessment report; more information about the authors is available here. Mr. Lynn also informed that there was a brochure available about the Sixth Assessment Report. A dozen regional fact sheets were expected to be made available. Mr. Lynn confirmed that sufficient substantive information would be made available to the media before the launch of the report so that they could work on their stories in a timely manner.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), informed that today at 5 p.m., the Human Rights Committee would hold a public meeting to mark the end of its 132nd session.

The Conference on Disarmament would resume its 2021 session on 27 July, at 10 a.m. It would hold an open discussion on transparency in armaments.

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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 23 July 2021 audio / 1:03:18

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