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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

5 August 2016

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the UN TV and Radio Section, chaired the briefing attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration.

South Sudan

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the situation in South Sudan was catastrophic, and even more so for children. UNICEF was responding to the growing food security emergency which was affecting children in both rural and urban areas. In 2016 so far, UNICEF had treated 120,000 children under 5 for severe malnutrition, that represent a near 50 percent increase over the same period last year. Initially, UNICEF had been planning to provide support to 166,000 children in 2016, but that figure, because of the developments, had been revised to over 250,000.

Seven out of the country’s 10 States had reached malnutrition rate emergency threshold of 15 percent, while in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, the malnutrition rate stood at 33 percent.

UNICEF had also noted a sharp rise in malnutrition in South Sudan’s urban areas, including Juba, where the rates of children admitted to Al Sabbah children’s hospitals, which is supported by UNICEF, for malnutrition were some 20 percent higher in the first six months of 2016 than for the same period last year. One of the main reasons for such an increase was the country’s inflation rate, which had made basic household staples too expensive for many families.

Mr. Boulierac further explained that the ongoing conflict made UNICEF’s ability to respond ever more limits, with a number of roads inaccessible. In most urgent cases, air transport was used for delivering supplies, which was much more expensive.

More than 900,000 children had been displaced in South Sudan, which also had the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world, with 51 percent of school-age children out of school (that is 1.8 million children). An estimated 16,000 children had been recruited by armed groups, and there were concerns that the renewed violence would lead to a further expansion of that practice.

Responding to a question, Mr. Boulierac stated that UNICEF could not provide figures of children dying from starvation. One quarter of million children in South Sudan were facing severe malnutrition; UNICEF had treated 120,000 children for malnutrition in 2016 so far.

On the figures on sexual violence and rape, Mr. Boulierac said that they did not have such figures. Sexual violence and rape had been used as a weapon of war, and all the ingredients were there to be extremely concerned.

Mr. Boulierac stressed that, due to insecurity and the rainy season, UNICEF staff in South Sudan were not able to be fully mobile and deliver their goods and services.

He informed that for 2016 UNICEF needed USD 154.5 million for South Sudan, primarily for water and sanitation, and child support services, nutrition, health and education out of which the Fund had so far received USD 52 million.

At least 72 civilian deaths and at least 217 cases of sexual violence documented in Juba alone between 8 and 25 July.

The total number of South Sudanese refugees in the region stood at 917,418, most of whom were in Uganda, added William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Ukraine

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that, for the first time in five months, UNHCR convoys had reached conflict-affected populations in the non-government controlled area of Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, delivering vitally needed construction materials for thousands of people who had their homes damaged or destroyed during the conflict.

Two separate convoys of 25 trucks had each travelled with support from the World Food Programme and local partners to deliver supplies that would enable the UNHCR to expand its shelter programme in the region. The first 25 trucks had arrived on 4 August and delivered 23,000 roofing sheets to the UNHCR warehouse in Luhansk. Another 25 trucks had arrived today with cement, bricks, roofing material, tarpaulins and nails as well as kitchen sets, jerry cans and shoe dryers for use in winter.

Mr. Spindler said that, despite the ceasefire agreed in 2015, the security situation in eastern Ukraine remained tense and volatile. Flare-ups of hostilities continued to lead to daily casualties among civilians and the destruction of homes. UNHCR estimated that some 10,000 houses in non-government controlled areas of Luhansk had been damaged as a result of the conflict. Since the onset of the conflict in 2014, more than 2 million people had been forced to flee their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere in the country or abroad. Nearly 800,000, including the elderly and others in the most vulnerable categories, remained in need of assistance in or close to the conflict zone.

UNHCR remained extremely concerned about restrictions on freedom of movement that had aggravated hardships for people, who had to also struggle to have access to benefits and entitlements - including pensions - on the government-controlled side. A major problem was the limited number of checkpoints to cross the front line. In the Luhansk region, only one pedestrian checkpoint in Stanitsa Luhanskaya remained open, with people queuing up to eight hours to cross. Long lines of 200-400 cars had been observed this week at checkpoints in the Donetsk region.

The payment of social benefits and pensions to internally displaced persons had been suspended until their residential addresses had been verified. That was a major challenge, especially for the elderly, people with disabilities and other individuals with specific needs who faced insecurity while waiting for long hours at check points without shelter or adequate sanitation.

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that according to a European Union-funded IOM survey, employment remained a key challenge for internally displaced persons in Ukraine. As of 1 August, the Government of Ukraine had registered 1,75 million IDPs; the IOM survey showed that only 43 percent of IDP households could count on wages as regular income.

In response to a question, Mr. Millman said that the IOM had periodically put together surveys on displaced people. People with university degrees were having difficulties find qualified jobs in the areas of displacement.

Mr. Spindler clarified that registrations and shelter were two separate issues. The problem was that many homes were severely damaged, which caused a lot of hardship. In order to get their benefits and entitlements, people needed to go to government-controlled areas, which could take hours due to the long lines and the bureaucratic procedures. In Luhansk, the UNHCR had managed to secure a permission from the de facto authorities to operate there. The difficult part was crossing the check-points to deliver aid.

Iraq and Syria

Asked about reports of ISIS allegedly capturing 3,000 internally displaced persons, Mr. Spindler confirmed that UNHCR had received such reports. [Note: UNHCR later clarified that it is concerned over these reports and is trying to verify the information.]

Security Council and Secretary-General Activities

Mr. Zaccheo informed that the Security Council today would hold the second straw poll on the candidates for the next Secretary-General, and would also hold consultations on Syria.

The Secretary-General was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he would attend the opening of the Olympic Games and participate in the Olympic torch relay. He would visit the Olympic Village and take part in the Olympic relay, when he would pass a torch to a young Brazilian girl, who was participating in a joint UN Women-International Olympic Committee programme.

The Secretary-General would send messages to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Ceremonies to commemorate the seventy-first anniversary of their atomic bombings, on 6 and 9 August respectively. They would be delivered by Kim Won-soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, who would participate in the ceremonies on his behalf. On that occasion, Mr. Kim would also pay tribute, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, to the Korean victims of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima by attending the ceremony organized in Japan today.

Geneva Activities and Announcements

Mr. Zaccheo also informed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would soon issue a press release on executions on Iran.

A humanitarian update on Sudan from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was also available; it was on the outbreak of the Hepatitis E virus in Darfur, caused by the rainy season, flooding and the overall bad sanitary conditions.

Mr. Zaccheo informed that the Conference on Disarmament had started the final part of its 2016 annual session. The next public meeting would take place on Tuesday, 16 August at 10 a.m.

The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which had opened its ninetieth session this week, was examining the report of the United Kingdom this morning. The following week, the Committee would consider reports of Paraguay, South Africa, Lebanon and Ukraine.

The Committee against Torture (CAT) was meeting in private until the end of the current session, but would hold a public session on Wednesday, 10 August at 3 p.m, to discuss follow-up to Article 19 and reprisals.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/UN20160805