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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

8 June 2018

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

Earthquake in Papua New Guinea

Arnaud de Baecque, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), said that three months ago, Papua New Guinea had suffered a devastating 7.5-magnitude earthquake. Communities in the provinces of Southern Highlands and Hela had been hit hard, with 100 people killed and more than 500 seriously injured. Many homes had been completely destroyed and humanitarian support was still needed for the 300,000 people living in the area. In some places there was no clean water and people were continuing to recover the bodies of their loved ones. Ongoing tremors and the rarity of such a violent quake in the area had left many people terrified. The biggest challenge was the reconstruction of villages and livelihoods, and tribal fighting had resumed in the area. While the full scale of the earthquake’s consequences had yet to be assessed, ICRC and the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society had responded quickly, providing basic health services to more than 2,000 injured people, clean water facilities and rainwater harvesters, solar lighting in hospital delivery rooms and shelter kits to more than 16,000 families.

Yemen

In response to questions from journalists, Arnaud de Baecque, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), said that ICRC had taken the decision to withdraw 70 of its international staff from Yemen as a result of ongoing security risks. The staff members had relocated to Djibouti, where they were continuing their work. There had been no reduction in ICRC’s activities in the country: local staff and 40 international staff remained inside Yemen. While no direct threats had been received, previous security guarantees were no longer in place. Staff would return to Yemen if ICRC received clarity on the situation.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that international and local United Nations staff remained in place in Yemen.

At the request of journalists, Mr. Laerke read the following statement on behalf of Ms. Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen:

“Humanitarian agencies in Yemen are deeply worried by the likely impact of a possible military assault on the port city of Hodeidah. The UN and its partners estimate that as many as 600,000 civilians are currently living in and around Hodeidah.

“A military attack or siege on Hodeidah will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,” said Ms. Grande. “Humanitarian organisations have rushed to develop a contingency plan. In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything—even their lives.”

In addition to being one of Yemen’s most densely populated areas, Hodeidah is the single most important point of entry for the food and basic supplies needed to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic. Close to 70 percent of Yemen’s imports, including commercial and humanitarian goods, enter through the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, just to the north of Hodeidah.

“Our top priority is helping to ensure the 22 million Yemenis who need some form of humanitarian aid and protection receive the assistance they need,” said Ms. Grande. “Cutting off imports through Hodeidah for any length of time will put Yemen’s population at extreme, unjustifiable risk.”

“Across the country, people are desperate for food, medical help and protection. This is why humanitarian organisations have dramatically ramped up the amount of assistance we are providing. Yemen is already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. With so many lives at stake, absolutely everything has to be done by the parties to the conflict to protect civilians and ensure they have the assistance they need to survive,” said Ms. Grande.”

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled the statement by Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy for Yemen, in which he had provided an update on the status of his discussions on the political process to de-escalate violence.

Rains sharpen the risks faced by acutely malnourished children in Somalia

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

“After four consecutive poor rainy seasons that brought Somalia once again to the brink of famine, the country is now seeing near-record rainfall, and with it, flooding and displacement affecting hundreds of thousands. The rains signal the end of the drought for some areas of the country but they also sharpen the risks faced by acutely malnourished children, and particularly those who have been displaced.

The flooding since April has displaced about 230,000 people, over half of whom are estimated to be children. They join 2.6 million people across the country who were already displaced by drought and conflict – living in shelters made of twig and tarp, in congested and unsanitary conditions that spread disease quickly.

The rains do not end the malnutrition crisis among Somali children. About half of children under 5 – more than 1.25 million – are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. That includes up to 232,000 children who will suffer the harshest form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which requires specialized lifesaving care.

Children displaced from their homes are most likely to be malnourished. Even before the floods, acute malnutrition rates among displaced children ranged from 15 percent (the emergency threshold) to 21 per cent, as compared to an average of 13.8 per cent of Somali children. This year, UNICEF has already treated over 88,000 children suffering from SAM.

The rains spread diseases that are particularly deadly for malnourished children with exhausted, fragile immune systems. While we haven’t seen a spike yet, the risk of further outbreaks is high and compounded by flooding.

The flooding has damaged water points, sanitation facilities and other critical infrastructure, and 22 nutrition centres treating over 6,000 acutely malnourished children in areas hosting IDPs have had to shut down. Many of the flood-impacted areas are in the path of an ongoing measles outbreak, and a spike in acute watery diarrhea / cholera cases is a major threat.

Early funding in 2017 enabled the government and humanitarian community to massively scale up programmes. The crisis is not over, but short term funding is running out, and this will hurt water, health and nutrition services.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Boulierac said that in 2017, famine had been avoided in Somalia thanks to sustainable and timely funding. Ongoing funding was now required in order to stave off the continued threat of famine.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 7 June, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, had visited Mogadishu and met with senior government officials to reiterate the support of the United Nations for the people and the Federal Government of Somalia. Ms. DiCarlo had said that Somalia was at a critical juncture and that the unity of Somalis was essential to advance federalism, reduce violence, defeat extremism, tackle the humanitarian challenges and deliver real benefits to the population.

Libya: concern for civilians amid fighting in city of Derna

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:

“We are deeply alarmed at the escalating risks to the population in the eastern city of Derna in Libya, where fighting has intensified in recent days with the Libyan National Army group – the LNA - reported to have taken over densely populated districts. There have been increasing allegations that civilians have been arbitrarily detained, while others have been prevented from leaving the city.

The humanitarian situation in Derna, which has a population of some 125,000, is also said to be deteriorating, with shortages of food, water and medicine. Since 5 June, the city’s only hospital has been closed and we have documented the deaths of three women as a result of the lack of oxygen supplies.

Our concern for civilians and fighters who have surrendered, laid down their weapons, are sick or wounded, or otherwise hors de combat is all the greater given the serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law that we documented during fighting for control of the eastern oil crescent and for parts of the city of Benghazi, both in early 2017.

We urge all parties to the conflict in Derna, including the LNA and the Derna Protection Forces, to take all feasible measures to protect civilians. We call on the LNA to allow unimpeded humanitarian assistance to reach the city. We also call on all parties to the conflict to ensure that the wounded and sick, both civilians and those who have participated in hostilities, are cared for, including through medical evacuations. They should also facilitate safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the city.

All commanders should take effective steps to ensure that their forces comply with their obligations under international law

The population of Derna must be protected and treated with dignity and respect.”

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell said that the fragmentation of control in Libya was a challenge. OHCHR colleagues had raised the issue of the treatment of civilians with the leadership of the Libyan National Army on multiple occasions, both in connection with the ongoing siege of Derma and with the importance of allowing humanitarian aid into the area.

In response to further questions. Ms. Throssell said that while the Libyan National Army considered the Derna Protection Forces to be a terrorist group, it was not a listed terrorist organization. Information from the United Nations Support Mission in Libya showed that during May 2018, 17 civilians had been killed in Derna and another 22 injured.

Volcanic eruption in Guatemala

In response to questions from journalists, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Humanitarian Coordination Team had assessed the needs in shelters near Escuintla. The Team was assisting the Government in the humanitarian response by providing psychosocial support, hygiene kits, mattresses and blankets.

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the evaluation of the needs of the affected population had been delayed due to ongoing volcanic activity. UNHCR was in the area and registering the needs of people staying in shelters. According to official data, there were 4,137 people in shelters. Some of the needs identified included improvements to sanitation services, the creation of safe spaces for women and children and the installation of more latrines. As of 7 June, 1,713,566 people were known to have been affected, 12,407 people had been evacuated, 58 had been injured and 99 killed. In addition, 197 people had been reported missing.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 6 June a technical team from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had joined the Country Representative for Guatemala on a visit to health facilities and emergency shelters to carry out a needs assessment regarding access to clean water, healthcare and mental health services for those affected by the volcanic eruption.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the risk posed to aircraft by the ash from the volcanic eruption was being monitored. NASA had reported that at its peak, the eruption had reached a height of 9 miles. The gaseous components of the plume were giving cause for concern given the high concentration of sulphur dioxide, which could pose long-term health risks.

Nipah virus

Asked to comment on reports that Dubai and Saudi Arabia had banned imports of frozen and processed fruit and vegetables from Kerala over fears about the Nipah virus, Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO advised against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on India based on the information currently available regarding the Nipah virus outbreak.

Funding of IRIN

In response to questions from journalists regarding funding received by IRIN several years ago from Jho Low, who was now facing investigation in Malaysia for money-laundering, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that IRIN was now fully independent. The funding had been received at a time when IRIN was no longer part of the United Nations System.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Asked to comment on reports that the Lebanese authorities had accused the United Nations Refugee Agency of preventing the return of Syrian refugees who wished to go home, William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was very sympathetic to Lebanon, which had received more than 1 million Syrian refugees. While many people had returned to Syria, UNHCR took the view that conditions were not yet conducive to the commencement of assisted returns. Nevertheless, the Agency respected the right of individuals to choose to return if they wished and did not oppose such action. In the right conditions, UNHCR could provide assistance for voluntary returns, including obtaining birth certificates and school records in the country of refuge. It also conducted interviews with refugees intending to return home. That work was a global responsibility of UNHCR based on international standards and a core activity in all refugee situations.

World Oceans Day

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that 8 June was World Oceans Day. On 9 June, the Secretary-General would travel to Canada for the G7 summit. While there, he would participate in an outreach session entitled “Healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas, coasts and communities”, along with leaders of the G7, several other countries and international organizations.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that WMO was celebrating World Oceans Day with an event highlighting the importance of oceans to weather and climate, which was an area where citizen science was making huge contributions. While May 2018 had been the hottest May on record in both Europe and the United States, the oceans were feeling the heat much more. The oceans stored more than 90 percent of excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases and were absorbing one quarter of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, thus shielding us from even higher temperatures. The consequences of that phenomenon included ocean acidification, coral reef bleaching and successive marine heatwave events.

Ocean heat provided more energy for tropical storms, as had been seen with devastating effect during the 2017 hurricane season. Evaporation led to increases in humidity and more intense rainfall. Sea level rise and coastal inundation were having major impacts in dozens of countries around the world. A recently published study conducted by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had revealed that tropical cyclones were slowing in speed and carrying more moisture.

The theme of World Oceans Day for 2018 was plastic pollution. WMO and the Global Ocean Observing System had teamed up with the Volvo Ocean Race to measure carbon dioxide and plastic particles. The data collected had shown that microplastics were present even in the remotest point of the ocean, where the nearest humans were those on the International Space Station.

WHO announcements

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that at 4 p.m. on 8 June, Peter Salama would give a press conference in the Special Health Operations Centre on the response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Jašareviæ also said that the International Classification of Diseases would be launched on 18 June. A pre-briefing would be held at 3 p.m. on 14 June in Press Room I. Material would be provided in advance and would be under embargo until 3.30 p.m. Geneva time on 18 June.

Migration figures

Jorge Galindo, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), gave the following statement:

“IOM, the UN Migration Agency, reports that 33,400 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea as of 6 June 2018. So far this month, 1,190 arrivals to Italy, Greece and Spain have been recorded, the majority of which arrived in Spain (47% of total European arrivals).

Worldwide, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded 1,401 people who died or went missing while migrating in 2018. In the Mediterranean alone, 785 people have lost their lives at sea since the beginning of 2018. Last Saturday, a boat carrying approximately 180 people capsized off the coast of Kerkennah island, in Sfax, Tunisia. As of Thursday, 7 June, Tunisian authorities had recovered 73 bodies, 53 of them Tunisian nationals. An estimated 39 people remain missing.

In the Gulf of Aden, at least 62 migrants died or went missing when the boat in which they were travelling from Somalia to Yemen capsized on 6 June. The remains of 46 migrants (37 men and 9 women) were recovered, while an estimated 16 remain missing and are presumed dead. IOM staff on the ground provided assistance to the 39 survivors who managed to reach the shore. On average every month, 7,000 migrants take this route.”

Global Migration Film Festival

Jorge Galindo, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the call for films for the Global Migration Film Festival was still open. A participatory video tour was under way in a number of locations where IOM was assisting displaced people.

Mr. Galindo then gave the following statement:

“More than 300 indigenous people of Warao and Eñepas ethnic groups from Venezuela, local authorities and NGO representatives gathered last week at Pintolandia Shelter, in Boa Vista, Brazil, for a special edition of the Global Migration Film Festival (GMFF).

The event was organized and the videos were created by 20 shelter members trained in participatory video making by IOM GMFF facilitators. These indigenous people were affected by the situation in Venezuela and left the country in search of basic needs such as food and medicine.

The State of Roraima has registered the highest number of Venezuelans who have entered Brazil recently. According to the Brazilian Government, until April over 40,000 Venezuelans have applied for the regularization of their migration status in the country.

Through a participatory editing process, the participants edited their videos which were screened to the community living in Pintolândia, a shelter specifically set up for indigenous migrants and currently hosting over 700 people.”

Syria

Asked for an update on the activities of the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that Mr. de Mistura had concluded consultations on the Syrian political process in Istanbul, Turkey, on 7 June. He had met with Turkish authorities, as well as officials from the SNC and the SOC. Regional consultations would continue in the coming days. Last week, the Special Envoy had received a list of 50 names from the Government of Syria. He remained in intense communication with relevant diplomatic parties and was looking forward to continued consultations with them in the period ahead. He would make any further announcement in due course.

Press conferences

Friday, 8 June at 1:00 p.m. in Room III
OCHA
Press Conference by four Humanitarian Coordinators from the Lake Chad Basin about one of the world's most severe, and most neglected, multi-country humanitarian emergency
Press conference by: Mr. Edward Kallon, Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria; Ms. Allegra Baiocchi, Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon; Mr. Stephen Tull, Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad; Ms. Bintou Djibo, Humanitarian Coordinator for Niger
https://bit.ly/2kY6dxb

Friday, 8 June at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
International Labour Organization
ILO Conference discussion on possible new standards on violence at work
Press conference by Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s WORKQUALITY Department
https://bit.ly/2Hu0vvP

Monday, 11 June at 9:30 a.m. in Press Room 1
OCHA
Latest developments on humanitarian access in Syria.
Press conference by Mr. Panos Moumtzis, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis
https://bit.ly/2KMWjJG

Monday, 11 June at 12:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
UNIDIR
Geneva launch of The Global Peace Index 2018 (The UN Secretary General's Agenda for Disarmament and its links to building and supporting peace)
Press conference by Serge Stroobants, Brussels Representative, the Institute for Economics & Peace; Renata Dwan, Director, UNIDIR
https://bit.ly/2xFdDPk

Wednesday, 13 June at 9.30 a.m. in Press Room 1
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Human Rights Council, 38th regular session (18 June-6 July)
(A light breakfast will be served outside the Press Room.)
Press conference by Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia), President of the Human Rights Council (12th cycle)
https://bit.ly/2sJXovB

Wednesday, 13 June at 11.30 a.m. in Room III
UNHCR
SPECIAL EMBARGOED PRE-PRESS CONFERENCE ON UNHCR’S GLOBAL TRENDS REPORT ON FORCED DISPLACEMENT
Press conference by Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
https://bit.ly/2HuLzO9

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog080618