REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 February 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Children’s Programme, United Nations Population Fund, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), announced that WFP started airlifting today enough food to feed close to 30,000 displaced people for a month, from Iraq to Qamishli in northeast Syria, amid growing problems in reaching people, especially in conflict and besieged areas.
It was the second such WFP airlift from Erbil, Iraq, to people who would otherwise be cut off from humanitarian assistance. In January, WFP dispatched enough food for 3.6 million people in Syria, Ms. Byrs said, adding that there was more information in the press release.
In ensuing questions, a journalist asked whether the talks in Geneva had facilitated in any way the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recalled the statement of United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos from 31 January on the closing of the Geneva II talks, which started with the words “I am deeply frustrated and disappointed that the Geneva II talks concluded today without agreement on humanitarian pauses to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people blockaded in towns and cities in Syria.” Mr. Laerke said there were now approximately three million people in hard-to-reach areas, of whom 242,000 were in effectively besieged areas without any humanitarian access.
Ms. Byrs said that the WFP aid for Homs was on stand-by and ready to be delivered, and that the statement of Valerie Amos reflected the feelings of the entire humanitarian community, which was of course disappointment.
Asked for a read-out on the Syria aid meeting held yesterday in Rome, Mr. Laerke confirmed that the high-level group on Syria met again yesterday, for the third time. The meeting looked at operationalizations of the Security Council Presidential statement of 2 October 2013.
Ms. Amos stressed the importance of the meeting in injecting a new sense of urgency into the issues covered by that Presidential statement. Ms. Amos had reported that Member States at the meeting endorsed a number of steps that could make a difference on the ground and that she expected to brief the Security Council in New York in mid-February.
A journalist asked for updates on aid deliveries to Yarmouk camp, and about reports that so far 80 people had died from starvation, people were eating cats, and that people were too weak to eat the food that had been delivered and instead needed urgent medical treatment. Mr. Laerke added that UNRWA could confirm statistics on Yarmouk camp.
Mr. Laerke reminded journalists that the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) which asked for US$2.3 billion was currently 6.8 per cent funded. The top three donors were the United States (US$92 million), the United Kingdom (US$49 million), then European Commission (US$14 million).
The Regional Response Plan for Syrian refugees appealed for US$4.2 billion and was currently 12 per cent funded, Mr. Laerke added. The top donor was the United States (US$209 million) followed by European Commission (US$144 million), then the United Kingdom (US$134 million).
Responding to a question about the resumption of the Geneva Conference on Syria, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that journalists should assume the talks would resume on 10 February, as announced by Joint Special Representative Mr. Brahimi. Asked if the next talks would be ‘Geneva 2’ or ‘Geneva 3’. Ms. Momal-Vanian said they would be the ‘second round of discussions of Geneva 2’.
Journalists also asked whether the Deputy Joint Special Representative to Mr. Brahimi, Mr. Nasser al-Kidwa, who resigned yesterday, would be replaced. Ms. Momal-Vanian replied that discussions regarding the appointment of a successor of Mr. al-Kidwa were ongoing.
Central African Republic
Patrick McCormick, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said that amid the continuing fighting in the Central African Republic, UNICEF and partners were setting up temporary classrooms for over 20,000 displaced children to enable them to return to school. Most of the classrooms were in Bangui but some were located in the northwest of the country.
Many schools had been destroyed, and in times of conflict children really needed some form of normality in their lives, Mr. McCormick said. Returning to class gave children a sense of a return to normalcy, stability, and hope for the future. The temporary learning spaces were a priority for UNICEF, which would be setting up spaces for as long as it had to, while working with the Government to get the permanent schools functioning again.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the African Mission for Central Africa (MISCA) had sent another armed escort to the border between Central African Republic and Cameroon, which was expected to reach the town of Garoua-Boulai on the Cameroonian side of the border by today. It was still to be determined how many of the 43 trucks carrying WFP food (nearly 1,200 metric tons of cereals in total) currently blocked at the border would be able to come across. The convoy was expected back in Bangui by Thursday or Friday.
Food stocks were running very low in Bangui, Ms. Byrs said, adding that on 30 January, there was only 120 tonnes of cereals, which would last just one week, so new supplies were essential. WFP was now preparing to start airlifting food from Douala, Cameroon. That last-resort measure would substantially increase the cost of getting life-saving food to the people who needed it in Central African Republic.
The airlifts would be between Douala in Cameroon to Bangui: a Boeing 747 would fly a daily rotation, with the capacity to transport up to 100 metric tonnes every time. The plan was to have 2,000 metric tons of food (mostly rice) transported to Bangui over the course of the month. The price of transporting food by air (US$2 million for this case) was five times more expensive than transportation by road, Ms. Byrs said, adding that the date of the first airlift was still to be determined.
Additionally, WFP planned to start distributing nutritional supplements for children under the age of five at the Bangui airport camp next week. Each family would receive one ration on top of the daily general food distribution of cereals, pulses and oil.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM had now conducted 19 evacuation flights for third country nationals from the Central African Republic. The nineteenth flight transported 314 Chadians back to Chad. The repatriates were taken to eight transition centres in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad. Most of them had never lived in their country. Returnees arriving with serious health problems at N’Djamena airport are immediately sent to the hospital. IOM has a medical team of five doctors, six nurses, one psychologist and one psychologist’s assistant providing basic health care in the transit camps in N’Djamena and Bangui.
Since January 11 2014, a total of 4,792 third country nationals had been helped by the IOM to return to their home countries, including Chad, Cameroon, Mali, Sudan, Niger and Senegal.
IOM was also assisting displaced people at over 70 sites in Bangui with a mobile medical clinic, Ms. Berthiaume said. This week IOM was continuing with its detailed registrations of third country nationals who wished to leave Central African Republic, and was working with consular staff from the relevant country in order to confirm the nationalities of people who did not carry formal identification papers.
IOM was appealing for US$17. 5 million for its operation in the Central African Republic to evacuate 10,000 third nationals and help 50,000 to be relocated in their country or origin. But the organization, so far received US$2.8 million. There was a risk that future flights might have to be cancelled.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the humanitarian appeal for Central African Republic was still deplorably underfunded, with just 11 per cent (US$60 million) of the US$551 million asked for.
The top donor was the United States, who had given US$40 million. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had given 9.8 million, Ireland US$2.7 million, Denmark US$2.7 million, and US$2 million had been donated by Germany.
Mr. Laerke also reminded journalists that of a population of 4.6 million people, 825,000 persons were internally displaced, of whom 400,000 were in Bangui.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the Director of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, Dr. Richard Brennan, was currently in Central African Republic, and would be available to give a live briefing to press by audio link in the next few days. Asked about the most critical health issues in Central African Republic, Mr. Thomas replied that although he did not have more country information to hand, usually the risk of trauma and infections were the most serious issues in a conflict situation.
Answering a question about why the convoys had been blocked, Ms. Byrs replied that the convoy had been blocked for three weeks because of insecure roads. There were no customs officers at the border. She recalled that at her last briefing (Friday 31 January) she had said that ten trucks had been allowed to pass, but it was not enough and a further 43 trucks were still waiting to come across the border to Bangui. Responding to a further question, Ms. Byrs said WFP was particularly preoccupied by the situation in the north west of Bangui, and was using mobile clinics in order to cope with that situation and take every opportunity to distribute food.
A journalist asked how armed groups, and in particular the Séléka, were being provided with new arms. Ms. Momal-Vanian noted that the United Nations did not have a peacekeeping operation in Central African Republic, but that the United Nations Security Council had authorised African, French and European Union forces to restore stability.
Mr. McCormick noted that despite the security problems, UNICEF had considerably scaled up its humanitarian operations and now had 150 staff on the ground. Access to the country was still sporadic, however, although it had improved in Bangui.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said WFP had provided one month of emergency food rations to 7,489 South Sudanese who had fled to South Kordofan and White Nile State in Sudan. Distribution continued in White Nile where more than 8,500 South Sudanese had arrived.
WFP had sent a team to West Kordofan State to assess the needs of new arrivals from South Sudan. As soon as assessment was completed, emergency food rations would be provided. Ms. Byrs added that WFP was appealing for US$58 million for its operations in South Sudan, which were only 30 per cent funded so far. WFP had so far provided food to more than 217,000 persons displaced by the violence in South Sudan.
Leyla Alyanak, for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that February 6 was the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Female genital mutilation and cutting was a traditional practice that still took place, despite it being an extreme form of violence against women and a violation of their human rights.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today had undergone female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) in the 29 countries in Africa and Asia where the practice was concentrated.
In 2008 UNFPA and UNICEF launched the Joint Programme on FGM/C, a holistic, human-rights based model which covered 15 countries in Africa with the goal of ending FGM/C within a generation. There had been some successes, as in the programme’s first five years more than 10,000 communities in the 15 countries renounced the practice. Also, in the countries where FGM/C was concentrated, 36 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 had been cut, compared to an estimated 53 per cent of women aged 45 to 49. So numbers were falling. Finally, in recent years legislation had been adopted in three countries, law enforcement capacity had been developed, services have been strengthened, and the visibility of FGM/C had been raised through the media.
However, if nothing more was done, some 86 million young girls worldwide were likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030, so there was an urgent need to intensify efforts, Ms. Alyanak said.
To commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation two distinct events would take place at the Palais des Nations on Thursday 6 February. The first event was the inauguration of an exhibition on FGM/C by the Global Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation. The event would start at 12.30 p.m., in the E Building end of the Passerelle between the old and new buildings. Several of the artists, who were from Africa and Canada’s First Nations, would be present.
The second event was a dialogue on how Governments, the international community and civil society could work together towards the abandonment of FGM/C. It was organized by the Interafrican Committee on Traditional Practices with the support of UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, and would follow up on the 2012 General Assembly Resolution on intensifying efforts to accelerate the abandonment of female genital mutilation. It would take place from 1.15 p.m. to 3 p.m. in room XXVI. Journalists were invited to attend both events, and flyers were available at the back of the room, Ms. Alyanak said.
A journalist asked about statistics on cases of female genital mutilation taking place in regions other than Africa, such as in Europe. Ms. Alyanak said FGM/C did take place in other regions, especially where there were large immigrant communities from countries that practised female genital mutilation. She would revert with statistics.
Responding to a question about which countries had the highest number of FGM/C cases Ms. Alyanak said, in order of the number of offences, the countries were Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea and Mali. Ms. Alyanak referred the journalist to a UNICEF report containing statistics and maps on countries where FGM/C was practised.
Responding to a question about “medical excision”, Mrs. Alyanak said it was performed in some countries, for example in Egypt, where more than half female genital mutilations were performed by doctors, which implied a lower risk of infection, although it did not make the practice any more acceptable.
Avian Influenza H7N9
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said WHO would today announce five new cases of H7N9. Four of the five cases were men aged between eight and 63 years old. Four cases were currently in serious or critical condition and all cases were reported to have been exposed to poultry or live poultry market. The total number of laboratory-confirmed cases was now 286, including 60 deaths.
A journalist asked whether there had been a recent resurgence of cases, and whether they were concentrated in China. Mr. Thomas said a comparison of the number of outbreaks in recent weeks with figures from last year showed similarities in terms of numbers and a concentration in certain areas of China. WHO expected a continuation of sporadic cases as the winter season continued. WHO was working with the Chinese authorities and getting regular briefings from them on the situation. The Chinese authorities have been looking at issues of hygiene around poultry markets and several provinces had closed down poultry or bird markets as a response. WHO had issued guidance on its website on food hygiene and avoiding poultry markets where there had been cases of Avian Influenza H7N9.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said WHO would also announce today a new case of MERS Coronavirus. A 60-year-old man from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who had underlying medical conditions, became ill on 19 January 2014. That brought the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 181, including 79 deaths.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said as the security situation continued to deteriorate in Anbar, IOM aid deliveries in the most affected communities of Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi were under threat. The security situation on the ground remained unpredictable and tense. Although the total number of displaced families was difficult to ascertain, it was probably around 266,658.
As word of probable military operations in Fallujah broke over the weekend, all telecommunications in Anbar were systematically shut down. The lack of communication had obstructed the transport, coordination and delivery of humanitarian aid. IOM's activities were on hold in the affected areas of Anbar, but the mission's support continued, as there had been areas around Anbar that had been accessible. Many internally displaced families were scattered in surrounding host communities and across other governorates, including the governorate of Baghdad, which hosted 5,400 individuals.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that unemployment in Kosovo reached 35.1 per cent in mid-2012, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics. The percentage was even higher within the marginalized groups, in particular women (44.4 per cent) and youth (60.2 per cent) with 45 per cent of population living under the national poverty line. As economic opportunities in Kosovo were limited, life in Western Europe was an appealing option for many Kosovars. Every year a vast number of people left their homes to seek better lives especially in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, France and Italy. Unfortunately, many of them use irregular channels and some become victims of organized crime groups. To minimize the risk of irregular migration, the European Union had given €8 million to Kosovo to further the development of local companies.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced a press conference to take place today, Tuesday, 4 February, at 11.30 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, would be speaking.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced a second OCHA press conference for this week, to take place on Thursday, 6 February at 12.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the humanitarian situation in Mali. Mr. David Gressly, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali, would be speaking.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Thursday 6 February at 6.30 p.m. CET WHO would issue the latest figures on global measles deaths. WHO hoped to organize a press briefing prior to that announcement to give more details and information on global prevention of measles.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that tomorrow WMO would issue a short press release on the temperature rankings for 2013. Michel Jarraud, the WMO Secretary-General, was available for interviews tomorrow afternoon.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, 5 February at 11.30 a.m. in Press Room III to announce the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the reports of Congo, Yemen, Holy See, Portugal, Russia and Germany. Kirsten Sandberg, the Chairperson of the Committee, and Committee Experts Benyam Mezmur and Maria Herczog would be speaking.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Universal Periodic Review of Cyprus was taking place at the Human Rights Council this morning. This afternoon, the reports of Vanuatu, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Comoros would be adopted. The Universal Periodic Reviews of Dominican Republic and Viet Nam would take place on Wednesday 5 February, in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination started its eighty-fourth session on Monday 3 February. This week the Committee will review the reports of Honduras, Montenegro and Belgium. Other reports to be considered during this session are those of Poland, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold a public plenary this morning, at 10 a.m.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1cQGm1d