HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UN INFORMATION SERVICE IN GENEVA
25 May 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Children’s Fund.
World Health Assembly
Fadéla Chaib of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that discussions on the agenda items of the World Health Assembly were still ongoing. Three sessions would take place today – from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., from 2.30 to 5.30 p.m., and from 6.30 to 9.30 p.m.
This morning Committees A and B had continued their discussions, starting with discussions on the reform, which had proceeded well yesterday, and followed by discussions on subjects such as nutrition, early marriage, adolescent pregnancies and follow-up on the health-related MDGs.
As mandated by Member States, the WHO Secretariat had prepared a set of reform proposals in three areas: programmes and priority setting, governance, and management. Delegates had yesterday reaffirmed the support for the reform agenda of Director-General Margaret Chan, reiterating the need for a comprehensive reform and for WHO to become more effective in its normative and technical assistance roles, and to improve accountability and transparency. Member States had also encouraged greater focus on results and enhanced governance. Proposals around improving monitoring of WHO’s work had been welcomed.
Countries had expressed broad acceptance of the proposed five categories, which were priorities for WHO’s work: communicable diseases; non-communicable diseases; health through the life-course; health systems; and preparedness, surveillance and response. All delegates had emphasized that WHO should also increase its focus on the social, economic and environmental determinants of health. The discussions yesterday had been very broad and rich, and the Secretariat was now working to incorporate all the comments made by the countries. These would then be discussed during the day.
The Working Group on Research and Development had yesterday worked over nine hours, and would meet again today from 1 to 10 p.m. to try and finalize a resolution. States were trying to find means to make progress regarding the text and would probably present their work to Committee A tomorrow. Ms. Chaib said that she expected that there would be one resolution tomorrow. Currently four resolutions were circulating, but there were attempts to converge these into a single resolution which accounted for the various views expressed by States.
Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Acting Director, Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion Department, World Health Organization, said that the discussions on non-communicable diseases had been ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting. Last night in Committee A, Member States had adopted a landmark decision on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory infections). This would be submitted to the Assembly in a plenary session.
In this critical moment, Member States had recognized that most premature deaths from non-communicable diseases could be prevented. The fact was that 80 per cent of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases were occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Success in a growing number of countries should now be shared globally.
Member States had also expressed strong support for WHO’s work to develop a global monitoring framework, including targets, and a set of voluntary global targets for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. Additional work aimed at reaching consensus on more targets was underway. Member States had decided to adopt a global target for a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable diseases. Also, Member States had expressed strong support for additional work aimed at reaching consensus on targets relating to the four main risk factors – tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.
The next decision moment would be in October 2012, when the work needed to be completed at a Member State consultation. All were responsible for creating a world where people did not need to die prematurely from non-communicable diseases. Agreeing on a total set of indicators and targets to be completed in October 2012 was a critical step in protecting people from risk factors for non-communicable diseases and meeting the health-care needs of people with such diseases.
Dr. Timothy Armstrong, Coordinator, Surveillance and Population-based Prevention Unit, responding to a question, said that he was very pleased that the Member States had agreed to adopt the mortality target. This was a significant step forward. Discussions were ongoing and further technical work was being requested of the Secretariat on a range of targets.
Responding to another question on sugar, Dr. Armstrong said WHO recognized that added sugars could contribute to an unhealthy diet, and the organization therefore recommended that added sugars be reduced in the context of healthy diets. However, there were strict criteria for developing targets, and one of those criteria included the availability of robust data in order to set a baseline and monitor trends over time.
Ms. Chaib said that the World Health Assembly was due to close its work tomorrow. A final press release wrapping up the decisions, resolutions, progress reports and the main outcome of the session would be sent to journalists at the end of the Assembly.
Report on Health Status of Palestine Refugees
Dr. Akihiro Seita, Director of Health, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said that the life of Palestinian refugees was harsh and grey but today he could share some good news. UNRWA, one of the largest providers of public health services in the Middle East, had introduced a new model of health provision which was having a transformative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
The family health model was holistically addressing health issues, particularly non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, and involving the entire family in dealing with life-style issues, among other things. This approach provided comprehensive community-style care, bearing the importance of the family in mind.
The approach had started as a pilot in two health centres in Gaza and in Lebanon in late 2011 and had met with the approval of UNRWA beneficiaries. Dr. Seita was truly excited when visiting the centres, with the excitement being shared by communities and health centre staff.
The approach was expanding rapidly, now covering 11 or 12 health centres with 500,000 refugees, with clear signs that UNRWA health services had improved. UNRWA’s vision was to expand the family health team approach to all 138 UNRWA health centres in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank by 2015, said Dr. Akihiro Seita.
Humanitarian situation deteriorates in the DRC’s Kivus
Marie-Servane Desjonqueres of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the ICRC had this morning issued a bulletin on the situation in the two Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Copies had been sent to journalists by email and were available at the back of the room.
The ICRC was deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian consequences resulting from the fighting in the Kivu provinces. There had been renewed fighting in several territories and civilians, including particularly vulnerable persons such as the very young or elderly, had been attacked in Walungu, Shabunda and Kalehe (South Kivu), as well as in Walikale and Masisi (North-Kivu). ICRC staff on the ground had been shocked by the sight of the charred bodies of children and the horribly mutilated bodies of women and the elderly.
Violence had also led to significant population movements, said Ms. Desjonqueres. The ICRC was concerned about this situation and reminded all parties to the conflict that they were obliged to spare civilians and to ensure safe access for medical teams or rescuers to evacuate the wounded and the sick. The ICRC maintained dialogue with armed forces and groups, both to ensure access to victims and to remind them of their obligation to protect civilians.
Since May this year the ICRC had been able to evacuate about 85 injured persons, both civilians and military personnel, often from remote areas. It had also provided equipment to health centres and was assisting the families of those killed in partnership with the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Many children had been separated from their families, be it during attacks on villages or whilst fleeing. The ICRC and the Red Cross were registering these children and attempting to reunite them with their families. This had been successful in 15 cases so far, said Ms. Desjonqueres.
Patrick L'Hote, Head of Region for Central and Southern Africa, International Committee of the Red Cross, in response to a question, said that there was no objective reason why children were particularly targeted in the exactions. It would seem that attacks on villages sparked panic and thus left the most vulnerable people confronted with the violence that was characteristic of this type of offensive.
Asked about the parties to the conflict, Mr. L’Hote said that a multitude of armed actors were present in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This made it extremely difficult for the ICRC to have a global vision, in spite of its presence on the ground. Further complicating matters was the emergence of new groups over the past few months. Also, attacks were increasingly taking place far from the centres where the organizations were based, thus posing significant security challenges for ICRC teams on the ground.
The ICRC had noted an aggravation of the level of violence and an increased splintering of armed groups since the beginning of 2012. The groups were less homogenous than in the past and were operating in smaller entities, underlined Mr. L'Hote.
Melissa Fleming of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that UNHCR was expanding aid operations for refugees in South Sudan’s Yida camp, whose population had swollen to more than 35,000 people amid a new wave of arrivals since last week. On average 430 refugees had been arriving daily throughout May, a 47 percent increase over the arrival rates seen in April. At this rate, the camp population would exceed 40,000 by the end of the month.
Yida was the most dangerous refugee settlement in South Sudan, said Ms. Fleming. UNHCR was urging refugees to voluntarily move away from the border to the established camps that were much safer. However, at the same time UNHCR was improving the conditions at the Yida settlement because of refugees’ reluctance to leave.
Further west, in Upper Nile State, UNHCR was also seeing large numbers of refugees which almost reached the 80,000 mark. These refugees were telling similar stories that were marked by ongoing conflict, aerial bombardments, and the inability to continue to grow crops.
UNHCR was very concerned about the upcoming rainy season, said Ms. Fleming. The rain was making it difficult for aid workers to bring in goods and may prevent people from leaving.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that some 11 days into the airlift, IOM had completed 40 flights transporting a total of 5,972 people from the Sudanese capital to Juba, the capital of newly independent South Sudan. Today, there would be no air movements to allow routine maintenance and checks on the planes to be carried out. Flights would resume on Saturday and were likely to be increased from two a day to six a day, provided that Juba airport had that capacity. If all went well, the remaining 6,000 returnees would be in Juba soon.
After arriving in Juba, returnees were housed in a new transit site 13 kilometers from Juba, established by IOM and its humanitarian partners. The site, where 5,000 people were currently staying, could provide shelter, basic water and sanitation, medical care and cooking areas for some 7,500 people. As there had been some cases of Malaria, IOM was encouraging returnees to take precautionary measures and follow good hygiene practices.
Marixie Mercado of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen now was due to a combination of the political upheaval and continuing instability, as well as chronic underdevelopment. UNICEF was therefore pushing for an approach that focused on malnutrition – both the acute malnutrition that was a result of the insecurity in the country right now and the chronic malnutrition that had stunted almost 60 per cent of Yemeni children for the past four decades. Malnutrition was the single most important underlying cause of child mortality in Yemen. A focus on malnutrition allowed for investment in water, sanitation, health and livelihoods, which were all elements that were necessary for Yemen to get out of its chronic underdevelopment.
Despite the extraordinary importance of nutrition in Yemen, the nutrition portion of UNICEF’s funding appeal for the country was only 11 per cent funded.
A news note issued by UNICEF Yemen following the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday was available at the back of the room.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the situation in Yemen sparked great concern. A fourth of the population, or five million people, was facing nutritional insecurity. The WFP was therefore stepping up its operations in Yemen in order to provide 3,600,000 people with nutrition assistance until the end of the year. For this to happen the organization needed USD 207 million.
UNHCR strengthens its presence in Dadaab refugee complex
Ms. Fleming said that UNHCR had established a new office close to the Dadaab refugee complex. The office would cover about 150,000 refugees. While the situation at Dadaab was relatively safe compared to the one in Somalia, UNHCR had noted a continuous series of security incidents that made it difficult for the organization to operate and which rendered the security situation of the refugees more complex.
Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos visits Senegal and Sahel
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had concluded a four-day visit to Burkina Faso and Senegal. After visiting drought-affected areas, Ms. Amos had underlined that “To avoid the food crisis in the Sahel region becoming a catastrophe we need strong leadership, comprehensive response plan; coordinated and speedy action and continued generosity from the regional and international community.”
According to the estimates of humanitarian partners, more than 18 million people were affected by the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel region, including some 2.8 million people in Burkina Faso – a fifth of the country’s population. In Senegal, more than 800,000 people were now facing food insecurity.
A note was at the back of the room, said Ms. Momal-Vanian.
Forthcoming Hurricane Season
Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization said that according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the conditions in the atmosphere and the ocean favoured a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this season. The Atlantic hurricane season was to start on 1 June and would last until 30 November.
For the entire six-month season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there was a 70 per cent chance of 9 to 15 named storms (with top winds of 63 kilometers per hour or higher). Of these, four to eight would strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 119 km/h), and of those one to three would become major hurricanes (with top winds of 178 km/h or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5). Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produced 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
The year 2011 had been an active Atlantic hurricane season with 19 tropical storms, of which 7 became hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was predicting a below normal Central Pacific hurricane season and a near normal Eastern Pacific hurricane season.
PRESAO, Previsions Saisonniers en Afrique de l’Ouest, was currently meeting in Burkina Faso to discuss the seasonal climate outlook for West Africa, including the Sahel region. The World Meteorological Organization would share the outlook with journalists as soon as it was released.
Election of new ILO Director-General and forthcoming Labour Conference
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that ILO would issue two notes to the press today – one on the election of its new Director-General, and the other on ILO’s Labour Conference which would start next Wednesday.
The election of the Director-General would be held behind closed doors, starting at 10 a.m. on Monday, 28 May. At the end of the electoral process, the private sitting would be adjourned and, after a break of about 30 minutes, the Governing Body would meet in a public sitting to announce the appointment of the new Director-General. The Director-General-elect would then be invited to take the floor. The public sitting would be open to everyone, including media representatives.
Mr. von Rohland said that the President of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, would be in Geneva on 14 June in the framework of the ILO Labour Conference.
Mr. Jumbe said that IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing would tomorrow begin a three-day official visit to Kuwait – his first to the country. During the visit Mr. Swing would notably meet with His Highness the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. For the past nine years, Kuwait had been contributing USD 500,000 annually in support of global humanitarian activities.
The British Council and IOM would host a panel discussion on “Dispelling Myths about Migration” on Tuesday 29 May at 6 p.m. at the University of Geneva, Uni Mail, Room MR070. The discussion, to be moderated by BBC presenter Razia Iqbal, was open to the public.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was to open a three-week session on Tuesday, during which it would examine the reports presented by Cyprus (on Wednesday), Viet Nam (on Thursday) and Turkey (on Friday), as well as Nepal, Australia, Greece and Algeria.
The Committee against Torture was meeting in private until the end of its session on 1 June, when it would make public its final observations on Albania, Greece, Armenia, the Czech Republic and Rwanda.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold its next weekly public meeting on Thursday 31 May, when the delegations were expected to continue discussing nuclear disarmament according to the schedule adopted this week.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Palais des Nations would be closed on Monday 28 May, which was an official holiday at the United Nations Office at Geneva.