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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

4 June 2019

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

World Investment Report 2019

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that at 3 p.m. on 11 June in Press Room I, a press conference would be held to mark the publication of the World Investment Report 2019.

The report, which revealed that world investment had dropped in 2018 for the third consecutive year, focused on the theme of special economic zones. The press conference would be attended by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, and Mr. James Zhan, Director of the Division on Investment and Enterprise at UNCTAD. All materials relating to the report would remain under embargo until 5 p.m. on 12 June. Additional press conferences would be held in Addis Ababa and New York.

Syria: Vital cropland destroyed in Idlib and North Hama

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

“The latest outbreak in violence in Idlib and north Hama has left dozens of casualties, burned several thousand acres of vital crops and farmland, and forced at least 300,000 people to flee their homes. Most have searched for shelter in overcrowded camps in north Idlib, while others have fled to north or west Aleppo.
As part of its emergency response, WFP has reached 200,000 newly displaced people with ready-to-eat food rations.

3 million people are currently living in the Northwest cross-border area of North Hama, Idlib and rural western Aleppo, stuck in the middle of conflict and reachable only through entry via Turkey. WFP has been providing deliveries of monthly food rations to 700,000 people in the Northwest region to-date.

Following the escalation of violence in Idlib and north Hama and subsequent displacement, WFP plans to scale up to reach 823,000 people this month across the region, in addition to the emergency response to 200,000 newly displaced with ready-to-eat rations.

In the areas where bombardment continues, help is definitely needed today. WFP has had to suspend our deliveries to some towns caught in the middle of the conflict and where security is volatile. As of now, we are unable to reach 7,000 people living in the area of Madiq Castle in Hama since the bombardment began.

It is unfortunate to see the escalation in violence in the northwest reaching such dramatic levels. Not only are people displaced, lives lost but now farmlands vital for the food security of the region — crops such as barley, wheat, and vegetables — have been destroyed.

Destruction to farmland and the agricultural sector is unacceptable. These crops burning and damage to land and livelihoods will disrupt the sensitive food production cycles and could aggravate the food insecurity situation in the northwest for the near future. Farmers are no longer able to access their fields or tend to their remaining crops during this harvest season, which runs until mid-June.

It is important to point out that the burning is affected by other factors such as high temperatures in the region. Right now fuel is extremely difficult to get in areas close to where the conflict is taking place. Not only that but many farmers and their families have lost their livelihoods and farms which were burned in the conflict.

WFP calls on all parties to the conflict to respect civilian life and infrastructure and allow humanitarians safe access to those who need our continued food assistance.

Now, poverty is prevalent among 75 per cent of the population of Syrians inside Syria. Poor families use 80 per cent of their monthly budget to buy food. Currently WFP assists more than 3.5 million people in Syria every month. We need full and free access to the whole of the country, especially the regions in the northwest and northeast where we are seeing this difficult situation.”

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 4 June, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General had said that the United Nations remained deeply alarmed by the ongoing hostilities in the de-escalation zone in north-western Syria, which had resulted in at least 160 civilian deaths, left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and put 3 million people in the crossfire.

Asked who was responsible for burning the crops, Mr. Verhoosel said that the Government and militants had blamed each other. But for humanitarians, the most important thing was that civilian population was once again being taken hostage, and that was unacceptable.

Climate change in Somalia

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“Ahead of World Environment Day tomorrow, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling for urgent additional support to help people affected and displaced by drought in Somalia.

Below average rains during the April–June 2019 and October–December 2018 rainy seasons have caused worsening drought in many parts of the country. An estimated 5.4 million people are likely to be food insecure by September.

Some 2.2 million of these will be in severe conditions needing immediate emergency assistance unless aid is urgently scaled up. The drought has also forced more than 49,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the year as they search for food, water, aid and work mostly in urban areas. People who are already displaced because of conflict and violence are also affected by the drought, at times disproportionally.

More than 7,000 people were displaced last month alone.

Three main regions of Somalia — South Central, Puntland and Somaliland — have been affected, despite marginal to average rains and flash flooding in some regions. The worst affected areas include the Sanaag, Sool, Awdal, Bari, Nugaal, Mudug, Galgadud, Hiran regions of the country.

The latest drought comes just as the country was starting to recover from a drought in 2016 and 2017 that led to the displacement inside Somalia of over a million people. Many remain in a protracted state of displacement.

UNHCR and humanitarian partners fear that severe climatic conditions combined with armed conflict and protracted displacement could push the country into a far bigger humanitarian emergency. Decades of climatic shocks and conflict have left more than 2.6 million people internally displaced in Somalia today.

To avert a humanitarian crisis, aid agencies launched a Drought Response Plan on 20 May, appealing for US$710 million to provide life-saving assistance to 4.5 million people affected by the drought. To date this appeal is only 20 per cent funded.

UNHCR has been working with partners and government agencies to assist those affected and displaced by the drought by providing emergency assistance in some of the most affected areas.

Globally, weather-related hazards, including storms, cyclones, floods, droughts, wildfires and landslides, displaced 16.1 million people in 2018, according to the latest report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

With climate change amplifying the frequency and intensity of sudden disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and tornados, and contributing to more gradual environmental phenomena, such as drought and rising sea levels, it is expected to drive even more displacement in the future.

UNHCR is joining others in calling for more international action to prevent climate-related disasters, scale up efforts to strengthen resilience and protect people affected by climate change using all available legal frameworks.”

Asked to provide more details on the number of people affected, Mr. Baloch said that 4.5 million people were already in need of support, while a further 1 million were likely to be affected over the coming months. It was clear that in Somalia, more people were being driven from their homes by drought-related issues than by conflict. In 2019 so far, around 50,000 people had been displaced by climate change and weather-related factors.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch added that it was entirely possible that some people might starve to death if aid was not provided in time. In recent years, famine had been avoided through the timely efforts of the international community and the local authorities.

World Meteorological Congress

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that climate change was one of the recurring themes at the World Meteorological Congress, which had begun on 3 June.

At the opening session of the Congress, WMO President David Grimes had made the following remarks: “Changes in the climate system have been accelerating over the last few decades. The risks associated with climate change are driving disruptive social consequences, such as water availability, food security, and health. They are also driving geopolitical risks. Climate change does not affect everyone and every part of the planet equally. Disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods are at a disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences of global warming.”

Ms. Nullis added that the number of extreme weather, water and climate events had increased in recent years. At the opening session of the Congress, a Minister of the Gambia had said that according to current projections, his country might lose 10 per cent of its land area. A representative of the Government of Nauru, the newest member of WMO, had reported that owing to climate change, the traditional knowledge previously used by the people of Nauru was no longer reliable.

Asked whether the Government of the United States of America had transmitted the letter that had been due in April 2019 in order to formalize its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Ms. Nullis said that it was the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, based in Bonn, that would have received any such letter.

Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum had issued its outlook for June to August. There was an increased likelihood of drier than normal conditions over much of Ethiopia, parts of Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan, and of above normal rainfall for most of Sudan, Djibouti and parts of Ethiopia. In addition, the forecast indicated that there would be a delay in the start of the rains in key parts of the Horn of Africa where, as in other parts of the world, rainfall was less regular than in the past, often bringing either a drought or a deluge.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that World Environment Day would be marked on 5 June. A number of events would take place in Geneva in that connection. The theme of the Day for 2019 was air pollution. The Secretary-General had issued a strong statement on the issue.

Relocation of detainees in Libya

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“Ninety-six people were yesterday relocated to safety from the Zintan detention centre in Libya’s Tripoli to a Gathering and Departure Facility. The group were from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and included two newborn babies.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency is providing the group with food, shelter, medical assistance including psychosocial support, as well as clothes, shoes, hygiene kits and blankets. They will remain at the facility while they await evacuation outside the country.

Conditions in Zintan are dire. Living areas are severely overcrowded and lack proper ventilation. In some parts of the centre, toilets are overflowing and are in urgent need of repair. As a result, solid waste and garbage has piled up inside the cells for days and presents a serious health threat.

Tensions amongst the detainees are rising as they become increasingly agitated and desperate. In total, 654 refugees and migrants remain held in Zintan detention centre. All available options must be immediately pursued to release the remaining detainees.

With no detention centre in Tripoli currently suitable for hosting refugees and migrants, in part due to the ongoing hostilities, UNHCR reiterates its call to the international community to carry out further evacuations of refugees out of the capital.

New detainees are being brought to the detention centres, after being rescued or intercepted off the coast of Libya, faster than the rate at which people are being evacuated.

More people (1,224) were returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard in May alone than in the rest of 2019 combined.

Renewed efforts are needed to prevent people who are rescued or intercepted on the central Mediterranean from being taken back to Libya. Amongst other factors, the extremely volatile security situation inside Libya means there is no safe port in the country suitable for disembarking rescued refugees and migrants.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR was working with local authorities to remove refugees and migrants from the detention centres. While more than 3,000 were still being held, 1,127 had been evacuated in 2019 so far. UNHCR was calling for all refugees and migrants to be released from detention centres in Libya, and for the international community to provide assistance to evacuate them. The Government of Niger had agreed to host some refugees and migrants until a lasting solution could be found for them. Others had been taken directly to Italy, but there was a great need to speed up the process of evacuating those being held in the centres. Assistance was required from European and other nations to find legal pathways for the people affected.

In response to further questions, Mr. Baloch said that access to the centres was dependent on the cooperation of the local authorities and the prevailing security situation on the ground. Clashes had been reported close to some of the detention centres in recent weeks. Until a few days previously, there had been 600 refugees and migrants at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli.

US tariffs on Mexico

Asked to comment on the statement by the President of the United States of America announcing the application of trade tariffs on Mexican goods as a response to the ongoing migration issues between the two countries, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the statement spoke explicitly to the bilateral trade and immigration relationships between the United States and Mexico. However the two countries chose to resolve the issue, UNHCR took the view that it should in no way prejudice the basic right to seek asylum. People who reached borders to seek safety deserved international protection.

WHO announcements

Tarik Jašarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 6 June, the WHO Bulletin would publish data on the global rates of major sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Such infections were a growing and serious public health problem that had a profound impact on the health of adults and children worldwide. If untreated, STIs could lead to serious and chronic health consequences including neurological and cardiovascular diseases, infertility, still births and an increased risk of HIV/AIDS. A virtual press conference would take place at 4.30 p.m. on 5 June.

Mr. Jašarevic also said that at 2 p.m. on 6 June, there would be a virtual press conference on the Ebola situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Asked by journalists to provide a brief update on the situation, Mr. Jašareviæ said that on 3 June, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had reported that, since the beginning of the outbreak, there had been 2,008 cases, including 1,346 deaths. The security situation was holding back the response; often, when a security incident occurred, WHO was unable to vaccinate people, treat patients or follow up on contacts who might have been exposed to the disease. The necessary tools and strategies were available, but if they could not be deployed then it would not be possible to contain the outbreak. The United Nations had strengthened its response through the appointment of David Gressly as emergency response coordinator, as well as the activation of a system-wide scale-up, which it was hoped would bring about the necessary political and security environment.

Mr. Jašarevic announced that on 7 June, there would be a press conference in connection with a large clinical research study on the use of contraceptive methods by women and their effect on the likelihood of becoming pregnant or contracting HIV. The results of the study, which had been conducted in four African countries, would be published in The Lancet the following week.

Mr. Jašarevic also announced that the first United Nations Food Safety Day would be marked on 7 June. Led by WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the theme of the Day for 2019 would be “Food safety is everyone’s business”. Food safety contributed to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development. Every year, almost 1 in 10 people worldwide — some 600 million — fell ill, and 420,000 died, after eating food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances. The official launch of Food Safety Day would take place at FAO’s headquarters in Rome.

China

In response to remarks by journalists indicating their concern that the United Nations, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in particular, had not commented on the thirtieth anniversary of the events at Tiananmen Square, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that she would pass on those concerns as appropriate.

OSE Syria Update

Asked to provide an update, Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, said that the Special Envoy’s most recent formal meetings had taken place the previous week, when he had met the Security Council, as well as representatives of the United States of America and the Russian Federation. He continued to travel extensively.

Press conferences


Tuesday, 4 June at 2.00 p.m.in S.3

Briefing (embargoed until Monday, 10 June 2019 at 10 a.m. EST / 4 p.m. Geneva time)

Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation
Speaker:

• Amandeep Singh Gill, Co-Executive Director, Secretariat of the High-level Panel


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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog040619