REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
11 May 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Telecommunication Union, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, the World trade Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that in April at least four children had been killed and five had been injured by heavy weaponry or landmines and unexploded ordnance. This brought to 27 the number of children killed and 32 maimed in 2012. These included both verified cases and cases that were in process of being verified. As UNICEF had noted in March, child casualties due to unexploded ordnance in the first quarter of the year were fast approaching the total for 2011. By the end of April, 14 children had been killed and another 14 had been maimed by landmines and unexploded ordnance, while 28 children had been killed and 9 maimed in the whole of 2011.
All schools in the Lawder district in the southern governorate of Abhyan had been closed since 9 April. Across the country, some 76 schools were occupied by displaced families. An update on the nutrition data showed a significant increase in the numbers of acutely malnourished children to 967,000 or almost one in four young children. This number included over a quarter of a million, or 267,000, who needed immediate, specialised, lifesaving care. Stunting rates, a measure of more chronic malnutrition, were at 60 per cent, and had been for the past four decades. All of these children risked irreversible physical and cognitive damage.
UNICEF and partners were calling for all parties to the conflict in Yemen to respect their obligations to protect children from armed violence, for all partners to dig deep for funding, and for those heading to the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh on 23 May to keep children at the centre of their security and political dialogues.
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the current scale and magnitude of the humanitarian situation across Yemen had all indications of an acute humanitarian crisis that affected the entire country and population. The crisis had had an impact on the delivery of essential health services such as immunization, management and treatment of child illnesses, control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and reproductive health services.
There had also been a measles outbreak, with one of the reasons being that 20 per cent of the immunization facilities were not currently functional. Since the beginning of the outbreak, 170 children had died from measles with 4,500 reported cases. WHO and UNICEF had supported the Ministry of Health to conduct a vaccination campaign in March and April. During the two phases of this national campaign, 7.6 million children from 6 months to 10 years had been vaccinated with coverage of 98 per cent. Since then, no deaths had been reported, and preliminary reports suggested that the number of children with measles had been reduced dramatically.
There was also a high risk of re-importation of Polio due to weak sanitation, surveillance and health system, Mr. Jasarevic went on to say. To prevent re-importation, WHO, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health had conducted two rounds of a national immunization campaign in December 2011 and January 2012. Two more campaigns in high risk areas were planned this year.
Malnutrition remained the most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality in Yemen. A survey conducted in February showed that the percentage of children was increasing. WHO had initiated the establishment of “stabilization centres” for treating severely malnourished children under the age of 5, with 2-4 beds in each health facility in areas with the highest malnutrition rate.
Besides nutritional problems, measles and polio, there had also been outbreaks of Dengue and Chikungunya among Ethiopian and Somali refugees in Haradh District. In Lahj governorate, there had been 82 suspected cases of Chikungunya. WHO and the Ministry of Health were conducting field investigations and an education campaign was now underway, advising community leaders on the interventions needed to eliminate the sources of infection. In addition, WHO would be conducting training workshops in the next few days for health workers, physicians, surveillance officers and NGOs on standardized case management, prevention and control of Chikungunya.
Mr. Jasarevic said that the WHO representative in Yemen had this week visited Aden in order to assist the Ministry of Health in preparing the contingency plans for Abyan governorate where 37 people had died and 223 had been injured from 9 to 30 April alone. WHO had dispatched trauma supplies, life-saving medicines and blood bags to Abyan and Al- Baidha governorates.
In terms of funding, the 2012 humanitarian response plan was currently 25 per cent funded, while the funding for the health sector response was only at 15 per cent of the USD56.2 million needed.
Sudanese refugees face rising challenges as outflow grows
Mr. Mahecic of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that thousands of people had fled Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states into neighbouring countries in the last month, putting pressure on existing supplies and services. In western Ethiopia’s Assosa region, nearly 2,000 refugees had arrived from Blue Nile so far in May. The refugees cited night-time killings, abductions and the burning of their crops as reasons for fleeing. Many were arriving in Ethiopia with heavy luggage and livestock. They told UNHCR staff that more people were on their way to an area already hosting nearly 35,000 mainly Sudanese refugees. UNHCR was making preparations for the possibility of a further influx.
In South Sudan’s Unity state, Yida settlement had received more than 3,200 arrivals from the Nuba Mountains so far this month. That was an average of about 550 refugees per day - nearly double the rate in April and six times that in March. The border settlement population now stood at nearly 30,000 refugees.
UNHCR had doubled its presence in Yida and accelerated the registration of new arrivals. The agency continued to see increasing numbers of refugees arriving in a malnourished state due to food shortages in parts of South Kordofan. All new arrivals were immediately registered and provided with food assistance, including high-energy biscuits where needed. As the rainy season approached, UNHCR staff had been distributing additional relief supplies such as plastic sheets and mosquito nets in the camp. New arrivals and vulnerable refugees such as unaccompanied children, the elderly and disabled continued to benefit from targeted distributions.
Although recent hostilities between South Sudan and Sudan did not directly affect refugee-hosting areas in Unity state, UNHCR remained deeply concerned for the refugees’ security due to the proximity of Yida to the disputed border area. Preserving the civilian character of refugee locations remained a core priority in all refugee-hosting areas. UNHCR therefore continued to advocate for the refugees in Yida to move to other settlements at a safer distance from the border.
Meanwhile refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state continued to cross the border into Upper Nile state, and were being relocated to safer areas further inland. This week UNHCR had completed individual registration and verification of refugees in Doro and Jammam settlements. The presence of 70,000 refugees had been confirmed. In Jammam, aid agencies were stepping up efforts to increase the water supply and reduce the risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera. UNHCR partners had been trucking and piping water to refugee locations and treating surface water where available.
In total, more than 100,000 Sudanese refugees had fled into South Sudan since the middle of last year. UNHCR had so far received 31 per cent of the US$145 million it needed to care for the Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and Ethiopia. More contributions were urgently needed as the agency accelerated preparation for the camps before access was cut off by rains.
IOM Appeals for Funding to Airlift Stranded South Sudanese from Kosti
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM was urgently appealing for US$3 million to enable it to airlift to South Sudan 12-15,000 South Sudanese currently stranded in Kosti, White Nile State, 200 kilometres south of the Sudanese capital Khartoum. IOM hoped to start the voluntary movement on Sunday 12 May, but currently had only US$2.3 million of the US$5.5 million it needed to carry out the operation. IOM would need to hire some 25 buses and charter up to 100 flights to move the entire Kosti caseload. It would also have to pay for medical screening and supplies, operations staff and escorts, overnight accommodation for the returnees and food.
IOM Supports South Sudan Demobilization, Reintegration of Former Fighters
Jumbe Omari Jumbe said that a group of 285 former South Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers had this week graduated from vocational training courses designed to reintegrate them into civilian life in the country's Eastern Equatoria State. The courses, supported by the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, in partnership with UNDP and IOM, had graduated a total 5,755 former soldiers nationwide over the past five months. The programme, launched in mid 2010, targeted 12,525 candidates. IOM had now provided reintegration assistance to over half of them in four of the ten South Sudan states.
UNHCR starts repatriation of tens of thousands of Congolese
Andrej Mahecic of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that over the past week UNHCR had ferried hundreds of Congolese refugees back to a northern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the start of a voluntary repatriation programme from the neighbouring Republic of Congo. The agency planned to help 81,000 people return home to Equateur province by July next year.
UNHCR had begun the operation last Saturday, when a small pilot convoy of boats had taken 79 refugees from the town of Betou in north-east Republic of Congo to Dongo on the other side of the Oubangui River in the DRC. On Tuesday, a second convoy had taken a further 323 refugees from the Eboko site in ROC across the river to Dongo. More than 85 per cent of the returnees had been women and children. Under the repatriation programme, UNHCR hoped to assist 49,000 refugees return this year from ROC and 32,000 next year. Convoys would be organized every Tuesday and Friday. The refugee agency also planned to repatriate Congolese refugees from Central African Republic, but this programme was still being developed.
The operation for the Republic of Congo was a major logistical challenge for UNHCR, with refugees dispersed in 106 remote sites along a 500-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui River. Another problem was the low water level on the Oubangui, which made navigation difficult. Heavy rain before Tuesday’s convoy had helped raise the water level and made the journey easier, field staff report.
The returnees on the two convoys had been among an estimated 143,000 civilians who had fled to neighbouring countries to escape inter-ethnic clashes sparked by fishing and farming disputes in Equateur in late 2009 between the Enyele and Munzaya communities. Those crossing to the Republic of Congo had sought shelter in remote riverside settlements.
World Summit on the Information Society Forum
Sanjay Acharya of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that the World Summit on the Information Society Forum would open on Monday 14 May and run until 18 May under the theme “Women and girls in ICT”. The 2012 World Telecommunication and Information Society Award would be presented to President Cristina Fernández of Argentina, Sun Yafang, Chairman of Huawei, and Geena Davis, Hollywood actor and founder of the Geena Davis Institude on Media and Gender. The ceremony would be held at ITU from 11 a.m. on Wednesday 16 May. As President Fernández had been called away for another meeting, she would probably be represented by Vice President Amado Boudou at the Award ceremony.
The Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, would represent the Secretary-General at the Forum and read out Mr. Ban’s message on World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.
Telecommunication Reform Report 2012
Mr. Acharya said that a new ITU report highlighted the role of effective regulation in driving broadband rollout. The 2012 edition of ITU’s flagship regulatory report “Trends in Telecommunication Reform”, released today, highlighted the vital importance of a solid national regulatory framework in accelerating broadband roll-out and stimulating the development of new digital goods and services. Subtitled “Smart Regulation for a Broadband World”, this year’s report shed light on the often complex legal and regulatory issues now emerging as broadband became pervasive and increasingly served as a driving force for the development of other economic sectors.
Moldovan anti-discrimination law
Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, which had been under preparation in Moldova since 2008, was currently being hotly debated in the country and pending consultations within the Government. OHCHR urged the Government to act on its commitment to adopt this long-overdue legislation in conformity with obligations under international human rights law. The law was one of the key elements raised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in her discussions with the Moldovan Government during her November 2011 visit to the country and featured strongly in the report of the Universal Periodic Review of Moldova, adopted in March this year.
One of the most contentious provisions of the law was that it would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said Ms. Shamdasani. Given the hostility facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Moldova, including hate speech by politicians and public officials, it was imperative that this provision remained in the law. As the High Commissioner had repeatedly stressed, acts of discrimination and violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people were violations of international human rights law and must be outlawed.
OHCHR welcomed the active role of civil society in debating and promoting this draft law, which would also provide much-needed protection for groups such as the Roma community, religious minorities and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. OHCHR encouraged the swift adoption of this comprehensive anti-discrimination law in Moldova.
Rights chief urges ASEAN to set the bar high with its human rights declaration
Ms. Shamdasani said that ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was drafting the first regional human rights instrument for the region. The High Commissioner for Human Rights encouraged this initiative and stressed that in order for this instrument to meaningful, there needed to be full consultation of people on the ground in each of the countries affected. A press release had been sent to journalists earlier and was also available at the back of the room.
International Classification of Diseases
Dr. Tevfik Berdihan Ustun of the WHO said on Monday the organization would release the beta version of what would be the eleventh edition of the International Classification of Diseases, expected to be released in 2015. This classification was an encyclopaedia that was defining health conditions and diseases and acted as a foundation for global health statistics and reliable, consistent health information. The classification captured what health providers were seeing in practice and organized the information so that it could be shared between people, countries, and over time. It provided a common language to define health conditions and served as “a ruler” for public health to measure progress. Literally, the classification was what doctors used to diagnose a patient and write down in their medical record; how a cause of death was defined when a person died; and how health problems were classified in evidence-based research.
This year, for the first time ever, WHO was releasing a beta version of the tool to ask for comments and conduct field testing before the revision was finalized. The result would be a more comprehensive classification than ever before. The beta version would be presented on a Wiki-type platform allowing experts to proceed to a website where they could make their contribution in a structured way. Inputs were then peer-reviewed and added to the classification as they fitted in.
Daily updates would be continuously made over the next three years. It was important that WHO heard from all stakeholders who had an interest in the classification so that it best met the needs of the users and was fit for purpose.
World health statistics 2012
Mr. Jasarevic announced that WHO would release its world health statistics for 2012 on Wednesday. This compilation of health data of the 194 WHO members was an integral part of the organization’s efforts to provide enhanced access to data of core measures of population health and national health systems. A press briefing would be held on Wednesday 16 May at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1.
Statistics on Labour Challenges Facing G20 Nations
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said as the G20 Labour Ministers were preparing to meet in Mexico on 17 and 18 May, the ILO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had prepared up-to-date statistics on the common challenges facing their economies. A press release would be issued on 17 May.
Adam Rogers of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said the UNDP Executive Board, made up of representatives from 36 countries, would meet in Geneva from 25 June. A media advisory would be sent out shortly.
Mr. Rogers also announced that an exhibition on the theme of linking armed violence and development would run in Geneva from mid-July until the end of August, in partnership between UNDP and the Geneva Declaration.
Mr. Rogers said that summaries of the first Human Development Report focusing exclusively on Africa were at the back of the room, under embargo until the launch of the report next Tuesday in Nairobi. The report focused on food security.
Ankai Xu of the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the Information Technology Symposium would be held on Monday and Tuesday next week, gathering together representatives from the private sector and WTO members. Also next week, the Trade and Development Committee would hold a session on Aid for Trade, to be followed by a workshop on Aid for Trade and Trade Finance on Tuesday.
Ms. Xu said that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was currently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he attended a meeting by the Ethiopian Ministerial Steering Committee, gave a speech at the University of Addis Ababa, and met the country’s Prime Minister. On Monday, Mr. Lamy would be back in Geneva to deliver opening remarks at the WTO Information Technology Symposium, attend the Swiss Forum for Foreign Policy and meet with the vice chairman of Sony Corporation. On Tuesday Mr. Lamy would convene the expert group on trade finance, as well as meeting with the U.S. delegation visiting the Information Technology Symposium, and delivering an opening statement at the workshop on aid for trade and trade finance. On the following day, Wednesday 16 May, Mr. Lamy would hold the first meeting of the WTO Panel on Defining the Future of Trade.
Moroccan Expatriates to Back Development Initiatives at Home
Jumbe Omari Jumbe said that IOM and the Belgian Embassy in Rabat had signed an agreement to launch an innovative project aimed at encouraging Moroccans living in Belgium to start businesses back home in Morocco. The Mobilization of Moroccans Residing in Belgium for the Development of Morocco programme was based on the findings and recommendations of a 2007 study by IOM and the Government of Belgium which had shown that Moroccans in Belgium were keen to invest in their home region, but often lacked sufficient information to do so. Over 250,000 Moroccans, mostly from Morocco's northern regions, currently lived in Belgium.
International Conference on Refugees in Muslim World Opens in Turkmenistan
Mr. Mahecic said that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in coordination with UNHCR and the Government of Turkmenistan, was holding an international ministerial conference on “Refugees in the Muslim World” today and tomorrow in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The meeting was the first conference by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation exclusively focusing on the refugee situation in the Muslim world and other related issues. Participating were representatives of 57 countries, NGOs and international organizations. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, was participating too and had addressed the conference this morning.
Human Rights Committees
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had yesterday finished with examining the countries scheduled for consideration at this session. The Committee would now convene in private sessions until the closing ceremony next Friday, when it would adopt concluding observations on all countries – Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia.
The Committee against Torture had this week reviewed the reports of Albania and Greece and would this afternoon finish off its examination of the report submitted by Armenia. Next week, the Committee was to examine the reports by the Czech Republic, Rwanda and Syria (on 16 May), to be followed by Canada and Cuba the week after.
The Conference on Disarmament, for its part, would next week continue its 2012 session. It would hold a plenary meeting on Tuesday morning, 15 May, hearing an address by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said since 18 May was not an official holiday at the United Nations Office at Geneva the biweekly press briefing would be held next Friday as usual.
Ms. Shamdasani said that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was currently in South Sudan and would be holding a press conference in Juba at 1:30 p.m. Geneva time.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said that journalists interested in receiving tickets for the WFP-organised concert on 13 June should contact her as soon as possible.