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Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service, 3 April 2020 - COVID-19: potential impact on the world’s poorest people

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Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the virtual briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives for the World Food Programme, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Meteorological Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

COVID-19: potential impact on the world’s poorest people

Arif Husain, Chief Economist for the World Food Programme (WFP), spoke about the new WFP analysis of the economic and food security implications of the ongoing pandemic. The study aimed to identify which countries and which groups of people would be most affected by COVID-19. Countries which heavily relied on the import of fuel and food, especially land-locked countries, were particularly vulnerable. Furthermore, countries dependent on tourism, exports of raw materials or remittances were also to be gravely affected. WFP assisted between 80 and 90 million food insecure people every year, informed Mr. Husain, and those were the people the WFP would need to continue to assist. In addition, the WFP would have to start helping those who lost their livelihoods because of the pandemic and the connected lockdowns.

Responding to a question, Mr. Husain reiterated that the WFP’s current role was twofold: continuing to help those who were already getting WFP’s assistance, mostly in poor countries; and then providing help to those most affected by the current COVID-19 pandemics. No single humanitarian agency could solve those problems on its own; governments also needed to expand their safety nets and humanitarian programs.

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COVID-19: field hospital in Al Hol, Syria

Ruth Hetherington, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that, as the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic picked up pace, the ICRC urged all not to overlook people in places of detention and refugee and displacement camps around the world. There were an estimated 100,000 people living in camps across northeast Syria, as well as tens of thousands of detainees in crowded and unhealthy conditions. The Al Hol camp was a striking example of the humanitarian challenges - around 66,000 people living there in dire conditions, the majority of them children and women. Preventative measures included fencing to avoid overcrowding, additional hand-washing points, extra protective equipment for triage staff, no relatives allowed to accompany patients and screening before entry in the event of suspected cases.

Speaking about the conflict situations around the world, Ms. Hetherington stressed that an immediate and concerted response by states and humanitarian organizations was vital. COVID-19 did not have to be catastrophic for war-torn countries with weakened healthcare systems. Plans to prevent and respond to the virus had to urgently move forward before it gained a foothold in conflict zones. ICRC’s press release on urgent action needed to counter COVID-19 threat in conflict zones can be found here.

ICRC will be publishing new footage from Al Hol on our ICRC Newsroom later today www.icrcnewsroom.org

COVID-19: humanitarian situation in Libya

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that one year since the launch of a military offensive in Tripoli, Libya, fighting was further worsening with COVID-19 now bringing new threats. More than 300 civilians had been killed and 150,000 others displaced from their homes since last April. Despite the tentative agreement on a humanitarian truce, fighting had escalated significantly in the previous week. The deteriorating security had also undermined the ability of the tens of thousands of formerly displaced persons to safely return to their areas of origin. Meanwhile, the authorities had confirmed ten cases of COVID-19 and one death in Libya, raising new fears about the ability of the country’s weakened health services to respond. UNHCR echoed the appeal of UN Secretary-General urging warring parties across the world to cease their fighting in support of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently there were no reported cases of refugees and asylum sectors infected with COVID-19, said Mr. Baloch in a response to a question.

Full press release is available here.

COVID-19: Sudan

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sudan were having an impact on humanitarian access, deliveries and services. Seven COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in Sudan. There was a 6 pm-to-6 am curfew in place, closure of schools and reduction of staff in many government offices. There were 9.2 million people in Sudan who needed assistance, a third of whom were refugees and internally displaced people. Humanitarian partners were planning to organize advance food distribution of two to three months of rations at one time, which would limit the frequency of gatherings of people and the associated potential of spreading the coronavirus. New guidelines were being developed for health workers so that they could carry on immunizations and other critical tasks. In the Blue Nile State, humanitarian organizations were raising awareness on how to identify and isolate suspect cases. In South Darfur, the State Ministry of Health had identified two isolation centres and was procuring thermal detectors and protective equipment.
In a response to a question, Mr. Laerke stressed the importance of increasing awareness of the need to avoid gatherings and to maintain physical distancing. Gender-based violence confidential services were continuing, respecting the necessary distancing and hygiene measures. Gender-based violence remained a problem in Sudan, as in most other humanitarian crises, said Mr. Laerke.