REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
13 November 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg had launched an emergency revision of the Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for Haiti in response to the devastation caused by Storm Sandy. The appeal looked for an additional $39.9 million was required to address rising food insecurity and provide shelter, health services and clean drinking water for over a million people. The revision brings the overall appeal for Haiti to $151 million this year.
Johan Peleman, Head of the OCHA office in Haiti, added that 54 people had been killed in Haiti as the result of the storm, which had caused heavy rain and heavy flooding in the south of the country. Irrigation systems had been destroyed and rivers had burst their banks with up to 6,200 houses destroyed and many more damaged.
Of the utmost concern was food security for the country had already seen a very dry season and the earlier destruction of crops by a previous storm. The south of the country would generally provide the bulk of the harvest for Haiti, but much had been lost at the beginning of the harvest period, while next year’s crops may also already be lost.
The appeal therefore asked for funds for seeds and planting to replace this. Shelter was also a worry, where people had lost not just houses, but also land, which was swept away as rivers burst their banks. An upsurge in cholera outbreaks was also possible with water and sanitation systems out of action. From 28 October to 8 November 4,000 new cases were seen. Mr. Peleman added that 22 cholera treatment centres were hit in the recent storm and 39 were still out of action due to the previous hurricane. Before Sandy hit, there was around 1,500 to 2,000 cases a week, and it was thought a spike was to now occur. Some supplies were pre-positioned but supplies were already depleted. Also, the hurricane season was not yet over and more rains could cause very serious shortages.
Answering questions on work which followed the 2010 earthquake, he said that much had been achieved, such as the clearing and recycling of rubble to build new houses, a million people moved to shelter and 1.3 million people offered assistance to rebuild their houses. Nevertheless, the country was at huge risk of natural disaster due to its geography, deforestation and other issues, though work was being done to improve disaster preparedness.
Mr. Peleman explained that the appeal was being brought forward now as it was possible to base the calls for funding upon real figures and needs. Appeal money would target 1.2 million beneficiaries, through providing shelter, improving food security, repairing water and sanitation systems and making good on damage to schools.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the WFP was warning that more than 1.5 million vulnerable people were at risk of continued food insecurity well into 2013 as a result of the disasters previously mentioned.
WFP activities was to focus on nutrition, specifically the prevention and treatment of moderate acute malnutrition for 100,000 women and children as well as on "Cash For Assets" projects to provide an income to vulnerable people working on rehabilitation and management of agricultural land, flood control, irrigation systems and rural roads.
An estimated total of nearly $20 million was needed for these programmes to help 425,000 people, as well as 225,000 agricultural smallholders. So far 800 tonnes of food stuffs had been delivered.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a rapid, multi-sector response was required to prevent a spike in cholera transmission and to avert a deeper food security and nutrition crisis —the combination of which was especially lethal for children.
This was particularly crucial in isolated rural areas, where the most vulnerable children and families live and where access to health services and water and sanitation is the most restricted.
Up to 2 per cent of children below five years old were at risk of life-threatening, severe acute malnutrition. Approximately 30 water networks were destroyed, affecting some 830,000 people. 61 cholera treatment centres and units were also damaged or destroyed.
The loss of schools was particularly damaging for UNICEF work as they were often used as an avenue for education on cholera prevention and for the distribution of assistance. Unmet funding needs currently totalled $6.6 million.
Jean Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the support of the international community in following the evolution of the situation in Haiti remained vital and financial assistance was still needed to provide help such as help paying rent and other solutions properly adapted to the vulnerable earthquake victims.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said her agency was progressing in a major effort to provide aid to up to 500,000 people in Syria by the end of this year, despite recent disruptions to operations due to insecurity.
To date, UNHCR family aid packages have been provided to some 59,000 families (295,000 people) but unfortunately, recent deliveries have been very difficult and marred by violence, even in areas which had previously been calm.
Last week, humanitarian operations were disrupted in Damascus because of insecurity. Similar difficulties were experienced by staff working in Aleppo, and UNHCR was temporarily withdrawing staff from north-eastern Hassakeh governorate, a region where aid had been delivered since the beginning of the conflict without issue.
Insecurity over the past few weeks had also resulted in loss of aid supplies, including some 13,000 blankets that burned in a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse in Aleppo that was apparently hit by a shell. In addition, a truck carrying 600 blankets was hijacked.
At least 2.5 million people were thought to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and the figure could go as high as four million in the future, she said. Amongst internally displaced persons, the vast majority were living with families and so aid was needed for those hosting those that had fled conflict as well as through direct assistance.
Figures showed there were now 400,000 registered Syrian refugees, a figure which continued to climb. Tens of thousands more were in neighbouring countries and had yet to register. For the week ending 10 November, Jordan received 4,000 new arrivals, 879 on a single day, both of which were the highest numbers seen since September.
In Iraq, increased violence across the border had driven large numbers of people, around 3,000 Kurds, had been driven into northern Iraq. While in Lebanon the influx remained steady and registration was being stepped up.
Answering questions she said five staff had been removed from the north-eastern governate and seven staff remained. The Syrian Red Crescent remained on the ground and was still serving as a delivery mechanism. As of two weeks ago around 2,000 people a day were thought to be leaving the country.
Responding to another question on Palestinian refugees in Syria, she said UNRWA was working to assist Palestinian refugees caught up in the situation. Ms. Momal-Vanian added that Syria currently hosted 500,000 Palestinian refugees and that 225,000 had been directly affected by the crisis.
Jean Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the German government had earmarked EUR 2 million for IOM's ongoing humanitarian assistance to civilians and migrants affected by the Syrian conflict. It will also be used to assist the 6,000 migrants who had requested assistance to return home as they did not have their own means.
In Jordan, where IOM is the lead agency for transportation of refugees, the funds were to assist in providing transport to Syrian refugees arriving at the borders and travelling to Jordan's Za'atri camp, in addition to providing health checks and TB screening for the refugees. To date, IOM in coordination with UNHCR, has facilitated the transportation of some 55, 000 Syrian refugees from the Jordanian border to Za'tri camp.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said her agency was seriously concerned at recent boat tragedies in the Bay of Bengal involving people fleeing feeling insecurity and violence in Myanmar. The UNHCR was therefore calling on countries in the region to strengthen burden-sharing in the face of this growing humanitarian emergency.
There had been reports of two boats sinking in the Bay of Bengal with an estimated 240 people, among them Rohingyas from Myanmar's Rakhine state. UNHCR could not confirm the figures as they had no presence near the wreck sites, but available information was that more than 40 people had been rescued from the two boats. There were reports of bodies seen floating in the water.
These two incidents marked an alarming start to the traditional boat season in the Bay of Bengal, when a mix of asylum seekers and irregular migrants risk their lives on fishing boats in the hope of finding safety and a better life in South-East Asia. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people left from the Bay of Bengal during the previous sailing season from October 2011 to March 2012. There were fears many more could follow in the coming weeks, driven by recent tensions.
UNHCR was urging the government of Myanmar to take urgent action to address some of the main push-factors, especially issues connected with the problem of citizenship and statelessness in relation to the Rohingyas. The already tense situation in Rakhine state was exacerbated in June and most recently again in October this year when inter-communal violence broke out, killing dozens of people, destroying thousands of homes and displacing more than 110,000 people.
A fragile calm had returned but tensions remained high. In addition to providing urgent humanitarian assistance to both affected communities, the root causes need to be resolved for the Rohingyas so that they can lead normal lives where they were, she said. In the meantime, UNHCR was calling on governments in the region to keep their borders open to people seeking asylum and international protection from Myanmar.
The agency stood ready to support states in assisting and protecting these individuals and was alarmed by reports of countries either pushing back boats from their shores or helping them on to another country. It was therefore appealing to these governments to uphold their long tradition of providing humanitarian aid to refugees instead of shifting the responsibility to another state.
World Diabetes Day
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said tomorrow (14 November) was World Diabetes Day. To assist in providing information about the condition he had put a factsheet at the back of the room. This showed figures of nearly 350,000 people in the world living with diabetes, 80 per cent of those in the developing world. Diagnosis was precarious, he said, and sufferers often suffered from additional health concerns, such as renal problems. Risk factors included smoking, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle. WHO projected that diabetes related deaths would increase by two-thirds through to 2030. Interviews with experts were available on request.
Answering questions, he said obesity and diabetes had been discussed at a recent meeting on non-communicable diseases and countries had agreed to more to help and consider global action. On another point he said it was important to inform citizens on risk factors and what can be done to reduce them through diet and exercise.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also mentioned that a copy of the message from the Secretary-General was available at the back of the room which said diabetes was a development issue. The poor were disproportionately at risk, and affected families were often pushed further into poverty. In September 2011, the United Nations General Assembly had recognized diabetes and other non-communicable diseases as a global health and development challenge, and committed to strengthen their prevention and control.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the nomination phase for the 2013 Nansen Refugee Award had opened. In recognition of the attention that the media brings to refugee issues worldwide, UNHCR was inviting individual members of the press as well as media organizations to nominate candidates. The deadline for nominations is 25 January 2013.
The Nansen Refugee Award was established in 1954 and is named after the first High Commissioner for Refugees, Fridtjof Nansen. It is the refugee world's most prestigious prize, and past winners had included Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Edward Kennedy, Luciano Pavarotti, and other less well known heroes — in recognition of their work and dedication to improving the lives of refugees.
Nominations are encouraged for deserving individuals, groups, or organizations whose work had a direct and positive impact on the lives of refugees, internally displaced, or stateless people.
The Committee against Torture was to this afternoon hold its final public meeting to review country reports where the delegation of Togo was to answer questions posed yesterday morning. Until the end of the session next week, the Committee was to now hold primarily private sessions to adopt conclusions and recommendations for the nine country reports that were examined.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural began this morning reviewing the report of Tanzania, which was to continue until tomorrow. The Committee was to then consider tomorrow afternoon the report of Ecuador and from Thursday afternoon the report of Mauritania.
Tomorrow (14 November) at 9:00 in Press Room 1 the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was to hold a press conference on the launch of their report into the State of the World Population 2012 which was under embargo until today at 13:00 Geneva time. The speaker was Ms. Dianne Stewart, Director of the Information and External Relations Division, UNFPA.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced a press conference on the 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on 20 November at 11:30 in Room III. The report contained information on atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. In addition, on Wednesday 28 November the WMO was to release two reports, the first on the status of the global climate in 2012, and a second on extreme weather events from 2001 to 2010. A press conference in Geneva was planned for 12:30 with the WMO Secretary-General.
Hans Von Rohland for the International Labor Organization (ILO) said a press release was to be issued on the current state of unemployment insurance globally, which was particularly pertinent as long-term unemployment was increasing. He also mentioned that the ILO was currently in its administrative session, which would tomorrow, (14 November) consider forced work and trade union freedom in Myanmar.