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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

2 December 2016

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Food and Agriculture Organization

Mr. LeBlanc said that a press statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), dated 1 December, on the current situation with Ms. Nadine Heredia who had been appointed as the director of the Liaison Office of the FAO in Geneva, was available, in Spanish only.  The statement said that the FAO reiterated that Ms. Nadine Heredia was an employee of the Organization since 24 November 2016, exercising her right to work in conformity with the staff regulations of the FAO, and the rules of conduct of the international civil service.  At all moments, Ms. Heredia had kept FAO informed of her legal situation, and as it had stated in a statement on 28 November, she was for the time being only the subject of an investigation and had not been formally accused nor convicted of any crime.  She had asked as of 1 December a leave without pay to deal with her personal situation, including the investigation underway.  Mr. LeBlanc said the statement further indicated that if she were permitted to leave Peru to take on her functions at the FAO, the Organization would allow her to travel to her country in a private manner whenever necessary to take care of any obligations related to the investigation being conducted by the authorities of Peru.  The contact person at the FAO was the Director of Communications, Enrique Yeves, and his contact information was available on the media contacts list of the FAO website.  In response to questions regarding whether Ms. Heredia had been paid by the Organization, and when she had been chosen for the position, Mr. LeBlanc referred the press to the FAO.  He also said that he would follow up on the request for an FAO representative to brief the press in Geneva.

Syria

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), said that UNHCR remained extremely concerned for the civilian population in Aleppo.  With thousands fleeing the eastern part of the city, UNHCR’s focus had turned to the rapidly growing shelter needs.  Many of those who had fled eastern districts were now in unfinished or partly-destroyed buildings.  Unsanitary conditions and overcrowding were already challenges in a congested city with few open spaces.

UNHCR had been providing tents, shelter kits and sealing-off kits to meet the most urgent needs and improve living conditions.  UNHCR was also working with partners to quickly rehabilitate structures as temperatures dropped. Food, water, medical care and other items were being distributed by UNHCR and partners alongside winter clothing and other relief items.  UNHCR had emergency supplies of non-food items, among them blankets and tents, for 45,000 people in western Aleppo.  Those could be replenished at short notice.

It was estimated that some 30,000 people had fled just in the last days.  In all there were now some 400,000 displaced people in western Aleppo.  In Jibreen, an industrial zone, recent arrivals had joined approximately 55,000 people who had already fled the fighting in recent months.  The area had now reached full capacity.  A UN inter-agency assessment in Jibreen had found that 60-70 per cent of recent arrivals were women and children.  Working through partners, a large-scale building rehabilitation had been completed in Jibreen.  Further work to boost shelter capacity there would be carried out as buildings were declared safe.
Buildings in the 1070 and Rayiada housing complexes in Government-controlled south-western Aleppo, which were unfinished residential areas where displaced people had been housed until August 2016, were heavily damaged.  UNHCR had previously upgraded over 5,000 shelters in the 1070 district.  Some were now at risk of collapse and work on rehabilitation was underway.

Additional UNHCR protection and shelter staff had arrived in western Aleppo on 1 December as part of a UN mission.  They would be providing a detailed assessment of the needs of the recently displaced.  UNHCR was already offering psychological counselling as well as legal, protection, gender-based violence, education and other protection services at 15 community centres in the area and nearby.

Displacement also continued within eastern Aleppo itself, with many having been forced to move several times, according to a survey recently conducted by UNHCR and NGO partners.

Since September, UNHCR had supported 838,092 people in Syria, including Aleppo, with winter items, including thermal blankets, sleeping bags, plastic sheets and clothing.
UNHCR was still unable to reach the many thousands without food, water and shelter in eastern Aleppo as temperatures dropped and fighting raged.  With its UN partners, UNHCR continued to call for an end to the hostilities to allow safe passage out, and humanitarian assistance to be delivered.

In response to a question, Mr. Edwards said that he did not have much information on supply lines for aid.  The UN had stockpiles in Aleppo which could be replenished as needs arose, and there was still no access to reach people in the east.  The crunch on shelter was becoming acute.  He would look into the ways that aid was being routed and would update the press.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that he would send to the press a situation report on Aleppo that had come out overnight, with information from the UN agencies and their partners in the different humanitarian sectors.  He updated the total number of people newly displaced from east Aleppo to 31,500 people for the period between 24 and 30 November.  Out of those, some 18,000 had been displaced to Jibreen, a Government-controlled area which was situated to the east of eastern Aleppo,  some 8,500 to Sheikh Maqsood in the north, under Kurdish control, and an estimated 5,000 had been displaced within besieged east Aleppo.  There were still an estimated 250,000 people remaining in eastern Aleppo.  He clarified that eastern Aleppo was a besieged, encircled enclave within the city.

The UN had access to people who had gone into Government-controlled areas.  The situation report contained details of response activities in those areas to where there was access.  However, little to no assistance could be extended to the IDPs within besieged east Aleppo as there was a lack of access.  The stocks that had been there had been depleted and the area had been besieged now for almost five months. 

On the night of 1 December a mission coming from Damascus, headed by the Humanitarian Coordinator there, had arrived in Aleppo.  The team was assessing the needs of the newly displaced, looking at how the current response mechanisms could be enhanced, and at the possibilities for having a convoy to deliver into east Aleppo and getting the sick and wounded evacuated.

In response to questions, Mr. Laerke said that the UN took note of the announcement of the Russian Federation on the four humanitarian corridors.  The UN would discuss with the Russian Federation on how it may use those corridors to evacuate people, especially the sick and wounded, and also to get medical supplies and other relief in.  As with any humanitarian corridor, it was fundamental that all parties to the conflict guaranteed its safe use.  The most urgent priority was to get access and to evacuate the sick and wounded, but also to look at children, women, elderly and other particularly vulnerable people.  Corridors were by definition a means of obtaining safe passage between areas under control of different parties to the conflict, which was why it was fundamental that all the parties to the conflict guaranteed safe passage.

In response to another question, Mr. Laerke said that there had been reports that some men and boys had been detained when crossing into Government controlled areas, and some had had their documents confiscated.  Some of the non-State armed groups had also prevented people from leaving east Aleppo, according to some reports.  There had also been reports that some people had been shot at, resulting in death and injuries.  Mr. Laerke further clarified that the reports he was referring to were coming from the UN’s implementing partners and the information was not based on media reports.

Humanitarian agencies and partners had prepositioned food and non-food items in western Aleppo ahead of the offensive.  When there was such a rapid offensive it was hard to know in advance where people would be fleeing and in what numbers.  Those stocks could be replenished.  Overall, a general lack of relief items was not a problem, but the lack of access to people in need was.

In response to further questions, Mr. Laerke said that the UN did not have direct access to the Kurdish-controlled areas.  The conditions on the ground did not allow it.  The Humanitarian Coordinator had just arrived in Aleppo on 1 December with other UN staff.  There had been a UN presence there all along, with national UN staff.  Some weeks ago, the hotel in which the UN hub in western Aleppo was based had come under attack and the top floors had been bombed out.  Following that, some of the staff had been relocated.  The UN was trying to get staff back into Aleppo to have the right people at the right place at this time. 

Asked about the number of IDPs in other Syrian cities than Aleppo, and how many were in Government-controlled versus opposition-controlled areas, Mr. Laerke said that he would check and get back to the press.  He also referred the press to the humanitarian needs overview, available to the press, which was an assessment of the humanitarian situation to which the UN would respond in 2017 in Syria.  It was a very comprehensive document, a step before the actual appeal.  He said that an estimated 6.3 million people were internally displaced inside Syria. 

Asked about the strengthened presence of the UN in Aleppo, Mr. Laerke said that the mission with the arrival of the highest humanitarian UN official in the country with his colleagues was part of that strengthened presence.  In the situation report, there were examples such as mobile health clinics, and a response going on in the Jibreen area with UN supplies.  Up to now there had been no cross-line convoy movements in the past month apart from the convoys to the Four Towns and to Ar-Rastan.  But in the areas that were accessible in Aleppo, stockpiles were being distributed.

In response to a final question, Mr. Laerke reiterated that the UN would discuss with the Russian Federation how the corridors could be used to evacuate people and get medical supplies and other relief items into eastern Aleppo.  However, as with any humanitarian corridor it was essential that all parties to the conflict guaranteed safe passage.  Mr. Laerke was not commenting on who was not guaranteeing the safety of the corridors.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that among the 31,500 people who had been displaced, UNICEF estimated that around 60 per cent were children. That would mean that nearly 19,000 children had been displaced by the recent fighting. UNICEF was working with partners at shelters for displaced persons in the Jibreen area. It was now critical to provide immediate and sustained assistance that those children and their families desperately needed. It was a race against time as winter had arrived and the conditions were very basic. The UNICEF staff who had met with children over the last few days had noted that one could see the loss and horror in their eyes.  An eight-year-old girl had said that she was so sad because she had left her school bag behind – she just had to rush out of her house. Another girl, seven years old, had been so excited to see the sight of bread that she had screamed out “this is real bread.”  Every single child under the age of five in Syria had known nothing but war.

UNICEF had immediately installed ten water storage tanks at three locations, including the Jibreen area and the cotton factory, to provide access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities. Some 12,500 hygiene kits had also been distributed. UNICEF and its partners continued to provide fuel for one of the main water pumping stations, so that 1.2 million people across the city could access safe water. In addition, fuel was supplied to 90 groundwater wells in western Aleppo. Water was critical, in particular for children given the relationship between a lack of access to clean water and malnutrition. Five million litres of water were being trucked every day to families who could not be reached through the public water network.

A UNICEF-supported mobile health and nutrition team had provided basic assistance to children, and an immunization campaign was ongoing. Many children in east Aleppo had missed out on critical routine vaccinations to protect them from preventable childhood illnesses. At the same time winter clothing and blankets were ready for distribution and would at least help to provide some protection from the freezing temperatures.

UNICEF had taken part in a mission to the Hanano district on 30 November where people had fled on 27 November. There was large scale destruction and 85 per cent of all schools were destroyed - only two buildings could be rehabilitated. The sewage system was reported to be in good condition but no health services were reportedly available.

The schools in east Aleppo had remained closed since 15 November. In western Aleppo schools were open but parents were afraid of sending their children there. A mortar attack against a school in western Aleppo on 20 November had killed eight children as they were dancing in the courtyard.

In response to a question, Mr. Boulierac said that many children had missed out on critical routine vaccinations, which endangered them for preventable diseases such as pneumonia and so on. That was why during wars and emergencies vaccination was a priority. Over 3 million children under five in Syria had been vaccinated against polio. Since the conflict had started routine immunization coverage had dropped dramatically from 95 per cent coverage to between 20 and 40 per cent. UNICEF was working with extremely dedicated partners who had vaccinated children in some of the most dangerous places in the world, especially in Syria, and as a result had been able to boost coverage through routine immunization and specific campaigns back up to 66 per cent of children.

New guidelines for Governments on protecting people fleeing conflict

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was today releasing new guidelines for Governments worldwide on protecting people fleeing their country because of war.  The work UNHCR did was about human rights on several levels.  First of all, by protecting people on the frontlines of conflict.  Second, by monitoring compliance with the global protection regime for refugees.  And third, providing guidance as well as legal and policy advice to Governments in support of human rights.  Those guidelines were an important element in strengthening the global protection regime at a time when forced displacement was at a record high globally, with 65.3 million people displaced as of the end of 2015.  Refugees made up about a third of that total (21.3 million) with the overwhelming majority being people displaced within their own country.

The guidelines aimed to ensure that States generally considered those fleeing armed conflict and other violent crises as refugees.  Discrepancies still existed today when determining refugee eligibility, with some countries not recognizing such a claim by victims of violence.  UNHCR hoped that by issuing those guidelines it could help remove inconsistencies in the way refugee protection was applied, to dispel the myth that if one was forced to flee because of war, and was claiming refugee status, one had to prove not only having fled war but also having been singled out and individually targeted.  Additional information and a link to the guidelines were available in the briefing note, along with a video and quotes from UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk.

DFID rating

In response to a question regarding the ranking of UNHCR by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), Mr. Edwards said that he had just been made aware of the report the previous day and was still looking into it.  He would not comment at this stage.  

In response to the same question in regards to the World Health Organization (WHO), Fadela Chaib said that she would need to get back to the press on that.

Iraq

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that she had received information this morning form the WHO office in Iraq about the health situation in Mosul.  WHO was working with national Iraqi health authorities and partners  to scale up services for trauma care close to the frontlines of Mosul to make sure injured patients received the lifesaving care they needed as quickly as possible by putting in place stabilization points, where the first injured people came and there was a triage before sending them to the closest hospitals, mainly in Erbil.  Displaced people, returnees and communities in newly accessible areas required support to access health care.  Many civilians were currently unable to access treatment due to insecurity.  WHO was concerned that a significant number of civilians were unable to receive urgently-needed treatment for their injuries.  WHO had seen many injured people including children as young as two years old, who needed treatment for injuries.  Currently the hospitals in Erbil were the closest main hospitals to the frontlines.  Transportation time from the stabilization points to Erbil could take between two and four hours, and time was critical for the severely injured. 

Iraqi health staff were very skilled and had experience in treating war injuries but were now overwhelmed by the number of injured they were receiving.  In total there were 1,246 casualties referred to hospitals in Erbil from 17 October to 30 November.  For 28-29 November only, hospitals in Erbil had received 64 injured patients.  Moving to other consultations, outside of the injured people, since 17 October until 30 November, WHO and its health partners had reported a total of 33,000 health consultations from children under five, and for reproductive health problems and people suffering from chronic diseases.  

WHO had delivered ten ambulances and four new mobile medical clinics to the Nineveh national health authorities in the past week bringing the total number of WHO-supported ambulances for the Mosul response operation to 30, and the total number of mobile medical clinics to 23.

The top reasons for medical consultations reported among the IDPs in camps and host communities in newly accessible areas included respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal diseases, skin infections.  People were also requiring medication for chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.  People were reporting a real need for mental health and psycho-social support services.

In response to a question about an attack on a medical facility in Mosul in October,  and on how many clinics had been attacked during this offensive, Ms. Chaib said that she would check and get back to the press.

In response to other questions, Ms. Chaib said that there was no reluctance at WHO to give death toll information for the battle of Mosul but that there was more of a problem in getting that kind of information.  The health facilities in the region were overwhelmed by the numbers of severely injured people.  The most urgent thing would be to stabilize them and to try and save their lives, which would require not just urgent health care but also post-traumatic care in the future.

Mr. LeBlanc added that on 1 December the UN Spokesperson in New York had reported that 2,885 Iraqis had been killed and more than 1,380 had been injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict over the month of November, according to UN-recorded casualty figures.  The number of civilians killed had been 926, and Baghdad had been the worst-impacted Governorate with over 733 casualties.

Ms. Chaib also said that security on the ground was very difficult and there was a time lag between when people were transported from the stabilization centres to Erbil and other hospitals in the region.  Given the high number of wounded civilians being received by the hospitals, WHO had hired two international surgeons who were helping the Iraqi surgeons to be trained on how to provide care in war zone conditions.  More than 70 Iraqi surgeons had been trained by those two international surgeons.  In response to another question, Ms. Chaib said that the main kinds of injuries were bullet, mine, shell and mortar injuries.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that hard copies of the embargoed Global Humanitarian Appeal for 2017 were available.  On 5 December, OCHA would hold a press conference to launch the Global Humanitarian Overview, also known as the Global Humanitarian Appeal, to support people affected by disasters and crises around the world.  There would be a press briefing just before the official launch to the Member States in Room III at 9.15 a.m.  The speaker would be Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  The embargo would be lifted at 9.15 a.m.

Mr. Laerke also announced a press conference by OCHA on 6 December in Room V, at 11.45 a.m., on the humanitarian situation in Lebanon, including an update on the impact of the Syria crisis.  The speaker would be Philippe Lazzarini, UN Resident / Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon.

He announced another OCHA press conference on 6 December in Room V, at 12.30 p.m., on the humanitarian situation in Nigeria.  The speakers would be Her Excellency, Hon. Minister of State, Ministry of National Planning and Budget, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Federal Government Chief Humanitarian Coordinator, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, and United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Peter Lundberg.  The appeal for Nigeria would be launched the day before, on 5 December, and the speakers at the press conference would also speak about the appeal.

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the World Malaria Report 2016 would be launched in London on 13 December.  A pre-briefing for the launch of the report would take place in Geneva on 9 December in Press Room 1 at 1.15 p.m.  The report was available ahead of time and would be under embargo until the launch in London on 13 December.  The speakers would be Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme,  and Dr Richard Cibulskis, Coordinator, Strategy, Evidence and Economics Unit, WHO Global Malaria Programme.  A formal invitation would be sent over the course of the day.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the Committee against Torture would meet in private at the Palais Wilson until the end of its session, scheduled to conclude on 7 December.

At the end of its 59th session, the Committee would publish its concluding observations on the reports of Ecuador, Finland, Monaco, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Turkmenistan and Armenia, reviewed during the session, as well as on the application of the Convention in Cabo Verde, in the absence of a report.

The Committee against Torture on 7 December at 12.30 p.m. in Press Room 1, on the Committee’s Concluding Observations on Ecuador, Finland, Monaco, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Cabo Verde.  The speakers would be Committee members Mr. Jens Modvig (Chair), Ms. Felice Gaer, Mr. Abdelwahab Hani, and Ms. Ana Racu.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was holding its 91st session, scheduled to run at the Palais Wilson until 9 December 2016, would complete this morning its review of the report of Italy, started on 1 December in the afternoon.  The Committee would then meet in private until the end of its session.  By the end of its 91st session, the Committee would have reviewed the reports presented by six States Parties on their implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: those of Argentina, Uruguay, Togo, Portugal, Turkmenistan and Italy.

Jessica Hermosa, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that there might be a press conference on 4 December by around 17 Ministers and senior officials about the Environmental Goods Agreement.  If concluded, the Agreement would eliminate or slash tariffs on imported products that could help the environment.  Journalists were advised to be in the WTO building by 2 p.m. on 4 December as meetings could be concluded by then, and also because an unrelated protest was expected outside the WTO building, so access could be more difficult after 2 p.m.  UN and WTO media badges would be recognized by security.  In response to questions, Ms. Hermosa said that the protest was against the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).  She said that the schedules of the meetings were still fluid.  As for the United States, Ambassador Froman would be slated to represent the US for the ministerial part of the negotiations.  The negotiations were not open to the public, and the press conference would not be webcast live but a video would be available later on.  Ms. Hermosa also said that she would check if the list of officials attending could be circulated.  There was a page on the WTO website on the Environmental Goods Agreement listing the participants and the categories of goods.  The timing of the press conference would not be known until the agreement would be concluded.  If the Agreement were not to be successful WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell would give a briefing.  The object of the meeting would be to agree on the product lists for the agreement as well as a text that would include provisions on what to do about thresholds for market share, etc.  Similarly to the Information Technology agreement, where after the first conclusion later in 2017 there would be the submission of tariff schedules, which would be approved among the participants.

Ms. Hermosa also said that next week there would be a Goods Council meeting.  Also, Somalia and Timor Leste would be making their first request to start the process to join the WTO.  There would also be an E-commerce for Development seminar on 9 December open to the public, and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would be present.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 5 December the Trade and Environment Review on ending fishing subsidies would be published online.  At stake was the preservation of thousands of jobs in developing countries.  UNCTAD was of the opinion that developing countries should negotiate the end of those subsidies at the next WTO ministerial in December 2017 in Buenos Aires.  There were some encouraging elements going in that direction, since at UNCTAD 14 in Kenya in July 2016, 91 countries had rallied UNCTAD’s proposal to put in place a road map to programme the end of those subsidies.  The press would receive the report on 5 December with a press release.  There would not be a press conference but the authors of the report would be available for comment.

Regarding a new report on the Least Developed Countries, a press conference would take place on 9 December at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1, and the report would be embargoed until 13 December at 5 p.m. GMT.  A formal invitation would be sent shortly,  and the report would be available soon. 

Mr. LeBlanc also said that 3 December was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  The UN Secretary-General’s message was available.  Ten years ago this month, the General Assembly had adopted the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which was one of the most widely-ratified international human rights instruments, with 169 parties.  It had spurred significant progress in commitments and action for equality, inclusion and empowerment around the world, with disability being increasingly incorporated into the global human rights and development agenda.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog021216