Regular press briefing by the Information Service
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by spokespersons for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Organization for Migration.
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the head of the UNHCR office in Mogadishu had just completed a five-week tour of duty in the Somali capital, where she witnessed the spontaneous development of settlements for internally displaced people across the city as Somalis uprooted by drought and famine flocked there in search of assistance. UNHCR was preparing to deliver assistance to up to 180,000 people in Mogadishu and South central Somalia by the end of the month. However, UNHCR’s ability to deliver that much needed aid was being hampered by the ongoing fighting in the Somali capital. According to the latest data from UNHCR’s food security partners, given the current levels of malnutrition, mortality and humanitarian response, combined with the likelihood of increasing prices and a harsh dry season, food security was expected to deteriorate over the coming months. By August or September, all regions of Southern Somalia were likely to be facing famine, according to the FSNAU’s Famine Early Warning System Network, and it was expected that the influx of internally displaced people into the city would continue. The ongoing offensive was negatively affecting the ability of UNHCR and other partners to deliver assistance to populations in distress at a time when their needs were most urgent. UNHCR staff’s only means of travel in Mogadishu was in heavily armoured vehicles protected by security escorts. As a result of restrictions on those escorts due to the ongoing fighting in the capital, UNHCR’s ability to move around Mogadishu had been severely limited. So far, UNHCR had distributed over 15,000 emergency assistance packages for some 90,000 people in Mogadishu and Southern Somalia since the declaration of the famine in two regions on 20 July. They planned to distribute a further 13,000 emergency assistance packages to benefit some 78,000 people in the coming 10 days.
Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said in Kenya, the flow of refugees from Somalia continued unabated with more than 40,000 Somalis arriving in the Dadaab refugee camps in July, the highest monthly arrival rate in the camp’s 20-year history. So far this year, some 116,000 Somali refugees had streamed into the Dadaab refugee camps. In order to ease the overcrowding at the edges of two of the camps, UNHCR was continuing its operation to relocate refugees to two new sites. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Elizabeth Byrs of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said one quarter of Somalia’s 7.5 million people had been displaced, either within Somalia or to neighbouring countries. The revised consolidated appeal for Somalia was 40.5 per cent funded - $ 429 million out of the required $ 1,060 million, with a funding gap of around $ 631 million. Food interventions were 57 per cent funded, the WASH cluster (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) 34 per cent, nutrition 25 per cent, health 23 per cent and livelihoods 11 per cent. [The low funding for some of the sectors could have dramatic consequences including the health sector.] For Kenya, the revised consolidated appeal was 48 per cent funded - $357 million out of the $ 740 million required, with a funding gap of around $ 383 million. The revised drought appeal for Djibouti was 42 per cent funded - $ 14 million out of the required $ 33 million with a funding gap or around $ 19 million. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Sandra Aviles of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that FAO was continuing to work in areas affected by the food insecurity crisis, especially in Somalia where other agencies had severe access problems. FAO was trying to provide cash for work programmes, helping famine-hit farmers and herders in Somalia to feed their families. FAO was following this up with the distribution of seeds and tools, water trucking, vaccination and treatment of animals, meaning that households could quickly resume their farming and livelihoods production in time for the coming rains in September and October. The existence of large displaced populations was placing an enormous strain on the host communities in Kenya and Ethiopia, along with the natural resources of the surrounding areas, and could lead to tension over access to vital resources. FAO had called for $ 130 million within the consolidated appeal, and had received under the livelihood sector only 11 per cent of that. This was quite dire and FAO believed that this was not just a question of life saving but life sustaining in terms of livelihood. Quoting the food security and nutrition assessment unit, Ms. Aviles said that while they did not have an exact dead toll in Somalia for many reasons, they could say with certainty that from the beginning of April to the end of June, tens of thousands of people had died in Southern Somalia as a result of the crisis. However, it could not be stated that starvation was the only reason as deaths could also be attributed to diseases. Almost half of those who died were under five years of age.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the funding situation for the Horn of Africa was dire. UNICEF had a funding gap of over $ 200 million out of its $ 340 million appeal. UNICEF was making an appeal now to the air transport industry for free and heavily discounted cargo space to help them transport emergency nutrition supplies to the Horn of Africa. Every month, UNICEF had about 5,000 metric tones of therapeutic and supplementary food to move from warehouses in Belgium, France and Italy. This was enough therapeutic and supplementary food to feed 300,000 malnourished children and they needed to get this food to Nairobi as quickly as possible. This meant bringing it by air, which was extremely costly. The other alternative to transport the food was via sea, and UNICEF was setting up a pipeline for doing this, but they had a six-week gap, which meant that they had to transport 400 metric tones per week by air during those six weeks. Over the last week, British Airways, Lufthansa, UPS and Virgin had come forward with offers to transport between 15 and 50 metric tones per week for a limited period. Cargo Lux had also offered to transport 107 metric tones from Luxembourg to Nairobi. This was a great example of the kind of support that UNICEF was looking for and UNICEF appreciated the help and looked for other airlines to do the same. There were over 2.3 million acutely malnourished children in the Horn of Africa. More than half a million would die if they did not get help within weeks.
Responding to questions, Ms. Byrs said they had $ 1 billion committed so far by donors, and they still needed $ 1.4 billion. Contributions were coming in, but they needed more and they needed the money as soon as possible to save lives.
Answering another question, Ms. Aviles said that acute malnutrition rates in Somalia were at 50 per cent, with the highest death rate exceeding 6 deaths in 10,000 per day. In terms of the famine conditions, they were now present in two regions in Southern Somalia, but it was now forecast that they would spread to other regions within the next two months - if urgent assistance was not given. Ms. Aviles said that this emergency was covering Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia right now as well as parts of Djibouti, but FAO had also started to monitor the situation in northern Uganda, where there were pockets of food insecurity affected by the same drought conditions, so Uganda might be the next country to be hit.
International Organization for Migration on Libya, Bangladesh and Mexico
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said an IOM operation to airlift hundreds of vulnerable stranded Chadian migrants out of the Southern Libyan town of Sebha to return them to the Chadian capital N’Djamena had been successfully completed. The operation, which ended on 30 July, provided evacuation assistance to 1,398 vulnerable Chadian migrants and other third country nationals, including many women, children and elderly who fled areas around Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi and Sebha. Prior to their departure, the migrants were transferred to an IOM transit centre in Sebha, where they were provided with food, water and shelter. Medical checks were carried out with the support of the Libyan Red Crescent. The returnees were met on arrival in N’Djamena by IOM staff and were provided with food, shelter and assistance to return to their towns and villages primarily in the capital N’Djamena, as well as the regions of Kanem, Ouaddai and Guera. More than 78,000 Chadian migrants had returned from Libya over the past five months, most of the time empty handed. Their homecoming meant that remittances they used to send back to their families in Chad had also dried up, making them even more vulnerable at a time of worsening food insecurity.
Mr. Chauzy said 1,600 out of some 37,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers forced to flee Libya earlier this year had received reintegration grants of Taka 50,000 ($ 680) each from the Bangladesh Government through IOM. The grant programme, which was managed by IOM and funded by a $ 40 million loan from the World Bank, began in early July with a document verification phase to establish eligibility for the grants.
This week, IOM Mexico was presenting its most recent publication “Human Trafficking in Mexico: A Study of Assistance Provided to Victims”. The publication included general information about victims of human trafficking assisted from 2005 to 2009 and described the comprehensive assistance provided by IOM Mexico staff, in close coordination with public and civil society organizations. According to statistics presented in this IOM publication, the most common types of human trafficking were labour exploitation (60 per cent) and sexual exploitation (38 per cent). An interesting data was that more than 60 per cent of traffickers were women and in most cases the victims knew their traffickers who were either acquaintances or family members.
Two journalists said they would like Ms. Vellucci to transmit to the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that journalists urgently needed an update on the situation in Syria. Ms. Vellucci said one spokesperson had been supposed to attend, but he must have been held up, and she would try to ensure that there was someone here on Friday. Meanwhile, journalists could address their questions to the Information Service which would follow up on them with the OHCHR.
Ms. Vellucci said the third and last part of the 2011 session of the Conference on Disarmament was starting this week. The first public plenary would be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 August.
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) would be starting on Monday, 8 August. The Advisory Committee would be meeting for one week at the Palais des Nations, while CERD would be meeting until 2 September at the Palais Wilson.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe would be holding a press conference on Wednesday, 3 August at 11 a.m. in press room 1 on the launch of the "Forest Products Annual Market Review 2010-2011".