REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
9 November 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, the GAVI Alliance, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Syria Humanitarian Forum
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said after the Syrian Humanitarian Forum, this morning (9 November) the following were to hold a press conference in Room III from 13:00.
Introductory remarks and feedback from the meeting were to be made by John Ging, Director, Coordination and Response Division, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Radhouane Nouicer, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, Regional Refugee Coordinator, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Claus Sorensen, Director-General, European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).
Panel members also available for questions included Lauren Landis, Director, World Food Programme (WFP), Richard Brennan, Director, World Health Organization (WHO), Shoko Shimozawa, Deputy Director, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Dermot Carty, Deputy Director, Emergency Operations, UNICEF.
Answering questions he said that all Member States had been invited to attend. [Mr. Laerke later confirmed that the Ambassador of Syria had attended.]
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the humanitarian community in Nigeria had presented a response plan for $38 million to respond to the humanitarian needs after the severe flooding in Nigeria in recent weeks.
The floods were triggered by heavy rainfall and the high water levels in the Niger river that was moving downstream from Niger and Benin. In addition, the release of water from dams along the Niger river had aggravated the flooding.
The water was now slowly receding but the floods have left 7.7 million Nigerians affected and 2.1 million people were registered as internally displaced, according to Government figures. The majority of the displaced were with host communities, while the rest were in camp-like settlements. Many were in public buildings, occupying schools in particular.
The displaced were mostly from farming and fishing communities along the river. The floods had submerged up to 90 per cent of the farmland in the affected areas, and tools such as fishing nets and other equipment had been washed away, leaving people without a livelihood.
The response plan was based on the results from an inter-agency mission in late October (19-25 October) to the worst hit areas in Nigeria and targeted 2.1 million people in need of assistance. The sectors covered were education; health; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; protection; shelter material and Non-Food Items such as mosquito nets and kitchen sets.
The mission also found food insecurity was severe or very severe in many places. There was a high risk of the outbreak of epidemics.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) added that floodwaters were receding, and the primary concern now was the spread of water borne and water-related diseases such as diarrhea and malaria. In all places visited, the provision of clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene support were identified as the most critical, lifesaving priorities.
In many areas safe water sources, such as wells and water pumps had been submerged and latrines had either collapsed or become flooded. This meant that 63 per cent of IDPs were getting their drinking water from ponds or streams and unprotected wells. The rest were using harvested rainwater, boreholes or public water sources. Of those spoken to almost 70 per cent were defecating in the open, 20 per cent in pit latrines, 10 per cent improved pit latrines. Around 63 per cent of IDPs live with families while 37 per cent were in camp like situations, primarily schools and public places.
In the communities visited, 53 per cent of schools were either destroyed or occupied by IDPs.
Of the $38 million joint appeal, UNICEF was requesting $9 million, the majority of which was for water, sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF had already reached over 258,000 displaced people in 17 camps with emergency relief supplies which had already been prepositioned.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that a WHO survey last week showed that in nine of 21 local government areas in Kogi State, 80 per cent of health facilities were damaged or destroyed. Refugee camps had been set up with disease monitoring facilities in place. Cases of malaria had increased but no outbreaks had been documented. The priority was to restore access to basic healthcare through the provision of drugs and trained staff.
World Pneumonia Day
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said pneumonia was the single biggest killer of children under five globally, accounting for 1.3 million children a year, with 90 per cent of these deaths coming from the poorest communities of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The condition itself was easily preventable, she added, and if children in the poorest communities received the same basic interventions as those in the richest then millions of children would survive. This would mean expanding inoculation coverage for measles, influenza and PCV, which were currently at around 85 per cent. The provision of antibiotics was also needed and proper hand washing could bring down the number of deaths by almost a quarter.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) gave an update on a recent meeting on respiratory infections saying pneumonia can be of bacterial, viral or mixed origin and it was bacterial conditions that could be treated by vaccine. Following the meeting the experts agreed to create integrated approaches to these conditions through listing existing treatments and tools, and research for new treatment for the burden of pneumonia and other respiratory conditions. These conclusions would now be sent to a meeting of heads of international research centres in London in December.
Frédérique Tissandier for the GAVI Alliance said her organization had introduced a pneumonia vaccine into 21 developing countries and by the end of the year it would have reached 13 million children. In addition, influenza was a key cause of pneumonia and a combined flu vaccine was to be given to 120 million children by the end of the year, and had been introduced into 73 countries in the past 12 years. She also said that to mark the event the flag of GAVI was to fly from the Pont de Mont-Blanc in Geneva to make people aware of the goals of World Pneumonia Day.
Answering questions she explained GAVI worked in low income, developing countries.
Meeting of the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention
Kerry Brinkert of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention said the 12th meeting of the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention was to be held at the Palais des Nations from 3 to 7 December.
The Twelfth Meeting of the States Parties (12MSP) is a formal meeting of the 160 States which have accepted the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, or Ottawa Convention. The 12MSP was a chance for the international community to conduct a mid-term assessment of efforts to implement the Cartagena Action Plan, which was adopted at the 2009 Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World.
A high level opening ceremony was to take place involving UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, Karl Erjavec, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Didier Burkhalter, the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate, Jody Williams and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer. A high level press conference had been scheduled for Monday 3 December from 09:00 which featured some of these.
On Monday 3 December, Afghanistan, Angola, Cyprus and Zimbabwe were to present requests for extensions of deadlines for clearing mined areas. On Tuesday 4 December, States Parties which have declared responsibility for a significant number of landmine survivors were expected to present updates.
On Wednesday 5 December, Denmark, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan and Uganda are expected to table formal declarations of completion of implementation of their mine clearance obligations. On Thursday 6 December, the following States Parties which are in the process of complying with their obligation to destroy stockpiled anti-personnel mines are expected to report on their progress: Belarus, Finland, Greece and Ukraine.
On Friday 7 December the Geneva Progress Report will be finalised. The Geneva Progress Report will contain what amounts to a mid-term assessment of efforts to implement the Cartagena Action Plan.
It is possible that the following States not party to the Convention which attended last year’s meeting in Cambodia as Observers could attend the 12MSP in Geneva: China, India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, the Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United States of America and Vietnam.
The entire 12MSP was open to the press as were the numerous side events that will take place from 13:00 to 15:00 each day.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said with funding depleted for its operations in South Sudan, UNHCR was warning that its capacity to contain an outbreak of hepatitis E among the refugee population was increasingly jeopardised. The risks would grow if, as currently anticipated, fresh inflows of refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in neighbouring Sudan were seen, he said.
Due to insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, it was expected that thousands of new refugees were to cross borders in the next weeks, as soon as roads became passable after the rainy season.
UNHCR and partners (Solidarites International, Goal, Oxfam, IOM, IMC, Medair and MSF together with the national health authorities) were already fighting an outbreak of Hepatitis E in Upper Nile and Unity states, two regions where the disease was endemic and where 175,000 Sudanese refugees were settled.
He said UNHCR had seen 1,050 cases of Hepatitis E in the refugee camps, a virus contracted and spread through consuming contaminated food and water. The disease damages the liver and can be fatal. To date, 26 refugees had died in camps in Upper Nile. This was 10 more deaths since mid-September.
The risk of infection was high in densely populated settings such as refugee camps. This was further exacerbated in the rainy season due to flooding and poor sanitation. Women and small children were the most vulnerable. Early diagnosis was also crucial for the survival of patients. UNHCR was working with the US Center for Disease Control, which had sent six staff to test water and blood samples and conduct house-to-house interviews on hygiene practices.
To counter the spread of the disease among the 175,000 Sudanese refugees already in South Sudan, UNHCR was promoting better hygiene practices through hundreds of trained community workers. In all camps this community outreach exercise included active case finding. Work was also being done to improve the supply of clean water in the camps, as well as upgrade latrine stances, and provide more hand washing-stations and soap.
These measures had helped to slow the spread of the disease. However, UNHCR was struggling to meet the minimum humanitarian standards such as the provision of 15 to 20 litres of safe drinking water per refugee per day or building enough latrines so that each unit was shared by no more than 20 refugees.
The south Sudan operation was seriously underfunded, he said, and $20 million was needed until the end of the year to keep up basic lifesaving activities. Of the revised appeal for $186 million, only 40 per cent had been received so far.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said his agency welcomed a decision by the Brazilian government to grant permanent residency to nearly 2,000 former Angolan and Liberian refugees. The Brazil Ministry of Justice had issued a decree on October 26 which confirmed the new status for this group.
The measure was adopted by the Brazilian migration authorities following a global UNHCR recommendation in January this year, which asked states to apply the cessation clauses on the two refugee situations and recommending countries of asylum to pursue local integration or an alternative status for former refugees.
Brazil was the first country in Latin America and outside of the African region to adopt UNHCR's recommendations. Current statistics provided by the Brazilian government, suggest that the decision will affect 1,681 Angolan and 271 Liberian refugees, representing almost 40 percent of the refugee population in Brazil.
According to the decree, Angolan and Liberian refugees had 90 days after being notified by the Government to contact the Federal Police Department and request their permanent resident visa. Refugees must comply with at least one of four conditions, he said.
Angolan and Liberian refugees were largely integrated into Brazilian society, with mostly in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Many were married to locals and had Brazilian children. UNHCR believed that the majority of the former Angolan and Liberian refugee population will meet the government's requirements to remain in Brazil.
World e-Parliament Report 2012
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said the latest World e-Parliament Report 2012, published jointly by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the UN, showed that for the first time, social media were among the ten methods of communication used by parliaments to engage citizens.
Of these, social networks such as Facebook and MySpace came in fifth place with 31 percent of parliaments using them (against only 13 percent in 2009). Twitter came in seventh position with 29 per cent, against 12 per cent in 2009. In all, 85 per cent of parliaments used social media in one form or another, starting with the European parliaments (98 per cent) and Latin American (95 per cent).
However, some parliaments were struggling to follow the rapid evolution of society and technology such as social media, the smartphone and cloud computing even though they offered great opportunities in the democratic values of transparency, accountability and accessibility, she explained.
It was also clear from the report that, despite the obstacles encountered, the gap between the parliaments of low-income countries and the rest of the world in matters of ICT use had decreased by more than 25 percent over the last three years. All of the 156 parliaments which took part in the study now had access to the internet, 83 percent through a wireless network, as against 77 in 2009.
The report also showed that the use of parliamentary websites had dropped and only 16 per cent had a system to retain messages from citizens.
The report was available online, and could be accessed through a link on the front page of the IPU website.
WFP Executive Director visit to Jordan
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said a press release at the back of the room gave details on the end of the visit of the visit to Jordan by the WFP Executive Director, who had visited the Zata’ari refugee camp to review the situation.
Answering questions Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said he could not confirm an accident in the Bay of Bengal had resulted in the loss of life of refugees, though this had been the case in the past. An established migration path ran between Myanmar and Malaysia, he said, which was where it was thought the group involved were headed.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in 2010 the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment dealt with 313 reports of deaths among Sri Lankan migrants, 18 suicides and thousands of incidences of harassment and sickness
Furthermore, a study of 1,100 returned migrant workers showed that more than one in six had suffered abuse in the workplace. As a result of the findings, the country was moving towards a national migration health policy and IOM was supporting them in this.
Human Rights Council elections
Ms. Momal-Vanian signalled to journalists that elections to the Human Rights Council were to take place in New York next week. All details were available from her office or the website.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the report of Russia, whose delegation of experts were to answer questions Monday afternoon. This afternoon, Gabon answered questions posed yesterday morning. Togo was the last country in the programme of the session and was to present its report Monday morning and answer questions Tuesday afternoon.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances will hold the closing meeting of its third session around 16:00, she added, and reminded correspondents that the work undertaken in this time was mainly devoted to questions of method and organization.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Monday began a three-week session to consider the reports of Tanzania, Ecuador, Mauritania, Bulgaria and Iceland. It was also to examine the situation in two countries that had not submitted reports: Equatorial Guinea and Congo.
The United States Mission was also to hold a press conference on the Syria Humanitarian Forum today (9 November). Their speaker was to be Kelly Clements, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, US Department of State at 15:00 in Press Room 1.
Laura Gehrke for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced a press conference on the launch of the State of the World Population Report on 14 November at 09:00 in Press Room I. The report, titled, “By choice, not by chance: Family planning, human rights and development,” presented evidence of the economic impact of family planning on families, communities and countries, she said. The launch was then planned for 13:00. Dianne Stewart, Director of the Division of Information and External Relations of the UNFPA was to be the speaker. The report was already available online under embargo.
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) mentioned the annual parliamentary conference on the WTO which would see MPs from 62 countries attend. Topics under discussion would include providing strong leadership on trade and economic issues and the theme was connecting politics to trade. Attendees would meet officials and government negotiators, as well as hold a hearing with the WTO Director-General. An outcome document would be made available next Friday on what it was thought was needed to create a fairer trading system.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that UNCTAD was collaborating with the Permanent Missions of Mexico and the United States of America, to jointly celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week. On this occasion, she invited correspondents to attend a town hall meeting on Women's Empowerment through Entrepreneurship on Wednesday 14 November 2012 at 16.00 in Hall XIV of the Palais des Nations.
The Ambassadors of the United States and Mexico would be attending, as were female entrepreneurs who were to share their experiences. Other activities were also to take place at the University of Geneva.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said a meeting on non-communicable diseases had reached a consensus on indicators and it was hoped that once final comments had been received it could be made public tonight. Following on from this it would go to the WHO Executive Board in January and then the World Health Assembly.