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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
21 June 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the World Health Organization.

Syria

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said soaring summer temperatures, overcrowding and worsening hygiene were the latest threats facing some four million children affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Without enough safe water and sanitation, the likelihood that children in Syria and those living as refugees around the region will fall sick with diarrhoea and other diseases was certain to rise, she said. In Syria, the availability of safe water was one third what it was before the crisis. Of the more than 4.25 million displaced Syrians, many live in overcrowded shelters with insufficient access to toilets and showers.

In refugee camps like Domiz in Iraq – which hosted many more refugees than planned for it was expected that temperatures would soar into the 40s during the summer period. In Lebanon, multiple families often share small apartments or live in makeshift settlements that lack access to safe water, basic toilets and waste collection. Women and children often have to walk long distances to collect water that in many cases may be unfit for drinking.

As the escalating conflict triggered ever more population movement, UNICEF had accelerated efforts to provide sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services, reaching almost 9 million people since the beginning of the year. In Syria itself, new generators and repaired systems were keeping water networks and purification plants operational even in areas where heavy fighting had occurred.

In Jordan, UNICEF and partners trucked in more than four million litres of water a day to Za’atari while rehabilitating water infrastructure and networks in nearby towns. Water infrastructure was also being installed in a new refugee camp in Azraq.

In Lebanon, so far this year, UNICEF and partners operating in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector distributed nearly 100,000 hygiene kits, including shampoo, soap and detergent – benefiting more than 430,000 people.

UNICEF needed more than $200 million for its water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq until the end of the year. Nearly half way through the year, UNICEF remains $124 million short of this target.

Answering questions she said, the temperature was now in the mid-30s in Zaatari and Domiz, and this was expected to rise into mid-40s at the height of summer. In terms of public health, signs of an increase in cases of acute respiratory illnesses and measles were being monitored. A measles campaign was now underway in Syria, which had reached over a million children. On diarrhoea, she said around 1,200 cases reported which were related to the influx of displaced persons from Qusayr. There was also a small increase in Domiz camp last week, which was not a cause for alarm but was being watched very closely.

On another point, she said that a lot of work had gone into training teachers, young people, youth workers and others to offer psychosocial support.

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Directorate General for Development Cooperation, had launched a €1.5 million programme to increase the capacity of formal and informal actors to provide psychosocial support to people affected by the crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries.

The project was to initially aim to train some 1,210 professionals and volunteers in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Lattakia in various aspects of psychosocial support in emergencies. The initiative was to provide basic training to front-line workers, collective shelter managers and carers in orphanages on how to cope with the emotional challenges faced by their beneficiaries and how to avoid causing them any further harm.

Psychosocial support was desperately needed in conflict-affected communities in Syria, she said. Feelings of anger, fear, uncertainty about the future, sadness and disorientation were widespread, particularly among the internally displaced population. Relief professionals, especially those dealing with psychosocial support, lived with the double burden of being affected themselves and exposed to the terrible experiences of others, many of whom were dealing with personal losses, grievances and high levels of anger. Building their capacity and supporting them was vital for the wellbeing of all those affected.

Part of the project was also to distribute some 50,000 self-help booklets, during distributions of food and non-food relief items, to reach a total of 270,000 indirect beneficiaries in remote areas by the end of 2013. The project was to also offer a series of specialized trainings in specialized counselling, art-based psychosocial activities and small-scale conflict management for psychosocial professionals.

Answering questions she said that some cases of scabies among refugees in Lebanon had been reported due to the bad water and sanitation facilities.

Ms. Momal-Vanian answered a question confirming that a new session of the tripartite talks on Syria was to take place next week on 25 June. The United Nations delegation was to be headed by the joint special envoy Mr. Brahimi and it was possible a press conference would follow. If so, interpretation would be available in English, French and Arabic. The schedule and attendance list at the talks was not yet confirmed.

Palestine

On behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) Ms. Momal-Vanian said the heads of WFP and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East were on a joint visit this morning to a Bedouin village near Jericho. A press release was available at the back of the room about rising food insecurity among Palestinian households, as one in three now struggled to feed their families due to high food prices and low wages. Broadcast quality footage of the trip was available and the spokespeople of both agencies were available to take questions.

MERS-CoV

Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said a meeting being held in Cairo on the MERS-CoV virus was to release a statement after it closed. He added that four new cases had been reported by the Saudi authorities, taking the number of cases worldwide that the WHO was aware of to 68, with 64 of those confirmed, and 38 known deaths.

Answering questions, he said the statement was to be issued as soon as it could be cleared following the close of the meeting tomorrow, and would be mailed to all journalists on the distribution list.

Employment in Greece

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said
together with the European Commission (EC) and the Government of Greece, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was to organize a high-level conference on 25 June in Athens on, “Tackling the jobs crisis in Greece: what ways forward?”.

At the conference, the ILO was to present a new study on the Greek labour market, making various policy recommendations to assist the Greek economy in recovering from recession.

At 14.00 a press conference was planned at the Hilton Hotel in Athens with ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, Mr László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and Mr Giannis Vroutsis, Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare of Greece. A media advisory was to be issued. The conference will conclude with a second press briefing at 19:00 with high-level participants, including the Prime Minister of Greece (to be confirmed), the Greek Minister of Labour and the ILO Director-General.

Laos

Elisabeth Throssell for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it was of concern that six months on there seemed to be no progress in investigating the supposed forced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a human rights activist from the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. He disappeared as he was driving home from the capital of Vientiane on 15 December 2012. Security camera footage supposedly showed his car being stopped by police and then him being driven away by men in plain clothes. The OHCHR was concerned about his safety, as his whereabouts were unknown and no progress has been seen in identifying the suspected perpetrators. OHCHR urged the Government to intensify measures to locate him and to ensure his prompt, safe return to his family. Sombath Somphone had been recognised worldwide for his work on equitable and sustainable development. Reports suggest that his apparent abduction may be related to this.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament met this morning as part its latest session which was to last until next Friday (28 June.)

She said that next week’s schedule of World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings, and the agenda of the Director-General were available at the back of the room. Upcoming events included the meeting of the Trade Policy Review Body for Brazil on Monday (24 June) and the public opening of the new WTO Campus next Sunday (30 June).

Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) said on Wednesday 26 June at 10 a.m. the UNECE was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Eurasian Economic Commission, represented by its President Viktor Khristenko. This aimed to strengthen cooperation between the Parties on areas such as customs administration, technical regulations, trade, macroeconomic policy, transport and logistics.

Also on Wednesday (26 June) there was a press briefing in Press Room I at 1 p.m. for the presentation of the main issues to be discussed at the regional conference, “Enabling Choices: Population Priorities for the 21st Century,” (held 1-2 July in Room XVIII). This was to be a contribution to the debate on the place of population issues in the post-2015 development agenda. Speakers were Werner Haug, UNFPA’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Vitalija Gaucaite Wittich, Chief, Population Unit, UNECE. All material was under embargo until 1 July, 9:00 a.m. CET.

Finally, he said that UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) was expected to adopt on 27 June a United Nations Global Technical Regulation (UN GTR) governing the safety of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. This new UN GTR will represent the first international legislation addressing the safety of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs).

Answering questions he said the regulations was to look at how manufacturers needed to look at specific security measures around the use of hydrogen. The security considerations around the presence of high voltages in electric cars were also to be considered.

Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday (24 June) at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 there was a press conference on the launch of new WHO guidelines and global progress report ahead of the upcoming AIDS Conference in Kuala Lumpur. The details needed to access the website containing the report were to be released today, under embargo until Sunday 6 a.m. Geneva time.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that on Monday (24 June) at 3 p.m. in Press Room 1 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held a press conference for the presentation of the World Investment Report 2013: Global Value Chains: Investment and Trade for Development. This material was under embargo until 26 June at 7 p.m. Geneva time.

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the ILO’s Governing Body was meeting today in a short session. It would elect its President and review the latest report of the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA).

In its report, the Committee drew the special attention of the Governing Body to the cases of Guatemala, Islamic Republic of Iran and Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The Committee’s procedures define serious and urgent cases as those involving human life or personal freedom, or new or changing conditions affecting the freedom of action of a trade union movement as a whole.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said his colleague Jean-Luc Martinage will serve as ILO press officer in Dhaka, Bangladesh for a month. The ILO actually discusses an action plan with the Government to reform labour law, strengthen social dialogue and ensure workplace safety in the textile industry. Mr. Martinage was available to take questions on this from the field.

The representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also attended the briefing but did not speak.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/14NY5Bc