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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
8 April 2014

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the spokespersons for the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Looming drought in Syria

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said a special report published today highlighted how a potential drought would strain Syria’s already fragile food security situation. In a report titled ‘Special Focus Syria’, WFP food security analysts wrote that since September there had been less than half the long-term average rainfall, which would have a major impact on the next cereal harvest. With three-quarters of the rainfall season gone, and only one month left, it was unlikely that there would be a significant recovery in this current agricultural season, said Ms. Byrs.

In March WFP provided assistance to a record four million people in Syria, but now it feared that a possible drought – if rainfall did not improve – could put the lives of millions more at risk. According to current rainfall data, the worst-affected governorates accounted for close to 50 per cent of Syrian wheat production. Ms. Byrs said the north-west of the country, in particular the Aleppo, Idleb and Hama governorates were the most affected, with poor conditions extending also to Raqqa, southern Hassakeh and areas of Deir Ezzor.

The Special Focus Syria report outlined how dry conditions, which were also affecting the wider Middle East region, would compound the impact of the civil war on the agricultural sector. Wheat production was expected to be between 1.7 to two million metric tons, which would be a record low, further increasing import requirements to meet Syria’s wheat needs that last year stood at 5.1 million tons. Livestock and pastoral livelihoods would also suffer as a result of water shortages and poor pasture availability.

Syria suffered from five years of drought right before the conflict broke out and vulnerable communities in affected areas hardly had time to recover before they were hit by the conflict, Ms. Byrs said, adding that more details were available in the press release.

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Byrs confirmed that WFP aimed to reach 4.25 million people by the end of April. It was extremely concerned that up to 6.5 million people inside Syria may become food-insecure and would require external food assistance to survive. WFP was also very concerned about the impact of the looming drought, which would add another factor into the already very difficult conflict situation. Ms. Byrs said although WFP had had slightly improved access into Syria, there were still hard-to-reach places they could not get to. She reminded journalists that US$41 million was needed every week to pay for WFP’s operations both inside and outside of Syria.

WHO news

Gregory Härtl, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced a press conference for Tuesday, 8 April at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the release of the first-ever hepatitis C treatment guidelines, which were very important as the hepatitis C virus resulted in between 350,000 and 500,000 deaths every year.

Mr. Härtl also announced that a virtual press conference on the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa would take place today, Tuesday 8 April, at 4 p.m. in the India Room at the World Health Organization which was next to the Executive Boardroom (WHO), and journalists were welcome to attend with photographers or listen remotely from their phones.

Responding to a question about attacks on Ebola treatment centres in Guinea, Mr. Härtl replied that it was a Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre that was attacked. A WHO staff member who had been in the south-east of Guinea at the time would take part in the virtual press conference this afternoon. Such attacks were very unfortunate, he said. Because there was a lot of fear and misconception in an Ebola outbreak and around the very word ‘Ebola’, such things could happen. In fact, it was not the first time. More information would be given this afternoon.

UNECE news

Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) first announced the departure of the Executive Secretary Mr. Sven Alkalaj as today was the last of his term of office.

Mr. Rodriguez also announced that from 9 to 10 April the second workshop on “River Basin Commissions and other Joint Bodies for Transboundary Water Cooperation: Technical Aspects” would take place in Room VII of the Palais des Nations. The workshop would be opened at 10 a.m. by Ms. Heide Jekel, Germany Minister for the Environment of Germany. Copies of the programme with lists of speakers were available at the back of the room.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Permanent Mission of Rwanda and United Nations Office at Geneva would mark the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda in a ceremony on Wednesday, 9 April from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the Assembly Hall at the Palais des Nations, and invited all media to attend.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had released a draft general comment on Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which deals with the recognition of the legal personality of people with disabilities. The Committee would close its session on Friday 11 April and then publish its concluding observations on the reports of Sweden, Azerbaijan and Costa Rica.

The Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families yesterday held a public meeting to mark the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention, Ms. Momal-Vanian said. The Committee would close its session on Friday 11 April after which it would publish its concluding observations on the reports of Uruguay, El Salvador, Mali and the Philippines.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), announced a press conference on Tuesday, 8 April at 12.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the situation in the Central African Republic, with Denise Brown, WFP Regional Director for West Africa, speaking.

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Permanent Mission of the Holy See had scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, 9 April at 11.30 a.m. in Press Room III on the subject of “Peace and the future of the Middle East”. His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Raï, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, would be speaking.

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The representatives of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Refugees Agency also attended the briefing but did not speak.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1mVy51a