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Many aid groups unable to manage war zone risks, says UN-backed report

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – Humanitarian aid workers want to help people in some of the biggest war zones, but extreme risks and threats are paralyzing their operations, a United Nations-backed report today concluded.

“'Conflict parties' lack of respect for the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law and the brutality and volatility of today's armed conflicts make it extremely difficult and dangerous for these brave aid workers to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection in complex emergencies,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien, whose Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) co-produced the report.

Presence and Proximity: To Stay and Deliver, Five Years On, produced by OCHA, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Jindal School of International Affairs in India, is based on interviews with more than 2,000 international and national aid workers, and includes case studies on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Syria and Yemen.

“It is our duty as aid workers to work where needs are greatest,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC. “But our international humanitarian community is failing too many people in too many places, from Syria and Yemen to South Sudan and Nigeria. Extreme risks and threats are paralysing too many organizations and their ability to deliver aid and save lives.”

Among its findings, the report found that as overall needs in the field have grown, so have the funding gaps, which necessitate cutting of projects and aid work.

Based on interviews with aid workers, the authors also concluded that abductions of workers are on the rise, criminality is seen as a rising threat, and the number of incidents against national aid workers has increased.

“Humanitarians expressed an increased sense of risk and vulnerability, even though most major security incidents affecting humanitarians occur in a very small number of countries and tend to reflect the increased level of humanitarian activity in proximity to ongoing conflict rather than expanded targeting of humanitarians around the world,” the authors wrote.

The report is a five-year follow up to the 2011 document, To Stay and Deliver, which provided advice and recommendations to practitioners on critical issues, such as risk management, responsible partnerships, adherence to humanitarian principles, acceptance and negotiations with relevant actors.

Among the conclusions, the authors wrote that “not enough progress has been achieved since 2011, and many of the recommendations contained in the initial report remain particularly relevant today.”

Other trends noted that humanitarians are more focused on security analysis, and that remote programming – the concept of using local organizations to help implement aid activities – can generate risks and undermine the quality of protection and humanitarian programmes.


Iraq's children caught in cycle of violence and poverty as conflict escalates, UNICEF warns

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – The past three years of intensifying conflict in Iraq have left the country's children trapped in a grinding cycle of violence and poverty, an assessment out today by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned, calling on the warring parties to immediately end hostilities.

“Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence,” said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in the country, in a statement on the launch of the new assessment.

Entitled Nowhere to Go, the assessment underscores that more than five million children in the country are in need of urgent humanitarian aid.

“They have been killed, injured, abducted and forced to shoot and kill in one of the most brutal wars in recent history,” Mr. Hawkins emphasized.

In west Mosul, children are being deliberately targeted and killed to punish families and deter them from fleeing the violence. In less than two months, at least 23 children have been killed and 123 have been injured in that part of the city alone, according to UNICEF.

Among others, the assessment on Iraq outlines that since 2014:

  • 1,075 children have been killed, 152 in the first six months of this year;
  • 1,130 have been maimed and injured, 255 in the first six months of 2017; and
  • More than 4,650 have been separated from their families.

In addition, over the same three-year period, there have been 138 attacks on schools and 58 on hospitals; over three million children miss school on a regular basis while 1.2 million are out of school; and one in every four children comes from a poor household.

For nearly four decades, Iraq has faced violence, war, sanctions and instability. But in the last three years alone, conflict has displaced three million people – half of them children. Many parts of the country were turned into war zones with civilian infrastructure severely damaged or destroyed. Half of all schools in Iraq are now in need of repairs.

As life opportunities for children dwindle, UNICEF continues to respond to their growing needs and those of their families.

Pointing out that all warring parties owe it to the children of Iraq to end the violence, UNICEF is appealing for an immediate end to the conflict. The agency is also calling for all children affected by the crisis to have access to unimpeded and sustained humanitarian assistance and basic services; and for children in detention to have access to legal protection and services in line with international standards of juvenile detention.

UNICEF also requesting an end to all grave violations against children – including killing, maiming and recruitment – and an end to attacks on civilian infrastructure; freedom for all families to move, should they wish to flee or return to home; and increased investments to improve the quality of education, healthcare and protection services for all children.

Finally, the agency called for sustained humanitarian contributions, noting its funding gap of $100 million for lifesaving emergency operations in Iraq and to support children returning home to resume their lives.


UN agency condemns killing of two journalists working on assignment in Iraq

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – The killing of two journalists in Iraq drew strong condemnation today from the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom and the safety of journalists.

“Journalists face tremendous dangers in carrying out their job, a job where they provide us with vital information enabling us to build towards peace,” said Irina Bokova, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Kurdish journalist Bakhtyar Haddad and French reporter Stéphane Villeneuve were working together in Mosul, Iraq, on a programme for France 2 when they were killed as a result of a roadside bomb explosion.

Their names will be added to UNESCO's dedicated webpage commemorating the lives of journalists killed in the line of duty.


UN spotlights health benefits of yoga, ancient practice that can ease stress of our modern 'laptop' lives

INTERNATIONAL, 21 June 2017 – Recognizing the universal appeal of yoga, the United Nations marked the 2017 edition of the International Day of Yoga, which aims to integrate the benefits of healthy lives and wellbeing – essential aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"Yoga is a practice that can be relevant to all ages, relevant to all cultures, irrespective of what socio-economic status people represent. It can be used to unite our complex and difficult world to promote not only healthy lifestyles but to promote peace and security in the world,” said Dr. Nata Menabde, Executive Director of the New York Office of the World Health Organization (WHO), at an event entitled Conversation: Yoga for Health.

The theme for this year's celebration, organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, is 'Yoga for Health.'

WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. While affordable health care services are vital, it is also important to spread awareness about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in promoting good health.

Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India, with the Sanskrit word yoga meaning 'to unite' – symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.

Today, it is practiced in various forms around the world and continues to grow in popularity – promoting the practice of achieving sustainable lifestyles that are in harmony with nature. In this way, yoga contributes to wider societal wellbeing.

“Yoga is about our ability to feel yoga in our souls, to connect it to our minds and to integrate […] with nature and the planet,” underscored Ms. Menabde.

Swami Sivadasananda of Sivananda Yoga Retreat House in Austria, who led an outdoor yoga class on the North Lawn of UN Headquarters, explained: “We are all caught up in our laptop jobs, our shoulders are stooped and we don't breathe properly. Yoga fits like a glove” to alleviate these everyday stresses.

The United Nations endorsed the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, by adopting General Assembly resolution 69/131 that proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga.

The Day, which aims to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga, was also immortalized with the unveiling of a UN Postal Administration's special Yoga Day commemorative stamp.


Warring parties in Yemen 'must take all feasible precautions' to minimize harm to civilians – UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 21 June 2017 – Civilians in Yemen continue to be killed and injured during Ramadan, despite calls for the conflict parties to respect their obligations under international law, the senior United Nations aid official in the country warned today.

“Targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen continues during the holy month of Ramadan despite my repeated calls and the calls from the international community, including the UN Security Council, to all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws, said Jamie Mcgoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, in a press statement.

On 17 June, at least 22 civilians, including six children, were reported killed and injured in a series of air attacks on a market in Sa'ada Governorate, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

“There were no reported military targets in the proximity of the market at the time of the attack, and no warning was issued to civilians in the area,” said Mr. McGoldrick.

On 19 June, the power lines to the main water supply system in Dhamar City were damaged as a result of military activity, affecting one million people who rely on this water source and putting them at greater risk of death, given the current fast-spreading cholera outbreak in Yemen.

Following the attacks on the market in Sa'ada, the European Union and others in the international community have expressed concern over the reported deaths of civilians, noting that this is a stark reminder that Yemeni civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of a war that has devastated their country.

“The disregard for the loss of civilian lives and damage to civilian infrastructure at a time of great need, due to the combined effects of the cholera outbreak and the looming famine, continues to shock me and must end,” underscored the Humanitarian Coordinator.

“Wars have laws and I implore that all parties to the conflict uphold their responsibilities to comply with international humanitarian and human rights laws,” he continued. “The warring parties must distinguish between the civilian population and combatants at all times and between civilian objects and military objectives; and must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects.”

Mr. McGoldrick urged those influencing and arming the parties to use their position to end the conflict and to stop fuelling the violence.

“The humanitarian crisis is Yemen is entirely man-made and it is immoral to allow hardship and deprivation to continue. We must give hope to millions of Yemenis by showing that the world is not indifferent to their suffering,” he concluded.


Afghan Government must work to build trust in an 'increasingly fragile environment' – UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 21 June 2017 – Warning that the recent surge of violent attacks in Afghanistan could signal a much worse and more fragile period ahead, the United Nations envoy for the country today called for urgent action to strengthen stability, including through improving the Government's credibility, and urged all parties to exercise restraint and avoid violence.

“The months since my last briefing have been unusually tense in Afghanistan,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, briefing the UN Security Council.

“Without enhanced efforts by the National Unity Government to increase political inclusiveness, strengthen accountability, and improve the Government's credibility, particularly in the security sector, we are likely to face more crises in an increasingly fragile environment.”

In his briefing, the senior UN official spoke of the emerging difference following the 31 May terrorist attack in Kabul and warned that violent extremist groups could try to exasperate the divisions, especially along sectarian lines.

Urging all sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence, Mr. Yamamoto underscored the need to address the root cause of the issues and reminded national actors that efforts to build consensus and political stability are critical.

He also noted steps by the Government towards consolidating peace, such as a recent outreach on regional and security as well as implementation of the political agreement with a former insurgent group.

In the current context, Mr. Yamamoto – also the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – said that there are two areas for immediate attention: elections and peace.

“We understand that the Independent Elections Commission will make an announcement as early as tomorrow regarding the date for parliamentary elections,” he said. “I believe that this announcement will contribute to allaying the political tensions I have referred to.”

Turning to the second priority, peace, the Special Representative of the Secretary General encouraged the people of Afghanistan to begin an internal dialogue on the “meaning of peace and reconciliation” and added that the Government and the Taliban needed to engage directly with each other to define a political solution.

Also, recalling Secretary-General António Guterres' visit to Afghanistan last week, Mr. Yamamoto stated that the visit “clearly demonstrated his and the [UN system's] commitment to Afghanistan, solidarity with its people, and perseverance in the pursuit of peace.”


As South Sudan famine ebbs, millions still face 'extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff' – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 21 June 2017 – While famine has eased in South Sudan, the situation across the crisis-torn country remains dire, as the number of people struggling to find food each day has grown from 4.9 million in February to six million today – the highest level of food insecurity the young nation has ever experienced, according to the United Nations.

“The increase in food insecurity has been driven by armed conflict, below-average harvests and soaring food prices as well as the effects of the annual lean season,” said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint press statement today.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update, an analysis by the UN agencies, the Government and other partners, the technical definition of famine no longer applies to former Unity State's Leer and Mayandit counties where famine was declared in February. Immediate and sustained humanitarian assistance most likely played a significant role in preventing the Koch and Panyijiar counties from deteriorating into famine.

However, hunger has flared in in the nation's north-east corner – the western bank of the Nile River – while those in the south-west are facing unprecedented levels of need.

“The crisis is not over. We are merely keeping people alive but far too many face extreme hunger on the edge of a cliff,” said FAO's Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon. “The only way to stop this desperate situation is to stop the conflict, ensure unimpeded access and enable people to resume their livelihoods.”

The crisis is not over. We are merely keeping people alive but far too many face extreme hunger on the edge of a cliffDominique Burgeon FAO Director of Emergencies

The three UN agencies warned that the improvements in the worst hunger hotspots must not be lost. People's ability to feed themselves has been severely eroded and continued life-saving emergency food and livelihoods support must continue to prevent a shift back to famine.

“The gains made in the famine-affected counties show what can be achieved when sustained assistance reaches families. But the job is far from done,” said Joyce Luma, WFP's Representative and Country Director in South Sudan. “This is a crisis that continues to get worse with millions of people facing the prospect of starvation if humanitarian assistance ceases. An end to this conflict is imperative.”

“When humanitarian agencies have access and resources we are able to mount a swift and robust response, and save lives,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan. “And yet more than one million children in South Sudan are estimated to be malnourished.”

Food insecurity is a key issue, but so is lack of health care, poor water and sanitation and, most crucially, access to those children in need of treatment. At present, too many parts of the country remain cut off due to insecurity, leaving hundreds of thousands of children on the cusp of catastrophe.

Each of the agencies has stepped up its response:

  • WFP has reached 3.4 million people in South Sudan since the beginning of the year, including assistance for 2.6 million people displaced or affected by conflict and 800,000 people through a recovery operation;
  • UNICEF and partners have treated some 76,000 children with severe acute malnutrition and provided 500,000 people with safe drinking water and 200,000 others with access to sanitation facilities; and
  • FAO has provided fishing, crop- and vegetable-growing kits to more than 2.8 million people, including 200,000 in the famine-affected areas, and vaccinated more than 6 million livestock to save lives through livelihoods.

As crises multiply, UN revises annual aid appeal to assist over 100 million around the world

INTERNATIONAL, 21 June 2017 – As the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance around the world reach record levels, United Nations and relief partners have revised their global aid appeal to $23.5 billion – up nearly 6 per cent from the original $22.2 billion announced late last year.

According to a news release issued by the UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), new natural and man-made disasters as well as deteriorating protracted emergencies have resulted in an additional 8 million people around the world needing assistance.

Since its launch on 5 December 2017, donors have provided about $6.2 billion for the 2017 global appeal. However, with more than half of the year still remaining and needs rising, more is needed.

“With generous donor support, humanitarian partners have swiftly scaled up to deliver record levels of life-saving assistance in challenging and often dangerous environments,” Stephen O'Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordination and head of OCHA, said on the first day of the annual Economic and Social Council Humanitarian Affairs Segment in Geneva.

“[But] we are in a race against time. People's lives and well-being depend on increasing our collective support,” he added.

Some of the crises that pushed up the requirements include the rapid escalation of violence in Kasai province in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as a drought in Kenya, tropical cyclones in Madagascar and Mozambique, and flooding in Peru, as well as looming famines across north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Funding Status and Humanitarian Needs as at June 2017

The revised appeal aims to reach over 101 million highly vulnerable people among the estimated 141 million people across 37 countries in need of humanitarian assistance.

“Funding to response plans is a high-impact investment as they are prioritized on the basis of thorough needs assessment and analysis. Supporting the plans also provides the most neutral and impartial aid,” Mr. O'Brien noted, calling on the international community to step up assistance: “We now need donors to set the bar higher and increase their support.”

The Humanitarian Affairs Segment, being held from 21-23 June is a major global platform to discuss activities and issues related to strengthening UN's humanitarian response around the globe.

The forum also provides a key opportunity for UN Member States, Organizational entities, humanitarian and development partners and the affected communities to discuss emerging and pressing humanitarian issues.

Coinciding with the Humanitarian Affairs Segment, OCHA today also launched the Global Humanitarian Overview 2017 Status Report, which documents evidence humanitarians efforts to assist the world's most vulnerable people.

According to the Status Report, UN and partners have provided life-saving assistance to 5.8 million people in Yemen and over 3 million people in South Sudan. Also 2.7 million people in Somalia and 2.2 million affected by the Syria crisis have received food. In north-eastern Nigeria, over 2.3 million people have received both emergency food assistance and livelihood support through UN-coordinated plans.


Aid workers race to contain Yemen cholera outbreak, UN agencies report

INTERNATIONAL, 20 June 2017 – A “race” is under way to contain the cholera epidemic in Yemen where 20 out of 22 governorates are affected, United Nations agencies said today.

The disease is endemic in Yemen and is characterized by severe watery diarrhoea and fever.

Nearly 1,200 people have died in the latest outbreak and there are more than 172,000 suspected cases in the crisis-torn country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Together with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), WHO says it is attempting to stop cholera being “exported” from the worst-affected areas.

In Raymah in western Yemen, mortality rates are almost twice the national average.

“We see that the numbers are going up, it's really trying to race against the spread and try to get treatment and water and sanitation measures to every corner, especially to those corners that are basically exporting the bacteria to other places” Tarik Jasarevic a spokesperson for WHO told reporters at the regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva.

The more than two-year conflict in the country has devastated the country's health facilities; less than half are fully functional and many public health professionals have not been paid in months.

And although cholera can be treated quickly if caught early, WHO said in a statement that getting help in a middle of a conflict “is not so easy.”

The agency added that its health, water, sanitation and hygiene partners need $66.7 million to scale up the cholera response.

To date, WHO has helped to set up 144 diarrhoea treatment centres and 206 oral rehydration points, along with more than 1,900 beds for cholera patients in 20 governorates.


'Now is not the time to give up' on two-state solution, UN Middle East envoy tells Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 20 June 2017 – Achieving a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to lay the foundations for enduring peace that is based on Israeli security needs and the Palestinian right to sovereignty and statehood, the United Nations envoy on Middle East peace told the Security Council today.

“Now is not the time to give up on this goal. Now is the time to create the conditions for a return to negotiations to resolve all final status issues on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, mutual agreements and international law,” Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Council via videoconference from Jerusalem.

Noting that today's meeting coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war, which resulted in Israel's occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan, Mr. Mladenov said he would devote the bulk of his briefing to the implementation of Council resolution 2334 (2016), which called on Israel to “cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Yet, despite the resolution's call, there has been “substantial” increase, “with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.”

“The policy of continued illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory contravenes resolution 2334. The large number of settlement-related activities documented during this period undermines the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution,” he stressed.

Continuing terror attacks, violence and incitement remain a very serious concern. While, the security situation had remained free of rocket fire and airstrikes, Mr. Mladenov updated the Council with a list of killings on both sides.

Calling the problem of violence “a hallmark of the conflict,” he reminded the Council that “leaders have a responsibility to implement measures demonstrating their commitment to combatting violence and any acts of provocation and inflammatory rhetoric.”

The Special Coordinator reiterated the call by the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process for both parties to take steps “to reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-state solution.”

le Mr. Mladenov called Israel-approved measures to advance the Palestinian economy “positive steps forward,” he noted that “it remains to be seen whether this will significantly increase Palestinian civil authority, in line with Quartet recommendations and prior commitments between the parties.”

As electricity supplies wane, Gaza Strip remains a 'tinderbox'

On another pressing issue, the UN envoy stressed the urgency of addressing the rapidly deteriorating situation in Gaza, calling it a “tinderbox,” which “if and when it explodes,” will have “devastating consequences for the population and derail all efforts at advancing peace.”

“Two million Palestinians in Gaza can no longer be held hostage by divisions,” underscored the UN envoy. “Perpetuating this situation breeds radicalism and extremism,” he said, adding: “We have a collective responsibility to prevent this. We have a duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

While acknowledging the significant budget constraints the Palestinian Authority and the need to support the Government in addressing them, he noted that all decisions must be taken with due consideration of their humanitarian impact, calling “on Palestinian leaders to urgently reach the necessary compromises that will return Gaza to the control of the legitimate authorities.”

“The crisis is leading toward another conflict. A conflict that no one wants. I urge all parties to act before it is too late,” he emphasized.

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