REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
25 September 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization and the World Meteorological Organization.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) explained today’s agenda included the report of the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent, an annual report which was to be followed by interactive dialogue. After this was general debate on Item 9, which referred to racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. Approximately 80 to 90 speakers were expected to take part. At 15:00 the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia was to present his report, followed by interactive dialogue.
On the schedule for tomorrow (26 September) were reports from Experts on Somalia and Sudan, as well as country-specific presentations from the Deputy High-Commissioner on technical capacity building in Cambodia, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. General debate on Item 10, technical assistance in capacity building followed.
Mr. Gomez added that the President of the Council was to brief the media on Friday (28 September) in Press Room 1 at 13:15.
Gregory Härtl for the World Health Organization (WHO) gave an update on the newly identified coronavirus. An outbreak news posting of the first two cases had been issued on Sunday 23 September on the WHO website (http://www.who.int/csr/don/2012_09_23/en/index.html) . A standard case definition was expected this afternoon though details about the virus were still unclear. It was a member of the coronavirus family, of which at least six were already recorded, which cause disease ranging from the common cold to SARS. This virus was unusual and distinct from other members of the family in that it caused rapid renal failure.
WHO was working with national health authorities to alert them to the existence of this virus and to try to acquire information on other possible cases, though no others have yet been noted. The two current cases were three months apart and on the Arabian Peninsula, with some connection to Saudi Arabia.
Answering questions, Mr. Härtl said that one patient, a Qatari national, was currently in critical condition, and that he had no previous medical issues. The other patient, a Saudi National who had died, had pre-cardiac conditions. He was not aware of examinations of what they had eaten and detailed medical histories were being sought. Contact had been made with the Saudi Ministry of Health. WHO did not recommend any travel restrictions.
He further clarified that although the new disease and SARS belonged to the same family, they were distinctly different and the use of the term “SARS-like” as currently seen in the press was not appropriate. WHO is currently in the process of obtaining further information to determine the public health implications of these two confirmed cases.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the distribution of food to persons affected by monsoon floods in the Sindh province, of Pakistan had begun.
A one-month food ration was being distributed to some 10,000 families in Jacobabad district of Sindh, where some areas were under 2.5 metres (8 feet) of water. South Punjab and the north west of Balochistan had also been hit and Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority had estimated that up to 4.5 million people had been affected. In response WFP could scale up its response to reach up to 250,000 families, up to 1.7 million people. Extra funding was needed to address the problem and $15 million was being sought.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was working with provincial authorities to provide shelter and assistance to 18,000 flood affected families in Punjab and Sindh. So far IOM had completed a distribution of emergency shelter materials to 500 displaced families in Punjab's Rajanpur district, hit by floods for the third year in a row. A previous call for funding for $440 million to help rebuild in the wake of the 2010 and 2011 floods was only 11 per cent funded.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the situation in Yemen continued to deteriorate and it was estimated that more than 10 million people needed food assistance. The country had the highest figure in the world for child malnutrition, with two million suffering from stunted growth. The WFP was working with UNICEF on a response plan on the issue, and was working to scale up operations to assist 5.5 million people to the end of 2012. Funding of $225 million was needed for this, and the funding gap currently stood at $69 million.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said increased numbers of refugees were fleeing Sudan's Southern Kordofan state and into the Yida refugee camp arriving in poor health and without any belongings.
Reports from those arriving said they had come to set up a shelter in Yida Camp and then would return to Sudan to retrieve their families. They were fleeing not only the terror of the bombings and the presence of ground troops, but also an acute lack of food as it became impossible to plant crops. An increased influx into Yida was anticipated as the rains subsided and if fighting further escalated in Southern Kordofan. As arrivals pick up, there could be up to 80,000 refugees by the end of the year. South Sudan currently hosted some 201,000 refugees.
As tension was building up again in border areas, UNHCR remained extremely concerned about the safety of the refugees in Yida settlement which was located in close proximity to the border. The presence of a refugee settlement in highly militarized border areas close to a conflict zone hampered efforts to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum. The safety of the refugees in this location could not be guaranteed. UNHCR continued to work with the refugee community to advocate for the relocation of the settlement to a safer location as soon as roads re-opened.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR had been supporting South Sudanese authorities in their efforts to ensure there were no arms or combatants in the camp and that the practice of recruitment was prevented. Recently, however, a search for weapons in the settlement led to incidents of arbitrary detention and abuse of refugees. Together with their partners, UNHCR had been monitoring the situation and intervening to secure the release of those detained.
Meanwhile in South Sudan's Upper Nile state, there were concerns that the main roads leading to camps hosting over 100,000 refugees could be cut off by heavy rains and flooding.
Answering questions she said humanitarian access was a huge issue. On the search that had taken place in the camp she explained reports suggested groups of young men were being arbitrarily detained without real evidence they are combatants.
Answering questions she said fighting had escalated recently and that the current negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan were bilateral, and so without humanitarian agencies.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Security Council had issued a press statement on Sudan and South Sudan on Friday (21 September) which reiterated the grave concern of its members about the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. They strongly urged all parties to expedite all necessary steps to immediately commence humanitarian relief operations in accordance with the Memoranda of Understanding the parties signed with the Tripartite partners. She also mentioned a high-level meeting on the issue was planned on Thursday (27 September) in New York.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) answered a question on protests by Syrian refugees in the Al-Zaatri refugee camp in Jordan, saying that a UNHCR representative had arrived on the ground and was investigating the situation, what had happened and the specific grievances involved.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said an update on El Nino issued today suggested a weak presentation of the weather phenomenon may develop in September and October and last into the Northern Hemisphere winter season.
Neutral conditions were currently being observed, and for an El Nino to develop the right sea surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions were needed. Currently the sea surface temperature had exceeded the threshold needed but the atmospheric conditions had not. The update was based on information from centres around the world, and the models used stated that there was a moderately high likelihood of an El Nino though it could not be ruled out that neutral conditions could continue.
IOM (Sri Lanka / Guyana / Nicaragua / Djibouti)
Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said his organization had yesterday helped the last 251 families in the Menik Farm camp displacement camp near Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka to return to their homes, in Mullaitivu district.
The move, funded by the Government of Japan and in close coordination with the UN, NGOs and the government, marked the end of an IOM operation that had helped some 250,000 internally displaced people to return home from the camp, which was set up in 2009 in the aftermath of war and at one point housed some 300,000 people.
Mr. Chauzy said the IOM Director was to launch a project tomorrow designed to contribute to the economic development of Guyana through the support and engagement of the Guayanese Disapora.
Mr. Chauzy also gave details of a meeting in Nicaragua this week this week between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to discuss citizens of the former working in the latter. Migrants often took employment in the construction and domestic industries and frictions had emerged between the two nations in the past.
Mr. Chauzy added that a meeting in Djibouti to try and improve the assistance offered by the authorities to migrants was to take place this week.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child began the examination of reports of Albania today and was to look at the report of Canada tomorrow. Examination of country reports concluded this week but the session continued until next Friday, October 5.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would hold a private session this week, until its closing session on Friday. It had considered three reports, from China, Argentina and Hungary and must adopt concluding observations on these countries. In previous sessions, the Committee published its observations on the following Monday, so on October 1 for this session. This was to be confirmed on Friday.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced a press conference at 11:00 on Thursday (27 September) on the revised inter-agency regional response for Syrian refugees.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) gave details of a new study on the world of work in the countries of the south. Included in the reports were details of the situation in Brazil and South Africa, and discussed both the global economic crisis and the impact of globalization. A briefing with the authors of the report was possible if there was interest.
Jessica Sallabank for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announced the launch of the annual 2012 World Disaster Report, which this year focused on forced migration. A briefing for the media was available the day before the official launch, on Monday 15 October.