Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said that 12-15,000 South Sudanese were currently stranded at the Kosti way station, 200 kilometers south of Khartoum, many of whom had been waiting many months for transport to South Sudan. The IOM was very concerned following an announcement by the Governor of Sudan’s White Nile State that these persons must leave by 5 May. These people were dependent on assistance from the international community for food, health care and other essential services, and it was impossible to provide them with transport within this timeframe. The IOM urged the Government of Sudan to grant more time for the international community to work with Federal and State-level authorities to help the South Sudanese in Kosti, who have clearly manifested their wish to leave Sudan, to move to South Sudan in safety and dignity.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said the WFP was concerned about the impact on nutrition of the fighting in the border region. Many people who were already facing a precarious food situation may now be affected even more strongly. In the past week, therefore, the WFP had assisted around 2,000 refugees arriving at Yida in Unity State, and, since the beginning of April, it has fed almost 20,000 refugees in Yida. The WFP had pre-positioned about 90 per cent of the stocks needed in South Sudan as most roads would soon become impassable due to the rainy season. In the Upper Nile and Unity States the WFP had prepositioned 14,000 metric tons of food, enough for 140,000 people for six months. The WFP had also deployed trucks and two helicopters to deliver not just food but also medical kits, shelter items, fuel and other assistance on behalf of the humanitarian community. In addition, the WFP had recently transported people injured in the fighting to areas where they could access medical assistance. The organization had increased storage capacity in the Border States for food and other items, as well as pre-positioning mobile storage units in strategic locations to further increase the capacity if needed.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that while famine conditions no longer existed, Somalia remained the world’s most complex humanitarian context. Almost a third of Somalis remained in crisis, unable to meet their essential food and non-food needs, including 325,000 acutely malnourished children. Some 70 per cent of these children lived in South and Central Somalia. The recovery from last year’s drought and famine remained extremely fragile, and additional shocks – poor rains, less access, more displacement and disease outbreaks – could easily tip communities back into disaster. The “Gu” rains had now started, but the most recent FEWSNET forecast in terms of impact on crop production and replenishment of water resources was not optimistic.
Working in parts of Somalia and reaching children remained challenging. A ban on most humanitarian actors was in place, and much of South and Central Somalia was insecure. That said, by the first quarter of this year, UNICEF and partners had treated over 126,000 malnourished children, over 90 per cent of them in the South and Central zones. In the South, UNICEF and partners had also provided blanket supplementary feeding to over 35,000 households, vaccinated 144,000 children, and enabled over 850,000 people to access safe water. UNICEF was working as hard as ever to reach children in need wherever it could.
Last year, an outpouring of financial support following the declaration of famine in Somalia had enabled UNICEF and other humanitarian actors to scale up assistance which continued to save lives today. But Somalia's famine last year had not been a one season crisis, and right now, funding shortfalls constituted perhaps the most significant challenge to sustaining life-saving operations. It was the second quarter of the year, and UNICEF's USD 289 million appeal for 2012 was just 12 per cent funded. If the money was not found urgently, programmes in sectors such as water, health, nutrition, education and protection would have to be cut.
Ms. Byrs said the WFP had launched a general distribution of food supplements to children under the age of 2 years. The objective of this undertaking, which had started on Monday, was to reduce the incidence of malnutrition among children below the age of five who were in a critical situation. The total costs of this operation amounted to 3,610,665,300 FCFA.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that 16.6 million persons in nine countries of the region faced a situation of severe food insecurity.
Displacement in Eastern DR Congo
Asked about the situation of displacement in Goma, Eastern Congo, following reports of fighting this weekend, Mr. Edwards said the situation there was extremely serious. Before the start of this year there had been about a million displaced people in that region but this year had seen a sharp increase in numbers. In South Kivu, in particular, the numbers were quite high, in the region of 220,000 additional people this year, while North Kivu has also seen displacement during April. The particular problem in the Eastern DR Congo was that the insecurity effectively prevented UNHCR from accessing people in that area.