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7 January 2020

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the TV and Radio Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Special Adviser on Preparations for the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The topics addressed were: the 75th anniversary of the United Nations; the situation in Idlib, Syria; the situation in West Darfur, Sudan; the Australian bushfires; the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report 2020; and the Illicit Trade Forum.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations

Fabrizio Hoschschild, Special Adviser on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, said that the anniversary came against a challenging backdrop, which included rising tensions and a “world on fire”, as the climate crisis rages on. In spite of this, the achievements of the previous seventy-five years should not be forgotten: life expectancy, literacy rates, and poverty eradication, among other indexes, were all areas in which significant progress had been made. The question was whether the next generations would witness the same kind of progress. On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the United Nations was launching a large-scale global conversation to hear and assess voices from around the world; those views gathered through multiple streams would be presented to the world leaders at the UN Summit in New York on 21 September. Media support was critical to get the word out and to solicit views from different audiences.

Responding to a number of questions, Mr. Hoschchild highlighted that at the end of March, a large-scale youth forum would be held in New York; on 22-24 April there would be a series of major events in Geneva; on 24 June, the day of the signing of the Charter, would be marked in San Francisco; on 21 September, all Heads of State assembled in New York would be presented the findings of the global conversation and invited to discuss a joint declaration; in November, in Abu Dhabi, the United Nations would open its pavilion at the World Expo. Mr. Hoschchild clarified that the budget for conducting and analyzing the global conversations and the entire 75th anniversary stood at USD 11.5 million, and it completely came from voluntary contributions from countries and foundations. Moderated conversations from around the globe would be summarized online and analyzed with the help of artificial intelligence tools; new technologies would be richly used in that process, Mr. Hoschchild stressed.

Press release on the seventy-fifth anniversary is available here.

Situation in Idlib, Syria

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that at least 300,000 civilians had fled Idlib since the sharp escalation of hostilities in mid-December. Every day, there were disturbing reports of families caught in violence; many were sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings. Humanitarian organizations were struggling to cover the growing needs. Thirteen health facilities had recently had to suspend their work. Airstrikes and shelling were now taking place in many towns and villages on a daily basis, informed Mr. Laerke. He stressed that civilians in conflict had to be protected in line with the international law. The UN Secretary-General was reiterating his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The United Nations cross-border humanitarian operation from Turkey to Syria was one of the most scrutinized aid delivery systems in the world today; 2.7 million people relied on that operation for their survival. The renewal of the provisions of the UN Security Council 2165 resolution was thus critical.

Answering to questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke stated that there was “no plan B” for the ongoing operation. It was the only viable way to reach the people in need. Mr. Laerke stated that the millions of people in Idlib were indeed trapped with nowhere to escape. Between May and August 2019, at least 1,300 civilians had been killed by airstrikes and shelling; more recent figures were currently not available.

The statement by Mark Cutts, Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, on the deteriorating situation in Idlib is available here.

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), reiterated that Turkey was hosting the largest refugee population in the world. All countries in the region were currently heavily managing their borders. Every second citizen of the pre-war Syria was currently displaced, either in Syria or abroad.

Situation in West Darfur, Sudan

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the violence between communities in and around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State, had reportedly killed at least 54 people, injured 60 and displaced 40,000, since 28 December. Thousands of people had crossed the border into Chad seeking refuge in villages near the border. Those displaced within West Darfur had taken refuge in schools and government buildings, and the United Nations and partners were supporting the government response and that of national partners. The situation in the affected area was currently calm and seemed to be stabilizing.

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), added that at least 3,700 people, including more than 2,000 women and 500 children under five, who had crossed the border between West Darfur and Chad had been identified by UNHCR teams. The conditions were dire, and most refugees were staying out in the open; food and water were urgently needed.

More details on the situation in West Darfur is available here.

Australian bushfires

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), stated that the bushfires had killed 22 people, destroyed hundreds of homes and led to massive devastation in Australia, creating hazardous air quality, some of which had reached even South America. The skies over central Chile were reported to be grey with smoke, the transport of which could be followed thanks to satellite data. Roughly one-third of the Kangaroo Island, a popular holiday destination in Australia, had burned. The fires were burning the forests which were essential for clearing carbon dioxide. While there was a brief respite thanks to the rains at the moment, the temperatures were expected to rise again by the end of the week, warned Ms. Nullis. The year 2019 in Australia had been unusually dry and had set conditions for a long and challenging fire season, according to an Australian own government agency. The hottest day ever on record had been 19 December 2019, with an average high at 41.9 degree Celsius across the country. Nationally, November rainfall had been very much below average, the driest on record out of 120 Novembers since 1900. There should be no doubt that climate change was playing a role in the process; short-term seasonal variability was also a factor.

Replying to questions, Ms. Nullis stated that the Australian federal authorities had indeed warned of a long and challenging fire season. Factors in play were also wind direction, wind speed and land management. “We are not out of woods yet,” stressed Ms. Nullis. Australia was projected to experience future increases in both sea and air temperatures, the country’s meteorological agency had predicted. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had also said that climate change had a critical role to play in fire regimes.

Regarding the health impact of wild fires, Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions were most impacted by fires and smoke inhalation. The quality of the air was also impacted by increased pollutants.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that the press conference at which the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report 2020 would be presented would take place in Press Room I on 15 January at 2:30 p.m. The report would be under embargo until 16 January.

Ms. Huissoud also informed that on 3-4 February, UNCTAD would organize the Illicit Trade Forum. More information is available here.

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The webcast of this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog070120