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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

5 February 2019

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, 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 Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Development Programme.

Syria

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said, on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, that Special Envoy Geir Pedersen was today in Iran for meetings with senior government officials.

Launch of the Libya Humanitarian Response Plan

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

“The United Nations together with the Government of National Accord in Libya today launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya seeking USD 202 million to provide health support, protection, water and sanitation, shelter and education support for more than 550,000 vulnerable people.

Seven years of instability and insecurity have taken a heavy toll on the well-being of tens of thousands of children, women and men in Libya and today thousands of families are unable to afford food, water and basic household items.

At least 823,000 people in total across Libya, including a quarter of a million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes internally displaced persons and returnees, conflict-affected people, host communities and refugees and migrants who face grave human rights violations and abuse in the absence of rule of law.

The majority of people in need are in highly populated urban areas in the western and eastern regions of Libya. However, people with the most critical and severe needs are in the coastal area of Sirt and in the southern parts of the country (Murzuq, Sebha and Alkufra) where access is difficult due to instability.

This year's Response Plan aims to provide protection services such as mine risk education for children and local communities and specialized assistance to survivors of explosive hazards.

If adequately funded, humanitarians will also set up emergency medical teams and dispatch mobile teams to areas where medical staff is limited, and reinforce disease surveillance. In terms of food assistance, the plan aims to provide both direct food supplies but also help in the longer term through support to agriculture, livestock and fishing communities.

Water and sanitation is a high priority in detention centres which are crowded and unsanitary, schools in marginalized areas and camps for internally displaced people and refugees. Families in need will receive shelter material but also cash-based assistance in the form of emergency grants, rental subsidies and cash for construction materials. Education support is planned for the thousands of children and adolescents whose education has been disrupted.”
Mr. Laerke added that a press release would be issued during the official launching of the Plan, which was taking place in Tripoli. Responding to questions from journalists, he said that the Response Plan had been based on, among others, issues related to malnutrition among the 250,000 children who would benefit from it. Half of the population targeted by the Plan were migrants or refugees living in camps or detention centres, and OCHA had been able to assess conditions in the centres either directly or through its partners on the ground.

Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR would use a portion of the appeal - USD 46.5 million – to continue its work in 2019 assisting refugees rescued at sea, providing immediate life-saving assistance at disembarkation points, registering those who were taken to detention centres and, where possible, providing them with food and health care. Its key priority was to evacuate people from the detention centres, and it called on resettlement States to accelerate procedures to help achieve that aim as quickly as possible.

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that, in 2018, chronic malnutrition affected 21 per cent of children aged between 6 and 59 months in Libya. The economic situation was an important factor in the problem. In 2018, food imports in Libya had dwindled due to limited port access and road blockages, and the prices of many staple food items such as rice and wheat flour had increased by as much as 200 percent compared to pre-conflict levels. However, since the introduction of economic reforms in mid-September 2018, the increased supply of hard currency had resulted in the appreciation of the Libyan Dinar and a halt to the rise of food prices. WFP had assisted 96,346 people in December 2018 and planned to help 102,285 people in January 2019.

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that there were an estimated 60,000 migrant children in Libya currently, of whom over 21,000 were unaccompanied. About 240,000 children in the country were in need of humanitarian assistance. The UNICEF funding appeal for Libya in 2019 was for USD 23.4 million.

South Sudan appeal

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

“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched its 2019 South Sudan Appeal today (05/02). Totalling USD 122 million, IOM’s appeal sets out a robust plan to support nearly 1 million people – particularly those who are, or who have been, displaced – and over 80 humanitarian and development partners throughout 2019.

Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, South Sudan has been challenged by a continuing humanitarian crisis. Just over these past five years, more than 4 million people have fled their homes in search of safety. Almost 2 million are displaced internally.

Nonetheless, the Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), signed last September, provides hope for peace and cautious optimism. Areas of stability and return are emerging, indicating there may soon be a broader return of displaced communities.

“We need to support the people of South Sudan, as the country pursues a peaceful and stable future,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, IOM South Sudan Chief of Mission. “IOM has been implementing transition and recovery projects in South Sudan since the founding of the State in 2011. IOM is widely recognised as a trusted and reliable partner.”

Yet years of violence continue to impact more than 7 million people, who urgently need humanitarian assistance and protection. Though the intensity of the conflict has decreased since the signing of the peace agreement, the country still faces the devastating humanitarian and financial costs of the protracted crisis: sustained poverty, intermittent famine, persistent protection concerns, a lack of livelihood opportunities and access to many basic services.”

In answer to a question from a journalist, Mr. Millman said that IOM was working together with partners such as humanitarian agencies, civil society organizations, government agencies and local authorities to provide health and mental health care, water and sanitation, non-food items and logistic assistance to support the people affected.

Venezuelan relocation flights in Brazil

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM, in coordination with other United Nations agencies and the Brazilian Army, had, on Saturday 2 February, organized a first charter flight to relocate Venezuelan migrants and refugees from Roraima State to other parts of Brazil. The Organization had already assisted 302 Venezuelans by providing tickets on commercial flights to relocate in Brazil in recent months, in addition to the 4,300 who had been helped by the Brazilian Air Force. The 2 February charter flight had taken 100 Venezuelans to job opportunities with a private company in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. It was reported that the company would be able to offer another 200 positions to other Venezuelans migrants and refugees over the coming months.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that the aircraft had been chartered because of the robust flow of migrants and refugees to other areas of the country, but that it was the first time that so many had been given employment opportunities.

Situation in Nigeria

Frantz Celestin, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), made the following statement:

“The humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria has caused the displacement of 1.8 million people. Recent attacks have caused the largest displacement to take place in north-east Nigeria in such a short period of time in the past two years. 80 per cent of those affected in Borno, Adama and Yobe states are women and children. Almost 80 per cent of all displaced people are concentrated in Borno state where IOM has operations.
As of 3 January, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix reports that 59,245 people in north-east Nigeria have recently fled into Maiduguri, Monguno, Konduga and Jere local government areas (LGAs) in Borno State. Maiduguri has received the largest number so far (28,140).

Against the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, IOM is requesting USD 66 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria. With recent population movements into Maiduguri, funding support is urgently required to meet the immediate and lifesaving needs of the thousands affected.

Increased insecurity and ongoing displacement has forced civilians into already congested areas, where space for people to find shelter and security is severely limited.

IOM is working to decongest areas in Maiduguri and Monguno, where many people are sleeping in the open, and with little access to water and sanitation facilities. Similar challenges are faced by internally displaced persons in Pulka and Bama.

The humanitarian community is working to accommodate 10,000 new arrivals in Maiduguri and 9,000 new arrivals in Monguno in new sites identified and approved by the Government of Nigeria. In the new camp in Maiduguri (Mohammed Goni International stadium site), IOM is constructing five transit shades for reception management (completed), five communal shelters (60% complete), 400 emergency shelters (30% complete), and 60 latrines drop holes and 30 showers (30% completed).

In Monguno, the construction of five communal shelters is near completion and 475 emergency shelter kits are being distributed, where several new arrivals are sleeping in the open due to congestion.

For camp management, IOM reiterates the importance of communicating with communities by helping set up information booths in all sites in Maiduguri, and engaging traditional leaders from newly arrived populations to ensure that all affected people are well informed about the provision of services, and the overall situation.

In terms of non-food items (NFIs), IOM has distributed 1,718 NFI kits to 6,930 new arrivals in Maiduguri: Teachers village camp (1,293 NFI kits); Gubio camp (400 NFI kits); and Mogcolis camp (25 NFI kits). Upon the opening of the new stadium camp in Maiduguri, IOM will distribute 400 NFI kits to 400 families.

IOM has distributed 1,107 emergency shelter (ES) kits, including an additional 150 ES kits in Bakasi camp this week, to support 6,089 new arrivals in Maiduguri. In addition, IOM has also completed the construction of five communal shelters in Teachers Village.

In respect of water, sanitation and hygiene, IOM has reached 20,500 new arrivals, and 12,628 new arrivals have received psychosocial support.“

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Celestin said that the conflict was in its tenth year, and the figure of 1.8 million displaced persons related to the period since 2015. No exact figures were available for the number of persons in camps, but around 60 per cent of all those displaced were living in host communities. Recent attacks on Rann, a town near the border with Cameroon, on 14 and 27 January had caused large population movements, but the exact number of people displaced remained unknown, as did the numbers who had crossed the border into Cameroon. IOM Nigeria had coordinated its work with IOM Cameroon and other agencies, attempting to preposition kits where they might be needed. Population movements could also be precipitated by rumours of impending attacks. The increase in attacks since November 2018 might be due to the harmattan conditions, which impeded monitoring of the area by the Nigerian Air Force; it could also be a result of increased capacity on the part of the armed groups. IOM was working on the ground alongside the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency and its Borno state counterpart, as well as other agencies and government departments, distributing both food and non-food items. However, there were some areas, such as Rann, that were currently inaccessible. It was hoped that it would soon be possible to move humanitarian operations there.

Final temperature figures for 2018 and extreme temperatures

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that WMO would issue a press release on 6 February on the final global temperature figure for 2018. It was a consolidated analysis of five leading international datasets and was the official authoritative global figure. WMO used datasets (based on monthly climatological data from Global Observing Systems) from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the United Kingdom Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom.

The statement was being released somewhat later than expected because it depended on information from NASA and NOAA, which had both been affected by the government shut-down in the United States of America. WMO would issue a more detailed report on the impact of the weather in 2018 in March 2019.

Extreme weather events were continuing to occur in Australia, South America and the United States, where the previous week’s record lows in the west of the country had now given way to high temperature records in the east, with 59˚F recorded in Buffalo on Monday 4 February. In Australia, 2018 had seen the hottest December and 2019 the hottest January on record, and currently there was extreme rainfall in North Queensland, where Townsville had experienced as much rain in nine days as it usually had in one year. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology had issued major flood warnings for 5 February; the flow of water was the equivalent of 2.6 times the capacity of Sydney harbour each day and was still increasing.

Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, Santiago, the Chilean capital, had set a new record of 38.3°C on 26 January. In other parts of central Chile, temperatures had topped 40°C, according to Meteo Chile. Argentina had also been gripped by a heatwave, prompting a number of alerts about high temperatures. Patagonia in southern Argentina had broken a number of high temperature records on 4 February, including 35.6°C at the world famous glacier of Perito Moreno.

Responding to journalists’ questions, Ms. Nullis said that, although 2018 was not the hottest year on record, the trend was very clearly towards rising temperatures and more extreme heat events. NASA had also recently stated that a gigantic cavity, two-thirds the area of Manhattan, was growing at the bottom of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Such information was needed to be able to calculate the likely rise in sea levels.

The previous week’s cold temperatures in the United States had been caused by a change in the polar vortex. Disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses could alter the structure and the dynamics of the Polar Vortex, sending Arctic air south into middle latitudes and bringing warmer air into the Arctic. It was not a new phenomenon, although there was increasing research into how it was being impacted by climate change. As WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas had said, the cold weather in the eastern United States certainly did not disprove climate change.

Ms. Nullis added that, while no direct connection could be established between the polar vortex and the heatwaves in the southern hemisphere, the trend was clear and there were far fewer cold temperature records registered than in the past.

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the message of the Secretary-General on the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, on 6 February, in which he stated that female genital mutilation was an abhorrent human rights violation affecting women and girls around the world that denied them their dignity, endangered their health and caused needless pain and suffering, even death. He noted that an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today had been subject to the harmful practice. The Sustainable Development Goals called for the elimination of female genital mutilation by 2030. He pointed out that, although strong political commitment had led to positive change in several countries, if current trends persisted, those advances would continue to be outpaced by rapid population growth where the practice was concentrated.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that an event would be held in the Palais des Nations at 4 p.m. on Wednesday 6 February to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It would be attended by Ms. Sika Bella Kabore, First Lady of Burkina Faso. He then read the following statement:

“FGM is recognized internationally as a grave violation of the human rights of girls and women. It comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. FGM is a global issue however, and there are girls and women living with FGM in all regions of the world. It is therefore crucial that health care workers everywhere are able to recognise FGM and to treat girls and women effectively.

FGM has no medical justification, causes only harm, and must never be carried out. Health care providers must never subject girls and women to FGM, and those who do are violating the human rights of the girls and women in their care.”

Mr. Jašareviæ added that WHO had several tools including a clinical handbook and guidelines on the management of health complications deriving from FGM. The WHO website offered further information on the possible harmful consequences of the practice, such as infections and problems during childbirth. An expert would be available throughout 6 February to give interviews on the topic.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ said that there was evidence of encouraging trends, but that, given population growth rates, action had to be accelerated if the absolute numbers of women and girls affected were to be brought down. If current rates continued, United Nations Population Fund estimates showed that 68 million more girls would have been subjected to FGM by 2030.

Mr. LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the inspiring talk given during the TEDx Place des Nations Women, held in Geneva in December 2018 by Jasmine Abdulcadir from Geneva University Hospitals, who had set up an outpatient clinic for women and girls living with female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), providing health education, prevention, counseling and culturally sensitive, clinical, surgical and psychosexual care for women and girls.

International Labour Organization announcement

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the ILO's World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2019 report would be launched on Wednesday 13 February 2019, providing the latest information on labour market developments related to human prosperity and welfare and the most recent ILO data on global unemployment, informal employment, gender gaps and their effect on the progress being made to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The launch would be held at 10 a.m. on 13 February 2019 in Press room 1, with Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, and Damian Grimshaw, Director of the Research Department, as the main speakers. Copies of the release would be sent out on Monday 11 February, under embargo until 1 p.m. on 13 February.

United Nations Development Programme announcement

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that UNDP was this week marking the tenth anniversary of the Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) airport preparedness programme launched in cooperation with the Deutsche Post DHL Group. When catastrophes occurred, there were often large volumes of relief supplies and response teams coming into the country concerned and persons in need being evacuated. Airports were the centrepiece of the humanitarian response, but often did not have the necessary facilities or might suffer damage, as had occurred in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, when the runway had been damaged by the number of incoming flights. GARD was helping to build local capacity in 35 airports in 23 countries to ensure that the facilities and teams were fully prepared for disaster management. The director of the Deutsche Post DHL Group GoHelp programme and the UNDP programme manager would be available for interview during the week.

UNDP was also celebrating the third anniversary of the Connecting Business Initiative platform, set up during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. It brought together private sector networks in 13 countries, with over 1,500 chambers of commerce and about 40,000 small and medium-sized enterprises around the world that were working with the humanitarian and development communities to develop early warning systems and humanitarian response plans. Since 2016 in the Philippines, 14 Filipino companies had invested in an operations centre and an early warning system, working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and communities on a preparedness plan. Journalists interested in the role of the private sector in humanitarian response could be put in contact with the person responsible in UNDP and local partners.

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting that morning, Tuesday 5 February, still under the presidency of Ukraine. The presidency of the Conference would be assumed by the United Kingdom from 18 February and then the United States of America from 17 March, to be followed by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Mr. LeBlanc also recalled that CineONU would be screening the film The State against Mandela and the Others, about the Revonia trial, at 11 a.m. on Sunday 10 February 2019 in Cinema Empire, rue de Carouge, in the presence of the co-director, Nicolas Champeaux, the South African Ambassador and the Human Rights Counsellor from the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations.

Press conferences

Tuesday 5 February at 2.00 p.m., Press Room III

WFP

Transforming humanitarian assistance and cutting costs through technical innovation and digital transformation

Speakers:
• Enrica Porcari, WFP Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology, and Chair of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC)
• Josh Harris, EVP for Philanthropy Engineering, Palantir
• Herve Verhoosel, WFP Senior Spokesperson


Wednesday 6 February at 10.30 a.m., Press Room 1

UNMAS

Ensure Dignity: Meeting the needs of survivors

Speakers:
• 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

UNMAS

2019 Mine Action Portfolio, some of the important outcomes of the week and update (“one year later”) on the demining work in Iraq

Speakers:
• Agnès Marcaillou, UNMAS Director
• Pehr Lodhammar, Chief of the UNMAS Programme in Iraq

Thursday 7 February at 1.30 p.m., Press Room 1

OHCHR

Committee on the Rights of the Child -- concluding observations on Bahrain, Belgium, Czechia, Guinea, Italy, Japan and the Syrian Arab Republic

Speakers:
• Renate Winter, Chairperson of the Committee
• Kirsten Sandberg
• Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi
• Jorge Cardona

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog050219