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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 October 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Syria

Melissa Fleming for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said as Syrian refugee numbers continued to rise in neighbouring states, UNHCR and its partners were stepping up efforts to prepare for the onset of cold weather over the winter months. The agency was budgeting more than $64 million for winter preparations throughout the region.

In Jordan, plans were to focus on two refugee populations - those in camps and the 75 per cent (10,000) living in the local communities. Cash assistance was being offered, alongside clothing, fuel and rental payments. The Norwegian Refugee Council was preparing a winter strategy in the camps and this was to include the provision of stoves, fuel, warm clothing, thermal blankets, plastic sheeting and hot water bottles. Between two and three thousand people were still fleeing across borders every day, she said.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, there were currently some 94,213 Syrians either registered or awaiting refugee registration – all living in the local community. Some were living rent-free with local families, while others were renting housing and with prices rising, more support was needed. The provision of adequate shelter had been a persistent concern and UNHCR was taking steps to help alleviate that pressure.

In Turkey, camps were operated by the Turkish government, with the support of UNHCR. In Iraq, the number of Syrians seeking asylum was now over 39,000, in a country which had its own large displaced population. Refugee camps in the country were receiving assistance.

Within Syria itself, it was thought that around 1.2 million people had been displaced, often more than once, and were moving around the country. There were concerns that not only conflict and violence would soon be driving people across borders, but also the lack of electricity. Over the next three months, therefore, a $32.4 million UNHCR ‘Keeping Families Warm’ programme was to target 500,000 Syrians.

Answering questions, she also said that UNHCR was at a good state of preparedness, with an awareness of the significant number of people potentially needing assistance (700,000 by the end of the year) and if the plan was followed as laid out then a certain degree of warmth and comfort was possible for refugees this winter.

She added on the other hand that humanitarian access to Syria was still a huge issue and the ability to reach people in need was hampered by terrible violence. Some people were able to reach UNHCR offices in urban areas but for those outside those areas it was very difficult. The Syrian Red Crescent was undertaking heroic efforts to reach people in places that the United Nations could not go, but even they believed it was just a fraction of what was actually needed. On another point she called on all nations of the world, beyond those in neighbouring countries, to welcome asylum seekers from Syria.

Asked to comment about the future fate of refugees she said those arriving in other countries often said their homes had been destroyed, and one project funded by the Saudi Government was prefabricated shelters which could be constructed and then deconstructed and transported if the situation improved and they could return.

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) added that food for 1.5 million Syrians had been dispatched for distribution in September. A food voucher programme was soon to be launched in Turkey.

Pakistan

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the flash floods in Pakistan’s Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan provinces in early September had triggered a humanitarian crisis which continued to unfold. In some areas, people stranded in floodwaters were still being rescued by boat to safer places. Over 269,000 people had been displaced, nearly half a million (465,400) houses had been damaged and huge amounts of crops have been lost, leaving people in need of food.

In addition, standing water in flood-affected districts of Sindh and Balochistan remained of great concern. Dewatering of these flooded areas was an urgent need for people to be able to return. Overall, the national authorities estimated that five million people were affected by the floods. The immediate need was for food, emergency shelter, health, water, and sanitation and hygiene services.

In the initial first phase of the response, 140,000 flood-affected people had received monthly food rations in three districts of Sindh and Balochistan, and humanitarian agencies had supplied medicines for nearly 450,000 people in the flood-affected areas.

Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces were the hardest hit provinces. For context, many of the affected districts, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh, were already struggling to recover from the floods in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the floods affected 20 million and submerged one-fifth of the Pakistani territory and 2,000 people drowned. In 2011, five million were affected by seasonal floods.

In response to the new floods, OCHA had established a humanitarian coordination centre in Sukkur for the operations in Sindh province, and deployed staff to support the response in Balochistan.

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said smaller numbers of people were affected in Pakistan than in the floods of 2010-2011, but UNICEF field staff and NGO partners reported that people were worse off as the damage was deeper.

The floodwaters were receding, but in many rural areas, they were still up to two to three metres high, offering a serious malaria threat, especially for malnourished children.

The UNICEF education cluster had estimated that 3,200 schools were damaged and 510 were hosting displaced families, disrupting schooling for half a million children. Local authorities estimated that 54 per cent of health facilities had been damaged.

In the wake of this UNICEF was reaching tens of thousands of children and families with safe water, hygiene supplies, immunisation, malnutrition screening and treatment. The immediate funding needed over the next three months was $15.4 million.

Disaster preparedness

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said tomorrow (13 October) marked the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.
To coincide with this IOM had announced the start of a major Asian initiative to assist communities to prepare for and reduce the risk of natural disasters.

The organization had received $17 million, mainly from the USA and Australia, which was to be used primarily for community-based disaster risk reduction, but also to build capacity in governments and national partners.

The funds will be spent in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. Programmes included preparedness for earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and cyclones.

World Food Day

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said Tuesday (16 October) was World Food Day. She shared details of a campaign featuring a young girl who had been given a camera to document her daily life and show the impact of the daily school meals given to her. The videos were available on the WFP website at (http://www.wfp.org/worldfoodday) and there was also the facility for people to donate online in support of the programme.

Southern Africa

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said more than 20,000 people headed towards South Africa every year for a variety of reasons, and often faced challenges such as a lack of accommodation or walking long distances.

To target these people an IOM centre had been built near the Nyamapanda Temporary Reception Centre border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, a route which sees 8,000 people pass through annually. This meant that asylum status could be registered there rather than forcing people to walk 300km. People could then be transported to the Tongogara refugee camp.

A second centre at the Zimbabwe-South African border town of Musina was to be used as a shelter for 200 vulnerable migrants, including unaccompanied minors and women. Funding for this work had come from the European Union and the United Nations Development Service.


IPU Assembly

Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union said the 127th IPU Assembly was taking place from 21 to 26 October 2012 in Quebec City. The event would be themed around identity and linguistic and cultural diversity. Also on the agenda would be an emergency debate on a single topic, and proposals had been tabled by the United Arab Emirates to look at the respect and protection of religious diversity, by Syria for discussions on violence against Christians and other minorities while Mali was hoping to use the opportunity to direct focus onto its own internal situation.

The decision regarding the topic of the emergency debate would be taken on the first day of the Assembly. Topics related to peace were also under the spotlight, including peace building, disarmament and safeguarding civilian lives.

European Waterways / ECE

Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission for Europe said only seven per cent of goods were transported by river in the European Union, while road transport represented 78 per cent of the tonnage and 15 per cent went by rail. These facts were the basis of some of the conclusions of the annual session of the Working Group of the UNECE transport by waterway, which met from 10 to 12 October 2012 in Geneva.

Europe had 29,000 km and more than 400 major ports and terminals, he said, and 14,700 km could be used for containerized transport, which was the most dynamic form of inland navigation of goods. Considerable efforts were still required on the part of governments and the shipping industry to increase the traffic of goods by waterway and thus relieve the roads and rail networks European.

Some of the major obstacles to the development of the inland waterway transport network were the inadequate and poorly maintained infrastructure and fleet. He noted, however that there were developments in making this a mainstream method of transportation, with, for example, French supermarkets using it to distribute goods.

He also mentioned that on Monday the UNECE Executive-Secretary would be in Vienna to speak at a meeting on the OSCE on environmental issues such as water in Central Asia and security risks in transport. Also next week was the annual meeting of the Timber Committee, which started on Tuesday (16 October) in Room XII.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Committee was to open a three-week session on Monday (15 October) to examine the report of the Philippines (Monday and Tuesday), Turkey (Wednesday and Thursday, Germany (Thursday and Friday), Bosnia and Herzegovina (the following week) and Portugal (the following week). A background press release was distributed yesterday afternoon.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today in private. The closing session of the meeting was next Friday.

Meanwhile, a public meeting was to be held on Tuesday afternoon with the Human Rights Committee. On Thursday afternoon, the Committee had also scheduled a public meeting on the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

On Monday (15 October 2012) at 9:30 in Room III a press conference was scheduled by the IFRC on their annual flagship publication the World Disasters Report (WDR) 2012 which was to be officially launched on Tuesday (16 October). The report was under embargo until Tuesday at 13:00 Geneva time.

Later at 12.15 in Room III there would be a press conference by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the IOM Director-General would be giving a lecture at Oxford University on Monday on migration and the consequences of a major crisis, with the argument that national and international mechanisms for complex crises were needed.