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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

18 September 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the World Food Programme, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that at 9 a.m. on 18 September, the Human Rights Council would hear the presentation of the report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar. At 12 p.m., the Council would continue its general debate on country situations, and at 5 p.m. would consider the report of the Advisory Committee. A press conference would be held at 12.15 p.m. on the report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar.

Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, would brief the Security Council on 18 September at 4 p.m. Geneva time. Following the briefing, Mr. de Mistura would participate in a stakeout alongside Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock. The event would be webcast live on UN Web TV.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the report of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic had been submitted to the General Assembly. At the related press conference scheduled for 20 September, the Head of the Mechanism, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, would provide an update on developments since the submission of the report.

In responding to questions, Ms. Vellucci mentioned that on 17 September, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General had indicated that the meeting between President Putin and President Erdoðan had been a very important one it was hoped that it would have a positive impact on civilians in Idlib.

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), made the following statement:

“In case of conflict and displacement in the northwest, WFP is ready to cover the needs of 1 million people with emergency food assistance prepositioned both from inside Syria and across the border in Turkey.

So far, WFP’s partners on the ground have distributed emergency ready-to-eat rations to just over 37,000 people displaced within IDLIB and recently in north Aleppo governorate.

So far, displacement in the northwest has been on a small scale. Some of the families affected by the flare up in violence in south Idlib in early September have left their villages but moved to adjacent ones to escape bombardment while the majority of the people displaced have moved to the north seeking shelter in the camps in north Idlib. A small group of people arrived recently to Afrin in north Aleppo.

Conditions in the north camps are now difficult following the flow of displaced families from south Idlib. Camps are becoming increasingly crowded and some families are forced to share one tent and there remains a shortage in medicine and non-food humanitarian items.”

Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), made the following statement:

“The government National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council is today (Sept 18) reporting that 893,000 people have been directly affected in 31 provinces, including 162,000 people being assisted in evacuation centers and 73,000 staying with host families.

At least 64 people have been killed, according to media reports. At least 1,000 homes have been destroyed, and there are reports of widespread power and road disruptions.

Ompong could have caused around USD170 million in damage to rice and corn crops in the region, affecting more than 170,000 farmers and a very large population.

Although the government has not made a general request for international assistance, it is accepting support based on the needs of individual government agencies.

In response to a request by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, who leads the government response cluster, WFP has already transported 1,000 metric tonnes of food that will support 166,000 families.

This is complementing the government’s initial support of approximately 4,500 metric tonnes to the affected area.

The Government has the capacity to increase this initial response and will do so based on the assessments that are being undertaken in coordination with several government agencies.

The World Food Programme, OCHA and the Pacific Disaster Center are conducting a 72-hour assessment on the ground which will be completed tomorrow (Sept 19).

Initially, WFP has also deployed staff to the national administration, supporting the government Logistics and Food and Non-Food Items (NFI) clusters.

The WFP also helped in prepositioning generators, storage tents, and other logistics equipment in WFP warehouses in Luzon.

WFP stands ready to support the government if and when needed.

USAID provided a contribution of USD 500,000 to WFP in 2018 to provide logistics surge support the government of the Philippines. This is thanks to this contribution that WFP was able to respond to a request by the Government and transport 1,000 metric tonnes of rice to assist people in need during typhoon Ompong.

USAID/OFDA has channeled this type of support to WFP during the past 5 years, allowing us to quickly and effectively respond after natural emergencies.”

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 17 September, the Secretary-General had said in a statement that he had been saddened by the reports of loss of life and extensive destruction caused by Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines and wished to extend his condolences to the families of the victims. He had commended the leadership of the national and provincial authorities for their preparedness efforts and response. The United Nations system in-country was already working to support the Government-led response efforts and stood ready to scale up assistance as requested.

Extreme weather events

Denis McClean, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), made the following statement:

“2018 will probably go down as one of the hottest years on record and is turning out to be another remarkable year for extreme weather events.

Record temperatures, heatwaves, storms, floods, drought and heavy rainfall have been evident across the globe.

Following earlier catastrophes this year, notably wildfires in north America and Europe, widespread flooding in India, flooding and landslides in Japan, we are now experiencing floods and storms which are disrupting the lives of millions across the Americas, Africa and Asia.

This confirms the long term trend of the last forty years which has seen a doubling in the number of recorded extreme weather events which now regularly account for 90% of disasters caused annually by natural hazards notably floods, storms, landslides and wildfires.

Despite the extensive threat posed by events such as Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines and China, we are seeing relatively low mortality because of the success of weather forecasting, early warning systems and better public understanding of disaster risk.

The most visible sign of this is the record numbers of people who have been evacuated out of harm’s way over the last ten days, notably in the US, China and the Philippines.

However, the economic losses are likely to be considerable and the impact on the poor will be hardest. This underlines the importance of strategies to reduce disaster risk which include better adaptation to climate change.

UNISDR would like to draw attention particularly to the growing risk posed by landslides worldwide due often to a combination of human activities and heavy rainfall.

One example of this was highlighted by the tragic loss of life in the Philippines from the landslide which struck the mining site of Itogon in Benguet province at the weekend. 33 miners have been confirmed dead and the death toll is likely to rise further as search and rescue efforts continue.

This underlines the findings in a new study which examines nearly 5,000 landslides which took place since 2004 and which were responsible for almost 56,000 deaths. Nearly 700 of these landslides were linked to human activities like construction, illegal mining, and hill cutting. More than 75% occurred in Asia.”

Mr. McClean said that UNISDR was working on a new report which it intended to launch in Geneva ahead of the International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October. The report was being drafted in conjunction with the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain. The report would examine economic loss trends over the past 20 years to determine exactly how much extreme weather events linked to climate change were costing the world.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. McClean said that the United States of America, in particular the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was a world leader in disaster management. In 2017, there had been a record number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States that could be linked to climate change. While the United States was responding well, it was clear that in terms of economic losses the highest burden was falling on that country, indicating that it perhaps needed stronger strategies on risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. UNISDR took the position that climate change was the biggest existential threat to the world in terms of rising number of extreme weather events. The number of such events had almost doubled in the past 40 years, in part as a result of increased reporting. There was also, however, an undeniable link to rises in temperatures and sea levels, to increasing numbers of people living in hazard-exposed areas and to increased construction in coastal zones and along river banks prone to flooding. The key lesson from recent years was that government planning authorities needed to be more careful when allowing development in hazard exposed areas. The situation was dramatically illustrated by the rising number of deaths caused by landslides. In 2017, the single biggest loss of life in a disaster event had occurred in Sierra Leone, where more than 1,000 people had died in a nighttime landslide that had struck near Freetown following heavy rainfall. The people affected by that disaster had been living in poorly constructed homes in a location that was vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that while economic losses caused by disasters had rocketed in recent years, mortality rates had fallen significantly. On 18 September, WMO was hosting a Hydromet Forum bringing together representatives of meteorological services from South Asia and the World Bank. One of the key messages from the Forum was that mortality rates had decreased around tenfold since the early 1950s as a result of improved warnings and the related actions taken.

IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

Jonathan Lynn, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would meet in Incheon, Republic of Korea, from 1 to 5 October to consider the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The Secretary-General of WMO would hold a press conference in Geneva at 10 a.m. on 8 October following the presentation of the report in Incheon on the same date. Embargoed material would be made available in advance and could be requested via the IPCC website.

The Special Report was the first of eight reports the IPCC would roll out over the next five years and was the most keenly awaited of any IPCC report to date. Under the Paris Agreement, which had been adopted in 2015 at the annual climate conference organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), targets had been set with the aim of holding global warming well below 2°C above preindustrial levels. The Paris Agreement also required Governments to make their own individual commitments, known as nationally determined contributions, towards reaching that target. The Agreement had also established a mechanism to review whether the target was still appropriate and whether Governments were making progress towards it.

Following the 2015 conference, Governments had asked the IPCC to prepare a report on the impact of global warming of 1.5°C in time for the twenty-fourth Conference of the Parties, which was due to be held in Poland in December 2018. The report would provide input into first review of the Paris Agreement and would set the agenda for climate-related policy-making for the next few years. The input of the IPCC underpinned climate change negotiations and ensured they were based on scientific rather than purely political considerations.

WIPO Announcements

Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said that at 11 a.m. on 19 September in Press Room I, WIPO would launch a new online tool designed to help procurement and health agencies better understand the global patent status of medicines. The new initiative was a collaboration between WIPO and IFPMA, the global trade association representing the research-based pharmaceutical industry. The Director-General of WIPO, Francis Gurry, and the Director-General of IFPMA, Thomas Cueni, would speak at the press conference. The materials would be under embargo until 9 a.m. on 25 September, when the tool would be officially unveiled at the WIPO Annual Assemblies.

The Annual Assemblies would take place in Geneva from 24 September to 2 October and would include high-level negotiations and discussions on the entire range of intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks, industrial designs, geographical indications and copyright. They would also feature a review of the WIPO global filing IP systems, which helped individuals and companies protect and promote their products worldwide.

UNCTAD Announcement

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that a press conference on the Trade and Development Report 2018 would be held at 11 a.m. on 20 September. The related documentation would be available in six languages on 19 September and would remain under embargo until 7 p.m. Geneva time on 26 September. UNCTAD economists had analysed the weaknesses and shortcomings of the international monetary and financial system even before the financial crisis in Asia, and the latest Trade and Development Report would therefore provide a different perspective on the crisis in contrast to the current widespread focus on the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

At a press conference at 11 a.m. on 3 October, UNCTAD would also be launching its annual Review of Maritime Transport. Given that more than 80 per cent of goods were transported by sea, the Review was a useful starting point for analysing the global economic situation.

WHO Announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 18 September, WHO would launch the 2018 Global Tuberculosis Report at a press conference in New York. A flagship WHO report, the publication would provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on the tuberculosis epidemic and response at the global, regional and country levels. The report featured data on disease trends and the response to the epidemic in 205 countries and territories. The report would be under embargo until 6 p.m. Geneva time on 18 September.

At a virtual press conference at 3 p.m. Geneva time on 21 September, WHO would present its Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. The previous edition of the report had been released four years earlier. The new report provided a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption worldwide, the health and social consequences of harmful alcohol use, and how countries were working to reduce the burden.

United States refugee resettlement programme

Asked by journalists to comment on the announcement by the Government of the United States of America that it intended to reduce the number of refugees it would accept under its resettlement programme, William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that decisions on which refugees would be resettled and where were made solely by the Governments of countries that operated refugee resettlement programmes. Such programmes existed in approximately 34 countries, and the structure, management and funding of them were determined by the Governments of those countries. UNHCR worked to support Governments operating resettlement programmes and was ready at any time to offer expertise and advice when called upon to do so. The number of vulnerable refugees in need of resettlement had always exceeded the number of resettlement places available worldwide. UNHCR advocated for more countries to admit refugees for resettlement and urged those that already did so to increase the number of places available. Resettlement remained an important durable solution for a very small fraction — less than one percent — of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. UNHCR made referrals to resettlement programmes on the basis of the needs of individual refugees, and countries offered resettlement places on a voluntary basis.

Mr. Spindler also said that in the case of the United States, refugees referred by UNHCR for consideration for resettlement were admitted to the country only after extensive vetting overseas by numerous United States Government agencies. While the numbers of refugees accepted for resettlement in the United States had fluctuated over the years, between October 2016 and September 2017 it had resettled 53,716 people. Even after the planned reduction in the number of places, the resettlement programme in the United States would likely continue to be the largest in the world.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that on 18 September the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which had opened its seventy-ninth session the previous day, would complete its review of the report of Mauritania and begin its review of the report of El Salvador. During the session, the Committee was also scheduled to review the reports of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Niger, Benin and Saudi Arabia.

Press conferences

Wednesday, 19 September at 9:30 a.m. in Press Room 1
UNICEF
Update on the situation of refugee and migrant children on the Greek Islands, Greece
Lucio Melandri, UNICEF Country Coordinator in Greece. Just back from a mission to Lesbos and Samos Islands.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog180918