REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 November 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Programme, World Meteorological Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that, earlier in the morning, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos had launched the Typhon Haiyan Action Plan in Manila, together with humanitarian partners and the Government. The plan had overall funding requirements for USD 301 million and covered a period of six months.
The humanitarian community was rapidly scaling up its operations in an effort to provide life-saving aid to millions of people in the aftermath of the typhoon which affected 11.3 million people, out of whom 673,000 had been displaced.
Access remained a serious constraint. Emergency services were working around the clock removing debris from the roads and runways to allow transportation of aid. Many areas remained inaccessible and all efforts were being made to reach those places as quickly as possible. Priority needs included health, food, medicines, clean water, sanitation and shelter.
On 11 November, the Emergency Relief Coordinator had allocated USD 25 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to support the crisis response. A Guide To Giving had been produced to guide Governments, companies and private individuals on how to donate to the humanitarian response.
Asked for the clarification on the number of the displaced and whether there was an estimate of those who had perished, Mr. Laerke responded that 673,000 had been an agreed estimate of the Humanitarian Country Team in consultation with the Government, based on which the appeal had been made. Specialized agencies might have their own estimates, which was normal in such complex emergencies. He added that it was too early to announce the death toll; a figure of 10,000 had been mentioned, but there was no comprehensive estimate at the moment. The national authorities would make such an announcement.
On details for the humanitarian appeal, Mr. Laerke said that the appeal for USD 301 million had been launched only one and a half hour earlier, and it had been done in a record time. A detailed handout would be circulated shortly, which would provide an overview who was applying for what.
Mr. Laerke added that in the appeal, communication with the affected communities was a priority. The emergency teams were trying to get the life-saving information to the survivors, and efforts were under way to distribute at least 1,000 wire radios now that other communication methods had been severely affected.
On the question whether it was ensured that the most necessary supplies were being flown in, Mr. Laerke added that the Guide to Giving had now been published with the view of explaining to all kinds of donors what sort of in-kind aid was most needed and what was not needed at the time.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Haiyan was the strongest cyclone of the year and one of the most intense on record. WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre (RSMC) Tokyo - Typhoon Centre, and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) were monitoring a new weather system which had developed. The new system might strengthen over the coming 24 hours.
Ms. Nullis stressed that the loss of life, as tragic as it was, could have been much worse. Over the past five days, WMO and the member community had conducted a mobilization campaign as never seen before, especially in Vietnam. Vietnam had asked WMO for technical assistance, and contingency planning had been prepared for three possible scenarios. Thanks to the Chinese meteorological agency, satellite loops had been made available every 12 minutes, instead of the usual every 30 minutes. As a result, some 600,000 people had been evacuated in Vietnam, and the loss of life had been minimal.
On the question whether the Philippines been helped with the early warning system, Ms. Nullis responded that the Philippines had also been warned, but the people seemed to have underestimated it.
Taoyong Peng, a WMO expert, explained that advisories had been provided by the regional center in Tokyo and had been made publicly available. Under WMO’s model of regional cooperation, RSMC Tokyo had provided the Philippines (PAGASA) with tropical cyclone advisory forecasts (3-hourly), storm-surge forecasts (6-hourly), and tropical cyclone ensemble forecasts. PAGASA had issued regular updates to disaster management authorities on the intensity and trajectory of the typhoon. Decisions to make storm warnings were a national responsibility.
Answering the question on how many meters of storm surge WMO and other UN agencies had been anticipating, Ms. Nullis stated that there had been regular, hourly warnings of seven-meter surges. It had not only been the height, but also the sheer power of the typhoon that had surprised the local population. Ms. Nullis said that Haiyan had been strongest cyclone in 2013, and one of the most intense on record. Mr. Peng added that maximum sustained winds just after landfall had been up to 215 km/h near the center with gustiness of 250 km/h.
On the question on developments in other parts of Asia, Mr. Peng said that Haiyan had weakened into a tropical storm as it had entered China, with maximum wind force up to 72 km/h, and was expected to further weaken to a tropical depression. The China Meteorological Administration said it would bring high winds and heavy rain to areas in its path. Haiyan had now dissipated over China, but a new weather system, which was now being monitored, might intensify into a tropical storm over the coming 24 hours.
Jerry Velasquez, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said that the typhoon had been a major setback for those who had believed that the world was making progress in reducing casualties from major weather events.
Very few people had anticipated such a massive storm surge. Some 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, but the storm surge at such scale had not been expected. Buildings in coastal areas had not been built in a way to withstand such strong winds, but were mostly constructed of light materials. At the same time, typhoon shelters might not have been prepared in most places. The economic impact was likely to be enormous. Losses could amount to USD 15 billion, which would represent close to five per cent of the GDP. In 2006, when the last strong typhoon had hit the Philippines, 700 people had been killed, and the economic losses had amounted to one quarter of a billion USD.
Answering the question on who was responsible for the fact that local people had not anticipated such a powerful storm, Mr. Velasquez stated that sufficient warning had been provided, the President had addressed the country, and close to one million people had been evacuated. The Philippines had a “zero casualty” policy for cases like that one. Unfortunately, a storm surge of that size had not been anticipated. Three days before the cyclone, a report had been published by the Manila Observatory, predicting what could happen. It mentioned a possibility of a storm surge, but the people were still not expecting that it would have such an unprecedented intensity of 370 km/h.
On the question whether lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami had been applied in the region, Mr. Velasquez stated that the alerts had been raised. In addition to wind speed tracking in the Philippines, Doppler radars had been recently introduced, which could also detect the volume of water and had improved the ability to predict the storm intensity, and could be checked on the internet. An ample warning had been provided in the Philippines, but given the fact that the country was decentralized, it was up to the local governments to take concrete actions on the central warning.
Mr. Velasquez stressed that it was quite unique that the local people could look at the actual alerts themselves and did not need to go through a second or third party. People had seen what was coming, but had not understood or imagined the potential impact. If there existed a Category Six for typhoons, this could be it.
On the question of how many islands had been affected, and how the UN and the agencies would try to reach islands which had not yet been reached, Mr. Velasquez said that the Philippines had more than 7,100 islands, some large and some small. Most islands were very poor with very light construction. They were highly dependent on transport, and once cut from transport, it was difficult to actually determine the exact conditions there.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), informed that UNICEF estimated that it would need USD 34.3 million to reach children affected by the typhoon. UNICEF was working with the Government of the Philippines and partners to assess needs and get assistance out quickly as possible but many areas were still inaccessible. There was still no full sense of disaster, as many of the Philippines’ 7,000 islands had not been reached yet.
Around 40 per cent of the population of the Philippines were children, who were becoming weaker and more vulnerable not only to disease, but to the disorder and chaos that Haiyan had left behind.
On 11 November, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake had designated the Philippines a Level Three emergency, meaning all levels of the organization would provide dedicated support, and that UNICEF could deploy staff and resources flexibly so that emergency relief could be scaled up to reach as many children as quickly as possible.
UNICEF’s appeal would address: water, hygiene and sanitation, which were immediate, lifesaving priorities for children; nutrition; health; child protection and education. A first delivery of supplies had landed in Cebu on 10 November, and a second on 11 November. More emergency supplies are expected to leave UNICEF’s Supply Division in the coming two days, and more airlifts would follow.
UNICEF resources had been severely stretched before Typhoon Haiyan hit, UNICEF’s 2013 appeal, for just under USD 30 million, had been only 13 per cent funded. This additional appeal of USD 34.2 million to respond to Typhoon Haiyan brought UNICEF’s total funding need to USD 63.5 million.
On the question on how many affected were children, Ms. Mercado said that the numbers were evolving over the days, but the fact was that forty per cent of people in the Philippines were children. One third of children in the country suffered from malnutrition, which was why it was very important to get safe water, proper sanitation and hygiene items to immediately protect children against diarrhea.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the first and foremost challenge in the Philippines was of logistical nature, given that roads were blocked and airports were destroyed. Military assets were being used to access many of the affected areas. WFP was mobilising food and logistics supplies and communications equipment to assist the Government-led emergency response. As the UN agency leading the humanitarian community’s Logistics Cluster, WFP was working with the government to set up operational hubs and organize airlifts of essential supplies.
Out of the total of Haiyan Flash Appeal of USD 301 million, WFP was seeking USD 83 million to provide food, logistics, and emergency telecommunications assistance. Ms. Byrs informed that, since 9 November, some 10,000 individuals had donated USD 700,000 to WFP through wfp.org/typhoon.
Government-provided food assistance was arriving at Tacloban Airport, but the Government had limited capacity and efforts were being made to enhance the distribution system. On 9 November, WFP had participated in a joint Government/UN rapid needs assessment in Tacloban, Leyte, which had highlighted the urgent need for food, logistics, and emergency telecommunications assistance. The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) would provide critical emergency telecommunications to the humanitarian community in three priority locations including Tacloban, Cebu and Roxas City.
As telecommunications were being reestablished and access was becoming feasible to more areas, WFP, partnership with OCHA, was deploying an experienced assessment team to conduct a more detailed assessment of long-term needs in affected areas. Over the coming six months, WFP was planning to implement general food distribution, emergency food for work, and emergency cash for work for 2.5 million persons.
Eleven WFP staff members were on the ground in typhoon-affected areas. The country office initially needed a total of 54 staff.
Ms. Byrs stressed that the logistics part was very important and challenging. At the moment, military aircraft were being used to fly supplies into Tacloban. Once possible, WFP would use boats and ferries, even rubber boats, to reach people and deliver aid. That was a huge logistic operation, and WFP had the expertise to do what was needed in that regard.
Asked where the main logistics hub for relief was, Ms. Byrs said the two logistics hubs were in the Tacloban Airport and Cebu, where prefab offices and storages would be set up. Currently, it was taking six hours from the Tacloban Airport to the city, to cover the distance of 11 km, so cleanup and opening of the routes was the priority.
Tarik Jasareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that the devastating effects of the typhoon had left health facilities damaged or completely destroyed. Health services in the worst affected areas no longer existed or were severely stretched, with a dearth of medical supplies. Given the destruction of much of the health infrastructure, the priority was to establish temporary medical centers. There was only one functioning hospital in Tacloban, and even that hospital had suffered major damages.
The health needs were significant, and in addition to responding to injuries and trauma, the so-called “regular” health needs would also need to be met under very challenging circumstances. For instance, some 12,000 babies were expected to be born in the affected areas in the coming month, and WHO was working with partners to provide necessary assistance. Clean sources of drinking water were needed urgently.
Mr. Jasareviæ said that WHO was mobilizing more than two dozen health emergency relief experts and emergency health kits to assist the Government in providing a coordinated, effective and rapid response. Reaching the affected areas and people was a sizeable logistical challenge. Field hospital with medical teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway were currently on the ground, with more teams from Australia and Germany expected in the coming days. WHO was working on re-establishing logistics bases for new supplies which were arriving, given that medical storage spaces had also been damaged.
WHO was also supporting the Philippines Department of Health in strengthening its early warning alert and response network to rapidly detect disease outbreaks and other public health threats related to food and environmental hazards.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was co-leading the Protection Cluster with the Department of Social Welfare and Development under the inter-agency emergency response. There were reports from Government partners and others of growing tension and trauma on the ground, especially among vulnerable women and children.
UNHCR staff had been communicating with local authorities and other protection partners in the nine affected regions to assess survivors’ physical safety, access to basic services and humanitarian assistance. UNHCR has also been looking at protection of women, children and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the disabled and minority groups.
Those whose homes had been located along the coast were at risk of further flooding from the new storm that made landfall today. Some displaced people preferred to stay in their partially damaged homes rather than in the over 1,400 evacuation centres, while others had set up makeshift tents close to their homes.
Mr. Edwards stated that the survivors urgently needed food, clean water, medicines, clothing and plastic sheets, but damaged roads, bridges and uncleared debris were hampering humanitarian access especially to remote areas, which was contributing to a breakdown in law and order as some desperate people were looting shops for food and water. There were unconfirmed reports of people destroying bank teller machines and robbing relief supplies.
The current situation was putting people already vulnerable at particular risk. Women and children were begging on the streets for donations, exposing themselves to risk of abuse and exploitation. With power lines still down, the lack of lighting had made women and children at home and in evacuation centres more vulnerable, especially at night. UNHCR was looking at distributing solar lanterns to mitigate the risks of gender-based violence and enhance the protection of displaced families
As the Protection Cluster co-lead, UNHCR’s main goal was to assist the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other relevant authorities, such as the Human Rights Commission, to establish a Protection Cluster mechanism in the typhoon-affected areas.
The first UNHCR airlift was scheduled for 13 November from Dubai to Cebu, and an emergency team to the Philippines, including protection specialists, had been deployed. Further aid flights were expected to be underway later in the week.
Anne Ryniker, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), stated that in view of the terrible destruction that had affected millions, ICRC had been coordinating very closely with the Philippines’ Red Cross Society in order to respond as quickly as possible the disaster. ICRC would focus on the areas where it had been working before the typhoon, providing food, water and sanitation, basic health care, death body management, and restoring contact between family members. One team had already arrived in the island of Samar, and more were on the way, but the logistics remained a true challenge. A preliminary appeal would be launched today, for CHF 15 million, to provide support to 180,000 people during three months.
Christine South, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), stressed that the Red Cross movement was working in a coordinated manner, and also helping the Philippin Red Cross.
Many areas had not been reached and the full picture was not yet available. The national Red Cross had 300 staff and 2,000 volunteers on the ground, conducting assessment and helping distribute food parcels and hot food.
The earlier appeal to have pre-stocking ready for the typhoon season had been very poorly covered, with only 17 per cent needs met.
IFRC was also launching an emergency appeal for CHF 72 million, seeking cash, kind or services to cover the immediate needs of the people affected and support the Philippine Red Cross in delivering humanitarian assistance to 100,000 families (half a million people). Emergency food supplies were a priority, and several flights had been scheduled for the coming days, but IFRC was looking into emergency shelter as well as cash options. IFRC was also soliciting support from National Societies in the deployment of emergency response units at an estimated value of CHF 3.5 million.
There were concerns about the health of the affected people, as there were worries about disease outbreaks. Water and sanitation provisions needed to be reinforced. IFRC would also look into the psychosocial needs of the community. Those were only first steps, as needs would emerge over time.
Ms. South said that people had known that there was a big typhoon coming, and support up front had been requested from IFRC. However, the resources on the ground had been pretty much exhausted, both on the Red Cross and the Government sides. In normal scenarios, stocks would have been pre-positioned, but in this situation, there had been no stocks on the ground available to the degree needed. Clearly, the devastation was huge and it would still have had an impact, but more pre-stocked supplies could have made a difference.
Hans van Roland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), stated that the ILO had made an assessment about the impact of the disaster on workers. ILO estimated that 2.9 million workers over the age of 15 were affected by the typhoon. Out of them, there were 1.1 million women and 1.8 million men. A third of those workers were in agriculture, 16 per cent in industry and the others in services. The most concerned categories concerned were farmers and fishermen.
The ILO Office in Manila was working with the Department of Labour and Employment of the Philippines to provide programs to create emergency drops to those affected by engaging them in brick cleaning and construction. An employment program would be the following step, particularly in reconstruction projects. The experience from typhoon Pablo had showed that it would take up to 10 years to plant and grow new coconut trees, so during those 10 years, new occupations for affected people had to be developed through training programs.
Ms. Byrs informed that on 8 November, WFP had used two successful interagency convoys to supply 35,000 people with enough food rations for one month, in several places in Homs Governorate which had been out of reach for almost five months. The Syria response remained WFP’s largest and most complex global emergency, and USD 30 million was needed weekly to meet the food needs of those affected by the conflict.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Two questions were asked on whether the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could comment on reports that tens of people had been executed in the country, allegedly for watching TV channels from the Republic of Korea. As no OHCHR representative was present, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that she would convey the question to OHCHR.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee against Torture was considering the report of Andorra today, and the report of Kyrgyzstan on 12 and 13 November, which would be the last country under scrutiny at the current session.
Committee on Enforced Disappearances had considered the reports of Spain and Argentina, and was going to hold public meetings with national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations on 14 November.
Committee on economic, social and cultural rights was considering the report of Djibouti today, to be followed by the report of Belarus on 13 and Egypt on 14 November.
Cedric Sapey, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), announced that the General Assembly in New York would elect new members of the Human Rights Council at 4 p.m. today Geneva time. In total, 14 members from each of the five regional groups would be elected to fill vacancies left at the end of this year. The new terms of membership would be effective from 1 January 2014 for three years. The proceedings would also be webcast live on UNTV Webcast.
Muriel Scibilia, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that a report focusing on the 49 poorest countries in the world would be issued on 20 November, and the Secretary-General would hold a press conference on 15 November to present details of the report. Although overall there had been a slight improvement in the economy over the previous years, the poorest countries, 33 of which were in Africa, had also been very much affected by the global economic crisis. What was highlighted by economists in the report was that economic growth would not guarantee job creation, and would not lead either to equitable development. The issue of employment was central in the report. How to respond to the needs of those countries, where 60 per cent of the population was under 25? The problem was clear: either decent jobs had to be created, or migration waves would sweep in northern countries.
Ed Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), announced the launch of the WIPO Intellectual Property Report 2013: “Brands: Reputation and Image in the Global Marketplace”, which would take place in Room A on 14 November at 11:30 a.m. The speakers would be WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry, and WIPO Chief Economist, Carsten Fink. The major study, published every two years, dealt with how companies used brands to differentiate their products from those of their rivals. The study included some interesting and surprising figures on global brand spending. More information would be sent out under embargo later in the day.
Ms. Nullis, informed that in Room III, on 13 November at 10:30 a.m, WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, and WMO scientific expert, Omar Baddour, would hold a press conference on the status of global climate in 2013. The period covered was the first nine months, but the conference would also reflect recent developments, such as typhoon Haiyan.
Ms. Mercado, announced Mia Farrow, UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador, would hold a press conference on her mission to Central African Republic, in Room III, on 14 November at 10:00 a.m.
* * * * *
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/181XGOk