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World News in Brief: Gaza relief ‘an impossible mission’, COVID spreading fast again, food prices fall

“Its people are witnessing daily threats to their very existence – while the world watches on”, warned Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths in a statement, adding that “hope has never been more elusive” amidst deteriorating conditions.

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“The humanitarian community has been left with the impossible mission of supporting more than two million people, even as its own staff are being killed and displaced, as communication blackouts continue, as roads are damaged and convoys are shot at, and as commercial supplies vital to survival are almost non-existent.”

‘Famine around the corner’

Three months on from the horrific 7 October attacks, Gaza has become a place of death and despair, he said, with a public health disaster unfolding before our eyes.

“Infectious diseases are spreading in overcrowded shelters as sewers spill over. Some 180 Palestinian women are giving birth daily amidst this chaos.  People are facing the highest levels of food insecurity ever recorded. Famine is around the corner”, he said.

But rocket attacks from militants are still raining down on Israel, while more than 120 people are still held hostage in Gaza, he added.

With tensions in the West Bank at boiling point, and “the spectre of further regional spillover of the war” looming, Mr. Griffiths said that the war must end, “not just for the people of Gaza and its threatened neighbours, but for the generations to come who will never forget these 90 days of hell and of assaults on the most basic precepts of humanity.”

He concluded with a call for the international community to use all influence possible to end the fighting, meet civilians’ essential needs, and secure the release of all hostages.

COVID infections rising fast and under-reported, warns WHO

The UN health agency WHO confirmed on Friday that coronavirus numbers are spiking globally and that we “should expect more cases” in the coming winter months in the northern hemisphere.

Latest data from the World Health Organization covering the four weeks to 17 December indicated a 52 per cent increase in infections compared with the previous 28-days.

That amounts to 850,000 new COVID-19 cases reported, but the true figure is likely much higher, according to WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier:

“You know that all throughout the world and you’ve seen it in many of your own countries, the reporting has dropped, the surveillance centers have dropped, the vaccination centers have dropped, have been dismantled as well or shut down”, he told reporters in Geneva.

“This, of course, leads to an incomplete picture and we should expect unfortunately more cases than we have officially reported.”

Most infections have been caused by a new COVID strain called JN.1 which is now under close scrutiny by the UN health agency as a “variant of interest”. JN.1 was reportedly first detected in the United States before spreading across dozens of countries.

It evolved from the Omicron variant which was linked to a peak in COVID infections in 2022.

Food price inflation fears ease again: FAO

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported on Friday that the Food Price Index ended the year just over 10 per cent below its December 2022 level, further easing concerns over food price inflation worldwide.

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The monthly figure for a basket of traded food commodities was also down around 1.5 per cent for December, averaging 118.5 points, compared with the previous month.

The sharpest drop came in international sugar quotations, which were some 16.6 per cent down for December on the previous month. 

For 2023, the index was 13.7 percent lower overall than the average value for 2022, with only the international sugar price index higher over the year.

FAO said the sugar price drop was mainly due to the strong pace of production in Brazil along with reduced use of sugarcane for ethanol production in India.

The cereal price index rose 1.5 per cent in December, with wheat, maize, rice and parley all rising due to shipment limitations experienced by exporters. Cereal prices for the year however we more than 15 per cent below the 2022 average.

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