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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
14 September 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Meteorological Organization.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council said today’s meetings began with the annual report of the Working Group on the right to development. This was followed by the presentation of 25 thematic reports produced by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These reports touched upon issues such as the death penalty, maternal mortality, reprisals and juvenile justice among others and were to be followed by an interactive dialogue which would last for most of the morning.

Later today was the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, social and cultural rights. There were over 100 speakers on this and so the issue would cover all of today and possibly some of Monday morning.

The session with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria which was due to start at 09:00 on Monday could therefore possibly be affected and may start late, he said. This session would provide an oral update on the report published last month and was to be followed by a press conference in Room III at 15:00. He added that discussions were ongoing as to the content of any resolutions to be tabled in relation to Syria, and the deadline for the submission of these was September 20.

Answering questions he said the oral update on Syria would be delivered in the form of a written statement which would be made available to the press ahead of the meeting.

Niger flooding

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said flooding continued in Niger and more people were affected. The latest update that OCHA had received from the national authorities was that more than 527,000 people are affected, and 81 have lost their lives. That was an increase compared to the first week of September, when authorities estimated that 485,000 were affected.

The Tillabery region in the south west was where most people were suffering and in the sub-district of Dosso 40 per cent of houses and huts had disappeared in the flash floods. Thousands of people had sought refuge in school buildings close to their flooded homes, he said.

UN agencies (WFP, UNICEF) and NGOs (OXFAM, Word Vision, Plan, Niger,) as well as Niger’s Red Cross were responding with food, shelter material, blankets, mosquito nets and other non-food items.

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme added that food assistance was being offered to those fleeing the floods and support was being offered to other agencies to transport aid.


Ebola

Fadela Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said an update on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo with regards to the Ebola virus was to be published later (14 September). As of today the number of either confirmed or suspect cases had climbed to 69, with new cases expected to be discovered in the following weeks as part of a retrospective investigation. This work was to be done by a team including WHO, UNICEF, MSF, IFRC, the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta and other partners, she said.

Answering questions she explained that it would take three weeks after the last confirmed case before it was possible to say that the outbreak was over and further explained that as the first case was found in a health worker, much work would need to be done to trace each and every contact that person had had while infected. A laboratory in Uganda was used to confirm cases, and the CDC was also providing a mobile laboratory in Isiro (DRC). No connection had been found between cases in neighbouring countries.

Central Emergency Response Fund

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the UN Secretary-General had appointed seven new members of the CERF Advisory Group, which gives policy guidance on how to use the CERF funds. There are a total of 18 members in the group. The new members come from Australia, China, Croatia, Ethiopia, Japan, Norway and the UK. A press release was available with more details.

Answering questions on available cash reserves, he said the fund allocates money to new and rapidly evolving crises and so needed a buffer to be able to deal with any developing situation.

Sahel

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that in July 2012 the WFP assisted nearly six million people in the Sahel region. Ahead of the October harvest, the humanitarian needs were still huge in the period of transition (the lean season). Rapid evaluations of the situation continued in Senegal, Chad, Niger and Mauritania where malnutrition persisted.

The increasing frequency of the droughts had had an eroding effect on the Sahel countries’ ability to cope, she said, and the local populations have barely had enough time to recover from the 2010 crisis and rebuild their assets before the situation degenerated again. Many families had literally nothing to eat, and their only food had been a soup made from wild plants that were so bitter that some animals do not eat them. To make them edible, peasants boil the plants repeatedly so as to get rid of the bitter taste.

Giving more details she highlighted how in some countries of the Sahel, the lean season began as early as February and this especially affected agro-pastoralist communities who were particularly vulnerable to drought. As a result, some households in the Sahel countries have been without food reserves for seven months now.

WFP and partners were implementing a regional response to reach more than 10 million people with food assistance though the WFP’s current shortfall for funding in the Sahel was $304 million, from a total cost of approved projects of $888 million.

Answering questions she said the coming rains would help the harvest but it would not be enough as droughts were recurrent and were affecting communities.

South Sudan

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said his agency was working with the Ministry of Health of South Sudan, the World Health Organization and other partners to control the spread of Hepatitis E which had killed 16 refugees in three camps in Maban County in Upper Nile State. There had been 23 confirmed cases of Hepatitis E in those camps.

MSF-Holland first began tracking patients from Jamam refugee camp with acute jaundice syndrome in late July, he explained. Jaundice can be one symptom of Hepatitis E, a virus that damages the liver. It is transmitted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces.

Of the 16 deaths, 13 have occurred at Jamam Camp, home to about 20,000 refugees, and where 255 cases of acute jaundice syndrome have been recorded. Two people died at Yusuf Batil, home to 37,000 refugees, and where 77 refugees have come down with acute jaundice syndrome. The other death was at Gendrassa.

Explaining the impact this disease had he said hepatitis E hits young people between the ages of 15 and 40 hardest and in the three camps where UNHCR has seen refugees with acute jaundice syndrome, more than half were between 20 and 39. Hepatitis E was particularly dangerous for pregnant women, whose death rate can be 20-25 per cent. Among the refugees who had died were five pregnant women.

Together with partners, the agency was improving sanitation in the camps, and increasing the amount and availability of safe drinking water where flooding and the use of contaminated surface water for drinking had been persistent health challenges. Work was also being done to promote improvements in personal and community hygiene practices in all the South Sudan camps.

Answering questions he said the situation clearly showed a problem with Hepatitis E and other authorities had gone public with their concerns.

Syria/Syrian refugees

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the Syrian Ministry of Education (MoE) had confirmed Sunday (16 September) as the starting date for the new school year. According to the MoE, 2,072 schools out of 22,000 in the country have been damaged or destroyed, and 801 schools are now hosting displaced families, which was 200 more than last week. UNICEF had completed light repairs on 67 schools – another 100 will be rehabilitated in coming days and weeks. The main areas affected were Dera’a, rural Damascus and Lattakia.

She continued by saying that the government was moving displaced families out of some schools into alternative sites – primarily large unused public buildings including sports halls. Though UNICEF was not involved in moving the families out, it was providing support –which included nutrition screening and mobile health teams to identify children who had not been vaccinated. UNICEF was also providing recreational kits because these children had nothing to do in these places

Then she said that in Jordan, schools opened last week. The country’s authorities had agreed that Syrian refugee children not living in camps can attend public school, and that they were exempt from fees, provided they register with UNHCR. At Za’atari camp, classes had not yet begun and UNICEF was registering school aged children while working to build a school that can accommodate up to 5,000 children. While the school was being built, students were to study in temporary learning spaces including tents.

She added that in Lebanon, schools open on the 24 September. The Lebanese government was working to place an estimated 32,000 refugee children in public schools, and children are already coming to schools to register. Absorption capacity was already a concern for the government and UN agencies.

She also said the original planning figure of 600 students in Domiz camp was now superseded, with 1,250 already there, and more arriving daily. In Al Qaim camp, UNICEF was setting up 10 temporary schools – of which five were already completed.

Answering questions she said that alternatives for children who were students of schools housing displaced families, included double-shifting, or placing some students in other schools. She also explained that in the context of conflict, it was extremely important that children returned to school as a way of providing stability and respite from conflict as soon as security conditions permitted. She further added that UNICEF had requested $10 million for education within Syria and as of now, had received $1 million.

Christopher Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the IOM's latest issue of its humanitarian situation report on Syria and neighboring countries was now available. It highlighted how the IOM continued to remove third country nationals from Damascus as security permitted, and had so far helped 1,362 people, mostly female domestic workers. Requests had been received from embassies for another 4,966 to leave, he said.

Tunisia

Christopher Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a group of 87 irregular migrants left stranded on Sunday on the Tunisian coast near Zarzis by a people smuggler had asked IOM for air tickets back to their home countries.

The group, which included women and children, were mostly Nigerian. Other countries of origin include the Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and Bangladesh.

The migrants were now staying in a Red Crescent shelter in the Tunisian capital Tunis, pending the issuance of travel documents by their embassies and their voluntary return home.

Most of the migrants told IOM that they had lived in Libya for some time before paying the smuggler — reportedly a Tunisian - to take them to Italy.

Pacific typhoon

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said there was a strong typhoon currently in the Pacific on the way towards the Korean Peninsula, which was being monitored and national agencies would be issuing warnings in the next few days.

Temperature record

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that the world temperature record, which had stood for 90 years in El Azizia in what is now Lybia of 58 degrees, had been recorded on inferior equipment and would now be disregarded in favour of a measurement in California of 56.7 degrees.

International Ozone Day

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) introduced Geir Braathen, as a senior Scientific Officer in the Organization who explained that this Sunday saw the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. This marked 25 years since the signing of the Montreal Protocol. As a result of the agreement a variety of ozone-damaging substances had been banned and this had prevented a major disaster. He explained that globally ozone depletion had maintained a plateau, though no significant recovery had been noted either. In the Polar Regions, however, levels continued to drop.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the 67th Session of the General Assembly began in New York on Tuesday (18 September). There was then a high-level meeting on the rule of law on 24 September and the opening of the general debate the day after (25 September) at 10:00. There would be many topics under discussion during the assembly and in high-level events organized on the side of the general debate, she added, including sustainable energy, education, the Sahel, polio immunization, terrorism and nuclear weapons. The press kit was available at the back of the room.

Ms. Momal-Vanian further said that tomorrow (15 September) was the Open Day of the United Nations Office in Geneva, which held a great variety of activities, including participation from the Permanent Missions such as a piano concert organized by the Mexican mission and wine tasting from Italy. Journalists were advised that access to the Palais would be restricted for the course of the day and they should read the note sent yesterday to ensure they could get in. A guide for this event was also available from the back of the room.

Catherine Sibut-Pinote for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the Trade and Development Board was to open its session on Monday. The first meeting, at 10:00 included a speech from the UNCTAD Secretary-General, accompanied by the Trade Minister of Zambia, and a high-level segment was planned for the afternoon, from 15:00. She then announced a press conference on Tuesday (18 September) at 14:30 in Press Room 1 on how commodity prices were clearly driven by speculation.

Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) also gave details of a press conference. This was on Wednesday (19 September) at 11:00 in Press Room 1 on the launch of the UNECE/FAO "Forest Products Annual Market Review 2011-2012.” Speakers included authors and contributors to the report.

He also mentioned the UNECE’s Ministerial Conference, "Ensuring a society for all ages: promoting quality of life and active ageing" will take place from 18 to 20 September 2012 in Vienna, Austria. It will review progress made in implementing the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and its Regional Implementation Strategy (RIS), both adopted in 2002, and define the post-2012 agenda on ageing. Attendees included ministers, Deputy Ministers or State Secretaries, and high-level officials from UNECE member States as well as representatives of European and international organizations, scientists, older persons and non-governmental organizations representing them will take part in the debates.

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme said the Director for the World Food Programme in Myanmar would hold a press conference Tuesday (18 September), after the briefing, in Press Room I to speak of the humanitarian situation in the country.


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