REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
21 March 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for World Health Organization, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, World Food Programme, World Trade Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and Human Rights Council.
Ms. Momal-Vanian referred to the press release issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which informed that a United Nations humanitarian convoy crossing into Syria from Turkey through the Nusaybin-Qamishli border point had started to unload humanitarian supplies at United Nations warehouses in Qamishli, under the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that four UN agencies were participating in the joint convoy, supported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: the World Food Programme, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization, together with the International Organization for Migration.
There were in total 27 trucks of WFP, which would bring 650 tons of food supplies, namely, until the end of the operation, there would be 10,000 family food rations which were sufficient for 50,000 persons for a period of one month.
Ms. Byrs expressed hope that similar convoys would be able to reach other areas which were in dire need of food supplies.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO was also part of the convoy described by Ms. Byrs. In addition, the second WHO plane had landed at the Qamishli airport in the north-eastern Al Hasakeh Governorate, bringing 40 tons of medical supplies, including intravenous fluids and life-saving medicines for infectious and chronic diseases. The first plane had made a delivery at the beginning of February, and another flight was expected soon. The goal was to make sure that medical supplies arrived to the area which was normally hard to reach due to the security situation. In total, the three flights would reach more than 330,000 persons in the region, which had been under-resourced even before the conflict.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that informed that IOM was also part of the inter-agencies convoy which included 11 trucks transporting non-alimentary assistance, such as duvets, pillows, mattresses, kitchen and hygiene kits. Those would be distributed by IOM and its international partners in several areas.
Prior to the distribution, IOM had conducted a detailed study of the needs, and Ms. Berthiaume added that the IOM would conduct another study after the distribution to ensure that the assistance was provided where necessary. The delivery across the border represented a positive development. IOM had previously delivered assistance through airlifts. Ms. Berthiaume added that conveying assistance by road was much cheaper than via airlifts, and it enabled transportation of larger quantities.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Ms. Byrs said that the WFP Executive Director had visited the operation in the Central African Republic, which was still largely neglected internationally. The situation there was getting worse and worse, which could be seen as a failure of the International community. The international community ought to be mobilized to avoid the growing humanitarian catastrophe. The rainy season and lean season had started, but with only 35 percent of funding received for WFP’s CAR operation through August, stocks were too low for WFP planned scale-up of life-saving food and nutrition support; USD 70 million US was urgently needed to continue operations beyond March.
Ms. Byrs informed that the WFP Director would also have a press conference relating to Cameroun at 4 p.m. today. There were 227,000 people who had received WFP emergency food in February, while some 300,000 people were to be reached in March. In March, so far, WFP had reached people in 17 locations, in towns and in villages in the Bossangoa and Bouar areas.
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR was gravely concerned about new tensions arising from the lack of food in Maban County, in South Sudan’s volatile Upper Nile state. Local residents were now demanding that some 60,000 refugees in Yusuf Batil and Gendrass camps leave within two months. Hostilities had spread to Doro and Kaya camps.
UNHCR was working with authorities and other humanitarian agencies to diffuse the tensions. Competition for natural resources, including wood, grass and grazing land, had recently boiled over into “tit-for-tat” attacks, forcing up to 8,000 refugees to flee Yusuf Batil camp. Houses, tents and granaries belonging to refugees and villagers alike had been set on fire during the fighting. Although refugees had since returned to the camp, tensions persisted. Maban residents living near Yusuf Batil camp had fled, citing fear of further confrontation with refugees who outnumbered them.
Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that, since armed conflict between government and rebel forces had broken out in South Sudan in mid-December, instability and conflict in the region had disrupted the planting and harvest seasons. At the same time, insecurity along transportation routes had hampered the delivery of food and other humanitarian supplies. The area had also entered the lean season.
Ms. Lejeune-Kaba specified that during the first week of march, refugees across Maban’s four camps had received a 10-day ration of pulses and oil. Pulses and oil covered only 24 per cent of the daily energy needs of 2,100 calories. Shortages had left refugees without cereals and salt for more than one month. Other key non-food items including fuel, essential medicines and core relief items were quickly running out. There was a need to ensure that adequate supplies were in place before the onset of the rains, otherwise all deliveries would have to be taken by air.
Maban County hosted some 125,000 Sudanese refugees from Blue Nile state. A third of the refugee population was made up of small children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly and disabled people and the chronically ill, who were also the most vulnerable to malnutrition.
Asked about security in the camps and relations between villagers and refugees, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that refugees in the camps outnumbered the locals. There was anger among the communities over resources. Villagers themselves were not doing well economically, especially since the area had been among the hardest hit by the conflict, and there was still a lot of fighting going on. The resources that villagers and refugees were fighting over were natural resources, such as wood and grazing land for animals. Because of security and lack of rain, all of those resources were in short supply and food was currently not coming from elsewhere. Ms. Lejeune-Kaba explained that the immediate solution was to bring as much food as possible so that people did not need to find over scarce resources.
The locals had gotten together and addressed local authorities, who in turn informed UNHCR of their requests to have the refugees removed. On whether 60,000 people could realistically be relocated in two months, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that people could not be moved very fast. It was thus preferable to pacify the villagers and provide enough supplies, avoiding potential violence.
Ms. Byrs added that the WFP was doing everything possible to resupply the food stocks in the Maban County refugee camp as fast it could. WFP was grateful to the Government of South Sudan in Ethiopia for their decision to allow cross border food shipments to resume. That should help reestablish the critical humanitarian life line for thousands of the displaced.
Ms. Berthiaume said that an unprecedented 4,457 migrants and asylum seekers had reached Sicily over the previous three days. On 19 March, 2,307 migrants had landed on the island. A further 550 had arrived on 20 and 21 March, and another 1,600 were arriving today. Ten more boats, believed to be carrying migrants, hadalso been spotted in the Channel of Sicily.
The migrants were from various countries including Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Mali, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. They included families who in some cases had been accidentally separated during rescue operations. IOM and its partners were now trying to reunite them, in cooperation with the local authorities.
In the first 11 weeks of 2014, some 5,745 irregular migrants had arrived in Italy from North Africa, which was a dramatic increase from the 500 who had been registered during the same period of 2013.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that in October 2013, Italy had launched the “Mare Nostrum” rescue operation designed to rescue migrants in the southern Mediterranean, with the participation of the Italian navy, army, air force, carabinieri, customs service, coast guard and police. Since then, Mare Nostrum had rescued some 10,134 migrants.
The instability in Libya could result in Italy seeing growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the coming weeks. IOM was calling for improved contingency planning to ensure that adequate resources are deployed to receive them.
On whether Italians would manage to deal with the new situation, Ms. Berthiaume responded that more movement was expected due to the instability in Libya. With the improving weather conditions, more and more people were making the journey. More coordinated efforts had to be made to prevent those people from taking the risk. If there were regular channels for people to migrate, there would be fewer people who were undertaking perilous journeys.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Council had commenced today’s session with the consideration of reports submitted by the working groups of the Universal Periodic Review. There would be three more reports to take place later in the afternoon, which include those of Monaco, Congo and Malta as well as the continuation of the general debate on Item 5 - the issue of subsidiary bodies, and Item 6 - the Universal Periodic Review. Both states and NGOs would have the opportunity to speak.
As of 20 March, 33 draft resolutions had been received by the Council, and were now available on the extranet. This amount was expected to increase as of 24 March, as the Council was expecting the receipt of 43 or 44 resolutions by the end of the proceedings. These resolutions would be considered by the Council on 27 and 28 March. Some of the issues covered by the resolutions included the situation in DPRK, Syria, Mali, Sri Lanka, as well as topics regarding the issue of drones and surveillance among many others.
A press conference would take place in Room III at 11:30 a.m. with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967. Mr. Falk would also present his report to the Council on 24 March at 9 a.m, followed by an interactive discussion.
World Water Day
Patrick McMormick, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that, in the context of the World Water Day, UNICEF estimated that 1,400 children under five died every day from diarrheal diseases linked to the lack of safe water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.
Estimates from UNICEF and WHO published in 2013 were that a staggering 768 million people did not have access to safe drinking water, causing hundreds of thousands of children to sicken and die each year. Most of the people without access were poor and lived in remote rural areas or urban slums.
The Millennium Development Goals target for drinking water had been met and passed in 2010, when 89 per cent of the global population had access to improved sources of drinking water - such as piped supplies, boreholes fitted with pumps, and protected wells. Also in 2010, the UN General Assembly had recognized safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, meaning every person should have access to safe water and basic sanitation. However, this basic right continued to be denied to the poorest people around the world.
According to UNICEF and WHO estimates, 10 countries were home to almost two-thirds of the global population without access to improved drinking water sources. Those were: China (108 million); India (99 million); Nigeria (63 million); Ethiopia (43 million); Indonesia (39 million); Democratic Republic of the Congo (37 million); Bangladesh (26 million); United Republic of Tanzania (22 million); Kenya (16 million) and Pakistan (16 million).
World Tuberculosis Day
Ms. Berthiaume said that one third of the estimated nine million people who got sick with tuberculosis each year missed out on care from established health systems, and with multidrug-resistant strains on the rise, the disease was threatening to make deadly inroads into hard-to-reach populations.
Migrants were especially at risk of missing out on detection and treatment because they often suffered from marginalized social status, lack of access to health care and a fear of stigma. In many countries they risked deportation if they are found to have TB.
On World TB Day 2014, IOM was joining the international community in calling for a renewed focus on reaching the missing three million. The timeframe for a course of TB treatment was typically six months, during which migrant workers often moved in search of work. Poor knowledge of health systems among refugees and migrants in host countries often led to a lack of awareness of the dangers of delays in seeking medical care or stopping taking medications early.
Ms. Berthiaume said that further progress on reaching TB elimination targets would require prioritization – to reach key affected populations, to ensure availability of quality diagnostics and treatment, and to address MDR-TB and HIV/TB co-infection.
United Nations Secretary-General’s activities
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the United Nations Secretary-General had arrived in Kyiv today, where he would meet with the Acting President, Members of the Parliament and the Minister of Defence. Tomorrow he would meet with the Acting Prime Minister and representatives of civil society. After Ukraine, Secretary-General would travel to the Hague, where he would attend a Nuclear Security Summit. From the Hague, the Secretary-General would travel to Greenland.
Attack in Kabul
Answering a question, Ms. Momal-Vanian confirmed that while no United Nations staff member had been a victim of the attack yesterday on the Serena hotel, a consultant working for a UN agency had been killed.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Committee had completed public examination of country reports for the current session, and would convene for another week in mostly private sessions to prepare concluding observations for the six examined countries. The session would end on 28 March.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances had examined reports of Germany and the Netherlands, the only two countries to be examined during the current session. The following week, it would discuss the issue of enforced disappearances and military justice.
The Conference on Disarmament would meet on 25 March in order to announce its calendar of activities and discussions between the current and the next session.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that at 12:30 today, the initiative Forests for Fashion-Fashion for Forests would be launched today by the UN Economic Commission for Europe and the Food and Agricultural Organization, on the occasion of the International Day of Forests. The press conference would take place in Press Room III at 12:30, while the opening of the fashion exhibit with a dance show would be held in Salle des Par Perdus at 6 p.m.
At 2 p.m. today, the Permanent Mission of Morocco would hold a press conference in Press Room III. The theme would be human rights, and in particular the cases of two Sahraouis killed on 5 January 2014.
WMO would hold a conference on 24 March at 11 a.m. with Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, as the annual report on the state of the climate would then be released. The report looked back in the considerable detail to the climate in 2013.
Mr. Jasarevic announced that a press conference on air pollution and health would take place in Press Room III on 24 March at 2 p.m. Speakers would be available for individual interviews after the press conference. All the data in electronic form would be sent out to the media on 24 March in the morning and would be under embargo until after the conference.
Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), informed that Director-General Roberto Azevedo would spend the following week in Brazil, where he would be a keynote speaker at the Global Agribusiness Forum in Sao Paolo on 24 March; he would receive a prize from the “O Globo” newspaper in Rio de Janeiro on 26 March and meet government officials, Congress representatives and diplomats in Brasilia on 27 March.
Ms. Begag also informed that the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures would take place on 25 and 26 March, while the Committee on Trade and Development would hold a special session on 25 March. The Dispute Settlement Body would convene on 26 March, and informal open-ended agriculture negotiations would take place on 28 March.
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The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/1kPnD8g