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Scale of civilians fleeing Iraq's Mosul 'staggering' – senior UN relief official

INTERNATIONAL, 17 April 2017 – Noting that nearly half a million people have fled Mosul since the start of military operations to retake the city from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) terrorists, a senior United Nations humanitarian official in Iraq warned that the scale of the displacement has stretched relief efforts to their “operational limits”.

“Our worst case scenario when the fighting started was that up to one million civilians may flee Mosul. Already, more than 493,000 people have left, leaving almost everything behind,” Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in a news release issued by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The sheer volume of civilians still fleeing Mosul city is staggering […] we are doing everything we can but this has been a long battle and the assault on the old city hasn't started,” she added.

According to estimates, as many as 500,000 people still remain in ISIL-controlled areas in western Mosul, including about 400,000 in the densely populated old city.

Humanitarian agencies are scaling up their response, preparing emergency sites and camps to shelter the hundreds of thousands more who may flee in coming days and weeks, but they are under increasing strain.

Since the fighting began last October, some 1.9 million people have been provided live-saving assistance, including food, water, shelter, emergency kits, medical support and psycho-social services, since fighting began last October.

“We're reaching families who have fled and families who have stayed [but] Mosul has pushed us to our operational limits,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator.

'Nothing is more important than protecting civilians – nothing'

The battle for western Mosul is very different from the one in the east and so is the consequent impact on civilians. More trauma injures are reported and there are fears that food stocks and drinking water could run out.

“Civilians in Mosul face incredible, terrifying risks. They are being shot at, there are artillery barrages, families are running out of supplies, medicines are scarce and water is cut-off,” noted the UN humanitarian official.

The news release also underscored that all parties to the conflict are obliged, under International Humanitarian Law, to do everything possible to protect civilians, ensure they have the assistance they need, and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.

“Nothing is more important than protecting civilians – nothing,” stressed Ms. Grande.

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'Monstrous, cowardly' attack on Syrian evacuees a show of shameless disregard for human life – UN aid chief

INTERNATIONAL, 16 April 2017 – Expressing “horror” at the attack on civilians evacuating from the besieged Syrian towns of Foah and Kefraya, the United Nations humanitarian chief has called on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international law and protect civilians.

“The perpetrators of such a monstrous and cowardly attack displayed a shameless disregard for human life,” Stephen O'Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.

“International humanitarian law is very clear: warring parties must protect civilians and distinguish between military and civilian targets,” he underscored.

Some 5,000 people were travelling from the two towns to Government-controlled areas when an explosion occurred near their convoy as it passed Rasheedin, western Aleppo, yesterday. Scores of people have been killed and many injured.

In the aftermath of the attack, humanitarian organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and UN partners, are providing assistance to the injured, including transferring them to hospitals.

The evacuation from Foah and Kefraya was a part of an agreement, popularly referred to as the “Four Towns” Agreement meant to facilitate humanitarian access to the people in need in those besieged towns. In addition to these two places in Idlib, the Agreement also includes Madaya and Zabadani in rural Damascus.

In the statement, the UN humanitarian chief further noted that while the UN was not involved in the agreement or evacuation process, it stands ready to scale up its support to evacuees.

“In that regard, I call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and to facilitate safe and unimpeded access for the UN and its partners to bring life-saving help to those in need,” he said.

Also in the statement, Mr. O'Brien, who is also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured.

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UN Mission calls for restraint as violence erupts in a number of places across South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 15 April 2017 – A senior United Nations official in South Sudan has called for restraint and underlined the need to ensure the protection of civilians as fresh fighting has erupted between Government and opposition forces in a number of locations across the country.

According to a news release issued by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), clashes between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition groups have taken place in Raga (western South Sudan), Waat (Jonglei state, eastern South Sudan), and in Wunkur and Tonga towns (northern, Upper Nile state).

“[The warring parties] must once and for all silence the guns, return to dialogue, reconcile their differences and bring the peace the South Sudanese people want and deserve,” said Moustapha Soumaré, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country.

“During this holy celebration of Easter, which for many symbolises reconciliation and the rebirth of hope, I call on all parties to prove their commitment to peace,” he added.

The escalation of violence follows recent fighting in Pajok (near the border with Uganda) that caused some 6,000 to flee across the border as well as in Wau that displaced many civilians and also claimed the lives of three workers contracted by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

According to UNMISS, the Protection of Civilians site adjacent to its base in Wau has received some 13,500 newly displaced persons, taking the total number of the displaced sheltering there to 38,746. Around 3,000 others are also reportedly seeking refuge at other non-UN compounds.

The Mission also noted that it continues to push for access to areas affected by the conflict and that, despite challenges in reaching some parts of the country, it has successfully deployed a number of peacekeeping patrols to deter violence and protect civilians.

It also continues to monitor the human rights situation in line with its mandate.

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UN food relief agency 'outraged and heartbroken' by killing of three workers in South Sudan city

INTERNATIONAL, 14 April 2017 – Expressing “horror” at the killing of three workers contracted by its office in Wau, South Sudan, during violence that wracked the city earlier this week, the United Nations emergency food relief agency has called on the authorities to bring those responsible for the “unspeakable violence” to justice.

In a news release today, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that the three men – Daniel James, Ecsa Tearp and Ali Elario, all citizens of South Sudan – appeared to have been killed on Monday as they tried to make their way to the UN agency's warehouse, where they worked as porters.

Two died of machete wounds and the third was shot.

“We are outraged and heartbroken by the deaths of our colleagues, who worked every day to help provide life-saving food to millions of their fellow countrymen,” said Joyce Luma, the WFP Country Director for South Sudan.

“Our sympathies and condolences are with their families. Their dedication will not be forgotten,” she added.

The UN agency said that it received the information on the deaths yesterday from the company that employed them. The company is contracted by WFP to provide loading and unloading services at its Wau warehouse.

Also in the news release, the WFP Country Director underlined that those responsible for the killings must be brought to justice.

“We call on the South Sudanese authorities to hold those responsible for this unspeakable violence accountable for their actions,” stressed Ms. Luma.

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Biking from India to Sweden for love – a tale of happiness

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2017 – Love at first sight. An inevitable separation. A seemingly impossible journey for love mixed with a dash of art and late 1970s ‘hippie culture.’ This is the amazing true story of an Indian man who cycled across eight countries to be reunited with his sweetheart.

Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, known as ‘PK,’ made this incredible journey some 40 years ago. Born in a poor family in a village in eastern India, PK met Charlotte von Schedvin a Swedish girl who had heard of him and had come to India to get her portrait drawn.

They fell in love and were married, but in 1975, Charlotte had to return to school in Sweden. PK wanted to finish his studies as well, and could not accompany her. For some time after, he tried to figure out a way to get to her until finally, in 1978, he decided to sell all his belongings and set out on an impossible overland journey.

He biked for four months, through Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, (former) Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria and Denmark to be reunited with the love of his life in Sweden.

He and Charlotte, known as ‘Lotte,’ have been together ever since.

Their story is told in the book The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Swedish journalist and travel writer, Per J. Andersson.

All three sat down with UN News and United Nations Headquarters in New York, to record a truly heart-warming episode of our podcast series The Lid is On.

UN staff and visitors got to meet PK, Lotte and Per during a book signing held at UN Headquarters to mark the International Day of Happiness, observed annually on 20 March.

The UN has celebrated the International Day since 2013 as a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people everywhere.

At the book signing, PK wore a pin promoting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet.

The UN believes these are three key aspects that contribute to well-being and happiness.

“We love to share our love, but the story has its own life and energy,” PK told UN News, adding that the UN is the ideal platform as it brings the world’s people together.

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Security Council decides UN Mission in Haiti will close by October; approves smaller follow-on operation

CARIBBEAN, 13 April 2017 – Recognizing the “major milestone” Haiti has achieved toward stabilization following recent elections, the Security Council today extended mandate of the United Nations mission in the island nation for a final six-month period and authorized a smaller successor peacekeeping mission.

Unanimously adopting a new resolution, the Council decided that, after over 13 years operating in its current form, the UN Stabilization Mission, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, would gradually draw down its military component during the next six months, finally withdrawing from Haiti by 15 October 2017.

Acting on the recommendations of the Secretary-General, the Council also decided to establish a successor operation, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), which would be mandated to assist the Haitian Government to strengthen rule of law institutions; further support and develop the National Police; and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting, and analysis.

Further to the resolution, MINUJUSTH would be composed of up to seven Formed Police Units – or 980 FPU personnel – and 295 Individual Police Officers for an initial period of six months from 16 October 2017 until 15 April 2018, and emphasized the importance of reaching those levels. The current Mission has just over 1,000 individual police and 11 police units.

The new Mission was also authorized to “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, as needed.”

Briefing the Security Council early last week, MINUSTAH chief Sandra Honoré said Haiti had made significant progress in consolidating democracy and maintaining security and stability with the inauguration of Jovenel Moïse as President on 7 February, marking the restoration of constitutional order. Yet, in spite of these gains, pockets of fragility persisted and political challenges remained.

It is time, she said, to reshape the partnership among the international community, the United Nations and Haiti, with a view to monitoring concerns such as human rights issues and ensuring that progress made since MINUSTAH’s 2004 establishment endure.

With the Council’s support, said Ms. Honoré, the joint transition plan would guide the handover, underpinning the gradual transfer of tasks to the Government, the international presence and the United Nations Country Team, thereby allowing Haiti to seize the opportunity to “begin a new chapter in [its] history as the Mission transitions.”

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Iraq: UN assessment reveals extensive destruction in western Mosul

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2017 – Using satellite imagery and local researches, the most recent evaluation confirms that western Mosul has undergone extensive destruction, “far greater than in the east,” according to a senior United Nations aid official in the country.

“The level of damage in western Mosul is already far greater than in the east, even before the battle to retake the Old City begins,” said Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in a news release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

With more than 1,140 housing sites having been destroyed across the city, the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) confirms that damage to houses in western Mosul is two and a half times greater than in the eastern districts with one-third of the residential devastation reported to have occurred in the Al Jadeda neighbourhood.

Ms. Grande pointed out that nearly 300,000 civilians have already fled western Mosul and “hundreds of thousands more may in the days and weeks ahead.”

She stressed that homes are being destroyed, schools and health centres damaged and that crucial public infrastructure, including electricity and water stations, are in ruins.

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians and limit damage to civilian infrastructure. Nothing is more important,” concluded the Humanitarian Coordinator.

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'Radical' investments needed to meet global water and sanitation targets – UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2017 – Against the backdrop of almost two billion people around the world relying on sources of drinking-water contaminated with faeces, the United Nations has called on countries to “radically” increase investments in water and sanitation infrastructure not only to protect their populations from deadly diseases but also to ensure that they are able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma,” said Maria Neira, the Director of Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in a news release today.

The UN report, Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water 2017, notes that while countries have increased their budgets for water, sanitation and hygiene at an average annual rate of about 4.9 per cent over the last three years, 80 per cent of countries have reported that the increase is still insufficient to meet nationally-defined targets for those services.

Therefore, in order to meet the ambitious SDG targets, which aim for universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030, countries need to use financial resources more efficiently as well as increase efforts to identify new sources of funding.

The Global Assessment also highlights that these efforts are particularly important for developing countries where current national coverage targets are based on achieving access to basic infrastructure and which may not necessarily provide continuously safe and reliable services.

SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

The report has been issued by WHO, on behalf of UN-Water – the inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater-related issues, including sanitation.

Funding gap is vast but countries have the ability to mobilize resources

According to estimates by the World Bank, investments in infrastructure need to triple to $114 billion per year – a figure which does not include operating and maintenance costs.

While this funding gap is vast, there are recent examples of countries having demonstrated the ability to mobilize the needed resources to meet development targets.

For instance, 147 countries around the globe were able to successfully mobilize the resources required to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDGtarget of halving the proportion of people without an improved source of water, and 95 among them met the corresponding target for sanitation. 77 countries met both.

According to Guy Ryder, the Chair of UN-Water and the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), nations have the ability to address the challenges of meeting the ambitious SDG targets.

“Increased investments in water and sanitation can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind,” he said.

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State of emergency should not overshadow rights protection, UN experts stress ahead of Turkey referendum

INTERNATIONAL, 13 April 2017 – Ahead of this Sunday’s plebiscite on proposed constitutional amendments in Turkey that would, among other things, empower the President alone to declare states of emergency and determine the measures to be taken, a group of United Nations human rights experts have reiterated that even under such circumstances, protection of human rights must not be compromised.

In a news release today, the UN Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty and human rights; the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the right to education also voiced concern over closure of some 200 media outlets in the country and said that the move not only caused thousands of journalists to lose their jobs and livelihoods, it also undermined the possibility of an informed debate over the referendum proposals.

Moreover, around 1,000 schools and 15 universities are estimated to have been closed by emergency decrees issued since July 2016, the release added.

Underlining that even under a state of emergency, economic, social and cultural rights can only be limited in ways that respect the basic rights themselves and are ‘solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society,’ the experts said: “But there has been no attempt to show that these blanket measures, which have destroyed the careers and livelihoods of tens of thousands of persons, satisfy such criteria in each case.”

“The dismissal of up to 134,000 public servants, without due process, compensation, or access to a proper remedy, for alleged links with organizations that the Government has chosen to proscribe, cannot be justified by reference to Turkey’s longstanding international human rights obligations,” they added.

The experts also said that given the arbitrary and sweeping nature of the emergency decrees since July last year, “there is serious concern that such powers might be used in ways that exacerbate the existing major violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”

In the release, the UN Special Rapporteurs also noted that they in contact with the Turkish Government over the issues.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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UN agencies welcome EU policy to protect migrant and refugee children

INTERNATIONAL, 12 April 2017 – New policy guidance from the European Commission aimed at improving the protection of migrant and refugee children has been welcomed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN refugee agency.

“It is the first EU policy to address the situation and rights of all children in migration – refugee and migrant children, children alone and with their families – linking migration, asylum and child protection,” Noala Skinner, Director of UNICEF's Brussels Office said.

The guidelines include boosting child protection at all levels, improving data collection to ensure children are properly tracked and the appointment of guardians for children. The guidelines also encourage member States to refrain from invasive age assessments and to increase cooperation among states.

Dianne Goodman, Deputy Director of the Europe Bureau of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “These important guidelines will help EU States better respond to the needs of refugee and migrant children. We strongly hope that these guidelines will contribute, in a very concrete manner, to the protection of the many children who arrive to Europe after having been forced to flee their homes due to violence, war and conflict. Many have suffered incredible hardship while on their journey and afterwards.”

In a joint press release, the two UN agencies stressed that children should never be detained, irrespective of their legal or migratory status, or that of their parents. They also welcomed the EU's policy commitment to prioritise national child protection systems for children displaced beyond European borders.

According to UNHCR, children make up over half of the world's refugee population. Both agencies are looking forward to the policy's implementation and an end to the violence and poverty that often precipitates displacement.

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