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28 November 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for
the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Update on Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, confirmed that the eighth round of intra-Syrian talks was starting today, 28 November. The delegation of the Syrian opposition was already in Geneva. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, received a message that the delegation of the Government of Syria would arrive on 29 November. The Special Envoy had outlined his vision for the talks before the United Nations Security Council in New York on 27 November. During the morning of 28 November, he had met with the P5 countries at the Palais des Nations in Geneva; that meeting had been initiated by France.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Vellucci said that she did not have details on the source of the message informing the Special Envoy of the arrival of the Government delegation. Mr. de Mistura’s briefing at the Security Council the previous day had contained a list of proposals that he had said would be considered assuming both parties were present in Geneva.

In response to further questions, she said that information on media events would be provided to journalists as they became available. Efforts were being made to set up a press event with the Special Envoy.

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that, with the eyes of the world once again on Geneva, it was important to reiterate how crucial it was for the people of Syria that the horrendous war there was brought to an end.

An estimated 10 million people in Syria did not have enough food and their already-difficult situation was being exacerbated by insecurity, displacement, unemployment and a drastic devaluation of the Syrian pound. Around 3 million people were living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas where they struggled to access sufficient food. When WFP personnel had entered Eastern Ghouta in November, they had heard reports that people were resorting to eating food from the garbage and that children were so weak that they fainted at school. Humanitarian workers were stretched to the limit in their efforts to respond to a nightmarish situation that should not be happening in the 21st century. WFP appealed for a political solution to the conflict so that children and families had the chance to rebuild their lives and one day live in peace.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Luescher said that 10 million people were food insecure in Syria, meaning that they did not know where their next meal would come from. Since September, WFP had been delivering food assistance to more than 110,000 people in besieged parts of Eastern Ghouta including East Harasta, Misraba, Modira, Kafr Batna, Sabqa and Duma, as well as nutrition supplies for more than 20,000 children, but that amount represented only a drop in the ocean of needs. WFP had trucks standing ready to enter Eastern Ghouta, which lay on the outskirts of Damascus but was very hard to reach.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on 27 November, a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency convoy carrying food, health and nutrition items for 7,200 people in need had been unable to enter Nashabieh in besieged Eastern Ghouta due to fighting in the area. While guarantees of safe passage had been received before the humanitarian convoy moved, it had been forced to turn back following shelling and explosions nearby.

Schools and markets in the besieged enclave had been affected and movement between towns had been extremely limited due to the security situation in recent weeks, causing additional suffering to the civilian population, who had already been facing rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions due to significant shortages of food, medicines and other basic supplies. An estimated 400,000 people were living in besieged Eastern Ghouta, representing 94 per cent of besieged people in Syria.

The United Nations reminded all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustainable access to all people in need, particularly the 3 million in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, as required by international humanitarian law and human rights law.

In response to a question about a statement made by a Russian General regarding a possible ceasefire, Mr. Laerke said that, while he had no information in that regard, a ceasefire could enable humanitarian actors to enter certain areas. The most recent convoy that had been able to access Eastern Ghouta had provided assistance to 12,500 people in Duma on 12 November.

Global Humanitarian Overview 2018 Report

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on 1 December OCHA would launch the Global Humanitarian Overview 2018 to support people affected by disaster and conflict. The launch event would take place at the Graduate Institute of Geneva following a press conference at 9.30 a.m. in Room III at the Palais des Nations by Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International.


Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP operated UNHAS, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, all over the world to transport United Nations, NGO and aid workers and supplies into hard-to-reach areas. UNHAS flights into Yemen had been resumed and it was planned that until the end of November there would be two flights per day to Sana’a from Amman and one from Djibouti. A WFP-chartered vessel carrying 25,000 metric tons of wheat grains had docked at Saleef port and would be unloaded over the coming days.

WFP called for humanitarian aid and commercial imports to be allowed to enter Yemen to address the dire situation on the ground. It was vital that all airports and ports, particularly Hudaydah and Saleef, were opened.

WFP had more than doubled the number of people it reached every month from 3.5 million people in January to a current average of 7 million people. Due to the funding shortfall of USD 362 million, some people were only receiving half-rations. The situation in Yemen was currently the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world and aid was urgently required in order to avoid famine.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Luescher said that she had no updated information on imports of fuel. The blockade had been eased and WFP was happy that a ship that had been waiting in international waters for three weeks had now docked in Saleef. It was essential that commercial imports, which accounted for 90 per cent of the country’s food requirements, also be allowed in to Yemen, as the United Nations could not feed the entire population. Continued access to Hudaydah and Saleef was especially vital as those ports were equipped with unloading, storage and milling facilities.

Answering a question, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 27 November, the Spokesperson for the Secretary General had said that with rapidly dwindling fuel stocks in Yemen and the dire humanitarian situation pushing at least 7 million people towards famine, it was important that there was unimpeded access for both humanitarian and commercial cargo, including fuel, to enter Hudaydah and Saleef ports. Fuel was urgently required to operate generators for hospitals, water well pumps and sanitation units and to facilitate the trucking of drinking water and food to vulnerable people.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO was largely focusing its efforts on the diphtheria outbreak. There had been 194 clinically suspected cases of diphtheria and 20 deaths in 13 governorates.

A WHO team had left Sana’a on 26 November and travelled to al-Sadah and Yarim districts in Ibb Governorate, where more than 80 per cent of the diphtheria cases had been reported, to collect samples and analyse them on the spot due to the lack of transport. Between 28 November and 1 December, the team would provide training for the rapid response team on the case management of diphtheria at local health centres in Ibb city.

Despite the conflict and recent closures, WHO, UNICEF and partners had continued to work with available supplies, vaccinating 8,500 children under 5 years of age in al-Sadah and Yarim districts during November. A diphtheria vaccination campaign targeting 300,000 children aged under 12 months had begun in remote areas on 25 November. Further vaccination rounds for priority districts for 940,000 children under 5 years of age and 2.3 million children and young adults were scheduled for December.

The lifting of the blockade on the movement of humanitarian goods would enable the shipping of 361 tons of medicines and medical supplies that had been blocked in Djibouti. The supplies to be shipped over the coming days included enough antitoxin to treat 1,000 cases of diphtheria.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier said that the outbreak was spreading faster than WHO would like. It could only be tackled if medicines, supplies and vaccinations were allowed to enter and move around the country. A large vessel was still waiting to dock in Hudaydah and there was a backlog of supplies in Djibouti. Full and unhindered access was vital so as to be able to bring supplies into Yemen and reach people who required treatment.

Volcanic eruption in Bali, Indonesia

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that WMO was part of an international network of organizations monitoring activity at Mount Agung, in Bali, Indonesia, where the airport was closed for the second consecutive day.

The Indonesian authorities had been watching the volcano for many weeks and it had begun erupting on 25 November. On 27 November, the National Board for Disaster Management had raised the alert level to maximum and urged people within 10 kilometres to evacuate.

WMO’s role was to ensure safety in the air, given that volcanic ash clouds posed a significant hazard to the safety of flights. A total of nine volcanic ash advisory centres made up the International Airways Volcano Watch network, which was supported by other actors at the national level. The Darwin Ash Advisory Centre, which was operated by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, was monitoring activity at Mount Agung 24 hours a day. The height of the eruption was increasing and had reached 25,000 feet (7,620 metres). As international flights were travelling around or above the eruption, disruption was limited to Bali’s international airport. A lot had been learnt since the major volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010, which had left large numbers of passengers stranded for a long period of time.

Fatalities in the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that in the previous few days, the annual number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean had risen above 3,000 for the fourth consecutive year.

The 3,000 mark had been reached later in 2017 than in recent years: in both 2014 and 2015 IOM had recorded at least 3,000 sea deaths in the region by the third week of September, while in 2016, the 3,000 mark had come on 20 July. As of 28 November 2017, 3,033 migrant deaths had been recorded on three routes across the Mediterranean. Of that total, 2,800 had occurred on the central route linking Libya to Italy. Despite some progress in Libya, the central route accounted for more than 70 per cent of the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2017 and 90 per cent of the migrant deaths.


Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that in just three months an estimated 624,251 Rohingya refugees had crossed into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, fleeing violence and oppression in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State. Of these, over 1,800 had arrived in the past seven days, bringing with them horrifying accounts of physical and sexual abuse, harassment and murder.

Water, sanitation and hygiene were of particular concern. WHO had found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination was a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines.

In the past week, IOM had drilled 13 deep tube wells. In total, IOM had now drilled 374 deep tube wells and installed 4,973 permanent and emergency latrines in the Cox’s Bazar settlements and host communities.

Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative

Harry Cook, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 28 November, IOM was releasing new data on the trafficking of children. The extent of family involvement in the trafficking of children was up to four times higher than in cases of adult trafficking. In addition, boys were more likely than girls to be recruited by a family member. Children were most commonly trafficked into sexual exploitation, begging, the hospitality sector and domestic work.

The statistics were being made available for the first time through the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, which was the world’s first open-data portal for human trafficking case data. The initiative was operated in partnership with Polaris, an NGO based in the United States, and Liberty Asia, which provided information systems to NGOs in East and South-East Asia.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Cook said that trafficking and smuggling were clearly differentiated in the Palermo Protocol. The data being released had come from 12,000 identified cases of trafficking in which IOM case workers had provided assistance including long-term reintegration support. Given that global estimates had revealed that approximately 5.5 people in every 1,000 were trafficked, the volume of cases recorded in the database represented the number of victims of trafficking that would be found in a country of 16 million people.

World AIDS Day

Charlotte Sector, for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), recalled that 1 December was World AIDS Day. Every year, 1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

UNAIDS was publishing a report entitled Blind Spot, which would be launched in Ottawa, Canada, on 1 December. On the same day, Peter Ghys, Chief Strategy Officer, would speak to journalists in Geneva during the regular press briefing. The report focused on the testing and treatment of men because many young women, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, were becoming infected by older men.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Sector said that while the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, would not be in Geneva on World AIDS Day, efforts were being made to arrange an opportunity for him to talk to journalists soon.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that Miroslav Lajèák, President of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, was in Geneva to address the 108th Session of the Council of the International Organization for Migration and participate in an exchange with Geneva-based actors on the theme “Sustaining Peace.” He would also meet with Mr. Michael Møller, Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Ms. Vellucci also said the Committee against Torture (which met in private this morning) would hold this afternoon a short public meeting devoted to the follow-up of articles 19 and 22 of the Convention against torture. The Committee would then meet in private until the end of this 62nd session, scheduled for the 6th of December.

Ms. Vellucci announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is achieving this morning the review of the report of Australia (begun yesterday afternoon). This week, the Committee is also due to consider reports from Slovakia and Belarus.

Ms. Vellucci added that tomorrow afternoon, as every year at the same date, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would be commemorated at a Special Meeting held at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

WHO Announcement

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that at 3 p.m. on 28 November, a virtual press conference would be held in connection with the release of two reports on substandard and falsified medical products, including new estimates on the scope and impact of the problem.

Press conferences

Launch of the “World Social Protection Report 2017/19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Under embargo until Wednesday, 29 November at 9:00 p.m. GMT (10:00 p.m. Geneva time)
Wednesday, 29 November at 10:00 a.m. in Room III (under embargo)

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)
The Global State of Democracy: Exploring Democracy’s Resilience
Wednesday, 29 November at 11:00 a.m. in Room III

Launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2018 to support people affected by disaster and conflict.
Friday, 1 December at 9:30 a.m. in Room III

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog281117

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