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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

4 April 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the World Meteorological Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Colombia

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the WMO extended its condolences to victims of the landslides in Colombia over the weekend. Casualty figures were still mounting. Very heavy rainfall had triggered the landslides. March was typically a rainy month in the country, but the quantities of rainfall seen in the past week had been exceptional. The municipality of Mocoa, hardest-hit by the landslides, had seen 129 millimetres of rainfall within 24 hours on 31 March, of which 80 per cent had fallen in just three hours, explaining the size of the tragedy. The situation as of 3 April was that there were more than 500 municipalities of risk of landslides in Colombia, and of those 182 had orange to red alerts. The weather was not the only cause of the tragedy, many other socio-economic factors, including deforestation, came into play. The Colombian meteorological service was very strong and well-equipped, but it did face challenges as far as water management was concerned. In Colombia there were 700,000 rivers and bodies of water, and it was impossible to have monitoring stations at each one of them. Omar Franco, who was the Director of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies in Colombia had said, “Climate variability and climate change will continue to produce rain and drought, but prevention is the most important thing.”

In response to a question, Ms. Nullis clarified that in Colombia, the cause of the emergency was not El Niño.

In response to other questions, Ms. Nullis said that regarding predictions, looking at short-term weather forecasts for Colombia, the Colombian Meteorological Agency was saying that there would be no rain, or very light rainfall in the affected area till 6 April. The long-term predictions for the season were for above average rainfall in the area.

Peru

Ms. Nullis said that Peru had also seen very heavy rainfall for the past three months, with many records broken. On 30 March again very heavy quantities of rainfall had been seen. One station, Partido in the province of Piura, had reached 147.7 millimetres of rain that day. A lot of flooding had been seen in Peru, making many people homeless.

There had been a lot of debate as to the cause of the rainfall in Peru. The authorities were saying that it was a very strong coastal El Niño, but there was not a basin-wide El Niño with global impact for the moment. It could develop in the coming months. The very strong localized El Niño was severely impacting Peru and parts of Ecuador. The concept of El Niño had originated in Peru, and what was being seen now was the original El Niño event. WMO would be doing an update on El Niño in the third week of April.

Regarding the coastal El Niño, there was a lot of debate in the scientific community right now as to why it was happening. It was not unprecedented. El Niño was actually born in Peru, when local fishermen around Christmas time had seen their anchovy catch drop off because of warmer waters. Very warm coastal waters had been seen off the Peruvian coast, up to ten degrees Celsius above average in some areas. It was quite rare, but not unprecedented. There had been a previous similar event in 1925, and again in 1987. As to what would happen now, whether the event in Peru would trigger a basin-wide El Niño later in 2017, it was too early to tell. More and more models however were pointing to that.

In response to further questions, Ms. Nullis said that the rain in Peru had been falling for most of 2017, and according to figures which she had received overnight from the Peruvian Meteorological Service, the rainfall in 2017 was much higher than in 1925 and 1998. There had been loss of life, and tens of thousands of people had been displaced. It was a major emergency in Peru.

United States/ UNFPA

In response to a question about the funding cuts to the UNFPA by the United States, Ms. Vellucci said that there was not a representative of UNFPA at the briefing but that they had put out a statement on 3 April.

Syria

Ms. Vellucci said that the Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” was taking place on 4 and 5 April, and spokespersons of Geneva-based agencies and programmes attending the conference, in particular OCHA’s Jens Laerke, were ready to answer questions from the press. The ministerial conference itself would start on 5 April. Today, there would be some thematic sessions organized by the EU with UN agencies and other international organizations. About 70 country delegations were expected as well as a number of partners from the international community. The UN Secretary-General had left New York on 3 April and would open the conference on 5 April in the morning together with the six other co-organizers. He would call for support for the political process and for renewed efforts to provide sufficient humanitarian aid and access to all those in need inside Syria, and aid for refugees and the host communities in the neighbouring countries.

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that today, UNHCR and UNDP, on behalf of the humanitarian community handling the Syria refugee crisis, had appealed for stepping up support for Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries, but also to the host communities. So far in 2017, the needs for the Syrian refugees and their host communities stood at USD 4.6 billion, currently funded at around 9 per cent (USD 400 million). It was very clear that the refugee response in the neighbouring countries was under strain, and more support needed to come forward in terms of responding to a desperate situation. UNCHR and UNDP were making this call with the backdrop of the Brussels conference, and were looking forward to seeing more pledges. Now in the region, there were 5 million Syrian refugees. Inside Syria, there were 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. UNHCR itself needed USD 1.4 billion to help Syrian refugees in 2017 in the region. If the funding support was not there, children would not be able to go to school, basic services such as shelter, water, sanitation and health may also suffer. Too much was at stake, and the hope was that the world would realize. The host communities had been stepping forward and shouldering the burden. The region could not be left alone to take care of those refugees. Turkey was hosting about 3 million, and there were one million in Lebanon, a small country. The majority of them were women and children. Helping refugees and host communities was in everybody’s interest. It was also necessary to remind States about their pledges to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees. It was about solidarity, humanity and responsibility-sharing.

In response to a question, Mr. Baloch stressed that a political solution was urgently needed to end the conflict in Syria, but in the meantime, the humanitarian situation remained dire and Syrian refugees continued to need international protection and support, globally.

Asked about employment for refugees in host countries, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR hoped that refugees, wherever they were, could be self-reliant. It was very important to empower the refugee communities. UNHCR welcomed any changes in laws helping to empower refugees by enabling them to make a living, but the neighbouring countries had been hosting millions of Syrian refugees without enough support.

Health issues

In response to a question about the handling of a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Saudi Arabia, Christian Lindmeier of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that he had no further information on the topic. The reservoir of MERS was in camels, and ways of transmission were not always clear. The issue should also be tackled from the reservoir side to see if any form of vaccination was possible. It needed to be a joint effort focusing on the animal side and on the public health control measures in hospitals. WHO was offering help. The infection control measures in hospitals and the monitoring had to be stepped up worldwide, as there had been cases of individual travelers reaching other countries and spreading it there. Individual cases still came through, showing that protection measures were not enough.

Asked about World Health Day on 7 April, Mr. Lindmeier said that there had been a press briefing on that topic last week. The campaign “Depression: Let’s Talk” would be culminating on World Health Day. Documentation and materials were available on the web. In response to a request from the press, Mr. Lindmeier said that WHO could try to bring in an expert on the topic to the briefing on 7 April.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Ms. Nullis announced that from 10 to 13 April, the WMO would hold its quadrennial Global Atmosphere Watch Symposium. The WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network was a network of monitoring stations, measuring ozone, greenhouse and other gases in the atmosphere. The scientists would meet every four years to discuss priorities and the way forward. The event was open to the media, and Ms. Nullis would identify topics and scientists of interest to the press. Two press releases were planned. One would be on sand and dust storms (a new bulletin would be released for the Symposium). Sand and dust storms were an increasing problem in parts of northern Africa, west Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. There would also be a new bulletin on reactive gases such as ethane which was a by-product of fracking. The press releases would be sent to the press under embargo.

Matthew Cochrane, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that on 6 April, IFRC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were launching in New York, at a Member States’ briefing, a joint report on the socioeconomic impact of Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean

The press release was under embargo until 11.30 a.m. New York time on 6 April, and embargoed copies of the report could be provided. Experts were available to go into more detail.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced a press conference on 6 April at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1, on the E-commerce week organized by UNCTAD in Geneva on 24 - 28 April 2017. Many issues would be on the programme of the week: new data on E-commerce, cybercrime and cybersecurity, consumer protection, among others. The E-commerce week came at a crucial moment when many Governments grappled with the impact of the digital economy and the opportunities it presented for global growth and inclusive development. There would be representatives of the private sector participating, notably from Alibaba, PayPal, Google and others, as well as Trade Ministers of several developing countries. Multilateral agreements in the field would have to be struck at the WTO ministerial at the end of the year, in order to enable the fair development of this type of commerce. More details would be provided during the press conference on 6 April. The speaker would be Torbjörn Fredriksson, Chief, ICT Analysis Section, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD.

Ms. Vellucci said that today was the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The new head of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) office in Geneva, Sarah Marshall, was available to speak with the press on this topic.

Ms. Vellucci announced a press conference by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 7 April at 11.30 a.m. in Room III, on the effects of more than four years of violent conflict on the mental and emotional well-being of children living closest to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The speaker would be Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.

Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), would finish this morning its review of the report of Canada (in Room XVII of the Palais des Nations). The Committee would then meet in private until the end of its 17th session on 12 April, following which it would publish its concluding observations on the reports of the eight countries reviewed during the session: those of the Republic of Moldova, Iran, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, Armenia, Honduras and Canada.

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which had opened on 3 April its 26th session at the Palais Wilson, would complete this morning its review of the report of Bangladesh, started on 3 April in the afternoon. This afternoon starting at 3 p.m., the Committee would start the review of the report of Jamaica, which it could complete on 5 April in the morning. During the session, which would run until 13 April, the Committee would also review the report of Nigeria (in the afternoon of 5 April and in the morning of 6 April).

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog040417


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