REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 November 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and representatives of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, and Roll Back Malaria partnership; and with the participation of the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was today examining the report of Gabon. On Wednesday, the Committee would consider the report of Austria, and it would take up the report of Norway on Thursday. Starting Friday, 22 November, and until the Committee concluded its session on Friday, 29 November, the Committee would be meeting behind closed doors. At the closing, the Committee would adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of the 10 countries it had considered during the session, namely Kuwait, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Djibouti, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Austria and Norway.
The Committee against Torture was meeting in private this week and would be concluding its session on Friday, 22 November. The closing would be held on Friday morning when the Committee would adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of the countries which it had considered during the session, namely Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Poland, Latvia, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Andorra and Kyrgyzstan. The Committee would probably be giving a press conference at on Friday afternoon, but the exact time was still to be confirmed.
Concerning press conferences, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that on Wednesday, 20 November at noon in press room 1, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, would give a press conference on a new report by UNAIDS on how to reach people most in need with essential HIV services.
A journalist asked at what time the meetings on Iran would start tomorrow, Wednesday, 20 November. Ms. Momal-Vanian said she still had no confirmation as to when and at what level the delegations were arriving tomorrow. They had agreed to have an audio visual pool again to film the arrival of delegations, but she did not know yet whether that would be tomorrow morning or Thursday morning
World Toilet Day
Ms. Momal-Vanian said today, 19 November, was the first time that the United Nations was marking World Toilet Day. The press release related to the report “We can’t wait” was distributed last Friday. She introduced Christopher Williams, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, a multi-stakeholder partnership hosted by UNOPS in Geneva, who would talk about the report.
Christopher Williams, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, said that while World Toilet Day was an official United Nations Day, it had been in existence since 2001, it was only recognized by the United Nations this year. World Toilet Day was a call to action on sanitation and hygiene, to focus the world’s attention on the importance of its links to health, education and attendance of school, and basic access to human rights. The stark facts were that roughly 2.5 billion people lacked adequate access to sanitation and hygiene, of which 526 million defecated in the open. The practice of open defecation had been recognized by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Deputy Secretary-General as a major cause of concern in the context of the current Millennium Development Goals. Those two targets which concerned infant mortality and reducing by half those people who did not have access to adequate sanitation were lagging, of which sanitation was lagging most.
Mr. Williams said that they had decided this year to focus on the issue of women, particularly to zero in on aspects of menstrual hygiene management. It was astounding that many women around the world did not have basic security and safety for six to eight days a month, and the impact of this in terms of the number of days of schools missed was significant. It was estimated that roughly 20 per cent of school attendance was reduced because of inadequate menstrual hygiene management facilities as well as disposal. The hygiene implications of poor knowledge and understanding of menstrual hygiene management was also quite profound. The level of understanding of this basic human function of women was completely misunderstood, poorly communicated, and the implications for human dignity, human rights, missed education and lack of worker productivity were extraordinary. The report emphasized the urgency of the issue. The report detailed 17 different solutions that were being activated around the world, actions that were being taken to address women’s urgent needs. An enormous amount of work was ongoing, as more than 30 Governments had signed up to national targets to eliminate open defecation within the next 10 to 15 years. At the household level, a major strategy that was being deployed was introducing a community-led total sanitation approach so that people made the connection between their sanitation and health and dignity.
Ravina Shamdasani, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR was deeply concerned by violent incidents which started last Friday, 15 November in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and had left more than 40 people dead and hundreds others injured. These were the bloodiest incidents Tripoli had seen since the end of the 2011 conflict. OHCHR condemned the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, which appeared to have triggered the armed clashes since last Friday. Incidents began on Friday, 15 November, with the shooting of demonstrators protesting against the presence in Tripoli of armed brigades from Misrata following earlier bouts of fighting last week. Almost all the deaths occurred on 15 November, although there were further fatalities reported in the following days. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya visited hospitals the next day and received confirmation from medical staff of 40 deaths, although the numbers were expected to rise. Noting with concern that several individuals were reported to have been taken prisoner by armed brigades during these clashes, OHCHR reiterated that detainees must be released without delay or transferred to the judiciary for criminal investigation. They must be treated humanely, with dignity, and afforded all judicial guarantees under international law.
Ms. Shamdasani said OHCHR called upon the Libyan authorities to launch a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into the violent incidents and to ensure that those found responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses were brought to justice. OHCHR urged all sides to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and engage in peaceful dialogue and it called upon the Government of Libya to renew its efforts in meeting its obligations under international human rights law, specifically with respect to protecting the right to life and the right of all Libyans to protest peacefully and express their views freely.
Jens Laerke, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said he had put at the back of the room a document presenting a “humanitarian snapshot” which showed displacement, figures and the number of affected persons across the area. As of today, Government figures referred to 13 million people affected, and 4 million people displaced, the vast majority of them in the Western Visayas and Eastern Visayas.
Elizabeth Byrs, World Food Programme (WFP), said according to the latest figures she had, WFP had delivered enough food for 1.9 million people that was to say 1,130 tons of rice and 11 tons of highly energy biscuits. WFP was working in partnership with the Filipino Government. Additional rice supplies were part of household rations distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, each weighing around three kilogrammes. WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, was in the Philippines yesterday. Food assistance would be crucial in the upcoming weeks. Therefore “cash for work” programmes and “food for work” programmes would be implemented in areas where banks were functioning. Participants would receive cash or food in exchange for their work consisting mainly of the rehabilitation of infrastructures and the removal of debris. Over the next six months, WFP planned to provide food assistance for 2.5 million people in the area hit by the typhoon. Logistical challenges remained extremely constraining although progress had been made up until today; some small islands still had not been reached.
Gregory Härtl, World Health Organization (WHO), said there were currently 31 Filipino teams dispatched from other parts of the Philippines into the affected areas, and there were currently 22 international medical teams operating in the three regions. Of the 22 international teams, 17 were so-called Type 1, specializing in outpatient and emergency care, and five were Type 2, which meant they had an operating theatre and were able to perform caesarean sections. This highlighted the fact that at this point in the emergency, they were looking at a twin challenge: most of the people presenting to health centres were still people with injuries, at the same time, there were a number of people with non-communicable diseases, women who were pregnant or had just given birth, or those needing tuberculosis treatment or had diabetes, and WHO was working hard to re-establish continuing health systems in the affected areas to address these issues. A press release with more details was available at the back of the room.
Adrian Edwards, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said thousands of the typhoon survivors from Tacloban and other affected areas were believed to have left their home areas in search of family and assistance in surrounding areas or as far away as Cebu and Manila. Shortly after the typhoon hit on November 8, people started leaving by sea and air. Cargo flights delivering aid from Cebu to Tacloban, Guiuan and other places had been returning with plane loads of displaced people every day. The full number was still only estimated. According to the Philippines Government as many as 4 million people could now be internally displaced. Starting tomorrow UNHCR and its partners in the protection cluster would set up a designated area at the airport in Tacloban to collect information on these displaced people, their destinations and vulnerabilities, and to try and ensure assistance on arrival and to prevent trafficking incidents. This protection monitoring system was expected to expand to other areas that displaced people were leaving from. It was becoming clear that the overall relief operation would be taking many, many weeks, and the reconstruction operation would take many months. On Monday, 18 November, UNHCR field protection teams had arrived in Ormoc in western Leyte and Guiuan in Eastern Samar where Typhoon Haiyan first made landfall. The teams were equipped with trucks and fuel supplies to support two newly-established humanitarian hubs. Their work would initially focus on establishing protection coordination mechanisms and assessing the needs in and around Ormoc and Guiuan. The aim was to try to bring about the swift delivery of aid, and to ensure that people with specific needs were receiving help, especially those in remote locations.
Mr. Edwards said that in Ormoc, the local authorities told UNHCR staff that most of the 109 affected administrative areas, villages or areas known in the Philippines as barangays, had received some form of assistance. Food, medicines and shelter materials were still urgently needed. A few areas had yet to receive non-food supplies such as plastic sheets and blankets. In Ormoc a UNHCR team was today visiting areas outside the city to assess the situation and needs in rural areas. At the moment, UNHCR was having difficulties communicating with UNHCR staff in Guiuan because of the damage to infrastructure. Survivors reported that entire villages along the coast were wiped out by the typhoon and storm surge, pictures of which journalists may have seen this week. In Tacloban, the UNHCR team had been distributing plastic sheets and blankets in Barangay 88, which was one of the hardest-hit areas of the city. UNHCR had also sent family-sized tents to Tanauan, south of Tacloban, to help the authorities set up a temporary tented site for displaced people. Last week, he had talked about their relief supplies already underway in Tanauan. Some 15,000 people in both these areas had been assisted so far. UNHCR aid continued to arrive in the country through on-going airlifts. Two further aid flights were expected today. In total, nine flights would bring 10,000 tents, 112,000 blankets, 66,000 plastic sheets, solar lanterns and other relief supplies for more than 100,000 people. On arrival in Cebu, these items were being quickly moved to the affected areas through a combination of air, sea and land transport. At the request of United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, UNHCR had increased its volume of aid and raised its appeal to $15 million, which was about 42 per cent funded so far. In addition to providing relief items, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR was also co-leading the protection cluster with the government.
Christiane Berthiaume, International Organization of Migration (IOM), said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing arrived in Philippines on last Sunday, where he declared that IOM would stay on the ground as long as it would be necessary in order help the locals to reconstruct what was destroyed by the typhoon. All the details on his visit were available in the briefing notes. IOM had five operational hubs across the worst affected areas in Leyte and Samar aiming to reach the most urgent cases among the 4 million people made homeless. IOM had distributed to date 5,000 plastic sheets to families to use as temporary shelter. Of the 4 million displaced persons, around 390 000 people were living in 1,600 evacuation centres, while the rest were sleeping in the open or had been taken in by relatives or others. Some tracks had arrived yesterday to distribute 7,500 covers, 2,500 tools kits, 2,500 reparation kits, more plastic sheets and 6,000 metal sheets which helped the homeless people take shelter from the rain. IOM had also activated what they called their matrix of displacement monitoring, a system that evaluated the needs of the local people in order to avoid duplications. The living conditions into those centres were unsanitary, garbage was piling up, and some toilets were blocked. IOM was working with the local government to find other places in order to host others local people.
Dan Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, speaking on the phone from Tacloban, said he was in Tacloban, having visited two areas 30 kilometres south of the town where the destruction was massive, debris everywhere, peoples’ lives destroyed, and most families having lost everything. More than 50,000 people in Tanauan were living outside or in the remains of their homes. He had seen Government and Church assistance being distributed, particularly food. Filipinos were starting to rebuild and clear debris, and were grateful for all the help they were getting. He had met with the Department of Social Welfare in Tanauan, and they said their most urgent needs included clearing of rubble as well as shelter material. They were still in the survival and recovery stage, with urgent need for support to prevent disease. Water was perhaps the most urgent need, as well as hygiene kits. On Monday, 25 November, UNICEF would start with the Government a massive vaccination campaign for measles and polio. UNICEF had been asked to rapidly re-establish a refrigerated system for vaccination, and it would start that as soon as it could get in the right materials from Manila and elsewhere. The situation was still very serious.
In response to a question on whether the UNICEF team had any problems with looting or security issues, Mr. Toole said they were no significant security issues now and there was a presence of the military and police.
Adrian Edwards, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said in Syria, an estimated 6,000 people had fled their homes in Qarah, making their way over the border into eastern Lebanon. Humanitarian partners had been on the ground in Lebanon since last Friday working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities to cope with this new influx. The spark for the displacement was the reported escalation in violence in Qarah and surrounding villages. Refugees had told UNHCR that they had spent days living in underground shelters before deciding to flee. A family of ten told UNHCR they had crammed into a single car on Saturday evening to flee as the situation had become “unbearable”. Most of the newly arrived refugees were now in Arsal, in north-east Lebanon. Arsal, which lied not far from the border area, was home to a population of some 60,000 people, including – already prior to the latest influx - 20,000 registered refugees. Some 100 families transited through Arsal to nearby villages including Jdeide, Fakeha and Al-Ain, while local authorities told UNHCR that approximately 300 families returned to Yabrud in Syria on Sunday.
UNHCR and its partners had contingency plans in place for these sudden movements - and indeed for larger numbers should more cross. There were concerns that on-going violence in the vicinity of Qarah and central Qalamoun towns could force more to flee Syria into the already stretched east-Bekaa area. Over 1,000 of the newly arrived Syrian families in Arsal had registered with the local municipality in the past three days and been provided with emergency assistance. This work was still on-going. The assistance they were receiving included food parcels, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets and hygiene kits. Sheltering the large numbers of new arrivals remained a challenge. Right now, newly arrived refugees had been directed to four temporary collective shelters in public halls and mosques. Up to 80 families had found shelter in informal settlements while others had set up makeshift dwellings in unfinished buildings or were staying with local families. UNHCR with its partners was ready to provide further shelter options if the government approved land for use. In the meantime all was being done to ensure that the temporary locations were protected against the elements and provided some warmth to the refugees. Access to clean water and sanitation was also a concern. Partners were providing latrines and water tanks to alleviate this situation and had deployed mobile medical units which were providing immediate health services. The Ministry of Public Health and partners had provided vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements. Pregnant women and war-wounded refugees were also receiving immediate assistance.
Elizabeth Byrs, World Food Programme, said WFP had responded quickly and had so far assisted around 3,555 people with food parcels for one month. Distribution would continue today. Once these people were registered, they would receive WFP e-cards for the next month. WFP was also monitoring the food security situation in Arsal and the ability of the shops to respond to the needs of the new influx. In preparation for a potential larger influx, WFP was ramping up its contingency stock and had already mobilised 3,400 food parcels in warehouses in the Bekaa, enough for around 17,000 people for one month and ready for dispatch if needed. In total, WFP had a contingency stock of food parcels, enough for around 120,000 people in the country.
IOM/Migrants in Italy
Christiane Berthiaume, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said migrants were often considered as a cost for the host society. An Italian survey had just been published that proved, on the contrary, that migrants brought an economical contribution. According to the statistics produced by the Italian National Office against Racial Discrimination and the Study and Research Centre, there were 5 million migrants in Italy, representing 7.4 per cent of the population, who contributed 12 per cent of the GNP and paid 13.3 million euro in taxes every year. This year, IOM had participated in the preparation of this report. Available in the briefing notes were more details, including the link to the report. The briefing notes also included a story on Liberian migrants returning home from neighbouring West African countries.
Roll Back Malaria Partnership
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the United Nations system had reached out to the creative community in general in the last few years to harness the power of, among others, film makers, to raise awareness of important issues on the United Nations agenda. The United Nations itself had launched officially a Creative Community Outreach Initiative in 2009, which had facilitated filming on location inside the United Nations. The United Nations had also provided stories to script writers and background information on important issues.
Herve Verhoosel, Head of External Relations of Roll Back Malaria Partnership Secretariat, said Roll Back Malaria was very proud to welcome Richard Curtis, Screen Writer and Director, for the screening tonight of the film “Mary and Martha” at UNAIDS. Journalists were welcome to attend. Everyone knew Richard from films like Notting Hill, Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, but what they might not know was that Richard was also a co-founder of Comic Relief in the United Kingdom. Comic Relief was a non-profit organization that had already raised more than $1.5 billion since the creation of the organization. That showed how committed persons like Richard could make a difference. The “Mary and Martha” film has already been shown on television in more than 50 countries and showed how films could raise awareness on important issues like malaria, which killed 650,000 people every year, mostly in Africa and caused lost productivity of $12 billion a year in Africa only. Malaria was the first cause of absenteeism at school in Africa for children and for teachers. When they checked the Millennium Development Goals, malaria had a direct impact on many of them. Because the disease could be prevented and treated so easily, they needed political leadership, money and global advocacy and awareness.
Richard Curtis, Screen Writer and Director, said he had been struck when they sent people to hospitals in African countries by the extraordinary prevalence of malaria and the brutality of the fact that children could die very quickly and in great numbers of malaria. It struck him that this was an emergency, and one of the great jobs of communicating was to point out things that were happening constantly and consistently. The extraordinary thing about malaria, as far as fund raising was concerned, was that the solutions in many cases were very simple, including the bed nets, the rapid diagnostic kits, and they had managed to make the public in the United Kingdom that malaria was a crisis that affected real children and there was something they could do about it.
In response to a question, Mr. Curtis said he believed all diseases deserved equal attention and every loss of life was as important as the other. His passion for malaria was caused by a documentary he saw 10 years ago called “Fever Road” on BBC 2. It was the job of journalists and documentary makers to keep bringing these issues up, and hope that they caught the attention and set fire to the imagination of fictional writers.
The Spokesperson of the International Labour Organization was also present, but did not brief.
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1bMxbgN