Venezuela’s needs ‘significant and growing’ UN humanitarian chief warns Security Council, as ‘unparalleled’ exodus continues

Over a month after two competing resolutions on Venezuela failed to pass, the UN Security Council met on Wednesday to discuss the “very real humanitarian problem” facing the country, where close to 7 million people are in dire need of aid, and some 5,000 people continue to flee across borders every day.

@UNHCR/Vincent TremeauVenezuelan migrant in Colombia. About 5,000 people have been crossing borders daily to leave Venezuela over the past year, according to UN data. Colombia, April 2019. 

Tensions in the country escalated in January this year, when Juan Guaidó, head of the country’s National Assembly, challenged the legitimacy of the sitting President, Nicolás Maduro, in power since 2013 and sworn in again for a second term this past January, following an election process disputed by many in opposition. 

This was the fourth meeting of the Council on Venezuela, since the first one took place on 26 January. With both Russian and United States draft resolutions failing to pass in February, US Vice-President Mike Pence briefed the Council on Wednesday, calling on the UN to revoke the credentials of President Maduro, and recognize his challenger. But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, said the US was looking to install its own “pawn”, describing the US effort as a “lawless, thuggish violation of international law”.  

Humanitarian overview 

“There is a very real humanitarian problem in Venezuela,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief. “We estimate that 7 million people in Venezuela need humanitarian assistance. That is some 25 per cent of the population,” he added, noting that the situation further deteriorated recently given the “recurrent widespread power outages”, which have hampered the capacity to deliver many services, including water and sewage systems, as well as medical care.  

“The context is a severe and continuing economic contraction, with associated dramatic increases in inflation, on a scale seen in few if any other countries around the world in recent years,” Mr. Lowcock explained, adding that “The scale of need is significant and growing.” 

The UN’s head of humanitarian affairs went on to present some key figures: 

  • 3.7 million are believed to have suffered from undernourishment in 2018. 
  • 2.8 million people are estimated to need health assistance.  
  • 400,000 cases of malaria were recorded in 2017, a 70 per cent increase from 2016.  
  • 17 per cent of people living in poverty have no access to safe water, or receive it only once a fortnight. 
  • 2.7 million vulnerable people in the country need of protection assistance.  

The United Nations has been expanding its humanitarian operations, releasing US$9 million from its emergency response fund, the CERF, and increasing the number of staff in the country from 210 to 400.  

“Our efforts are in line with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence,” Mr. Lowcock said.  

Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, also briefed the Council based on recent findings from the non-profit organisation Human Rights Watch. She stated that the country was facing a deep health-care crisis, with a measles epidemic that could stand at 9,300 cases, and a diphtheria outbreak that could have affected as many as 2,500 people.  

‘Unparalleled’ flow of migrants, refugees  

Regarding the situation of migrants and refugees outside the country, Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of the UN refugee and migration agencies (UNHCR and IOM) described the current “population outflow” as “unparalleled in the modern history of the region.” There are currently 3.7 million Venezuelans living outside of their country; 4 in 5 of them left after 2015.  

Last year Venezuelans left the country at a net rate of 5,000 per day and they continue to leave the country – Joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative Eduardo Stein

“Last year Venezuelans left the country at a net rate of 5,000 per day and they continue to leave the country despite recent border closures on the Venezuelan side. If the trends in 2019 continue, we estimate that the total number of Venezuelans outside the country will exceed 5 million by the end of the year,” he warned.  

He listed some of the factors that are pushing people to leave, sometimes under “very dangerous conditions”: insecurity and violence; lack of access to food, medicine and essential services; loss of income and lack of effective national protection systems.  

As more than 20 countries are affected by these population movements, the Special Representative insisted on the importance of a harmonized multilateral approach regarding reception conditions, stay requirements, services offered by receiving countries, efforts for cultural integration, and access to rights and legal documentation.  

Meetings to address these key issues have been taking place in Ecuador, with the participation of a dozen countries, several UN agencies, international cooperation agencies and financial organisations. Argentina and Paraguay have agreed to host the process hereon after.  

“Despite these efforts, national capacities are increasingly strained, in some cases with the risk of denial of entry or access to regular migration schemes,” deplored Mr. Stein.  

Five action points to ease humanitarian crisis 

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock and Special Representative Stein made five keys asks to the 15 members of the Council.  

1. Ensure respect for principled humanitarian action: 
“There is a need to separate political and humanitarian objectives,” said Mr. Lowcock, who stressed that humanitarian aid should be delivered “based on need alone”, and that the support of the Council is needed to “safeguard the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarian action.” 

2. Improve humanitarian access: 
Recognizing recent steps taken by the Government of Venezuela to facilitate the entrance of additional humanitarian staff into the country, the UN relief chief said more organisations are needed on the ground, as well as additional data to ensure that the understanding of the needs “evolves with the situation”.   

3. Additional funding for more relief: 
Thanking Member States for the funds already provided for the humanitarian response, both Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Stein stressed that “a lot more” is needed give the scale of the crisis. 

4. More support for migrant-receiving countries: 
The initiatives adopted in the multilateral meetings in Ecuador require more support, as do the States “employing open doors policies to receive, assist and host Venezuelan outflows”, Mr. Stein explained.  

5. Remember the needs of host communities: 
The UNHCR-IOM Special Representative noted that, by addressing the needs of host communities too, “we can increase the impact of the humanitarian response” as well as “mitigate the possibilities of xenophobic expressions”. 

US, Venezuela trade diplomatic blows 

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. About 5,000 people have been crossing borders daily to leave Venezuela over the past year, according to UN data. Colombia, April 2019.Photo: UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

As Member States laid out their views, the US Vice-President said that the United States had simply been “standing with the people of Venezuela” who have been “devastated by the Maduro regime”, by positioning humanitarian cargo at the border and by funding humanitarian operations.  

He said that “all options are on the table” for resolving the crisis, stating that the time “is up” for Mr. Maduro. Mr. Pence announced that the US was preparing a Securtiy Council resolution “recognizing the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó” and he asked all UN Member States for their support, beyond the several dozen countries which have already done so since the beginning of the year. 

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, responded by stressing that Venezuela has suffered under the weight of international sanctions and asset freezes.  

“If it was true that the Venezuelan Government is killing its own people, then why is this group of countries doing everything it can to increase the suffering?” he asked, stating that the emphasis placed by the US on humanitarian needs in Venezuela was merely a “pretext of foreign military intervention” and “calculated cruelty.” 

UN rights chief Bachelet appeals for dialogue in Sudan amid reports ‘70 killed’ in demonstrations

Sudan’s authorities have an “over-arching responsibility” to protect protesters, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on Tuesday, amid reports that 70 people have died in the latest anti-Government clashes.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN rights chief’s comments follow concerns about the reported use of tear gas and live ammunition by security forces against demonstrators in mass-protests that began last December, over rising food and fuel prices and deteriorating living standards.

According to news reports, heavy gunfire was heard outside the Sudanese army headquarters on Tuesday, where thousands of protesters have been staging a sit-in over the past three days, calling for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.

We are again calling on the Government and security forces to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected Ravina Shamdasani

Spokesperson for the High Commissioner (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, reiterated Ms. Bachelet’s “serious concern at the use of excessive force” by Sudanese security forces, adding that her office had documented “many killings” since the situation deteriorated.

“Clearly a lot of people have died,” Ms. Shamdasani said, noting how difficult it was to verify numbers, or who was responsible, since various parts of the country’s security forces appeared to be “taking different sides”.

“We have been in touch with the authorities and they have actually invited our office to visit and we are in discussions with them about this,” she said. “We are again calling on the Government and security forces to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and the right to freedom of expression is respected, and that a genuine dialogue is undertaken to resolve this very complex situation with very real economic and social grievances of the public.”

The High Commissioner’s appeal follows the announcement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, that he was following the demonstrations in Sudan “closely”

In a statement, Mr. Guterres appealed to all actors to exercise “utmost restraint and avoid violence”, while also calling for the release of detained protesters.

While affirming that the United Nations “stands ready to support any efforts agreed by the Sudanese to peacefully resolve the current crisis”, the Secretary-General further called on the Government of the Sudan to create a “conducive environment for a solution to the current situation and to promote an inclusive dialogue”.

Mozambique’s Beira city ‘returning to life’, elsewhere UN teams assess damage, deliver assistance

Nearly one month after Cyclone Idai slammed into the southeast African coast, the streets of Mozambique’s busy port city of Beira are “returning to life” as the search for survivors continues throughout neighbouring Zimbabwe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. 

WHO/M. NieuwenhofChildren in the Dondo district of Mozambique are vaccinated against cholera.

According to IOM, freighters and other heavy vessels are once again plying the shipping lanes along Beira’s waterfront, while beachfront bistros attracted enough business last weekend, to cause traffic jams.   

“The challenge now is shifting to the outlying countryside”, IOM said, pointing to Beira’s Buzi River district in the southwest, which was only accessible by helicopter until last week.    

As of Monday, the 14 March disaster has left 602 dead in Mozambique. 

Stating that it would begin sending damage-assessment teams there this week, IOM painted a picture of searchers driving for hours “on mostly dirt roads”, staying “several days at a time in rural villages”. 

Meanwhile, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix teams have been working through the forested areas of Manica and Macate provinces, assessing the needs of internally displaced people living in temporary shelters.  

Back in Beira, schools are beginning to relocate the internally-displaced families who sheltered in classrooms during the first hours of the cyclone.     

Last weekend, 50 families were relocated from the Matadouro school to the Sao Pedro emergency camp on the outskirts of the city, which IOM recently prepared with the assistance of military firefighters sent by the Brazilian Armed Forces.     

On Monday, IOM helped set up a much larger settlement closer to the centre of Beira, on the grounds of the Samora Machel secondary school, by assisting in installing a flexible reservoir that holds 30,000 liters of potable water.    

“My colleagues and I are working early morning until evening, seven days a week to help bring water to affected communities”, Antonio, a government installer, told IOM. 

“I was displaced to Malawi, so I know very well how difficult it is to be displaced,” he explained, referring to his forced fleeing home during recent conflict. “While I was in Malawi I volunteered and worked with the Red Cross. It feels really good to be able to help.”    

‘Stop cholera in its tracks’ 

Some 2,772 cases of cholera have been reported, with six people succumbing to the disease. Thousands of people have received oral cholera vaccine during a six-day emergency campaign, which ended on Monday. 

UNICEF/DE WET | Aruminda holds her brother, Antonio, at a camp set up for displaced people at the Jehovas Witness Centre in Dondo, Mozambique. Cyclone Idai displaced thousands of people.

Run by Mozambique’s Ministry of Health, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, nearly 900,000 cyclone survivors were inoculated. 

“This campaign would not have been possible without the strong engagement of the local authorities and the communities themselves” said Djamila Cabral, the Head of WHO in Mozambique. “The number of volunteers is impressive and, wherever they go, there has been very strong uptake of the vaccine. Everyone is very keen to make this a success to stop cholera in its tracks.” 

Zimbabwe needs assessed 

In Zimbabwe, which along with Malawi also suffered damage from the cyclone, IOM teams visited Manicaland to assess the needs of those living in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. 

Around 270,000 people were affected by the flooding, with the agency reporting that an estimated 21,000 were displaced, many from in Kopa and Ngangu, two Chimanimani communities where more than 77 households were reduced to rubble and 305 people remained missing.   

In response to the crisis, IOM has launched a $7.2 million appeal to the international community to provide multi-sectorial humanitarian assistance to 90,000 people, including for shelter and food items, displacement tracking, psychosocial support and early recovery.

Thousands flee fighting in Libya as UN renews call for halt to military escalation

More than 3,400 people have fled fighting near the Libyan capital Tripoli in recent days, the UN warned on Monday, in a call to warring parties to halt military activities so that emergency services can rescue trapped civilians.

UNOCHA/Giles ClarkeChildren are the most vulnerable victims of conflicts. The UN and the Government of National Accord in Libya launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan seeking, $202 million to provide health support and protection for some 550,000 vulnerable Libyans.

The UN chief António Guterres, in a short statement issued to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, by his Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said that he was continuing to follow the situation in Libya “with grave concern”, after urging an end to troop movements last week during a visit to the country.

He said the UN Support Mission, (UNSMIL), would continue with its work on behalf of all Libyans, from its headquarters in the capital, Tripoli. Mr. Dujarric said that Ghassan Salamé, head of UNSMIL and UN Special Representative, had met the head of the internationally-recognized Government in Libya, Faiez Serraj, earlier on Monday, “with whom he discussed ways the UN can assist, with this critical and difficult juncture. As the Secretary-General said before leaving Benghazi on Friday, the United Nations remains available to facilitate any political solution, able to unify the Libyan institutions.”

“Clashes with heavy weapons are affecting residential areas, and an unknown number of civilians are unable to flee these locations”, said Mr. Dujarric. “We are calling for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services, and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded from the areas of conflict.” 

In a statement released earlier on Monday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, reminded the warring sides of their obligations to protect non-combatants, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Ms. Ribeiro’s comments echoed a Security Council plea for a ceasefire after Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, of Germany, Council President for the month, told reporters on Friday that the 15-member body’s members were “deeply concerned” over the risk to Libyan “stability”.

According to reports, at least 32 people have been killed and 50 injured since Thursday’s clashes between eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces and Government forces in the Libyan capital.

On Sunday, it was also reported that the Commander’s forces – the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) – had carried out an airstrike on a Tripoli suburb, followed by retaliatory attacks on airbases in eastern Libya by forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord.

UNSMIL chief Salamé, issued a statement late on Monday, condemning an “aerial attack today by LNA aircraft against Meitiga airport, the capital’s only functioning airport that is available for civilian use. As such, this attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure.”

Ms. Ribeiro’s comments on the deteriorating humanitarian situation, came as the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned the killing at the weekend of two doctors who had been providing “critically needed services to civilians” in Tripoli.

“It is unacceptable for health workers to be targeted during armed conflict,” said Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “These doctors risked their lives to evacuate wounded patients from conflict areas, and targeting them and health facilities at such times, worsens the situation for civilians caught up in conflict.”

The fighting in and around Tripoli comes after the UN chief left the troubled country on Friday “with a heavy heart”, following meetings with Commander Haftar in Benghazi city in the east, and senior Government officials in Tripoli.

“I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned”, the UN Secretary-General tweeted. “The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people.”

The UN is committed to facilitating a political solution and, whatever happens, the UN is committed to supporting the Libyan people – UN chief Guterres

Highlighting the increased risk to migrants and refugees caught up in the offensive on Tripoli, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, warned that it was “further increasing” the misery of all those “arbitrarily detained in detention centres”.

Echoing those concerns, the UN Migration Agency, IOM, warned on Friday that men, women and children “who are being held in often sub-human conditions…are particularly vulnerable” to the uptick in violence.

IOM Director General António Vitorino also warned that Libya “is not a safe place to return migrants who have tried and failed to make their way to Europe”, noting that so far this year, 1,073 migrants, among them 77 children, have been returned to Libya after interception and rescue at sea and placed in arbitrary detention.