REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 March 2014
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section 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, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.
Central African Republic and South Sudan
Melissa Fleming, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was increasingly concerned about the immediate needs of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan arriving in neighbouring countries, in particular Chad, Cameroon and Ethiopia.
UNHCR was appealing to its partners and the governments in those countries to help speed support to these populations, which, although still relatively small in number, were nonetheless in urgent need of assistance.
The crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) had together caused one of the biggest refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) situations that Africa had seen in recent years, forcibly displacing some 1.8 million people across a region with very sparse support capacities.
Ms. Fleming said that within South Sudan, there were over 739,000 internally displaced people and a further 196,921 sheltering in neighbouring countries. The UN estimated that by June as many as 3.2 million people could be in need of humanitarian help. Food security was already a problem.
In Central African Republic, there were 701,500 IDPs and a further 290,801 had fled to other countries. More than half of the country's 4.6 million people were currently in need of humanitarian help.
In Chad, Cameroon, Ethiopia and other locations where refugees were arriving, the help effort for refugees urgently needed stepping up.
In Cameroon, an estimated 30,820 refugees had arrived so far this year from CAR and were facing shortages of clean water, food and shelter. Many were in poor physical shape and suffering from malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections contracted while they had been in hiding in the bushes in CAR. Many children under the age of five were showing varying degrees of malnourishment, also related to lack of food in CAR. Over the previous weekend, 15 malnourished children had died before they could be saved. Pressures on local communities were also rising with the influx, and help was needed for them too.
In southern Chad, some 8,000 Central African Republic refugees were in the area around Sido. Many people were without shelter and were camping in the open beneath trees. Lack of clean water and a shortage of latrines were problems. As existing refugee camps in this part of Chad were saturated with new arrivals, UNHCR was advocating with the Government to identify a new site where refugees' pressing needs, particularly for food, clean water, latrines and health services, could be better addressed.
In Ethiopia, UNHCR had been seeing refugees arriving in poor condition due to the lack of food inside South Sudan and the long distances that many had had to walk to reach the Pagak and Akobo border areas. Medical screening the previous week had revealed that 27.7 per cent of children were suffering from global acute malnutrition and 11.1 percent from severe acute malnutrition.
UNHCR with its partners had immediately put in place a blanket supplementary feeding programme for children under five years of age, and pregnant and lactating mothers but the increasing numbers of new arrivals were outpacing available humanitarian resources.
Meanwhile, funding for both the Central African Republic and South Sudan emergencies remained far below needs.
For CAR, the United Nations was seeking USD 551 million for 2014; out of that amount, UNHCR's needs were USD 112 million, of which only 9 per cent has been received so far.
With South Sudan, the UN was seeking USD 1.27 billion by June 2014, of which UNHCR's portion was USD 55 million. UNHCR had received only USD 12.4 million of the amount it had requested.
Patrick McCormick, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF was very concerned that the recent fighting was hampering the agency’s efforts to help children. The disaster was threatening to become overwhelming at many levels and UNICEF was working together with its partners to stave it off. The newest country in the world was at the risk of becoming a nightmare for its children.
Despite the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities at the end of January, fighting between Government and opposition forces had increased in recent weeks. Following heavy clashes and reports of people being killed in churches and hospitals in the northern town of Malakal in February, fighting has spread further north in Upper Nile state. There were now fears that 30,000 or more civilians might be freshly displaced.
Mr. McCormick stated that there were already hundreds of thousands of women, children and men with limited access to safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition and shelter. Under such conditions, children were especially vulnerable to disease outbreaks and severe food insecurity. The continued violence in South Sudan had massively disrupted livelihoods as families and livestock had been displaced, households looted and markets destroyed, with regular aid interrupted, putting more than 3.7 million people at risk of severe food insecurity as well as disease outbreaks and acute malnutrition.
There were widespread reports of grave violations of humanitarian law, with the effects of the conflict on children particularly devastating.
Regarding the funding, Mr. McCormick informed that UNICEF had appealed for USD 75 million to meet the needs of South Sudan’s displaced during the first six months of 2014, but only 20 per cent had been received thus far.
Central African Republic
Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reported that over the weekend IOM had organized four evacuation flights from Cameroon, particularly for Malians who had left the terrible situation in CAR. They were living in appalling conditions in Kenzo, Cameroon, on the border with CAR, where more than 12,000 migrants were still stranded. They were taken by bus to Douala and then flown over the weekend to Mali. The conditions of those people were appalling.
The IOM had produced an info-graphic and a website, which had been designed to provide a one-stop shop information on CAR.
Questions on Central African Republic and South Sudan
Asked if the appeal UN was making was only for money or also for more troops, as all agencies were being hampered in the delivery of aid, Melissa Fleming, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was appealing for funds, which was necessary for providing aid to refugees. The more funding there was, the more UNHCR and partners could do to help people in need. UNCHR had identified the needs and funds required but for South Sudan only, for example, one billion USD of the United Nations requirements was still not funded. The problem in both South Sudan and Central African Republic was also access because of the ongoing fighting and lack of security. In both countries, UNHCR had a robust presence; in South Sudan, UNHCR was still caring for thousands of refugees from Sudan. But if there could be better security, UNHCR would definitely be able to help more people. When he was in CAR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had appealed for both more financial support and more peacekeeping troops.
Answering the same question, Leonard Doyle for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) added that security was obviously a huge problem and the issue of revenge killings continued to haunt the situation; Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) added that it was not only about money, but also about human resources, access and security. Many UNICEF’s local partners had fled the dangerous regions, and there were problems with getting aid workers through to areas where people were in need of help.
Asked whether the report of 15 children who had died of malnutrition was possibly just the tip of an iceberg, Ms. Fleming said that malnutrition was a serious problem both in Central African Republic and in Ethiopia, where the rates were very high among the refugees. Mr. McCormick agreed that the 15 children who had died of malnutrition were likely a tip of the iceberg.
On the question whether refugees wanted to go back to their country and whether there was a long-term plan to ensure their return, Ms. Fleming said that it could generally be said that refugees wanted to go home and were very concerned about the future of their country. Until there was peace and conditions were created for their safe return, UNHCR and partners would continue to do their best to help refugees cope in exile until the time they could go back or another solution could be found.
Answering a question on IOM funding problems, Mr. Doyle said that funding for CAR was really over and that funds for the latest evacuation had come from the Organization’s internal funds.
On how the IOM was dealing with the situation regarding internally displaced persons, Mr. Doyle said that many IDPs were living in appalling conditions, without shelter. IOM was using a displaced persons matrix to track their numbers and movement, and was sharing that information with partners.
Ms. Fleming added that in Bangui some people were displaced just within a mile from their own homes. As stability and security were returning to some places, IDPs were starting to return home, but UNCHR was unable to help all of 700,000 IDPs, many of whom were living under very precarious conditions.
Central African Republic/Chad
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), summed up the situation in Chad. He said that the humanitarian community in Chad was increasingly concerned about the plight of tens of thousands of people who had fled from violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) and who remained in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
Since the previous wave of violence in CAR had begun in December 2013, the Government of Chad and the United Nations had registered more than 80,000 people arriving from CAR, and their numbers continued to increase. While some 8,000 people had been identified as refugees, the majority of the arrivals were Chadian families who had lived in CAR for several generations. Most of the displaced were women and children, who had fled their homes and villages with few or no belongings, seeking refuge from looting, murder and rape.
Mr. Laerke stated that many of those people were injured, traumatized, ill or malnourished. Almost 1,000 children were unaccompanied or separated from their families. They all needed protection and depended on provision of shelter, clean water, food distribution and health care to survive. Transit sites in the capital N'Djamena and in southern Chad were overcrowded, several sheltering more than 10,000 people, and basic services were inadequate. The living conditions were dire with little or no drinking water, overflowing latrines, and risks of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.
The UN and humanitarian partners had developed a six-month Emergency Response Plan appealing for USD 33 million to respond to the immediate needs of an estimated 150,000 people, including in host communities. Mr. Laerke informed that, to date, only USD 6 million had been mobilized, out of which USD 4.3 million came from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund. That rapid response grant would allow agencies to provide some emergency water, child protection, health care and sanitation services.
Elysabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed on the situation in Chad where WFP had planned to assist 150,000 people under a new emergency operation over a 6-month period. The operation required USD 16.3 million in funding. Ms. Byrs explained that under that operation, WFP would provide assistance in food and vouchers to newly arrived people from Central African Republic (CAR). Some 50,000 people in transit centres would be targeted through in-kind food distribution, and another 100,000 would receive food vouchers. High energy biscuits would be provided to people arriving at transit centres by trucks or walking.
As people coming from northern CAR were suffering from high rates of acute malnutrition, Ms. Byrs announced that WFP would provide plum doses to children aged 23 months to 6 years old in order to prevent further deterioration in their nutritional status.
Ms. Byrs also recalled that WFP was currently providing assistance in seven sites in Chad, namely Bitoye, Kobum, Doba, Gore, Moundou, Sido and Doyaba.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Ms. Byrs pointed out the WFP had begun food distributions to 74,000 people affected by armed conflict in the Beni region of eastern DRC. She specified that about 600 tonnes of food were being distributed in the village of Nobili, to people who had just arrived in that remote areas of North Kivu, near the Ugandan border.
She added that an assessment carried out in December by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations had reported significant food shortages in Nobili locality as many people had not been able to look after their farms during the planting season. Nutritional screening carried out the previous August had revealed that more than 12 percent of children aged under five were actually malnourished.
Ms. Byrs stressed that the WFP in the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered from a financial shortage and would have to limit the delivery in food rations if further funding was not provided to its emergency operations as soon as possible.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that today between 9 a.m. and 12 noon there would be a high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, including human rights of migrants, particularly of those at risk of social exclusion. Among others, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Deputy Secretary-General, via video message, would address the panel.
Today at noon, a high level segment of the Human Rights Council would continue, with about 20 Ministers scheduled to speak. Mr. Gomez specified that on Monday 3 March, 39 dignitaries had addressed the Council.
Another panel discussion on the issue of promotion of preventive measures would take place today between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The panellists would address the causes of human rights violations and abuses with the aim of finding a way to stop such violations from occurring. The opening statement would be delivered by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, while the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide would be among panellists.
Mr. Gomez informed that the previous day the first two draft resolutions had been received, one on Sri Lanka, and the other on freedom of expression.
The seventh report on the inquiry into human rights violations in Syria would be launched on 5 March at 12 noon, in Press Room III, by Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Mr. Gomez explained that the twenty-page report would be sent out to the press in the morning, under embargo until the press conference. The report would subsequently be presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 March.
Also on 5 March, another 30 dignitaries would address the Council. In the afternoon, there would be a panel discussion on death penalty, featuring a video message by the Secretary-General and the opening remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Asked whether an official Ukrainian representative would come to the Council today, Mr. Gomez said there had been no confirmation of this from the Ukrainian Permanent Mission. There were no indications of the Ukrainian Foreign Minister would address the Council.
Answering a question, Mr. Gomez informed that Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights of the United States of America, would address the Council at approximately 3:10 p.m. today.
On the annual report of OHCHR, Mr. Gomez confirmed that the High Commissioner for Human Rights would present the report to the Council on 6 March at 3 p.m. That would provide an opportunity to engage with States, and a number of important themes would be discussed through an interactive dialogue. The High Commissioner’s mandate was ending in 2014, so that would be the last annual report to be presented by Navi Pillay. The report would be rather wide-reaching, covering a number of country situations.
Asked whether the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China were still scheduled to address the Council on 6 March, Mr. Gomez said that DPRK had spoken the previous day in the right of reply, but both DPRK and China were still on the regular list of speakers for the morning of 6 March.
Mr. Gomez did not have the latest information about the address to the Council on behalf of Iran, but said that he would check and revert to the journalists.
Ms. Vellucci informed that the Conference on Disarmament was continuing its high-level debate today, when the representatives of Kazakhstan, Japan, Canada, Hungary, Czech Republic and Qatar would speak. The following day, representatives of Finland, Spain and Latvia would address the Conference. The session planned for 6 March had been cancelled.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela Elías Jaua Milano would speak to the press about the current situation in Venezuela in Press Room III at 11:45 a.m. today.
A press conference of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention on “Bridging assistance to landmine and other explosive remnants of war victims and survivors to human rights, disability, health, education, employment, development, poverty reduction, social security and transitional justice” would take place in Press Room III at 1 p.m. today. Speakers would include Angelino Garzon, Vice-President of Colombia, and Kerry Brinkert for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union would launch its 2013 Annual Statistics and Trends on Women in Parliament in Press Room I at 2 p.m. today. Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, would address the media.
Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that a protocol had been signed between UNCTAD and the International Trade Centre. Its objective would be to facilitate the implementation of trade facilitation agreements signed in the framework of the World Trade Organization – whose impact on developing countries was estimated at USD 1,000 billion and creation of 21 million jobs - and to reinforce synergies between the two organizations.
David J. Trouba, for the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), announced that for the International Women's Day celebrated on 8 March, WSSCC and the Office of the High-Commissioner for the Human Rights (OHCHR) were planning to organise a high level conference on "Inspiring Change to Promote Women's Right and Dignity” to take place in Room IX at the Palais des Nations on 7 March from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The media were invited to attend the conference.
Mr. Trouba explained that the conference would focus on fundamental human rights of equality and non-discrimination, examine current policies and practices, as well as challenges to women empowerment across their life cycles in diverse locations and contexts and among marginalised communities (including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups). The issues to be discussed were framed through the lens of women economics, social and cultural rights with a special focus on water, sanitation and hygiene, particularly menstrual hygiene management.
Mr. Trouba further stated that one of the obstacles encountered by women was the lack of access to safe, hygienic and private menstruations. Such a lack had major consequences in societies around the world; in India, for example, up to a quarter of girls dropped out of school partly because schools lacked private or gender-separated toilets. In Africa, it was estimated that within four years of high school, each girl missed an average of 156 learning days due to that problem. On 7 March, experts from various parts of the world would address this topic from multiple angles.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced two events. The first one was linked to the International Women’s Day: on 6 March at a Human Rights Council side event, WHO would launch its guidance on how to help countries provide more girls, women and couples with the information and services they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies, plan their families and keep women and children save. The actual document was already available on the web and WHO welcomed journalists to attend the event. There would be a panel of speakers, including experts from WHO; they would also be available for interviews after the event, which was scheduled to take place in room XXIV at 10 a.m. Media representatives were welcome.
Mr. Thomas also said that on 5 March, there would be a virtual press conference on the issue of sugar guidelines, to launch public consultation on this issue. The press conference would take place in the WHO Library Room, at 4 p.m. The guidelines would be available for those present.
The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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