REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
14 May 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Programme, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, International Telecommunications Union, World Meteorological Organization, and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) spoke about an inter-agency mission to Alhoula, Syria, which took place on Sunday 12 May. Alhoula was the site of clashes that took place almost a year ago (May 25 2012) that killed over one hundred people including forty-nine children in one day. It was the first UN mission to Alhoula, which had been almost completely been cut off for many months now. As part of this mission UNICEF provided hundreds of hygiene kits and nutrition supplies.
The UNICEF team found a critical shortage of medical supplies in the four partially functioning health facilities. Major illnesses reported included upper respiratory infections, scabies, lice, diarrhoea, and some mental illnesses. Water supplies were limited and there was no fuel to power water systems.
Nurses reported seeing increasing numbers of children with pale, very dry skin and sunken eyes, which were all common signs of malnutrition. The children said their biggest fear was of shelling and mortar attacks, which took place every day. The team saw remnants of children everywhere and saw children playing with unexploded ordnance.
Thirty-one out of forty-one schools in Alhoula were damaged and none of the approximately 25,000 school-aged children there had been in classrooms for two years now. The estimated population was about 70,000, half of whom were displaced.
The team saw communities whose coping mechanisms were almost completely exhausted. A UNICEF colleague said normally families stored enough food in their homes for one year, but now their supplies had run out. There had been no farming for almost two years, there was no harvest last year, the few shops that were open had very little on their shelves. Basically, without immediate and significant humanitarian assistance in the near term the team was looking at a high risk of increased malnutrition, the possibility of disease outbreaks and further displacement so that persons could access services.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the inter-agency mission to Alhoula, Syria on Sunday monitored the distribution of an inter-agency food convoy that left on 8 May, consisting of nine trucks of food, hygiene items and water supplies sufficient for 25,000 people. Because of the insecurity it was the first distribution in ten months.
There was a shortage of flour and other food items. When they were available, families had no money to buy them and often sold their land to buy food. It was a region that normally lived on agriculture and cattle-farming but its economic cycle had been interrupted. There was no harvesting, many cattle had been lost, and because of the high prices of petrol and gas, people were using animal faeces for heating. Given the increasing needs in Syria, the World Food Programme now needed USD$19.5 million a week, to cover the needs of operations in Syria and neighbouring countries.
Ms. Byrs answered a question about distribution time frames saying that trucks with supplies arrived on 8 May and distribution had begun.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said disaster authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar had activated their respective disaster response mechanisms in preparation for Cyclone Mahasen, which was expected to make landfall shortly, and due to hit the coast of Bangladesh close to its border with Myanmar.
Millions of people living in that area, from north-east India to Myanmar, could be affected by the storm. Major cyclones had hit that part of the world before and the threat was being taken extremely seriously. UNHCR was ensuring that all measures were in place to mitigate its impact and everyone was alert to the dangers.
UNHCR was particularly concerned by the situation of internally displaced persons in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, particularly in low-lying camps and was working with the Government to find solutions that were viable. Current estimates were that 69,000 internally displaced persons, with poor shelter, were most at risk in three locations. People living in coastal communities directly in the path of the storm were also at risk.
UNHCR and the humanitarian community welcomed and encouraged the activation of emergency response committees at both state and township levels as those institutions and organisations were best-placed to monitor and respond to the storm. It hoped that during any relocation process families would not be separated and that those in the most vulnerable positions would be prioritised.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said that the latest it had heard from its Myanmar country office was that Rakhine State Government had identified relocation sites for all internally displaced persons and coastal communities.
Humanitarian agencies met yesterday in Sittwe and the response plan was being finalised today. Relocation had started in Maugdaw. UNICEF was deploying staff, prepositioning supplies, and assessing gaps. UNICEF’s major concern was the water and sanitation situation. Even without a direct hit, heavy rains and flooding would have a severe impact on the water and sanitation situation, which was especially risky for children. UNICEF echoed the call by UNHCR and other UN agencies for urgent action and additional resources to protect the population in Rakhine.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP) said they had already provided food for the month of May to nearly 125,000 internally displaced persons in Rakhine State and were ready to conduct a rapid assessment once the storm hit to assess any additional needs. WFP had 4,000 metric tons of rice available in Rakhine, enough to provide food assistance for 296,000 people for one month.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) replied to a question on the Deputy Director General’s recent mission to Bangladesh agreeing that perhaps a press conference could be organised for Thursday. On whether there was there any official ILO comment on the agreement committed to by companies such as Zara and H&M to monitor textile production in Bangladesh, and whether it was satisfied with the text, Mr. von Rohland said the ILO of course welcomed the process but it was only a first step in the right direction. The ILO was also seeking to strengthen labour inspection in Bangladesh to strengthen social dialogue between the social partners and the dialogue.
In response to another question, Mr. von Rohland clarified that the 15 May deadline concerned only the fifth point of the agreement. On what the role of the ILO had been, Mr. von Rohland said that it had offered its expert support to the Government of Bangladesh and now there was a need to kick-start the process of beginning concrete projects in labour inspection and on social dialogue. As to the debate on the price of clothing and the ILO’s position on that, Mr. von Rohland responded that salaries certainly played an important role and again social dialogue should lead the path towards acceptable salaries.
Asked whether the ILO was coordinating with other UN agencies that had expertise in building safety, such as the UNISDR mission to Bangladesh, Mr. von Rohland said he was not aware of any cooperation between agencies in that respect but would enquire about it. A 2002 Governing Body Report showed that at that time there was one labour inspector for one million workers in Bangladesh. A comparable country in that region was Malaysia which had a ratio of one inspector to every five thousand workers. He would to see if more recent information was available.
In response to a question as to whether a UNISDR Bangladesh mission report could be made available, Brigitte Leoni, for United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said she would check but it was likely to have been only an internal report.
Novel Coronavirus (nCoV)
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said today it had been told by the authorities in Saudi Arabia that there were four more laboratory confirmed cases of human infection of the virus. Most of those four cases were in the eastern part of the country, bringing the total to thirty-eight lab-confirmed cases and twenty deaths. The WHO was continuing to monitor the situation closely and at the moment it still did not advise any trade or travel restrictions or special screening at points of entry.
The WHO would issue a disease outbreak news alert later today with details about the most recent individuals infected.
A question was asked regarding the four Saudi cases. Were they also elderly men with medical diseases and complications as in previous cases? Why was it hitting that group more than others? Mr. Thomas said that more information on these cases would be provided later today, but there was a variety of conditions that the World Health Organization was looking at. It was believed that one of the persons had been ill and discharged from hospital, but that would be verified in the news that would be issued later.
Mr. Thomas confirmed that the two most recent deaths were in Saudi Arabia. He also said that WHO’s updated Pandemic Phases Guidance would be published soon but no date had yet been given.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday WHO issued a disease outbreak news alert related to the detection of the Wild Polio Virus Type I in the Banadir region of Somalia, the first Type I virus to be reported from Somalia since 25 March 2007. The virus was isolated in specimens collected from a 32-month-old girl who became ill due to acute flaccid paralysis on 18 April 2013.
Today the WHO would launch a vaccination campaign to run until 16 May which would reach more than 350,000 children under the age of five in all sixteen districts of the region. A series of subsequent activities were also planned and under discussion.
Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction
David Singh for United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) provided an update on the upcoming Global Platform that would begin next week. As of today some 4,103 persons had registered for what had become the largest policy forum in Geneva, the biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. The fourth session would begin officially on 21 May at the International Conference Centre of Geneva.
Among participants attending would be the President of Switzerland Ueli Maurer for the opening day, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson, the former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, and over 170 high-level representatives including Government Ministers, heads of intergovernmental agencies and chief executive officers of private sector corporations.
The fourth session of the Global Platform with the theme ‘invest today for a safer tomorrow, resilient people resilient planet’ was a milestone event on the road towards agreement on the HFA II, which would include and expand on the existing priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action, the world’s first comprehensive framework agreement on disaster risk reduction adopted by all UN Member States in 2005.
The broad consultative process HFA II began in March 2012. That Global Platform provides for a large debate on the issues raised to date and to review progress and implementation of the HFA, and identify areas of the post-2015 the framework can improve on. The HFA II would be agreed at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan, in early 2015.
The Global Platform was important because population growth, industrial expansion, rapid, uncontrolled urbanisation and a rise in extreme weather events were forging new risk scenarios which the world and its peoples had never faced before. A new global risk model developed by UNISDR now estimated that USD$2.5 trillion had been lost to disasters so far this century. A dramatic scaling up of efforts was urgently needed to reduce disaster risk and minimise the impacts of disasters in the twenty-first century. In the absence of such efforts hundreds of millions would be displaced from cyclone-prone coastlines and river basins, hundreds of thousands would die as poorly constructed cities would be devastated by foreseeable earthquakes. Sea level rise would lead to the evacuation of low-lying islands and territories.
The opening day would begin with an opening ceremony at 9.30 a.m. with key note addresses by the Swiss President, the Deputy Secretary-General, the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Besir Atalay, and New Zealand’s Minister of Civil Defence Nikki Kaye. It would be followed by a high level meeting expected to result into a press release to drive the action forward for disaster risk reduction up until 2015 and beyond.
A high-level press conference would follow, with participants including Martin Dahinden, Ambassador Director of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and Chair of the fourth Global Platform, Tarja Halonen, Dr. Terezya Huvisa, Minister for Environment of Tanzania and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The press conference moderator would be Margareta Walhström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for disaster risk reduction.
A key focus of the fourth Global Platform would be on engaging the private sector which had untapped potential to reduce disaster risk and address the root causes of economic losses, given that it was responsible to seventy to eighty-five per cent of all investment in major infrastructure. Engaging the private sector was a key component of the Global Platform’s thrust to expand and strengthen partnerships across all sectors of society, essential if the efforts to reduce disaster risk and build resilient communities and nations were to be successful. As such in addition to a plenary on the private sector on 21 May moderated by the BBC’s Lyse Doucette, 22 May would feature a plenary on communities at the frontlines of disasters and why their experiences and knowledge of natural hazards must guide disaster risk management responses.
On 23 May, the final day, the plenary would focus on the need for Governments to invest more to reduce recurrent losses that affect public assets of low-income households and to protect themselves from future catastrophic losses. A key featured event would also be a session on small island developing States on the opening day in the afternoon, focusing on their particularly vulnerability to disasters and how efforts could be ramped up to build their resilience, also moderated by Lyse Doucet. In addition there would be scheduled press briefings each day between 12.30 and 13.00 p.m., a media help-desk to facilitate interview requests, and an area set aside for members of the media at level -1 of the Conference Centre.
Answering questions, Mr. Singh said a final press conference would probably take place at the end of the Global Platform, on Thursday 23 May though it had not been finalised yet. It may be given at lunch time by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General or maybe after 5p.m. About thirty corporations were expected to attend and that list would be made available.
Answering a question about the aim and desired outcome of the Global Platform, Mr. Singh said that there would a chair summary. Consultations had begun on a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action would run its ten-year course in 2015. On Monday 20 May, there would be post-HFA consultations. All of the stakeholders would be meeting throughout the day, bringing together all of their recommendations and all of the issues raised since the post-HFA consultations that began in March last year. One of the outcomes of the Global Platform was to come up with something concrete that could inform the final framework that would be decided on my Member States in 2015.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that obviously most natural disasters were linked to weather, climate, and water-related events so the WMO was participating very actively at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Clare Nullis for the WMO said that an advisory would be sent later in the week with breakdown of activities. Starting tomorrow 15 May the WMO Executive Council would meet through to 23 May. It was an annual meeting composed of thirty-seven members. A media advisory was sent yesterday briefing outlining what would be discussed. One of the top items would be the Global Framework for Climate Services, which is an on-going effort to try to make sure that climate services reach those most in need. Other areas are disaster risk reduction, meteorological services for the aviation sector which was a very important area of work, observation systems, tropical cyclone forecasts and atmospheric monitoring and research. It would take place at WMO headquarters and the sessions would be open to the media.
There had been quite a lot of press comment in the last few days on concentrations of carbon dioxide crossing the four hundred parts per million threshold. That was a symbolic threshold and an important one and also a wakeup call that carbon dioxide levels were constantly rising. What was important to remember was that carbon dioxide lasted in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years, so what was going up there now would be staying in the atmosphere for a very long time and would continue to trap heat and the planet would continue to warm. A lot of press comment focused on the four hundred parts per million level being passed at one particular laboratory in Hawaii. WMO’s information note sought to give that a global perspective: in fact it was not just the laboratory in Hawaii as the threshold had also been exceeded in several other global atmosphere watch stations particularly in the Arctic.
Ms. Momal Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament this morning resumed its session with a plenary on new types of weapons of mass destruction and a global disarmament programme.
The Committee Against Torture today began its review of the report of the Netherlands and would end its review of the report of Guatemala this afternoon. Kenya and Bolivia would present their reports this week. The reports of Japan and Estonia would be examined next week. So far, the Committee had examined the reports of the United Kingdom and Mauritania.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this week would be holding private meetings to adopt its concluding observations on the reports examined. The session would end on Friday but the final observations would only be available at the beginning of next week. The seven countries reviewed this session were Japan, Iran, Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Togo, Rwanda and Denmark.
A press conference would be held by the World Health Organization later today in Press Room III at 12p.m. on the forthcoming World Health Assembly to be held from 20 to 28 May. A second press conference would be held at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow (15 May) in Press Room I, launching the 2013 World Health Statistics Report.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that at 2.30 p.m. in Room I there would be a presentation of a new book jointly published by UNCTAD and the International Labour Organization (ILO), on agriculture, trade and employment, and how through the development of agricultural sectors in different developing countries, reduction of poverty and job creation can be simultaneously stimulated. The book looks at several case studies including Bangladesh, Benin, Guatemala, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mexico.
Answering a question about the nomination of Kenya’s former Trade Minister for the position of Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Ms. Sibut said she did not yet have confirmation but the General Assembly would validate a candidate on 10 June.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
announced two press conferences for this week, one on Thursday 16 May at 12 p.m. in Press Room I with OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, and a second on Friday 17 at 12.30p.m. also in Press Room I, with OCHA’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.
Sanjay Acharya for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced that a media advisory had been distributed on the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day award ceremony that would take place on Friday 17 May at 7p.m. Awards would be presented to Mr. Ueli Mauer, President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Volkmar Denner, Chairman of the Board of Management of Robert Bosch GmbH, and Mr. Jean Todt, President of the International Automobile Federation. Mr. Acharya confirmed that Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa would be present at the event giving a demonstration on road safety in a car simulator.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP) highlighted that on 24 May the WFP would present its annual State of School Feeding Worldwide report. It would be launched in Geneva and later in Brazil at a conference on malnutrition.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/13v05xC