Aid preparations gear up as Mozambique braces for second massive storm

Emergency measures are being stepped up by the UN and partners in northern Mozambique, amid fears that another devastating tropical storm could batter coastal areas on Thursday evening, weeks after Cyclone Idai claimed hundreds of lives and flooded vast swathes of the south of the country.

© UNHCR/Luiz Fernando GodinhoFamilies affected by the Cyclone Idai leave temporary shelter of IFAPA, in Beira, to a transit center closer to their places of origin in the district of Buzi, Mozambique (20 April 2019).

“We are expecting that heavy rain will provoke flash floods and landslides impacting the north-eastern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula,” Word Food Programme (WFP)  spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said.

“Another storm would be an additional blow for the people of Mozambique and further complicate the response in all areas.”

Confirming that the agency is “closely” watching the approaching weather system in the north and helping provincial authorities to prepare for the worst, Mr. Verhoosel explained that a joint WFP/ International Organization for Migration (IOM) assessment team, is already in place.

WFP has an office in the coastal town of Pemba – where the cyclone is expected to make landfall – and it also has some 300 metric tons of food aid in the northern coastal towns of Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, where humanitarian partners have been advised “to prepare the warehouses to protect the food and to weather the storm”, Mr. Verhoosel explained.

‘More than a million’ people still struggling after Idai devastation

Hundreds of kilometres away to the south, where Cyclone Idai made landfall six weeks ago causing massive devastation, a major aid operation is still ongoing.

“More than a million people (are) struggling to get back on their feet,” although floodwaters have receded in most areas, Mr. Verhoosel said.

In another development of serious concern, sex-for-aid allegations relating to food distribution for Idai victims in Nhamatanda district, Sofala province, have been strongly condemned by WFP.

Reacting to “shocking” allegations that emerged over the weekend of sexual exploitation and abuse relating to food distribution, the WFP spokesperson insisted that “no staff from WFP, or any UN agency or implementing partner” was involved.

“Upon learning of the allegations, which concerned demands for sex in exchange for food, WFP launched an immediate inquiry, interviewing women who said they had suffered abuse,” he said.

“Staff members heard of several cases of women and girls being asked for sex in exchange for food by community volunteers running food distributions.”

Stronger protection measures for vulnerable

In a bid to stamp out any sexual exploitation and abuse in the recovery effort, WFP intends to meet Government representatives to put in place “strengthened” protection measures for the most vulnerable, Mr. Verhoosel said.

Those affected by the alleged abuse will also receive additional support from UN agencies, the Government and NGOs, while partners in Mozambique are also receiving training to inform communities – before aid is distributed – that any person subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse should seek support from Government partners.

“WFP does not tolerate sexual harassment, exploitation or abuse (SEA) in any form. It is especially shocking if committed against those we serve and in the communities we serve,” Mr. Verhoosel said. “Zero tolerance means that a culture of impunity and complacency toward sexual exploitation and abuse is not accepted.”

Security Council: UN calls for ‘spirit and letter’ of Ukraine agreements to be upheld, as Russia issues simplified citizenship decree

The UN’s political affairs chief has urged all parties to the peace plan protocol for eastern Ukraine known as the Minsk Agreements, to avoid “any unilateral steps” that could undermine efforts to demilitarize the eastern conflict zone.

UNICEF/Tomas VlachUNICEF distributes aid supplies to women in the village of Petrivske, Donetsk region, Ukraine. (February 2015)

Rosemary DiCarlo was addressing the Security Council on Thursday in a meeting requested by Ukraine, and in the wake of Ukrainian presidential elections and the signing of a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier, that reportedly aims to allow citizens in parts of eastern Ukraine, to apply for Russian passports, under a simplified procedure.

Conflict in Ukraine between Government forces and largely pro-Russian separatists in the east during the past five years, have resulted in the deaths of more than 3,300 civilians, up to 9,000 injured, with around 3.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Ms. DiCarlo quoted from the Russian citizenship decree, saying that the decision had been made “with a view to protecting human and citizens’ rights and freedoms”, adding that it had been welcomed by “entities in control in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.”

‘Unprecedented interference’ – Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities, in contrast, had “strongly protested the decree as an unprecedented interference by the Russian Federation in the country’s internal affairs and a violation of sovereignty…contrary to the Minsk Agreements”, she added.

“The United Nations expects that the spirit and the letter of the Minsk agreements will be respected by all concerned”, said the Political and Peacebuilding Affairs chief. “To that end, we urge all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that may potentially undermine the implementation of these agreements and to address concerns through constructive dialogue in the existing negotiation formats.”

She also underlined the UN’s commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“Against the prevailing dangerous trajectory over the past five years, it is our sincere hope that at long-last, a new positive dynamic can emerge” she said. “This is essential for fostering national cohesion and lasting stability in Ukraine, and critical to the maintenance of peace and security in Europe.”

Solutions needed for Ukraine crisis ‘to avoid further suffering’

With half a million Ukrainians living within five kilometres of the “contact line” dividing the areas of military control, civilians on both sides face daily risks with “coping mechanisms” stretched to the limit, said Ursula Mueller, UN deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.

She called on all parties to immediately stop using landmines, which were the leading cause of child casualties last year, noting that more than 1,000 civilians had been killed or injured by mines or explosive remnants of war since 2014.

Secondly, Ms. Mueller called for an end to “unpredictable” humanitarian access to the east, urging that it “should not be politicized”. Finally, she implored Council members and donors in the wider international community, to step up humanitarian funding.

The UN 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, aims to provide 2.3 million people with “protection and assistance to restore their access to livelihoods, essential services and critical infrastructure”, she said, but so far only 9 per cent of the funding has been received.

She called on the parties involved with the 2014 Minsk protocol, to find “solutions to this crisis, in order to avoid further suffering. The people of Ukraine deserve nothing less.”

Talks in Minsk ‘inconclusive’

Latest talks between the Trilateral Contact Group, consisting of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), proved “inconclusive” in recent days, on a new ceasefire recommitment, said Ms. DiCarlo, calling for a withdrawal of heavy weapons, disengagement of forces and more protection in the east, for civilians.

Briefing for the OSCE, alongside the Chief Monitor of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, Special Representative Martin Sajdik, said that a “deepening divide” between parts of the east and the rest of Ukraine, was making the task of unifying the country harder, with different currency being used, and increasingly difficult journeys across the contact line.

“It is not enough to mitigate the effects of the divide”, said the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group. “We have to undertake all efforts to narrow and even to eradicate it. Statements by the future leadership of Ukraine make me optimistic that there is resolve, to actively work against this divide.”

‘You can and should do more’ to include people with disabilities, wheelchair-bound Syrian advocate tells Security Council in searing speech

The UN Security Council was told on Wednesday that people with disabilities “can’t wait any longer” for more of a say in how the world’s top diplomatic forum for peace and security, factors their needs into its work. 

UN Photo/Loey FelipeNujeen Mustafa, wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee and advocate for refugee youth, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria.

The polite but passionate plea came from 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, who briefed members in a soft but commanding voice, on the acute vulnerabilities of people with disabilities in conflict, describing how once war began in her home city of Aleppo, she lived with the intense fear that she would be responsible for her own family dying in an airstrike. 

“Every day, buildings in our neighbourhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds late. My brother called us the walking dead”, she said to the hushed chamber. 

You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – Nujeen Mustafa to Security Council

Even fleeing the country, she had to be carried out of the country by her siblings, as she had no wheelchair at the time. “The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on, is broken down during conflict, leaving us at higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance – especially for women”, said the cerebral palsy sufferer.  

Praising Council members for giving her time to tell her story, she said she had three key insights to deliver. Firstly, the crisis in Syria has a “disproportionately high impact” on people like her. Secondly, she said that people with disabilities “like women and girls, seem to be an afterthought”. Finally, she noted that people with disabilities should always be treated as “a resource, not a burden”. 

“Count us, because we count too”, said Ms. Mustafa, urging better data collection on how they cope in conflict. “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on…You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – we can’t wait any longer”, she Council members, with a clear, calm, but firm delivery. 

‘Litany of horrors’ continues for Syrians, says UN deputy relief chief 

Briefing members on the latest humanitarian situation across Syria, deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, said that over eight years, civilians had endured a “litany of horrors” with those in the northeast and northwest, living in fear “of yet another humanitarian catastrophe unfolding”.  More than eight in 10 live below the poverty lin and nearly 12 million Syrians depend on assistance. 

She said an escalation of fighting around Idleb, the last rebel redoubt, had left well over 200 civilians dead since February, including three children in a school just last Monday. 

She described the overcrowded Al Hol camp for more than 73,000 – mostly displaced by ISIL terrorists’ last stand in the north east – as being nearly two-thirds children under the age of 12. She said all children, including those of suspected terrorists, were ‘entitled to special care and protection under international humanitarian law…They must be treated first and foremost, as victims.” 

Solutions for the 15 per cent of camp inhabitants who are foreign nationals “need to be urgently found” she said, calling on Governments to “take all measures necessary to ensure that their nationals are repatriated”. 

Ms. Mueller also described rising UN concerns for displaced civilians trying to escape the isolated Rukban camp on Syria’s southern border with Jordan, many returning to Government held areas with concern over their fate. 

“Colleagues in Damascus have reiterated the UN’s willingness to be directly involved to ensure that core protection standards are met and movements conducted in a voluntary, safe, well-informed and dignified manner”, she said. 

Introducing Ms. Mustafa to the Council, the deputy relief chief said that persons with disabilities were “often excluded and highly vulnerable”.  

“We must do our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities and to ensure that their specific and diverse needs are addressed”. She said her own agency OCHA, had an important role, but every entity within the UN needed to make sure that persons with disabilities can “take an active part at every step of planning and decision-making processes.” 

Protect women’s rights ‘before, during and after conflict’ UN chief tells high-level Security Council debate

Over the course of the past decade, there has been “a paradigm shift” in understanding the devastating impact of sexual violence in conflict on international peace and security, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council during a high-level debate on Tuesday.

UNMISS/Isaac BillyA South Sudanese rape victim narrates her ordeal at an undisclosed location near Bentiu town.

“Local civil society organizations, many of them women’s organizations, are on the frontlines of our efforts to prevent and provide redress for this crime, and they deserve our strong and consistent support” he said at the meeting marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1888, which created the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The scourge “largely affects women and girls because it is closely linked to broader issues of gender inequality and discrimination”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that “prevention” must be based on “promoting women’s rights and gender equality in all areas, before, during and after conflict”.

“This must include women’s full and effective participation in political, economic and social life and ensuring accessible and responsive justice and security institutions”, he said.

Mr. Guterres also recognized the links between sexual violence in conflict, gender inequality and discrimination, and violent extremism and terrorism.

“Extremists and terrorists often build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and use sexual violence in various ways, from forced marriage to virtual enslavement”, he explained. “Sexual violence continues to fuel conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace”. 

 “I encourage this Council to include the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence in all your country-specific resolutions, and in the mandates of peace operations”, he said.

Mr. Guterres stressed the need to strengthen justice and accountability, saying that despite a handful of high-profile convictions, “there is widespread impunity for sexual violence in conflict” and that most “are never reported, investigated and much less prosecuted”.

He encouraged the Council to continue working together “to reconcile differences”, as the “global “response to these crimes must ensure punishment of the perpetrators and comprehensive support to survivors with full respect for their human rights”.

“Together, we can and must replace impunity with justice, and indifference with action”, stressed the Secretary-General.

‘Utterly shell-shocked’ communities

Although stigma and other social barriers contribute to the chronic underreporting of sexual violence, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the Council that “we now understand much more about its many forms, drivers, and impacts, and about the devastating physical, psychological, and social burdens survivors bear”.

And yet, after a decade of concerted attention and action to deal with this crime, she spelled out: “Wars are still being fought on, and over, the bodies of women and girls”.

“Sexual violence fuels conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace” Ms. Patten stated, adding that it is used “precisely because it is such an effective means to target individuals and devastate entire communities”.

The UN envoy painted a picture of victims targeted because of their ethnic, religious, political or clan affiliation.

Ms. Patten recounted a visit to South Sudan where she was “horrified” by the “sheer brutality of the sexual violence, perpetrated along ethnic lines against women and girls, even children as young as 4 years”.

She described “utterly shell-shocked” communities in the UN Protection of Civilian site in the capital, Juba, who were ganged raped and abducted for sexual slavery.

“Imagine a desperation so raw that parents would marry their daughter off to one stranger to spare her rape by many”, she asserted.

“If we are ever to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place, we must confront the unacceptable reality that it is still largely cost-free to rape a woman, child or man in armed conflicts around the world”, she said. “To turn the tide, we must increase the cost and consequences for those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict”.

“We must convert a centuries-old culture of impunity into a culture of accountability,” concluded the Special Representative.