REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 July 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said he had the latest situation report from Gaza which covered a twenty-four hour period up until 3 p.m. yesterday, Monday 21 July. The report showed that the emergency had now seen over 500 people killed, the vast majority Palestinian civilians, and more than 100,000 people had been displaced in 69 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools. There were more displaced people who were not in UNRWA schools, he added.
The protection situation was devastating for people in Gaza, said Mr. Laerke. The strip was extremely densely populated with an estimated 4,500 people per square kilometre. There was literally no safe place for civilians, he said.
Almost 500 houses had been completely destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli airstrikes, which had killed civilians and displaced the survivors, said Mr. Laerke.
A main priority for humanitarian agencies was the protection of civilians and evacuation and treatment of the injured. There were critical shortages of hospital supplies and medicines due to the large number of casualties and there were serious shortages even before the escalation of violence, Mr. Laerke said. Those who had been displaced to either UNRWA schools or elsewhere in Gaza needed food, water, mattresses and hygiene items.
According to assessments by aid workers on the ground, at least 107,000 children required specialized psychosocial support to deal with the trauma they were experiencing such as death or injury in their family or loss of their homes, said Mr. Laerke, adding that since the beginning of the crisis on 7 July, emergency psychosocial teams had been able to provide some initial support to 868 children across the Gaza strip.
Mr. Laerke said that more than 15,000 people whose homes had been destroyed needed emergency kits with non-food items, mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and kitchen sets. Almost 9,000 people had received such assistance but in the medium term, they would all need cash assistance to cover rental fees.
Overall, an estimated 1.2 million people had no or limited access to water because the power systems in Gaza had been destroyed or simply because there was no fuel to generate them. There were also reports of sewage flooding, which was a threat to public health, added Mr. Laerke.
Humanitarian partners estimated that to just meet the most urgent needs today, they needed US$40 million, not counting the requirements of the UNRWA operation. A fast and flexible way for donors to channel funds to help people in Gaza was through the Emergency Response Fund, a pooled fund mechanism managed by OCHA, Mr. Laerke noted.
Ms. Momal-Vanian noted that the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was this week traveling in the Middle East region. The Secretary-General had already visited Doha, Kuwait, and Cairo, and this morning he met with Egyptian President Al Sisi in Cairo. A read-out of that meeting would be issued shortly.
The Secretary-General was now on his way to Tel Aviv and his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this afternoon was confirmed. Ms. Momal-Vanian noted that the Secretary-General planned to afterwards to visit Ramallah for more meetings, before returning to Israel to continue with meetings tomorrow.
Juliette Touma, Communication Specialist for Middle East & North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that according to UNICEF figures 121 children had been killed so far in the conflict since 8 July, and all were killed in Gaza.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said WFP had distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 90,000 people affected by the recent conflict in Gaza, and was bringing in additional ready-to-eat food, purchased locally and airlifted from Dubai.
Working closely with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the food security sector, WFP had been providing all food to those displaced in UNRWA shelters. That number reached 100,000 people on July 21, confirmed Ms. Byrs.
Ready-to-eat food stocks were running low in Gaza as the conflict had lasted two weeks and the needs were increasing, said Ms. Byrs. To rapidly replenish its stocks, WFP was purchasing canned food locally as well as procuring additional food from Dubai and internationally.
Prior to the conflict, WFP was providing monthly food assistance to over 600,000 of the most vulnerable people in Palestine; 285,000 in Gaza and 318,800 in the West Bank, Ms. Byrs noted.
Fadéla Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 18 health-related facilities had been damaged in Gaza. They were two Ministry of Health hospitals, one non-governmental organization (NGO) hospital, four Ministry of Health clinics, five UNWRA clinics, three NGO clinics, two NGO nursing care centres and one emergency medical care centre.
There were critical concerns regarding hospital supplies due to serious medical shortages in both Ministry of Health and NGO hospitals, due to the large number of casualties, said Ms. Chaib, as well as serious shortages dating back to before the escalation of violence.
Regarding WHO activities in Gaza, Ms. Chaib said WHO was monitoring the needs in hospitals in Gaza on a daily basis, including the stocks and supplies of drugs and equipment. It was coordinating with health partners and donors for urgent resupply. WHO staff were also coordinating information on medical supplies with the Ministry of Health in Ramallah in the Emergency Operations Room, and providing a daily situation report for the Ministry of Health. WHO also provided daily health updates to health sector partners, and to OCHA for their comprehensive reporting.
WHO was requesting US$60 million from the health sector in its appeal for support, primarily for critical medicines and supplies, and in assisting in the facilitation of the entry of medical shipments into Gaza. So far WHO had received US$5 million, confirmed Ms. Chaib.
Human Rights Council Special Session on Occupied Palestinian Territory
The Human Rights Council would hold a Special Session probably on Wednesday, 23 July on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, confirmed Ms. Momal Vanian. The President of the Human Rights Council would convene an organizational meeting today, Tuesday 22 July, in the afternoon. The exact timings for the Special Session would be confirmed today.
Responding to a question, Ms. Momal-Vanian confirmed that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay would address the Special Session of the Council..
Polio in the Middle East
Juliette Touma, Communication Specialist for Middle East & North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented a new report which gave an overview on the joint vaccination efforts of UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Middle East. The report marked the completion of the first phase of the biggest ever vaccination campaign undertaken in the history of the Middle East, including in Syria and Iraq.
Despite challenges faced, largely due to the violence in Syria, some 2.9 million children inside Syria were reached. Nationwide vaccination campaigns were carried out in six other countries. In total twenty-five million children under the age of five years were reached with the polio vaccination in seven countries.
Polio had returned to Syria for a number of reasons, all of which were outlined in the report, said Ms. Touma. It was largely due to the disruption of routine vaccination because of the conflict, the devastating impact and the damage to Syria’s health infrastructure, the exodus of trained health workers from the country and the continuous displacement of the population inside Syria, which led to overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions and many children being missed out for vaccinations as a result.
According to the report, polio vaccination coverage had dramatically declined in Syria from an average of 99 per cent before the conflict to 52 per cent. Nearly all vaccination supply and service vehicles and cold chain equipment had been damaged, put permanently out of service or lost.
Currently there were 38 confirmed cases of polio in the Middle East and North Africa region. There were 36 confirmed cases inside Syria, mainly in the Deir Ez Zour governorate, where the highest number of cases were. There were a further two confirmed cases in Iraq, in the Baghdad area, added Ms. Touma.
That reaffirmed the urgent need to vaccinate all children, said Ms. Touma. Currently it was estimated there were 765,000 children inside Syria living in hard-to-reach areas. Without full and regular access to those children there was more chance that polio would spread further, and a high risk that more children inside Syria and beyond would be paralyzed by polio.
The cost of the second phase of polio vaccination programme until the end of the year was estimated to be US$58 million, which was a total and joint UNICEF/WHO figure. UNICEF needed US$10 million to undertake more vaccination rounds, said Ms. Touma.
Answering questions Ms. Touma clarified that the 765,000 children living in hard-to-reach areas in Syria, in conflict zones, had been accessed, but not as much as needed and many had not received enough doses of the vaccine.
In the second phase UNICEF and WHO teams hoped to conduct cross-line operations, crossing the line of fire to reach areas in Syria that were under the control of the opposition, and reach the children, she said.
Responding to a question about vaccinations for children living among refugee populations, Ms. Touma said in total 38 vaccinations rounds had taken place inside and outside of Syria, also focusing on Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon as other high-risk areas. Those campaigns would continue in the coming weeks and months, and aimed to reach 25 million children. It was a huge effort to coordinate with partners, including Ministries of Health. It was also a huge effort sometimes to even be able to find all of the children, particularly in Lebanon where there were no refugee camps, and also to convince families of the necessity of vaccinating their children, added Ms. Touma.
Ms. Touma answered a further question about timelines, explaining that the first phase concluded at the end of May this year. The second phase was ongoing. The big push would take place once the month of Ramadan was over, and would continue into October and November. The campaigns would by synchronized, meaning that countries in the region would carry out the vaccination programmes simultaneously.
The past rounds had reached over five million children under five years of age in Iraq. Additionally, as a result of the latest influx of internally displaced populations from Mosul, Ms. Touma explained that special campaigns had been organized to target children under five who had been displaced from Mosul.
A journalist asked whether Security Council Resolution 2165, on humanitarian access in Syria, would help UNICEF and WHO to access more children. Ms. Touma replied that they hoped the implementation of Resolution 2165 would allow them to reach children who had not been reached, not only with polio vaccinations but with other humanitarian supplies.
Central African Republic
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said as the outflow of mostly Muslim refugees continued from the Central African Republic, many severely weakened, UNHCR and 16 other agencies providing life-saving relief were today calling on donors to increase their funding support for programmes in neighbouring host countries, said Mr. Baloch.
The appeal was a revision of a Regional Refugee Response Plan covering the four asylum countries – Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Republic of Congo – which was initially launched in April 2014. Funding needs in that appeal were $274 million. Today’s revised plan put the required needs at $210 million for a targeted beneficiary population of 306,500 by December 2014.
The funding appeal was only 31 per cent funded, said Mr. Baloch.
The reduction in the financial requirements was mainly due to a decrease in the number of refugees projected to arrive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and did not include $85 million for some 100,000 returnees in Chad covered in the first appeal. Needs had grown in Cameroon – where a majority of the refugees were arriving - with $111 million requested in the Revised Plan, almost double of what was sought earlier.
Over 357,000 Central African Republic refugees were in Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo since the beginning of the crisis in December 2012. Some 160,000 of them had fled since December 2013 after clashes intensified between the Seleka alliance and anti-Balaka militia.
The Revised Plan included enhanced measures to assist newly arrived refugees, said Mr. Baloch. Resources were required for the reception, registration and relocation of new arrivals from the border to refugee sites, and for the delivery of services in life-saving sectors such as food, health, shelter, site planning and water and sanitation. Assistance was also needed for refugees living outside formal sites and for communities hosting them.
UNHCR had seen particularly serious malnutrition rates in Cameroon for over 118,000 arrivals in the last six months. Over 60 per cent of the refugees were women and children, with a high number of unaccompanied children.
The new refugee arrivals showed signs of the brutal violence they had escaped in Central African Republic, said Mr. Baloch. Refugees have walked for weeks through the forests with little to eat or drink. In April and May, as many as 40 per cent of all the new refugees, children as well as adults, were suffering from malnutrition. UNHCR feared that for some children the assistance may be coming too late.
Efforts must be redoubled to relocate people away from insecure and remote locations that were often hard to reach. More refugee sites needed to be established to ensure the safety of refugees. Serious gaps in assistance remained in shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene. That posed particular concerns now that the rainy season had begun.
The Central African Republic remained one of the most poorly-funded emergencies. The underfunding was badly hampering UNHCR’s ability to provide even basic survival assistance for the refugees and even less to the host communities. Since December 2013, some 17,500 had arrived in Chad, over 15,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with another 9,000 arriving in the Republic of Congo, said Mr. Baloch. Funding requirements for inside Central African Republic, where an estimated 542,500 people remained internally displaced, were covered separately, Mr. Baloch noted.
A donor meeting for Central African Republic would take place here today at the Palais des Nations in Room XI from 3 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. Mr. Baloch noted, and said the media were welcome to attend.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), gave an update on the internal situation in Central African Republic where WFP was highly concerned by the alarming level of violence ongoing in the region.
Food transportation had been greatly disturbed by continuing insecurity as well as the start of monsoon season, said Ms. Byrs. However, in June WFP assisted 390,000 persons despite the growing insecurity, access challenges and increased turnaround time for trucks due to rains and checkpoints. It was the highest caseload reached and the highest tonnage distributed in one month so far, she highlighted. Between 1 and 20 July approximately 177,000 beneficiaries were assisted with 1,965 million metric tons (mt) of food.
In spite of all the challenges posed, with 24 trucks, WFP was augmenting its fleet capacity, scaling-up deliveries from Bangui and Bouar. Over 3,300 mt of food was dispatched from Bangui in June, of which 88 per cent was mainly sent to the provinces.
Since December, WFP had expanded interventions and geographical coverage from four urban areas to over 45 main locations in June. Some 90 per cent of the beneficiaries in June were located outside of Bangui and approximately 50 per cent of the beneficiaries were residing in areas identified as the most food insecure. There were entry points in Cameroon which have been augmented southwards and in Sudan too, northwards in direction of Central African Republic, Ms. Byrs noted.
Furthermore, WFP had expanded its school feeding programme to reach more than 67,500 children in June, said Ms. Byrs. Since January, WFP assisted 37,000 pregnant and lactating women, children under five, caretakers and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Regarding malnutrition, Ms. Byrs said the WFP estimated that 75,000 children would suffer from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), and 28,000 would suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in the Central African Republic this year.
WFP urged that the Central African Republic should not be forgotten, and efforts must be continued in the region. As the UNHCR spokesperson also highlighted, WFP’s current funding shortfall until the end of August was US$48.2 million, said Ms. Byrs.
A journalist asked what rate were refugees fleeing, and why were most heading to Cameroon rather than the three other countries. Mr. Baloch replied that Cameroon was indeed the main destination as people were closer to it and found it easier to access. The problem was it was not an easy journey. People walked for days, weeks and months to get to Cameroon, and many of them arrived severely malnourished.
When children arrived in Cameroon, they were in such poor health, they came just to die on the doorstep, said Mr. Baloch. It was a dire situation, a desperate situation, he said, and with only 30 per cent funding humanitarian efforts to take care of all those people were seriously hampered.
Central African Republic seemed to have become a forgotten crisis, Mr. Baloch continued. The funds were just not there, and when the crisis wasn’t in the news or on the TV screens people seemed to just forget about it. People arriving in neighbouring countries needed to be brought into refugee camps, but they weren’t – it was hard to reach the people, hard to care for them, provide them with food, water and medical assistance. He said the impact in future of the current situation was unknown.
Answering a question on funding, Ms Byrs replied that it was always difficult to fully cover emergency operations, and the “silent crisis” of the Central African Republic was often overlooked. The operation was hand-to-mouth, WFP operated when it had the money, said Ms. Byrs. However, WFP continued to believe they would receive the US$48 million required to maintain operations until August. Despite all the challenges, WFP had scaled up its activities in the region. An example of that was given the scarcity of jet fuel supplies, which affected the food drops, WFP had responded by bringing in four airlifts totalling 710 drums of jet fuel in May and July to maintain the operations.
Record high temperatures
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for June 2014 was the highest for June since record keeping began in 1880, according to WMO member the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It followed the month of May which was also the hottest May on record. The Japan Meteorological Agency’s Tokyo Climate Centre reached the same conclusion, reporting that the global average surface temperature in June 2014 was the warmest on record.
It was significant that those hot temperatures were being seen before the arrival of the predicted El Niño event, which tended to have a warming impact on global temperatures. There had not been an El Niño event yet, but scientists predicted an 80 per cent probability of an El Niño event by the end of 2014, which would further impact on temperatures, said Ms. Nullis.
Typhoon warning for China
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said warnings had been issued about typhoon Matmo by WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre in Tokyo and the China Meteorological Administration. The Typhoon was expected to land in Taiwan province on the evening and night of July 22, and strengthen as a severe typhoon or super typhoon, then to near to central Fujian and southern Zhejiang, according to the China Meteorological Administration. The news came just days after the super typhoon Rammasun landed in the coastal area of Hainan Province. Rammasun was the most violent typhoon to land in South China since 1973.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Committee had entered the final week of its one hundred and eleventh session, and would meet mostly in private with the exception of public meetings to discuss its draft general comment on the right to liberty and security of persons and on its methods of work. The session would conclude on Friday after the Committee adopted its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports reviewed this session; Chile, Georgia, Ireland, Japan, Malawi and Sudan. The Committee would discuss its concluding observations in a press conference on Thursday 24 July at 1.30 p.m. in Press Room 1. Committee Chairperson Nigel Rodley, Vice-Chairperson Cees Flinterman and Committee Member Gerald Neuman would be speaking.
The Conference on Disarmament would start the third and last part of its 2014 session on Monday 28 July and concludes on 12 September. The first plenary would be held on Thursday 31 July, Ms. Momal-Vanian announced.
The World Food Programme would hold a press conference today, Tuesday, 22 July, at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 regarding its 2013 Aviation Report and to give an update on ongoing operations. Cesar Arroyo, Chief of the World Food Programme Aviation Service, would be speaking.
The World Health Organization had convened a press conference for Wednesday 23 July at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the subject of viral hepatitis in the run up to World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, with WHO expert Dr Stefan Wiktor, Team Leader of the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme.
Correspondents should note that next week, Tuesday, 29 July and Friday, 1 August, are holidays, Ms. Momal Vanian said, and the Palais des Nations will therefore be closed, so there will be no regular press briefing on those days, although one could be held on another day if it was deemed necessary.
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The spokespersons for the International Labour Organization and International Organization for Migration also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1rxXocb