REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 February 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women would examine the report of Cyprus today. On Monday morning, the Committee would hold a general debate on access to justice and, in the afternoon, it would hear testimonies from non-governmental organizations concerning the three countries that to be examined next week, Greece, Angola and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would conclude this morning its examination of the report of Russia and, next week, would examine the reports of Kirgizstan, Slovakia, Mauritius, New Zealand, and Dominican Republic.
The Conference on Disarmament would be holding its next public plenary (at 10 a.m.) on Tuesday, (19 February.)
The Seventh Meeting of the Syrian Humanitarian Forum would take place in Geneva on Tuesday, 19 February, at 10 a.m. and, as in previous occasions, it would be a private meeting. It was expected that a press conference would be held after the meeting and further information about the time and participants would be made available as soon as possible.
Ms. Momal-Vanian recalled that, as previously announced, Room III would not be available for several weeks. The press briefing By Chairperson Paulo Pinheiro and Committee Member Carla del Ponte, from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, would take place on Monday, 18 February, at 11 a.m., in Room VII.
As of Tuesday, a special working space in Hall XIV would be set up for press briefings and for press conferences with several speakers that could not be held in Room 1.
Economic Commission for Europe
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that the Working Party on Braking and Running Gear, a subsidiary body of the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, would hold its seventy-fourth session next week, from 19 to 22 February, in Room XII. The group would discuss, among other subjects, issues concerning regulations on braking for buses and trucks and regulations concerning tyres. Next week, the Commission would issue a communiqué with additional information concerning the adoption of new regulations on braking systems for buses and trucks by Japan.
A meeting on water and adaptation to climate change would take place next week, on 20 and 21 February, in room VIII. This meeting would review various case studies from around the world concerning measures adopted by water basins to mitigate the effects of climate change, including examples from regions around the world, and a programme would be distributed shortly. This was a topic on which there would be continuous work in the framework of the Water Convention in months and year to come.
World Health Organization
Tarik Jasarevic from the World Health Organization (WHO) said that next week the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization would release a report on the effects of hormone disrupting chemicals. A press briefing was expected to take place on Monday, depending on the availability of the speaker who would be launching the report in Nairobi. The report and a press release would be made available on Monday but remain under embargo until Tuesday. [It was later announced that Dr. Maria Neira would give the press briefing at 10.00 a.m. in Press Room 1 on Monday 18 February.]
Mr. Jasarevic recalled that experts on health statistics had met at the World Health Organization to discuss collaboration to improve current practices in health estimates. Several countries did not count with registers and this was an area for improvement. The meeting had been co-chaired by Hans Rosling from the Gapminder Foundation. At the end of the day, a note on this meeting would be distributed to the media.
Mr. Rosling, speaking about the importance of making use of health statistics, said that a wealth of data had been produced by the United Nations. However, key changes in life expectancy, population growth, and children mortality rates remained poorly understood. For example, the dramatic improvement in life expectancy rates in recent years had not been communicated accordingly and data showed that the common labels used to describe “developed” and “developing” countries did not match current realities. Health data should be used to develop effective categories and actions to improve public health. The world had become increasingly complex and new ways of looking of it were needed, Mr. Rosling stressed that statistics produced by the World Health Organization had made this type of statistical analysis possible.
Elisabeth Byrs from the World Food Programme (WFP) expressed concern about the regions in need of assistance which were often inaccessible due to intense combat and insecurity on the roads. Last Wednesday, 12 February, 62 metric tons of food, enough for 10,000 people, had been distributed in Al-Hassakeh city and the Al-Shaddadi district, in Northeast Syria. There were reports of an important displacement of people fleeing combat in Al-Shaddadi. A team of the World Food Programme had visited the area and confirmed that around 40,000 people had fled Al-Shaddadi and moved into Al-Hassakeh. Food assistance was already being provided in this area but, at the request of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, additional assistance had been sent.
Concerning monthly food distributions, 25 trucks carrying 578 metric tons of food, enough to feed 93,000 people, had been dispatched to different areas in Hama, Lattakia, Tartous, Dara’a, Homs, and Damascus. Bread shortages continued to affect Syria, driven to a large extend by fuel and flour shortages. Milling capacity had sharply dropped by about 75 per cent in Aleppo and affecting the supply of wheat flour and bread in all of Syria. The price of bread had increased by up to 77 per cent in Aleppo and 56 per cent in Qamishly in the last few months.
The WFP together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) would distribute specialised nutrition products to prevent and treat malnutrition in the next few weeks, and Plumpy’doy would also be distributed to 100,000 children aged six months to three years. In the Northeast, the WFP would also distribute another supplement, Nutributter, targeting children under age two with micronutrient deficiencies. Ms. Byrs recalled that the Northeast of Syria had experienced four years of drought before the conflict erupted in 2011, resulting in high rates of malnutrition particularly among children.
Concerning the monthly food distribution operations, Ms. Byrs said that food was distributed from the warehouses in Damascus and through a number of sub-offices in the regions. However, due to the continuation of combat and limited accessibility, distribution required constant adaptation. The WFP had developed a hotline to communicate with beneficiaries and improve the monitoring of food distribution.
In response to a question concerning displacements in areas which had suffered from drought, Ms. Byrs confirmed that, in the Northeast, combat and displacements had only aggravated the misery of the population.
Elisabeth Byrs from the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the WFP distributed food in the cities of Mopti and Ségou, in the centre, and Niafunké, in the north. Distribution had begun as soon as the Programme resumed its operations at the beginning of the month and 1,000 metric tons of mixed food commodities had been sent to the Timbuktu region, in northern Mali, on 13 boats which had travelled up the Niger River. This was enough to assist 68,000 people during a month.
WFP was working with partner NGOs in northern Mali and food distributions had begun in Niafunké and would resume in other cities in northern Mali as soon as the security situation allowed.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that a telephone survey conducted earlier this month that polled 836 families from the northern cities of Timbuktu and Gao, living as displaced families in Bamako and Koulikoro, showed that most of the families polled, or 93 per cent, wanted to return home to the north as soon as security permitted. Almost a quarter of these families planned to return at the end of February and thirty-two per cent said they would return between March and the end of the year.
Two thirds of undecided families said that the decision to return would depend on the evolution of the security situation but a majority were optimistic in this regard. Extrapolating from the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), which contains information regarding 8, 539 displaced families living in Bamako and Koulikoro, it is estimated that some 4,556 families could eventually return to Timbuktu, 3,008 to Gao, and 216 to Kidal in the following months.
Mali’s Commission on Population Movements (CMP) estimates that at the end of 2012 the total number of internally displaced people will be close to 227,000. Early in 2013, the International Organization for Migration had registered displacements from Mopti, Segou and Sikasso and identified an additional 18,792 moving to the south fleeing regions impacted by the hostilities.
This survey data would allow to the Government and humanitarian agencies to plan for large numbers of returnees to the north and its impact on this fragile region and, for example, to equip transit points in particular Mopti and Segou to ensure families have access to food, water and medical supplies. Additional needs identified associated with the return of displaced families, include transport, food and construction materials to repair their homes.
Cécile Pouilly from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the human rights situation in Mali remained of serious concern. The Office of the High Commissioner was deploying human rights experts to monitor the situation on the ground. Three human rights experts had already arrived in Bamako to support the human rights activities of the UN Office in Mali. In addition a four-person team would be deployed to Mali as of Sunday for a two-week mission and would investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including retaliatory violence. This mission would follow up on the work of a first mission deployed to Mali and neighbouring countries in November 2012, which documented various human rights violations, including extra judicial killings, rape and torture. The findings of the two missions would be presented by the High Commissioner to the Human Rights Council later on this month. The Office reiterated its call on all parties to the conflict to abide by humanitarian law and international human rights and to prevent acts of revenge and retaliation.
Concerning the situation in Chad, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), drew attention to the floods which had left approximately 98,000 people homeless in the affected regions of Bongor, Hadjer Lamis and around the capital, N’Djamena. The International Organization for Migration had received funding from Germany and was working with new partners, including the World Food Programme, in order to provide food and non-food aid for 15,000 people living under conditions of extreme vulnerability in these three regions.
The IOM was also working with the Chad Red Cross and Merlin, a non-governmental organization, in order to resettle families who were living in spontaneous temporary sites in Bongor and who were exposed to sanitary risk related to the lack of access to water.
Adrian Edwards from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that South Sudan was seeing a large number of Hepatitis E cases in refugee camps near the border with Sudan. Hepatitis E was endemic in the region, but among refugees had contaminated 6,017 people and led to 111 deaths since July, according to figures compiled by UNHCR, the South Sudanese government, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The largest number of cases and suspected cases were in Upper Nile State, at the Yusuf Batil camp, which accounted for 3,937 cases, or almost 70 percent of the total, and 77 deaths. The camp currently held 37,229 refugees. Jamam Camp, which was also in Upper Nile State, had recorded 1,320 cases and 25 deaths, followed by the Gendrassa Camp with 577 cases and three deaths. Further west, in Unity State, the situation was not as severe. Nonetheless, 125 cases or suspected cases and four deaths had been recorded at the Yida site, which was more of an informal settlement than a formal refugee site. Yide held 65,541 people and had largest concentration of refugees in South Sudan.
Most of refugees in camps where the disease is most widespread were from Blue Nile State, which was a isolated rural area across the border in Sudan where there were few established toilet facilities and uncontaminated water was hard to come by. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees believed the growth in the population due to the refugee influx from Blue Nile could be one of the factors in the rapid spread of the disease.
There was no treatment or World Health Organization-approved vaccine for Hepatitis E, but the risk of being infected could be dramatically reduced by washing hands with soap, especially after using the toilet, drinking clean water, using latrines, and avoiding eating uncooked fruits and vegetables. Hepatitis E was a disease that damaged the liver, and was transmitted by consuming contaminated food or water.
A number of emergency measures were being taken to curb the increase, with about 70 percent of more than 700 latrines were under construction in Yusuf Batil now completed and the remainder were expected to be operating by this weekend. In the Doro Camp region, 65 per cent of the 323 latrines being built in the most affected areas had been completed thus far.
Other steps being taken included making sure that there was more soap around, more than doubling the monthly rate of soap distributed per refugee. Additional soap distributions, especially for washing hands, would continue. Plans were under way to replace about 22,000 10-liter capacity jerry cans, which could become a source of infection if filled with contaminated water. An additional 5,000 buckets were also being shipped to Yusuf Batil.
Additional measures include enhanced disease surveillance, water chlorination, and an intensive health and hygiene promotion campaign in markets, schools, and at the household level. In South Sudan, there were currently 112,981 Sudanese refugees in Upper Nile State, and 67,233 in Unity State.
Responding to a question about the situation of the local population, Mr. Edwards did not have data on the rates of infection among the local population, but it did seem to be dominant among the refugee community. It was believed that the main factors behind infection had to do with the large number of people coming across from the Blue Nile State where the situation was worse than in camps. It had come across from there and had spread once in the communities.
In response to a question about previous warnings about the lack of water and sanitary conditions and possible preventive measures, Mr. Edwards said that the first cases were tracked last July. Given the long incubation period with Hepatitis E. It was not easy to know if control measures were having an effect for quite a while.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Elisabeth Byrs from the World Food Programme (WFP) highlighted the critical situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and noted that a press release would be issued shortly. This region was affected by instability and violence and, while international attention had been recently focused on North Kivu and the group M23, the World Food Programme was concerned about the deterioration of the situation in other provinces, in particular in South Kivu, Katanga and Maniema.
The forthcoming press release would address the situation of Maniema province, where the WFP had recently airlifted high-energy biscuits for thousands of recently-displaced people in the isolated town of Punia, where there were close to 40,000 displaced persons.
South Kivu was also affected by the activities of several armed groups. As a consequence of conflicts in North and South Kivu, there had been a massive arrival of displaced people in Maniema province. There were currently 163,000 displaced people in the province and 40,000 of them in the town of Punia city.
Insecurity and poor road conditions made the distribution of food extremely complicated. In Katanga province the number of displaced people had reach 316,000, a six-fold increase over the last year. The World Food Programme was extremely concerned and alerted about the situation in this and other provinces. Further information concerning the distribution of food in Punia and the situation of the region could be found in the press release.
In response to a question concerning the situation of Katanga, Ms. Byrs indicated that in Katanga the Mai Mai, among other groups, were taking advantage of the general insecurity. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) had a limited presence in the region and the population in Katanga was traumatized by the actions of the Mai Mai in previous years. The Mai Mai and other allied groups had an important presence in the eastern and southern regions; the lack of security was making food distribution increasingly difficult, this is why an airlift had been necessary.
The Representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing but did not speak.
The webcast for this briefing is available at http://bit.ly/Xdnuxz.