REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
27 January 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization.
Democratic Republic Of Congo
Elisabeth Byrs for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the humanitarian community in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had received a new financial boost of $9.1 million from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund to fight off cholera, which had affected over 22,000 people and killed over 500 in the country over the past year.
The disease was endemic to the DRC and with over 5,500 cases reported, the eastern province of South Kivu had taken the heaviest toll, accounting for 25 per cent of all diagnoses, she explained. Furthermore, in recent weeks there had been a spike in reports and close to 18 percent of the total caseload had been recorded since mid-December. More than 14,000 cases have occurred in the eastern provinces overall.
Beyond the actual caseload, thousands more are collateral victims of the disease, she said, and its impact can be felt in agricultural and commercial activities, school attendance, family well-being and the livelihood of households that are already among the world's poorest.
Across the country, aid organizations have put together a multi-pronged response strategy, including cholera treatment centres, boat and home disinfections and providing water chlorination points. The new funding would further facilitate work being done by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she said.
She also noted that the Congo River was a major commercial route and vector of the disease and aid workers feared that the disease could become endemic in the provinces along the river if the response failed.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the IOM yesterday began a series of flights to help 165 very vulnerable people stranded in Khartoum, together with 226 family members and escorts, to return home to South Sudan.
The airlift, which was scheduled to continue for a week, will include 11 charter flights and one commercial flight and was funded by the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) and UNHCR, he said.
On arrival the returnees would be met by IOM South Sudan officials and given help to travel on to their final destinations. The returnees were part of a bigger group of South Sudanese who were stranded at locations in and around Khartoum known as departure points since late 2010, when the government of newly-independent South Sudan called upon its people to return home.
An estimated 700,000 South Sudanese remained in the north and the Sudanese government had earmarked April as the final date for all South Sudanese wishing to return home. People staying in the north would subsequently have to regularize their stay, though no structure had yet been put in place for this and many migrants did not even have identification to start the process, he explained, The international community was trying to work with the government to extend the deadline, he said, and clarify the process and status of migrants choosing to remain.
To give some context, in 2011, the IOM helped some 23,000 South Sudanese to return by barge, train and air, he said, and it was hoped that this year’s figures would be higher. There were currently no figures on how many in total wanted to return to South Sudan, he said, though around 120,000 were currently waiting at departure points.
Andrej Mahecic for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said to maintain operations despite prevailing insecurity and reduced humanitarian access at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, UNHCR had been exploring ways to ensure uninterrupted assistance and services in the world's largest refugee settlement.
The new measures included stronger and deeper involvement of the refugee communities in the day-to-day running of the camps by reaching out to different groups within the refugee population, such as elders, the business community, and youth. Complementing this, UNHCR was organizing additional training, mentoring and capacity building for refugee workers and volunteers.
He continued by saying that, together with its partners, UNHCR was also working to control outbreaks of measles and cholera in the camps. Monitoring was conducted on a weekly basis and the number of reported cases was now on the decline, from some 150 suspected cases at the end of 2011 to about 50 suspected cases in the first weeks of this year.
In addition, refugee leaders and refugees working for partner agencies were being trained to identify individuals and families who require immediate protection or life-saving assistance. This was especially important for people with severe disabilities, who cannot access help and services on their own, as well as for unaccompanied children and victims of rape or other types of violence.
In the area of water and sanitation, refugees had built new latrines on sandy and rocky ground and were collecting and transporting solid waste by donkey carts to allocated waste disposal sites, he explained. In addition, the water and sanitation committees, a network of volunteers that control the water delivery and sanitation services on household level, had received additional resources and responsibilities for overall coordination and monitoring of these activities.
Other successes include the 30 camp schools run by refugee teachers, he added. Despite insecurity, the Kenyan National Exams took place in the camps at the end of last year and the results were an improvement in the average score in comparison to last year. The exams were made possible because the community patrolled the schools and guarded the gates.
Answering questions he said again that the number of cholera cases had decreased, and this was thought to be because of better water provision. On the security situation he explained there had been no major incidents since the murders reported over the New Year, but the conditions remained complex and difficult, hence the new and alternative measures being used.
With regard to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Ms. Momal-Vanian reiterated that Niue, which was to report today, had requested that consideration be deferred to a future session. The final report of the session was therefore that of the Cook Islands, which was discussed yesterday. The Committee now resumed its meeting in private to adopt concluding observations, to be presented next Friday on all the reports reviewed. These included Azerbaijan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Madagascar, Togo, Thailand and the Cook Islands.
The Conference on Disarmament, which opened this week, would hold the next sitting of its 2012 session on Tuesday (31 January).
She also drew attention to the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which would be marked in Geneva on Tuesday (31 January) in the Assembly Hall at 17:00. This year’s ceremony included the participation of Agnes Hirschi, daughter of Carl Lutz who saved many lives through his position as Consul in Budapest. A number of ambassadors would be participating, she noted, and there would also be a musical performance.
Ms. Momal-Vanian then issued a reminder that the UNICEF 2012 Humanitarian Action for Children report would be launched immediately after the briefing in the same room. The Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF was to attend, she said.
She further answered a question on the Secretary-General’s visit to Davos saying he had commented the meeting was useful as he got access to a large number of world leaders (government officials, CEOs and NGO leaders) at the same time and the sheer critical mass of people there with influence make it an important forum, where important discussions could take place. A transcript of the Secretary-General’s remarks was being prepared, she added, and would shortly be available online.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in London on 30 January, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was to bring together governments, pharmaceutical companies, medical experts, NGOs, and other organizations, in making commitments to tackle NTDs. The WHO had created a roadmap on this topic, titled “Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases” as part of its vision to overcome, control, prevent or eradicate seventeen conditions over the next decade, he said. The WHO Director-General was to attend.
It was also announced that filming would be taking place at next Tuesday’s briefing (31 January) for an Information Service video on United Nations work in Geneva.