REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 July 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Spokeperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East briefed journalists by phone.
WHO commission on ending child obesity
Dan Epstein, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the first meeting of the Commission on ending childhood obesity was taking place this week in Geneva with the participation of experts from around the world. Co-chairs of the Commission were the Chief Science Advisor to New Zealand and the former Health Minister of Pakistan. The Commission would be meeting on 17-18 July and would be discussing the serious problem of overweight infants and young children whose numbers increased from 31 million in 1990 to 44 million today. In Africa alone the numbers increased from four to ten million over the same period and most of the overweight and obese children lived in developing countries, where the rate of increase was 30 per cent higher than in developed countries. The Commission was a part of the WHO global strategy of diet, physical activity and health which called for action on local, regional and global levels; it would look at every aspect of what contributed to obesity in children including food marketing to infants, prevention and reversing of obesity in children and the best policies to achieve those goals, as well as monitoring achievements in reducing obesity worldwide and track achievement. The results of the work would be presented to the World Health Assembly in the coming year. A press conference with the Commission to present the work to date might be arranged at the Palais des Nations at the end of the meeting.
In the three countries affected by Ebola, there had been a total of 964 cases and 603 deaths. New cases continued to be reported by Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. WHO was stepping up efforts to reduce the number of cases and was setting up a Sub-Regional Coordination Center in Conakry which should become operational shortly. Its staff included regional advisers, epidemiologists, communication experts, specialists in social mobilization, administrators, data managers and support staff. The Centre would act as a control and coordination platform to consolidate all the work that was going on in the three countries, including assisting in resource mobilization to respond to the epidemic. The numbers indicated that there was still a high level of transmission of the virus in the communities. WHO was closely monitoring the situation in Guinea where six new cases and three deaths had been reported just in the last few days, and was working with ministries of health on outbreak containment measures, including contact tracing and finding the people who had been exposed and keeping track of them for a period of 21 days to see if they were infected as well.
In response to a question concerning the situation in Guinea, Mr. Epstein said there had been 406 cases there, including 297 confirmed, 92 probable and 17 suspected; there had been 304 deaths. The numbers changed frequently because Ministries confirmed suspected cases and updated the data daily. It was going to be several months before countries were able to get a grip on this epidemic and reduce the number of cases. With regard to hostility of the communities Mr. Epstein said rumours and suspicion were still there, with some communities believing that outsiders were bringing the disease. The tactic now was to work with leaders within the communities to educate them, including on risks associated with burial and the traditional washing of bodies.
Every epidemic that had case fatality rate of 50 per cent or more was horrifying; the WHO was extremely worried and that was why it was increasing its efforts. It was very hard to predict how long it would take to put an end to the epidemic and it would entirely depend on the success in the key areas of epidemiology, in contact tracing, education, community level participation. Health workers were at risk too, some 60 had been infected and 30 had died; special measures were being undertaken to protect them.
The situation in the Gaza Strip
Nada Doumani, Press Relations Officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross said that a ceasefire, if adopted, might increase access to the population in need. The International Committee of the Red Cross was working on assistance and protection, as well as documenting violations of the international humanitarian law. Water was a problem which could quickly turn into catastrophe for the hundreds of thousands who were without water in Gaza. Repairs of water supply were being conducted in very difficult conditions. There was still a need to work on casualty chain management in hospitals, where the problem was not so much the shortage of medical material as much as how to cope with influx of casualties. Gaza already had a deteriorating infrastructure for the 1.7 million people who lived in a very small space, and the situation was worsened with the ongoing shelling and bombing. The fate of detainees in bombed Palestinian security offices was also an issue of concern. Structures of the Palestine Red Cross in Jabalya were shelled, and there were many displaced persons in Gaza.
Speaking by phone from Jerusalem, Sami Mshasha, for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that the crisis in Gaza was entering its eighth day today and that the level of human loss and destruction was immense. There were 174 killed and well over 1,100 injured so far, but those numbers were increasing rapidly; a cause of concern was the large proportion of women and children among casualties. 560 homes were completely destroyed and thousands of other buildings damaged in Israeli airstrikes. There was as yet no thorough assessment of the destruction of public buildings but it was massive; 47 UNRWA installations had sustained various levels of damage. UNRWA was extremely worried that if the ceasefire being negotiated today did not succeed, a ground offensive and military incursion of Israeli into Gaza might unfold, which would bring more death to civilians and more destruction to civilian infrastructure in Gaza which was already in a very precarious state.
As of midnight last night 17,000 refugees sought refuges in 20 UNRWA schools which had been turned into temporary shelters as had been done in 2008 and 2009 and there were another 19 installations that could provide additional shelter to up to 50,000 persons. Mr. Mshasha stressed that people sought refuges in the UNRWA installations because they were marked as United Nations buildings and they felt safe there, however the 2008 experience showed that those buildings had been targeted in the fire. The Israeli Defence Forces must respect the United Nations buildings, and keep in mind that the UNRWA maintained a high degree of neutrality and made sure that all the people in those buildings were civilians in need of refuge. The UNRWA Commissioner-General, Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, visited Gaza yesterday and called on the Israeli forces to put an end to the attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure and called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further casualties among civilians.
Mr. Mshasha underlined that the latest bombings which had hit the Gaza Strip came after eight years of the blockade and hardship; today there were record-high poverty levels, and the fact that today 870,000 refugees received food stipend compared to only 80,000 in 2008 was an indicator of how much the situation had deteriorated. Unemployment among youth was 65 per cent and 80 per cent among women; the water and sewage networks were barely functioning and with sustained bombardment over the past eights days were as good as destroyed and 19 million litres of untreated sewage were flowing into the ocean every day because there was no electricity to treat it. The situation in Gaza was precarious as it was and the past days of bombardment did not help it at all, and the population, most of whom were children, were traumatized from the bombardment and from eight years of a blockade which was suffocating them. There was a sense of despair, anger and loss of hope among the youth of Gaza; there were high hopes for the ceasefire negotiations, and it was of a great concern that, if failed, the civilians of Gaza would, again, pay the ultimate price.
Answering a question about reported reluctance by the Hamas leadership to accept the ceasefire, the UNRWA said that they were monitoring the negotiations and stressed the high level of anticipation and hope of the people of Gaza that the ceasefire would take hold and their extreme worry that if that did not happen they would have to fend for themselves again and find ways to survive; it was sure that, failing the ceasefire, ground invasion would take place or air bombardment would resume and both were bad news for the Gazans.
Concerning the situation of displaced persons in Gaza and the return of internally displaced persons from the north of Gaza, Ms. Doumani from the International Committee of the Red Cross said that many people were staying with their families and friends, and in public buildings and that there was as yet no return.
Answering a question about the safety of displaced persons who found shelter in the UNRWA buildings, Mr. Mshasha said that GPS codes for the UNRWA installations designated as safe heavens or shelters had been provided to the Israeli military. He reiterated the concern that the experience of 2008 and 2009 when UNRWA installations got damaged, might be repeated. Those shelters were marked as United Nations buildings, which hosted people who fled and sought safety and this must be respected by both sides.
Answering another question, Mr. Mshasha said that the destruction of public infrastructure was massive and the number of homes that sustained damage, complete or partial was in thousands. Quick assessment of the destruction was a key task for the UNRWA once the hostilities eased. He also underlined that the funding situation was extremely difficult and the budget deficit was close to 70 million US dollars. The emergency appeal for Gaza was seriously underfunded too and a flash appeal was to be issued soon to ensure funding for the immediate needs of the population. Mr. Mshasha stressed the cyclical nature of the violence and destruction and the impact it had on the 1.6 million people who were exposed to it every two years or so.
Ms. Doumani stressed the need for respect of international humanitarian law and distinction between civilians and combatants and all parties to the conflict were reminded to respect those principles.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) spoke about a joint news release and the preliminary findings of a new survey by the WFP and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which showed that while food security in Yemen had improved in some areas, over 10 million Yemenis – more than 40 percent of the population – didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Around five million people were found to be severely food insecure. Levels of food insecurity across the country showed a slight decline from 45 percent to 41 percent, since the last similar survey in 2011, but there were huge variations among different governorates.
The Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates in Yemen were serious across most of the country and at emergency levels in some areas. Twelve governorates had critical levels of stunting, a condition caused by chronic malnutrition, where children fail to grow properly over time and never reach their physical and mental potential. Worst-affected was the governorate of Al Mahweet, west of Sana’a, where more than 60 percent of children were stunted, or short for their age.
In partnership with the francophone website Goodeed, a new initiative had been launched to raise funds for school meals; each click on advertisements running on the site provided a free meal for a school student.
United Nations Security Council resolution on humanitarian access in Syria
Answering questions concerning the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 2165 (2014) on Syria, Amanda Pitt for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the United Nations Secretary-General had welcomed the adoption of the resolution and the reference to the delivery of medical and surgical supplies, as these items had often been removed from aid convoys in violation of international humanitarian law. Valerie Amos also welcomed the adoption of the resolution saying that this was a breakthrough that the Security Council gave the United Nations and its partners the permission to use border crossings from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. The issue was now the implementation of the resolution. Supplies were at the ready to send in to hard to reach areas.
Ms. Pitt also informed that the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached Madamiyet Elsham in Rural Damascus yesterday for the first time in nearly two years and delivered food, household items, and hygiene supplies for about 5,000 people. It was hoped to be the first of four days of deliveries, which would overall benefit 20,000 people. Two Red Crescent’s mobile clinics also went in at the same time and provided medical services until supplies ran out. Aid workers observed that the large crowds were welcoming and also that there was no electrical power and that people had been chopping down trees for firewood.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS would launch the new Gap report on HIV at a press conference in Room III on 16 July at 11 a.m. Also tomorrow, 16 July at 2 p.m., the World Food Programme would hold press conference on Food and nutrition in the context of HIV and tuberculosis in Press room 1, in which Fatiha Terki, the World Food Programme Senior Policy Advisor for HIV-AIDS would speak.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was meeting in closed session until Friday 18 July when it would close its fifty-eighth session and issue the concluding observations on the eight countries it reviewed during this session, namely Peru, India, Mauritania, Syria, Georgia, Lithuania, Swaziland, and the Central African Republic.
The Human Rights Committee this morning was concluding the examination of the report of Ireland and would start the consideration of the report of Japan this afternoon.
The First Preparatory Committee for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction continued its discussion on considerations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction and would conclude its work at the end of the day today.
To commemorate the International Mandela Day, 18th July, the United Nations Office at Geneva was organizing the second edition of Ciné ONU during which it would show the documentary on the international campaign against apartheid called “One Humanity”, which had not yet been released commercially. The viewing would be in Room XVII on Friday 18 July at 5 p.m.
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Representatives of the United Nations Children Fund, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration were present but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1ksefpp