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Famine declared in region of South Sudan – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2017 – Famine has been formally declared in parts of South Sudan, the United Nations said today, warning that war and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation there and a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine.

“Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and our worst fears have been realised,” said Serge Tissot, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in South Sudan, in a news release issued jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive,” he stated, explaining that these people are predominantly farmers who have lost their livestock, even their farming tools.

Famine is currently affecting parts of Unity State in the northern-central part of the country. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger.

Famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan

The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago between rival forces – the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar.

The three UN agencies warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people from dying of hunger.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released today by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people - more than 40 percent of South Sudan's population - are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.

“More than one million children are currently estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan; over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished. If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die,” said Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative a.i in South Sudan.

“We have also warned that there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security, both for relief workers and the crisis-affected people they serve,” said WFP Country Director Joyce Luma.

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UN, international organizations condemn attacks on civilians in parts of Central African Republic

INTERNATIONAL, 19 February 2017 – Voicing deep concern over the security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR), in particular in the Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto prefectures, the United Nations together with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union (AU), the Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) and the European Union (EU) have condemned the acts of violence by armed groups that have exasperated an already alarming humanitarian situation.

According to a joint statement issued by the five organizations, violence perpetrated by the Front populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique and its allies, as well as Mouvement pour l'Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique caused heavy civilian casualties as well as significant population displacement, adding to the humanitarian woes in the region.

Demanding that the belligerents cease hostilities immediately, the organizations emphasized that “all attacks against the civilian population, UN and humanitarian personnel may be subject to judicial prosecution, in line with the [national] legislation and international law.”

They also expressed their deep appreciation for “robust action” undertaken by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, popularly known by its French acronym – MINUSCA – to protect civilians and help put an end to violence in the areas threatened by the belligerents and encouraged the mission to continue its efforts.

In the joint statement, the organizations also welcomed the measures put in place for the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court.

They also underlined that only dialogue, in strict adherence with the constitutional and democratic order, will allow the concerned Central African actors to find the appropriate and sustainable responses to their legitimate grievances.

“In this regard, they reiterate the importance of the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation led by the AU, ECCAS and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and supported by Angola, the Republic of Congo and Chad,” noted the joint statement.

In addition, expressing their commitment to work together for the success of the Initiative, in support of the efforts of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra aimed at sustainably promoting reconciliation and inclusive governance in line with the conclusions of the Bangui Forum, the five partner organizations underscored that those armed groups that engage in new violent acts run the risk of excluding themselves from the African Initiative and expose themselves to additional international sanctions.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Despite significant progress and successful elections, CAR has remained in the grip of instability and sporadic unrest.

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Attack in Somali capital a reminder of extremists' indifference towards human life – UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 19 February 2017 – Strongly condemning today's terrorist attack at a marketplace in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which reportedly killed at least 25 people and injured dozens more, the United Nations envoy in the country stressed that incident is a brutal reminder of the retrograde tactics employed by violent extremists.

“Killing civilians is despicable and achieves nothing – except to remind Somalia of the indifference of extremists to human life and suffering,” underscored Michael Keating, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and the head of the UN mission in the country (UNSOM), in a statement.

“The perpetrators need to be brought to justice swiftly,” he added.

Earlier today, at about 13:00 local time, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at the Abagedo market near Kawa Guudey in the Dharkenley district of Mogadishu, claiming the lives of pedestrians and shopkeepers in the vicinity.

According to UNSOM, no group has yet claimed responsibility.

The attack comes at a time when Somalia is preparing for the inaugural celebrations of its newly elected Federal President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed 'Farmajo', who came to office earlier this month amid an “extraordinary public outpouring of euphoria marking the beginning of a new chapter in Somali history that is ripe with opportunity and promise,” noted the statement.

In the statement, Mr. Keating also praised the work of the country's security forces and first responders in the aftermath of the attack, and offered his condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed.

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Iraq: UN aid agencies preparing for 'all scenarios' as western Mosul military operations set to begin

INTERNATIONAL, 18 February 2017 – With military operations to retake western Mosul starting, United Nations humanitarian agencies in Iraq are rushing to prepare for the humanitarian impact of the fighting amid grave concerns that tens of thousands of families are at extreme risks.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the country, food and fuel supplies are dwindling, markets and shops have closed, running water is scarce and electricity in many neighborhoods is either intermittent or cut off.

"The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble. We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes," said Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.

According to estimates, between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians reside in the western section of Mosul.

However, few if any commercial supplies have reached the city in the past three months since the main road to Syria was cut-off.

Sources in the city also reported that nearly half of all food shops have closed and bakeries throughout the area have run out of fuel and many can no longer afford to purchase costly flour.

Prices of fuel such as kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

Families, children face critical shortage of drinking water, do not have enough to eat

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) there are critical shortages of food and safe drinking water.

Three out of five people now depend on untreated waterUNICEF Representative in Iraq Peter Hawkins

"Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine," said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in Iraq.

"Food prices in western Mosul are almost double than in eastern Mosul," added Sally Haydock, the WFP Representative in the country, noting that many families do not have enough to eat.

Preparing to aid as many as 400,000 fleeing civilians

According to OCHA, UN and humanitarian partners are rushing to prepare for the humanitarian impact of the military operation.

"We don't know what will happen during the military campaign but we have to be ready for all scenarios. Tens of thousands of people may flee or be forced to leave the city. Hundreds of thousands of civilians might be trapped — maybe for weeks, maybe for months," said Ms. Grande.

Emergency sites are being constructed south of the city and stocks of life-saving supplies are being pre-positioned for the 250,000-400,000 civilians who may flee.

"Protecting civilians is the highest priority in a situation like this — nothing is more important [...] The battle hasn't started but already there is a humanitarian crisis," the UN humanitarian official added.

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At Munich Security Conference, UN chief Guterres highlights need for 'a surge in diplomacy for peace'

INTERNATIONAL, 18 February 2017 – Highlighting the complex and interlinked challenges confronting the global community that also compound the suffering of the most vulnerable, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for a boost in preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts, as well as for a strategy to address root causes of such conflicts in the world.

“There are things that are obvious: the alignment of the sustainable and inclusive development with the sustaining peace agenda,” said Mr. Guterres in his remarks to the Munich Security Conference, noting also their importance in preventing conflicts.

He also drew attention to the need to address the fragility of states and to support states, institutions and civil societies to become stronger and more resilient to diminish the tendency for states to be involved in conflict situations.

Noting the centrality of climate change and strain on resources in increasing the probability of conflicts and dramatic humanitarian crises, Secretary-General Guterres called on the international community to rally behind the Paris Agreement on climate change as well as to focus attention on population growth, especially in Africa.

“And for me, a key condition to address it is the combination of education and the empowerment of women and girls,” he said, noting: “This is probably the best way to be able to address the problems of excessive population growth that is impacting dramatically in some parts of the world.”

Further in his remarks, the UN chief noted the need for strengthened global multilateralism and the need for responsive reform to enhance confidence and capacity of multilateral institutions to better respond to global challenges and to meet the expectations of the world's peoples.

In the case of the UN, the Secretary-General noted that the organization has been engaged in reforms to its peace and security strategy, operational setup and architecture; its development system; and its management.

Also in his address, Mr. Guterres said that while the world prepares for responding to the crises it faces today, it is equally important that it is prepared to deal with new dimensions and problems of peace and security it could face in the future.

Noting the already existing challenges related to cyberspace and lack of mechanisms to address those, the UN chief highlighted that development of a analytical capacity and governance models for new areas of scientific and technological development, such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering will be crucial in the days to come.

“I believe that when people will meet herein 10 or 20 years' time in Munich, we will probably be discussing other things in relation to the priorities of today, but I hope we don't get to those discussions too late and [having done] too little,” he said.

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A decade on, UN urges all Governments to endorse convention on enforced disappearance

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2017 – Marking the tenth anniversary of an historic treaty to keep people from suffering enforced disappearance or secret detentions, the United Nations today urged all Governments that have not done so to ratify it, as the world body honoured victims separated from their loved ones.

The UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances on 20 December 2006, and it opened for signature the following February.

Speaking at a High-Level Assembly meeting, the current President of the 193-member UN body said that since its adoption, the Convention has filled “an important judicial void in the international system” by preventing future victimization and seeking to redress past wrongs.

“While the catalyst to establishing the Convention was the horrendous events that took place in Latin America during the 1970’s and 1980’s, in many parts of our world today the scourge of enforced disappearance continues,” said Peter Thomson.

As the international community’s attention focuses on implementing the 2030 Agenda, it is important that the Convention be sees as a vital element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This applies particularly to SDG 16 in promoting the rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice, ending impunity, protecting human rights, sustaining peace, and in achieving the central tenet of the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind”, he continued, adding that faithful implementation of SDG 16 will create the conditions that will ensure no one will ever be subjected to enforced disappearance.

The idea that forced disappearances – in one form or another – continue today were echoed in the video message from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who noted that most of the family members attending the high-level meeting have had members of their families disappear.

“The practice of enforced disappearance is not decreasing – it is morphing,” he said. “In the context of migration, internal conflict, transnational organized crime, humanitarian crises and the struggle against violent extremism, we are seeing new and alarming patterns of enforced disappearance.”

Mr. Thomson and Mr. Zeid commended the at least 55 Member States that have ratified or acceded to the Convention, and urged those remaining to join.

In their separate addresses, both senior officials also commended the work of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which alongside the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, is the main UN expert mechanism in this field.

Speaking on behalf of the Committee, its Chair, Santiago Corcuera Cabezut said there were 347 urgent actions currently under consideration by the Committee – up from just five in 2012.

“The values protected by this Convention are universal, and therefore, the universality of the instrument should be achieved in the near future, just like the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he said.

To support the principles of the Convention, the UN General Assembly has designated 30 August as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance to draw attention to the global problem of enforced disappearance.

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Germany is symbol of tolerance and hospitality for those in need of protection – UN chief Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2017 – Speaking to the media in Munich, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the important role Germany has placed at a number of multilateral institutions, including the European Union and the United Nations.

“Germany has been extremely active in all aspects in which the international community needs to come together to face the dramatic challenges that are threatening our daily lives,” said Mr. Guterres at a press encounter alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He further noted that in a world where diversity is perceived as a threat and not a richness and where so many populist, xenophobic demonstrations exist, Germany and Chancellor Merkel had been a symbol of “tolerance” and “hospitality” for people displaced from their homes and who are in need of protection.

“A symbol I would like to see followed in many, many other parts of the world in order for us to be able to respond to the dramatic suffering that we are witnessing because of the terrible conflicts that have spread around the world,” the UN chief added.

“So, in this moment, I would like to say that I am sure that the cooperation that, as Secretary-General, I will have with Germany and its Government will be as solid, as positive, as deep and as successful as the cooperation we had when, as High Commissioner for Refugees, I could be fully in support of the German policy for the protection of refugees.”

In his remarks, Mr. Guterres also underlined the need for global responses to global challenges such as complex and interlinked conflicts, rising terrorism, impact of climate change and enormous movements of people and migration.

He further emphasized the importance of multilateralism and for countries to come together and to use multilateral institutions, in a spirit of solidarity, to overcome the obstacles of today’s world.

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Central African Republic: UN mission reinforces presence in restive Bambari

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2017 – Amid ongoing rebel activity in and around Bambari in strife-torn Central African Republic, the United Nations mission – known as MINUSCA – said today that it has reinforced its presence in the city with the arrival of additional troops, including a quick reaction unit and Special Forces.

This reinforcement makes it possible to better protect Bambari and its inhabitants, as, for the time being, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission is the only legitimate authority mandated by the Government to control the city. As Mission chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga recalled: “Bambari should not belong to armed groups.”

In a news release, the Mission stressed that the FPRC (Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique)’s coalition and UPC (Mouvement pour l’Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique) represent a threat for civilian populations and that UN peacekeepers will respond in case of violence.

However, discussions are ongoing and a UN civilian-military delegation will soon meet with the leader of one of the armed groups. The MINUSCA stressed that Bambari “must be free of armed groups in the coming days.”

And the UN Mission today also welcomed the nomination of Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa as Special Prosecutor to the CAR’s Special Criminal Court.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. According to the UN, more more than half the population is in dire need of assistance. Despite significant progress and successful elections, CAR has remained in the grip of instability and sporadic unrest.

In December 2016, the Mission supported a new dialogue between 11 of the 14 armed groups, as part of an ongoing effort to disarm the factions.

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On million Ukrainian children now need aid ad number doubles over past year – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2017 – As the volatile conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year, one million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – nearly double the number this time last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today.

“This is an invisible emergency – a crisis most of the world has forgotten,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a news release.

“Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years. Their schools have been destroyed, they have been forced from their homes and their access to basic commodities like heat and water has been cut off,” she stated.

The release attributed the increase – an additional 420,000 girls and boys – to the continued fighting and the steady deterioration of life in eastern Ukraine, where some 1.7 million people have been internally displaced, and many families have lost their incomes, social benefits and access to healthcare, while the price of living has sharply risen.

Hundreds of daily ceasefire violations put children’s physical safety and psychological well-being at risk. The situation is particularly grave for the approximately 200,000 girls and boys living within 15 kilometres on each side of the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine, a line which divides government and non-government controlled areas where fighting is most severe.

In this zone, 19,000 children face constant danger from landmines and other unexploded ordinance and 12,000 children live in communities shelled at least once a month. Thousands of children are regularly forced to take refuge in improvised bomb shelters.

Teachers, psychologists and parents report signs of severe psychosocial distress among children including nightmares, aggression, social withdrawal and panic triggered by loud noises.

More than 740 schools – one in five in eastern Ukraine - have been damaged or destroyed.

UNICEF once again calls for all sides to immediately recommit to the ceasefire signed in Minsk in August 2015 and to respect international humanitarian law, including allowing unrestricted humanitarian access.

UNICEF is appealing for $31.3 million to provide health and nutrition support, education, clean water, hygiene and sanitation as well as protection for children and families affected by the conflict. So far, about 10 per cent of the appeal has been funded.

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'No time to lose' as humanitarian catastrophe looms in Somalia – UN agencies

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2017 – Amid worsening of an already devastating drought in Somalia, United Nations agencies have underlined that only a massive and immediate scale-up of humanitarian assistance can help the country avoid falling into another catastrophe.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) some 6.2 million people – almost half the country's population – are either severely food insecure or in need of livelihood support.

“Huge numbers of Somalis have come to the end of all their possible resources and are living hand-to-mouth,” said Steven Lauwerier, the UNICEF Somalia Representative, underlining that there is only a small window of opportunity to arrest the looming humanitarian crisis and save lives.

The situation of children is particularly concerning: close to one million children are estimated to be malnourished this year, including 185,000 severely malnourished and in need of urgent lifesaving support. There are also grave fears that this number could increase to 270,000 over the coming months.

The ongoing drought and other shocks have left communities – that have already been battered by decades of conflict – with little to no resources to fall back on, the two UN agencies said in a joint news release.

Whole villages have lost their crops or seen their livestock die. The prices of water and locally produced food have risen dramatically, and thousands of people are on the move in search of food and water.

The drought has also led to an increase in waterborne diseases with more than 4,000 cases of Acute Watery Diarrhoea/Cholera this year.

“Humanitarian assistance has saved lives in the drought-affected north over the past year, but as the crisis spreads we have no time to lose,” added WFP Country Director Laurent Bukera, noting that together with its partners, the UN agency is “moving as quickly as possible” to reach people with lifesaving support.

Humanitarian assistance has saved lives in the drought-affected north over the past year, but as the crisis spreads we have no time to loseWFP Country Director Laurent Bukera

The two agencies further noted that humanitarian access remains conqueringly limited in some drought-affected areas of the south, but that WFP and UNICEF are reinforcing their joint efforts to scale up the response in areas that are accessible, where millions of lives are at risk.

The agencies have been responding together to the drought by providing food and water vouchers to hundreds of thousands across the most affected areas of Somalia as well as nutrition assistance.

As additional resources are mobilised, the joint response will continue to expand in the most vulnerable regions.

However, with growing needs, more funds are needed. UNICEF and WFP together still require more than $450 million to be able to provide urgent assistance required in the coming months.

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