UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by Ethiopia plane crash which killed 157, including at least 19 UN workers

UN Photo/Mark GartenUN Secretary-General António Guterres.    10 March 2019UN Affairs

An Ethiopian  Airlines fight crashed shortly after take off from the capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing more than 150 people on board. The UN  Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives” , as reports emerged that UN staff were also among the dead.

The Boeing airliner bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, took off at 8:44 am local time, losing contact with air traffic control atj Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, just six minutes later, according to news reports. The plane was reportedly carrying passengers from more than 35 different countries. 

Mr. Guterres conveyed his “heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the victims’ families and loved ones, including those of United Nations staff members, as well as sincere condolences to the Government and people of Ethiopia”.

According to the UN Department of Safety and Security in Kenya, 19 UN staff perished in the crash. The World Food Programme (WFP) lost seven staff, the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) lost two, as did the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Sudan, World Bank and UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) each lost one staff member. Six staff from the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) were also tragically killed.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, although weather conditions were reportedly good and the plane went down in a field near Bishoftu, around 35 miles southeast of the capital.

The UN is in contact with the Ethiopian authorities and “working closely with them to establish the details of United Nations personnel who lost their lives in this tragedy” the Secretary-General stated.

The disaster happened on the eve of the UN Environment Assembly when Heads of State, environment ministers and thousands of others will convene for five days in the Kenyan capital.

UN officials express condolences, sadness

Many senior UN officials took to Social Media to express their condolences and sadness. On Twitter, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO,) sent his “heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families”, saying that one FAO staff member was among the victims.

Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley tweeted  that “the WFP family mourns today”, adding that “we will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers”, he said.

In a statement issued later in th day, he said Mr. Guterres had called him “to express his solidarity and support for the WFP family, and I want to thank him and all of the others around the world for their expressions of condolences.”

“As we mourn, let us reflect that each of these WFP colleagues were willing to travel and work far from their homes and loved ones to help make the world a better place to live. That was their calling, as it is for the rest of the WFP family,” he added.

Houlin Zhao, ITU SecretaryGeneral tweeted his “sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the  plane crash” Noting that two ITU staff were on the flight, he said: “Our colleagues in Addis are providing support to their families during this difficult time.”

“All of us at UNICEF mourn the tragic loss of our UN colleagues and all those who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash today. May they rest in peace. Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones”, Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, tweeted.

On behalf of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), whose Headquarters are in Nairobi, Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif tweeted here “deepest condolences and prayers to the Great Nation of Ethiopia and to the families of the passengers and crew members who lost their lives in this tragedy. May they rest in eternal peace”.

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a condolence statement saying: “UNHCR has suffered today a huge loss”.

IOM Director-General António Vitorino issued a statement expressing his deep sadness over the lives lost, “including a young IOM staff member Anne-Katrin Feigl”, who “was en route to a training course in Nairobi as part of her role as a Junior Professional Officer”. 

Catherine Northing, Chief of the IOM Mission in Sudan where Ms. Feigl worked, called her “an extremely valued colleague and popular staff member, committed and professional”, saying “her tragic passing has left a big hole and we will all miss her greatly”.  

As a mark of respect IOM said it would “fly its flag at half-mast at its offices tomorrow, as will the UN and it’s agencies”.
 

93 million children with disabilities ‘among the most likely to be left behind’: UN rights chief

93 million children with disabilities ‘among the most likely to be left behind’: UN rights chief

© UNICEF/UN0280961/VishwanathanAnupriya, a child with disabilities takes part in development activities at an Anaganwadi center in Cherki, Bihar, India. Around 93 million children with disabilities are at risk of being left behind.    4 March 2019Human Rights

States should do more for an estimated 93 million children with disabilities who are “among the most likely to be left behind and the least likely to be heard”, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on Monday.

Speaking at a Human Rights Council event highlighting how disabled youngsters are more exposed to violence, abuse and neglect, Ms. Bachelet explained that they have the same rights as all children.

Children with disabilities must have a say in all matters that affect the course of their lives – UN rights chief Bachelet

Their empowerment depends upon these rights being realized, she said – particularly the equal right to education – before highlighting how learning gives everyone the potential to escape poverty and exploitation.

“Children with disabilities must have a say in all matters that affect the course of their lives…They must be empowered to reach their full potential and enjoy their full human rights – and this requires us to change both attitudes and environmental factors.” Ms. Bachelet insisted.

Discrimination against children with disabilities can begin as soon as they are born, the High Commissioner noted, from authorities choosing not to register births, to separating them from families and placing them in care institutions.

Another key factor preventing the inclusion of disabled youngsters in their communities, and their ability to exercise their rights, is ongoing segregation into special schools, institutions and sheltered homes.

“This is a legacy of a model which has caused exclusion and marginalisation,” said Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. “We can no longer have children being hidden away and isolated, children with disabilities must have the opportunity to dream of a full and happy life,” she added.

Addressing the Council, Ms. Aguilar insisted that children with disabilities “face stigma, discrimination, prejudice and barriers. They are abandoned, neglected, socially excluded, segregated, over protected, not given accessibility and the services and support they need.”

In addition to these challenges, she said one in three school-age children with disabilities do not have a primary education, while a child with learning difficulties is almost five times more likely to suffer sexual violence than their peers. /p>

Echoing her message, Moldova children’s rights advocate Dumitriţa Cropivnitchi from the non-governmental organization Lumos, described her experience of discrimination, linked to disability.

“Because of my disability, at the age of five, I was sent to live in an institution as it was the only place I could receive an education,” she said. Can you imagine what it would be like, she added, “for a five-year old to be sent to a huge cold building, that smelt of porridge, and to have her parents replaced by educators, to share a room with 11 others, clothes and live by the rules of the institution?”

After staying there for five years, Ms. Cropivnitchi returned home and benefited from reforms that introduced mainstream schools that she could attend, including one in her village.

“It is indisputable that childhood is meant to be the most beautiful yet also, the most vulnerable stage in life,” she told the Human Rights Council. “During childhood, a child is dependent on adults. Children with disabilities can continue to be dependent and vulnerable their whole life… I ask myself now, how is this correct’, she said, to do this to “the thousands, millions of children around the world?”

‘Once lost, hearing doesn’t come back,’ World Health Organization warns on World Hearing Day

‘Once lost, hearing doesn’t come back,’ World Health Organization warns on World Hearing Day

© UNICEF/UN0264260/HaroMebratu also known as ‘Tanki’ by his friends, is a 16-year-old boy from Eritrea. Music is one his greatest passions. He loves to listen to Eritrean traditional songs in his headphones found on his journey to Niger.    3 March 2019Health

Many people live with unidentified hearing loss, often failing to realize that they are missing out on certain sounds and words. To address this problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging people on this year’s World Hearing Day, held on March 3, to check their hearing.

Worldwide, some 466 million people have disabling hearing loss, and the WHO estimates that by 2050 that figure will almost double, affecting one in 10 people. The cost of unaddressed hearing loss is believed to be around US$ 750 billion.

To mark World Hearing Day 2019, WHO has launched a new mobile and web-based app called “hearWHO,” which allows people to check their hearing regularly, and intervene early in case of hearing loss. It can also be used by health workers to screen people in the community, and refer them for diagnostic testing if they fail the screening.

Users are asked to concentrate, listen and enter a series of three numbers when prompted. These numbers have been recorded against varying levels of background sound, simulating listening conditions in everyday life. The app displays the user’s score, and its meaning, and stores the outcome of the test so that the user can monitor hearing status over time.

Symptoms indicating the onset of hearing loss include a ringing sensation in the ear, known as tinnitus; frequently missing parts of a conversation; or a tendency to increase the volume of television, radio or audio devices.

The app is of particular benefit to people who are often exposed to high levels of sound, such as those who listen to loud music or work in noisy places; people who use medicines that are harmful to hearing; and people aged above 60 years.

In a statement released by WHO, Dr. Shelly Chadha, Technical Officer of the organization, said that “once lost, hearing does not come back. Through World Hearing Day, and with the support of this app, we encourage people to ‘Check your hearing!’ in order to help preserve this valuable gift that helps us to enjoy life.”

Children are still dying in Yemen war, despite partial ceasefire, says UNICEF chief

Children are still dying in Yemen war, despite partial ceasefire, says UNICEF chief

UNDP YemenThe port city, Aden, has been heavily bombed during Yemen’s civil conflict. (file 2015)    2 March 2019Humanitarian Aid

Responding to the violent deaths of five children in the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah on Thursday, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that Yemen’s civil war continues to take a “horrific toll” on children.

In a statement released on Saturday, Ms. Fore said that “in Yemen, children can no longer safely do the things that all children love to do, like go to school or spend time with their friends outside. The war can reach them wherever they are, even in their own homes.”

The warring parties in the country signed a UN-led partial ceasefire agreement last December, but this did not spare the five children from being killed in an attack on the Tahita District, to the south of Hudaydah, which is a crucial gateway for the entry of aid, desperately needed to save millions in Yemen from starvation.

“Each day, eight children are killed or injured across 31 active conflict zones in the country,” continued Ms. Fore, “talks and conferences have so far done little to change the reality for children on the ground. Only a comprehensive peace agreement can give Yemeni children the reprieve from violence and war that they need and deserve.”

Last Monday, Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that the “mind-boggling violence” in Yemen has not spared a single child. His comments came the day before a high-level pledging event for Yemen, held in Geneva, which raised $26 billion to support Yemenis facing a crisis described by UN chief António Guterres as an “overwhelming humanitarian calamity.”

Mr. Cappelaere also noted that generosity and aid will not, on their own, bring an end to children’s suffering in Yemen, and called on warring parties to “put an end to violence in hotspots and across all of Yemen, protect civilians, keep children out of harm’s way and allow humanitarian deliveries to children and their families wherever they are in the country.”

Syrians ‘exposed to brutality every day’ as thousands continue fleeing ISIL’s last stand

Syrians ‘exposed to brutality every day’ as thousands continue fleeing ISIL’s last stand

© UNICEF/UN0277723/SouleimanOn 26 January 2019, in the Syrian Arab Republic, children and families are huddled together, after being forced to flee their homes, before embarking on the long and arduous journey to safety at Al-Hol camp.    1 March 2019Humanitarian Aid

In eastern Syria, 13,000 people have arrived at a protection camp in just the last week, after fleeing fighting in the last ISIL extremist stronghold in Deir-Ez-Zor governorate, the UN’s emergency coordination office, OCHA, said on Friday.

Nine in 10 of the arrivals at Al Hol camp in Al Hassakeh governorate were women and children, spokesperson Jens Laerke told journalists in Geneva.

“Many of them have arrived exhausted, hungry and sick,” he said “Approximately 45,000 people have fled the Hajin and Al-Baghouz area of Deir-ez-Zor and arrived in the camp, since December. Those who are fleeing have told us of a desperate situation for civilians in the area they are fleeing from. It’s affected by hostilities – civilians are being killed and injured on a daily basis – there’s large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure and shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities.”

Mr. Laerke also reported that 84 people, mainly children under-five, died either on their way to the settlement or shortly after arriving at the Al-Hol camp.

And according to aid teams there, 175 children have been hospitalized owing to complications from severe acute malnutrition.

The UN and partners are responding to growing needs at Al-Hol camp and surrounding areas by providing life-saving assistance to all new arrivals, along with food, water, shelter, and warm clothes and blankets.

‘Staggering’ levels of need prevail: new UN humanitarian assessment

Elsewhere in Syria, a desperate humanitarian situation prevails, despite a reduction in violence in many parts of the country over the past year.

“With the crisis in its eighth year, staggering levels of need persist for people throughout Syria,” according to OCHA’s Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019 for Syria.

Published ahead of a conference co-chaired by the European Union (EU) and the UN in Brussels from 12 to 14 March, the OCHA document states that 11.7 million people need help inside the country. including 6.2 million who are internally displaced. A further 5.6 million are refugees.

“The population continues to look for safety in parts of the country still affected by ongoing hostilities with significant protection needs, new and protracted displacement, increased self-organized returns and the sustained erosion of communities resilience,” it warns.

For millions of Syrians “the crisis is far from over”, it insists, with needs including food and livelihood assistance, health care, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene support.

Education for children is also urgently required, with more than two million boys and girls out of school across the war-torn country.

“People continue to be exposed to brutality every day,” the Needs Overview cautions. “Women, children, adolescent girls, older people, widows and female-headed households, and people with disabilities, face distinct protection risks and have specific needs.”

In addition, it warns, more than 10 million people are estimated to live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards “of all kinds”.

Laws must protect, ‘not reject’ says UNAIDS chief on Zero Discrimination Day

Laws must protect, ‘not reject’ says UNAIDS chief on Zero Discrimination Day

UNAIDS/MUJAHID SAFODIENMandisa Dukashe and her family live in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Mandisa is a trained nurse and works in the response to HIV to ensure quality control in health-care settings. She is living with HIV and encourages people to get tested for HIV. Her husband and two daughters are all HIV-negative.    1 March 2019Human Rights

Discriminatory laws and practices that bar access to health and other services must be changed, the United Nations agency leading the fight against HIV/AIDS said on Friday, Zero Discrimination Day.

While the dignity of every person is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “human rights violations are happening all over the world because of discriminatory laws and practices,” said  Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

Laws should protect, not reject. Every person has an equal right to be treated with dignity and respect,” he decalred.

Last year at least 20 countries set travel restrictions against HIV-positive people; some 29 States required a husband or partner’s consent for a woman to access sexual and reproductive health services; 17 countries criminalized transgender people; and same-sex sexual relations were criminalized in at least 67 nations and territories worldwide.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

For certain groups, 59 countries instituted mandatory HIV testing for marriage, work or residence permits; 45 States imposed laws requiring parental consent for below-18-year-olds to access HIV testing services; and 33 countries imposed the death penalty for drug offences.

But the news was not all bad. Last year some countries made landmark decisions to change discriminatory laws and bills.

India’s Supreme Court struck down the section of its Penal Code that criminalized same-sex sexual relations; the Philippines lowered the age to 15 for voluntary HIV testing without the need of parental or guardian consent; and Malawi removed provisions from a draft bill that would have criminalized HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission.

“All countries must carefully examine their laws and policies in order to ensure equality and protection for all people, without exception,” asserted Mr. Sidibé.A discriminatory law may be amended or abolished:

  • Through parliamentary processes and parliamentarian votes, which require awareness-raising among parliamentarians.
  • Through a petition and request for a national vote or referendum.
  • Through legal action by affected individual or organizations.

“Zero Discrimination Day is every day,” he said urging worldwide joint action to change discriminatory laws.

UNAIDS has identified a range of laws that are discriminatory, impede access to health and social services, restrict freedom of movement and violate human rights.

Combating discriminatory laws requires raising awareness and mobilizing action.

On Zero Discrimination Day, UNAIDS is proposing specific actions that individuals, civil society organizations, parliamentarians and donor organizations can take to change these laws. They range from being an ally to someone affected by a discriminatory law to joining a non-governmental organization, tabling amendments to laws and calling for legislation reviews.

As part of the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate all Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination, UNAIDS is actively working with United Nations partners, governments and civil society organizations to make the change.

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Venezuela: Competing US, Russia resolutions fail to pass in Security Council

Venezuela: Competing US, Russia resolutions fail to pass in Security Council

UN Photo/Evan SchneiderA wide view of the Security Council as members vote on a draft resolution related to the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.    28 February 2019Peace and Security

The second meeting of the week on the situation in Venezuela, took place in the UN Security Council on Thursday, during which competing resolutions produced by the United States and by Russia were presented. Neither text was adopted as the US draft was vetoed and the Russian draft failing to secure enough votes in favor.

It was the third Council meeting seeking solutions to Venezuela’s “protracted crisis” since tensions started escalating in January, when Juan Guaidó, head of the country’s National Assembly, challenged the legitimacy of the sitting President, Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since 2013 and who was sworn in again for a second term, on 10 January.

The 15 members of the Council have been divided between those who are firmly supporting Mr. Maduro arguing that he is the legitimate elected president and those who support Mr. Guaidó’s claim, backed by calls for a fresh round of voting.

The US draft resolution called for the holding of new elections and a recognition of self-proclaimed interim President Guaidó. Nine voted in favour (Germany, Poland, Peru, US, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Kuwait), three against (Russia, China, South Africa) and there were three abstentions (Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire).

“The Situation in Venezuela demands our action now,” the United States Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, told the Council. “The time for a peaceful transition to democracy is now…We look forward to genuine free and fair elections and to a Government that reflects the will and aspirations of the Venezuelan people”.

Russia’s draft called for a dialogue between the Government and the opposition, in line with the Montevideo mechanism – a forum for talks, launched by Mexico and Uruguay earlier this February. The text produced four votes in favour (Russia, China, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea), seven against (Germany, Poland, Peru, US, United Kingdom, France, Belgium) and four abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Kuwait).

“We drafted an alternative draft resolution, the aim of which is not to incite political intrigues and regime change but rather to genuinely help the Venezuelan people in efforts to normalize the situation in the country,” said Russian Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.

On Tuesday, the UN’s political and peacebuilding chief, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed the Security Council, describing the “grim reality” facing the country.

As tensions continue to escalate, the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) has been documenting the humanitarian crisis in the country: infant mortality has increased by more than 50 per cent since 2017; four in five hospitals lack the necessary medicines and staff to be operational. To date, the UN refugee and migration agencies (UNHCR and IOM, respectively), estimate that the number of Venezuelans to have fled their country stands at 3.4 million.

Following recent violence by Government forces during demonstrations at border crossings with Brazil and Colombia and other parts of the country, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) denounced excessive use of force which led to the death of several civilians.

Without ‘transformative shifts,’ women will wait two centuries for gender equality

Without ‘transformative shifts,’ women will wait two centuries for gender equality

World Bank/Stephan GladieuProfessor Amivi Kafui Tete-Benissan (left) teaches cell biology and biochemistry at the University of Lomé, Togo. She’s also a vocal activist who encourages girls to pursue science as a career path.    27 February 2019Women

“I think it’s almost a joke that it will take the world so long to create women empowerment, particularly as we know that there’s an economic upside in empowering women in the range of $28 trillion.”

When Lise Kingo, Executive-Director of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, spoke exclusively to UN News, she explained that progress on economic gender is going much slower than she expected when she began her career as an executive in the corporate world: the most recent data from the World Economic Forum shows that, on current trends, it will take 202 years to close the divide in the workplace.

“I have been involved in the whole gender debate for close to thirty years now, and I’m not sure that we have really moved forward in the way we had hoped. I thought at some stage that we could pave the way for the next generation of women, but I don’t see that happening. I think we are up against some really fundamental cultural barriers to women being treated in the same way as men in terms of work opportunities. I think it has to do with unconscious bias, where unconsciously people feel that men are better suited for doing certain types of jobs, involving management, and numeracy, and I think we need to become more aware of when we are applying this kind of unconscious bias.”

We are up against some really fundamental cultural barriers to women being treated in the same way as men in terms of work opportunities. Lise Kingo, Executive Director, UN Global Compact

Facing the gender challenge head on

In an effort to speed up progress towards gender equality, UN Women, the United Nations body dedicated to gender equality, and the Global Compact, teamed up in 2010 to develop the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which push the business case for gender equality – which helps business perform better, and drives development – and provide a “gap analysis tool” which helps companies to measure their success in implementing the principles. To date, over 2,100 companies have signed up, and are integrating them into their business strategy, including high profile international conglomerates such as Roche Pharma, Schneider Electric, Total and the Coca-Cola Company.

Examples of best-practice that companies are putting into place, include ensuring that gender is considered when considering senior board level appointments, that an equal number of female and male candidates are provided whenever a position is posted, mentoring arrangements to help women advance in their careers, and maternity leave opportunities for both parents, giving women the option to pause their careers without damaging their job prospects.

Anna Falth from UN Women is the head of the Women’s Empowerment Principles secretariat. When she spoke to UN News, she said that the “me too” movement to help survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, which took off following the popularisation of the #metoo hashtag, has actually been a positive catalyst for change in the workplace.

#metoo has been a positive catalyst for change. Anna Falth, head of Women’s Empowerment Principles secretariat

“More companies than ever are looking at this as a big risk and are actually taking action,” she said, “not only to set up policies on zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse, but they are also looking at the bigger picture of gender equality in the workplace and seeing what they can do there.”

“But also what has emerged over the last 10 years is an interest by investors. They’re increasingly looking at gender inequalities in a company, and discrimination, as a risk for their investment. This is also an unstoppable train, because investors have understood that a company that is attractive to talent, is also a company that will make it in the future of work.”

Despite the huge challenge of the task ahead of the UN, Lise Kingo believes that the clear impact that gender equality makes on the bottom line should be a strong incentive for many more businesses to change their practices for the better: “I think it would be great if all the companies at the UN Global Compact all sign up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and really anchor the theme as part of their business strategy. We know, from many surveys and studies, that companies that have women in senior leadership levels are performing better financially than companies that don’t. I think there’s every reason, from a business, global economy and human rights perspective, to really drive the agenda of women’s empowerment.”

And Ms. Falth believes that we will see that momentum growing this year, as the Women’s Empowerment Principles team ramp up their efforts to sell the benefits of gender equality to businesses: “We’re looking at stereotypes and myths in advertising; purchasing and sourcing more products and services from women entrepreneurs; engaging at the community level and, most importantly, we’re talking about the importance to companies of collecting data. 2019 and 2020 is where we will really try to talk, not only about the thousands, but eventually about the millions of companies that have made this commitment.”

The target that specifically refers to gender equality is Sustainable Development Goal 5: “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” which includes the aim of ensuring “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. The latest progress update of the goal notes that, while some forms of discrimination against women and girls are diminishing, “gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities.”

Worldwide, women are suffering from gender discrimination in the workplace, often ending up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and only making up a small minority of senior business leaders. They still perform the bulk of household work, leaving them little time to pursue economic ambitions.

Yemen: ‘A great first step’ UN declares as aid team accesses grain silo which can feed millions

Yemen: ‘A great first step’ UN declares as aid team accesses grain silo which can feed millions

WFP/Annabel SymingtonA boy pushes a wheelbarrow containing food rations from WFP at a food distribution point in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on 3 February 2019.    27 February 2019Humanitarian Aid

The first assessment of a major UN aid storage facility in war-torn Yemen has been carried out since it was cut off by fighting last September, the Organization reported on Wednesday, hailing it as “a great first step”.

Briefing journalists in Geneva, the World Food Programme (WFP) confirmed that a team had reached the Red Sea Mills near the key port of Hudaydah on Tuesday.

It has appealed for sustained access to the site, which contains enough wheat to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

“The silos show evidence of damage by the fighting, but no apparent structural damage except the silo affected by a hit in late January, which basically resulted in serious fire damage to that specific silo,” said senior Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel.

“We have now a first assessment, we’ll probably need additional technical assessments,” he added. In addition to fire damage to one silo, the assessment team found evidence of weevil infestation, but no water infiltration.

“Tuesday’s visit was a great first step,” Mr. Verhoosel said, noting that Yemen imports around 70 per cent of its daily food, fuel and medicines via Hudaydah port, which has been the focus of clashes between Government forces and Houthi opposition fighters, although a UN-backed ceasefire and troop-withdrawal negotiations are on-going.

‘Sustained access’ now needed

“We need now sustain access every day as much as possible for WFP’s staff,” he explained. “But also later for the mill’s staff to access the facilities. That will be necessary before we can start again milling the wheat.”

Samples of the grain have been sent for testing to check whether it is still edible. If so, the 51,000 tonnes of wheat can be processed at the facility, where equipment is largely untouched and the generators “appear to be in good condition”, Mr. Verhoosel said, adding that more than 30,000 litres of diesel was still available.

The positive development is dependent on continued access being granted by the warring parties, who signed a UN-led partial ceasefire agreement in Sweden last December.

It follows a UN-led appeal for more than $4 billion from international donors this year, to save millions in Yemen from starvation.

At the pledging conference in Geneva on Tuesday, when $2.6 billion was promised, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of an “overwhelming humanitarian calamity”, as a result of almost four years of fighting between supporters of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi opposition groups.

Some 360,000 children are now suffering from severe acute malnutrition, Mr. Guterres said, before citing one credible report that more than 80,000 children under-five have died of starvation.

Echoing the dire needs in Yemen, WFP’s Hervé Verhoosel expressed hope that UN-led efforts to secure a political solution to the conflict proved successful.

“We hope that both parties will basically keep this dialogue and we will be able to see the results of this dialogue on the ground,” he said. “Access is very important and it’s time to put as a priority, the civilians.”

‘Protracted crisis’ in Venezuela leads to ‘alarming escalation of tensions’: UN political chief

‘Protracted crisis’ in Venezuela leads to ‘alarming escalation of tensions’: UN political chief

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeA wide view of the Security Council chamber as it meets on the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.    26 February 2019Peace and Security

The “protracted crisis” in Venezuela has led to an “alarming escalation of tensions”, Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s political and peacebuilding chief, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

She said that the “grim reality” facing the country, according to available information, showed a deteriorating economy, with citizens dying of preventable causes, and 3.4 million Venezuelans so far, choosing to leave, due to conditions at home.

Exactly a month ago, I briefed the Security Council on the protracted crisis in Venezuela…Since then, we have witnessed an alarming escalation of tensions – UN political and peacebuilding affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo

Civil society groups have reported that infant mortality has increased by over 50 per cent since 2017, as have the number of infant deaths, she said, adding that data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) indicate that 80 per cent of hospitals lack sufficient medicines, while up to 40 per cent of the medical personnel have left the country.

The UN now has a coordinated effort underway to deliver assistance closest to those Venezuelans in need, focused on nutrition, health and protection, under the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence said Ms. DiCarlo, which should be free “from political objectives and delivered on the basis of need.”

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeRosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Venezuela.

Ms. DiCarlo noted that supplies sent by Russia and China have entered the country, in coordination with the Venezuelan Government, to be “distributed to those in need.” However, food and medical supplies stockpiled by the United States and other countries at the Colombian and Brazilian borders, have been blocked from entering the country by Venezuelan authorities.

The UN has confirmed that, amid the violence that erupted over last weekend as a result of the aid blockade, four people were shot, and 64 injured near the Brazilian border, most of them by gunfire. The UN’s head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs also quoted figures from Colombian migration authorities, claiming that 285 individuals were injured. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has received reports, said Ms. DiCarlo, that point to the involvement of pro-government armed elements in the violent attacks on protestors.

UN Photo/Evan SchneiderElliott Abrams, United States Special Representative for Venezuela, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in the country.

Speaking on behalf of the United States Government, Elliot Abrams, the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela, called on the members of the Security Council to meet the growing needs of Venezuela and the region, to contribute to Venezuelan democracy and “pressure the illegitimate regime to peacefully step down.” He also questioned the value of dialogue with President Nicolás Maduro who, he said, would “rather block and burn donated medicine and bread than see it in the hands of Venezuelan children.”

The Permanent Representative for Russia, Vassily Nebenzia, described the attempt to get US aid into Venezuela as “an attempted illegal state border crossing for the delivery of unknown cargo,” adding that an illegitimate attempt had been made to transfer “unverified” supplies, that was not requested by Venezuela. Mr. Nebenzia said that if the US genuinely wanted to help the Venezuelan people, they would have operated through UN agencies. He added that Russian has successfully delivered 7.5 tonnes of medical goods through the World Health Organization (WHO), without any obstacles.

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeVassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, adresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela.

François Delattre, France’s UN Ambassador, said that Venezuela was going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history, with a civilian population – particularly women and children – being intentionally targeted. The “Maduro regime”, he said, had decided to deprive its population of international aid, and has not hesitated to kill and to wound hundreds of its own unarmed citizens, during clashes.

Mr. Delattre said that, by blocking international aid, Venezuela has brought upon itself the opprobrium of the international community, and its own people.

Speaking in the Security Council chamber on behalf of Venezuela, Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, said Ms. DiCarlo’s briefing to the Council “was biased” and disseminated information “from one source” only. He said the US had been attempting to mount “a coup” against his country.

Referring to the attempts to move US and opposition-backed aid shipments across the border with Colombia into Venezuela, Mr. Arreaza said: “That was the last chapter of the coup on Saturday, and I can tell you, read my lips, it failed.”

“Now is the time for us to return to sanity and to respect international law”, he said adding that the Government was prepared to sit down and negotiate with the opposition, led by Juan Guaidó: “Among Venezuelans, we can build our own solution without intervention, interference from anyone, much less the United States,” he said.