ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

25 November 2016

Alessandra Vellucci, Director, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Trade Organization.

Food and Agriculture Organization

In response to questions about the incoming director of the Liaison Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Geneva, Ms. Vellucci referred reporters to the FAO.  As requested by the journalists, she would ask for an FAO spokesperson to come to the next press briefing.

Asked about privileges and immunities for staff of specialized agencies, she said that privileges and immunities were extended to staff of all UN agencies, and staff members of specialized agencies in the exercise of their functions, regardless of whether the headquarters of the specialized agencies were established inside or outside of Switzerland. The opening of a liaison office of a specialized agency in Geneva was announced by the UN Office in Geneva to the Permanent Mission of Switzerland, which would then confirm the privileges and immunities under the host country agreement, and would extend that agreement to the Geneva liaison office of the specialized agency. 

In response to another question, Ms. Vellucci said that there was already a liaison office of the FAO in Geneva and a spokesperson, Silvano Sofia.  The liaison officer already had the level of Director.  Ms. Vellucci said that she would not comment on the choice of staff of a specialized agency and confirmed that she would bring the requests for information from the press to the FAO colleagues in Geneva and in Rome.

Iraq

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had new figures on Mosul displacement: 72,990 displaced people in the Mosul corridor since 17 October.  Some 4,350 people had arrived in camps on 24 November, including almost 4,000 from the centre of Mosul, where the fighting was heaviest.  IOM was expressing concern regarding access for people to leave the city, hampered by the fact that four out of five bridges leading out of Mosul were no longer in operation.

IOM was also doing work on reaching out to families in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar province, who had come back from previous displacement.  In the last 24 hours, there had been only a net gain of 454 families displaced because quite a few had returned since having been displaced earlier on in the conflict.  Overall, almost 1,200 families, or more than 7,000 individuals, had returned after having been displaced by the current fighting.

In response to a question, Mr. Millman confirmed that IOM was only aware of one bridge out of the five leading out of Mosul that could still been available, and even that was questionable.

Regarding the evolution of the displacement, Mr. Millman said that the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Iraqi army at this point dictated that there would be a waiting period to see how much attrition could be realized in the next few days and weeks.  A big concern right now was access to emergency food and medical supplies, and whether there would be any way to bring those in.  IOM did not have plans for extraction as it was waiting for people to come out and be screened by the authorities.  A long waiting period without supplies could create an emergency situation.

In response to other questions, Mr. Millman said that outlying villages in the western suburbs of Mosul were under control of the Iraqi Security Forces and there was access for aid groups.  IOM had come in themselves, always for a short time.  He did not have information on the percentage of the city open to humanitarian agencies.

Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that as night-time temperatures in Mosul had begun to drop to freezing, UNHCR was opening two new camps to accommodate Iraqis displaced by the fighting in Iraq’s second city.  In the past week, UNHCR had opened Al Alam, in Tikrit, which was hosting 180 Iraqis, with more expected.  Amalla camp, near Telafar, was set to open next week.

Existing camps were rapidly filling up.  Already three UNHCR-run or supported camps (Qaymawa, Hasansham and the Government-built Khazer M1 camp) were full and it could soon be a struggle to find new sites to shelter families uprooted from their homes.
UNHCR currently had a total of six camps open — in Erbil, Duhok, Kirkuk and Salah Al-din governorates.  UNHCR-run and supported camps in Erbil and Duhok governorates alone hosted more than 47,485 displaced Iraqis, or 68 per cent of the almost 70,000 Iraqis who had fled Mosul since a military offensive had begun on October 17.  The numbers fleeing the city had been stable in recent days, but could climb again if clashes in the city intensified and safe routes out emerged.

UNHCR provided support through camp management, protection monitoring and distribution of emergency items, including in the Government-built Khazer M1 camp in Hasansham, which currently hosted nearly 29,000 people.

A further three camps were under construction with another one planned.  But UNHCR was warning that it could soon run out of space if there was a spike in the numbers of those displaced.  UNHCR was still urgently trying to find new land that could be suitable to build more camps if needed.  With winter setting in, it was more critical to find shelter solutions to ensure that families were not left in the cold.  UNHCR’s Mosul emergency response had been budgeted at USD 196.2 million.  So far, 57 per cent, or USD 111.9 million, had been received.

In response to a question, Mr. Saltmarsh said that it was extremely difficult to predict how the displacement numbers would evolve, which was very much dependent on the military situation.  The numbers in the past week had been relatively stable, there had been somewhat of a spike before that, but those were not anywhere near the kind of numbers that had been predicted before the campaign.  At the moment, it was impossible to hypothesize.  UNHCR was remaining on alert for the eventuality that fresh waves of displacement could occur in significant numbers, and needed to be prepared on a humanitarian level for that eventuality.

He also said that abuse of people leaving Mosul by the Iraqi authorities was not a prevalent theme that the UNHCR had looked at.  There had been reported incidents and residents of camps had complained about their situation in terms of documentation and treatment, as well as transportation of IDPs.

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that as military operations into Mosul continued, WHO was working with national health authorities to ensure that people with war-related trauma injuries had access to live-saving medical care.  WHO anticipated that approximately 40 000 civilians would require care for trauma injuries as a result of Mosul military operations.  This week, WHO was establishing 2 fully equipped trauma stabilization points in eastern Mosul, less than 25 km away from Mosul city, where most of the casualties were coming from.  With hospitals near the front lines either non-functional or inaccessible, some patients, including children, were dying due to lack of immediate medical care and long transfer times.  Those stabilization centres, managed by the Ninewa Directorate of Health and supported by WHO, would ensure that patients had an increased chance of survival as they were transported to hospital.  Doctors at the points would perform screening and triage, stop the bleeding, and provide IV fluids and oxygen, and dispense medications as needed.  Services for complicated deliveries would be supported by UNFPA.

Also this week, two leading international war surgeons recruited by WHO were working with more than 75 general surgeons and junior medical doctors from Ninewa and Erbil.  Together, they would review the main principles of war surgery, discuss challenges, and acquire new techniques for performing war-related surgeries.

On 21–22 November, WHO had delivered 10 new ambulances and 4 new mobile medical clinics to Ninewa national health authorities, bringing the total number of WHO-supported ambulances for Mosul response operations to 30, and the total number mobile medical clinics to 23.  The new ambulances would be used to transport patients from the trauma stabilization points to Erbil secondary health services.  In addition to strengthening referral pathways for injured patients, ambulances were also equipped to treat patients suffering from minor trauma injuries.

To support the increased demand for trauma care services in main hospitals in Erbil and Ninewa, WHO continued to provide trauma and surgical kits to national health authorities and health cluster partners working in health facilities and camps.  WHO had provided trauma and surgical kits for 600 patients requiring trauma and surgical care, and an additional 40 kits for 4000 beneficiaries were in the pipeline.  WHO would continue to provide additional kits as needed.

Since 17 October, more than 1200 people, including women, children and babies as young as 2 months old, had been treated for trauma injuries including bullet injuries, mine and shell injuries and mortar injuries.  The actual number of injured people was expected to be much higher, as many civilians were currently unable to access treatment due to the insecurity.

“Until now, the areas around Mosul that have experienced fighting are not too densely populated, so the number of trauma cases is still relatively low. As fighting increases inside the city, we are expecting much greater numbers of injured civilians. Because we have no clear idea about the condition of the hospitals inside the city, we are working with national health authorities to significantly scale up response capacity near the front lines, moving closer to the city as access allows,” Altaf Musani, WHO Representative in Iraq, had said.

COP7

In response to a question regarding lack of press access at the COP7 in New Delhi, Ms. Chaib said that Member States decided everything at the COP including who would be admitted to the meeting or not.  She was not aware of the incident but said that it had been a very intense week of negotiations and discussions, and journalists had been allowed in some meetings but not all.  Many other entities in the UN put in place rules regarding which meetings were public and which were closed.  Ms. Chaib would put the press in touch with the two communication officers in charge of the COP for more information.

Violence against Women

Ms. Vellucci said that today, 25 November, was the International Day to End Violence against Women and Girls.  Today was the beginning of 16 days of activism against violence against women.  Ms. Vellucci wished to echo the call of this year’s campaign: “Orange the World: Raise Money to End Violence against Women and Girls”.  There was an urgent need for every country to dedicate more funds to end violence against women and girls, at the global, regional and country level.  In his message, the Secretary-General had said, “The efforts to end violence against women and girls are chronically underfunded.  I call on Governments to show their commitment by dramatically increasing national spending in all relevant areas, including in support of women’s movements and civil society organizations.  I also encourage world leaders to contribute to UN Women and to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.  We look as well to the private sector, philanthropies and concerned citizens to do their part.”

Ms. Chaib said that women across the globe suffered an unacceptable level of violence.  It was a major public health problem and a violation of human rights.  One in every three women in the world had experienced physical and/or sexual violence, most often from an intimate partner.  With its unique insight into public health, WHO was working with health workers worldwide to help them play a key role in supporting women who were experiencing violence.  Health workers also needed to be empowered with the right skills and knowledge to be able to recognize violence when it happened, and to support women with the care they needed.  A health worker was usually the first point of entry for a woman experiencing violence.

Ms. Chaib would send the press a commentary that the Director of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO, Ian Askew, had written on the subject.  She added that there were many health consequences of violence against women, which could have fatal outcomes like homicide or suicide, and could lead to injuries, with 42 per cent of women who had experienced intimate partner violence reporting injuries as a result of that violence.  Intimate partner violence and sexual violence could also lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV.  WHO was working with medical schools to include topics related to violence against women in the curricula of the training of doctors, nurses and mid-wives.

In response to a question, Ms. Chaib said that there was a report in 2013 conducted by WHO and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Medical Research Council, based on existing data from over 80 countries.  It had found that worldwide,  almost one-third of all women who had been in a relationship had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.  The prevalence was ranging from 23 per cent in high-income countries and 24 per cent in the western Pacific region, to 37 per cent in the WHO eastern Mediterranean region and in the South-East Asia region.  It was a global phenomenon.  There was no country free of the various kinds of violence against women and girls.  Globally, 38 per cent of all murders of women were committed by intimate partners.  Half of the countries worldwide had put in place some laws to protect women, usually against the most visible forms of violence such as rape and assault.  However, in some countries being assaulted by one’s husband was not considered as rape.

Ms. Chaib also said that laws were often inadequate to protect women.  While over 130 countries had at least some laws in place to penalize some forms of violence against women, enforcement often lagged behind.  To try to prevent violence, education was very important.  If children were informed early on about the forms of violence and how to prevent them, they could recognize forms of violence when they grew up and would not perpetrate them or would respond to them by speaking out.  Civil societies in many countries were helping put violence against women high on the agenda.  Any forms of violence against women and girls should be prevented and laws should protect those vulnerable groups of people.

In response to other questions, Ms. Chaib said that female genital mutilation was a major human rights and public health problem in parts of Africa and of the Middle East, but that a lot of progress had been made in the fight against FGM.  Raising awareness among all segments of society could help to overcome it.

She also said that of course, violence could be induced by easy access to guns, but there were also other risk factors such as drug and alcohol use, unemployment, and a low level of education which could lead to violence against women and girls.

Ms. Vellucci added that the United Nations condemned any kind of comments that could lead to violence against women.

Ms. Vellucci also informed, regarding civil society commitment, that tonight at 5.30 p.m., the public was invited to come to the Bains des Pâquis wearing orange, as the Geneva Phare des Pâquis and the Jet d’eau would be illuminated in orange, as part of an initiative of the Soroptimist International Club Geneva Founder.

Winter assistance for Syrian and Iraqi IDPs and refugees

Mr. Saltmarsh said that with the onset of winter and temperatures falling in parts of the Middle East, UNHCR had started delivering life-saving assistance to 4.6 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians to help them weather the adverse conditions.

Nearly 15 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians faced yet another season of grinding hardship and uncertainty, away from their homes and livelihoods.  The continuing offensive in Mosul, Iraq, had already displaced scores of thousands.  UNHCR aimed to reach 3.2 million Syrian IDPs and refugees and 1.4 million displaced Iraqis within Syria and Iraq, as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. By comparison, in 2015, a total of 3.2 million displaced Syrians and Iraqis had received winter aid from UNHCR.

The USD 355 million ‘Winter Assistance Plan’ for 2016-2017 was only partially funded. The bulk of the USD 68 million shortfall was for Iraq’s winter plan for IDPs, which was particularly concerning as the offensive in Mosul had caused significant displacement.  The UNHCR aid included a mixture of cash payments to those in need, as well as the distribution of winter necessities like clothing, blankets, heating fuel, insulation materials and other basics. Engineering support was also provided in camps and settlements.

Overall, assistance was increasingly moving towards cash, which offered flexibility and independence to recipients.  Regionally, half of displaced Syrians being targeted, or 1.6 million people, would receive some form of cash assistance.  For displaced Iraqis, 75 per cent would benefit from cash payments.  Distribution of winter items was already underway; across the region, 41 per cent of winter items had been released.

In Iraq, the distribution of essential winter items to 1.2 million displaced Iraqis was accelerating, including for families recently displaced in the current Mosul offensive.  Around 178,000 Syrian refugees would also benefit.  UNHCR’s winter assistance programme for Iraqi refugees was just half-funded, leaving a USD 62 million gap.

In Syria, winter distribution had started in September, targeting over 1.2 million internally displaced persons and refugees, with a budget of USD 30 million.  So far, assistance had been provided to nearly 800,000 people in the forms of winter clothing and shelter kits.

In Jordan, UNHCR would provide winter assistance to over 292,000 vulnerable Syrians and nearly 30,000 Iraqis and other nationalities.  UNHCR aimed to assist 870,000 Syrian refugees and 6,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.  In Turkey, UNHCR aimed to reach 540,000 vulnerable Syrian and 22,000 Iraqi refugees living in and out of camps.
A total of 86,500 refugees would receive seasonal support, primarily through cash payments, in Egypt.  A more detailed briefing note was available online.

In response to questions, Mr. Saltmarsh said that the primary route from Iraq into Syria had been via the Raj Mslebi border crossing and so far, as of a few days ago, UNHCR had transported approximately 2,000 refugees from the border to the Al-Hol camp in Syria.  That camp currently hosted almost 7,000 refugees and IDPs, mostly from Iraq, although some were displaced Syrians.  The camp was ready to receive 15,000 people at the moment, and had adequate supplies and water.  The camp would be expanded and would eventually be ready to host 50,000 people.  For the moment, the cross-border displacement had been relatively modest, but UNHCR would continue to monitor the situation closely and would be prepared with contingency planning.  He also said that there were different distribution points and mobile teams working in Syria.  UNHCR was focusing on the most vulnerable and on reaching hard-to-reach areas, but was not able to deliver to areas where there was conflict.

Humanitarian operation on the Syria-Jordan border

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reminded about the resumption of life-saving humanitarian assistance to people at the Syrian-Jordanian border had been announced on 22 November.  The situation was increasingly difficult for the women and children stranded there, with unconfirmed reports of an increase in malnutrition and rise in preventable diseases.  There were an estimated 85,000 people at the border, more than 50 per cent of whom were children, including approximately 20 per cent of children under five.  According to information collected from community leaders, there were also about 2-3 per cent of children with disabilities, and many unaccompanied and separated children.

UNICEF was extremely concerned for the welfare of children, particularly as the winter months approached.  Children would be more susceptible to acute respiratory infections and other winter-related conditions.
In November, the temperature in the mornings and evenings at the berm was below freezing. It had been around minus five degrees this morning.  

From 21 June, when the border had been closed, to 22 November, UNICEF had been delivering safe water on a daily basis, along with a one-off distribution of hygiene kits alongside the delivery of food assistance in August.  Since 22 November, UNICEF had distributed over 250 winterization kits for children under 12 months, including items such as sweaters, trousers, jackets, gloves, scarves, socks and boots.  The delivery of winter clothing for children under five had already started and the distribution for children between one and 16 years old was scheduled to start on 26 November.  During those two first days, UNICEF had also provided hygiene kits alongside non-food items, in addition to the continued delivery of water.

A health and nutrition caravan equipped to provide primary health services had been established with UNICEF support, and discussions were ongoing with the Jordanian Armed Forces for access to children and individuals requiring urgent medical support.  The mobile caravan would allow a doctor, a nurse, a midwife, a pharmacist and a nutritionist to come every day.

In addition to this, UNICEF was focusing on the reliability and sustainability of the water supply, by drilling a new borehole in Rukban, where most of the population was located, and rehabilitating an existing borehole in Hadalat, where 7,000 – 8,000 people were located, which, once operational, would provide a back-up to the Rukban borehole.

Three schools in box kits had been provided by UNICEF to the Syrian teacher volunteers so that they could provide informal Arabic and maths education to the children there.  
 
The distribution had been halted on 24 and 25 November due to crowd control issues and security concerns, and delivery was scheduled to resume on 26 November.

In response to questions on Aleppo in Syria, Mr. Boulierac said that he would check if  a number of children who had died of starvation in Syria was available.  He said that life had become a living hell for children across Aleppo city.  In east Aleppo, children could not go to school as all schools had been shut down since November 15th.  In western Aleppo, children were too scared to go to school as they feared for their lives.  Parents were struggling to feed their children as prices of food and other commodities had skyrocketed, putting children at risk of malnutrition and other illnesses.  We heard that a can of tuna used to cost USD 2 in Eastern Aleppo ten days ago, it was now at USD 10.  Vegetable oil had been at USD 2 a few weeks ago and was now at USD 7.  UNICEF was extremely concerned that with the winter approaching, many children would be left with no food and protection from freezing temperatures.  UNICEF continued to call for safe, unconditional, unimpeded,  and sustained access to all Syrian children in need, wherever they may be.

There were also problems with water distribution in Aleppo.  On 17 November, one of the major water pumping stations for the city  had been hit.  Technicians had immediately started repairing it, risking their lives.  UNICEF was providing fuel to make sure that the main pumping station in eastern Aleppo could supply the whole city with water.

In east Aleppo, 65 per cent of residents had access to running water through the public network after UNICEF had supported electrical repairs to the main water pumping stations.  In western Aleppo, water pumping stations on which nearly 1.5 million people depended were operating with the fuel supplied by UNICEF.  Water had been used as a weapon of war with deliberate cuts and damage inflicted on a regular basis, and UNICEF reiterated its calls to the parties to the conflict to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect water facilities and systems.

In response to another question, Mr. Boulierac said that markets were almost completely empty in east Aleppo and bread was nearly unavailable.  He would come back to the press with more detailed information regarding malnutrition in children, if available. 

In response to further questions on the Jordanian-Syrian border, Mr. Boulierac reminded the press of the background of the area at the Jordanian-Syrian border, and particularly the important security incident which occurred last June,  and the closure of the border  The challenge had been to provide humanitarian aid to an estimated 85,000 people who were living in a region with no respite from strong winds, or shelter from freezing temperatures.   He referred to the press release from the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Jordan who had announced the resumption of humanitarian assistance on 22 November. UNICEF had been providing water continuously during those three months, from July to November.  Now, winterization but also health and nutrition services were a priority.

Mr. Saltmarsh added that the humanitarian operation on the Syrian-Jordanian border was one of the most challenging humanitarian operations in the world today.  UNCHR and other agencies wished to extend their thanks to the Government of Jordan for making it possible.  They were fully aware of the security constraints and the reasons why aid had been stopped some months ago.  UNHCR was hopeful that that would be the start of sustained access to the area.

In response to a question, Mr. Saltmarsh said that the berm was not part of UNCHR’s regional winterization plan, however, some of the aid distributed and the plans for aid to be distributed would include winter items because the temperatures there had already fallen below zero and it was a barren spot open to biting winds.  UNHCR had not been able to gain access to the berm since the summer, when there had been a one-off aid provision in August.  Prior to that, no aid had been provided since June, when there had been a security incident in the area.  UNHCR had been negotiating with the Jordanian authorities to obtain that access.

In response to questions, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator had said on 22 November that the UN was very happy to be able to resume the operation at the berm along the Syrian-Jordanian border and provide a lifeline to the 85,000 people stranded in this remote, arid area.  Three quarters of them were believed to be women and children.  Food and essential items had been delivered on 22 November to some 170 households in the Rukban community in preparation for the winter months, as part of a planned two-week distribution cycle, with further plans to provide health care services in the days to come.

In response to questions, Mr. Laerke clarified that aid from UN agencies was being provided to those stranded communities.  He would look into the exact modalities of the operation and would get back to the press.

Cameroon

Leo Dobbs, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that thousands of Nigerian refugees were living in difficult conditions in isolated and insecure border areas of northernmost Cameroon and urgently needed assistance.  UNHCR was keen to help, but the continuing Boko Haram threat was a hindrance to regular access.

A UNHCR team earlier this month had been able to visit previously inaccessible border areas of Far North Region, including Fotokol, Makary and Mogode districts, where they had helped pre-register more than 21,000 refugees who had been living for months with host families after fleeing deadly Boko Haram attacks in north-east Nigeria.  It was the first time UNHCR had been able to visit those people and there were believed to be more. Latest UN figures put the number of out of camp refugees there at 27,000.

The team had found refugees had been living under tough conditions.  Some were staying with destitute host families but most were sleeping in the open under trees, in makeshift shelters or on the dirt floors of dilapidated classrooms.  Others were staying in abandoned villages whose residents had fled Boko Haram assaults.  A number of families had been separated while crossing the border to Cameroon.

Many of the out of camp refugees had said they longed for security to improve in northern Nigeria so that they could return home after living with their hosts for so long in cramped conditions, and with no privacy.  Some feared being sent back across the border.

In some villages, lack of health care and sanitation as well as potable water was a major concern as infrastructure had been destroyed or damaged.  Basic services were non-existent in many areas.  In Fotokol, for example, 25 schools had been closed because of Boko Haram attacks, denying children an education.

The refugees had been almost totally dependent on the local community and many had been helping local farmers for money.  Others sold goods at weekly markets.  The World Food Programme was distributing food in areas it could reach.

Needs were great, but the security situation was hindering access.  UNHCR would like to register all the refugees but security remained an issue in a region where Boko Haram attacks and killings continue to be reported.  As a result, humanitarian access to those in need, remained difficult.  The prevailing security situation had impacted UNHCR’s intervention in the north of the country, where there were also some 199,000 internally displaced people.

In response to questions, Mr. Dobbs said that UNHCR had pre-registered 21,000 people, taking down the most basic information, but would like to do a more thorough assessment.  UNHCR believed the numbers could be higher.  The IOM had reported that 27,000 out of camp refugees were in the far north region.  Boko Haram did remain a threat, although there had been a general improvement in the security situation.

UNHCR was encouraging people to move away from the isolated regions near the border, and to go to the Minawao camp, about 60 kilometres further to the south, where there were now about 60,000 refugees.  In some areas, people were living in abandoned villages, with just walls around them and no roofing.  They struggled to get by and were very dependent on the local families, very poor themselves.  People wanted to be closer to their homes.  It had been a frontline area and UNHCR did not encourage people to stay in frontline areas.  It was better that they went somewhere where they could be cared for and get the help they needed.

Hurricane Otto

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Hurricane Otto had hit Central America.  It was still ongoing and the UN was concerned about any humanitarian outcomes.  Otto had hit on 24 November as a Category 2 Hurricane, and it had since been downgraded to a tropical storm.  It had hit the eastern coast of Costa Rica and Honduras.  In Costa Rica, a state of emergency had been declared.  Mandatory evacuations had been carried out, with 4,000 people evacuated.  Some 18 shelters were operational and were hosting more than 1,300 people.  There were reports of damage of at least 1,200 houses as well as roads, bridges and other public and private infrastructure.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua, more than 10,000 people had been evacuated as a precautionary measure.  Where the hurricane had hit was in the coastal town of Bluefields.  Some 7,800 people were now in 26 shelters there.  There were officially 44 shelters available in Nicaragua.

Prior to that, Panama had also been affected by Otto.  There was also a yellow alert in force.  There were reports of four deaths as a direct result of the hurricane, and of shelters opened for affected people.

Honduras also had an alert in effect.  El Salvador had been less affected but authorities were monitoring closely.

All those countries had a UN presence already, and the UN country teams were providing support to the various Governments’ efforts in their response.  OCHA already had two staff in Nicaragua and was sending more to Costa Rica to support.

The whole scenario had been exacerbated by an earthquake on 24 November in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of El Salvador and Nicaragua.  It had been a magnitude 7 earthquake, with a depth of about 10 kilometers.  There was a tsunami alert in place.

United States

In response to a question about more people fleeing Central and South America to the United States before the new administration took over, Mr. Millman said that IOM was not observing extraordinary numbers since the election.  Numbers for Mexico were not anywhere near the levels observed ten years ago.  What was being seen now did not seem large compared to what had been seen earlier in 2016.

Ukraine

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi had appealed to all parties involved in the conflict in Ukraine to improve freedom of movement at check points for people living near the line of contact and to allow humanitarian aid to reach hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Government and non-Government controlled areas.  Grandi’s appeal had come at the end of his first visit to Ukraine on Thursday, in which he had pushed for solutions for affected populations on both sides of the line of contact. Many still lived in partially destroyed homes, in villages now lacking some public services including transport.  Two and a half years of conflict had left more than two million Ukrainians displaced from their homes or living as refugees in Russia.

Despite a ceasefire in place since 2014, civilians continued to pay a very high price as a result of the conflict, especially in the areas on both sides of the line of contact.  More details about the visit were available in the briefing note.

Myanmar

In response to a question on Myanmar, Mr. Baloch referred to the statement of his colleague in the region.  UNHCR had been seeking access inside Myanmar to reach the displaced population.  The situation was worrying, and UNHCR  renewed its call for protection of civilians in northern Rakhine State, as well as regarding  Bangladesh, to keep the border open.

He also said that officially, the Myanmar-Bangladesh border remained closed but small numbers of people were still getting through.  There was a rough estimate of 3,000 people having crossed, but it was very hard to verify that.  UNHCR still did not have access and could not get a full picture.  In early October there had been reports of about 15,000 displaced people, and later in November another 15,000 were being talked about, but since humanitarian actors did not have access to those locations, that was very hard to verify.

Geneva Events and Announcements

The Committee against Torture had completed, in the morning of 24 November, its review of the situation in Cabo Verde, in the absence of a report and of a delegation from that country.  The initial report of the country was being awaited since 1993.  The Committee’s next public meeting would thus take place on 29 November in the afternoon.

Next week, the Committee would meet in private, with the exception of a short public meeting in the early afternoon on 29 November, during which it would focus on the follow-up to concluding observations (adopted following the review of States Parties’ reports) and the follow-up to views (adopted following the review of individual complaints).

By the end of its 59th session, scheduled for 7 December, the Committee would have reviewed the reports submitted by Ecuador, Finland, Monaco, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Turkmenistan and Armenia on the measures adopted by those countries in implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  During the session, the Committee would have also focused on the application of the Convention in Cabo Verde, in the absence of a report.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which had opened on 21 November its 91st session, scheduled to run at the Palais Wilson until 9 December 2016, would complete this morning its review of the report of Uruguay.  On 28 November in the morning, the Committee would hear from civil society organizations on the topic of the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the four countries whose reports would be reviewed during the second week of the Committee’s session: Togo, Portugal, Turkmenistan and Italy.  In the afternoon, it would start its review of the report of Togo.  During its current session, the Committee would review the reports presented by six States Parties on their implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: the reports of Argentina, Uruguay, Togo, Portugal, Turkmenistan and Italy.

Mr. Laerke announced an OCHA press conference on 28 November at 12.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic.  The speakers would be Virginie Baikoua, Minister of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation of Central African Republic, and Fabrizio Hochshild, Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic.

Jessica Hermosa, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), spoke about the Environmental Goods Agreement, or the EGA, which was meant to be a tariff-cutting deal for environment-related products ranging from wind turbines to recycled paper board.  Over 40 WTO members were in negotiation for this and once it would be concluded, the benefits would be extended to the entire WTO membership of 164 members.  The participants would be meeting next week for the 18th round of negotiations, with plans to hold a concluding ministerial over the weekend, 3 and 4 December.  There might be a ministerial press conference on 4 December in the afternoon or the early evening.  More details would be provided once available.

On 1 December, there would be an informal heads of delegations meeting covering the whole WTO membership.

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would be in Tunisia on 29 November, and would be meeting with the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox.  He would also be meeting with the Comoros Vice-President for the Economy, Jafar Ahmed Said Hassan, and with the AliBaba group President, also on 1 December.

Ms. Vellucci announced a WHO press conference on 29 November at 2 p.m. in press Room 1.  In advance of World Aids Day on 1 December, WHO would launch new HIV Self Testing Guidance to improve access to reliable and quality assured HIV tests.  The speakers would be Gottfried Hirnschall, Director, Global HIV/ and Hepatitis programme, WHO, Robert Matiru, Director of Operations, UNITAID, and Rachel Baggaley, Coordinator, Key populations and prevention, Global HIV Programme, WHO.

Ms. Vellucci also announced that after a long downtime, the equipment for receiving news wires from ATS was now back in operation.  ATS would send a message to accredited correspondents with instructions for use.  This was courtesy of the Swiss Government.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that UNICRI and would be holding a seminar on “Using Big Data Analytics to Reinforce Security: Benefits, Challenges and the Future”, in Room XXIV on 29 November from 9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog251116