REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 April 2014
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the International Trade Centre and the United Nations Children’s Programme.
Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said a number of children were killed last week in South Sudan as a result of attacks on displaced civilians while others have been caught in the crossfire or died as a result of being recruited by armed groups.
The exact number of children killed was not yet known but they were among the dozens of internally displaced persons (IDPs)attacked by gunmen on Thursday, while sheltering at the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in the central South Sudanese town of Bor. In Bentiu, there were now up to 23,000 refugees currently sheltering at the United Nations base, which included many children, Mr. Boulierac added – the exact numbers were currently being verified.
The attacks of last week had worsened the very dangerous malnutrition crisis. A quarter of million children would suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year if more was not done, and unless the situation improved, some 50,000 children under five years old could die. UNICEF’s immediate goal in South Sudan was to reach 150,000 children under five years old currently suffering from malnutrition, partly through rapid response teams that would deliver ready to use therapeutic foods, micronutrients among others. Another major problem was the lack of access to clean water at the UN base of Bentiu- currently there were only one or two bottles for each person per day, which was inadequate. UNICEF staff were attempting to drill boreholes to provide more drinking water to the camps.
UNICEF needed US$38 million to meet nutrition needs in South Sudan. A press release would be made available today with more details, Mr. Boulierac added.
A journalist asked about the situation of children following alleged attacks in Bor, on the basis of religious discrimination. Mr. Boulierac answered that there was an attack on a mosque in Bentiu last week, in which 200 civilians were reportedly killed and 400 wounded.
Answering another question, Mr. Boulierac said that over the 3.7 million people at high risk of food insecurity in South Sudan almost 740,000 were children under the age of five years. He added that he would revert with more reliable and specific data for journalists as soon as possible.
Ms. Vellucci answered a question on action by the United Nations Security Council on the violence in South Sudan. She recalled a press statement issued by the Security Council on 18 April in which it expressed outrage at the recent attacks by armed groups in South Sudan that have purposefully targeted civilians as well as United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) sites and personnel, in particular the 17 April attack against the UNMISS compound in Bor that resulted in scores of dead and injured. The Security Council called on the Government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all civilians and UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites in South Sudan and called on both parties to allow UNMISS to fully implement its mandate.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that OCHA continued to run its South Sudan appeal for almost US$1.3 billion, which was 38 per cent funded to date.
Central African Republic
Christopher Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) briefed journalists on the humanitarian response to the crisis in the Central African Republic. He briefly commented on the reports of the movement of 100 Muslims over the weekend from the insecure PK-12 suburb of Bangui, to Bambari in the centre of the country. IOM provided logistics for the movement, which was reported by some news agencies. He said that the operation, which was escorted by 150 French soldiers, required intense negotiation involving many stakeholders and was at the request of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator. The people who travelled to Bambari were some of an estimated 1,250 Muslims in PK12 who wanted to be relocated to safer areas. Negotiations were now ongoing to help the remainder to relocate to areas where they would feel safe. Those movements may take place in the coming days and weeks, assuming that agreement is found between all parties, he said.
The situation in Boda was one of the most desperate cases in the crisis, Mr. Lom said, since 29 January when the conflict flared up between Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups. The Seleka had since departed, and the Anti-Balaka forces had an influential presence. Now more than 19,500 Christians and 14,300 Muslims were living at 11 displacement sites in Boda, and people were in desperate need of food, shelter and medical assistance. They were divided along religious lines, hungry and exposed to the elements. Hundreds more people had continued to live in the bush after fleeing the conflict. Emaciated children were a common site within the Muslim enclave, which was surrounded by Anti-Balaka militia. French Sangaris and troops from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) provided security.
Over the last week IOM distributed over 700 emergency relief kits which included buckets, jerry cans, blankets, mosquito nets, mats and soap, to 1,400 households in Boda in Central African Republic. The distribution, to roughly a quarter of the town’s displaced households, was made in close cooperation with Muslim and Christian displacement site leaders, who identified the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, the elderly and the sick. Kits were divided according to specific needs.
Both the Christian and Muslim communities had asked the international community for help and in response on 29 March IOM opened a sub-office in the town. An IOM doctor and six locally-hired nurses ran a mobile medical clinic in Boda, alternating days between Christian and Muslim displacement sites and the Boda Hospital.
The medical team distributed numbers to clinic visitors in order of arrival up to 100 and prioritized the urgent cases. Those who could not be helped were asked to return the next day. The team’s stock of medicine had quickly run low because of the number of people requesting treatment. There were many serious cases of malnourished children, people living with HIV and TB without treatment, and occasional machete and gunshot wounds.
Before 29 January, Boda was considered a safe city, Mr. Lom said, and many pastoralist families decided to bring their children to Boda and men returned to the bush. Those families had been separated since the conflict began. Many were traumatized, still waiting for news of their loved ones and were requesting to go to Kenzo, a Muslim area to the north, where they believed their families may be.
Regarding foreign nationals, Mr. Lom said IOM had already registered some 700 third country nationals who were requesting evacuation to Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of whom approximately 60 per cent were children.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spoke about the impact of the recent flash floods and heavy rains in the Solomon Islands, which included the risk of a dam collapse due to rising water levels in a gold mine pond near the capital Honiara. Chemicals and toxins such as cyanide had been used in gold extraction and a spill could potentially put 8,000 people at risk, Mr. Laerke reported.
Technical experts from the United Nations and European Union arrived in the country yesterday, in response to an official request from the Government of the Solomon Islands, to assess the dangers of a spill, alongside local Government experts. The experts from the joint independent team took samples to conduct chemical analyses and assess the stability of the dam.
Mr. Laerke also said that, aside from the specific environmental threat of dam collapse, the floods of early April led to 22 deaths and the displacement of 10,000 people. In total some 50,000 people were still affected by the floods in the Solomon Islands.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) briefed on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh which will be commemorated on Thursday 24 April. Mr. von Rohland said that ILO Deputy Director-General Gilbert Houngbo was currently in Dhaka to attend a ceremony at which 2 victims of the tragedy would receive symbolically an initial compensation payment. The other more than 3,000 beneficiaries would receive this advance payment in the coming two days.
After that date, victims or their relatives would receive additional compensation. ILO published a press release with details today.
Mr. Rohland also announced that on Thursday 24 April Gilbert Houngbo would join representatives of the Government of Bangladesh at a round-table event to discuss future developments in the garment sector. ILO would issue a press release after the event.
Christopher Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a new report about the Philippines showed that the country was critically short of evacuation shelters in some of its most typhoon-vulnerable parts. The shelter survey, which was conducted on Samar Island five months after it was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, painted an alarming picture, with a new typhoon season expected to be fast approaching.
Of the 634 buildings, including schools, churches and community centres, designated by the Government as safe evacuation shelters prior to Haiyan, only eight per cent remained standing. Over 400 other buildings needed significant rehabilitation before they could be used, whilst a quarter were completely destroyed, said the report which was conducted by IOM’s office in Guiuan, where Haiyan made its first landfall on 8 November 2013.
There had been four cyclones since then, with last week’s tropical depression Domeng petering out before coming ashore. However, each storm served as a grim warning of just how vulnerable the Philippines was to extreme weather events.
A journalist asked for the most up to date figures on people who were under siege in Syria, including at Yarmouk camp. Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) replied that his latest figures were approximately 220,000 under siege, the vast majority in Government-controlled areas. Ms. Vellucci drew the journalists’ attention to a statement issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on its food distribution activities in the Yarmouk camp published 19 April.
International Trade Centre events
Jarle Hetland, for the International Trade Centre (ITC) announced that the fourteenth edition of the World Export Development Forum would take place in Kigali, Rwanda on 16 and 17 September, 2014, the first time the ITC’s flagship event would be held in Africa which also coincided with the ITC’s fiftieth anniversary this year. The theme was how to create trade and employment opportunities by increasing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. Over 400 representatives of Governments, the private sector and trade support institutions would attend alongside global thinkers, business leaders and practitioners.
Mr. Hetland also gave a heads-up of the launch of Liberia’s National Trade Policy and National Export Strategy at the National Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Conference in Monrovia on 28 April. It would be the first time Liberia addressed policy issues related to trade, which would fill an important gap in Liberia’s policy framework for economic transformation. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and ITC Executive Director Arancha Gonzalez, as well as other ministers and representatives of international organizations would attend the conference.
Finally, Mr. Hetland announced an upcoming workshop for Geneva journalists on ITC’s Market Analysis and Research Tools, in response to increased demand from journalists for trade-related analysis and statistics. The three-hour workshop would be held at the International Trade Centre in Geneva on Thursday 22 May, from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. It would specifically focus on the use of the Trade Map database and other tools increasingly being referenced by leading media companies. Journalists could register for the free event (details on the press release distributed in the room).
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People would convene the United Nations Roundtable on Legal Aspects of the Question of Palestine on 24 and 25 April 2014 in Room XXII of the Palais des Nations. Only the opening session of the round-table, which would start at 9.30 a.m. on Thursday 24 April, would be public. A backgrounder press release had been issued on 17 April.
Ms. Vellucci announced that the Committee against Torture and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would start new sessions on Monday 28 April. Background press releases would be issued at the end of the week.
Ms. Vellucci also announced that the World Health Organization (WHO) had scheduled a press conference for Wednesday 23 April at 10.00 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the subject of World Immunization Week 2014, which ran from 24 to 30 April. Speaking at the event would be Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director, Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, WHO and Ms Tracey Goodman, Technical Officer, Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, WHO.
Today was International Mother Earth Day, Ms. Vellucci noted, adding that the message of the Secretary-General was available in the room.
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The representatives of World Food Programme, United Nations Refugee Agency and World Health Organization also attended the briefing but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1fjXPwC