REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
16 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, United Nations Children’s Fund, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Democratic Republic of the Congo / Uganda
Amanda Pitt for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Coordinator of Humanitarian Action in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Moustapha Soumare, said on Monday, July 15 that he was very concerned about the deteriorating security situation in North Kivu in recent days, following renewed fighting between the national army and armed groups of Mutaho on the outskirts of the city of Goma and Kamango in Beni Territory. Mr. Soumare said the recurrence of fighting near populated areas was a serious protection issue for thousands of people and could trigger disastrous humanitarian consequences. He appealed to all parties to the conflict to take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law.
The people of North Kivu had lived through the horrors of armed conflict for several months, Ms. Pitt said. In May, shelling in the Mutaho affected one neighbourhood in Goma and an IDP camp, killing at least four people and leading some 4,000 people to flee their homes. The displacement of people was currently limited because many had already been displaced from the area and had not yet returned to their homes. Recent clashes between the Congolese army and rebels the ADF and NALU groups had caused further displacement. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 66,000 people had taken refuge in Uganda in the last three days. Access to the volatile Kamango area was very limited due to the fighting.
Mr. Soumare had also emphasized that parties to the conflict ensure unhindered access to populations in need for humanitarian actors, wherever the location. The humanitarian community was mobilizing to respond to the consequences of the latest crisis, but also asked that any failure to protect civilians, especially those who had lost their lives, did not go unpunished. Ms. Pitt noted that North Kivu province was already home to almost one million IDPs, which was more than a third of those displaced in the country overall.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said with a new emergency underway in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR and its partners had been rushing to help the tens of thousands of refugees who had fled the violence into western Uganda’s Bundibugyo district. The refugees, who began arriving last Thursday, were spread out along the hilly border area, where conditions were tough and getting help to them was difficult.
As of Sunday night, the Uganda Red Cross had manually registered 66,139 people – refugees who had fled across the border after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, captured the North Kivu town of Kamango. Together with its partners, UNHCR had completed joint assessment missions and begun moving emergency food and non-food aid to the area. The refugees were living in any space available, including schools, with host families and even in gardens.
A transit centre was now open some 20 kilometres from the border in Bubukwanga sub-county. Some 2,000 people had been transported there since Saturday, but many refugees were reluctant to move from the hilly border region, where there had been cross-border to-ing and fro-ing during daylight hours as people returned to their nearby towns or villages to get food, belongings and to check on their crops at harvest time.
At the same time, and although the Congolese government was encouraging people to come back, refugees were not willing to return immediately to their homes because of the continuing dangerous situation in this region of North Kivu. While Kamango was quiet and emptied, UNHCR had received reports of clashes in three other areas, including an ADF ambush of a UN peace-keeping vehicle, which was repelled by a helicopter gunship on Friday. The situation remained very fluid.
Moving the refugees to safer areas was now a main challenge. UNHCR was worried about their current situation, as the conditions that many were living in were dire. People were dotted across a hilly area where it was very cold at night and where it was difficult to find drinking water and food. Sanitation and hygiene facilities were almost non-existent. UNHCR believed that the longer they stay at the border, the more likely there would be outbreaks of disease.
Therefore UNHCR was trying to persuade the refugees that if they wished to receive protection, shelter and assistance they should come to the transit centre, which could hold 10,000 people and another 10,000 once additional neighbouring land became accessible. It would also enable UNHCR and the Government of Uganda to do a more thorough registration of the refugees and identify those most in need of protection and assistance. UNHCR was talking to community leaders to encourage the refugees to move and some families had started moving vulnerable family members to the transit centre. UNHCR also planned to send technical staff with site planning and water, sanitation and hygiene expertise to Bundibugyo as part of the emergency response.
Separately, UNHCR was also concerned about the situation further south in North Kivu and close to the provincial capital of Goma, where fighting between government forces and the M23 movement had broken out after a two-month lull. The fighting there was also causing displacement, including preventive displacement.
For the latest refugee arrivals, UNHCR had sent plastic sheeting for shelter construction, plates and cups, and temporary latrine kits as well as soap. It had also provided fuel for transfers to the transit centre. On Monday, UNHCR sent an additional emergency shipment of tents, plastic rolls, blankets, sleeping mats and fuel. Other items were en route. With a deteriorating situation in Masisi – to the northwest of Goma - a steady stream of about 600 people a week had been crossing into Uganda’s Kisoro district. More skirmishes were likely and UNHCR feared that they could trigger a bigger exodus.
Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that as UNHCR said there was a “challenging context of a rapid and massive influx” of refugees escaping fighting. Access was difficult, the terrain was problematic and there was a lot of movement.
UNICEF’s response so far was focused around providing access to safe water and sanitation, health-related services as well as child-friendly shelters for the refugees. Attention was also being centred on child protection, for separated and unaccompanied children. UNICEF was looking into establishing child-safety areas and living areas for unaccompanied children.
Ms. Momal-Vanian drew journalists’ attention to a statement issued by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) yesterday regarding the situation near Goma. The statement said that the Mission was on high alert and that any attempt by the M23 to advance toward Goma would be considered a direct threat to civilians. The Mission also noted that the UN blue helmets stood ready to take any necessary measures, including the use of lethal force, in order to protect civilians.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) briefed the press on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), cases of which had been regularly reported regularly to WHO since 2012. Ms. Chaib noted that globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO had been informed of a total of 82 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 45 deaths.
In order to take an independent expert view of the situation and to be prepared for any further action, should it be required, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan had convened a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee. The Emergency Committee was composed of international experts from a variety of relevant disciplines and all regions of WHO, whose task was to provide expert technical advice to the Director-General in accordance with the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR).
The first meeting of the Committee took place on 9 July 2013, at which the Committee reviewed data on the current situation provided by the Secretariat and by officials of countries which have, or have had, cases of MERS-CoV. The Committee decided it needed additional information in a number of areas and so scheduled a second meeting for 12 p.m. on Wednesday 17 July, 2013.
A report of the outcome of the meeting of the Emergency Committee of the International Health Regulations would be presented to the WHO Director General and Members States, and be followed by a Virtual Press Conference to be held in Geneva on the evening of Wednesday 17 July, led by Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General, Health Security and Environment. Ms. Chaib said that journalists would be advised about the time by email via the WHO media list as soon as the meeting has concluded. She hoped that the Committee’s conclusions would be made available on the website by the end of the day.
Drought in Namibia and Angola
Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that neighbouring Namibia and Angola were facing a drought impacting the respective country’s food security and affecting children on both sides of the border. Though the emergency was in the early stages, it was expected to deteriorate.
UNICEF was seeking international support for affected populations, particularly women and children, to avert a nutritional and health crisis in both countries. UNICEF’s support to the Governments of Namibia and Angola would focus on the prevention and treatment of malnutrition and disease, mitigating protection risks and supporting children’s access to education.
In Namibia, there were more than 778,000 people affected including 109,000 children under-five at risk of malnutrition after almost three decades of low seasonal rainfall and a second year of failed rains in some locations. Similarly, Angola had entered a prolonged dry season and millions of children may be potentially impacted by the drought. Water levels were quickly decreasing and about 40 to 50 per cent of water-points were no longer functioning, Mr. McCormick said.
UNICEF Namibia was appealing for US$ 7,400,000 and UNICEF Angola was appealing for US$ 14,339,000.
International Organization for Migration
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the International Organization for Migration today, at the humanitarian section of ECOSOC, launched its Compendium on Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience. She invited members of the press to visit the IOM booth at ECOSOC, where they would present the Compendium. Ms. Sévenier also announced an ECOSOC side-event taking place tomorrow, Wednesday 17 July from 8.15 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. in Room XXIV, at which IOM and its partners from the Government of the Philippines and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre would host a discussion on the latest innovations for responding to situations of displacement induced by natural disasters.
Ms. Sévenier introduced expert Patrice Quesada, Transition and Recovery Officer at the IOM, who said that IOM’s second Compendium on Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience provided for the first time an in-depth analysis of the interaction between disasters and mobility, spelt out the fundamental role that human mobility played in shaping resilience and indicated the causes of vulnerability for communities at risk.
Between 2008 and 2012, some 140 million people worldwide had been displaced by violent events including earthquakes and floods, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Travel was one of the most visible consequences of direct and dramatic natural disasters – recent IDMC figures further showed that 32 million people travelled last year as a consequence of internal conflicts. IOM also thought that recent floods in northern India and Nepal due to monsoons, as well as those recently in Eastern Europe, illustrated the link between climate change and a worsening of the situation.
IOM had studied that link for many years and concluded that they needed to move away from a reactive and expensive humanitarian model, and invest more in risk reduction.
Building resilience and preventing unwanted displacement, especially of the most vulnerable populations, was key to reducing the cost of disasters.
Mr. Quesada said that with over 23 million people assisted, 250 projects completed and US$700 million spent over the last four years, IOM disaster-related programmes included innovative solutions to reduce disaster risk. To that end, the Compendium unpacked the mobility and risk reduction nexus, demonstrating that effective management of mobility allows the building of resilience. The Compendium covered situations in 33 countries, from Micronesia to Haiti through the African continent, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
The Compendium also identified problems such as urbanization fuelled by rural-urban migration in emerging countries, access to housing, the issue of population relocations outside areas either at risk or likely to disappear, the risk of cross-border movements and more. It proposes practical solutions for local authorities, civil society and other stakeholders. IOM had identified and developed 19 fact sheets on the following areas: reducing the risk of forced displacement, preparing evacuations and managing significant population movements; helping people rebuild from the perspective of ending situations of displacement; and investing in migration as a strategy for risk reduction.
Despite its size the 300-page Compendium was user-friendly and had created for readers to access various parts of the document independently, including interactive graphs and maps. The Compendium was available from today on the IOM website: http://www.iom.int/cms/drr-compendium.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) gave an update on South-South Trade Monitoring. Ms. Sibut reported on the general trend of growth of South-South exports in world trade. In 2011 South-South merchandize exports reached US$4 trillion. Since 2008/2009 the South exported more to other developing countries than to the North. Growth had been consistent in every region, Ms. Sibut said, while South-South exports accounted for nearly a quarter of world exports in 2011 compared to 13 per cent in 2001. All of the developing regions significantly increased their exports to the South in the past two decades. During this period the South-South exports as a whole grew by 16 per cent per year on average. Ms. Sibut also reported that while developing countries in Asia claimed 77 per cent of South-South exports in 2011, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region each claimed four, 10 and 10 per cent respectively. More information was available on the website.
Amanda Pitt for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced details of a press conference to take place Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at 2:45 p.m. in Room III at which Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, would launch the mid year review of the Global Humanitarian Appeal 2013 (the ‘GAP’). A copy of the review was available under the back of the room, under embargo until the time of the press conference. Ms. Pitt noted that the review gave an overview of appeals for this year, information on each of the 18 countries, a summary of the current funding, and details on issues affecting humanitarian funding for those 18 countries, including Syria. Ms. Pitt also noted that copies of USG Valerie Amos’ opening remarks from the opening of the Humanitarian Section of ECOSOC yesterday were also available.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that Nelson Mandela Day would take place this week on Thursday 18 July. To commemorate the day United Nations Office at Geneva would host a screening of films about Mr. Mandela’s life, his addresses to the United Nations and a new United Nations film on South Africa. The event would take place in Room III, starting at 12 p.m. with refreshments, followed by opening words by Director-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Permanent Representative of South Africa and Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, at 12.30 p.m. The event would end at 1.30 p.m.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) yesterday began its humanitarian segment, which would conclude tomorrow afternoon. Two roundtables on humanitarian issues would take place this morning. On Wednesday morning ECOSOC would commence a debate on "other matters" which would include, among other reports, the following subjects: sustainable development, food security, non-governmental organizations, assistance for the Palestinian people, regional cooperation, the fight against drugs and crime, science and technology for development, advancement of women, and human rights issues. The ECOSOC session would end on 26 July.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would today consider the report of Cape Verde, tomorrow the report of the United Kingdom, the report of Serbia on Thursday and on Friday the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would be the final country to be reviewed this session.
The Human Rights Committee this morning would complete its review of the report of Albania. The report of the Czech Republic would be considered this afternoon and tomorrow morning, and would be the final country report to be reviewed this session.
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The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here http://bit.ly/13MkzVO