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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
3 December 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, United Nations Children’s Fund and World Food Programme.

PHILIPPINES

Leonard Doyle, from the IOM regional office in Manila, informed that the relief effort was now moving into a more long-term phase. It involved getting people into safer accommodation, providing vast plastic sheeting and shelter materials which were quickly turning into more long-term housing accommodation for those displaced by the typhoon. IOM was very keen to mainstream what was known as two way communications with the affected and displaced population. IOM was listening carefully to those displaced, both so that they could guide the aid effort, and also so that issues such as sexual and gender based violence and corruption came to the attention of those delivering the aid, including the Government, as early as possible. IOM had developed, as in many part of the world, the "Displacement Tracking Matrix", which was a detailed survey of displaced families.

Mr. Doyle explained that, in the current crisis, mainstreaming was under way as well as efforts among various involved agencies in order to ensure that there was no duplication. 70 per cent of the affected populations were estimated to be without mobile phones, Internet, or newspapers. It was particularly important that such population knew where and when aid was coming, and how they could access it. It was also important to receive feedback from that population, on what their most pressing needs were.

Asked how many people did not have access to a mobile phone, Mr. Doyle responded that the number stood at about 70 per cent of the 3 million displaced people.

Mr. Doyle commented that there had been remarkable low levels of violence and criminality in the aftermath of the typhoon. Initial reports about looting had been exaggerated. The Philippine people seemed to be managing extraordinary well, in particularly during the recovery effort. Nonetheless, IOM was aware that there were many people without homes, people living behind plastic cover, without secured home, and one of the focusses was on preventing gender-based violence.

SYRIA

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), informed that nearly 5.5 million vulnerable Syrian children would soon face another season of harsh winter weather. The pre-conflict population counted some 9 million children.

The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter was unprecedented, as the number had quadrupled as compared to the previous year. In December 2012, there had been approximately 1.15 million children affected by the crisis inside Syria, with an additional 232,000 Syrian children living as refugees in neighbouring countries. As the conflict was approaching its fourth year, those numbers had skyrocketed to 4.3 million and 1.2 million, respectively.

UNICEF had been working since early October to equip children as quickly as possible for the cold. Blankets, plastic sheeting, winter clothing and hygiene kits were being distributed, along with winterized tents and fuel to heat classrooms. UNICEF was also working to reinforce drainage systems, dislodge waste tanks and construct concrete foundations for families in tents. Additional supplies such as energy boilers for hot showers were also being placed in camps.

Ms. Mercado quoted a thirteen-year Syrian refugee from the Zaatari camp, who had described difficult, cold conditions in the camp, which had made him and his siblings sick the previous winter.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed that WFP had dispatched enough food to feed over 3.4 million people inside Syria in November, mainly to internally-displaced families in 13 governorates and had reached 8 more locations, which had been inaccessible in recent months.

WFP had recently managed to deliver food aid to 8 communities that had been previously cut off. However, WFP remained gravely concerned about the fate of many Syrians still trapped in conflict zones throughout the country, including around Damascus and in Al Hassakeh, where some areas had been without food assistance for six consecutive months.

Ms. Byrs stated that WFP aimed to reach 4 million people inside Syria every month, as well as to provide assistance for nearly 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries. The Syria response was WFP’s largest and most complex emergency worldwide. WFP needed to raise USD 40 million every week to meet the food needs of people affected by the Syrian conflict.

In November, WFP had faced severe access challenges in dispatching food to the northeast governorates and in particular to Al-Hassakeh due to heavy fighting cutting off transport routes, preventing trucks from delivering food to families in these areas. WFP logistics teams would soon test alternative routes to deliver food to the northeast governorates which had been cut off from regular food assistance for several months.

The closure of the Damascus-Homs Highway had also resulted in significant delays in sending food to Homs and Hama Governorates. WFP had had to use alternate and longer routes to deliver food in hard-to-reach areas. In some cases, food trucks had had to be re-routed over the Lebanese border and then back into Syria, to reach some of these areas.

Ms. Byrs informed that intense fighting in the southwest of Quneitra governorate had displaced 10,000 people to the eastern and central areas of the governorate. WFP had delivered enough food to cover the needs of all those displaced families for one month. Despite significant challenges, WFP had gained access over the previous few weeks to eight difficult to reach areas in November, mainly in rural Homs and Deraa.

Ms. Byrs said that, each month, WFP was providing specialized nutrition products (Plumpy’doz and Nutributter) to 100,000 vulnerable children under age 2 in Syria. The Northeast was of particular concern, as there had been high rates of malnutrition among children there even before the start of the conflict.

In answer to a question, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that UN Humanitarian Coordinator Valerie Amos would be briefing the Security Council today, which would be her third briefing following the adoption of the Presidential Statement on humanitarian access.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Ms. Byrs informed that, due to serious constraints in resources and a shortage of food, WFP would have to reduce or suspend some of its activities in DRC as of December, leaving thousands of people with no food assistance.

To continue its operations in DRC over the following six months, WFP urgently needed USD 75 million. The current WFP operation in DRC, running form July 2013 to December 2015, was only 25 percent funded out of a total cost of USD 478 million. That 30-month relief and recovery programme targeted 4.2 million people with five main objectives: 1) Provide life-saving food assistance to IDPs and refugees in crisis-affected areas; 2) Reduce the prevalence of acute malnutrition; 3) Support access to markets and to education, and provide nutrition services for returning IDPs, refugees and food insecure communities; 4) Increase the resilience of severely food-insecure communities against further shocks; and 5) Reinforce national capacity to design and manage food and nutrition programmes and disaster preparedness.

Ms. Byrs informed that, in the previous six months, WFP had already had to halve the rations distributed to displaced people in North Kivu province while the overall food security situation was deteriorating in that part of eastern DRC. According to a recent survey conducted jointly by the provincial government of North Kivu and WFP, six out of ten families were food insecure, against three out of ten two years earlier.

While appealing to donors for urgent funding, WFP was striving to maintain life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable groups, such as malnourished people living with HIV/AIDS undergoing antiretroviral treatment, victims of sexual violence and primary school students. Unless new funds were quickly confirmed, WFP would not be able to continue covering the needs of some 300,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in North Kivu who had been already receiving half rations for the last six months. WFP was discussing with IDP leaders and local government a strategy whereby assistance focused on the most vulnerable comprised of unaccompanied children, children under 18, people with visible handicaps, new arrivals (IDPs who had fled fresh armed conflict), people with chronic sicknesses, and the elderly heads of households with children under 18.

Due to the lack of funding, WFP was being forced to start a significant scale down of activities in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Equateur, Kasai and Orientale. Likely impact would be a reduction of support to school children, refugees, returnees and to beneficiaries of crucial early recovery and resilience activities such as Food-for-Work which was a set-back to the gains people had made in being self-sufficient.

Ms. Byrs emphasized that, in DRC, one out ten children suffered from acute malnutrition and 6.3 million people were facing hunger and needed food assistance.

Asked whether WFP would reduce its operations uniformly in all regions or if the aid was being reduced only to those who needed the least, Ms. Byrs explained that WFP would start to reduce support where there was less need, even though there were needs everywhere. WFP would try to continue to nourish the most vulnerable people, for example those with AIDS and children. WFP would try to reduce at least as possible and was hoping to receive additional contributions. Ms. Byrs emphasized that the crisis in the DRC should not be forgotten, even while other places, such as Syria or the Philippines, were in the center of the focus.

On how to explain that the number of families living in a state of food insecurity had doubled over two years, Ms. Byrs stated that in two years there had been a multiplication of armed conflicts and a constant displacement of populations. Those factors gave way a constant insecurity that continued to increase. It also became more difficult to reach those population, who was paying the price of insecurity stemming from constant fighting.

FLOODS IN NIGER

Mr. Laerke said that more than 15,000 people urgently needed humanitarian aid in south-east Niger after the Komadougou river - which most of the year was practically dried out - had burst its banks and flooded their communities.

The seasonal flooding had begun a month earlier and had caught locals and authorities largely unprepared as water in the river had risen to an unprecedented level in mid-November. According to humanitarian workers on the ground, people now needed food, water purification, sanitation supplies and access to health care.

Mr. Laerke explained that the Government of Niger was leading the emergency relief operation, with the support of UN agencies and other humanitarian partners, and had already distributed 94 tons of food. Authorities had also identified sites to where the affected people could relocate.

Meanwhile, the flooding continued and at least 20 more villages were at risk. Farmland was also under water, triggering concern for people’s long-term food security situation. Flooding had affected transport systems and paralysed local trade which was an important source of income for people in the border area with Nigeria. Authorities reported an increase of food imports from Nigeria, but prices had gone up dramatically; for example, the price of a 100kg bag of flour had gone up by 30 per cent.

SAUDI ARABIA/ETHIOPIA

Ms. Berthiaume said that IOM had assisted the Ethiopian Government to manage the influx of vulnerable Ethiopian migrants returning from Saudi Arabia. The number of migrants expelled from Saudi Arabia continued to increase. Some 7,000 expulsed migrants were arriving at Addis Ababa’s Airport every day. Over 75,000 migrants had returned to Ethiopia since the operation had begun on 13 November 2013. The Government had initially asked IOM to take care of 30,000 persons, but the number had not stopped increasing. The Government estimated that the return of migrants would be completed by 15 December. Ms. Berthiaume informed that 50,000 migrants were still expected to arrive in Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia and that IOM was present at their arrival points to provide them emergency aid and transportation to get home safely.

A question was asked whether a warning had been given to Ethiopian migrants before they had been ejected. Ms. Berthiaume reminded that IOM was not present in Saudi Arabia. It was aware nevertheless that a process had been put into place by the Saudi Government asking all the migrants to prove that they had valid residence permits. Seven month after that warning, the Government had given the illegal migrants until November to leave the country, otherwise they would face either detention or eviction. The Ethiopian Government had implemented an airlift to pick up its nationals and bring them back to Ethiopia.

SOMALIA

Ms. Berthiaume informed that Puntland, one of Somalia’s states, had been devastated two weeks earlier by a tropical cyclone which had caused huge damages. Damages had only started to be recorded now, as that had not been possible before. Ms. Berthiaume said that an estimated 35,000 people had been affected by the disaster and were at risk of destitution and hunger. About 150 people had been reported dead or missing, and thousands of animals, which represented the basis for livelihood and survival of most of the local community, had been reported dead.

Putland was a semi-arid region, where it rarely rained but when it did, to the extent that was seen the impact was devastating. IOM had deployed medical teams to provide emergency medical and food assistance to the affected communities. Ms. Berthiaume also informed that IOM was planning longer term efforts to restock the affected pastoral communities.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING/UKRAINE

Ms. Berthiaume informed that MTV Exit and IOM had just produced a documentary on human trafficking called “Trading lives” targeting Ukrainian youth. Children and youth people under 25 as they were one of the largest groups exposed to the dangers of modern-day slavery. They made up for 42 per cent of all victims of trafficking whom the IOM mission in Ukraine had assisted for the previous 12 years. The documentary warned against the dangers of human trafficking by telling true stories.

Ms. Berthiaume stressed that MTV Exit was the world’s largest behaviour change campaign in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that there would be a press conference at 1:30 p.m. today in Room III, by the Chairperson of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Alexandra Guáqueta.

On 5 December, at 12 noon, in Room III, a press conference on human rights and the internet would take place, with Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation.

Also on 5 December, at 2 p.m. in Room III, there would be a press conference on the 13th Meeting of the States Parties of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, which was taking place in Geneva between 2 and 5 December. Speakers would include the President of the 13th MSP, as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that 3 December was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. She stated that more than one billion persons in the world lived with some kind of handicap, and informed that the theme for 2013 was “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”. On that occasion, a side event to the 13th MSP, would take place today at 6 p.m. in Room XXIV, organized by the UN Intra-agency Support Group to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which comprised a number of UN bodies.

In the framework of the 16 days of activism following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), UNIS would organize a film screening on 4 December 2013, from 12.30 p.m - 1.30 p.m. in Room XIV/”Kazakh Room”. Three films produced by the UN on the theme of violence against women would be shown, including South Africa - From Victim to Victor, Safe Cities: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea 2012, and Noor: Women's rights in Iraq.

Glen Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that on 4 December there would be a meeting of the emergency committee on MERS at 12 noon, a summary of which would be posted online afterwards. This would be a fourth regular meeting to review the new and emerging disease. There was no scheduled press conference planned.

A disease outbreak news had been issued about the MERS cases in the United Arab Emirates. The latest casualty from the previous day had brought the total number of confirmed cases to 163, with 71 deaths.

Mr. Thomas informed that a meeting was taking place at WHO today on Guinea worm disease. The meeting would be analysing the progress of countries in achieving the Guinea worm disease free status. The results of the three-day meeting would be issued later.


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The representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, International Labour Organization and the United Nations Refugee Agency also attended the briefing, but did not speak.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://webtv.un.org/search/geneva-press-briefing-who-wfp-unicef-ocha-iom/2888374972001?term=press-briefing