UNITED NATIONS NEWS SERVICE
22 August, 2016
PUT DIFFERENCES ASIDE AND END 'HUMANITARIAN SHAME' IN SYRIA, UN AID CHIEF TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL
Stressing the need for a 48-hour pause to the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the United Nations humanitarian chief today urged the United States and Russia to rapidly reach agreement on the security guarantees and operational modalities for a ceasefire there so aid workers can deliver life-saving assistance to those in desperate need.
"I'm not going to pretend – I'm angry, very angry" about what is happening in Aleppo today and throughout Syria over the last five years, said Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in his briefing to the Security Council.
"This callous carnage that is Syria has long since moved from the cynical, to the sinful," he said, warning that it is the failure of politics and the 15-member Council.
"So please: now is the moment, this instant, to put differences aside, come together as one, and stop this humanitarian shame upon us all, once and for all," he told Council members.
Aleppo has become the "apex of horror' at its most horrific extent of the suffering of people, with up to 275,000 people in eastern Aleppo almost entirely cut off from vital supplies, while access also remains extremely difficult to the estimated 1.5 million people in western parts of the city, Mr. O'Brien said.
"This is a race against time, as fighting rages on," he said, warning that Aleppo risks seeing a humanitarian catastrophe unparalleled in the over five years of bloodshed and carnage in the Syrian conflict.
Russia's announcement of support for 48-hour pause
Welcoming the announcement by Russia on 18 August to support the call for a 48-hour ceasefire, Mr. O'Brien said he and his office are working with all sides to seek to ensure that should the announcement by Russia translates into a comprehensive pause, that will enable aid to safely make its way to those who so desperately need it.
Russia and the United States are the co-chairs of the taskforces for humanitarian aid and a cessation of hostilities – created by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which comprises the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 16 other countries – and which have been meeting separately since early this year on a way forward on the Syrian crisis.
A humanitarian pause is "not a negotiating tactic" but needed to put confidence into the hundreds of truck drivers to jump back in their cabs, load their trucks, and set off on the slow journey over shell-cratered roads, all the time wondering whether the sniper will take the shot, or an IED (improvised explosive device) will catapult them into the air.
"As we sit here round this safe table, humanitarian rescue workers are risking their lives in search for those buried under the debris," he told Council members, noting that more than 130 'white helmets' volunteers have lost their lives since 2013, mostly caught in the so-called "double tap attacks," in which a helicopter or a jet bombs a building, then waits some time – just enough for rescue and medical workers to arrive – before attacking again.
He said that the UN and partners are ready to move assistance within 48 to 72 hours once the green light is given. "Plans are in place, but we need the agreement of all parties to let us do our job," he said.
UN convoys await green light
Outlining the plan, he said that 50 trucks of assistance are ready to move from western Aleppo into the east and preparation is under way for the cross-border movement of assistance into eastern Aleppo. An initial movement would send 20 trucks with much needed food into eastern Aleppo during the first pause. This would then be scaled up as appropriate for future pauses, and include additional humanitarian assistance based on assessed need.
According to the plan, the loading of items would be monitored by the UN Monitoring Mission, which would then seal the trucks so that any tampering would be evident on arrival, he said.
All trucks would include UN identifying markers. Once cleared, the trucks travel across the border into Syria along the same routes as used prior to 7 July. They travel along the Castello Road and into eastern Aleppo city directly to the warehouses of our partners. Once at the warehouses, trucks will be confirmed as not having been tampered with, and then the seals would be broken and assistance off-loaded, he said.
He began his briefing by saluting the life of Khaled Omar Harrah, a member of the White Helmets, killed on 11 August, by airstrikes. He is remembered for brushing aside debris and reaching through a hole in the wall to pull out a 10-day-old baby from the rubble of a collapsed building in 2014.
Citing the haunting images of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, a silent face covered in blood and dust, after being pulled from the rubble caused by a recent airstrike, Mr. O'Brien told Council members that "imagine this was your child, a child that has known nothing but horrific war."
"All we need is for the guns to fall silent," he said, not the politicking and posturing, or the power games and defensiveness.
Progress has been made this year, with a net total of 1,275,750 people reached in besieged, hard-to-reach and priority locations across Syria. But regarding August inter-agency convoy plan submitted to the Syrian authorities, the UN was denied access to more than 50 per cent of requested beneficiaries, he said.
He reported that the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo ended his three-year appointment in Syria today.
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NIGERIA: WITH THOUSANDS IN URGENT NEED, UN HEALTH AGENCY SCALES UP EMERGENCY RESPONSE
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is ramping up its response in north-eastern Nigeria, where initial assessments have revealed urgent health problems among populations in areas formerly held by Boko Haram insurgents.
"Protracted conflict situations, such as seen in northern Nigeria – and the surrounding Lake Chad basin countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger – are among the greatest threats to health, globally," Peter Salama, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme said in a news release today.
"Not only are they associated with the world's highest rates of death among children and pregnant women, they can also be breeding grounds for infectious diseases and outbreaks – but are too often neglected by the international community," he added.
According to WHO, mortality rates are estimated at four times higher than emergency thresholds in some of the 15 local government areas (LGAs) formerly held by the insurgent group. Furthermore, the rate of severe acute malnutrition is estimated to be 14 per cent, measles cases have also been reported in the area, and both the cases of polio reported by the country for the first time in two years were in Borno state. One of the cases is from an LGA that is still inaccessible to health service delivery while the other is from a newly accessible one.
Highlighting the urgency of prompt action, WHO further noted: "The immediate goal […] is to urgently reduce the rates of death and disease by rapidly scaling up life-saving health services."
The agency said it will work closely with local officials and specialist agencies to address the health risks posed by malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and long-term lack of access to basic health services.
The working environment in the affected areas is extremely challenging
The release further noted that the working environment in the affected areas is extremely challenging and resources and capacities required to meet the enormous health service gaps are grossly inadequate.
Furthermore, insecurity is a major concern, with a number of recent attacks on humanitarian staff by insurgents, and access to the LGAs require military escort over long distances on poor roads.
The working environment is further complicated by the peaking annual wet season and there are forecasts of major floods in the coming weeks.
In response to the situation, WHO has deployed expert staff to the country for emergency operations, coordination, and data management and another team is on the ground in Borno state to help in dealing with the polio outbreak response. The agency has also dispatched emergency drugs and supplies and its emergency operations will be further reinforced by an expanded, experienced response team in coming days.
Additionally, the Government has also launched emergency polio vaccination programmes, with support from WHO and partners. The first round of vaccinations, targeting one million children, will soon be completed.
The agency said the emergency response is built on its long-standing work in the African country, supporting the delivery of vital health services including immunization, maternal, child and neonatal health, and HIV services.
It estimates that the funding needs for the health sector in Nigeria are estimated at about $25 million as part of the overall humanitarian response plan, which is currently being reviewed with partners in light of the latest events.
Much more needs to be done, says senior UN official for Sahel
In related news, Toby Lanzer, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, having just concluded his fifth visit to the north-eastern parts of Nigeria noted "considerable improvements" since his last visit in April, but underscored that much more still needs to be done.
The Sahel is a region spanning across eight African countries – Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad – many of which are dealing with a volatile security situation.
In his statement, Mr. Lanzer highlighted that the scale of the crisis in the region is staggering: nine million people need emergency relief; 4.5 million people are severely food insecure; 2.5 million people have been forced from their homes.
Noting the recent re-emergence of polio in Borno state, Mr. Lanzer said: "The re-emergence […] is another blow to the people of the region and a challenge for the authorities and aid agencies, alike."
"Our stated purpose is to meet people's needs and I have no doubt that, together with an increasingly engaged donor community, much more good work must and can take place," he added.
He further stressed that they key for sustainable peace is addressing the abject poverty in the region and said that continued security and a greater engagement by civilian authorities and development and environment organizations is vital.
"Re-establishing security in all towns and across the rural expanse is crucial to enable people to farm, tend to their livestock and trade," he said.
"Building on people's will, energy and resilience is the best way of ensuring a safer and more prosperous future for the people of Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger," concluded Mr. Lanzer.
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AS ICC TRIAL OPENS, MALIAN EXTREMIST ADMITS GUILT TO DESTROYING HISTORIC SITES IN TIMBUKTU
An alleged Malian Islamist accused of destroying historical and religious monuments in the fabled city of Timbuktu pleaded guilty in the first-ever international war crimes trial focusing on destruction of cultural heritage, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on the opening day of the landmark case, which was welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi admitted guilt to the war crime consisting in the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu, between around 30 June 2012 and 11 July 2012, the ICC said in a press release, which noted that "this is the first international trial focusing on the destruction of historical and religious monuments, and the first ICC case where the defendant made an admission of guilt."
According to the release, the trial in The Hague, Netherlands, started with the reading of an extract of the confirmed charge against the accused, and the presiding judge asked him to confirm that he understood the charge. Mr. Al Mahdi admitted guilt to the charge.
In her presentation, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that the destroyed buildings of immeasurable value, notably the mausoleums of Muslim saints, were a major part of the historic heritage of the ancient city of Timbuktu.
"They were also more generally a part of the heritage of Mali, of Africa and of the world. All, except one, were inscribed on the World Heritage List," she said.
"These buildings were deliberately destroyed by Mr. Al Mahdi and his co-perpetrators before the very eyes of the people of Timbuktu, who looked on powerlessly," she continued. Mr. Al Mahdi, a member of Ansar Dine, was directly involved in the entities established by the armed groups Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine during the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012, the Prosecutor said.
"Today's trial is indeed historic," she stressed, noting that "it is all the more historic in view of the destructive rage that marks our times, in which humanity's common heritage is subject to repeated and planned ravages by individuals and groups whose goal is to eradicate any representation of a world that differs from theirs by eliminating the physical manifestations that are at the heart of communities."
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the landmark case and commended the Court for bringing the significant issue to the forefront of efforts to ensure international justice and accountability, his spokesperson said in a statement.
"It draws our attention to an increasingly worrying trend of deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in situations of armed conflict," said the statement, which also noted that "such attacks represent a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations and their religious and historical roots."
The Secretary-General "strongly condemns" all such acts, and call on all concerned to ensure perpetrators are held accountable, the statement said.
The judges will pronounce a decision and a possible sentence after further proceedings.
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UN HEALTH AGENCY'S AFRICAN MEMBER STATES ADOPT NEW MALARIA FRAMEWORK
With Africa still accounting for more than 90 per cent of global malaria deaths in 2015, the United Nations health agency's member States in the region have adopted a new framework on implementing a strategy towards a malaria-free continent.
In an annual meeting of the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday, all 47 African member States unanimously adopted the new framework on how to implement the Global Technical Strategy for malaria in the region. It proposes specific priority interventions and actions to be implemented by member states to reach "an African region free of malaria."
"Malaria is no longer the leading cause of death among children in sub-Saharan Africa," said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti in a news release. "We have made substantial progress in controlling malaria within our region. Since 2000, malaria death rates have plunged by 66 per cent, translating into 6.2 million lives saved, the vast majority of them being children."
Between 2000 and 2015, the number of malaria cases and deaths within Africa declined by 42 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively. However, Africa still bears the biggest malaria burden with roughly 190 million cases and 400,000 deaths in 2015 alone, accounting for 89 per cent and 91 per cent of the world's total, respectively.
In addition, over 800 million people in Africa are still at risk of malaria. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, WHO reassures a firm commitment to eliminate the epidemic from the African continent by 2030, a target that would require an estimated $66 billion to achieve.
"In 2015, two in three households in Africa did have their own insecticide-treated mosquito net, compared to only 2 per cent back in 2000," said Ms. Moeti. "More and more children get to sleep under a net, and we need to continue to invest in changing people's behaviours."
Some of the main challenges to tackle malaria include gaps in access to available prevention methods, the limited number of interventions available and increasing resistance to medicines and insecticides. In addition, weak health systems present a very high risk to malaria control and elimination. During the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, malaria control gains were lost in the severely affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
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MORE THAN THREE MILLION DISPLACED IN YEMEN – JOINT UN AGENCY REPORT
A joint report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found that the conflict in Yemen has resulted in the displacement of some 3,154,572 people, of which 2,205,102 remain displaced across the country and some 949,470 have attempted to return home.
"The crisis is forcing more and more people to leave their homes in search of safety," Ita Schuette, UNHCR's Deputy Representative in Yemen said in a news release on Friday, announcing the report.
The news release added that due to the escalating conflict and worsening humanitarian conditions, displacement across the country has seen an increase of about seven per cent since April, with 152,009 individuals fleeing from violence during this period.
The report, prepared by the Task Force on Population Movement, a technical working group led by the two agencies as part of the humanitarian response to the crisis in Yemen, also said that a significant number of those displaced are attempting to return home, a 24 per cent increase of some 184,491 individuals. However, it cautioned that movements remained fluid and correlated to moments of lulls or perceived improvements in the conflict.
"IDP returnees are considered to remain within the displacement cycle as long as they have not achieved a sustainable reintegration and their needs remain high, as is also the case for the non-displaced host community," said Laurent De Boeck, IOM Chief of Mission to Yemen.
The news release further added that prolonged displacement had adversely impacted the communities hosting uprooted populations, substantially increasing pressures on already scarce resources. The majority of those displaced, some 62 per cent, are being hosted by their family and friends while others are using unsuitable shelters.
It further said that for those displaced, the primary challenges continued to be the basic essentials: food, shelter and drinking water.
According to the figures, as the conflict continues, the average length of time people having to spend away from their homes has also increased. Most of those uprooted, some 89 per cent, have been displaced for more than ten months.
The report also includes data on displacement due to natural disasters: at present, 24,744 individuals remain displaced due to cyclones and floods.
Cumulatively, owing to conflict and natural disasters, eight per cent of Yemen's population now remains displaced.
According to the news release, the report consolidates data from the UNHCR Population Movement Tracking system and the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, enabling the release of the most comprehensive estimates of displaced population figures and trends in Yemen to date.
* * *
'PRESSURE' ON PALESTINIAN HOUSEHOLDS TO MOVE RAISES RISK OF FORCIBLE TRANSFERS – UN OFFICIAL
A senior United Nations official has cautioned that many Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank are facing a heightened risk of forcible transfer as there has been a recent surge in the number of demolitions in the area.
"Repeated rounds of demolitions, restrictions on access to basic services and regular visits by Israeli security personnel promoting 'relocation plans' are all part of a coercive environment that now surrounds these vulnerable Palestinian households," Robert Piper, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid in the occupied Palestinian territory said today in a news release after returning from a visit to the Palestinian community of Abu Nuwar in the Jerusalem governorate.
"The cumulative pressure to move to other parts of the West Bank continues to be ratcheted-up; in this environment, we cannot expect people to make decisions based on genuine consent so the risk of forcible transfers remains high," he added.
According to the release, there has been a surge in demolitions and confiscations across the West Bank this year, with 786 Palestinian-owned structures demolished so far in 2016. These demolitions have cumulatively displaced 1,197 people, including 558 children. Over 200 of the demolished structures had been provided as humanitarian relief.
Since the start of August, Israeli security forces have destroyed or confiscated a total of 85 civilian structures across 28 West Bank communities. 29 structures across eight locations were demolished in the last week alone, resulting in the displacement of 64 Palestinians, including 24 children.
The structures demolished in August included emergency shelters following previous home demolitions, animal sheds, latrines, a community centre and a new drinking water network.
Damage to the water network, that was supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), has affected nearly 1,000 Palestinians in five herding communities in the Jordan Valley who suffer extreme water scarcity especially during summer months, added the release.
"As the occupying power, international law requires that Israel ensures that the basic needs of Palestinians are met and that the conditions necessary for their development are present, including a fair and lawful planning and zoning regime," it further noted.
The news release also said that facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid is also a legal obligation whilst the forcible transfer of populations is prohibited under International Humanitarian Law, as is the destruction of property unless absolutely necessary for military operations.
There is also renewed concern for the community of Susiya in the southern West Bank, where over 170 civilian structures are under threat of demolition and where the Israeli authorities abruptly ended negotiations with community representatives last month.
"Dkaika. Khan al Ahmar. Um al Kheir. Abu Nuwar. Susiya… these are just some of the highly vulnerable communities where families, many of whom are Palestine refugees, live in permanent fear of becoming homeless and children wonder if they will still have a school to attend tomorrow," said Mr. Piper.
* * *
UN CHIEF URGES ALL TO BUILD ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT EFFECTS OF 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has congratulated Brazil, the city of Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian people, the Rio 2016 Local Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for having successfully concluded the 2016 Olympic Games.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson today, Mr. Ban expressed deep appreciation 'for the hospitality, diversity and capabilities of the Brazilian people and the world of sport, displayed at the first-ever Olympic Games in Latin America."
He also recalled, with pleasure and honour, his participation at the opening ceremony, in the Olympic Torch relay, visit to the Olympic Village and attending some of the events.
In the statement, the Secretary-General also Applauded [the] historic achievement and encouraged all stakeholders "to secure and build on the sustainable development effects of the Games."
The UN chief also recalled his meeting with the 10-member Refugee Olympic Team that participated in the Games under the Olympic flag.
The team was supported by the UN refugee agency and the IOC, and their participation brought global attention to the global refugee crisis and served as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide.
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