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Emergency food distributions launched to assist thousands displaced in DR Congo – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Food assistance will be provided to food insecure people displaced by conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says the United Nations food agency.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partner World Vision have launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance to 42,000 food insecure people who, due to conflict, have fled their villages in the country's Kasai and Kasai Central provinces.

“We launched this emergency response as soon as funds became available,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP Representative and Country Director in DRC, in a press statement.

“We targeted the most vulnerable among the vulnerable, and our access to these displaced people also depend on security conditions. However, with nearly one and a half million displaced people in the Kasai region, additional donor support is essential for WFP to scale up our operations and reach more vulnerable displaced people,” he added.

WFP plans to assist 25,000 displaced persons in Kasai Central and 17,000 people in the Kasai province in the coming days, the statement elaborated. However, WFP urgently requires $17.3 million to support the operations scale-up from September to December 2017.

“Food distributions have started in the town of Tshilumba with further distributions scheduled this month. As part of this effort and where safe access is possible, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continue to identify the most vulnerable displaced people in areas identified with high levels of food insecurity, as determined in a recent food security study,” said WFP.

According to its recent food security assessment, WFP said that in the last year, the number of people in need of urgent humanitarian food assistance in the DRC rose by 1.8 million – from 5.9 million to 7.7 million.

“In conflict-ridden areas, more than 1.5 million people are facing 'emergency' levels of food insecurity, leaving many with no option but to sell everything they have while skipping or reducing their meals,” the statement outlined.

In addition to food distributions, WFP is leading the Logistics Cluster, which provides technical and logistical support to humanitarian organizations and has been operational in the Kasai region since June.

“Mobile warehouses have been built to store food and non-food items, while several trucks have been sent to Kasai and Kasai Central to transport food and supplies,” said the statement.

To meet the huge needs of displaced people in hard-to-reach areas, since June the WFP-led UN Humanitarian Air Service has expanded its support, positioning an aircraft in Kananga in Kasai Central on a permanent basis and flying three times weekly to Tshikapa, Kasai – making those most in need more accessible to humanitarian organizations.

Scores of people have fled their villages due to the conflict that broke out in the Kasai region in August 2016.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are some 1.4 million internally displaced people across the Kasai provinces. Additionally, more than 31,000 have fled into neighbouring Angola.

“With up to 3.8 million people displaced in total, the DRC is home to the largest population of internally displaced people in Africa,” underscored the statement.

The sharp deterioration in people's food security is mainly attributable to displacement caused by an upsurge in conflict and pest infestation in crops across the country. WFP continues to coordinate with FAO and other partners to serve the most vulnerable people in the Kasai region, as well as in other parts of the country.

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UN observers conclude FARC-EP arms removal process in Colombia

SOUTH AMERICA, 16 August 2017 – More than 8,000 weapons and over one million burned cartridges were transported to a central warehouse in Colombia as the United Nations political mission in the country concluded the process of the laying down of individual weapons of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) combatants.

“To date, August 15, [the UN] concluded the process of extracting all the armament and scrap ammunition in the 26 camps of the FARC-EP, as well as the collected from the arms caches until now,” began Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in Colombia in a press statement.

“In addition to the operation that is being carried out in Pondores, extraction operations are currently underway in four areas: La Reforma, Yari, La Guajira and La Variante. The material transported in the containers consists of 8,112 guns and almost 1,300,0000 incinerated cartridges,” he added.

Mr. Arnault emphasized that the extraction process included 16 aerial-ground movements and 10 terrestrial movements, which accounted for more than 50 flight hours from three UN mission helicopters and almost 11,000 kilometres travelled.

All unstable material found in the 26 camps, including anti-personnel mines, grenades, homemade explosives and gunpowder was also destroyed.

Turning to arms caches operations, he said “to date there is information about 873 of which 510 arms caches have been successfully executed.”

As the result of the extraction of arms caches operations, the UN Mission in the field counted, to date, 795 weapons; 293,803 ammunitions of different calibre of small arms; 22,077 kilograms of various explosives; 25,216 meters of detonating cord and slow wick; 3,957 hand grenades and 40 mm grenades; 1,846 antipersonnel mines; 27,282 starters; and 1,130 mortar rounds, of which 81 mm, 60 mm and rockets are identified.

The mission head stressed the importance of this process and what it means for the future of Colombia.

“I consider this is an important figure, which shows that there has definitely been an exhaustive process of the abandonment of weapons, not only a process of abandoning individual arms, but also an exhaustive process of abandoning everything contained in the FARC-EP target teams and as President Juan Manuel Santos said, this leads the country to a new stage,” underscored Mr. Arnault.

UN observers conclude the removal of the last of more than 8,112 guns carried by the FARC-EP. Photos: UN Mission in Colombia

According to a unanimously adopted resolution, on 26 September the UN Verification Mission in Colombia will replace the current mission.

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'Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are poisoning our societies' – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Urging people everywhere to speak out against hate speech and hate crimes, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today reiterated his call for tolerance, respect for the other and the importance of recognizing diversity.

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are, as I mentioned yesterday, poisoning our societies,” the Secretary-General told journalists today at a briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“It is absolutely essential for us all to stand up against them everywhere and every time,” he added.

Addressing questions from a journalist about the situation in the US, where a weekend protest and counter-protest over the removal of a Civil War statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked discussions about race, Mr. Guterres said “these demons are appearing a little bit everywhere.”

A Portuguese national, Mr. Guterres said that as a European, he is proud that Europe created the values of Enlightenment: tolerance, the respect for the other, and the importance of recognition of diversity.

“To be able to stand for these values and to… at the same time, to condemn all forms of irrationality that undermine those values is essential, at the present moment, be it in the United States or everywhere else in the world,” the head of the UN said.

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As tensions on Korean Peninsula grow, UN chief urges world to 'dial up' diplomacy

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Addressing the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today said it was important “to dial down rhetoric and dial up diplomacy.”

Speaking to the press at the UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General stressed that the solution to the crisis must be political, and reiterated that his good offices – meaning the prestige and weight that his title and the UN represent to the world community – are always available.

“I will remain in close contact with all concerned parties and stand ready to assist in any way,” said Mr. Guterres.

The message echoes what Mr. Guterres said he had told yesterday's meeting of the representatives of the Six-Party Talks, who include China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council strengthened sanctions against DPRK's exports. Unanimously adopting resolution 2371 (2017), the Council imposed a full ban on the export of coal, iron and iron ore from the north-east Asian country. Previously these items could be exported for livelihood purposes, for a limited amount.

Mr. Guterres today said that consist with that resolution, “the international community must send a clear, coherent message to the leadership of the DPRK: fully comply with international obligations, work towards reopening communication channels and support efforts to deescalate the situation.”

He noted that the resolution sends “an unambiguous message regarding the peace and security obligations” of DPRK, while also representing “an opportunity to solve this crisis through diplomatic engagement and renewed dialogue.”

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Guterres welcomed the “continued critical engagement” by Member States and supported “the call of the Republic of Korea to the DPRK to engage in credible and meaningful dialogue.” These include steps such as confidence-building measures to defuse tension and efforts to de-nuclearize the Peninsula.

The tensions related to the crisis in the region “are at levels not seen in decades,” Mr. Guterres said.

He noted that more than three million people died in the Korean War, which ravaged the Peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

“We need to heed the lessons of history – not to repeat the mistakes,” he said.

He noted also that the potential consequences of military action “are too horrific to even contemplate.”

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Landmark UN-backed treaty on mercury takes effect

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – A ground-breaking global convention on mercury today goes into effect, the United Nations environment wing said, protecting millions of children and infants from possible neurological and health damage.

“Governments that are party to the Convention are now legally bound to take a range of measures to protect human health and the environment by addressing mercury throughout its lifecycle,” the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement.

The Minamata Convention commits Governments to specific measures, which include banning new mercury mines, phasing-out existing ones, regulating artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions and mercury use. Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

The Convention – the first new global convention related to the environment and health in close to a decade – entered force today, 90 days after the fiftieth party ratified it on 18 May. There are now 74 parties to the Convention and 128 countries have signed it.

“The Minamata Convention shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together. We did it for the Ozone layer and now we're doing it for mercury, just as we need to do it for climate change – a cause that the Minamata Convention will also serve. Together, we can clean up our act,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP.

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history. In 1956, local villages suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness and coma from eating the fish in Minamata Bay, Japan, in which industrial wastewaters had been dumped since the 1930s. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.

According to UNEP, up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted each year. It can be released naturally through the weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but significant emissions also come from human processes, particularly coal burning and artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Mining alone exposes up to 15 million workers in 70 different countries to mercury poisoning, including child labourers.

Other man-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

“There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage,” UNEP said, particularly among unborn children and infants.

The first meeting of the parties to the Convention will be held 24 to 29 September in Geneva.

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Security Council told African-led force on terrorism in the Sahel operational but challenged

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – The joint task force by the so-called Group of Five (G5) – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to tackle the threat of terrorism in Africa's Sahel region is now operational, but a number of challenges remain, including funding, the United Nations Security Council was today told.

“The creation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force has the potential to make a significant contribution to efforts already under way to stabilize the region,” the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El-Ghassim Wane, told the 15-member Council in New York.

“But we must also be realistic about the challenges that remain and the issues that remain to be resolved. The success of the Joint Force depends as much on deepening this regional partnership and on the applicable policy framework, as on the determination of its members to achieve its operationalization, and the unfailing support of their international partners.”

Mr. Wane said the Joint Force offers a “unique opportunity” to respond to regional challenges, but only if other aspects and cases of instability in the region are addressed.

“Addressing the root causes of instability in the Sahel requires going beyond military action and tackling the governance gap, chronic poverty and unemployment, climate change and financing for development,” he said.

Abject poverty, fast population growth, climate change, recurrent food and nutrition crises, armed conflicts and violence converge dangerously and undermine the lives and assets and future prospects of millions of families across the Sahel region, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said. More than 30 million people face food insecurity, one in five children under the age of five suffers from acute malnutrition and at least 4.9 million are displaced by the effects of conflicts.

Speaking to the Security Council, the senior UN official also noted the need to tackle cross-border crime and to impose targeted sanctions, as well as to create a political strategy to guide the activities of the Joint Force and align them with the Malian peace process and other regional initiatives.

He noted also that the Joint Force should work closely with the recently established working group of the Executive Committee on the Sahel chaired by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the African Union's peace and security architecture.

Among the greatest needs are funding, Mr. Wane said praying the five Member States for contributing funds to the project.

Those joint contribution, combined with the European Union's pledged contribution, as announced by Commissioner Federica Mogherini in June, amount to €108 million, or 25 percent of total requirements.

“While generating pledges and contributions to meet the requirements of the Joint Force will be critical, the setting up of transparent, coordinated and effective funding will be equally as important,” Mr. Wane said, noting the planned meeting in September hosted by German and French Defence Ministries to discuss further opportunities to support the Joint Force.

The Joint Force is ready to conduct its first coordinated operations along Mali's borders with Nigeria and Burkina Faso in October, with greater capacity in spring 2018.

A written report on the workings of the Joint Force is expected in October.

Visiting injured 'blue helmets' in Mali

Meanwhile, in Mali today, the Head of the UN Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, along with the Malian Prime Minister and governmental officials, visited the UN camp in Timbuktu and met with the wounded following yesterday's attacks on UN camps in Douenza and Timbuktu.

A UN peacekeeper, a Malian soldier and a member of the Malian gendarmerie were killed, along with six Malian contractors in the attacks. A number of other people were also wounded.

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said the situation in Timbuktu today is “calm but tense, with the presence of a large number of Malian security and defence forces.”

 
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UN humanitarian team activated in Nepal in wake of severe floods and landslides

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) has been activated in Nepal to support response efforts in the aftermath of severe floods that have hit the nation, the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the country has said.

According to a humanitarian update issued by the office, as of 11:00 AM local time, 14 August, at least 66 people – including children – have been killed, 35 are missing, and many have been displaced following large-scale flooding and landslides in the wake of the worst rains to strike Nepal in 15 years.

“The full extent of the disaster is not yet known [as] many affected areas remain inaccessible due to damaged roads and bridges,” read the update.

It also noted that rapid assessments are being conducted in the impacted districts and that initial reports show that power and Internet connectivity has been disrupted in some areas and transport infrastructure has been damaged. A major airport located in Biratnagar city (in the south of the country) has been completely inundated.

There is also growing concern for water-borne diseases and health facilities in at least two districts (Mahottari and Banke) have been completely flooded.

“Anecdotal information from the field indicates that a significant number of pregnant and lactating mothers, disabled and other vulnerable groups are affected,” the update added.

The disaster comes at a time when the landlocked Asian nation was struggling to recover from the 2015 earthquakes. Some five of the 27 affected districts are also earthquake-affected, while four of them were hit by floods a year prior, the update mentioned.

The UN Resident Coordinator's office also noted that the impact of the current floods could be exacerbated by pre-existing social and economic disparities, with some of the affected districts having the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) scores in the country.

“Experience from the 2014 floods that affected Banke, Bardiya, Dang and Surkhet [districts] indicates that in [areas] where malnutrition is already a concern, the onset of such an emergency can have a sudden and severe impact on malnutrition rates,” added the humanitarian note.

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More survivors, remains of deceased African migrants found on Yemen beach, says UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – Over the past three days, the UN migration agency has found more survivors and victims' remains from last week's tragedy – when hundreds of migrants were forced from two boats into the sea off the coast of Yemen.

Last week, 280 migrants heading toward Gulf countries were removed from two boats off the coast of Yemen's Shabwa Governorate. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found, from the first incident on 9 August, the remains of 29 people – 12 Ethiopian men, 12 Ethiopian women and five Somali men.

“The number of people still missing has reduced from 22 to six, all of whom are Ethiopian males,” IOM said in a press statement.

Through contact or from other survivors' reports, IOM was able to account for a majority of the missing.

“This makes 35 people presumed dead from the first incident,” the statement added.

IOM provided urgent medical care, as well as food and water, to 27 survivors – 22 Ethiopian and five Somali men. While 85 people survived this incident, many others left the beach before IOM arrived to assist.

On Thursday, 10 August, another 160 people were forced from a second boat, again off the coast of Yemen, but in a different location from the first tragedy and closer to the shore.

That same day IOM found six bodies on the beach.

“IOM assisted 57 survivors on 10 August. Thirteen of the survivors, whom IOM had helped, returned to the beach the following day realizing that they were too weak to make the trek through the desert to Yemen's land borders,” the statement continued.

On 11 August, IOM and local people found another four and on 12 August, another two. The current total number of confirmed dead from the second incident is 12 – eight Ethiopian males and four Ethiopian females.

“In the immediate aftermath of the smugglers' actions during the second incident, 13 people were missing. Only six people remain missing and so, 18 are now presumed dead,” continued the statement.

On 13 August, IOM located five more survivors and assisted them with medical support, food and water. In total, IOM aided 65 people who survived the second incident – 62 Ethiopian males and three Ethiopian females. Some 142 people survived the second incident and, as on the previous day, people left the beach before IOM arrived.

Of the 280 people forced into Yemen's rough seas on both mornings, 226 survived, 41 were confirmed dead and 12 remain missing, according to IOM.

The total number of presumed dead is currently 53.

Due to the security situation in the country, the migration routes through Yemen are constantly changing.

The surviving Ethiopian and Somali migrants left IOM's care and are most likely making their way to Yemen's borders with the Gulf countries – a journey which takes a week or more depending on the route.

“IOM will continue to patrol Yemen's beaches to provide assistance to migrants in distress and to search for the migrants still missing,” concluded the statement of the UN migration agency.

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'Dramatic' rise in Central African Republic violence happening out of media eyes, warns UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – The Central African Republic (CAR) has spiralled into violence and remains one of the worst countries in the world to be a child and “right now there are few eyes looking at them and few hands trying to help,” the United Nations children's agency said today.

“The past year, and especially the last quarter, has seen a dramatic increase in violence,” Donaig Le Du, spokesperson for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told reporters at the regular press briefing in Geneva.

“There are now an estimated 600,000 internally displaced people, up from 440,000 at the end of April – a big increase in the past 2-3 months,” she continued, pointing out that 600,000 was the April 2014 count, right after the peak of the crisis.

“And there are still 480,000 CAR refugees in neighbouring countries. So out of an estimated population of a little over five million, one in five is either a refugee or displaced, half of them children,” Ms. Le Du added.

UNICEF noted that as the country spirals into violence, Bangui, the capital, is quiet.

“The roads are bad, and with the rainy season and insecurity, it becomes nearly impossible to travel. There is limited cell phone coverage,” the spokesperson explained.

She gave the example of six Red Cross volunteers whose deaths were not reported until after took two weeks after they were killed in Gambo earlier this month.

Two-thirds of the country is controlled by armed groups

Beyond Bangui, two-thirds of the country is controlled by armed groups.

“In the cities and villages that were recently affected by violence, that means that schools are closed. That teachers don't dare to go to schools. Several NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have retreated, which means no health care. Supplies are looted – at one health centre, solar panels were stolen from solar fridges for example, which means no immunizations,” Ms. Le Du elaborated.

Horrendous reports on children's rights violations have surfaced over the past months and weeks.

“Precise numbers are impossible to know but we know for a fact that children have been killed; there have been incidents of sexual violence, and that recruitment into armed groups is happening. But there are less direct violations with lasting consequences – having to flee or take refuge in the bush; having no education or health care, she said.

One specificity of the CAR conflict shows little fighting between armed groups, which instead attack civilians on the other side and increasingly target the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) and humanitarian actors.

An open letter to the UN Secretary-General from major international NGOs identifies the CAR as the most dangerous country in the world to deliver humanitarian assistance – with the world's highest level of violence against humanitarian workers, accounting for one-third of all incidents targeting aid workers.

The CAR is also the world's least developed country, placing 188th out of the 188 countries on the Human Development Index.

“But the world cannot abandon CAR's children – and right now there are few eyes looking at them and few hands trying to help,” Ms. Le Du concluded.

As of end-July, UNICEF's $46.3 million humanitarian appeal for CAR children was 42 per cent funded. Having been revised up to $52.8 million, it now has a 63 per cent funding gap.

 
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First of 33,000 Congolese refugees relocated to new settlement in Angola – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – More than 1,500 Congolese refugees who have fled violence and ethnic tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been relocated from reception centres in northern Angola to a newly established settlement, the United Nations refugee agency today said.

Addressing journalists in Geneva, Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the Lóvua settlement was created “to improve the living conditions of refugees.”

Built on about 33 km2 of land allocated by the Government of Angola, the site allows refugees to receive a plot of land to build shelters and to grow food to supplement their food rations.

UNHCR and partners plan to relocate tens of thousands of Congolese refugees to the new site, which is some 100 km inland from the border with the DRC.

“While the security situation in the Kasai region remains volatile, the Angolan authorities and UNHCR with partners are ready to provide protection and assistance for up to 50,000 Congolese refugees by the end of 2017 at Lóvua,” Mr. Edwards said.

Some 33,000 refugees are currently in reception centres that Mr. Edwards termed “over-crowded.”

The UN agency has called for financial support to assist the refugees. A humanitarian appeal for $65.5 million launched in June is only about 32 per cent funded.

“Additional funding is urgently needed to continue developing infrastructure and services for refugees in Lóvua settlement,” Mr. Edwards said.

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