REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
11 September 2012
Yvette Morris, Chief of the Radio and Television Section of the Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Health Organization.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said general debate continued this morning on the update of the High Commissioner, with approximately 30 NGOs remaining to speak. Following this Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict was to present her report, which covers May 2011 to May 2012, and calls attention to the need to enhance protection measures for children trapped in situations of armed conflict. Ms. Morris had already mentioned that Ms. Zerrougui would then hold a press conference at 14:00 in Press Room I.
A clustered presentation would be the next item on the Council schedule, said Mr. Gomez, which was to cover first the use of mercenaries, then the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. At 17:00 there was to be an address from the President of Slovakia.
Tomorrow (12 September) the Council was to hear from special rapporteurs on poverty and the right to water and sanitation, then experts on international solidarity and democratic and equitable international order. Thursday would see contributions from rapporteurs on toxic waste and contemporary forms of slavery. There would also be a panel discussion at 12:00 in Room XX on reprisals against human rights defenders, and a concept paper was available on the website, he said.
Answering questions he said special rapporteurs were available to journalists on a one-to-one basis.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie were in Jordan today where they were visiting the Za'atri refugee camp for Syrian refugees.
As well as showing solidarity with the refugees the visit was about recognizing the commitment of Jordan to refugee protection. Latest figures show that more than a quarter of a million Syrian refugees (253,106 people) had now been registered in the surrounding region, or were awaiting registration, he said.
Last night Ms. Jolie, who arrived in Jordan ahead of High Commissioner Guterres, visited the border with Syria where she met newly arriving families. Ms. Jolie was accompanied on the visit by members of the Jordanian military, who have been providing protection and assistance to the refugees.
Since its opening on July 29 2012 Za'atri camp, which is located close to Mafraq near the Syria border, had received 28,000 refugees. These were among the 83,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan who have registered or were awaiting registration (the actual number of refugees in Jordan was thought to be much higher) and most were living with host communities in urban areas, he said.
He continued by saying the numbers of refugees crossing the border tends to fluctuate daily according to the security situation inside Syria. Overall, the average remains around two thousand new arrivals a day, though some days have seen less than 1,000 people crossing.
Refugees say a number of sites in Damascus where displaced people have been sheltering were now affected by violence, added Mr. Edwards, forcing them to move again, with some reporting being displaced five or six times before finally leaving the country.
Following the visit to the camps, High Commissioner Guterres and Special Envoy Jolie will meet His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein, Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh. Updates about the continuing visit will be posted at www.unhcr.org as information becomes available for release, he added.
Answering questions Mr. Edwards said the pressures in Syria were on asylum, space and conditions and it was important to keep these issues highlighted. This was the purpose of Ms. Jolie’s visit, he said, and pictures would be available for download on request. He also added that Ms. Jolie was regularly updated on issues and follows developments closely.
In terms of comparing the crisis to previous situations he said comparisons were hard in either sheer scale of numbers or complexity of the issues. When asked for an update on refugees waiting on the Turkish border he said around 10,200 people were gathered and were receiving food, water and medical care and were crossing as they were registered. It was hoped these could cross as soon as possible.
He also explained that although the Zalatri camp had a potential capacity of over 80,000, work would need to be done to accommodate that number. Support to those in communal shelters was being offered, he said, both in terms of accommodation and psychosocial needs.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization said that last week the WHO had participated in an exploratory mission to Homs to assess the feasibility of strengthening WHO’s presence through the establishment of a sub office and to monitor implementation of activities receiving WHO support.
Following this he outlined that the priority needs identified relate to health care, food aid, shelter, water and sanitation, and education. Furthermore, the urgency of scaling up delivery of humanitarian aid was exacerbated by the approaching winter, he said. The estimated number of people in need of humanitarian aid in Homs Governerate was 550,000 and there were 150 schools hosting internally displaced persons. Shelters that have recently opened provide poor living conditions, he continued, and there was no electricity and the water and sanitation conditions were not functioning properly.
Lack of access to health care facilities both by patients who need care and health workers who provide care was one of the main obstacles being faced according to the WHO as seventy per cent of the health care providers in Homs live in the rural area and therefore cannot access health centres.
Meanwhile, the hospitals and health centres that were operating were overwhelmed with patients and there was severe shortage of qualified staff, he explained. At least 50 per cent of the medical doctors have left Homs and it has been reported that there were only three surgeons in the Governorate. At present, many of the health facilities were staffed with volunteers who have no medical or health training. The Homs branch of the Syrian Red Crescent Society used to have 27 physicians employed in their polyclinics and presently only four of the 27 physicians continue to report for duty, he said.
In addition, there was a critical shortage of life-saving medicines including for non-communicable diseases and vaccines. Insulin, oxygen, nitrogen gas, anesthetics and intravenous fluid sets were not available in hospitals, he explained. Chloride, gas chloride and hypochlorite for the pumping station of chlorine to disinfect the current water supply was also in short supply, and WHO was helping to establish urgently needed equipment to treat the water supply.
He then explained that the WHO will deliver basic health kits, distribute water testing kits to the Homs municipality and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to monitor water quality and establish a hub for stocks of medicines, medical supplies and water monitoring kits in preparation for outbreak response.
To finance this work the WHO had requested US$ 31 million in funding support as outlined in the Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan, presented at the Syrian Humanitarian Forum on 7 September in Geneva, to effectively respond to humanitarian health needs in Syria, he said.
In Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon WHO continues to work with local health authorities to assist Syrian refugees. Activities include among others health assessment, coordination of health response, provision of medical supplies, enhancing disease surveillance and conducting vaccination programmes. He also explained that production facilities had been damaged and this was behind the break in supply. Work was being done to bring in supplies but local production could not be replaced.
Answering questions he said it would be very difficult to give numbers on those suffering from chronic conditions without medication, though reports of these cases were coming in from across the country.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organizaton for Migration (IOM) said a group of 263 female Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who were sheltering in the compound of Philippines embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus with help from IOM today (11 September) returned to the Philippines. Most of the women were former domestic workers fleeing the ongoing conflict.
Following a request from Philippines government, IOM worked closely with the Philippines embassy in Damascus and the Syrian authorities to evacuate the migrants. The Syrian authorities subsequently agreed to waive all exit fees and contractual penalties for the group.
Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, some 2,150 OFWs have returned home from Syria, according to the Filipino Department of Foreign Affairs. Some 500 travelled with IOM assistance. An estimated 5,000 remain, of whom 1,000 have already asked for repatriation assistance.
IOM's emergency response activities in Syria and surrounding countries were funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and IOM's Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism (MEFM.) The Organization had appealed for $22.2 million to continue its work in the region. To date it had received 3.2 million, he said.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said two reports on child mortality were to be issued this week.
The first was the annual report on global child mortality estimates put together by an inter-agency group including UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank and the United Nations Population Division’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This included data at the country, regional and global levels.
The second report, titled, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, was a UNICEF report which uses some of this latest data to explore how to accelerate declines in child mortality, she said. This included analyses of causes of death and the policies and programmes that can push forward a reduction in loss of life.
A teleconference was scheduled for tomorrow at 14:00, she added, which would feature the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, the UNICEF Chief of Health and the UNICEF Chief of Monitoring and Statistics. At 15:00 there was then to be a briefing in Room III with the Chiefs of Statistics from UNICEF and WHO as well as WHO’s Director for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health that will focus on the numbers.
Only a table of estimates and a factsheet on the statistics involved (and not the full report) were available at this stage, as both publications were currently under embargo until 02:00 Thursday local time.
Jessica Sallabank for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said 80 people had been confirmed dead and 200,000 people had been evacuated following an earthquake in the county of Yiliang, China.
Details were still thin on the ground about the scale of the impact though some supplies had been delivered. However, mountainous terrain and heavy rains were hindering efforts, she said. The ICRC would not be sending assistance as resources were already plentiful in the country.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said as of 5 September 2012, a total of 16,360 cases including 255 deaths with a case fatality rate of 1.6 per cent have been reported from 12 out of 13 districts in Sierra Leone. The western area of the country where the capital city of Freetown was located, reported more than 60 per cent of all new cases.
A Cholera Control and Command Center had been established at the WHO Country Office in Freetown to strengthen coordination, and support the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and other health providers to implement activities related to the Cholera Preparedness and Response Operation Plan.
Emphasis was being placed on early detection of cases and timely provision of treatment at the district levels in order to reduce deaths. Cholera cases were managed in cholera treatment units (CTUs) and where there were no established CTUs, emphasis was placed on designating specific areas within the health facilities for isolation purposes.
There were ongoing community interventions on cholera prevention and control activities, he said. There was to be a briefing for the press on Thursday, in association with the International Federation of the Red Cross on the topic, he added.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the number of people in crisis in Somalia had reduced by around 16 per cent over the past six months, from 2.5 million to 2.1 million, according to the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
The improvements were mainly attributed to sustained humanitarian interventions over the last year, improved food stocks at the household and market levels following the exceptional harvest in January, increased milk availability, and higher livestock prices in most pastoral areas of Somalia, he explained.
During 2011, the famine in Somalia affected over 4 million people, or more than half of the population, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. FSNAU was a project funded by the European Commission and USAID (donors), and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network was a USAID-funded activity that collaborates with international, regional and national partners to provide timely and rigorous early warning and vulnerability information on emerging and evolving food security issues. Despite the recent improvements, the humanitarian situation in Somalia remains critical and must remain on the global agenda to avoid the risk of reversing the gains made, he said.
For example, the data also indicates that the situation will slightly deteriorate in the second half of this year not least because the on-going Gu harvest following the April-June rains was significantly below average. Humanitarian actors will continue to prioritize lifesaving responses, as well as interventions aimed at rebuilding livelihoods.
The Somalia Consolidated Appeal for 2012 requests US$1.1 billion and had received $594 million or 51 per cent.
Answering questions he said some of the improvements seen were in south and central Somalia where access problems had been at their worst as improving harvests were a key factor, not just aid provision from humanitarian organizations. He added that a further breakdown of the figures he had quoted were available through the office’s website.
Mr. Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said
United Nations Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos was in Kuwait from today until Thursday to attend the Annual Conference on Partnership and Information Sharing for Better Humanitarian Action.
The conference brings together senior regional and international officials and representatives from humanitarian organizations, the private sector and the media. An advisory was sent yesterday with contacts for interviews about the Arab humanitarian initiative, he said.
Ms. Morris announced that as part of his visit to Switzerland the Secretary-General was to visit Bern today. He was due to address the Swiss Parliament, then attend a working lunch with the President of the Confederation and members of the Federal Council. A press conference together with the Swiss President was to follow at 15:00, and both the parliamentary address and the conference were to be webcast live. The 15:00 conference could be viewed in Room III.
Ms. Morris also said the Conference on Disarmament was ending its 2012 session today, and this morning’s session was to focus on the adoption of its annual report.
In addition, the Committee on Migrant Workers was to finish reviewing the report of Rwanda this morning. Following this the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be discussed this afternoon and would continue tomorrow morning. This committee’s one-week session ends Friday.
She added that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) would hold a press conference tomorrow (12 September) at 10:45 in Press Room 1 on serving Palestine refugees in the Middle East at a time of crises. Speakers would be the Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi; Matthias Burchard, Director, UNRWA Representative Office Geneva and to the EU, Brussels; Lionello Boscardi, Chief, UNRWA Partnership Division and Dustin Okazaki, Special Assistant to the Commissioner-General.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organizaton for Migration (IOM) said a two-day high-level workshop hosted by IOM at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, 13-14 September was to ask how international migrants can be better protected when crises erupt in their destination countries.
"Protecting Migrants During Times of Crisis: Immediate Responses and Sustainable Strategies" was the second in a series that aims to examine the links between crises and human mobility, he said.
He explained that migrants were often neglected in traditional humanitarian responses to complex crisis situations such as war or natural disasters although they face any number of risks. For example, undocumented migrants may be excluded from humanitarian assistance because they were not registered, language barriers often prevent migrants from getting relevant information on ways to access help and when employers withhold passports or other documentation, migrants may end up trapped.
The workshop will allow governments to share policy solutions and best practices to better protect migrants stranded in crises, he said, and was open to media.