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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

19 May 2015

Ahmad Fawzi, Director, a.i, of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund.

Secretary-General activities

Mr. Fawzi informed that the UN Secretary-General was in the Republic of Korea at the moment, attending the World Education Forum and having a number of bilateral meetings. He had just informed that he would be visiting the Kaesong industrial complex between the south and the north on 21 May. The previous visit by a Secretary-General to that zone had been by Boutros Boutros Ghali more than 20 years earlier.

Geneva activities

Mr. Fawzi announced that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had started its session the previous day. The Committee would begin this afternoon the consideration of reports by Mexico and Eritrea. Other reports scheduled for this week were of Ghana, Honduras and Ethiopia, while the following week it would look into the reports of the Netherlands, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Israel.

The Conference on Disarmament would be resuming its 2015 session on 26 May.

Mr. Fawzi said that the Director-General, a.i, would be visiting parts of Switzerland today and the day after, as a part of the Geneva Foundation bus tour, to present the International Geneva to the wider Swiss public.

South Sudan

Jonathan Veitch, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from Juba by phone, said that 20 months since the eruption of the conflict in South Sudan, the situation was deteriorating as both sides were trying to gain ground before the rainy season. Dozens of children had been killed, raped and abducted in the Unity State over the previous two weeks. The verified numbers were likely to be on a low side. Fighting was reported to be ongoing even today, and it was unclear who was in charge of some areas. There were reports of women and girls being taken away to be raped or killed.

A 17-year old girl, who had managed to reach a UNMISS base, said that when the attackers had come, they had taken and burned her belongings. The attackers were boys, 16 or 17 years old, who proceeded to shoot many people. The girl did not have enough food to feed her 8-month old twins. This example showed how international humanitarian law was being violated. There was a need for unconditional access to all areas, necessary to provide help to those injured, starving or hiding.

Asked why children were brutalized in such a horrible manner, Mr. Veitch said that UNICEF did not have access to those areas because of the ongoing fighting. UNICEF was trying to fly in, but it was impossible at the moment. If people arrived to UNMISS camps camps, children would at least be protected and taken care of, but outside of the camps, it was very difficult to provide protection at the moment. There was no clear answer why anyone would be doing that to children. Some fighters explained that it was better to kill children now, before they grew up and returned for revenge. The fighting was very complex and not only tribal. It was an unprecedented use of children in conflict with almost 13,000 children registered to have been recruited by both sides thus far.

On the central level of control over the militias, Mr. Veitch stated that UNICEF was in contact with the SPLA and trying to contact the opposition forces. There was a serious command and control issue at stake. The Sudanese People Liberation Army had committed multiple times to prevent violations of children’s rights, and was aware of what the international law said, but rules and regulations did not always reach the ground troops. There were no police forces left in those locations, and no rule of law. Once the rains started, the entire area would be in swamps, so both sides were trying to improve their positions as soon as possible.

Mr. Veitch explained that the monitoring mechanism showed that 13,000 children had been recruited over the past one and a half years. Prior to that, South Sudan had been doing well in releasing children from armed forces and armed groups. The majority of the recruited children were likely in the opposition armed groups. It was becoming increasingly complex to work in the Protection Of Civilians sites (POCs) due to the tribal differences, but services provided there were solid and included schools and clinics.

Asked about the support UN peacekeepers were providing to the humanitarian agencies, Mr. Veitch said that they were providing a lot of protection inside the POCs. They had been targeted on numerous occasions even inside the camps, and the situation was ever more difficult with the continued fighting.

Responding to another question, Mr. Veitch said that there was a strategic humanitarian response plan in place. There were robust plans in place, but it was extremely difficult to raise money for many of the budgets with many crises happening simultaneously around the world. A meeting is due to take place in Geneva on 16 June hosted by OCHA and ECHO to highlight the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and to try to raise funds.


Yemen

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the pause had not been long enough to reach all those in need of food: out of the 738,000 that the WFP had been planning to feed, only 400,000 had actually received food. Ms. Byrs added that 7,000 out of the 13,000 metric tons of food to be distributed had eventually been dispatched. The WFP was therefore asking for further humanitarian pauses.

The WFP had been able to reach people in hot spots where they had never had access before, and if the humanitarian access continued to be limited, those people’s situation would only get worse.

Since 15 April, 1.7 million people in Yemen had received emergency food assistance by the WFP. Before the conflict, WFP had been assisting four million people.

Answering a question regarding the access to the ports, Ms. Byrs said that the ports of Hodeida, Al-Salif, Asch Shir Terminal and Mokha were open while the Aden port, both for conventional and containers, remained close. Ms. Byrs added that due to the fuel shortages, shipping lines had to bring their own fuel to keep the port equipment operational.

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that early reports from assessments in Yemen conducted by the UNHCR and partners during the five-day humanitarian pause had revealed enormous difficulties for thousands of civilians displaced by conflict. The number of those uprooted from their homes since late March was now estimated at more than 545,000.

The temporary pause in hostilities had ended on 17 May at night. It had allowed the UNHCR to fly in more aid, transport supplies from ports to distribution hubs in Sana’a and Aden, and preposition and distribute aid to displaced people in previously hard-to-reach areas. All six UNHCR planes from Dubai had been able to land safely in Sana’a.

Mr. Edwards said that the rapid protection assessments had been conducted in 40 districts across 11 governorates of Yemen. UNHCR had found traumatized populations struggling to meet their needs. Fuel shortages made it difficult to pump water, even where wells existed. Many of the people had been already economically vulnerable before the crisis, and were even worse off now. Many had lost their livelihoods and were entirely dependent on aid. A lot of displaced people were struggling to find shelters. Access to basic health care was too difficult to many. The fact that garbage was not being collected increased the danger of a spread of infectious diseases.

In Sana’a, 95 percent of shops were closed, and only one restaurant was open in the whole city. The remaining inhabitants, mostly men guarding their property, remained indoors. There was wide-scale destruction of government buildings and shops.

Asked about fuel deliveries and easing of restrictions on humanitarian aid, Mr. Edwards responded that that issue still remained critical. Shelling and air strikes had recommenced the previous day. The amount of fuel which had been brought in during the pause was only 10 percent of what was needed.

Responding to a question, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the regular commercial imports were a major issue. The inspection regime by Member States had been authorized by the UN Security Council.

Mr. Laerke specified that, as of the previous day, 1,849 persons had been killed.

Asked whether the Sana’a airport was operational, Mr. Edwards reiterated that the UNHCR had managed to get in six cargo flights to the same airport during the humanitarian pause.

Iraq

Ms. Byrs said that almost 3,800 families had been displaced from Ramadi due to the fighting and had escaped to three main areas in the Anbar Governorate. The WFP had dispatched 5,700 family rations on 16 May to Al Fallujah. On 18 May, 10,000 IDP’s had already received food rations and 5,000 ready-to-eat rations, enough to feed 25,000 people, was on the way to Abaniya and expected to arrive on 19 May.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the security situation east of Ramadi was still volatile. An emergency hospital had moved out to al-Falloujah where it was protected by the Government. WHO had received a request to provide oxygen bottles and glucose as well as IV fluids to hospitals in the al-Fallujah area.

The number of IDP families settled in still under-construction camps in al-Fallujah area had gone up to 700 families. Two mobile clinics had been opened in Anbar by the Department of Health.

No more details could be provided on contingency planning if the Islamic State continued to move forward.

Burundi

Mr. Jašareviæ reported about the severe humanitarian crisis developing in Tanzania as thousands of refugees from Burundi were seeking asylum due to the escalating political tensions. The situation was especially worrisome in the Kagunga village in Tanzania, where the original population had increased from 10,000 to 90,000. The crisis had worsened on 13 May, when cases of cholera had been confirmed. The team of experts had assessed the situation and had recommended emergency measures to ensure timely response in the Kagoma region.

The village of Kagunga was the main entry point for refugees coming from Burundi and it did not permit easy relocation of them in the Nyarugusu refugee camp because there were not enough boats to transport people there. Furthermore, the refugee camp had reached the threshold of maximum number of persons, and the asylum seekers were being housed in local schools while awaiting temporary tents. The Regional Health Management Team in collaboration with partners had established health posts at entry point and receiving areas of Kagunga, Lake Tanganyika and Nyarugusu, where asylum seekers were screened and provided basic essential health services.

Responding to a question, Mr. Edwards said that there were 26,000 refugees in Rwanda, and 111,000 refugees in all three neighbouring countries.

Nepal

Ms. Byrs said that an operation called “Mountain Express” would start in Nepal this week and would use 20,000 local porters, each of them bearing 30kg, who would trek to bring food and shelters to approximatively 45,000 people in villages which were difficult to access. Ms. Byrs underlined that this would be a major operation, done in partnership with local Nepalese trekking associations.

Migrant sea crossings

Mr. Edwards referred to the joint statement of the UNHCR, OHCHR, IOM and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Migration and Development, which had just been issued.

He stressed that time was running out for thousands of people in distress at sea as countries in South-East Asia deliberated over how to respond. It was of life-saving importance that Governments in the region acted to urgently rescue and disembark those vulnerable people. UNHCR estimated that nearly 4,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh remained stranded at sea with dwindling supplies on board. That included some 2,000 men, women and children near the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts for more than 40 days.

In Myanmar, several hundred people had abandoned their journeys and returned to Rakhine State after paying smugglers on board for re-entry. In the previous nine days, more than 2,500 people had landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Given various accounts of survivors being abandoned by the crew and left adrift for days, or being beaten up by crews, the UNHCR was seeking, along with the Governments in South-East Asia, urgent medical attention, assistance and protection. Those who had returned to Myanmar should not be punished for irregular departure.

On the identity of the traffickers, Mr. Edwards said that the UNHCR did not have their identities. The number of deaths in 2015 would be confirmed shortly. The focus was clearly on saving lives.

Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), answering a question on the European Union plan for addressing migration, stated that the new European Union’s reality was focused on saving lives. Even if there had been discussions on the measures that had to be taken to defeat the smugglers, now the issue of saving lives was an essential part of the same bigger process. Mr. Doyle explained that the military naval action would take place by recognizing the smugglers boats, taking the migrants off the boat in order to save and assist them, and then the boats would be destroyed or confiscated. The focus, he underlined, still was on saving migrants’ lives.

World Health Assembly

Mr. Jašareviæ provided updates on the World Health Assembly, which had started the previous day. German Chancellor Merkel’s statement had been posted on the official website in German and would be translated and posted in English in the afternoon. Today, the Assembly would continue with the Committee A discussing malaria. Proposals of resolutions were expected to be suggested and eventually adopted. On the malaria issue, a press briefing was planned for 20 May at 11 a.m.

Mr. Jašareviæ said that in the afternoon, discussion on Ebola would start, after the technical briefing which would take place at 12:30, chaired by Dr. Margaret Chan. It would be open to the press and webcast.

After that, the Committee A would discuss Ebola with regard to four documents, which were about the option for establishing of a contingency fund; the global health emergency workforce; the Ebola panel and the subsequent review. Another briefing on Ebola would take place on 21 May at 11 a.m.

On access to the Committee A, Mr. Jašareviæ confirmed that journalists were allowed to attend its meetings. If there were any problems, journalists should contact one of the WHO spokespersons, who would swiftly come to their assistance.

Asked whether Dr. Chan would be available for an interview or a press conference, Mr. Jašareviæ said that the invitation by ACANU had been received and the response would be provided shortly after the Assembly.

World Meteorological Congress

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that the World Meteorological Congress would be meeting for three weeks, starting on 25 May. It was an event that took place once every four years to decide on the WMO’s strategy policy, priorities and budget. This year, the Congress would also appoint a new Secretary General to replace Michel Jarraud.

The main focus of the Congress would be on the WMO strengthening weather and climate services to meet the needs of a growing population in areas with the risk of weather-related disasters. A major part of the Congress would be on how to do more to protect people’s lives as disasters were expected to continue due to the climate change. A pre-congress press conference was not planed, unless there would be request for one. A detailed press realise would be issued during the week, and the agenda and all relevant documents would be available online.

Ms. Nullis also announced a new UN interagency women’s leadership programme, called “Women and Diplomacy: the leading role in weather and climate contexts”, which would be launch during the Congress, in consultation with UNITAR, UN Women, UNEP and other UN agencies. The programme wanted to put a bigger focus on how women were impacted by weather and climate events and also to attract more female scientists into meteorology.

Other Geneva activities

Mr. Fawzi announced that the United Nations Relief Work Agency (UNRWA) would hold a press conference on providing health care for the Palestinian refugee population, which would take place in Press Room III today at 12 noon. The main speaker would be Dr. Seita Akihiro, UNRWA Health Director and WHO Special Representative.

UN Women would launch its flagship report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”. The launch would take place at the ILO, Room XI, at 10 a.m. on 21 May.

On behalf of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Mr. Fawzi informed that the 2015 triple COPs, which had brought together more than a thousand participants from almost every country in the world for the previous two weeks in Geneva, closed on 16 May. Aimed at protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals and waste, the COPs had adopted key decisions for each of the three conventions. A key Technical Guideline on environmentally sound management of e-waste had been adopted by the Basel Convention, which would assist Parties to deal with this growing challenge. Full details were available on the BRS website www.brsmeas.org .

Leyla Alyanak, for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), informed that, on the occasion of the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, the event Going from global to local – National leadership and strategies toward ending fistula would be held on the state of the art in the fight to end fistula at international and national levels. Speakers would include singer and actress Natalie Imbruglia, spokesperson for the Campaign to End Fistula; Razia Shamshad, fistula survivor from Pakistan; and Dr. Catherine Hamlin, co-founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. The event would take place in Room XXII on 22 May from 18:00 until 19:30. Natalie Imbruglia would be available for interviews after the event.


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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog190515