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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
7 August 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the UN Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Organization for Migration.

Sahel Region

Patrick McCormick of the UN Children’s Fund said that the situation had been worsened by a recent outbreak of cholera in many regions across West Africa, putting more people – especially children – at severe risk. Next week was expected to see the peak of admissions of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition into treatment centres across the Sahel. This would be exacerbated by a harvest in northern Niger which had been threatened by the arrival of locusts. Approximately 1,200 acres had been treated by locust control teams in four weeks.

In Niger, the worst-affected country in the region, about 161,000 under-5 children were affected by severe acute malnutrition as of 8 of July, and many were affected by moderate acute malnutrition and had been admitted and treated in over 2,000 feeding centres across the country. There had been a daily average of 1,000 new cases of severe acute malnutrition since mid-April 2012. In Chad, 73, 630 children under 5 had been admitted for treatment with severe acute malnutrition. This represented a doubling of the monthly caseload of new admissions compared with 2010.

Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the five consolidated appeals for Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Mauretania and Niger, which had overall called for US$1.6 billion, were funded at 51 per cent. However, several critical sectors were critically under-funded. The education sector, for which US$18 million had been asked, was 7 per cent funded; the health sector, which required US$65 million, was 17 per cent funded; the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, which was critical for combating cholera, had only received 21 per cent out of US$53 million; and funding for the protection, human rights and rule of law sector stood at 20 per cent of US$43 million. The food security sector, for which US$831 million had been requested, was 58 per cent covered.

Syria

Ms. Byrs said that WFP has sent food assistance for distribution to 28,000 people in Aleppo over the next few days to address shortages of food following weeks of violence in Syria’s largest city. Since the beginning of clashes in July, WFP has reached close to 46,000 people in Aleppo with urgent food assistance.

Following the recent escalation in Damascus on the 18 July, it has become extremely difficult to secure trucks for deliveries and labour for packaging. Nevertheless, since that date, WFP has managed to dispatch food to close to 228,000 beneficiaries to Aleppo, Damascus, Rural Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Idlib, Quneitra and Tartous, amid increased challenges.

Overall, during the month of July, WFP’s food assistance has reached 541,575 people in most of the Syrian governorates. The organization had aimed to reach 850,000 people, but was prevented from doing so by fighting. In August, WFP will aim to reach 850,000 people inside Syria. This target was established in line with the Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan and following a request from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. In-country stock stands at approximately 10,000 metric tons of assorted food commodities. The current shortfall for WFP’s Syrian Operations is US$58.9 million of the needed US$103.2 million

Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said that Syria was experiencing shortages in medicines and pharmaceutical products according to reports received by WHO. The country had previously produced 90 per cent of its medicines and drugs locally. However, this production was being slowed down due to insecurity, decreased availability of raw materials, sanctions and increased fuel costs. The recent escalation of clashes had resulted in substantial damages to the pharmaceutical plants located in rural Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus, where 90 per cent of the country’s plants were located. Many of these plants had now closed down, thus resulting in a critical shortage of medicines. Urgently needed medicines included drugs for tuberculosis, hepatitis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer, as well as haemodialysis for kidney diseases. Chemical reagents for blood screening tests were also urgently needed to ensure the safety and quality of blood used in surgical and trauma cases.

The health sector had been heavily affected in conflict areas as hospitals and health centres had been closed, damaged or controlled by parties to the conflict. Public health facilities were often inaccessible due to ongoing violence and lack of public transportation. The health facilities that had stopped functioning were located in the most affected areas, where medical and surgical interventions were needed most urgently. Health care workers were facing difficulties in reporting to work because of the escalation of the conflict and increasing fuel shortages. The Ministry of Health had reported having lost 200 ambulances over the last few weeks. The impact of this situation on the mental health of the population and on people suffering from chronic diseases was high as they needed daily life-saving medications. The main challenge faced by the WHO team remained the unhindered access to those in need.

WHO had been working with the Ministry of Health, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and partners since the beginning of the unrest to address the health needs of crisis-affected populations. This included the provision of ambulances, the refurbishing and equipping of mobile health clinics, and providing medicines and medical supplies for 700,000 people. To ensure access to essential health services, including life-saving medical and surgical services in directly and indirectly affected areas, WHO and its health sector partners would continue to support trauma management at primary health care centres and hospitals. This included providing support to mobile medical clinics and outreach services, as well as supporting the procurement and provision of hygiene kits, medicines, medical equipment and supplies, among other things. As the crisis continued, WHO called on all parties in Syria to take responsibility for protecting patients, medical staff and facilities, and it called on the international community for urgent support to cover the critical gaps in drugs and medicines inside Syria.

Christopher Lom of the International Organization for Migration said IOM was also facing funding problems. While the organization was allowed to work with local NGOs to distribute non-food relief items in Syria, it did not have the funding to do so.

Asked whether the humanitarian response in Syria had grounded to a halt, Mr. Laerke said that quite to the contrary agencies were beefing up their assistance. The UN’s humanitarian presence in Syria was maintained through eleven agencies and seven offices, located in Damascus, Hassakeh, Ar Raqqa, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Dera’a, Lattakia and Tartous. In addition to 36 international staff, almost 1,000 national staff members were employed by the UN, and UNRWA employed more than 3,600 local staff.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mr. McCormick said that the Democratic Republic of Congo was experiencing a tragic escalation of violence, displacement, malnutrition, school burning, child soldiers and rape. That part of the world had suffered the worst of the worst for the longest period of time and people were heading to the bush for safety. What chance did children have of growing up when they were being displaced five times in a month? What was needed was funding and an approach bringing together the factions that were causing the disruption, the killing and the violence. UNICEF was asking for US$164 million for child protection, education, nutrition, and health, water and sanitation, among other things. A UNICEF humanitarian action update was available at the back of the room.

Mr. Laerke said that Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was in Kinshasa. Ms. Amos had arrived in Kinshasa yesterday and met with Government ministers. Today she was meeting the Prime Minister before heading to Goma, where she would visit areas hosting internally displaced people. Ms. Amos had expressed deep concern for the now 2.2 million internally displaced persons in the country and the impact of the crisis on civilians. In North Kivu alone, about 220,000 people had been forced to leave their homes in recent weeks. On Thursday Ms. Amos was expected to continue to Rwanda, where she would visit a camp for Congolese refugees. Some 54,000 people had now fled the Kivus to Rwanda and Uganda. Journalists interested in conducting telephone interviews with Ms. Amos were welcome to contact Mr. Laerke.

In response to a question, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that in a resolution last week Security Council members had welcomed the meeting between President Kagame and President Kabila in a bid to resolve the crisis, including through the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region which was today meeting in Kampala to discuss the situation.

Myanmar

Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said that since the beginning of the crisis in Rakhine in June, WFP has reached affected people with a total of 2,109 metric tons of mixed food commodities. Food had been distributed to 102,925 people in June and 77,781 in July. Of the over 100,000 people affected at the beginning of the crisis, many had already returned home. As of 29 July, official Government statistics indicated that some 64,000 people remained displaced and were accommodated in 61 camps in Sittwe and Maungdaw townships, while population movement continued.

The total cost of the emergency relief operation in support of the affected population in Rakhine from July to December was estimated at US$7.2 million, which was equivalent to more than 7,000 metric tons of food. This period was the traditional ‘lean season’ when food stocks were at their lowest as the main annual harvest was awaited towards the end of the year.

Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that UNHCR was appealing to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that NGO assistance continued to be provided to unregistered people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Last Thursday, three non- governmental organizations – Médecins Sans Frontières, Action Contre La Faim and Muslim Aid UK – had been ordered by the Bangladeshi authorities to stop their activities in and around unofficial camps near Cox’s Bazar in the south-east.

If the order was implemented, it would have a serious humanitarian impact on some 40,000 unregistered people who had fled Myanmar in recent years and settled in the Leda and Kutupalong makeshift sites. Local villagers nearby would also be affected as they, too, had been benefiting from basic services provided by the NGOs.

UNHCR was urging the Government of Bangladesh to reconsider its decision in line with its long tradition of hospitality towards people who have fled Myanmar over the years. In addition to the unregistered population, there were some 30,000 registered people living in two official camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Meanwhile in northern Rakhine state, UNHCR was watching developments closely following reports of renewed violence over the weekend. UNHCR had received unverified accounts of some villages being burnt in the Kyauk Taw township north of the state capital, Sittwe. Many of the young men had reportedly fled, leaving mainly women and children behind.

The UN and its humanitarian partners had drawn up a response plan to assist some 80,000 people who had been displaced or were otherwise affected in Rakhine state since clashes broke out in early June. UNHCR had so far distributed emergency aid to more than 40,000 people in the form of plastic sheets, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. UNHCR was also mobilizing its stocks in Cox’s Bazar and planned to deliver them by boat across the Naf river to Rakhine state once the clearances were in place.

UK Allocates Additional UKL 5 million to IOM for Shelter and Flood Preparedness in Pakistan’s Sindh

Mr. Lom said that the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) had allocated an additional UKL 5 million to IOM to provide shelter support to flood-affected people in Sindh province. The project extension would help an additional 10,000 vulnerable households to rebuild shelters in the most severely flood-affected districts.

Tropical Storm Haikui

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization said that China was facing the third tropical cyclone in very close succession, with the approach of severe tropical storm Haikui. The China Meteorological Administration had issued warnings for high winds and torrential rainfall from Haikui, with emergency response measures being activated in Zhejiang, Shanghai and Jiangsu provinces.

Haikui did not directly hit the Philippines but it had enhanced the southwest monsoon, bringing heavy rains to many areas, including the capital Manila. The Philippines Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Administration, PAGASA, had issued multiple alerts and was warning of flash floods and landslides in mountainous areas and floods in low lying areas.

Tropical Storm Ernesto was expected to strengthen and could become a hurricane. On the forecast track, the centre of Ernesto should pass north of the coast of Honduras tonight and Tuesday, and be near the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula early Wednesday. A Hurricane Warning was in effect for the entire coast of Belize, and along the part of the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. A Tropical Storm Warning was in effect for the other parts of the Yucatan peninsular and along the coast of Honduras. More information was available at www.hurricanes.gov.

Meetings

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament was this morning discussing guarantees against the use of nuclear arms.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had yesterday opened its session. Ecuador would present its report this afternoon, to be followed by Tajikistan tomorrow afternoon and Thailand on Thursday afternoon.

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee was today preparing a report on hostage-taking by terrorists. In the afternoon it would examine a draft document on human rights and international solidarity, before focusing on studies on the right to food of poor urban populations and rural women tomorrow.