REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 July 2011
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the World Trade Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Horn of Africa
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that an international meeting would be held on Monday, 25 July in Rome to examine the measures to be taken regarding the crisis in the Horn of Africa and to mobilize international support for the affected countries. Organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization upon request from France on behalf of the G-20, the meeting would bring together Ministers or high-level representatives of the 191 FAO Member States and other UN entities, as well as inter-Governmental bodies, NGOs and regional development banks.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs had yesterday visited Somalia, meeting with Somalia’s President, Prime Minister and the President of the Parliament. Discussion points included the humanitarian situation, the peace process, the implementation of the Kampala agreement and the completion of the transition.
Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme said that, as an initial response to the current crisis in southern Somalia, the WFP would begin to provide food assistance to 175,000 beneficiaries, with blanket supplementary feeding and general food distribution in the Gedo region bordering Ethiopia and Kenya. The districts the WFP was planning to reach in the coming days were El Wak Dolo, Belet Hawa and Luk. The WFP would also shortly commence food distributions to 40,000 displaced people in the Afgooye corridor.
In the coming days, airlifts would begin to Mogadishu, where the WFP was already assisting approximately 300,000 people, including internally displaced persons who had arrived from the South. The focus would be on providing ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary food aimed at helping the most malnourished children. Other air operations were planned for northern Kenya in the coming days.
WFP’s Executive Director was in Nairobi today to meet with partner agencies, NGOs and other officials. Tomorrow Ms. Sheeran would meet with Kenyan communities affected by the drought and visit the Dadaab camp to meet with Somali refugees.
Ms. Casella said that the WFP was appealing for US$ 342 million for its response to the drought in the Horn of Africa, adding slightly more than US$ 150 million to the under-funded figure of US$ 190 million. Ms. Momal-Vanian added that a situation report including the global funding figures, dated 21 July, was at the back of the room.
Nicole Engelbrecht of the International Committee of the Red Cross said that the ICRC was one of the few organizations which had been present in Southern Somalia throughout the past months. The situation was indeed very appalling and affected internally displaced persons in particular. The ICRC had noted that malnutrition rates were usually higher among the displaced than among the general population because they had often no assets left to cope with the situation and depended strongly on the scarce resources of their host communities.
Many animals, especially cattle, have died, putting a strain on pastoralist families whose few remaining animals were often too weak to provide milk, which was one of the reasons why malnutrition rates had increased, especially among children. The ICRC was expanding the services of its existing outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes and was opening new programmes and preparing food distributions. An operational update was at the back of the room.
Melissa Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency said that UNHCR saw an average of 1,000 people streaming into Mogadishu every day in a quest for help after fleeing famine-stricken regions in the South. The agency’s figures showed that in July alone 20,000 people had been displaced into Mogadishu in search of assistance. In response, UNHCR was conducting distributions to internally displaced people in and around Mogadishu and working to step up its aid in other parts of south-central Somalia, to which it had had no previous access. The agency was also working to better track and target the neediest people to find out where and how they were being displaced. UNHCR was trying its best to work inside Somalia so that people were not forced to make a life-threatening trek to Kenya and Ethiopia. If the victims could have been aided on the spot and prevented from leaving their villages, their current situation would not have been as terrible, Ms. Fleming underscored.
The outflow of hungry and war-weary people was continuing at a high rate, Ms. Fleming said. In Kenya’s Dadaab camps, UNHCR was still receiving about 1,500 new Somali refugees every day, totaling some 60,000 new arrivals so far this year. In total, Kenya had received 100,000 Somalis so far this year. In Ethiopia, the border area was seeing daily arrivals in the hundreds, with 74,000 arrivals since January. Many refugees were arriving in bad shape, close to catastrophic, and UNHCR food experts were calling it a “dire nutritional emergency”. Unfortunately, interventions were sometimes too late. On Tuesday alone, UNHCR had registered 15 deaths from malnutrition and other diseases.
El Hadj As Sy, Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, United Nations Children's Fund, joining the briefing by telephone, said that the numbers were sobering. There were three levels of intervention: ensure the necessary support to prevent people from having to move, scale up efforts at the refugee camps, and assist the refugee-hosting communities. The work was not only about food but also about providing assistance in terms of basic health, sanitation, water and hygiene to protect the most vulnerable. The best way to gear up efforts was partnership and UNICEF’s partnership with UNHCR, UNFPA and WFP was critical. Efforts were indeed coordinated at regional and country levels to make sure that every child, woman and family were reached wherever they were and to make sure that their needs were being addressed.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children's Fund added that so far this month UNICEF had delivered 1,300 metric tons of life-saving supplies by plane, truck and ship to some of the hardest-hit areas in southern Somalia, including enough therapeutic supplies to treat over 66,000 malnourished children.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM’s intervention in the Horn of Africa was based on two pillars: assisting host communities in north-eastern and north-western Kenya and providing health assistance to counter the outbreak of acute watery diarrhea in the Turkana area. With the funding received from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to the tune of US$ 400,000, IOM aimed to assist 40,000 people in Kenya, 60 per cent of them women, who had suffered drought, refugee influxes and high prices. IOM intended to de-stock and re-stock these people’s livestock by helping them sell their weak animals and buy healthy livestock, as well as assisting with building wells and water points.
In terms of health assistance, IOM targeted 55,000 people around the Turkana area where an outbreak of acute watery diarrhea had been reported. With the US$ 115,000 IOM had received from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, it would provide health treatment and equipment for health centres and deliver water purification tablets and awareness-raising initiatives.
Asked to comment on reports that Al-Shabaab had called the drought a “fraud” and insisted that it had not opened access to humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Ms. Casella said that the situation was extremely dire and that the WFP felt it was obligated to undertake this life-saving mission. As soon as it received assurances of security and proper access conditions, the WFP would be going back in.
Ms. Fleming said that UNHCR was operating inside Somalia through local and national NGOs and had no evidence that this work would be hampered further by this statement.
Mr. El Hadj As Sy added that UNICEF would continue to build on its past experience. Even in the absence of such announcements, there had always been risk management plans, contingency plans and continuing strategic planning to help adapt to the evolving situation. This practice would be continued and UNICEF would also diversify its approaches, partners and local staff.
Ms. Engelbrecht said that the ICRC's neutral, impartial and independent approach to this conflict had fostered acceptance of the ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent by local authorities.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would release at 1.30 p.m. today a report on mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in North Kivu in the villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the New Year period.
Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights added that the report would be released simultaneously in Kinshasa by MONUSCO and by OHCHR in Geneva. Press releases would be issued at about 1.30 p.m. today, in English and French.
Mr. Omari Jumbe said that challenges persisted in South Sudan after the euphoria of independence. According to the comprehensive peace agreement, the Government of North Sudan should transport returnees to their final destinations in the South. However, two-and-a-half weeks ago a group of returnees have been left at Renk, where they remained stranded at a fuel station.
These people, including children and women, were then moved to a temporary makeshift transition centre. IOM attempted to provide whatever possible, but the conditions were very poor, and efforts were now being made to find onward transport for these people.
This was a difficult task, however, given the poor road conditions and the rainy season, as well as militia activity. Adding to this was the arrival of even more people, Mr. Omari Jumbe underscored.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Economic and Social Council had concluded its humanitarian affairs segment yesterday. As of this morning the Council was holding a general debate on various questions and would adopt several resolutions, notably on food security and the programme of action for least developed countries.
This afternoon the Council would examine draft resolutions on research and training institutions and the calendar of economic and social conferences. Next week would be the last week of the four-week session and discussions would notably focus on the accreditation of NGOs, regional cooperation, the environment, the population, the promotion of women and assistance to the Palestinian people.
Human Rights Committee
The Human Rights Committee was mostly meeting in private sessions until the end of the session next Friday, when it was expected to make public its concluding observations on the three countries examined in this session: Ethiopia, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. A press conference on this subject was scheduled for Thursday, 28 July at 1.30 p.m.
World Trade Organization Agenda
Ankai Xu of the World Trade Organization said that there would be an informal Trade Negotiation Committee meeting on Tuesday 26 July, probably to be followed by a briefing in the afternoon (time and place to be announced). On Wednesday, 27 July the General Council would meet in the morning, also to be followed by a briefing. Also on Wednesday, and probably on Thursday as well, informal chair consultations would be held on the Russia membership negotiations, and on Thursday, 28 July there would be a Dispute Settlement Body meeting.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would be chairing the informal Trade Negotiation Committee meeting on Tuesday and attending the General Council on Wednesday.