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Libya: UN chief urges all sides to restore calm in aftermath of deadly attack on southern airbase

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is deeply concerned about the military escalation at the Brak al-Shati air base in southern Libya and calls on all parties to exercise restraint and restore calm, the UN chief's spokesman said today.

“[The Secretary-General] is particularly disturbed by the high number of fatalities as well as reports of summary executions of civilians, which, if confirmed, may constitute war crimes,” said a statement from Stéphane Dujarric, which added that the continued insecurity in Libya is a reminder that there is no military solution.

News reports suggest that perhaps more than 100 people have died as a result of Thursday's attack on the airbase, mostly soldiers but also civilians. This is the latest flare-up of violence in the North African nation since the civilian uprising in 2011 led to the ouster of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The UN Spokesman said Mr. Guterres urges all key Libyan stakeholders to re-commit to the political dialogue and engage constructively towards that goal.

“The Secretary-General appreciates the efforts of a number of regional and neighbouring countries for their contributions aimed at strengthening the dialogue between key stakeholders in support of the overall UN-led process,” the statement concluded.

In the aftermath of the attack Martin Kobler, the top UN official in Libya and the Head of the UN Support Mission known as UNSMIL, strongly condemned the deadly incident as a “vicious attack [that] undermines political efforts.”

“I am outraged by reports of significant numbers of fatalities, including civilians and by reports that summary executions may have taken place. Summary executions and targeting civilians constitute a war crime, which may be prosecuted by the International Criminal court (ICC),” Mr. Kobler said.

The Special Representative stressed that this vicious attack must not lead to further, serious conflict. There is no military solution to Libya's problems. “I call upon all parties to condemn this attack and not to allow it to undermine intense efforts to find peaceful political solutions." he added.

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Peru: UN agency supports recovery of some 7,000 farmers from El Niño floods, landslides

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – In the wake of the heavy rains, floods and landslides that hit Peru earlier this year, the United Nations agriculture agency said today that it is working with the Government to assist some 7,000 mostly small-scale farmers to restore their capacity to produce crops and feed their families.

Citing preliminary estimates, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said that adverse conditions caused by the coastal El Niño phenomenon from January to March had affected about 445,000 people in Peru’s worst-hit northern coastal areas – 59 per cent of affected households. 

“According to Peru's Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, more than 60,000 hectares of crops have been severely or partially affected and 18,000 hectares were left completely unusable,” FAO reported.

To address the situation, the Government approved the Agrarian Reactivation Plan with an investment of $76 million. FAO seeks to complement this by requesting some $3.1 million from the international community to support activities aimed at restoring family agriculture in the remote areas of Piura, Lambayeque and La Libertad. 

“The FAO recovery project will provide the necessary inputs to establish orchards, recover irrigation infrastructure and provide technical assistance in animal health,” the UN agency explained. 

FAO stated that these activities will be implemented directly, with affected farmers receiving cash-for-work transfers for household income generation, access to food and mitigating migration to cities. 

“In Piura, Lambayeque and La Libertad, FAO will support the rehabilitation of local supply markets, to ensure that farmers and fisher folk can quickly reinsert themselves into these marketing channels so that they obtain direct sources of income,” the agency added.

As climate disasters are the emergencies that most impact food security and agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean, FAO is calling on the international community to support the recovery of the livelihoods of the affected farmers and farmers, coordinated with the national government and subnational governments.

According to FAO, addressing these challenges requires adequate risk governance, early warning and monitoring systems, implementation of good practices and risk prevention and mitigation technologies in the agricultural sector, to ensure a rapid response focused on saving lives and livelihoods.

FAO, together with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), is supporting countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop a Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Management in the agricultural sector and food and nutritional security, in response to a request by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

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Thousands of migrants rescued on Mediterranean in a single day – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – Nearly 3,000 migrants were rescued trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations migration agency, which also reported that more than a dozen rescue operations were under way in the area yesterday. 

Citing the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Rome, IOM spokesperson Joel Millman told reporters today at the regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva that: “2,139 migrants had been rescued on 18 May alone through more than a dozen different operations in Mediterranean international waters. Additionally, IOM learned of about 500 people rescued in Libyan waters that day.” 

While exact casualty numbers were not known, IOM’s Libya office has reported the remains of six migrants that were found over the past four days in various spots and communities on the Libyan coast. 

Mr. Millman noted that it is quite possible that some of those had been from a previous shipwreck or perhaps all from new wreckage, which IOM is still trying to determine. 

He also highlighted the numbers who had been crossing from Greece in the first four months of 2017. 

“Almost 6,000 people have come through Greece in 2017 – 5,200 through the end of April – which was a low number compared to the numbers in 2016 and 2015. Of those 6,000, half came from Syria and Iraq. Following those two countries, cones Congo, Algeria, Kuwait, or Cameroon, ahead of countries like Afghanistan or Iran, that have been countries of origin of many migrants in the past,” Mr. Millman explained. 

“Observing this,” he continued “one could wonder about the degree to which Turkey continues to be an escape valve for the Iraq and Syria conflicts. It is surprising how many other country nationals seem to be accessing Turkey to make the voyage to Greece, including Haitians and Dominicans who have been seen coming to Greece through Turkey.”

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Cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen spreading at ‘unprecedented’ speed, UN warns

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – As war-torn Yemen grapples with heavy rains, a collapsed healthcare system and crippled economy, a resurgent cholera outbreak has spread with “unprecedented” speed and taken medical professionals by surprise, the World Health Organization warned today.

According to WHO, more than 240 people have died from cholera in just the last three weeks, out of a total of 23,400 infections. The agency estimates that 7.6 million people live in areas at high risk of cholera transmission.

“I have to admit that when I see the data that I saw this morning, not officially released; are really taking us by surprise. The speed of the resurgence of the cholera epidemic is unprecedented” said Dr. Nevio Zagaria, the WHO representative in Yemen speaking to UN News in Geneva.

The current disease outbreak has its roots in an original episode last October. It peaked in December 2016 and never fully went away, amid conflict between Government and Houthi-backed opposition forces that has left over half the country’s medical facilities closed or damaged, and the economy in freefall.

The lack of local health centres – and the fact that staff haven’t been paid in seven months – have left Yemenis with no option but to seek help from hospitals, which WHO says are now “overwhelmed.” 

Additional problems include massive damage to the country’s sewage and electricity infrastructure, which have left the water supply contaminated. A WHO map showing cholera hotspots in Yemen indicates the highest number of suspected cases – more than 6,000 – in the capital city, Sana’a.

Few communities have been left untouched by the disease, which is characterized by severe diarrhoea that can kill within hours, if not treated promptly.

In some places the fatality rate is as high as four to five per cent, and WHO is extremely concerned that the disease is being passed from one person to another.

“But if the transmission goes on at this speed, we need to revise the figure and we need to expect something that can go up over 200, 250,000 cases over the next six months, in addition to the 50,000 cases that already occur […] so you can understand by yourself with this number the price we pay in terms of life is extremely high,” explained Dr. Zagaria, adding: “We have to do more.” 

In response to the crisis, WHO has begun the task of setting up 350 cholera treatment centres and 2,000 oral rehydration points. It is also focusing on tracing infection hotspots, to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

The agency has stressed that the scale of the threat is “too big” for the Yemeni authorities to do on their own, and that to date only around 20 per cent of its $22 million cholera appeal has been met.

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Southern Africa: UN, Mozambique host first-ever forum to fight trafficking of people with albinism

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – United Nations agencies are joining forces with governments in Southern Africa in a push to strengthen protections for persons with albinism, who often fall victim to a raft of abuses, including maiming, trafficking and even murder, linked to the belief that their parts have magical powers in witchcraft potions.

A two-day regional forum on preventing and combating human trafficking and protecting people with albinism in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania is currently underway in Pemba, northern Mozambique. The first-of-its-kind workshop was organized by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the General Prosecutor of the Republic of Mozambique and the Prosecutor of Cabo Delgado province. 

“UNICEF is supporting the Government to enhance civil registration by investing in the establishment and expansion of a digitalized system of birth registration to ensure the basic rights of every child to name, identity and nationality,” said the UNICEF Representative in Mozambique, Marcoluigi Corsi.

Participants include representatives of Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania’s counter-trafficking coordination bodies, prosecutors, criminal investigation police, national human rights institutions, NGOs concerned with the protection of people with albinism and traditional healers. 

“This will in turn prevent and address disappearance of children, abandonment or assist in investigations when children with albinism are affected. Following new instances of kidnapping and killing of children and people with albinism in Mozambique, UNICEF launched in August 2015 a social media campaign called #TodosIguais to create awareness on this issue. The ongoing campaign has so far reached over five million people,” Mr. Corsi added. 

UN-backed forum hopes to agree cross-border action plan

Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania share common borders and are either countries of origin or destination for the trafficking of people with albinism and their body parts. The forum will result in a plan of action on cross-border cooperation for the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking-related crimes and the protection of the rights of people with albinism, eventually resulting in more effective investigation and prosecution, as well as victim protection. 

“A regional approach like this that complements national efforts in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania is the only way we will improve cross-border coordination and investigation to protect people with albinism,” said Katharina Schnoering, IOM Chief of Mission in Mozambique. “This regional approach to investigation, research and cooperation was recommended in a recent report by the UN independent expert who visited Mozambique in 2016,” she added. 

IOM is working in partnership with the Governments to assist trafficking victims and provide strengthened national counter-trafficking responses in the three African countries. 

UNICEF backs the strengthening of child-friendly justice systems through capacity-building support to the police, judiciary and public prosecution to enhance accountability for violence and crimes against children. 

The agency also endorses the strengthening of multi-sectoral case management systems to enable adequate channelling of cases of violence, harmful practices, including ritualistic killings or trafficking, child abandonment or any other risks that children face. UNICEF’s health and education programmes help increase access to health and education services, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized children.

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UN agency micro-loan helps Palestine refugee’s small business thrive amid rubble of Syrian war

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2017 – Hidden literally under the rubble of the Syrian war is the economic success story of a widow who, refusing to submit to despair, founded a thriving micro-enterprise venture with assistance from a United Nations agency loan.

Hanan Odah is a 30-year-old Palestine refugee who, living in the Jaramana refugee camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus, supports her displaced family of three with a stationery and perfume business that she first founded with a loan from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). 

“Young, innovative and courageous, she is living proof that as large businesses have collapsed, small scale enterprises can survive and even thrive in the markets opening up at the grassroots,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl in an opinion piecepublished today. 

As senior leaders and key business figures gather this week at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Mr. Krähenbühl hopes that they find Hanan’s story “revealing, instructive and perhaps even inspiring,” flagging UNRWA’s micro finance initiative as a rare but significant example of optimism in the country. 

Calling her “an extraordinary young woman who in the face of untold adversity is bravely transforming her community from within, one business plan at a time,” he adds that that “is what the World Economic Forum, at its best, is striving to achieve.” 

According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, de-industrialization has inflicted $254.7 billion in economic damage on Syria. In 2015 alone GDP loss was $ 163.3 billion. As a result of the economic collapse, more than 85 per cent of Syrians were living in poverty by the end of 2015, with more than 69 per cent of the population barely surviving in extreme poverty. Nearly three million jobs have been lost and unemployment is now over 50 per cent. 

However, Mr. Krähenbühl pointed out: “With recent donor funding, in particular $1 million from the European Union, we have expanded our micro finance outreach. Always searching for new openings, we have been actively mapping new locations of internally displaced people to reach the Palestine refugees we serve and to deliver loan products where market opportunities open up.” 

In a country where nearly three million jobs have been lost and unemployment is over 50 per cent, the UN has expanded its Microfinance programme in Palestine. Worth nearly $2 million, UNRWA’s programme supports the resilience of Palestine refugees and Syrians alike.

For many beneficiaries these loans are vital to support their families and rebuild their homes but, most importantly, they provide a renewed sense of hope and dignity in a country devastated by six years of conflict. 

“Across Syria, UNRWA’s Micro Finance Department disbursed a staggering 9,520 loans in 2016, worth nearly two million dollars. We can build on this track record and expand with the support of donors and partners,” stressed Mr. Krähenbühl. 

“Our loans have also developed flexibly in response to the evolving conflict. There are currently five products that respond to the deepening emergency situations in Syria and help Palestine refugees re-build their houses and maintain stable incomes for themselves and extended families; no small achievement as war rages relentlessly in the country,” he concluded.

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Number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children hits ‘record high’ – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – The number of children traveling alone has increased fivefold since 2010, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the new UNICEF report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth yesterday in a news release.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, the report finds that children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. Further, as much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.

“Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators,” stated Mr. Forsyth. 

Frist and foremost, the agency says, children need protection, highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.” 

Six-point agenda for action

The information is coming to light just ahead of next week’s G7 Summit in Italy and UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action, which includes: 

  1. Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; 
  2. End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives; 
  3. Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status; 
  4. Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; 
  5. Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and 
  6. Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

“These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Mr. Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”

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UN envoy urges defusing tensions over Palestinian hunger strike in Israeli jails

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – The United Nations envoy on the Middle East peace process today called for an immediate resolution to the growing tensions over a hunger strike by Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

“I am following with great concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails,” said the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, in a statement. 

“The strike is now entering its second month and it is imperative that a resolution be found as soon as possible in line with international humanitarian law and Israel’s human rights obligations,” he added.

Expressing hope that current efforts will result in an immediate resolution to the matter, which is in the interest of ongoing initiatives to revive a political process, he called on all actors to exercise maximum restraint, show responsibility and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions.

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Mosul: 200,000 more people could be displaced as battle nears Old City – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – As military operations against terrorists intensify and move closer to Mosul's Old City area, up to 200,000 more people could be displaced, a senior United Nations humanitarian official in Iraq warned today.

“The numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming,” saidHumanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande in a press release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Since military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) began in Mosul seven months ago, nearly 700,000 people have been displaced, including 500,000 people from the city's western neighbourhoods. 

Iraqi Security Forces have made rapid gains in north-west Mosul and ISIL terrorists are reportedly surrounded in the west of the city.

“The military battle in Mosul isn't over yet and even when it is, the emergency will continue for months… Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake,” said Ms. Grande, stressing the need to re-double efforts to mobilize more resources to assist the people in need.

She said many are lacking food and haven't had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months.

Acknowledging the generosity of people in other parts of Mosul who are opening their homes for displaced families, she said: “Without this support, the camps would have been overwhelmed long ago.”

To date, the $985 million appeal for Iraq is less than 30 per cent funded. About $331 million is being sought for the Mosul assistance.

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Industry leaders agree to implement UN agency's standards on clinical trial reporting

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – With about half of all clinical trial results unreported, some of the world's largest founders of medical research and international non-governmental organizations today agreed to adopt standards – based on United Nations health agency's recommendations – to register and publicly disclose results of all clinical trials they fund or support.

“Research funders are making a strong statement that there will be no more excuses on why some clinical trials remain unreported long after they have completed,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation at the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The concern is that unreported trials result in an “incomplete and potentially misleading” understanding of the risks and benefits of vaccines, drugs and medical devices, and could lead to the release of harmful products. 

The standards are based on a 2015 WHO published position on public disclosure, which defines timeframes within which the results should be reported. 

Today's joint statement that future standards will be in line with that 2015 position, was signed by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Norwegian Research Council, the UK Medical Research Council, Médecins Sans Frontières and Epicentre (its research arm), PATH, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Institut Pasteur, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

According to a press release, the entities agreed to develop and implement policies within the next 12 months that require all trials they fund, co-fund, sponsor or support to be registered in a publicly-available registry.

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