REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
9 October 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Mr. Ali Al-Za’tari, had condemned yesterday’s indiscriminate mortar shelling in the South Kordofan state capital, Kadugli. Mortar rounds landed near a local school and a local police station and affected a UN facility. According to media reports from Sudan, there were a number of civilian casualties.
UN staff in Kadugli were relocated yesterday to the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei base as a precautionary measure. At the time of the shelling, Kadugli was hosting a peace conference with up to 600 delegates, including many school children. Mr. Ali Al-Za’tari had described the attack as reprehensible and constituting a violation of international humanitarian law, he said.
Following the fighting the UN and its humanitarian partners have essentially not yet been able to deliver assistance to people in need in SPLM-North controlled areas of South Kordofan for quite some time, but were continuing to provide relief assistance to people affected by the conflict in Government-controlled areas of the State.
Over 120,000 people received food aid since April 2012, agricultural supplies had been provided to 64,250 families and humanitarian partners had provided 234,000 people with relief items. Health services had reached over 1.6 million people in South Kordofan in the same period.
Marixie Mercado said that UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake had just wrapped up a visit to Jordan, where he had spent time with Syrian refugee children at Za'atari camp. UNICEF was working to expand operations within Syria, looking at provisions for the coming winter and immunizing children that had not been reached in the past months. There were more openings and more opportunities to reach children, than resources available to support them.
Answering questions she said that thousands had been killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced, and that planning now was focused on a crisis that looked like it would continue for some time. An additional office had been opened up in Tartous, and work was underway to open another office in Homs, which had seen some of the worst violence. The office was working on stockpiling, looking at supply routes, and bringing in more staff. The priority remained to reach as many children as possible.
In response to a question on education, she said the return to school continued, though it was still very much contingent on security within Syria. In the neighboring countries, the process was well underway, with major efforts were being made to give refugees access to education through, for example, prefabricated classrooms. The funding gap of $91 million remained a concern in running these programmes.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Pakistan today had become the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects children from pneumonia, the leading killer of children worldwide.
The latest UN estimates indicated that pneumonia accounted for 18 per cent of child mortality, and that four countries, Pakistan included, accounted for more than half the cases of pneumonia across the globe. In Pakistan, more than 350,000 children died every year before reaching their fifth birthday and almost one in five of these deaths were due to pneumonia.
Around two-thirds of child deaths around the world were the result of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and measles. The current push to immunise, of which the Pakistan drive was part, was intended to assist largely unreached populations with affordable and effective drugs in order to bring down child mortality rates.
Dan Thomas for the GAVI Alliance said that Pakistan was showing leadership in introducing the vaccine, as the level of child deaths currently seen was unnecessary. By 2015 it was hoped that the vaccine would be in 50 developing countries, something of a “quiet revolution” in saving lives. The programmes had been made possible with $4.3 billion from donor governments.
Answering a question, Ms. Mercado said Pakistan had been exemplary in putting immunization at the top of its priorities and had invested a lot of attention and effort in getting vaccines to hard to reach groups.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said six people were confirmed drowned and ten were still missing after a small vessel carrying 24 people capsized in the early hours of Monday off the French territory of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.
This was the second such tragedy in a month. It brought to 69 the number of people reported dead or missing in such incidents off Mayotte so far this year.
The capsizing was a reminder of the risks faced by people desperate to escape poverty, conflict and persecution. As in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden, the seas around Mayotte were the scene of irregular movements of migrants and refugees searching for a better life or protection from persecution and war.
For decades, people had been using small open vessels known as "kwassa-kwassa" to sail from the Union of the Comoros to the more prosperous French territory of Mayotte. Most of these movements took place without the requisite documentation and involve considerable risk to those attempting them. Asylum seekers account for a small proportion of these movements but their numbers have been increasing in the last two years.
Last year, there were some 1200 applications for asylum in Mayotte, 41 per cent more than in 2010. The largest proportion of applicants came from the Union of the Comoros (90 per cent), with citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, accounting for the rest.
Answering questions he said UNHCR staff had not yet had access to the survivors and any enquiry into the events would be conducted by the coastal authorities.
Mental Health Day
Ms. Momal-Vanian said tomorrow (10 October) was Mental Health Day and a copy of the message from the Secretary-General was available at the back of the room. In this message he stressed that depression was not simply a matter for health experts and that we can all act to remove the stigma around other mental disorders. He also asked that we talk more openly about depression.
Shekhar Saxena for the World Health Organization (WHO) added that on this day the World Health Organization was focusing on what individual persons can do to fight depression. He then showed a short video explaining the experience of one depression sufferer and how he came to terms with his condition.
Globally, more than 350 million people have depression, he said, and around five per cent of the global population had reported an episode in the last year. The burden of depression was high and induced a sustained feeling of sadness for two weeks or more which interfered with the ability to function. When properly diagnosed depression can be treated, however, the stigma around the condition often meant people shied away from getting help.
The idea of Mental Health Day was to break down this barrier, he said, and two members of the British Parliament would be attending a round table discussion at WHO headquarters tomorrow from 12:30 to 14:00 to talk about their own experience.
Answering questions he added that depression had existed for centuries, though the current financial situation, conflicts, wars and disasters could increase incidences of depression where they acted as additional stress factors. The black dog reference to depression, as used in the video, was from former British Prime Minister’s Winston Churchill’s description of his own battle with the condition. Figures on incidence rates across the world were available.
He also explained that women were more liable to depression than men, due to factors such as post-partum depression. Cases among adolescents and young people had risen in the last ten years and the symptoms of this group were thought to be different. More work needed to be done around healthcare profession education in this area. Suicide rates and mental health treatment were closely related.
International Day of the Girl Child
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said October 11 would be the first international Day of the Girl Child, and that the theme would be on preventing early or child marriage. Ms. Mercado said the issue was of huge importance for young girls, that it represented a major component of mortality related to maternal deaths for girls aged 14 to 19, and that it also generally meant the end of their educations, isolation from their families, and a whole host of other issues threats.
Ms. Mercado said that UNFPA, WHO and the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands had organised a panel on the subject on October 11, that would include speakers from UNICEF and other agencies. Answering questions, she said work was being done by a number of agencies in-country to put in place legislation to make child marriage illegal, in cooperation with the police, local government and community leaders, and young people themselves, approaching the topic from a number of angles. In terms of prevention UNICEF's main programmatic thrust was through education, and there was a direct correlation between the number of years that a girl stays in school and her likelihood of being married young. Outreach was also undertaken among communities to make them aware of the risks and bring about a change in attitude.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM’s Turkey offices had been running resettlement programmes since 1991 and since then had helped some 85,890 refugees to resettle abroad. This year, it had helped over 4,500.
As part of this programme a group of 105 Iraqi refugees, including families with children, was to today fly out of Ankara's Esenboga Airport on an IOM charter flight to Hanover to start new lives in Germany.
The group, who underwent IOM pre-departure health screening yesterday, will be accompanied by two BAMF officials and an TOM medical escort. The refugees will spend their first two weeks in Germany in a reception centre near Hanover, where they will receive post-arrival cultural orientation. They will also learn about NGOs and other service providers able to provide support after they leave the centre for resettlement in various German Lander.
Germany had agreed to accept a quota of 300 refugees a year between 2012 and 2014. It recently accepted 200 refugees from the Shousha refugee camp in Tunisia. Between 2009 and 2010 it accepted some 2,500 Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan.
Refugees resettled in Germany receive temporary three-year residence permits, renewable where deemed necessary. After seven years, in individual cases and if the applicant meets the relevant requirements, a settlement permit may be granted.
Answering questions he said the group had suffered from the conflict in Iraq and were in fear of their lives because of either their religious or ethnic backgrounds. The main countries to have received refugees to be resettled were the United States, Canada and Australia.
Silvano Sofia for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced an FAO / WFP / IFRC joint event titled “Can we end Hunger?” in Room XXIV on Thursday (11 October 2012) from 14:00 to 18:00. The event, to mark World Food Day, included an interactive round-table of three discussions and would look at the roles of different international actors and the actual situation of food security in the world, particularly in Africa.
He added that next Tuesday (16 October) at 18:30 the FAO and the University of Geneva were to organize a round-table on the same subject, which looked at the Millennium Development Goals and the food security situation. On another point he said that a new report was launched today in Rome on food security in the world. A press release with more details would be issued later today.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in private today and was to consider tomorrow the report of the Comoros and on Thursday, Turkmenistan, the last country in the programme of the session.
The 21st round of the Geneva International Discussions was to take place in Geneva on 10 and 11 October 2012. After the meeting on Thursday (11 October) a series of press conferences were to take place in Room III.