1 February 2019
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Mine Action Service, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the World Food Programme.
22nd International Meeting of Mine Action National Directors and United Nations Advisers
Lee Woodyear, for the United Nations Mine Action Service, said that representatives of nearly all the countries of the world affected by landmines would attend the meeting to be held on 5-8 February, in Room XVIII, as would survivors, medical specialists, UN agencies and guests from Yemen and the Republic of Korea. Although clearance efforts were making progress, contamination was still outpacing them. The focus of the meeting would be on victims and survivors. Two press conferences would be held (see details at the end of this document) and there would be opportunities for interviews.
Replying to questions from journalists, Christelle Loupforest, for the United Nations Mine Action Service, said that 655 people had registered to take part in the event, whose three main objectives were to urge the donor community to step up contributions, to shift some of the efforts onto providing assistance for victims and to share best practices and experiences. There would also be an innovation component. In an effort to reduce the use of paper, all the documents related to the event were available on the UN Indico platform.
Also in response to a query, Mr. Woodyear said that UNMAS had received some US$ 110 million in 2018, slightly up from the previous year.
Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), gave the following statement:
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is increasingly worried for the safety of civilians trapped in ISIL-held areas of Hajin enclave in Deir ez-Zor governorate in northeast Syria. We are also concerned for the situation for civilians who have managed to escape the armed conflict. UNHCR and other humanitarian partners are racing to meet the urgent needs of vulnerable civilians who have arrived at the Al Hol camp in Hassakeh. We are supporting them with immediate shelter, and relief items.
More than 10,000 people have fled from the conflict zone to Al Hol camp just in the past week. Since fighting escalated in Hajin in early December, more than 23,000 people have fled to Al Hol, effectively tripling its population. Many more are expected.
Those fleeing speak of fierce fighting and a heavy toll on civilians with casualties widespread. Food and medical supplies are hard to come by. Civilian infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. Families who managed to escape the fighting say that ISIL is preventing other civilians from leaving the area.
UNHCR reiterates once again its call to all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, to take all possible action to ensure that civilians and infrastructure are protected in line with International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law. Safe passage for civilians is critically important and must be ensured.
Families fleeing the Hajin enclave and surrounding areas have also told us of a harrowing journey to safety. They travel at night with barely any belongings, often having to wade through mine fields and open fighting. On reaching positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they describe being herded into open trucks and having to endure another arduous journey in winter weather northwards to Al Hol camp. Little or no assistance is provided en route to the hungry and cold people, the vast majority of whom are women and children. Since early December at least 29 young children and new-borns died while on their journey or shortly after their arrival. Malnourishment and hypothermia have been the principal causes of death. Medical facilities in Hassakeh town, where the most critical cases are referred to from the camp, are overstretched caring for acutely malnourished children.
Humanitarian actors have collectively requested forces in control of the area to designate a transit site en route for Al Hol where life-saving assistance can be provided. This initiative remains unimplemented more than two weeks later.
The vast majority of fleeing civilians are Syrians, residents of villages in south Deir-ez-Zor province, have been caught up in the fighting as ISIS retreated south. They are anxious about their confinement to Al Hol camp and the confiscation of their documents. Most hope to be allowed to join their relatives and friends in Deir-ez-Zor province and return to their homes as soon as the fighting is over.
UNHCR is concerned about the persistent practice of confiscation of identity documents and movement restrictions imposed on residents of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugee camps in Hassakeh governorate. IDPs fleeing Hajin should be allowed to choose where they stay and should be allowed to return to their homes as soon as they deem it safe.
With the surge in arrivals to Al Hol over the past weeks, reception areas are now overcrowded. UNHCR and partners have set up 24-hour response teams to receive the newly displaced people, quickly identify the most vulnerable cases and provide urgent assistance, especially to unaccompanied or separated children and those who require immediate medical assistance.
A number of other emergency measures have been put in place in Al Hol, particularly in the reception and screening areas of the camp.
We reiterate our calls for unhindered humanitarian access. It is vital that our teams are able to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance, especially during this harsh winter period.”
Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that civilians who were fleeing were being stopped for days for screening purposes. Many of them were sleeping out in the open, in freezing weather, before moving on either by foot or in open trucks. WHO required access to the area to provide health services, as well as sheltered transportation to Al Hol camp, especially for families with small children and the elderly. Since the beginning of January, WHO had delivered over 35,000 treatment courses in support of the two mobile clinics it had donated and the four mobile health teams currently operating in the camp. Teams were working around the clock to screen new arrivals and refer them to hospitals where necessary. Severely malnourished children were being referred to a WHO-supported hospital in Hassakeh. WHO was also supporting the deployment of vaccination teams, in addition to trauma teams, in leishmaniosis screening facilities. A week previously, WHO had airlifted over 28 tons of medical supplies, equipment and vaccines to Al Hassakeh governorate to respond to growing health needs in North-East Syria. It followed on a 20-ton shipment earlier in the month. Access remained the key issue, with guaranteed approvals needed to access the camp and the roads leading to it.
Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that the request for access to the transit area had been made to the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were in de facto control and the ones confiscating the documentation of the internally displaced persons; no response had been received thus far. UNHCR was also appealing to the parties who were fighting to grant safe passage to civilians and access to humanitarian actors. He was not in a position to comment on political matters, only on the humanitarian situation, which was critical.
Update on Cox’s Bazar
Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), gave the following statement:
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Oxfam have together put into service this week in Cox’s Bazar the biggest human waste treatment facility ever built in a refugee settlement. The facility, funded by UNHCR, can process the waste of 150,000 people – 40 cubic meters a day. To put this in context, it’s roughly the equivalent of that needed for a population the size of Dijon in France, Savannah in the USA or, in Switzerland the City of Bern.
Close to a million Rohingya refugees live in a complex of settlements in the Cox’s Bazar area. Kutupalong, the largest refugee settlement in the world, is home to more than 630,000 refugees and managing the waste in this terrain requires innovative approaches. The speed and scope of the refugee crisis which began in August 2017 meant that most of refugee sites grew spontaneously, resulting in limited available land suitable for latrine pits and waste water treatment.
The ability to treat large volumes of waste on site, rather than having to transport it elsewhere, is a critical step to safe and sustainable disposal of such waste in emergency situations. This will significantly reduce health risks for refugees and host communities and the likelihood of the outbreak of disease. For example, more than 200,000 cases of acute diarrhoea were reported in the Rohingya camps in 2018, as well as respiratory infections and skin diseases like scabies – all common in settings where sanitation and hygiene are challenges.
Bangladeshi authorities provided the site for the facility and the project was delivered in collaboration with the government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner’s Office in Cox’s Bazar. UNHCR and Oxfam engineers, with support from Rohingya refugees, built the new site in just over seven months.
The sludge is transported by waste vehicles that empty out waste from multiple locations in the refugee sites into two massive, tightly covered lagoons where the processing begins. The facility maintains minimal operational and maintenance costs, with the initial investment of developing the site and installing the equipment falling just under $400,000. The system also benefits local Bangladeshi communities, who have been generously hosting and supporting refugees. This model will be rolled out across other sites in Cox’s Bazar area in 2019 and UNHCR is considering replicating it in future refugee crises.
UNHCR has also been working with partners on waste management in Rohingya refugee sites in over 275 small scale sludge treatment sites. More than a dozen different treatment technologies have been implemented, in different scales, combinations and configurations – including lime treatment, biological treatment processes and biogas production which also supplies some refugees with gas for cooking.”
In response to journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR had not given up hope on the return of the Rohingya; however, as repatriation should be voluntary and the conditions in Myanmar were not conducive to safe and dignified return, the Agency was focusing on more immediate problems such as that of waste management. No new arrivals had been recorded in January. While Cox’s Bazaar was severely overcrowded, feasibility studies would have to be conducted with regard to any alternative sites. Moreover, any movement to a new site should be voluntary, a view shared by the Bangladeshi authorities. The plan was to expand the waste management model to the entire camp, though it was not yet clear whether that goal would be achieved by the end of 2019.
Launch of Ukraine humanitarian response plan
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the United Nations and humanitarian partners in Ukraine had, the previous day, launched a US$ 162 million humanitarian response plan to provide aid and protection to 2.3 million vulnerable people in eastern Ukraine in 2019. Nearly two million of the intended beneficiaries were either in the non-Government controlled areas of the country or within 20 km of the contact line dividing the eastern part of the country. Active conflict continued to impact civilians. More than 3,300 people had been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the crisis had begun in 2014. Hostilities had also damaged or destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, roads, water supply systems and other civilian infrastructure, thereby disrupting or cutting off people's access to critical services. Large swathes of populated areas, especially in non-Government controlled areas and along the contact line, were littered with landmines and explosive remnants of war, which had killed or injured 270 people in 2018. The increasingly protracted nature of the conflict was having a tremendous impact on the elderly, who accounted for one third of the population in need and faced severe hardship when accessing essential services owing to disabilities, lack of mobility and separation from their families. In addition, many were not receiving their pensions, which were often their sole source of income.
The Humanitarian Response Plan contained a roadmap for the deployment of humanitarian assistance by 43 United Nations, national and international organizations with a view to providing food, shelter, household items, winterization support and access to clean water, education and adequate healthcare to people in need. Over the past five years, appeals coordinated by the United Nations had mobilized more than US$ 460 million. Aid groups were present on both sides of the contact line, which convoys of relief items were allowed to cross.
Answering journalists, Mr. Laerke said that this remained an active armed conflict in which people were killed on a near-daily basis. Some two million people lived in areas heavily contaminate by landmines and other explosives. Given that the conflict was becoming protracted, the needs were wide-ranging as access to most goods and services was restricted. Accordingly, the humanitarian response had to address food, water, education and health care, among other issues. UNHCR had access to non-Government controlled areas through one of five crossings along the contact line.
Asked about the appointment of Mr. Lollesgaard in replacement of Mr. Cammaert, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that Mr. Cammaert’s appointment had been temporary from the start. Now the goal was to ensure the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement as quickly as possible, and to take the necessary measures to support efforts to that end. Continuity would be ensured until Mr. Lollesgaard took office.
In response to various questions on Syria, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that Mr. Pedersen had been busy establishing contacts and would be travelling again to the region, though the dates were not yet known. She stressed that the Humanitarian Task Force continued to meet weekly despite the departure of Mr. Egeland; there was no news on the appointment of his replacement.
Trade wars: the pain and the gains
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in presenting the upcoming press conference on the new publication titled Key Statistics and Trends in Trade Policy 2018, said that amid tit for tat tariff hikes, trade was being diverted and a handful of countries would capture a slice of the giants’ exports. With trade wars topping the news agenda, the publication examined the repercussions of existing US and Chinese tariff hikes on developing countries, as well as the effects of the increase scheduled for 1 March.
Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that a press conference would take place on Tuesday, 5 February, at 2 p.m., in Room III, on how technology and digital transformation could change the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Enrica Porcari, WFP Chief Information Officer, together with Josh Harris of Palantir, would discuss the topic and provide specific examples, including how WFP hoped to save US$ 100 million a year through a system it was currently piloting.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, on behalf of the Human Rights Council’s spokesperson, said that the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review would be concluding its thirty-second session that afternoon, with the adoption of the remaining two reports regarding the Dominican Republic and Cambodia. A round-up email for the session would be sent later that day.
Ms. Vellucci also said that on 13 February, there would be a briefing on the priorities and key events of all the Geneva-based organizations. The format would be the same as in previous years.
Monday 4 February at 2.00 p.m., Press Room 1
Trade Wars: The Pain and the Gains
Presentation of analysis by UNCTAD of the ongoing effects of trade wars, including which countries are benefiting from trade diversions
• Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD, Director, Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities
Wednesday 6 February at 10.30 a.m., Press Room 1
Ensure Dignity: Meeting the needs of survivors
• Giles Duley, CEO & Founder, Legacy of War Foundation and Photographer
• Dr. Maphekay Sediqi, Physical Rehabilitation Therapist, Kabul Orthopedic Organisation, Afghanistan
• Patrick Fruchet, UNMAS Programme Manager, Afghanistan
• Dr. Lucy Foss, Centre for Blast Injuries, Imperial College London
Thursday 7 February at 10.30 a.m., Press Room 1
2019 Mine Action Portfolio, some of the important outcomes of the week and update (“one year later”) on the demining work in Iraq
• Agnès Marcaillou, UNMAS Director
• Pehr Lodhammar, Chief of the UNMAS Programme in Iraq
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog010219