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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

22 March 2019

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

Cyclone Idai

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), made the following statement:

“In Mozambique, the official death toll has risen to at least 242 people, according to the Government, but many areas remain inundated and tragically, the counting of the dead will take some time. So we expect the death toll to rise as that progresses.

At least 65,000 people are sheltering in more than 100 collective sites across Sofala province (73 sites), Manica (18), Zambezia (10) and Tete (4); the majority are staying in schools and churches. Some 11,400 houses have been completely destroyed and more than 385,300 hectares of crops have been damaged, which will impact food security in the months ahead. Health and education facilities have suffered significant damage, with more than 2,800 classrooms and at least 39 health centres impacted by the cyclone and floods.

In Beira itself, the roofs of most of the houses have gone. There is destruction to schools. There is destruction of places of worship. There is destruction to factories. The city is still without power. Food prices have reportedly tripled and long queues are forming for staples such as bread, and for fuel. Communication is slowly being restored with some towers and infrastructure being fixed and aid organizations have trucks moving to the collective sites in the city centre with supplies. The Government has established a temporary medical centre at the port in Beira which is supported by health teams, including doctors from South Africa. The authorities are also activating mobile medical teams for Sofala province, with doctors being deployed in various locations.

In Buzi, southwest of Beira city, flood waters are starting to recede. There is still risk of secondary floods and the situation may still worsen. Many people from Buzi have been relocated through search and rescue operations to other areas, but for those who remain, humanitarians need to get to them by any means possible.

In addition to the United Nations and NGO support to the Government-led response, the Indian defence forces have staff on the ground, including a medical team; the Tanzanian Government landed an aircraft Wednesday with aid supplies; the African Union announced US$350,000 in support for the three countries impacted by Idai (Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi); the European Union, the United States of America, the Emirati Red Crescent and others have also contributed to the response by bringing in supplies. The United Kingdom, for example, has brought in shelter supplies which will be urgently needed. In total, according to Mozambican authorities, there are 11 helicopters involved in the response.

In Zimbabwe, according to the Government, there are 139 deaths and 189 missing as a result of flooding and the passage of Idai, and more than 4,300 people are displaced. Access to clean water remains a key challenge. In Chimanimani, urban areas still have no water supply due to badly damaged infrastructure, and damage to critical infrastructure including bridges, has cut people off from assistance and services. Helicopter rescue operations continue and the Government is in the process of establishing a logistics hub close to areas most impacted by the storm. Some relief trucks carrying shelter, non-food items and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies have arrived in the affected area and distribution is underway.”

Mr. Laerke added that information was being collated in order to put out a fund-raising appeal as soon as possible; in the meantime, individuals who wished to contribute to the effort could find details on the websites of United Nations agencies and NGOs. If everyone did a little, it would make a huge difference.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), made the following statement:

“Children and families affected by Cyclone Idai and the floods in Southern Africa are facing dire conditions, and thousands of lives remain at risk as heavy rain continues to cause massive destruction. Across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, UNICEF is scaling up our response to help children and families affected. Approximately 1.7 million people are affected by Cyclone Idai; almost half of those affected are children.

Our Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, landed in Maputo last night, and is visiting children and families in and around Beira today, as well as supporting UNICEF’s humanitarian response. The Executive Director described the scene on the ground as desperate, stating that: “The situation on the ground remains critical. There is no electricity or running water. Hundreds of thousands of children need immediate help. The priority right now is to give them shelter, food, water, education and protection.”

Our Country Representative in Mozambique, Marco Luigi Corsi, has also visited the affected areas. He said that the deluge has been so extreme in some areas that people have not been able to find higher ground to escape the flooding, forced onto rooftops or into trees for hours on end. While search and rescue efforts continue, there is also an urgent need for food, safe drinking water and shelter. Right now, we are seeing thousands of people congregating in informal, improvised camps. Many of these informal camps are in desperate conditions – certainly not a suitable environment for vulnerable children and families.

In Malawi, thousands of families have been forced out of their flooded homes, and are now lacking basic supplies including food, water and sanitation facilities. The floods have also disrupted learning for thousands of children. Our colleagues tell us that many families are camping out in schools, churches, any public buildings. Children are sleeping in classrooms.

In Zimbabwe, the latest estimates suggest that 250,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom 125,000 are estimated to be children. These numbers are likely to increase due to inaccessibility of the affected areas. Eight districts are affected: Chimanimani and Chipinge were hardest hit due to severe damage to access roads and bridges, which will take at least two weeks to repair.

In terms of response, in Mozambique, UNICEF is supporting the World Food Programme (WFP) on the food distribution logistics for families in improvised shelters. UNICEF is also distributing water purification products to communities in the affected areas. Without safe and effective water, sanitation and hygiene services, children are at a high risk of preventable diseases including diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera, and also increasingly vulnerable to malnutrition.

UNICEF is also working with partners to set up Child-Friendly-Spaces to provide protection services and psychosocial support to children. Many schools and hospitals have been destroyed or damaged or are being used for shelter. Once the immediate, life-saving, needs are met, it’s crucial that children are able to get back to learning as soon as possible – to provide children with a sense of normalcy in a time of extreme chaos.

In Malawi, UNICEF supplies are arriving for families living in evacuation centres. The supplies include thousands of packets of oral rehydration salts, antibiotics and hundreds of insecticide-treated bednets. UNICEF partners, including district authorities, Médecins Sans Frontières, Red Cross, United Purpose and World Vision, are assisting with supply delivery.

UNICEF Malawi is also training volunteer teachers for deployment and supporting the Department of Disaster Management and Preparedness to assess the situation using drones. Drone-acquired photos and videos of the affected area are being used to assess flood damage to buildings and fields, and to help plan the humanitarian response.

In accessible affected areas of Zimbabwe, UNICEF is delivering medical supplies, hygiene kits, jerry cans, soap and water purification products. Hygiene kits for 2,000 persons have been distributed. The country office plans to airlift supplies to those most affected in hard-to-reach areas, due to damaged roads and bridges, from 23 March. UNICEF is also delivering primary health care packages and essential medical supplies, and nutrition supplies.

UNICEF is now appealing for US$ 23.3million to support the response in the three affected countries. This amount is likely to rise.”

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), made the following statement:

“WHO has deployed a full incident management team and sent emergency medical supplies (including malaria treatment) to cover the primary health care needs for 10,000 people for three months, including treatment for severely injured persons. Hundreds of thousands of people have no shelter, no safe drinking water, limited food supplies and lack electricity; roads have been made inaccessible by flooding, there is limited access to helicopters, which are the only means to access some places, and there are fuel shortages.

In Mozambique, 53 health facilities have been damaged; the full extent of the damage is not known, as many locations are still inaccessible. The Government of Mozambique has declared a state of emergency. The Minister of Land and the Environment is leading the response, which is currently focused on search and rescue and setting up camps. WHO is supporting the Government and working with partners to coordinate the response. We have set up an incident management team and are deploying surge staff for needs including logistics, epidemiology, planning and communications, and experts in cholera and malaria.

Several countries have offered to deploy Emergency Medical Teams. These offers are currently being considered by the Government, and WHO is advising. Immediate needs are shelter, food, safe drinking water.

The Health Partners jointly defined the following priorities: providing trauma care and emergency health services, and burials; restoring health services; prevention and response to infectious disease outbreaks. WHO is preparing for cholera, malaria and measles outbreaks.

Conditions in temporary camps have been described as ‘squalid’ (lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation) which means there is a high risk of an outbreak of cholera or another infectious disease.

Some reminders:

· Cholera – in the past 6 years, there has been a cholera outbreak every year in Mozambique. The most recent one ended in February 2018 with close to 2000 cases.

· Malaria – Mozambique is considered a “high transmission” country, and floods will increase this risk. Needs are for increased supplies of antimalarials, rapid diagnostic tests and bednets.

· Measles – there is a high risk of an outbreak of this infectious disease. WHO is preparing for an emergency measles vaccination campaign.”

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working with governments and humanitarian partners in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to provide relief to the survivors of the Tropical Cyclone Idai which struck the east coast of southern Africa on 14 and 15 March. We are sending our emergency response teams - making available our expertise and staff, and aid supplies to assist those affected by the disaster without recent precedent in the region.

UNHCR efforts demonstrate solidarity with the people of the region who have for decades generously hosted refugees and shared their limited resources with them. Our teams will support the on-going efforts to respond to the urgent life-saving needs of the affected people, including refugees.

We are mobilizing emergency shelter and core relief items from our global stockpiles to assist some 30,000 people in dire need, including affected refugees in Zimbabwe and their host communities, and the local population displaced by the cyclone. The affected population is in dire need of basic relief supplies, food, health services and shelter. Our relief items will include family tents, shelter, plastic tarpaulins, sleeping mats, cooking sets and utensils, jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, solar lamps and soap.

In Mozambique, the most affected country, the government has declared a national emergency as the death toll from the effects of the cyclone climbs above the reported 242 and is expected to exceed 1,000. The country is currently home to some 25,000 refugees – who have fortunately not been directly affected.

In Zimbabwe, the Government has declared a state of disaster, and 104 people are reported to have died as a result of the cyclone. Two districts are reported to have been severely affected, including Chipinge District, host to Tongogara refugee camp. The camp currently has some 13,000 refugees, many of whom have suffered injuries, but no fatalities. UNHCR is conducting rapid assessments in Tongogara camp to determine the extent of the damage; however, available information indicates that 2,000 refugee houses, mainly built using mud bricks, were completely or partially damaged. Over 600 latrines have collapsed, and borehole water is feared to be contaminated due to flood waters. There is a real danger of an outbreak of waterborne diseases. The refugee host communities have also been affected, and it is estimated that 100,000, Zimbabwean residents of Chipinge District, including some 20,000 who live near the refugee camp, are in immediate need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

In Malawi, the Government has also declared a state of national disaster, and 84 people are reported to have died. At least 15 districts and two cities have been impacted, with approximately 840,000 people affected nationally by the floods. About 94,000 people are displaced and sheltering in makeshift sites for internally displaced people. Refugee locations in Malawi were not directly affected. More than 4,400 Mozambican nationals, including women and children, have been forced to seek safety from the cyclone’s devastation in Nsanje district, in Malawi. We plan to assist both Mozambican new arrivals and their Malawian hosts.

UNHCR has decades-long experience speedily responding to refugee humanitarian emergencies around the world.”

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), made the following statement:

“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has responded to the deadly Cyclone Idai, which has taken hundreds of lives across Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

‘A week after the cyclone, we’re starting to grasp the scope and complexity of the challenges facing the governments and peoples of these three nations,’ said Mohammed Abdiker, Director of IOM’s Department of Operations and Emergencies. He added: ‘Moving forward we will continue to work with our UN and governmental partners to address the immediate and life-saving needs of the most affected communities, particularly relating to the provision of badly needed shelter assistance and non-food items.’

IOM and its international partners are working on the details of a broad appeal that will be issued in coming days to assist those affected by the emergency across the three nations. Conditions are challenging everywhere after the cyclone made landfall on March 15; thousands are stranded in tropical zones without bridges or accessible roads.

Mozambique’s official death toll from Cyclone Idai’s landfall has reportedly risen to at least 242 persons, but that number is expected to increase in the days ahead. The Government expects the toll of fatalities to surpass 1,000 and an untold number still missing. It estimates that some 400,000 are internally displaced at this time and has declared a state of emergency.

‘The situation is very bad. The damage is quite serious,’ said IOM Mozambique Chief of Mission Katharina Schnoering. ‘There are many communications issues.’ Difficulty restoring power to the large city of Beira and problems with road access, where the rising Buzi River has washed out sections of highway, also complicate aid delivery.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier said that WHO was working with its partners to respond to the threat of cholera by providing supplies of chlorine tablets, antibiotics and intravenous (IV) fluids, and to enable testing of possible victims to be conducted. It was also working with the Governments in question on the preparation phase of a campaign to combat the threat of a measles outbreak. The biggest challenge for everyone involved in the response work was to get access to those affected, as the rains were continuing and many places were still not accessible by road.

Mr. Laerke added that all the organizations involved were conducting assessments of the situation and the combined findings would form the basis of the forthcoming appeal. The figures for deaths, in particular, were expected to rise significantly as several areas were still under metres of water. Provisional figures for the numbers affected – which was a very broad category ranging from children not able to go to school to persons stranded in treetops – were 600,000 in Mozambique, 840,000 in Malawi and 250,000 in Zimbabwe.

According to figures from the Mozambican Government, 10 helicopters were currently being used, of which the South African air force had supplied 4, 2 were operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) for the World Food Programme (WFP), and 1 each came from: Mercy Air, the Indian army air force, Irish relief and the Brazilian air force. An eleventh helicopter would arrive soon. The Indian defence forces already had staff on the ground, including a medical team. Because of scheduling issues, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, had not been able to accompany the UNICEF Executive Director to Maputo after their visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Laerke also said that there had not been any confirmed reports of either looting or major unrest; if such incidents were to occur, it must be remembered that the situation was extreme and the people were desperate; community, rather than security, responses would be appropriate.

Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, made the following statement:

“The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria was in Damascus for three days, where he met again with Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem. The Special Envoy also visited Homs, where he met the Governor, the United Nations team and Syrian men, women and children in centre for internally displaced persons (IDPs). He said that the scale of challenges facing Syria and the Syrians is vast. He also commended the United Nations team, in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, for doing great work to address significant needs.

Following Syria, the Special Envoy travelled to Lebanon, met President Aoun, Prime Minister Hariri and Speaker Berri. Today, the Special Envoy is visiting Syrian refugees in shelters in Mount Lebanon.”

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), made the following statement:

“As of 20 March, 70,480 people were residing in Al Hol camp in north-east Syria, 90 per cent of them women and children. A further 2,000 people, many of them in markedly poor health, arrived late on 20 March. Several hundred people also arrived on 21 March. Most new arrivals show signs of distress and suffer from malnutrition, fatigue, medical conditions and war injuries caused by months of hostilities and lack of access to food, medical assistance or basic services.

Humanitarian partners are revising their planning figures, and now estimate the arrival of an additional 15,000 people. The camp has significantly exceeded its capacity and there is an urgent need for additional plots to accommodate those currently being hosted in communal spaces and large tents and the anticipated arrivals. The United Nations is negotiating with the camp administration to use additional land around the camp. It takes time, and some of it is private land, but in past experience, the camp administration has been supportive.

United Nations agencies supporting the population in the camp are appealing for an additional US$27 million to help the current population. NGOs in north-east Syria are also reaching out to donors to request additional funding.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Vellucci said that Special Envoy Pedersen was endeavouring to talk to all those concerned by the situation, as he had committed to doing when he began his mandate. Mr. Laerke said that it was difficult to predict when the expected new arrivals would reach the refugee camp, but large numbers arrived every day.

WHO South-East Asia Region celebrating 5 years polio-free

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), made the following statement:

“On 27 March, the 1.3 billion people of India and the entire WHO South-East Asia Region (SEARO) celebrate five years polio-free. Just 12 years ago, India alone was responsible for almost 70 per cent of all polio cases worldwide, and the region as a whole included some of the most difficult areas in the world to deliver healthcare. To stop the virus, the programme administered more than 13 billion doses of oral polio vaccine over 18 years and conducted almost 200 nationwide campaigns across the region.

The region’s success is thanks to long-standing commitment from governments, exceptional efforts to implement far reaching, high-quality vaccination campaigns, and the continued dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers.

India’s success against polio, which opened the door for the entire region to be certified, is one of the most significant achievements in public health and serves as evidence for what is possible worldwide. For decades, India’s high population density, migrant populations and poor sanitation presented exceptional challenges to eliminating polio. To stop the disease, the WHO polio programme, in partnership with the Indian Government, developed a surveillance network of more than 33,000 reporting sites, deployed a workforce of 2.3 million vaccinators during national immunization days and gave out 900 million doses of oral polio vaccine in 2011 alone – the last year a case was detected.

India’s experience proves that the disease can be eliminated in even the most challenging of circumstances with strong political commitment at all levels, dedication of resources and innovative strategies.”

In answer to a question from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier said the only two WHO regions remaining with endemic polio were the African Region (AFRO) and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO). There had been no wild poliovirus detected in Africa since 2016, and WHO was cautiously optimistic that AFRO was on the path to certification. EMRO had only two countries which had never stopped polio: Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were considered a joint reservoir of virus. Both were therefore getting most of the focus and support of the WHO polio eradication programme and putting in place both tailored and innovative tactics for their own individual challenges.

Update on the Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said, on behalf of Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, that the Council was in the process of adopting the remaining 17 resolutions before it. After voting and appointing new mandate holders, the Council would adopt its session report and close the session on Friday afternoon, 22 March 2019.

Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the next public plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would be next Tuesday, 26 March, still under the presidency of the United States. This would mark the last week of the first part of this year session.

Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding this morning its review of the report of Vanuatu, begun yesterday afternoon. The annual interactive debate with National Human Rights Institutions which was previously announced for this Friday afternoon had been cancelled.

She added that the Human Rights Committee was meeting in private until the end of its 125th session, next Friday, when it would issue its concluding observations on the implementation of the Covenant in the six countries reviewed during this session: Estonia, Niger, Angola, Viet Nam, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Eritrea.

Ms. Vellucci said that World Water Day was being celebrated on Friday 22 March and World Meteorological Day would be marked on Saturday 23 March.

Press conferences

Monday, 25 March at 11:00 a.m. Hall XIV

UNECE

Road safety on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Vienna Conventions on road traffic and road signs and signals

Speakers:
• Jean Todt, UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Road Safety
• Felipe Massa, Formula 1 and Formula E Race Driver

Monday, 25 March at 2:00 p.m. in Press Room 1

High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

High Representative for UNAOC to present his renewed vision for UNAOC and how to make it more operational & result-oriented in addressing xenophobia, intolerance and hate speech.

Speaker:
• Miguel Moratinos, High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations

Tuesday, 26 March at 2:15 p.m. in Press Room 1

U.S. Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations

Assistant Secretary Ford will discuss the relationship between the current security environment and progress on nuclear disarmament, including an update on the U.S. initiative: Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND). He will also provide an update on U.S. objectives for the upcoming NPT PrepCom.

Speaker:
• Christopher A. Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation

The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog220319