REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
24 April 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Labour Organization, the
United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Meteorological Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was meeting in private this week. It would conclude its session on Friday, 27 April after adopting its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Paraguay and Tajikistan.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would hold its forty-eighth session from 30 April to 18 May during which it would review the reports of Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia on how they were implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A background press release would be sent out on Thursday, 26 April.
World Malaria Day
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the message of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the occasion of World Malaria Day (25 April) was available at the back of the room in English and in French. In his message, the Secretary-General said that last year on World Malaria Day, they had mourned the fact that one child died every 45 seconds from this disease. This year, they had managed to slow the clock. It remained a monumental tragedy that one child died every minute from malaria, but they could draw some hope from the many lives saved through international interventions.
Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organization said that a press conference would be held at 2 p.m. this afternoon in press room 1 ahead of World Malaria Day. During the past decade, investments in malaria prevention and control had created an unparalleled momentum and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But these gains were fragile. Malaria transmission still occurred in 99 countries, killing an estimated 655,000 people every year – mainly children under five years of age. It was vital that efforts were expanded through increased national and international political commitment and through greater investment in malaria prevention and control tools. Speaking at the press conference would be Andrea Bossman, WHO Global Malaria Programme; Dr. Richard Cibulskis, WHO Global Malaria Programme; and Dr. Jan Van Erps, Roll Back Malaria Partnership.
Ms. Chaib said that WHO Director-General Margaret Chan was in Namibia where she would participate in the commemoration of World Malaria Day with the national authorities of Namibia.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund said that on Wednesday, 25 April, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supported by UNICEF and its partners, would begin distributing 13.7 million long-lasting insecticide treated nets to protect almost 25 million people from Malaria. Malaria was the single most important cause of sickness, and a significant cause of death among children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 180,000 children died in the country because of Malaria in 2011. According to 2010 figures, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the sixth highest child mortality rate in the world. This distribution of bed nets was the biggest ever attempted in the country. Since 2006, UNICEF and its partners had supported the Government’s target of universal coverage. The proportion of young children sleeping under insecticide treated nets had increased from 10 per cent in 2007 to 51 per cent in 2010. The distribution of the nets was made possible mainly to funding by the World Bank.
WHO/Unidentified Illness in Viet Nam
Asked if WHO had information on a mysterious sickness in Viet Nam, Ms. Chaib of WHO said cases of an unidentified illness were first identified in 2011 in Quang Ngai, which was a province located in central Viet Nam. Most of the patients were from Ba Dien village in Ba To. Patients were reported to have ulcers on their hands and feet, stiffness in the limbs, and, in serious cases, liver damage. Since April 2011, the disease was reported to have killed 8 people and caused illness in a total of 171 people. Following its first detection in April 2011, the number of cases tailed off and had disappeared by October. However, new infections began in March 2012. Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health, together with the National Dermatology Hospital and National Institute of Occupational Medicine, had conducted two field investigations, one in 2011 and the second which began on 13 April 2012 and included experts in dermatology, occupational health, food and blood safety and, toxicology. A third field mission focusing on environmental investigation was on-going. Selective sampling of residents was conducted to take blood, skin and hair samples for analysis. To date the cause of the disease remained unknown. WHO was not aware of any reports of similar symptoms elsewhere in Viet Nam or outside the country. At this time the incident appeared to be geographically concentrated and restricted to Ba To district in Quang Ngai province. The World Health Organization stood ready to support Viet Nam. The WHO Viet Nam Office continued to work closely with the Vietnamese health authorities. WHO was yet to receive an official request from Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health for any international support at this time.
Sudan and South Sudan
Ms. Momal-Vanian said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday condemned the aerial bombardment on South Sudan by the Sudanese Armed Forces and called on the Government of Sudan to cease all hostilities immediately. The Secretary-General reiterated that there could be no military solution to the disputes between Sudan and South Sudan. He called on President Bashir and President Kir to stop the slide towards further confrontation and urged both sides to return to dialogue as a matter of urgency. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) also condemned the aerial bombardment in Bentiu town in South Sudan’s Unity state, and called on South Sudan and Sudan to take all measures to ensure the safety of civilians. According to early reports, the bombing started at 8:30 a.m. local time, hitting the Rubkona market and causing the death of at least one person, as well as injuring four others. Hilde F. Johnson, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of UNMISS, said these indiscriminate bombings resulting in the loss of civilian lives must stop. She reminded the parties to the conflict of their obligation to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, take all measures not to harm civilians, and guarantee the safety of international aid organizations and United Nations personnel and assets.
Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency said the recent fighting near the border between Sudan and South Sudan had displaced some 35,000 people in areas around Heglig, Talodi and other parts of South Kordofan, according to UNHCR’s partners there. UNHCR did not have access to the areas in question, but was channeling aid through local agencies. In South Sudan, a spate of aerial bombings in recent weeks had hit parts of Unity, Warrap and Western Bahr el Ghazal states. The three refugee sites in Unity state had thus far not been directly affected. UNHCR had nonetheless seen an increase in the number of Sudanese refugees crossing the border, some of them seriously malnourished. In Yida settlement, more than 1,300 new arrivals were reported in the last four days and recent average daily arrivals (230 daily) were at triple the rate seen in March and February. The escalating hostilities were heightening concerns about the safety of refugees in Unity state. Yida was only a few kilometres from the border and had seen direct and indirect bombing and shelling over the past six months. Humanitarian agencies continued to provide over 20,000 refugees living there with life-saving assistance and essential services such as food, water, sanitation, community services and healthcare. At the same time, UNHCR was advising people to move urgently to safer areas. Months of intermittent fighting had driven more than 115,000 Sudanese refugees into South Sudan and nearly 30,000 into Ethiopia. Many more could follow if the conflict escalated. UNHCR appealed to the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, and to other parties to the conflict, to do their utmost to avoid displaced civilians being placed in harm’s way, and to avoid actions that could displace more people.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said IOM was accelerating the evacuation of stranded South Sudanese returnees following border clashes. An IOM organized river barge convoy carrying 1,708 stranded South Sudanese returnees had departed on 23 April from the Upper Nile border town of Renk for Juba, the capital of South Sudan. IOM was speeding up the evacuation of returnees from Renk, organizing barge and road convoys to Malakal and Juba, as sporadic fighting in border areas between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces continued. IOM and its partners were providing aid to the returnees. IOM was concerned about the increasing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and its impact on populations in border areas, migratory groups and returnees who became stranded on their way home. IOM had responded to the recent bombing of civilians in Bentiu in Unity state by organizing an airlift of emergency medical supplies to Bentiu Hospital. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said WFP’s goal for 2012 was to help provide food to 2.7 million persons in South Sudan. The rainy season had already started, and this resulted in 60 per cent of the country becoming inaccessible. It was necessary to pre-position food supplies in South Sudan as soon as possible. WFP had so far pre-positioned nearly 80 per cent of the stock - 50,000 metric tons - which was necessary to see the country through the rainy season. However, it was necessary to continue pre-positioning food. The unstable security situation on the border between Sudan and South Sudan was not helping the situation. Asked for a more comprehensive figure for the number of people moderately to severely affected by food insecurity in South Sudan, Ms. Byrs said it was 4.7 million persons. The humanitarian agencies needed funds to be able to provide aid to South Sudan. For WFP, the cost of the aid operation was $ 252 million and 115 million remained unfunded.
Ms. Mercado of UNICEF said that the malnutrition figures in South Sudan remained persistently above the emergency threshold and exceeded 20 per cent of children under five in certain areas. Based on recent nutrition surveys, an estimated 237,000 children - 17.4 per cent of the children in South Sudan - needed therapeutic care in 2012. Included in that figure were about 49,000 acutely malnourished children at risk of dying if not properly treated.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that as of 20 April, at least 270,000 people had fled their homes as a result of the conflict in Mali, including over 130,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries, including Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria. Improving access for assessments and service delivery remained a top priority in northern Mali, and the present situation made it particularly difficult to gather information, assess the needs and respond. The humanitarian presence in this vast region with poor infrastructure and transportation, had also been limited before the current crisis due to the presence of numerous armed groups. The conflict of course had exacerbated the larger food security and nutrition crisis affecting the entire the entire Sahel region, which the United Nations had been reporting on to journalists. Assessments suggested that over 15 million people would be affected by the food insecurity across the Sahel this year, and the insecurity in Mali was likely to worsen the crisis. Internally displaced persons and refugees were arriving in drought-affected areas where food security forecasts were among the worst in the countries where they arrived. The Health Cluster confirmed a few days ago that over three quarters of medical structures in the three northern regions of Mali were no longer operational. Medical activities had resumed in the main health centre in Niafunke in Timbuktu region after the arrival of a team of rescuers and a nurse from the Malian Red Cross. Due to the lack of electricity, the production of potable water in Gao in Mali may cease soon, leaving tens of thousands of inhabitants without drinking water. There were more details in the note at the back of the room.
Ms. Byrs of the World Food Programme said the situation of the affected population in the north of Mali was increasingly worrisome and gaining access for the humanitarian community was absolutely critical. There was a lack of medicine and hospital personnel to attend to the affected population. Banks remained closed, limiting access to cash. On 20 April, a demonstration was organized in Timbuktu against the deteriorating living conditions, including lack of food on markets, lack of access to cash, and the lack of medicines and medical staff. The situation was however different in Mopti, which was becoming the humanitarian hub. WFP was moving its personnel to Mopti in order to strengthen its team in Mali and especially in the northern region. The Emergency Telecommunications cluster, led by WFP, was setting up a new communication centre in Mopti. The possibility of setting up a centre in Gao as well was being explored. The WFP operational response plan for northern Mali had been finalized. From Mopti, WFP and the rest of the humanitarian community would be able to deliver assistance to the northern areas through escorted trucks, cargo planes, and even boats on river Niger. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Ms. Byrs of the World Food Programme said that WFP was scaling up its food assistance to reach 250,000 Syrians affected by the unrest. In March, more than 106,000 persons had received humanitarian food aid, through the Syrian Red Crescent. WFP hoped to conclude reaching the 250,000 beneficiaries for food aid inside Syria between now and the end of April. WFP hoped to double this figure and reach 500,000 persons in the coming weeks. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Mr. Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said IOM was working with UNHCR to provide assistance to 90 Syrian families who had crossed into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. They had taken shelter in the Domiz refugee camp in the Kurdistan region. A total of more than 3,000 individuals were currently living in Domiz camp. There were more details in the press notes.
In response to a question, Ms. Byrs said that WFP, through the Syrian Red Crescent, was providing aid to people in 11 of the 14 governorates of Syria.
Mr. Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency said UNHCR was today releasing a position paper on the protection environment for refugees and asylum-seekers in Hungary. The paper, which was available on the UNHCR website, was an assessment of the environment for those seeking international protection. Hungary was the first country in the region to ratify the Refugee Convention after the downfall of communism and hosted tens of thousands of refugees amid the breakup of Yugoslavia in and after the 1990s. Since 2010, new laws and policies had come into effect whereby the human rights and protection needs of asylum-seekers had been overshadowed by law enforcement objectives in the fight against illegal migration. Key concerns included the increasingly systematic detention of visa-less asylum-seekers in harsh prison-like conditions. Asylum seekers also faced increasing hurdles accessing the asylum procedure in Hungary. Asylum seekers were routinely deported to Serbia, which Hungary, incorrectly in UNHCR’s view, regarded as a safe third country, and were at risk of chain deportation to various countries without adequate asylum systems in place. While UNHCR recognized that refugees travelled alongside illegal migrants and that combating illegal migration was a valid concern for States, the pro-occupation with the fight against illegal migration in the context of asylum had made the Hungarian system increasingly restrictive. UNHCR welcomed recent steps by Hungary to improve the situation. But urgent steps were required to bring the protection environment into line with international standards. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Mr. Edwards said Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova were the latest States to accede to the international conventions on statelessness. UNHCR was pushing for increased accessions to the international conventions on statelessness. It was critical that more countries came on board.
Mr. Edwards also said that High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres was in Sarajevo this morning where he was attending an international donor conference aimed at generating funds to support housing needs of the region’s 74,000 highly vulnerable refugees, returnees and displaced persons. UNHCR hoped this important donor meeting would generate the funds that they needed which would lead to a resolution of the situation there. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization said journalists had already received the media advisory about ILO publishing the 2012 edition of “the World of Work Report 2012: Better Jobs for a Better Economy”. The report examined how different countries had performed since the start of the global crisis through the prism of the quantity and quality of jobs. It also examined the effects of fiscal austerity and labour market reforms carried out in some countries, and explored the social implications of the crisis, including a “social unrest index” covering more than 100 countries. Embargoed electronic copies of the report and other material would be sent to journalists. There would also be a press briefing, under embargo, on Friday 27 April at 2 p.m. in Salle III. The report and all associated material and information were embargoed until 23:01 GMT on Sunday 29 April.
Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization said the World Meteorological Organization was one of the sponsors of the south Asian Climate Outlook Forum, which considered the forthcoming monsoon, which was of critical importance in the region. WMO was actively promoting these regional climate outlook forums. It was part of its efforts to improve seasonal climate predictions and make them more accessible and useful to policy makers. The consensus statement issued at the end of this session said that large scale summer monsoon rainfall for South Asia and the season which was due in September as a whole would most likely be within the normal range. There was a likelihood of below normal rainfall in some north western and southern areas of the sub-region. There was in fact a large degree of uncertainty at the moment because the monsoon was closely linked to La Nina to El Nino. La Nina events were typically associated with more active monsoons and the El Nino with a weaker monsoon. There were more details in the notes.