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Famine risk spikes amid conflict, COVID-19 and funding gaps: WFP

In an appeal for $5 billion “to avoid famine” and support the “biggest operation in its history”, WFP spokesperson Phiri Tomson said that millions of refugees faced “uncertainty and hunger” as the impact of the pandemic on emergency aid budgets became clearer.

“The number of people teetering on the brink of famine has risen from 34 million projected at the beginning of the year, to 41 million projected as of June”, he said. “Without immediate emergency food assistance, they too face starvation, as the slightest shock will push them over the cliff into famine conditions.”

From bad to worse

According to the latest IPC food insecurity assessments – which humanitarians use to assess needs on a scale of one to five – the 41 million “are people who are in IPC phase 4 – emergency”, the WFP spokesperson explained.

New refugee influxes linked to conflict and drought have increased needs for people in “IPC phase 5 – catastrophe” and “that number stands at 584,000 people”, Mr. Phiri continued. “These are people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Madagascar, particularly the southern part; South Sudan, especially as we are now at the height of the lean season in that country, and Yemen.”

‘Brutal choices’

Launching its Global Operational Response Plan, the UN agency highlighted operations in no less than eight countries and regions where it has had to make “brutal choices” because of significant funding shortfalls.

In practice, this has meant reduced rations “across east and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East…among some of the world’s most vulnerable people who rely on WFP to survive”, said Mr. Phiri.

“In some cases it’s 40 per cent, in some cases it’s 25 per cent, in some cases it’s 60 per cent…The fact is, the assistance we provide is a basic need, the assistance we provide is just enough to help people get by.”

West and Central Africa in crisis

For many vulnerable aid recipients in West and Central Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has left them without the opportunity to work to supplement their rations and unable to pay for increasingly expensive staple foods. “Countries like Chad, Niger and Burkina, Mauritania; these are all countries of concern, including Sierra Leone as well,” said Mr. Phiri, after a warning by the UN agency that the world was no longer moving towards Zero Hunger.

“Progress has stalled, reversed, and today, more than 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021,” it said in a statement.

Yemen ‘a tale of missed and then lost opportunities’, outgoing envoy tells Security Council

Martin Griffiths, who was appointed in 2018, has been mediating efforts to end five years of fighting between Government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Ansar Allah movement, also known as the Houthis. 

“As you know, for the past year and a half, I have conducted rounds of shuttle diplomacy with the parties”, he recalled. 

 “It is with deep regret, Mr. President, that I report today, as of now, that the parties have yet to overcome their differences.”  

Hopes for a turn of fate 

Mr. Griffiths described Yemen as “a tale of missed and then lost opportunities.” 

He informed ambassadors that Ansar Allah has insisted on a stand-alone agreement for the crucial ports in Hudaydah, and the Sana’a airport, as a pre-condition for negotiations on a nationwide ceasefire and the launch of the political process. 

The Government, on the other hand, wants all these issues to be agreed and implemented as a package, with particular focus on getting the ceasefire established. 

“Now we have offered different solutions to bridge these positions”, he said. “Unfortunately, as of now, none of these suggestions have been accepted.” 

“I hope very, very much indeed, I’m sure we all do, that the efforts undertaken by the Sultanate of Oman as well as others, but the Sultanate of Oman in particular, following my own visits to Sana’a and Riyadh, will bear fruit and that we will soon hear a different turn of fate for Yemen.” 

A sense of security 

He stressed that the ceasefire “would have undeniable humanitarian value” as it would open vital roads and create a sense of security for citizens.  

“Let me also be clear, the continued closure of Sana’a airport as well as the extensive restrictions on fuel through the ports of Hudaydah, are not justifiable and must be addressed urgently”, he added. 

The UN envoy underlined the need for an inclusive political process in Yemen, and settlement, to escape cycles of violence and conflict. 

“A political settlement will need to reflect the interests of diverse conflict parties. It must guarantee the interests and rights of those most affected by the conflict, and not only those who perpetuate and lead in the conflict,” he said. 

Last month, it was announced that Mr. Griffiths will be taking up the position of UN Humanitarian Coordinator.  He began his briefing by noting that Yemen remains the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, and that ending war is a choice.  

“Yemeni men, women and children are suffering every day because people with power have missed the opportunities presented to them, to make the necessary concessions to end the war,” he said.  

“As a result, Yemenis are obliged to live under violence, insecurity and fear, with limits to their freedom of movement, and freedom of expression. And perhaps most tragically of all, we are a witness to the hopes and aspirations of a generation of young Yemenis for a peaceful future being dashed.” 

‘Give peace a chance’ 

On average, at least five civilians killed or injured in Yemen each day, outgoing UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Council. 

May has been the bloodiest month so far this year, with more than 60 people killed across the country. 

Meanwhile, although aid agencies are now assisting more than 10 million people every month, they still face too many obstacles, mostly in areas under Houthi control. 

Mr Lowcock recalled that shortly after taking up the job as the UN’s “relief chief” in 2017, he appealed for five steps to help Yemen: stopping the war, better protection for civilians, greater access for humanitarian workers, more funding for aid operations, and more support for the economy. 

“Nearly four years later, they are still the things we ask for every month,” he said. 

“There is broad agreement on what to do, including in the Security Council, and we need to translate that agreement into action”, he continued.  “That means everyone – especially the parties to the conflict – must act on all five of those points that we’ve been discussing here for years.” 

He stated there should not be any pre-conditions for a ceasefire. 

“War has solved nothing. Try something different. Give peace a chance.”

Around 1.5 million Lebanese in need, top UN humanitarian official there warns

“The explosion at the Beirut port has accelerated a lot of things, that’s for sure”, said Deputy Special Coordinator Najat Rochdi, who is also UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, speaking to reporters at the UN in Geneva, referring to the deadly blast last August that killed around 200 and devastated the city. 

She said necessary political reforms had not been carried out “on time”, despite widespread warnings over the looming economic and financial crisis, that “a lot of analysts had already predicted…We’re not talking about something that takes us by surprise today. I think everyone knew about it”.

Between April 2019 and April this year, the consumer Price Index has increased by more than 208 per cent and the price of food and beverages increased by 670 per cent. As a result, over half of the Lebanese population is now living in poverty.

Public services wrecked

“The crisis in the economy, the currency devaluation, as well as the governance vacuum has meant a breakdown of public services at a time when they are most needed”, said Ms. Rochdi. She added that “the pandemic has worsened a situation which was already fragile”.

The Deputy Special Coordinator said international confidence had been hit by the failure to form a functioning government, deterring investors, and exacerbating the failure of the banking system and other public institutions.

Extreme poverty rose threefold during the past two years. More and more Lebanese households are unable to afford basic services like food, health, electricity, water, internet, and child education.

“The country is in the middle of a phase of hyperinflation, eroding the value of the national currency, people’s purchasing power and what remains of their trust in their leaders and institutions”, said Ms. Rochdi. 

Healthcare on the brink

“The public health system is stretched beyond its limits from the double impact of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 outbreak. People are increasingly unable to access and afford health care amid growing shortages of important medicines and medical supplies”. 

Alarming levels of poverty among refugees were evident in the latest UN survey: nine out of 10 Syrian refugees are falling below the extreme poverty line – a 60 % increase since 2019. Refugee protection is a growing issue with departures at sea on the rise and a considerable risk of refoulement.

“The crisis affects everyone in Lebanon, not just the Lebanese. As you know, Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita of residents in the world, with over one million Syrian refugees and more than 270 000 Palestine refugees”, said Ms. Rochdi.

The UN with the international community in collaboration with the Lebanese authorities is aiming for a rapid transition towards recovery efforts under the so-called “Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF)”. This plan entails a focus on governance, social protection, social cohesion, inclusion and gender, health, education, and housing.

Path to recovery

According to Ms. Rochdi, “the solutions are known, the list of priority reforms is very clearly articulated in the 3RF, in the ‘Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework’, which was in all cases discussed with civil society, with local authorities, with national authorities, with the private sector, with the international community, so it’s really a ‘no brainer’. It is known, it is well known what must be done”.

The international community has warned that without a government that implements meaningful structural reforms, no investments will be made beyond the necessary urgent humanitarian aid and early recovery efforts.

“The development of Lebanon is the responsibility of the Lebanese”, said the Resident Coordinator. “The development of Lebanon is not the responsibility of the international community. We always hope that at the internal level…whether at the level of political leadership, or other leadership, that there is indeed a decision to obviously put the interest of the country and the interest of the Lebanese as a priority”.

Ten months have passed since the resignation of the last Government in the wake of the Beirut port explosions on 4 August. Saad Hariri was designated as Prime Minister more than six months ago, tasked with forming a new administration, but so far without success.

Continuing Venezuela exodus and COVID-19 highlights need for global solidarity for most vulnerable

Since 2015, some 5.6 million Venezuelans have left the country to escape violence, insecurity and threats, as well as a longstanding economic crisis which has led to a lack of food, medicines and essential services, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Some 2.5 million have settled in the Americas, where most were self-sufficient until the pandemic hit, resulting in lost jobs, evictions and a rise in gender-based violence.

“The facts for Venezuelan refugees and migrants are stark: over half don’t have enough to eat, 80 to 90 per cent have lost their source of income, one in four children are separated from their families during the journey, and many women and girls face particular challenges, such as gender-based violence and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services,” said Michael Grant, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas at Global Affairs Canada via Zoom.

Nearly $1.5 billion needed

The 17 June donors’ conference – co-hosted by UNHCR and the UN migration agency IOM – comes as humanitarians warned that the onset of winter in Latin America has made matters worse for desperate Venezuelans. The total ask is $1.44 billion.

An estimated one in four Venezuelan children has become separated from one or both parents, while one in three goes to bed hungry. Close to two-thirds have not been able to continue their studies during the pandemic, UNHCR said.

Datasets compiled in the last year, also indicate that women have become the target of an alarming increase in domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, negative coping mechanisms including survival sex, as well as human trafficking.

Colombia has seen an increase of 41.5 per cent in cases of sexual, gender-based violence against Venezuelan women and girls during the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019, with 2,538 cases of gender-based violence reported against Venezuelan women and girls in September 2020.

There has also been a near 70 per cent increase in murders of Venezuelan women during the pandemic – from 31 cases in 2019 to 52 between March and November 2020 – UNHCR said, citing the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.

2,000 a day still crossing

“People are still crossing, they’re very much estimates, because the borders are closed and people are using irregular crossing points; but we are looking in the past few weeks at 2,000 Venezuelans a day getting into Colombia”, said Marie-Helene Verney, UNHCR Head of Operations for the Venezuela Situation.

“We’re seeing a lot – and I mean a lot – of women with children on their own coming out at the moment. Then what? Then they arrive and because they have entered irregularly, it can be very difficult if not impossible for them to get regular status.”

She added: “What’s been incredible since the start of COVID in a region where we had a vast majority of refugees and migrants – let’s say 80, 85 per cent were self-reliant – not necessarily living very well, but at least self-reliant – COVID has had absolutely the reverse effect, that now we’re looking at a population that’s really dependent on humanitarian assistance.”

© UNICEF/Santiago Arcos
Migrants cross from Venezuela into Cucuta, Colombia.

According to UNHCR, older persons – often the major breadwinner – face additional hardship since almost half have lost their jobs. Prior to the pandemic, one in four skipped meals. Since COVID-19, more than four in 10 have had to cut back on the amount they eat.

One of the aims of the pledging conference will be to highlight the significant efforts made by host countries in Latin America to respond to the unprecedented exodus from Venezuela, which remains the world’s second biggest displacement crisis after Syria.

Concerns for the region are growing amid predictions by institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, of an economic contraction of eight per cent in South America over the next two years, the worst economic recession in 120 years.

Highlighting the threat posed by COVID-19 and protection gap for Venezuelan migrants and refugees, UNHCR noted that nearly two million of them had settled in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay – countries with some of the highest coronavirus infection and death counts globally.

Healthcare shortages

“Venezuelans have mostly been included in national health responses, but with hospitals operating at full capacity, access to treatment for other illnesses, including those associated with the winter season, has become ever more challenging,” the UN agency said in a statement.

“What we are trying to help governments achieve as well is how to prevent Venezuelan refugees and migrants from using irregular paths and falling in the hands of people who exploit them in order to facilitate their crossings into neighbouring countries,” said Eduardo Stein, Joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

“While COVID-19 continues to devastate the region, the arrival of winter threatens to expose Venezuelans to unspeakable hardship. Despair is already deepening, and negative coping mechanisms are on the rise,” said Juan Carlos Murillo, Representative of the Regional Office for Southern Latin America. “Despite the commendable efforts of hosting countries to reduce suffering, more support is required to face the soaring needs.

Nine in 10 African nations set to miss urgent COVID vaccination goal 

At 32 million doses, Africa accounts for less than one per cent of the more than 2.1 billion doses administered globally. Just two per cent of the continent’s nearly 1.3 billion people have received one dose, and only 9.4 million Africans are fully vaccinated. 

‘Do or die’ for doses 

“It’s do or die on dose sharing for Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

The WHO’s reminder that 225 million doses of vaccine are needed urgently on the continent comes as coronavirus infections increased there for the third consecutive week. 

Africa’s 54 countries have registered nearly five million COVID-19 infections to date and numbers increased by nearly 20 per cent – to more than 88 000 – in the week ending 6 June.  

Third wave looms 

“As we close in on five million cases and a third wave in Africa looms, many of our most vulnerable people remain dangerously exposed to COVID-19”, warned Dr Moeti. 

“Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines.”  

According to WHO’s latest situation update, the pandemic “is trending upwards in 10 African countries”. Four nations have seen a 30 per cent increase in cases in the past seven days, compared with the previous week.  

Most of the new cases were in Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia and over half were in nine southern African countries. 

Vaccines have become “increasingly scarce”, the UN health agency said, adding that at the current rate of delivery, only seven African nations will meet the goal of immunizing one in 10 people by September. 

European contrast 

The development came as the WHO announced on Thursday that for the first time in Europe since last August, deaths from COVID-19 had fallen below 10,000 in a week. 

In a regular update, the UN health agency noted that cases, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased in the region for two consecutive months.  

A total of 368,000 new cases were reported in the last seven days, which is a fifth of the weekly cases reported during Europe’s recent peak in April this year, said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. 

He noted that the European Region had seen 55 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1.2 million deaths, which is around a third of the global caseload. 

Vaccine roll-out 

More than 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the last six months, Dr Kluge noted, meaning that 30 per cent of Europeans have received at least one vaccine dose and 17 per cent have been fully immunised.  

“Vaccination coverage is far from sufficient to protect the (European) region from a resurgence”, the WHO official explained. “The distance to go before reaching at least 80 per cent coverage of the adult population, is still considerable.”  

 

Public health measures and vaccination…is the way out of this pandemic — Dr. Kluge

People over 70 were 800 times more at risk of severe disease or death from the coronavirus, he continued, insisting that it was an “urgent priority” to continue to protect the elderly, people with comorbidities and frontline workers who “remain unprotected” in a number of European countries. 

“With increasing social gatherings, greater population mobility, and large festivals and sports tournaments taking place in the coming days and weeks, WHO-Europe calls for caution”, the WHO official added.  

Widespread community transmission continues, Dr. Kluge continued, adding that the new Delta coronavirus variant which shows increased transmissibility “is poised to take hold”, while many vulnerable people over 60 remain unprotected. 

Highlighting the parallels with last summer when infections rose in younger people before moving into older age groups, the WHO official urged European countries to avoid “a devastating resurgence, lockdowns and loss of life” during the warmer months.  

Public health measures 

“A combination of public health measures and vaccination – not one or the other – is the way out of this pandemic,” Dr Kluge insisted. 

To encourage people to protect themselves and others from coronavirus, WHO-Europe and UNICEF Europe and Central Asia have launched a joint campaign with some key do’s and don’ts. 

“If you choose to travel, do it responsibly,” Dr. Kluge said. “Be conscious of the risks. Apply common sense and don’t jeopardize hard-earned gains. Remember: wash your hands frequently, keep a distance, choose open settings and wear a mask. Avoid the three Cs; settings that are ‘closed’, ‘confined’ or ‘crowded’, will put you at higher risk.”

IMF/Jeff Moore
Members of the public browse a book stall in London after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

UN agencies scale-up response to address looming famine ‘catastrophe’ in Tigray

David Beasley, WFP Executive Director, said access is essential to avoid a catastrophe, with alarming new data confirming four million people there face severe hunger.  

Armed groups blocking access 

Although the UN agency has mounted an emergency food assistance operation in the region, increasing food distributions for some 1.4 million people, he said this is barely half the number that should be reached.   

“The brutal reality for our staff in Tigray is that for every family we reach with life-saving food, there are countless more especially in rural areas whom we cannot reach. We have appealed for humanitarian access but are still being blocked by armed groups”, Mr. Beasley said in a statement. 

“The ability of people in Tigray to access vital services and for WFP to reach them with food assistance is essential to avoid a catastrophe. Access must be extended well beyond major cities to reach people in desperate need wherever they may be, with adequate assistance and without delay.” 

Worst threat in a decade 

WFP has joined the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in calling for urgent action to address food insecurity in northern Ethiopia and avert the looming famine in Tigray. 

Their appeal followed the release of the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, published by the UN and aid partners on Thursday.  

The report said the more than 350,000 people in Tigray already facing catastrophic conditions, represent the highest number in a single country over the past decade. 

Additionally, more than 5.5 million there, and in neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, are grappling with high levels of acute food insecurity. Without urgent action, two million in emergency level of food insecurity could slide into starvation. 

Conflict fuelling hunger 

The conflict, which began last November between central Government forces and regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, is the key cause of acute food security in Tigray, according to the IPC report.  Fighting has sparked massive displacement, widespread destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, and loss of employment.

“Rural communities in northern Ethiopia have been particularly affected by the conflict. Many farms have been destroyed and productive assets such as seeds and livestock lost,” said Qu Dongyu, the FAO Director-General.  

“It is imperative that we help these communities keep their families fed, and support local food production, paving the way for a faster recovery. But to help people on the brink of famine, we need resources and access – both of which remain a problem.” 

UNICEF is concerned that increasing numbers of babies and young children across Tigray are facing sickness and potential death from malnutrition. 

“We are working with our partners to provide nutrition, health care and clean water support”, said Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director. 

“However, without humanitarian access to scale up our response, an estimated 33,000 severely malnourished children in currently inaccessible areas in Tigray are at high risk of death. The world cannot permit that to happen.”   

Funding urgently required 

UN agencies and partners are scaling up their response, stressing the need for unimpeded access and urgent funding. 

WFP is working to reach 2.1 million people in the Northwestern and Southern zones of Tigray and requires $203 million through the end of the year. 

FAO explained that June is a critical month as the cereal planting season ends for the year. Last month, the agency provided some 20,000 people with seeds and planting is underway.  An additional 250,000 people will be reached in the coming weeks. 

 FAO plans to continue ramping up activities over the next six months, including to support 375,000 people to grow food.  Overall, it requires $77 million through the end of 2022 but has so far secured no funding. 

UNICEF is the lead agency for nutrition and its work focuses on screening and treating children suffering from severe wasting. Estimates indicate some 56,00 children in Tigray will need treatment this year, but 33,000 could be missed unless access is guaranteed. 

The UN agency is seeking US$10.7 million to support children in Tigray, and in Amhara and Afar regions, including with providing ready-to-eat therapeutic food, routine medication and treatment of wasting. 

Volcanic eruption in DR Congo: UNICEF working to restore water supply amid cholera threat

The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on 22 May melted mains water pipes and damaged a huge 5,000m³ reservoir, the agency said on Monday. 

Cholera fears 

Without access to safe water and sanitation, children and families are at heightened risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera. 

“Cholera is particularly dangerous for the very young, the very old and the undernourished, so an outbreak could have disastrous consequences for children,” said In Hye Sung, UNICEF emergency specialist.  

“Children under age 5 have the highest incidence of cholera and are more likely to die from it, so it’s critical we ensure that families have access to safe water as soon as possible.” 

Forced to flee 

Thirty people were killed and some 3,500 others lost their homes due to the volcano eruption. 

In the wake of the crisis, scores of people fled Goma for neighbouring towns, either because their homes were destroyed by lava or the authorities advised them to leave over fears of another eruption. 

Together with domestic and international partners, UNICEF is working on the water issue, including through supporting the State-owned water company to redirect and protect a by-pass piping system that will send supply from the pumping station next to Lake Kivu, into part of the main water system. 

As previous cholera epidemics in Goma started when residents collected dirty contaminated water for drinking, UNICEF has installed 15 emergency station chlorination points close to the lake.   

Scaling up operations 

The situation in Buhene, a district that was flattened by lava, illustrates the impact of the water shortages.  Hundreds there had to queue for water provided from a truck hooked up to a pump, as a temporary measure. 

UNICEF, along with humanitarian partners Caritas and AVUDS, was among the first agencies to truck water to tens of thousands of displaced people in the nearby towns of Sake, Rutshuru and Minova, and it is now doing the same in Goma. 

The trucking operation has been ramped up, with the goal of providing emergency water supplies to some 200,000 people.  It will be scaled down once the water network in Goma is partly functional again. 

UNICEF is also part of a task force that is supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted. The pumping station will be reconnected to distribution reservoirs in the hills above Goma, which were not damaged during the eruption. 

UNRWA chief calls for ‘clear and unequivocal guarantees’ on staff safety in Hamas-controlled Gaza

Phillipe Lazzarini issued a strongly-worded statement on Thursday, expressing serious concern at the “magnitude of attacks directed against the senior management of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip over the past week, including the assembly of a very large protest in front of the UNRWA Field Office”, last Monday.

The Commissioner-General noted with concern that some “slogans, statements and parodies circulated in the last two days in particular” directly targeting the Director and Senior Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Matthias Schmale and David de Bold, “are unacceptable and tantamount to threats to the safety and security of UNRWA staff members.”

According to multiple news reports, the protests began following remarks on an Israeli television news channel on 22 May, in which Mr. Schmale reportedly said that he did not dispute the assertion from the Israeli military that airstrikes had been “precise”. Mr. Schmale reportedly apologised and explained that he had been commenting on the ferocity of the Israeli strikes, and noted the “unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side.”

Consultations in Jerusalem

Following news reports that the two senior officials in Gaza had been declared persona non grata on Thursday by “Palestinian factions”, Mr. Lazzarini emphasized that UNRWA has not been formally notified to that effect. “UNRWA senior staff continue to lead the Gaza field office”, he added.

The Commissioner-General said he had called the Director and Senior Deputy Director in Gaza to the Agency’s Headquarters in East Jerusalem for “consultations over the situation and steps to take to enable the continuation of all UNRWA services.”

Full support

He said UNRWA continued to offer the two men “full support” and thanked “every single staff member of the Gaza Field Office for their commitment and hard work during and after the 11days hostilities.”

Mr. Lazzarini noted that over 70,000 displaced people who found refuge in UNRWA schools were kept safe from the Israeli attacks, and that it took “an immense team spirit to remain cohesive against such huge adversity”, saluting the courage and commitment of all staff at all levels, “many of whom lost loved ones and still continued to work. I also reiterate my deep condolences go to those who lost loved ones.”

Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Mr. Matthias Schmale (center), together with Chief, Area Office, Gaza area Mr. Majed Al Bayed, and Area Education Officer, Gaza area Mr. Alaa’ Harb during their meeting with a number of school parliamentarians at Bea, by UNRWA Gaza/Rushi Al Sarraj

“UNRWA has unequivocally condemned the killing and wounding of all civilians, including Palestine refugees, and has consistently called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians during the recent hostilities in Gaza and the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”, he added.

No choice but to leave

He said the agency “strongly protested and contested the position conveyed by the De Facto authorities in Gaza that they could no longer guarantee the safety and security of our staff. Regrettably, such a position left the Agency with no other choice than to ask the staff to leave the Gaza Strip as their security is of paramount priority to UNRWA.”

In the aftermath of a devastating conflict and the urgent need to help Palestine refugees in Gaza feel safe, Mr. Lazzarini said that UNRWA “must be able to deploy all its staff and efforts without any fear for their safety and security.”

UNRWA senior management, health, education, camp improvement and social workers are fully mobilized to respond to the immense needs of 1.4 million Palestine refugees as they arise, he added, noting it was “not possible for UNRWA to deploy staff across Gaza without explicit safety and security guarantees that they will all be protected.”

Focus on relief for Gazans

The UNRWA chief said the agency would now focus on rehabilitating homes that have been destroyed, ensuring adequate cash and food assistance to those hit hardest by the conflict, and resume all its critical services, including a COVID vaccination programme.

“This is a time for a strong UNRWA, and any attempts to tarnish the reputation of the agency or its staff can only undermine its ability to deliver critical services to a population whose needs are immense, and only growing, after the recent hostilities.”

WFP feeds more than one million in Tigray, but needs support to reach more

WFP has been supporting people in the Northwestern and Southern zones affected by the conflict between Ethiopian Government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which began in November. 

Providing hunger relief 

Aster Beyene, a 43-year-old mother of seven, this week became the one millionth person to collect wheat, split peas and vegetable oil from the agency.   

She lost her home and her crops two months ago in the fighting.  

“Up until now I have relied on what little food I can get from my neighbours. At least now we have some relief from the hunger we have been suffering”, said Ms. Beyene, who is from Adi Millen, a remote rural village some 50 kilometres from the town of Shire in Northwestern zone. 

Scaling up 

On Monday, WFP provided food aid to the 4,500 villagers there, closing out the first round of distributions which will be carried out every six weeks in Tigray.  Operations will be scaled-up to reach 2.1 million people. 

WFP is seeking $203 million to continue to ramp up response across the region, where some 5.2 million people, or more than 90 per cent of the population, needs emergency food assistance. 

The agency continues to lead emergency nutrition response to children and pregnant or nursing women, though access remains the main challenge, particularly in rural areas.   

WFP has also delivered some 40,000 metric tons of food for the Government and partners to Tigray, and has transported more than 20,000 metric tons for the National Disaster Risk Management Commission within the region. 

No end to child violations: UNICEF 

Nearly seven months into the war, the magnitude of child rights violations taking place across Tigray shows no sign of abating, the head of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said in a statement on Tuesday.  

 “Over 6,000 unaccompanied or separated children have so far been identified and registered for protection and assistance. We fear there are many more children who need support in areas that we are unable to reach due to insecurity or access restrictions imposed by parties to the conflict”, said Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director.  

She added that family tracing and reunification have been constrained by limits in telecommunications, social workers, and access across lines of control. 

Sexual violence, recruitment fears 

Women and girls in Tigray are still being subjected to what Ms. Fore described as “appalling acts of sexual violence”.  

Although UNICEF has helped some 540 survivors since November, “the overall lack of security, and fear of reprisals, leave untold numbers unable to receive the care and services they urgently need,” she said.  At the same time, adolescent boys report they fear recruitment and being used in the hostilities. 

The fighting has displaced at least 1.6 million people, including more than 720,000 children, according to Ms. Fore, who said the conditions at sites hosting them, as well as refugee camps, are overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe. 

Protect children from abuse 

Meanwhile, much of Tigray remains inaccessible to humanitarian workers. 

 “Since the beginning of April, at least 31 missions by mobile health, nutrition and water teams supported by UNICEF and partners have been blocked, either due to insecurity or because they were harassed and denied passage,” Ms Fore said. 

UNICEF is adamant that children are paying a terrible price for the conflict.  The agency has called on the warring sides to respect their obligation to enable access to civilians in need, especially children. 

“Above all, we call on all parties to do everything in their power to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse, and to prevent separation from their parents or primary caregivers”, Ms Fore added.

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