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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 October 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Economic Forum.

Syria

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there had been a request to provide some information on the deteriorating economic situation for the people in Syria, as referred to in the latest Humanitarian Bulletin for Syria (Issue 10, 30 Sept to 12 Oct 2012).

While OCHA could not give a full economic analysis, it was possible to say that inflation and rising market prices had reduced purchasing power in Syria, the cost of apartments had in some areas tripled in the past three months and unemployment had gone up since the beginning of the crisis. Syria’s Central Bank data suggests unemployment had risen from 8.6 in 2010 to 14.9 per cent in 2011.

He also said that there was evidence to believe that GDP fell three per cent in 2011 compared to the year before. Inflation officially topped 36 per cent in July this year. All these factors combined with the on-going hostilities have humanitarian consequences that OCHA was trying to address.

To do that, the UN currently had about 75 international, humanitarian staff in Syria from a range of agencies. Given the insecurity and difficulty of movement, most were based in Damascus but international staff were travelling to and from various parts of the country, security permitting. In total, there were approximately 1,000 international and national UN staff throughout Syria. In addition, UNRWA had a network in-country of some 3,600 staff.

There were 17 UN offices throughout Syria (some agencies have more than one office). Outside of Damascus the offices were in Aleppo, Arraqa, Alhasakeh, Deir Ezzour, Tartous, Latakia and Qamishli.

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the last estimate of displaced people in Syria was 1.2 million people, half of whom were children though the numbers had grown since then. Earlier this week some displaced children had been approached by UNICEF to give their story and she read extracts from their testimony.

Work on the ground to distribute supplies to families from Aleppo and Homs now living in shelters included family hygiene kits for 30,000 people, baby hygiene kits for 2,000, children’s winter clothes for 2,000 and school in a bag for 5,000.

Elsewhere across conflict-affected parts of the country, UNICEF-supported mobile health centres were bringing basic but critical health and nutrition support to displaced families. Partners were providing safe water to collective centres. School supplies were being distributed, particularly in areas where schools were overcrowded. And, last but not least, doctors, teachers, youth and social workers across the country were being trained and provided with supplies to be able to reach out to children with psychosocial support.

UNICEF had a funding gap of almost USD 90 million out of a 132 million appeal for Syria and regional response. For Syria proper, it had received only USD 10 million of our USD 44 million appeal.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a group of 261 Filipino nationals who were sheltering in the compound of Philippines’ embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus returned yesterday (18 October) to the Philippines aboard an IOM-chartered flight.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, IOM had assisted over 800 Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) to return home. According to the Filipino Department of Foreign Affairs, there were over 5,000 Filipino nationals still in Syria.

Many migrants often faced problems linked to their legal status in the country and fees required for broken contracts, inability to pay for air tickets and exit permits, and insecurity around them. Others could not leave because recruiting agencies, employers or government officials were holding their passports.

Meanwhile, IOM had scaled up the distribution of hygiene and winterization items to internally displaced Syrians sheltering in collective centres and host communities in Horns, Suwayda, Rif Damascus and Damascus. It planned to initiate distributions in Quneitra Governorate, south of Damascus shortly. To date, a total of 16,624 people had received urgently needed shelter, insulation materials, blankets and personal hygiene kits.

The Organization had recently re-appealed for $20.7 million to continue its work in the region. To date, IOM had received $5 million from donors towards its relief operations, leaving a shortfall of $18 million.

Answering questions he said that most of those involved in the evacuation were young women who were working in domestic service and probably earned between $500 and 700 per month.

Pakistan

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the international humanitarian response to the flash floods in Pakistan had increased despite agencies reporting a shortage of funds.

The situation in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan was still critical with standing water receding slowly, and hundreds of villages still under water. Displacement from these areas would likely continue into next year. Over the past week, the number of flood-affected families receiving shelter support had increased from 16,000 to 51,000, an increase of over 73 per cent of the Shelter Cluster’s activities.

Agencies in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Cluster now ensured that more than 343,000 people had clean water in the affected provinces. This was a 30 per cent increase compared to last week. Meanwhile, food distribution to 1.2 million people had commenced under the second phase of food aid assistance, but more funds were required to scale up the response.

Overall, the Government of Pakistan estimated that five million were affected by the floods and had pledged $91 million to the response. Government agencies also continued the relief work in affected areas. Food and particularly shelter remain the most urgent needs as the winter season was approaching.

Sahel

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said food security in the Sahel was expected to improve between October and November, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). This was thanks to the good rainfall level which, however, had resulted in floods in some places.

In addition to the FEWS NET forecast, an evaluation of regional agricultural production by the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) expected to see a five to 17 per cent increase in cereal production. Cereal prices have also started their seasonal downward trend.

It was now necessary to tackle the chronic food insecurity and malnutrition the Sahel, and invest in people’s resilience to such disasters, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, David Gressly, had said in a comment. For example poor nutritional indicators for children under 5 have been revealed in recent surveys. In Niger, for example, Severe Acute Malnutrition rose from 1.9 per cent to three per cent between June and August, and in Chad, Moderate Acute Malnutrition was at 18.1 per cent.

There was currently a joint OCHA-Organisation for Islamic Cooperation mission in the Sahel. The mission had wrapped up their visit to Niger, and was now in Mali. Following this OCHA expected to issue a press release on the Mali part of the mission later in the day.

Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the WMO had been working closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and had identified that this year’s conditions had made it very favourable for locust breeding and so the FAO was now issuing regular updates on their significant risk.

Mali

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said more than one million people had been reached by WFP under the emergency response to the crisis in Mali. However, the political and security situation remained volatile.

A survey in October focused on the situation of displaced populations and host families in the eight regions of Mali. Preliminary findings of this joint WFP/Early Warning System survey confirmed the deterioration of living conditions in the North (Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal), with prices much higher than the last five-year average, reduction of income and purchasing power across sectors and livelihoods, low consumption scores and adoption of negative coping mechanisms (borrowing food and cash, reduction of meals, sale of goods).

To date, 4.6 million people were at risk of food insecurity and 560,000 children under the age of five were at risk of acute malnutrition. Internally displaced people in Mali were estimated at 118,000. WFP was addressing both the food and nutrition needs as well as the needs of the internally displaced people in Mali through two different emergency operations launched in February and June, respectively

In order to reach more remote areas in Timbuktu, WFP was employing the use of both trucks as well as local traditional boats. Boats were loaded in Mopti port and transported to Timbuktu. Each boat can carry up to 90 metric tonnes of food, comparing to 40 metric tonnes by truck, feeding some 5000 beneficiaries during a month.

Answering questions she said there were many ways in which people can be said to be affected by conflict, either directly or indirectly, where for example they may not be able to sell their goods at a market as they normally would. She also said that those on the ground were working in a difficult context and so partnerships with local NGOs were important to allow a flexible and efficient approach.

Attack on UN convoy in Darfur

Ravina Shamdasani for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said her office strongly condemned Wednesday’s armed attack in North Darfur on a UN convoy comprised of military, police and civilian staff, including two human rights officers.

The convoy of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was en route to the village of Hashaba, in the north-east of Kutum district, to investigate reports that at least 70 civilians had been killed in the village last month. One South African peacekeeper was, sadly, killed when the convoy came under automatic and mortar fire, and three others were injured.

The attack brings to five the number of peacekeepers killed this month in Darfur. Forty-three peacekeepers have been killed since the establishment of UNAMID in December 2007.

She then reminded the Government of the Sudan that it was responsible for the protection of mission staff as they fulfilled their mandate to protect civilians and monitor human rights violations. The Government must promptly launch a serious investigation with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice, she said. There was an urgent need to end the climate of impunity in Darfur, which encouraged such attacks.

She also offered her condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper.

Ms. Momal-Vanian also referred to the statements issued by the Secretary-General and the Security Council condemning the attack.




Ethiopia

Andrej Mahecic for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the population of the Dollo Ado refugee complex in the country's southeast passed the 170,000-mark last week. Dollo Ado currently sheltered Somali refugees and was the world's biggest refugee complex after Dadaab in Kenya.

Although the rate of arrivals at Dollo Ado had slowed this year, people were continuing to flee conflict and insecurity in southern and central parts of Somalia. Many cite fear of harassment and forced recruitment by armed groups who control large rural areas of the country.

Between January and the end of September this year 62,000 Somalis became refugees in the region surrounding their country. More than 25,000 of these fled to Ethiopia, making it the largest recipient of Somali refugees in the region so far this year. By comparison Yemen registered 15,000 Somali refugees, Kenya 13,000, Uganda 6,800 and Djibouti 2,300 over the same period.

Overall the number of Somali refugees in the region numbers more than a million. Half of these were Kenya, while Ethiopia now hosts 214,000 — in camps at Dollo Ado and several hundred kilometres to the north at Jijiga. As well as Somalis, who constitute the largest refugee group, Ethiopia also hosts more than 91,000 Sudanese refugees, almost 61,000 Eritreans, and 4,000 refugees from other countries. Every month, Ethiopia generously takes thousands of new arrivals from neighbouring countries.

There were currently five camps in Dollo Ado. The newest was Buramino camp, which opened in November last year, and was now full to capacity with a population of more than 32,000 refugees. New arrivals were also being transferred to the Kobe and Hillaweyn camps. The UNHCR had increased the accommodation capacity of these two sites to 30,000 people each. The two oldest camps - Bokolmanyo and Melkadida — each hosts more than 40,000 people.

With people still arriving at Dollo Ado, the Ethiopian government had authorized the opening of a sixth site and land for this had been designated between the town of Kole and Kobe camp, some 54 km north of Dollo Ado town.

The cost of opening the new camp, setting up basic services and infrastructure including medical, education and warehousing facilities was more than $5 million and the UNHCR was seeking support from donors and partners, including resources for NGO partners who would be working in the camp. For the initial phase, $1.5 million was urgently needed for site preparation, land demarcation and setting up basic infrastructure including drilling of bore holes, setting up water points, emergency clinic, latrines, etc. The terrain in the Dollo Ado area was rocky and hard, posing additional challenges. In 2012 the UNHCR had received $44 million against the needs assessed at more than $112 million.

Refugees typically arrived with a few belongings and their most urgent needs were emergency shelters, food and essential aid items. To address these needs, UNHCR had dispatched a convoy of nine trucks from Kenya last week.

Meanwhile, a long awaited 1,600 metre all-weather airstrip opened in Dollo Ado on 3 October, significantly upgrading access for humanitarian staff and transportation of cargo. Funded by the US government, the airstrip was constructed by a WFP field-engineering team who worked closely with the Ethiopian civil aviation and road authorities. This was an important and major improvement for humanitarian organizations working in Dollo Ado as adverse weather conditions often rendered the old airstrip unusable. The only other access involved a three day trip on poor roads, severely delaying emergency interventions and urgent medical evacuations.

Peru

Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the IOM Migration Profile for Peru confirmed that Peruvians continued to migrate at a rate of some 100,000 each year.

It was estimated that 3.5 million Peruvians, more than 10 per cent of the population, have migrated abroad. Ninety per cent of Peruvian migrants were living in seven countries: United States 31.5 per cent; Spain 16.0 per cent; Argentina 14.3 per cent; Italy 10.1 per cent; Chile 8.8 per cent; Japan 4.1 per cent; and Venezuela 3.8 per cent.

Some 75 per cent of Peruvian migrants were aged between 19 and 49, with women representing a slight majority. Amongst these, 15 per cent were scientists, professionals and technicians. In 2011, remittances increased by 6.4 per cent from the previous year to reach a total of $2.697 billion.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was to give a lecture titled, “The Challenges of Global Governance in a Changing World - The Approach of the United Nations,” on Thursday (25 October) at 18:00 at the University of Geneva. The lecture was given in the framework of UN Day and the celebration of 10 years since the accession of Switzerland.

She also mentioned that the Human Rights Committee today finished examining the report of Germany today. The report of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be under consideration from Monday afternoon and on Tuesday afternoon, Portugal.

Meanwhile the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women finished its work this evening, after considering the reports of Chile, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Togo and Turkmenistan.

On Monday (22 October) at 12:30 the World Food Programme (WFP) would hold a press conference in Press Room 1 on the situation in Syria and WFP's response in neighbouring countries. The speaker would be Mr. Daly Belgasmi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

In addition, on Thursday (25 October) at 10:15 the UN Deputy Secretary-General Mr. Jan Eliasson will brief the press on major political and development-related issues in Room III. He was currently in Mali as part of a high-level delegation and would be in Geneva to preside over a meeting of the regional mechanism for coordination of the UNECE. He would meet also representatives of Member States and the host country, as well as heads of agency.


Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) mentioned that the UNECE regional coordination meeting on 24 October brought together regional directors of UN agencies to address issues of high priority on the UN development agenda, he said. On the agenda was a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and a discussion on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Other events of note included a three-day training session (22-24 October) in Split, Croatia on on-site inspections of hazardous installations which would have a simulation of an on-site inspection of an oil storage facility, which had been made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Croatian authorities. Meanwhile the Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide, a tool for simplifying cross-border trade, was to be launched by UNECE Executive-Secretary Sven Alkalaj, and Ambassador Joakim Reiter, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the WTO on Thursday (25 October) at 10:00, in Room XXIII, at the Palais des Nations (Building E).

Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Monday (22 October) at 10:00 the Safeguards Committee was to meet. On Tuesday (23 October) at 10:00 was the Dispute Settlement Body and at the same time, the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Committee. On Wednesday was the Anti-Dumping Committee (10:00) and on Thursday (10:00) the Customs Valuation Committee. The informal rules negotiating group was at 15:00 and on Friday (10:00) was a General Council on the Accession of Lao PDR. Tajikistan: membership negotiations were planned for 15:00 on the same time.

For the agenda of the WTO Director-General), tomorrow (20 October) he was in Berlin, to speak at the European Industry Forum about Europe's role in the global economy and on Tuesday (23 October) he was in Paris to meet with Mr. Didier Migaud, chief of the Court of Audit of France. On Wednesday (24 October) he visited Brussels to attend the Ministerial Trade Committee meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and on Thursday (25 October) returned to Geneva to attend a WTO trade finance expert meeting. Finally, on Friday (26 October) he was in Geneva to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Laos, attend the signing ceremony of Laos' accession to WTO and meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan.

Catherine Sibut Pinote for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced a press conference on Tuesday (23 October) at 12:00 in Press Room 1 on the Global Investment Trends Monitor N°10. The report covered direct foreign investment figures for the last six months and projections for the rest of the year. The speaker was the UNCTAD Director of the Division on Investment and Enterprise.

And on Thursday (25 October) at 14:30, again in Press Room 1, there was a second press conference from UNCTAD on the Technology and Innovation Report 2012 titles “Innovation, Technology and South-South Collaboration,” which was embargoed until 31 October at 17:00 GMT. The speakers planned were the UNCTAD Deputy-Secretary General and the Chief of the Technology and Innovation Report Task Force.

Georg Schmitt for the World Economic Forum announced the upcoming Gender Gap Report 2012, to be officially launched on Wednesday (24 October).


Meteorological conferences

Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said today (19 October) was the final day of an Africa conference in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on meteorology and one of the main purposes of this conference was to develop an integrated African strategy for meteorology to try and meet the many challenges the continent faces as a result of climate change.

She said that in Africa the study of weather often came under the responsibility of many different ministries, such as transport, environment or defence and so this was an attempt to move the topic up the political agenda.

She also mentioned that an extraordinary session of the World Meteorological Congress was to take place from Monday (29 to 31 October) at the International Conference Centre of Geneva. The agenda will focus on decisions on the implementation plan and governance model for the Global Framework on Climate Services (GFCS), which was endorsed by the regular World Meteorological Congress in May 2011.

The GFCS was a global partnership of governments and organizations that produce and use climate information and services which sought to enable the producers and users of information to join forces to improve the quality and quantity of climate services worldwide, particularly in developing countries.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Margaret Chan was to be one of the guest speakers at the opening ceremony because as the global climate changes, hazards to human health were increasing. In this context, Dr Chan was to join WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in launching the Atlas of Climate and Health at the opening ceremony. Following the opening ceremony, Dr Chan and Mr Jarraud will hold a press conference in Room 4 of the CICG at 11:00, though it was possible that this was to be amended.

Mr Jarraud will also address the opening ceremony in his capacity as current chair of UN-Water. There will be video addresses from the directors of other U.N. agencies which were actively involved in developing the GFCS.

Ahead of this meeting there was to be a dialogue for climate services users and providers on the 26 and 27 October, she said, which hoped to bring providers and users of climate services together to ensure that the scientific information provided by meteorologists and climate experts was understandable and useful to users.