REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
23 September 2011
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the International Labour Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Jemini Pandya of the International Organization for Migration said that an IOM team was working with the Pakistan navy to deliver 1,000 shelter and non-food item relief kits to families stranded in villages in the western Tando Bago area of Sindh's flood-stricken Badin district of which nearly 90 per cent was partially submerged by water. The delivery by boat highlighted the difficulties of reaching the thousands of people who were cut of by floodwaters or living in spontaneous settlements set up on roads or higher, dry ground close to their often inaccessible villages. Although this assistance was much welcomed, it was only a fraction of what was needed to provide emergency shelter in Badin. Local officials there believed that up to 1.7 million of the district's 1.8 million residents had been affected by the floods – the vast majority of them poor tenant farmers and their families. According to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority, over 8 million people had now been affected by the flooding in all 23 districts in Sindh. Nearly 1.5 million houses had been damaged or destroyed, and over 716,000 individuals were now living in 3,079 relief camps. A similar number of people may be living in unrecorded, spontaneous settlements, according to an IOM-led independent rapid needs assessment. Flood victims in some of the relief camps said they were unable to return to their home villages for up to three homes. As well as their homes, they had lost all their cotton, rice, sugar cane, chilli and tomato crops and would be unable to plant until the floodwaters receded. IOM was appealing to donors to respond to its $14.6 million appeal so that the organization could assist some 550,000 people with shelter and non-food assistance over the next three months. The response had not been overwhelming so far.
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said that the Pakistan Floods Rapid Response Plan which had been launched on 18 September covered the financial humanitarian needs of the relief efforts in Sindh Province for six months. The Health and Nutrition Cluster sought $45.9 million to fund 29 projects in flood-affected areas for the next six months and WHO was requesting $14.8 million for emergency health and nutrition, as well as for water and sanitation interventions. The main objectives were to preserve and restore access to basic health care and to prevent, control and respond to communicable disease outbreaks. So far, enough medicines and supplies had been distributed to provide health care to 285,000 people for a month and a total of 54,085 medical consultations had been reported.
WHO had also provided 1,040 clean delivery kits, 1,550 anti snake venom kits and 1,000 hygiene kits, Mr. Jasarevic went on to say. Updated figures from the disease early warning system showed that there had been 227 alerts, of which 46 were confirmed outbreaks. Between 9 and 16 September, 470,024 medical consultations had been reported in Sindh Province. Acute respiratory infections accounted for 18.6 per cent of all causes of morbidity, followed by skin diseases, diarrheal diseases, and suspected malaria.
Mr. Jasarevic stressed that the Health Cluster included more than 100 international and national organizations. For example, the National Trust for Population Welfare, which set up 7 mobile health teams with support from UNFPA and WHO, had so far treated 1,950 people, including 300 pregnant women and 1,000 children. UNFPA has provided 4,000 save motherhood delivery kits for distribution, while mobile teams run by Helping Hand for Relief and Development provided primary health care services, safe drinking water and food and non-food items in 19 camps in the worst flood-affected districts of Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces. So far, 2,298 people had received medical assistance. Two mobile medical and nutrition teams set up by the Shifa Foundation in Shaheed Benazirabad District provided health care and screening of malnourished population. The Shifa Foundation also expected to distribute mosquito nets, water purification tablets, safe delivery kits, hygiene kits and new born kits to the most vulnerable populations. Also, three Save the Children mobile health teams were operating in Badin District, and one in Mirpur Khas, providing health care to 1,661 people so far. World Vision was providing primary health care services in Khairpur District through 9 mobile medical team and 4 fixed health points.
Mr. Jasarevic said that WHO supported the provision of life-saving assistance in health facilities, including advance health posts and field hospitals, during last week's violence in Sana'a. According to reports from the Ministry of Health and advance medical posts, an estimated 81 people had been killed and 918 had been injured in Sana'a and Taiz between 18 and 22 September. WHO had provided supplies for trauma and gunshot wounds and mobilized 10 ambulances for the emergency transport of victims to health care facilities. This included enough supplies for 100 major surgical interventions or 400 smaller interventions.
The fighting in Sana'a had intensified yesterday and WHO responded by providing another three Trauma Kits A to the field hospital operated by the youth volunteers on University Square. Trauma kits had also been provided to Al Kuwait Governmental Teaching hospital and Al Jomhori Government hospital. These three kits would be enough to give essential care to at least 1,200 wounded people. WHO was also supporting the operations of 10 ambulances in Sana’a and 5 ambulances in Tiaz, as well as assisting the Health Ministry in transporting life-saving drugs and supplies from the warehouses to the hospitals, especially amid the tense security situation.
On 19 September, an explosion occurred in Al-Jumhuria hospital in Sana’a, accompanied by heavy clashes nearby. A WHO staff member was in the hospital at the time of the explosion to assess the situation and obtain updated information on the casualties and needs. No injuries had been reported from within the hospital and WHO’s employee had suffered no harm. The hospital sustained minor damages – it continued operating normally.
Health staff, including health volunteers, worked day and night to provide services to those in need. So far, advance medical posts and field hospitals had been functioning well with no major problem reported. However, private and public hospitals were stretched to their limits in order to cope with the high number of casualties. More than 20 surgical operation rooms were currently working at their full capacity. If the number of casualties continued to increase at the same pace, health facilities would have difficulties to cope with the situation.
The outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea in Al-Dhale Governorate continued but the trend was declining. From 27 July to 16 September, 2,513 cases and 40 deaths had been reported. In response to the outbreak, WHO had sent two inter-agency diarrheal disease kits 1, medicines, IV fluids and disposables. A source of concern was that the outbreak had spread to Ibb Governorate’s Radma District. From there it could spread to other districts such as Yarim District and to Taiz Governorate. The diarrhoea outbreak in Abyan Governorate also continued, with 13,717 reported cases as of 16 September. Between June 2010 and 16 September 2011, the joint WHO-Ministry of Public Health mobile teams in the South provided about 20,000 medical consultations.
Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that OHCHR was extremely alarmed by ongoing reports of the increasingly brutal crackdown against protestors in Syria. Prominent human rights defenders, inside and outside the country, were reported to have been targeted. The Office was also concerned by reports of the targeting and attacking of families and sympathizers of the protestors by security forces. In one recent case, which had been particularly appalling, the mutilated body of an 18-year-old woman from Homs, who had been tortured and died in custody, was discovered by her family on 13 September. OHCHR had received unconfirmed reports that she had been abducted by members of the security forces on 27 July, apparently to pressure her activist brother to turn himself in.
OHHCR once again urged the Syrian authorities to end their brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, end their acts of reprisal against activists and their families, and allow for an independent and impartial investigation of the situation in Syria. As the Deputy High Commissioner had stated on Monday, it was critical that the Security Council consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Ms. Pandya said that this week had been extremely difficult and frustrating. IOM had been very close to evacuating many migrants from Sebha when the security situation deteriorated. On Monday, IOM was forced to stop the evacuation operation due to a sudden increase in the fighting, and the reloading of the trucks had to be stopped abandoned on Wednesday due to sniper fire.
Mr. Jasarevic said that the first shipment of medical supplies procured by WHO on behalf of the Libyan Health Ministry had arrived in Tripoli on Sunday. The three trucks arriving from Tunisia carried, among other items, essential medicines for acute and chronic diseases, medical devices, IV fluids and consumables needed for war-related injuries. This came in addition to previously delivered supplies. Since the beginning of the month, WHO had delivered 7 interagency health kits and 10 trauma kits to the Ministry of Health in Tripoli.
WHO had also provided logistical support and medical supplies for the deployment of a Tunisian medical team to Gariyan, in the Nafousa Mountains region, from 8 to 18 September. The team, which included surgeons, orthopaedic specialists, ophthalmologists, anaesthetists and nurses, had been able to provide surgical care to all waiting patients. Another team was to be deployed to Khoms, in north-west Libya, to provide similar surgical care to patients from the area and from Sirte. The deployment was planned for this Saturday by a chartered plane offered by the Tunisian Government. This deployment was a part of an agreement between the Tunisian and Libyan Health Ministries which was aimed at regulating the number of war-injury patients coming to Tunisia for treatment. So far Libyan patients had full access to both private and health facilities in Tunisia.
The Ministry of Health was starting an initiative to upgrade mental health and psychosocial support in Libya and was coordinating a working group on this with the participation of health partners. Mental health and psychosocial support were among the main priorities and considered the most urgent unmet need, along with physical injuries. So far mental health needs had been dealt with mainly on a psychiatric basis. WHO would be recruiting a mental health expert to support the Health Ministry and partners.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the rapidly deploying UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) would focus on public security, elections and transitional justice. The intention was to have 200 staff on the ground for an initial period of three months.
Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Programme said that WFP was appealing to the Sudanese Government to allow the organization access Blue Nile State and South Kordofan in order to distribute food aid and control food distributions amid great concern about the situation there. WFP had managed to deliver some food assistance, but thousands of people were yet to be reached and food stocks needed replenishment. The WFP warehouses in Blue Nile State were empty and at least 100,000 people needed food assistance, the last food distribution having been in June. As thousands were fleeing the conflict to Ethiopia or elsewhere, WFP was distributing five-day food rations at reception centres to enable people to reach the Sherkole camp in Ethiopia, where they received enough food for 15 days. WFP had so far dispatched 7,000 tons of food to Sherkole camp, enough to feed 20,000 people for one month. While WFP has been providing food assistance to 135,000 conflict victims in South Kordofan, more than 200,000 people were estimated to need assistance.
Elisabeth Byrs of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the situation in Haiti remained fragile. The number of new cholera cases had declined by 50 per cent within the last two months, with 20,093 new cases in August compared to 40,873 in July. However, the upcoming rainy season could cause a surge in cholera cases.
Donors had contributed close to $107 million to respond to the epidemic, accounting for 97 per cent of the $110 million initial cholera appeal. However, additional needs would not be covered should severe outbreaks of cholera occur due to rains and flooding. The 2011 appeal for Haiti, which requested $382 million, had received $199 million, thus being 52.3 per cent funded.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, would travel to Haiti next week.
Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR was concerned about the increasing level of violence in Burundi, the latest outburst being the massacre in Gatumba last week, just west of the capital, Bujumbura. Armed men had killed up to 36 people in a popular bar on 18 September. No one had yet claimed responsibility for the attack. This massacre had occurred in a context of increased tension marked by a series of extrajudicial killings that appeared to be mainly aimed at activists of the opposition National Liberation Front.
The Government of Burundi had immediately condemned the Gatumba killings and set up a commission of inquiry to clarify the circumstances of this event and bring the perpetrators to justice. Given that other commissions of inquiry set up to investigate past killings had so far yielded no prosecutions, OHCHR encouraged the Government to ensure prompt and impartial investigations of all human rights violations, in line with international human rights standards, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. The Office urged all parties to refrain from reprisal attacks. The fight against past impunity is in this context essential. OHCHR also encouraged the Government to undertake efforts to engage in a national dialogue with all parties to avoid a further escalation of tension and violence.
Execution of Troy Davis
Responding to a question, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR profoundly regretted Troy Davis’ execution yesterday. The Office understood that there were serious concerns that Mr. Davis’ due process rights and his fundamental right to a fair trial had not been respected, and that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – among other international laws – may have been violated.
Statelessness treaties gain support but need stronger boost
Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that this week had seen quiet but significant developments on the sidelines of the General Assembly session in New York with regard to statelessness. Three countries, Croatia, Nigeria, and the Philippines, have all become parties to one or both of the international treaties on statelessness. This step shows the three countries’ commitment to tackling statelessness. It also provides them with the legal tools to identify and protect stateless people, as well as to prevent and reduce the problem.
Up to 12 million people are believed to be stateless worldwide. They have no nationality, usually lack valid identity documents, and are often denied even the most basic rights, including access to health care, education, housing and jobs. To address these problems, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines who is considered stateless and establishes minimum standards of treatment. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness provides principles and a legal framework to prevent statelessness. Today, most new stateless cases involve children. This can be prevented if more countries accede to the 1961 Convention and offer citizenship to children at birth.
With this week’s accessions, the Philippines has become the first country in Southeast Asia to become party to the 1954 Convention. At the same time, Croatia is now party to both statelessness conventions, confirming its commitment to prevent future cases of statelessness. UNHCR is currently working with both governments to address the issue.
Given Nigeria’s diplomatic weight, we expect the country’s accession to help efforts at the international level to promote accession and address statelessness in Africa.
With these accessions, the numbers of states that are party to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions now stand at 68 and 40 respectively. International support is growing but we still lack the critical mass to make a substantial difference.
UNHCR is calling on governments to seriously consider acceding to both treaties. We also urge those states that are considering accession to start procedures at the national level. We are hopeful that more countries will follow the examples and become party to the two statelessness conventions. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 Convention, UNHCR will hold a treaty ceremony during the ministerial-level meeting in Geneva in early December. We already have indications from a number of states that they will accede at this event.
UNHCR’s Executive Committee Chairman to visit Ethiopia, Kenya
Mr. Edwards said that the head of the UNHCR Executive Committee, Ambassador Hisham Badr of Egypt, would be visiting refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya starting this Sunday to see for himself the situation there amid the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa. The visit followed High Commissioner António Guterres’ mission to the Horn in late August, and came ahead of the annual meeting of UNHCR’s Executive Committee scheduled for the first week in October.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti were together hosting 894,000 Somali refugees, of whom more than a third had fled Somalia this year. With refugees continuing to arrive in the region’s main camps on a daily basis Ambassador Badr had expressed his interest in ensuring continued public attention to the issue. In addition to camp visits at Dollo Ado and Dadaab he was hoping to meet UNHCR’s government counterparts and implementing partners.
Horn of Africa Crisis
Ms. Byrs said that world leaders would gather in New York on Saturday, 24 September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (local time) for a mini-summit on the Horn of Africa, where the situation would deteriorate over the coming months. Participants would seek innovative solutions to help the millions of people who were affected by drought and famine and discuss how to prevent such crises in the future. The mini-summit would be opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and would include addresses by the President of Djibouti, the Prime Ministers of Kenya and Somalia, and the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Sapey said that an OHCHR side event on the Horn of Africa crisis would be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today.
Corinne Perthuis of the International Labour Organization said that the speech to be delivered by ILO Director-General Juan Somavia at the International Monetary Fund was at the back of the room. It highlighted that growing unemployment in developed countries sparked increasing concern, and underscored that investments were needed to create jobs.
This message would be repeated by Mr. Somavia at the meeting of the G-20 Labour Ministers on 26-27 September in Paris. On that occasion ILO would also publish a publication with statistics on employment in OECD countries, together with the OECD, and publish another document on social protection in G-20 countries.
Samaar Shamoon of the World Intellectual Property Organization said a two-day symposium where representatives of intellectual property authorities discussed how to improve the sharing of work was wrapping at WIPO up today. There would also be a presentation on the United Kingdom’s independent review of intellectual property at 2.30 p.m. today, to be chaired by WIPO Director-General Francis Curry.
On Monday, 26 September the Assemblies of WIPO Member States would start meeting at the CICG. All documents were available from the WIPO website and journalists could attend with their regular UN badges.
Also on Monday, at 5.30 p.m., the new WIPO building would be formally inaugurated in the presence of the architect and the President of the Conseil d’Etats of Geneva, and with a short musical performance by Barbara Hendricks.
Human Rights Council
Cédric Sapey of the Human Rights Council said the Council would this morning start to consider the UPR outcome of Sudan, in presence of the delegations of both Sudan and South Sudan. On Monday, it would hold a panel on gender mainstreaming within the UN before discussing the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The list of the 31 draft resolutions which would be considered next Thursday and Friday had been sent to journalists yesterday.
Human Rights Committees
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families would conclude its session today, making public its concluding observations on Argentina, Chile and Guatemala. A roundup release would be issued later today.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would also conclude its session today and make public its concluding observations on Spain.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, for its part, was examining the report of Iceland today, before reviewing that of Panama on Monday and that of the Seychelles on Wednesday.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would launch the 2011 World Disasters Report at a press conference to be held 3 p.m. today.
On Monday, 26 September the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya and the WHO Representative in Libya would brief the press about the humanitarian situation in the country at 12.30 p.m. in Room III. This would be followed by a WHO press conference for the launch of a global database for air quality and health at 2 p.m. in Room III.