REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 August 2014
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by spokespersons for the International Labour Office, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO) briefed journalists on WHO’s latest response in Iraq. WHO had managed to deliver two trucks of medicines to the Department of Health in Dohuk which was enough for 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) for two months. WHO had also managed to get a consignment to Sinjar itself, through the International Committee of the Red Cross, which would provide enough medicines for 20,000 people for two months.
WHO was trying to scale up its operations, not only because of the United Nations decision to increase the level of emergency, but also because there were now several crises in Iraq, including the Syrian refugees in Kurdistan and in Anbar province.
WHO had also divided the country into five bigger hubs for operational purposes. Those included Baghdad, Erbil, Dohuk, Kirkuk and Basrah. The hubs would be staffed by WHO technical staff (national and international) for technical and operational support to the Government and partners, and would have medicine warehousing facilities. This would enable WHO to cover all the governorates of Iraq.
WHO would recruit 50 nurses to be deployed to Dohuk to provide healthcare services in 20 healthcare centres and hospitals, benefitting an estimated 70,000 people. WHO was also deploying 10 mobile clinics in Dohuk, serving approximately 300 patients per day, per mobile clinic.
On funding, Mr. Jasarevic said WHO estimated it would need US$150 million to provide health services to an estimated five million people, mostly through mobile clinics, and medical supplies in different areas in Iraq.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service Geneva, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement last night in which he had commended the decision of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to withdraw his candidature, and his pledge to support Mr. Haider Abadi as nominee to succeed him. The Secretary-General had urged the political leaders in Iraq to build on that historic opportunity by redoubling their efforts to work together, so as to build consensus on how to address the many urgent and grave challenges facing their countries. The complete statement could be read here.
Answering a question, Ms. Vellucci said Kieran Dwyer, Communications Chief for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA) had briefed journalists at the United Nations Headquarters noon briefing yesterday, via phone from Erbil, Iraq. Mr. Dwyer had spoken about how UNHCR and partners were trying to address problems of shelter. He also reported that WFP and local partners were feeding over 100,000 persons a day, as well as other figures, which Ms. Vellucci would circulate after the briefing.
Asked how WHO had accessed Sinjar, and whether it had contacted the Islamic Groups inside the city for access, Mr. Jasarevic replied that WHO provided the consignment of medicines to Sinjar through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Asked whether the ICRC had access to the Sinjar mountain region and whether people could leave if they wished, Mr. Jasarevic said journalists would have to ask ICRC about the practical access modalities.
Responding to a question about the type of medicines being distributed, Mr. Jasarevic said that inter-agency emergency health kits were distributed, which could serve 10,000 people for three months. They included medicines for chronic diseases, medicines for infectious diseases, and some surgical materials.
Asked if WHO had any concerns about the outbreak of diseases, Mr. Jasarevic said so far they did not have any information about any outbreak, but every time there was a situation where people were living in crowded shelters without proper water and sanitation, there was a risk of outbreaks of measles, diarrhoea or water borne diseases.
Mr. Jasarevic also said there were no reports on malnutrition so far.
Dan McNorton, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), answered a question about what UNHCR was doing to help displaced people in Kurdistan. Mr. McNorton said that there were 1.2 million people displaced inside Iraq, and he could provide a breakdown of that figure by different governates.
It was a fast-moving and fluid environment, said Mr. McNorton but UNHCR’s understanding was that around 80,000 people had come into the relative safety of Dohuk. It was much easier for UNHCR to reach people with tents and other services in Dohuk; the Agency was working with partners to ensure that those people had the assistance they needed.
Asked about numbers of IDPs on the Sinjar Mountain, Mr. McNorton said again that it was a very fluid situation; it was estimated that 80,000 people had made it into Dohuk via the Peshkhabour border crossing and 15,000 people were estimated to be seeking refuge in Syria. The refugees were in bad shape. People were exhausted, very thirsty and weak. There were very high temperatures and people had been forced to walk for many hours or days in the blistering heat, without water, without food, without shelter. Of course the younger children, the elderly, and the injured were especially in need of assistance. Issues faced included funding and the security situation.
Mr. McNorton further specified that the 15,000 referred to the number of Yazidi refugees currently inside Syria, adding that UNHCR was working with partners there to make sure the people received the support they needed.
Asked what “level three emergency” really involved, Mr. Jasarevic explained that for WHO, the grading system meant how the response was organizationally structured; level three meant there would be surge capacity, that resources would be pulled from across the organization, and other internal mobilizations, perhaps repurposing local and regional offices, and so on.
A journalist asked about the activities of the new Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service Geneva confirmed that Mr. de Mistura would take up his functions on 1 September. His office would be based in Geneva. Mr. de Mistura wanted to first visit the region and hold consultations before giving press conferences. Journalists would be kept informed.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said that some 90 per cent of the 150,000 Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Turkey lived outside formal camps. Unlike people living in camps, who received assistance both from the Turkish Government and international agencies, most of those living outside in urban and rural areas had difficulty accessing aid.
Many of the refugees lived outside camps in rented houses in urban, sometimes derelict, buildings. After three years of conflict in Syria and still no possibility of return, most had depleted all their savings. Some were working, but illegally, as Turkey did not allow refugees to work. If they had jobs, they were usually paid less than half of what Turkish nationals earned. As a result, household incomes were minimal or non-existent and many families had little food.
IOM was providing vouchers to extremely vulnerable families, including those with no income, people with physical or mental disabilities, and large or female-headed households with young children. The vouchers could be used to purchase food directly in the markets.
From April to the end of July, nearly 3,000 households (17,344 individuals) had benefitted from this programme. IOM made house-to-house assessments to identify families in need and deliver non-food aid, including blankets, mattresses, carpets and pillows, among others.
For the last nine months, IOM had been helping some 32,300 vulnerable Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps. There were more details in the briefing note, said Ms. Berthiaume.
Central African Republic
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), briefed on the situation in the Central African Republic, including the results of the monthly IOM Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Return Intention Survey. The survey indicated the future needs of IDPs, and outlined obstacles and challenges facing them.
The latest survey was conducted in July and covered 606 IDPs at 29 IDP sites around the capital city Bangui. The survey indicated that for the first time, 80 per cent of IDPs in Bangui intended to return to their areas of origin in the next month. That represented a 14 per cent increase from the June survey.
The survey also indicated that despite the desire of IDPs to return, many obstacles remained. The most widely cited reasons preventing return were the theft of belongings, lack of financial means to return home, the absence of authorities and insecurity. Availability of housing had become the top priority for IDPs considering return, replacing security concerns. Some 102,000 persons were still displaced in Bangui, located at 40 displacement sites.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), answered several questions from journalists on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Journalists asked questions about the alleged decision by Chinese authorities, in agreement with the International Olympic Committee and WHO, to prevent athletes from countries affected by Ebola in participating in combat and pool sports during the forthcoming 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games; they also asked for World Health Organization’s position on the reported decision by Saudi Arabia to enforce visa bans for pilgrims coming from Guinea, and possibly other countries.
Mr. Jasarevic responded to all questions saying that although he could not comment on those specific cases, the recommendations of the Emergency Committee convened by WHO had been very clear; there were only two groups of persons that should not travel, persons who were infected with the Ebola virus, and people who had had direct contact with the body fluid of an infected person, who had to be put in a surveillance programme for 21 days. No other restrictions had been recommended. The WHO had also held a press conference yesterday to ensure that no one misinterpreted the WHO travel recommendations.
Occupational Safety and Health
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced that the World Congress for Occupational Safety and Health would start on 24 August in Frankfurt. The Congress took place every three years and was an opportunity to consider developments around the world concerning health and safety in the workplace. It was jointly organized by the International Labour Organization and the International Social Security Association. A note to correspondents would be sent out with more details and a joint press release would be issued on 25 August, to include global as well as German statistics on occupational safety and health.
Summer Youth Olympic Games
Answering a journalist, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, Geneva, announced that the Secretary-General was on official travel to Nanjing, China.
On Saturday, he would attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. While in Nanjing, he would meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
The Secretary-General would return to New York on Sunday, 17 August 2014.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, Geneva, reminded journalists that World Humanitarian Day was commemorated on 19 August. The date marked the 2003 bombing of United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people.
This year’s commemoration in Geneva would be held in Room XX from 4 to 6 p.m. It would start with videos on the humanitarian action of the UN followed by an interactive high level debate in the framework of the world campaign on “the Messengers of Humanity”. At 5 p.m., there would be a plaque unveiling ceremony; in memory of the victims of the attack against the UN Office in Algeria of 11 December 2007. Journalists were invited to attend, or could follow the events via webcast at webtv.un.org. Copies of the programme were available at the back of the room.
Ms. Vellucci said that at 3 p.m. this afternoon, there would be a press conference by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) in Room III to introduce the new IFRC Secretary-General, Mr. Elhadj As Sy, and to hear a debriefing on his recent field visit to Ebola affected countries.
Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was going to conclude its review of the report of Peru, having also reviewed El Salvador and the United States this week. Next week the Committee would consider the reports of Cameroon, Iraq, Japan and Estonia, and would also hold a briefing with non-governmental organizations from Cameroon and Japan on Monday, 18 August.
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee was today concluding its thirteenth session, which started on 11 August. A round up press release would be issued at the end of the day.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold its next plenary meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 August under the presidency of Malaysia.
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Due to technical problems, the webcast for this briefing is not available.