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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 October 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Committee of the Red Cross, World Food Programme, United Nations Refugees Agency, International Organization for Migration, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Labour Organization, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Economic Forum.   

Syria – Winter Preparations

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), spoke about work to deliver aid across Syria in preparation for winter.  Syria’s on-going conflict continued to complicate efforts to address the humanitarian needs there.   On 14 October UNHCR relief aid was delivered to some 2,500 people from Mouadamiya, to the southwest of Damascus.  Those people had just been evacuated and were now in collective centres in Dahyet Qudsaya.  As well as monitoring their general condition and protection concerns, mattresses, blankets, cooking sets, hygienic supplies and other aid was handed out. 

Last week, UNHCR's local partners brought aid to the hard-to-reach city of Raqqa to more than 10,000 people.  The recipients included more than 3,600 people sheltered at the Al Riyayat school and Massahadah farm.  Raqqa, located about 160 kilometres east of Aleppo, hosted internally displaced persons from Aleppo and Deir es Zour.  Just prior to the recent Eid holiday, on 10 and 13 October, UNHCR participated in two inter-agency convoys to Ter Maela and Al-Ghantoo, near Homs.  Relief items were provided to 10,000 vulnerable people.  The teams observed that many of the displaced were living in buildings lacking windows, doors and electricity.  People in that area would soon urgently require thermal blankets and plastic sheets to deal with winter temperatures.  Women said they lacked privacy in the collective shelters.

So far in 2013, about 35 per cent of UNHCR's core relief supplies had gone to people in hard-to-reach areas of Syria.  UNHCR’s work inside Syria aimed at delivering relief aid to three million people.  That allowed people to feed their families, it ensured access to shelter, and it helped people cope with displacement and maintaining hygiene.  On a weekly basis up to 250 aid trucks were on the move inside Syria, bringing aid to some 14,000 to 15,000 households, equivalent to nearly 100,000 people weekly.  Despite that effort, the needs within Syria were enormous and displacement was on-going.  Current United Nations estimates were that there were more than 4.25 million people who were internally displaced, but that figure was nearly five months old and likely to be revised upwards.  Beyond those who were displaced, millions of other Syrians were impoverished and lacked medical and other aid.

Temperatures were now dropping across the region and together with the rest of the aid community UNHCR was in a race to help people prepare for Syria’s third winter amid conflict.  Mr. Edwards said a press release with more details would be distributed after the briefing. 

Syria – possible Polio outbreak

Oliver Rosenbauer, Communications Officer, Polio for the World Health Organization (WHO), answered a question about a possible polio outbreak in Syria, saying that it looked likely.  The WHO was waiting for final laboratory confirmation but everybody was treating the situation as a polio outbreak operationally.  The next step would be to look at genetics to find the origin of the outbreak.  A plan was underway for an emergency response, which would start in the immediately affected area of the Deir es Zour, Province this month with larger-scale campaigns starting across the country and in neighbouring countries, as well as refugee camps, from November.  Asked how long the vaccine was effective for, Mr. Rosenbauer replied that it should be 10 years following a full dose but boosters were recommended, especially in that situation.  All unvaccinated children were very vulnerable, so multiple doses of the vaccine meant much stronger protection, especially for children. 

Jordan – Vaccination Campaigns

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that this week, IOM and the Jordanian Ministry of Health and partners had started a nation-wide community mobilization and awareness-raising campaign in anticipation to the two-week measles, rubella, and polio immunization campaign scheduled to start on 2 November.  The national campaign would target 3.5 million individuals under 20 years old to be immunized against measles and German measles, and immunisations against polio for children under five years old.  The campaign would target Jordanian nationals, Syrian refugees, and people of other nationalities living in Jordan and was funded by the Government of Kuwait. 

Qatar

Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was seriously concerned about the decision taken by Qatar’s highest court on October 20 to uphold a 15-year prison sentence for Mohammed al Ajami (also known as Ibn al Dheeb), a well-known Qatari poet.  The sentence was clearly disproportionate.

Mr. Mohammed al Ajami was initially sentenced to life in prison on 29 November 2012 for a poem that was considered to be encouraging the overthrow of the ruling system of the country and insulting to the nation’s symbols.  His sentence was reduced to 15 years last February during a second appeal.  Following Sunday’s verdict from the Court of Cassation, Mr. al Ajami’s only recourse was to appeal for clemency to the Emir of Qatar.

OHCHR had already publicly expressed its concerns in January about the harsh sentencing, the fairness of his trial and about the many months Mr. al Ajami had spent in solitary confinement.  OHCHR called for the respect of Mr. al Ajami’s right to freedom of expression and for his immediate release.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jean-Yves Clemenzo, Chief of Communications for Central and Southern Africa for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spoke about the humanitarian situation in the province of Katanga, where the ICRC had begun an operation to distribute emergency food and essential goods for 30,000 people, following an increase in fighting.  Mr. Clemenzo said that access was difficult and it was a complicated operation due to the ongoing situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Mr. Clemenzo was available for interview, as were his colleagues in Kinshasa, and a press release with more information would be distributed today. 

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that due to the lack of funding, WFP was being forced to reduce its geographical coverage in certain provinces.  The likely impact would be an unfortunate reduction of support to school children, refugees and returnees. 

The WFP had received only half of the funding it required to continue its planned relief operations in Democratic Republic of the Congo over the next six months and unless new funds were quickly confirmed, it would not be able to continue covering the needs of 300,000 internally displaced people in North Kivu, who had already been receiving half rations for the last six months.  If the $70 million shortfall was not met, WFP and its partners would be compelled to scale down activities from November, although it would strive to maintain life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable groups, such as displaced women and children. 

Since May 2013, food prices had increased in Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially the price of maize flour in some of the most food-insecure areas such as Goma where an eight per cent increase has been registered.  The results of a survey on food security in emergencies (EFSA) conducted in the province of North Kivu in June 2013 indicates that approximately 61% of households in the province are food insecure.  WFP had assisted 3.6 million people between September 2012 and June 2013, Ms. Byrs said, and was currently providing assistance – food, cash and vouchers - to some 1.9 million people across Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Those include internally displaced people, refugees, children in school, and mothers and children who were either malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.

Bangladesh

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO), spoke about a new US$ 24.2 million programme being launched today.  This initiative focused on minimizing the threat of fire and building collapse in garment factories, and on ensuring the rights and safety of workers.  The programme had been developed with the Government of Bangladesh, and representatives of workers and employers, in response to a number of industrial accidents in the sector, including the tragic fire and collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April this year, in which more than 1,100 workers died. 

Initiatives linked to the programme would seek to implement factory-level standards to improve compliance with national labour laws and respect for international core labour standards, while promoting the competitiveness of participant factories.  A press release had been issued.  Answering questions from journalists about the training of labour inspectors in Bangladesh, Mr. Rohland said he could not confirm how many inspectors had been trained so far, but did say that the first inspections were due to take place next month. 

Haiti

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) spoke about a new report titled the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) which covered a three-month period ending on September 30.  The report stated that for the first time the number of people displaced by the 2010 earthquake had been reduced to below 200,000.  Today a total of 172,000 individuals or 45,000 households were still displaced and living in 306 sites or camp-like settlements in Haiti.

The reduction was due to several factors, including return programmes offering rental subsidies led by the Government of Haiti, in collaboration with IOM and other partners, that had helped relocate approximately 55,900 internally displaced households.  “It was important that the international community step up and close the displacement chapter, a realistic goal which could be attained in the next two years,” Mr. Jumbe quoted the IOM Chief of Mission in Haiti, Gregoire Goodstein, as saying. 

South Sudan

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that an IOM-organized barge convoy carrying 856 South Sudanese returnees docked in the capital Juba yesterday, marking the end of a 17-day voyage from the northern border town of Renk.  Renk, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, was close to the international border with Sudan, and in recent years had become a bottleneck for returnees.  Thousands of returnees had been able cross the border into Renk, but due to poor road infrastructure, lack of funds and other constraints they were often unable to travel further.   IOM estimated that now only approximately 3,000 returnees still needed assistance to reach their final destinations in South Sudan.  Following the successful completion of the latest barge movement, planning was currently underway for another IOM-supported barge convoy out of Renk in the coming weeks.

Geneva activities

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that around 150 senior policy makers from Governments, civil society, businesses, academia, philanthropic organizations and international organizations from across the globe would gather in Montreux, Switzerland this week for the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Development Cooperation Forum High-level Symposium on the post-2015 development agenda.  The two-day meeting would take place from Thursday 24 to Friday 25 October.  A press release had been distributed with links to the full programme and other details.  [It was later announced that journalists could access the meeting with a United Nations pass.]

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Human Rights Committee, currently in session at Palais Wilson, would this week review the reports of Mauritania, Mozambique and Uruguay.  The Committee would also hold a public meeting on its draft general comment on arbitrary arrest and detention.  The session ends on November 1. 

The Committee Against Torture would next week begin a four-week session to consider the reports of nine countries, Ms. Momal-Vanian announced.  The countries, in the order they would be considered, were Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Poland, Latvia in the first week,
Belgium, Burkina Faso and Portugal in the second week and Andorra and Kyrgyzstan in the final week.  A background press release would be distributed on Thursday afternoon.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) would hold a press conference on Wednesday, 23 October at 1.15 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the subject of women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations.   Nicole Ameline, CEDAW Chairperson would also brief the press on the Committee’s concluding observations on the reports of Moldova, Colombia, Benin, Andorra, Cambodia, Tajikistan and Seychelles, which were reviewed at its latest session.

The Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would hold a press briefing on the humanitarian situation in West Africa’s Sahel region (which included Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, The Gambia and northern parts of Cameroon and Nigeria) today, Tuesday, 22 October, at 11.30 a.m. in Room III.  Robert Piper, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, would be speaking.

Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that a press conference would take place tomorrow, Wednesday 23 October, at 1 p.m. in Press Room 1.  The Conference would mark the launch of the 2013 WHO Global Tuberculosis Report, which was being launched that morning in London, United Kingdom at 10 a.m.  Dr Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases and Dr Karin Weyer, Coordinator, Laboratories, Diagnostics and Drug Resistance, Global TB Programme, WHO, would be speaking at the Geneva event. 

Senior representatives from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and representatives of the United Kingdom Government and academia would join the WHO at the launch in London tomorrow, Ms. Chaib said.  In the report the WHO would unveil five priority actions to strengthen the fight against tuberculosis – one of the world’s leading infectious killers – at the launch of a new report on the epidemic and the global response.  With the world increasingly aware of the threat of antimicrobial resistance, the new TB report features updates on multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in addition to latest information on the co-epidemic of TB and HIV.
 
The WHO-recommended actions were based on new data from almost 200 countries and territories.  The report included the latest numbers on people who became sick or died from TB, MDR-TB and TB/HIV, lives saved, treatment successes and gaps, along with sections on recent progress in roll-out of new TB diagnostics, as well as on TB financing and on research and development.  For the first time, the WHO TB report has a special supplement on progress towards the relevant 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goal and related TB targets, addressing what is on track and off track. 
Ms Chaib said that a briefing note had already been circulated to the press. 

Cosimo Vallo, of the Peacekeeping Training Programme at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), announced an upcoming round table discussion on peacekeeping in Mali on the occasion of the fifth session of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Peacekeeping Training Programme.  Titled “Mali: What steps for peace?” the event would take place at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy on Thursday, 24 October from 3 to 7 p.m.   The discussion would be opened by Ms. Sally Fegan-Wyles, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Acting Head and Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.  The keynote speaker would be Ahmed Ould-Abdallah, President, Centre for Strategy and Security in the Sahel Sahara and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the region.  Mr. Vallo asked that journalists could confirm their participation by registering online.

Michele Mischler, Associate Director, Public Affairs and Media for the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced the launch in London of The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 on Friday 25 October.  There would also be a special presentation in Zurich, in German, focusing mostly on Switzerland.  The report ranked national gender gaps of 136 countries on economic, political, education  and health-based criteria.  The index ranked countries on their gender gaps, not their development level, noted Ms. Mischler.  Although the report was embargoed until the 25 October, Ms. Mischler listed some initial findings of the 2013 report, namely good results in the fields of health and education.  Copies of the embargoed report and press release would be circulated to the press. 

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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Meteorological Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media.