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Half of Sudan’s most vulnerable children could die without aid

“As we speak today, 650,000 kids are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. If not treated, half of them will die,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Sudan, Mandeep O Brien, underscoring what veteran aid workers have called an unprecedented crisis.

Spiralling recent problems in Sudan have their roots in a military coup in October 2021 that prompted a freeze in international funding for aid operations and which has forced UN relief teams to cut rations in half, in some cases.

Ongoing political “tumult” has also weakened State support structures for struggling families, who have had to contend with dramatic food price hikes and intertribal violence, said the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Country Director in Sudan, Eddie Rowe.

Rising hunger

“At the moment, WFP (has) projected that about 15 million people would go hungry every day since the hunger season started, and we are now doing an assessment because our indicators projected that this could rise up to 18 million by the end of this month,” he said.

“We are still grappling with an increased incidence of intertribal conflicts and violence, and this in fact has spread now not just to Darfur, but to other parts of the country…The Ukraine War also has had some significant impact. All of this in the context of a political unstable country, has resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis this year.”

Solidarity with Sudan

In an appeal to the international community to “stand in solidarity with the children of Sudan”, UNICEF’s Mandeep O Brien noted that the crisis reflected much more than a lack of food, with basic health services, clean water, sanitation and education severely lacking.

“Routine immunization, unfortunately, is declining in Sudan. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of children who have not received a single dose of lifesaving vaccines has doubled,” she told journalists in Geneva.

Skyrocketing living costs

Echoing those concerns, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop, warned that refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sudan had seen living costs “skyrocket”.

This was linked to the “ripple effects of the war in Ukraine, lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and extreme weather resulting from the climate crisis,” he said.

“Sudan is hosting today about 1.1 million refugees,” the UNHCR official explained, noting that fresh intercommunal clashes this year and the burning and looting of villages, markets, houses, and livestock across the Darfur states, Kordofan and Blue Nile States had displaced over 177,000 people.

“We also have around 3.7 million internally displaced. And as outlined by my colleagues here, the humanitarian crisis, which is actually resulting itself in a food crisis, is impacting the marginalized communities and amongst those, refugees and the IDPs.”

Funding shortfall

Humanitarian funding levels for all three agencies remain far below where they need to be to provide effective prevention support. The fear is that unless pledges are forthcoming soon, the cost of having to respond to a far greater emergency will be far higher.

Illustrating the extent of the funding gap, by 13 September, UNHCR had received just one third of the $348.9 million needed this year to deliver an effective response and provide life-saving assistance and protection amidst the growing needs.

Yemen: Marking ‘significant milestone’, UN says stricken tanker salvage operation can begin

David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, briefed journalists at UN Headquarters in New York, following an event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly co-hosted by partners in the mammoth rescue effort, the Netherlands, the United States, and Germany.

The rusting vessel has been anchored just a few miles off the Yemen coast for more than 30 years, but offloading and maintenance stopped in 2015 following the start of the war in Yemen, between a Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally-recognized Government, and Houthi rebels.

Fears have grown that unless vessel is secured, it could break apart causing a devastating oil spill and other environmental damage, which the UN estimates would cost at least $20 billion just to clear up, as well as devastate the fragile economy of war-torn Yemen – triggering a humanitarian catastrophe.

$38 million needed for phase two

Mr. Gressly said that once the pledges are fully converted into cash for the initial salvage operation, with more than $77 million promised from 17 countries, an extra $38 million was still needed for phase two – the installation of safe replacement capacity to secure the one million barrels of oil on board.

The UN plan is for this to be done through transferring the oil to a secure double-hulled vessel, as a permanent storage solution, until the political situation allows it to be sold or transported elsewhere, said the Resident Coordinator.

Mr. Gressly said that apart from the 17 national partners, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and a “very successful” crowd-funding initiative launched in June, had also been instrumental in reaching Wednesday’s “significant milestone”.

David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, speaks at oil tanker FSO Safer pledge event on September 21, 2022 at the Dutch Mission to the United Nations during the General Assembly High Level Week

Heyi Zou/UN News
David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, speaks at oil tanker FSO Safer pledge event on September 21, 2022 at the Dutch Mission to the United Nations during the General Assembly High Level Week

Donations large and small

Some 2,000 individuals have generously contributed, and he praised the $1.2 million private sector donation from Yemeni conglomerate The HSA Group

Among those who had helped raise money for the operation, were a group of six children from an elementary school in the US state of Maryland, he said, who had recognized that securing the tanker and avoiding disaster, was “a common problem for us all.”

Although more than $30 million is still needed for phase two, “I believe with the momentum we have seen today, that will be a target we can reach in a timely fashion”, he said.

He praised the warring parties for reaching a political agreement to allow the operation to move forward, and said the next crucial step was now to carry out the salvage, which should begin in earnest in a few weeks’ time. Once underway thanks to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) which will handle the first stage, it will take around four months to stabilize the tanker, before the oil transfer can take place.

‘Cost of failure’

The Humanitarian Coordinator reminded what was at stake if action is not taken. A major spill would devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, and impact Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and other countries. The Yemeni ports of Hudaydah and Saleef could be closed, which are essential to bring in food for around 19 million who need assistance.

Tens of millions of dollars now, could save tens of billions of dollars in the future, the UN has warned.

“Everybody understands the cost, everybody understands the impact, and everybody wants to act. I take great satisfaction in seeing that unified effort today, to find a solution”, said Mr. Gressly.

The FSO Safer, moored off Yemen's west coast.

The FSO Safer, moored off Yemen’s west coast.

Famine looms in Somalia, but many ‘hunger hotspots’ are in deep trouble

In Somalia, “hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under five,” warned the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“Large-scale deaths from hunger” are increasingly likely in the east African nation, the UN agencies continued, noting that unless “adequate” help arrives, analysts expect that by December, “as many as four children or two adults per 10,000 people, will die every day”.

Complex roots

In addition to the emergency already unfolding in Somalia, the UN agencies flagged 18 more deeply concerning “hunger hotspots”, whose problems have been created by conflict, drought, economic uncertainty, the COVID pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Humanitarians are particularly worried for Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, where a record 970,000 people “are expected to face catastrophic hunger and are starving or projected to starve or at risk of deterioration to catastrophic conditions, if no action is taken”, the UN agencies said.

This is 10 times more than six years ago, when only two countries had populations as badly food insecure, FAO and WFP noted, in a new report.

Urgent humanitarian action is needed and at scale in all of these at-risk countries “to save lives and livelihoods” and prevent famine, the UN agencies insisted.

Harsh winter harvest

According to FAO and WFP, acute food insecurity around the world will worsen from October to January.

In addition to Somalia, they highlighted that the problem was also dire in the wider Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue, pushing people “to the brink of starvation”.

Successive failed rains have destroyed people’s crops and killed their livestock “on which their survival depends”, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, who warned that “people in the poorest countries” were most at risk from acute food security that was “rising fast and spreading across the world”.

FAO’s QU calls for massive aid scale-up

Vulnerable communities “have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency,” the FAO chief continued.

Women feed their children at a nutrition site in South Sudan.

Women feed their children at a nutrition site in South Sudan.

He insisted that “without a massively scaled-up humanitarian response” to sustain agriculture, “the situation will likely worsen in many countries in the coming months”.

Echoing that message, WFP Executive Director David Beasley appealed for immediate action to prevent people dying.

We urgently need to get help to those in grave danger of starvation in Somalia and the world’s other hunger hotspots,” he said.

Perfect storm of problems

“This is the third time in 10 years that Somalia has been threatened with a devastating famine,” Mr. Beasley continued.

“The famine in 2011 was caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons as well as conflict. Today we’re staring at a perfect storm: a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season that will see drought lasting well into 2023.”

In addition to soaring food prices, those most at risk from acute food insecurity also have “severely limited opportunities” to earn a living because of the pandemic, the WFP chief explained, as relief teams brace for famine in the Somali districts of Baidoa and Burhakaba in Bay region, come October.

Below the “highest alert” countries – identified as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen – the joint FAO-WFP report notes that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria are “of very high concern”, in addition to newcomers the Central African Republic and Pakistan.

Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have also been added to the list of hunger hotspot countries, joining Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Barriers to aid

Humanitarian assistance is crucial to save lives and prevent starvation, death and the total collapse of livelihoods, FAO and WFP insist, while highlighting chronic access problems caused by “insecurity, administrative and bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions and physical barriers” in 11 of the 19 hotspot countries.

This includes “all six of the countries where populations are facing or are projected to face starvation…or are at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions”, they said.

Mothers bring their children to a WFP-supported clinic for malnutrition prevention treatment in Taiz, Yemen.

© WFP/Albaraa Mansour
Mothers bring their children to a WFP-supported clinic for malnutrition prevention treatment in Taiz, Yemen.

Pakistan floods: Six month wait for water to recede, warn relief agencies

Close to eight million people have been displaced by the disaster and the UN along with the authorities and partners have continued to race to reach affected populations with desperately needed relief items.

Southern Sindh province is still in crisis, with many areas still under water.

To date, more than 1,500 people have been killed, including 552 children.

“We don’t have enough food, we don’t have shelter, and still even the kind of healthcare that is required is not available,” said Gerida Birukila, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Pakistan Chief of Field Office in Balochistan, another of the worst-hit provinces.

Roads and bridges swept away

In a fresh appeal for international support, the UNICEF worker described desperate scenes.

“Roads and bridges have been washed away; I’ve just come from the field and the water is not going anywhere,” Ms. Birukila  continued, speaking via Zoom from Quetta.

As had been feared, life-threatening illness and disease have now spread among displaced communities, including cerebral malaria, for which there is no available medicine.

Please, give me clothes

There is no shelter…people don’t even have clothing,” Ms. Birukila continued. “One lady asked me, ‘Please, give me some clothing, I ran away two weeks ago.’ She is still wearing the same dress she wore two weeks ago because she cannot change. You just run with what you have on your back.”

Echoing the deep concern among first-responders, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, noted that 7.6 million people in Pakistan have been displaced by the floods, with nearly 600,000 living in relief sites.

Flood victims collect emergency supplies in Balochistan Province, south-western Pakistan.

© UNHCR/Humera Karim
Flood victims collect emergency supplies in Balochistan Province, south-western Pakistan.

Massive aid operation

The UN agency has coordinated logistics as part of a plan to transport more than 1.2 million relief items to local authorities in the most flood-affected areas. To date, it has delivered more than one million life-saving items to authorities for distribution.

“Many parts of the country, especially in the southern province of Sindh, remain underwater, as well as … parts of eastern Balochistan,” said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, adding that officials have warned that it could take “up to six months for floodwaters to recede” in the hardest-hit areas.

Afghans in danger zone

There are also concerns for Pakistan’s 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees; an estimated 800,000 live in more than 45 “calamity hit” districts out of 80 affected locations, UNHCR said, noting that four of the worst-hit districts in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces host the highest number of refugees.

To help them, UNHCR and partners have provided emergency cash assistance to hundreds of vulnerable refugee families, supplementing the Government’s monsoon response.

“People are being displaced. They are looking out and they just tell you, ‘That used to be my house, this used to be the school,’ but what you can see is just water and water,” said UNICEF’s Ms. Birukila.

Floods inundate Balochistan province, Pakistan.

UN News/Shirin Yaseen
Floods inundate Balochistan province, Pakistan.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative: What it is, and why it’s important for the world

1) A deal to get vital supplies moving again

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, normally supplies around 45 million tonnes of grain to the global market every year but, following Russia’s invasion of the country, in late February 2022, mountains of grains built up in silos, with ships unable to secure safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports, and land routes unable to compensate.

This contributed to a jump in the price of staple foods around the world. Combined with increases in the cost of energy, developing countries were pushed to the brink of debt default and increasing numbers of people found themselves on the brink of famine.

On 22 July, the UN, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Ukraine agreed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, at a signing ceremony in the Turkish capital, Istanbul.

The deal allowed exports from Ukraine of grain, other foodstuffs, and fertilizer, including ammonia, to resume through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, to the rest of the world.

To implement the deal, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was established in Istanbul, comprising senior representatives from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations.

According to procedures issued by the JCC, vessels wishing to participate in the Initiative will undergo inspection off Istanbul to ensure they are empty of cargo, then sail through the maritime humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian ports to load. The corridor is established by the JCC and monitored 24/7 to ensure the safe passage of vessels. Vessels on the return journey will also be inspected at the inspection area off Istanbul.

Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre

UN News
Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre

2) Millions of tonnes are leaving Ukraine

Shipments monitored by the Initiative began leaving from 1st August. By the end of the month, over 100 ships, laden with more than one million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs, had left Ukraine. By mid-September the JCC reported that some three million tonnes had left Ukraine, signalling positive progress. It is hoped that, eventually, up to five million tonnes will be exported monthly.

According to UN figures, 51 per cent of the cargo so far (as of mid-September) has been corn, 25 per cent wheat, 11 per cent sunflower products, six per cent rapeseed, five per cent barley, one per cent soya beans, and one per cent other foodstuffs.

Woman in India shifts grain (file)

World Bank/Ray Witlin
Woman in India shifts grain (file)

3) Around one third of shipments are going directly to lower income countries

A 25 per cent of the cargo has gone to low and lower-middle income countries. Egypt (8 per cent), India and Iran (4 per cent each), Bangladesh, Kenya and Sudan (2 per cent each), Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti (1 per cent each), and Tunisia (less than one per cent)

This includes UN-chartered vessels delivering humanitarian food assistance – World Food Programme (WFP) purchased wheat – to the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Two UN-chartered ships have already left Ukraine, while another two are expected soon. WFP had so far purchased 120,000 metric tonnes of wheat to support humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The first WFP-chartered vessel docked in Djibouti on 30 August to support the drought response in the Horn of Africa. A second UN-chartered vessel, loaded with 37,500 metric tons of wheat, sailed on 30 August and docked in Türkiye on 3 September, where the wheat will be milled to flour.

This flour will then be loaded onto a different ship that will head to Yemen to support the World Food Programme’s humanitarian response there. The third and fourth WFP-chartered vessels will also supply wheat to relief operations.

Some 25 per cent of grain has gone to upper-middle income countries – including Türkiye, China and Bulgaria; and 50 per cent to high-income countries like Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Republic of Korea, Romania, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, and Israel.

The UN points out that all of the grain coming out of the Ukrainian ports thanks to the Initiative benefits people in need, as it helps to calm markets, and limit food price inflation.

All ship movements can be found on the Black Sea Grain Initiative website, which also contains useful facts and figures.

Secretary-General António Guterres watches grain being loaded on the Kubrosliy ship in Odesa, Ukraine.

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Secretary-General António Guterres watches grain being loaded on the Kubrosliy ship in Odesa, Ukraine.

4) Food prices are coming down

There are strong signs that the Initiative is succeeding in one of its key aims, getting food prices down.

At a press briefing in mid-September, Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary-General of the UN trade agency, known as UNCTAD, and Amir Abdulla, the UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative welcomed the fact prices have come down five months in a row: the Food Price Index has decreased nearly 14 per cent from its peak in March of this year.

Mr. Abdulla explained that falling prices meant that those who had been hoarding grain, in the hope of selling at a greater profit, were now selling, which meant that there is now more food supply in the markets, leading to further price drops. Ms. Grynspan, who is also coordinator of the UN global Task Team set up to help support countries deal with the triple economic shocks worsened by the effects of the war in Ukraine, pointed out that this is making a huge difference in a global cost of living crisis.  

Globally, a record 345 million people in more than 80 countries are currently facing acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are at risk of being pushed into famine without humanitarian support.

In August, WFP Executive Director David Beasley declared getting the Black Sea Ports open to be “the single most important thing we can do right now to help the world’s hungry”. He warned that, whilst this would not, on its own, stop world hunger, bringing Ukrainian grain back on global markets would improve the chance of preventing the global food crisis from spiralling even further

Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the signing ceremony of Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, Türkiye..

UNIC Ankara/Levent Kulu
Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the signing ceremony of Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, Türkiye..

5) Ongoing collaboration is necessary for continued success

The UN is acutely aware that keeping shipments sailing smoothly out of Ukrainian ports will require the continued collaboration of Ukraine and Russia. Mr. Abdulla has praised the “collaborative spirit” between the parties to the Initiative. He also noted the special role that Türkiye and the UN are playing in keeping the process moving.

However, with no clear end in sight to the war, the future is uncertain.

The current Initiative may extend beyond its initial 120 days after the signing date of 22 July, if parties so choose. Thoughts at the JCC team in Istanbul are already turning to the extension of the deal. Mr. Abdulla remains positive, expressing his hope that “with the UN’s mediation efforts, it won’t really be a matter for discussion”.

‘Violent civil unrest’ in Haiti hampers aid delivery

Nationwide protests sparked initially by the almost doubling of petrol prices has brought the Caribbean country to what the UN has described as a “standstill.”

Haiti is grappling with multiple crises of an economic, political, security and humanitarian nature.

The country’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July last year and in August an earthquake caused widespread death and destruction across southern regions of the Caribbean island nation.

Heavily armed violent gangs have taken over large swathes of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and kidnap local people for ransom on a regular basis. According to news reports, gunfire has been heard across the city throughout the week.

Safety concerns

In a statement issued on behalf of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Mr. Dujarric, said the UN chief was “particularly preoccupied with the safety of all Haitians including the most vulnerable and calls for calm and maximum restraint.

“He urges all relevant stakeholders to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, avoid violence, and allow the Haitian National Police to fulfil its role to protect the population.”  

The UN Chief also called on “all stakeholders to rise above their differences and to engage, without further delay, in a peaceful and inclusive dialogue on a constructive way forward”.

He warned that if the current circumstances continue, “the already dire humanitarian situation faced by Haiti’s most vulnerable people, will deteriorate even further.”

Much of the area around the city of Gonaives was in floodwaters and covered by mud after Tropical Storm Jeanne tore through Haiti. (file)

UN Photo/Sophia Paris
Much of the area around the city of Gonaives was in floodwaters and covered by mud after Tropical Storm Jeanne tore through Haiti. (file)

UN warehouse looted

On Thursday, a warehouse used by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Gonaives in the north of the country, was looted and then set on fire by rioters.

The emergency food aid agency’s country director, Jean-Martin Bauer, described the incident as “simply unacceptable. The looted food was intended to feed nearly 100,000 school children until the end of the year and provide emergency assistance to Haiti’s most vulnerable families“, he said in a statement.

“WFP is in Haiti to support vulnerable communities in urgent need, while strengthening local production and livelihoods through our long-term resilience initiatives.”

Staff stand ready

The UN said its staff and partners remain on the ground and are ready to assist people in need across the country. 

However, a shortfall in funding and difficult aid logistics – including risks to supplies on the ground – means that WFP said will likely struggle to supply aid in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Fiona has formed in the Caribbean and may impact Haiti on Monday.

Syrians ‘can come together to rescue their country’ from war, Security Council hears

Najat Rochdi said she had already seen the potential for bridging divides between Syrians during civil society dialogues, and the divergent views represented through the Women’s Advisory Board, which “demonstrates to all of us that, despite many differences among them, common ground can be found.”

She added that “Syrians can come together to rescue their country and focus on its future”, but it was up to the international community and those invested in a diplomatic end to the fighting, to “advance a sustainable, inclusive political solution”, and “correct Syria’s trajectory”, moving instead to a ceasefire and lasting peace.

Steps taken

Ms. Rochdi began her briefing to the Council by outlining the steps being taken by her office, led by Special Envoy Geir Pedersen, to advance the peace process, in the face of continued civilian suffering.

The immediate concerns are fourfold she said. First, civilian safety and security, and the need for a “consolidated ceasefire”. Secondly, continued humanitarian suffering, exacerbated by Syria’s economic collapse. Third, the continuing anguish for the “tens of thousands” arbitrarily detained, abducted or “forcibly disappeared” and those missing.

Finally, she highlighted the ways in which women and girls continue to be hugely impacted by ongoing war, and the UN’s efforts to “ensure the meaningful participation of Syrian women, equally and together with men”, in forging a sustainable peace.

Violence must end

Ms. Rochdi said it was clear that no political process could move forward, “meaningfully or sustainably, until violence is curtailed and ultimately ends.”

Humanitarian relief efforts, she argued, would be advanced so much more if the violence could be curtailed, and by addressing factors which continue to drive displacement.

“Addressing all these factors, is part of creating a safe, calm and neutral environment in which a political process can unfold. Action is also needed to deal with Syria’s economic collapse – a major source of needs.”

Dire warning over possible aid cutbacks

UN relief chief, Martin Griffiths, warned ambassadors that without adequate and flexible resources provided by international donors, the lifesaving humanitarian operation in Syria, “will have no option but to drastically reduce assistance.”

Out of a total ask of some $10.5 billion for the humanitarian response this year, together with the refugee and resilience plan, only around a quarter of what’s needed in humanitarian aid alone, has been forthcoming.

Some 14.6 million Syrians rely on some kind of aid, more than half of them children, and winter is fast approaching, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said.

Give peace a chance

“The people of Syria deserve the chance to build a dignified life, away from reliance on emergency aid, a life with hope for the future. Today, in Syria, millions are living without that hope.”

He said the UN was doing its utmost to keep aid flowing into the country, helping on average, 900,000 each month in the war-ravaged northeast, with a huge need to scale up cross-line convoys in the northwest.

Mr. Griffiths expressed alarm over the arrival of cholera in the country in the past few weeks, saying that it was “a stark reminder of just how critical our continued support remains to the people of Syria.”

More than four million have benefitted from UN projects that contribute to early recovery and resilience so far in 2022, he said.

Return to larger-scale fighting may be head, rights experts warn

Earlier in the day, in Geneva, UN independent rights experts warned that a violent escalation in the Syrian conflict is possible, as they published their latest report into the human rights ramifications of the brutal war.

Head of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paolo Pinheiro, said that “another Turkish ground operation” remains a threat in the north, amid the “continued mobilization and fighting” between Turkish and Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish-led opponents.

The flare-up has seen several deadly incidents in recent weeks, including the August shelling of a crowded market in al-Bab city; 16 civilians were killed, including five children.  

Commissioner Lynn Welchman noted that Israel, the US and Iran-backed forces had also continued to engage in operations in Syria.

The panel, which was appointed by and reports to the Human Rights Council, also noted that Russia still actively supports the Syrian Government, particularly using “airstrikes that have killed civilians and targeted food and water sources, including a well-known water station serving over 200,000 people”, it said in a statement.

Last week, fresh airstrikes caused further deaths and injuries in Idlib province, which are currently under investigation, the Commission of Inquiry said.

UN officials see progress as global food prices drop amid ongoing Black Sea grain deal shipments

UN trade chief Rebeca Grynspan reported that food prices had steadily gone down and exports from Ukraine and Russia had increased since a July 22 grain deal, “easing the pain … for 1.6 billion people in the world that have been facing a cost-of-living rise, especially because of the increase in food prices.”

Benefits for vulnerable people everywhere

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ms. Grynspan, who leads the UN team facilitating the unimpeded access to food and fertilizer from Russia, said that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had reported that food prices declined globally in August for the fifth straight month. “Reintegrating [grain] and fertilizers into global markets, lowering global food prices so that vulnerable people everywhere could access affordable food was our main objective.”

At the same time, however, she expressed concern that this international price drop was not being seen in domestic markets, and developing countries especially were still struggling with high food prices, as well as inflation and currency devaluations. “There is still a problem for many developing countries because the prices are not going down for them as we have wished. So, there is much more to be done.”

Fertilizer shipments key to deal 

Responding to a question regarding reports of lagging shipments in Russian fertilizers, Ms. Grynspan said fertilizer and ammonia were also included in the initial agreements signed in Türkiye.

“The UN continues to pursue all efforts to allow for a positive outcome on Russian exports of ammonia to international markets,” she said, stressing that fertilizers are “a very important part of this deal. Fertilizers now are three times the price they were before the COVID-19 pandemic [so] “the crisis of affordability that we have now will be a catastrophic crisis if we don’t solve the problem of fertilizer.” 

By example, Ms. Grynspan, who is also the head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the sowing season for new crops in West Africa is over and planting was down by a very high percentage because of fertilizer costs.

Joining the video news conference from Ankara, Amir Abdulla, the UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, said that 129 fully laden ships carrying over 2.8 million tons of grain have left the three designated Ukrainian Black Sea ports for different countries.

Looking towards more shipments

“We’re close to the 3 million mark. Hopefully we’ll do that the next day or, or so and the rate at which we it took us nearly, it was over three weeks,” he said, adding that “we’d really like to see a slight increase on that. So, there are some efficiencies that we probably need to try and introduce if we can. But if we hold at those levels, we’re more or less in line with [where we thought we’d be] for this part of the agreement.”

Picking up on some points made by Ms. Grynspan, he said that indeed there were “some issues sometimes in local prices, but what we have seen is with the prices dropping an interesting phenomenon, in one or two countries is that because of that drop people have been hoarding grain and hoping to sell it at a high price are now putting more on the market…. “Hopefully that will bring some of those local prices down.”

Catastrophic hunger levels leave 500,000 children at risk of dying in Somalia

In a call for immediate funding to help vulnerable communities hit by successive droughts, high food prices and conflict, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that the emergency shows no signs of letting up.

Without action, famine “will occur within the next few weeks”, FAO said.

The UN agency added that drought-related deaths “have been occurring” and the toll could be much higher in hard-to-reach rural areas, compared with the number recorded in camps for displaced families.

A ‘nightmare’ not seen this century

During the famine of 2011, 340,000 children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told journalists in Geneva. “Today it’s 513,000,” he added. “It’s a pending nightmare we have not seen this century.”

According to FAO, approximately 6.7 million people across Somalia will likely endure high levels of acute food insecurity between October and December this year (IPC Phase 3 or above).

This includes more than 300,000 who have been left “empty-handed” by the country’s triple emergency and who are expected to fall into famine (IPC Phase 5).

Livestock dropping dead

In pastoral communities where herders have been desperately searching for pasture, “they are now watching their livestock drop dead like flies”, said Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.

The perilous situation of those forced from their homes by hunger in Baidoa town of Bay region in Southern Somalia, is particularly concerning, Mr. Peterschmitt added.

“The repeated warnings have been clear: act now or a famine will occur within the next few weeks,” he insisted.

“The drought situation is spreading at an alarming rate; more districts and regions are facing emergency levels of food insecurity as the cumulative effects of multiple failed rainy seasons take their toll.”

In a call for radical change to stop famine happening again, UNICEF’s Mr. Elder described the disturbing scenes already playing out in Somalia’s worst-affected region.

Somalia is facing the risk of an unprecedented famine

UN Photo / Fardosa Hussein
Somalia is facing the risk of an unprecedented famine

Everyday bugs now deadly

“Children are already dying,” he said. “Our partners report that some stabilization centres are in fact full and critically-ill children are receiving treatment on the floor.”

With greater funding, more severe and acutely malnourished children can be given lifesaving food which will make them strong enough to ward off diseases, just like healthier youngsters.

“This is not just about nutrition, severely malnourished children are in fact up to 11 times more likely to die from things like diarrhoea and measles than well-nourished boys and girls,” Mr. Elder said, adding that both diseases “are spiking” in the worst-hit areas.

The UN’s response involves reaching the most vulnerable communities to prevent mass displacement before famine has been declared, to help to promote a faster recovery.

Humanitarian assistance has been increasing and reached an average of 3.1 million people per month between April and June 2022 and 4.5 million people per month between July and September 2022, according to FAO’s Mr. Peterschmitt.

“We know that the deaths, half of the deaths of 2011, happened before the declaration of famine,” said El-Khidir Daloum, WFP Somalia Representative and Country Director.

“As we speak right now, we are heading to 15 areas classified as hard-to-reach and we are scaling up together with UNICEF, the nutrition and the priority areas.”

In June, UNICEF reported that 386,000 children aged six to 59 months needed treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “That’s increased (today) to more than half a million, to 513,000; that’s a 33 per cent increase. Said one more way, it means 127,000 more children are at risk of death,” Mr. Elder said.

Security Council calls for intensifying efforts to expand Yemen truce

Council members highlighted the tangible benefits of the agreement between the Government and Houthi rebels, now in its sixth month.

They include a 60 per cent reduction in casualties.  

Additionally, fuel coming through critical Huydadah port has quadrupled, while commercial flights from the capital, Sana’a, have allowed 21,000 people to receive medical treatment and unite with their families. 

Appeal for flexibility 

The landmark truce was first announced in April, and initially for two months.  It was renewed in June for another two months, and then again in August, marking the longest period of relative calm in Yemen in more than seven years of war. 

The Council called on the parties “to urgently intensify, and be flexible in, the negotiations under the auspices of the UN to agree on an expanded truce that could be translated into a durable ceasefire”.  

In addition to stepping up engagement with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, the sides were urged to abstain from conditionality and to work towards implementing measures to tackle the economic and financial crises.  

‘Exceptional measures’ praised 

“The members of the Security Council welcomed the exceptional measures taken by the Government of Yemen to avert fuel shortages in the Houthi-controlled areas following a Houthi order that affected the established process for clearing fuel ships,” the statement said. 

“They called on the Houthis to refrain from such actions in the future and to cooperate with UN-led efforts to identify a durable solution to ensure the flow of fuel.” 

No military solution 

The Council has condemned all attacks that threaten to derail the truce, including a deadly Houthi offensive in Taiz late last month. Reiterating that there is no military solution for Yemen, members also condemned the recent military parade in Hudaydah. 

They expressed concern over recent instability in the south, the increase in civilian landmine casualties, and the lack of progress on the opening of the roads in Taïz, in line with UN proposals.  On the latter, they again called for the Houthis to “act with flexibility” in negotiations and immediately open the main Taïz roads.  

The Council reiterated its support for the UN Special Envoy and expressed determination that an expanded truce agreement will provide an opportunity to reach an inclusive, comprehensive political settlement. They also underscored the importance of the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in the peace process.   

The tanker FSO Safer, in the Red Sea off Yemen.

© Marine Traffic
The tanker FSO Safer, in the Red Sea off Yemen.

Humanitarian and environmental concerns 

Turning to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the continued risk of famine, the Council encouraged donors to fully fund the UN response plan and support the Government’s efforts to stabilize the economy.  

Members also reiterated their deep concern over the catastrophic ecological, maritime, and humanitarian risk posed by the decaying Safer oil tanker. 

The vessel has been anchored just a few miles off the Yemen coast for more than 30 years but offloading and maintenance stopped in 2015 following the start of the war. 

Council members commended countries and the private sector for their pledges in support of  a UN plan to transfer the oil onboard the tanker to a temporary vessel. 

They called for the pledges to be dispersed, and for funding to be increased to prevent a catastrophe from occurring. 

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