Briefing to the General Assembly on the Secretary-General’s Call to Action on famine response and prevention – 13 April 2017

Situational briefing to the General Assembly on the Secretary-General’s Call to Action on famine response and prevention

New York, 13 April 2017

As delivered by Ms Reena Ghelani, Deputy Director, OCHA Coordination and Response Division

His Excellency, Mr Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly and

Mr Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Stephen O’Brien.

Thank you for this opportunity to brief on the grave situation facing millions of people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria. The numbers are staggering. As his Excellency outlined, more than 20 million people face famine or the risk of famine across the four countries. Some 1.4 million children are severely malnourished. Over 21 million people lack sufficient access to health care, at a time when three out of the four countries are experiencing cholera outbreaks. And more than 20 million people lack clean water and sanitation. Around eighty per cent of affected populations live in rural areas and a combination of hunger and conflict is forcing people to be displaced, both internally and as refugees. Those who were forced from their homes in past years by conflict are being hit particularly hard as a consequence of this current crisis.

The crises in these four countries are protracted and complex � and the impacts will be felt for years.

In South Sudan, years of appalling violence and conflict have left over 5 million people in need of urgent food assistance, an estimated 100,000 of whom are, already, facing famine. More than 1 million more are on the brink of famine. Over a quarter of a million children are suffering severe acute malnutrition. Three years of conflict has displaced some 3.5 million people, disrupted agricultural production of farmers, and crippled the economy. Half of the country’s water points have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 5,000 people have contracted cholera in an outbreak that began in June of last year.

In Somalia close to 3 million people cannot meet their daily food needs. Some over 500,000 people have fled their homes this year alone in search of food, water, and safety. Acute Watery Diarrhea and Cholera has spread to 11 of 18 regions of the country, with over 18,000 cases reported just this year. Women are particularly impacted, sometimes forced to walk many kilometres to fetch water. In Somalia women will walk 25 to 50 kilometres on average to fetch water, exposing them to violence and sexual abuse.

Yemen is facing the largest food security crisis in the world with almost 7 million people requiring immediate life-saving assistance and at least 462,000 children suffering severe acute malnutrition. Conflict has damaged and obstructed water networks and only 45 per cent of the country’s health facilities are functioning.

And in north-east Nigeria, violence has left millions displaced and some 4.7 million people in severe food insecurity � at least 450,000 of them are children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

This is the impact of hunger and famine: communities broken, families torn apart, and preventable deaths of men women and children from disease. Famine is about much more than food insecurity. It is about compounding vulnerabilities that leave millions of people without basic human dignity, without hope for the future. It leaves children stunted and out of school. Development gains are stalled or reversed. People abandon their homes, and are robbed of their livelihoods, exacerbating instability across entire regions.

Seven weeks ago, the Secretary-General called on the international community to take urgent action to prevent this looming catastrophe. He urged all actors to work together to save lives, reduce underlying vulnerabilities, and build long-term resilience to future shocks.

Humanitarian partners acted early. Humanitarian response plans and action for the year, in each of the four countries, had already incorporated the massive food and other key responses that would be required for the situation we face today. Large-scale operations are underway, in extremely challenging and dangerous environments.

Since February, UN agencies and their partners have reached over 1.2 million people in South Sudan, more than 330,000 people of them in the famine-affected or at-risk counties of Unity State. In Yemen, humanitarian partners have reached 5.8 million people with food and other assistance so far this year.

In Somalia, partners and the UN doubled our response from February to March, to reach 1.8 million suffering people with food aid and nearly 500,000 with livelihood support. Around 1.8 million people are targeted for assistance this month in Nigeria alone, where so far this year a quarter of a million people have been reached with emergency water and sanitation assistance, 3.8 million children vaccinated against measles, and over 900,000 people provided basic health services.

The humanitarian assistance being delivered on the ground is saving lives and livelihoods. But it is not enough.

While all four countries have unique contexts, they share a common component. That is of protracted conflict. Likewise, all four countries are marked by severe access constraints due to insecurity and some have costly bureaucratic impediments that impede the reach of life saving aid, and exacerbate the suffering of civilians.

In Somalia almost one third of the people who need help the most are living in areas under control of Al Shabaab where access is extremely limited. There are indications now that Al Shabaab is using this crisis as part of a hearts and mindsrdquo; campaign, to use the situation to feed people. South Sudan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an aid worker � more than 12 humanitarian personnel have been killed this year alone. Here, conflict severely challenges humanitarian presence, forcing lengthy relocations of aid workers, including from famine-affected counties, and affecting directly millions of vulnerable South Sudanese people in need of humanitarian assistance.

In north-eastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues to launch attacks on military and civilian targets, an estimated 700,000 people remain beyond reach for humanitarian actors, living in what are feared to be desperate conditions. And in Yemen, where conflict and insecurity and strain on the economy are driving the crisis, restrictions on the movement of goods into non-Government-controlled ports are at times delayed.

Humanitarian operations in these four countries require more than US$5.6 billion this year as his Excellency has announced and we need this funding now. In order to be ahead of the game we need this funding now � especially for the priority sectors to respond and prevent famine in the four critical sectors of Food Security, Nutrition, Water and Sanitation, and Health. Following the Secretary-General’s call to action on Famine response and prevention, donors have generously committed approximately 21 per cent of the $4.4 billion required. I thank donors for these critically needed funds to save lives, but highlight that they remain less than a quarter of the amount needed to avert a catastrophe.

We thank the President of the General Assembly to have provided this dialogue today.

While humanitarians will continue to deliver and scale up where they are able, four things are required in order to effectively reverse these crises:

First, more political will is required to end the conflicts that have caused these crises. Without an end to conflict, violence, and violations of international humanitarian law, humanitarian conditions � including severe food insecurity � will continue to deteriorate. Hunger and suffering will increase.

Likewise in order for assistance to reach those who need it most there must be unhindered and sustained humanitarian access. All parties to conflict must abide by international humanitarian law and allow aid workers access to vulnerable people in need of support. More pressure needs to be exerted on these parties to abide by those obligations.

Thirdly, we urgently need further funding to back a robust humanitarian response. This includes funding from traditional and emerging donors, including development banks and the private sector. The upcoming ministerial-level pledging conference for Yemen, co-chaired by the Secretary-General and the Foreign Ministers of Switzerland and Sweden, provides an opportunity for countries to come together and unite behind humanitarian efforts in Yemen � for which less than 10 per cent of required funds have been received to date.

Finally, the severity and the scale of these crises call for a more comprehensive approach, a new way of working. The immediate goal of the humanitarian response is to save lives, but humanitarian response alone is not enough to reduce needs and address the risk and vulnerability that drive those needs. Longer-term action is needed now to help reduce needs and vulnerability and build resilience, preventing future catastrophes. To do this requires more risk tolerance, earlier and sustained development engagement, and more flexible and context-adaptable programming. Crucially, a broader range of financing options, better aligning short- and long-term funding, and working with a diversity of partners will be needed. We must now make tangible progress on this New Way of Working by scaling up the programmes required to reach our collective outcomes of reducing need, risk and vulnerability of those left behind as a result of conflict and crises.

Thank you.

Source: Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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Juba Officials Miss Tuition Payment; S. Sudan Students Leave Zimbabwe Campus

WASHINGTON �

Twenty-nine South Sudanese students on a government-sponsored scholarship to study at Zimbabwe’s Harare Institute of Technology were forced to leave school a week ago after Juba officials failed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their tuition and fees over three semesters..

A letter from the Harare institute, seen by VOA South Sudan in Focus and addressed to South Sudan’s Cultural and Educational Attache, said the school was owed $241,894.

South Sudanese officials did not meet the March 31 payment deadline, and the students said they had no option but to leave campus and live in the embassy while they appealed to the government to pay the bill.

Students have since complained of living in cramped spaces with little food, in an embassy that has no kitchen and one shower with a broken spout and light fixture.

Giir Salfa Deng, 25, a biotechnology student in his second year at the institute, said the education he’s been receiving is much needed in his country.

“We are doing all the sciences, so it could have been an advantage for the country,” he said. “The only service that I could offer to my people is through my degree. If I could get a degree today, then this is the same degree that would be able to uplift the upcoming generation.”

Sleeping on the compound

Gaaniko Bangoye Michael, 23, who is studying electronic commerce at HIT, said the embassy was so small that “students are just sleeping around the compound, under the trees, because we are not given rooms.”

There are 147 South Sudanese students spread across other universities in Zimbabwe under the same South Sudan-sponsored scholarship program, according to the students in Harare. They said the government had not paid their fees either, and they expected the others to reach the embassy in the coming days.

But Agheer Marial, 25, studying electronic engineering, said the embassy is struggling to host the students already there.

“Me, personally, I have been sleeping in a chair in the reception room. So I think I spent about five days in that chair sleeping, somehow,” said Marial.

He said that for him, the interruption was more than just a financial shock; the situation has taken an emotional toll. Marial said it was “heartbreaking” to come so far in the four-year program and not know what will happen.

“We have actually spent, like, two years already in the university, so we are almost to the last part of our courses,” he said. “But unfortunately, it has happened that we have been kicked out of the university.”

Up in the air

Rebecca Achok, a biotechnology student and one of five women in the group, said she was hoping to take her degree back home, but so far the government has not been responsive to their calls.

Students are “not yet sure if they will take us back or if they will pay our school fees,” said Achok, who added that it had been difficult not knowing what would happen to them.

The students said the South Sudanese ambassador to Zimbabwe and the cultural attache were urging their government to pay the fees promptly.

Bangoye said they were in a situation that “we can’t control by ourselves,” and they urged Juba to look into their issue “as fast as possible” so that they can take exams in a couple of weeks.

Email and phone call requests for comment to the Harare Institute of Technology have gone unanswered. The government of South Sudan did not return a request for comment.

Source: Voice of America

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Juba Officials Miss Tuition Payment; S. Sudan Students Leave Zimbabwe Campus

WASHINGTON �

Twenty-nine South Sudanese students on a government-sponsored scholarship to study at Zimbabwe’s Harare Institute of Technology were forced to leave school a week ago after Juba officials failed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their tuition and fees over three semesters..

A letter from the Harare institute, seen by VOA South Sudan in Focus and addressed to South Sudan’s Cultural and Educational Attache, said the school was owed $241,894.

South Sudanese officials did not meet the March 31 payment deadline, and the students said they had no option but to leave campus and live in the embassy while they appealed to the government to pay the bill.

Students have since complained of living in cramped spaces with little food, in an embassy that has no kitchen and one shower with a broken spout and light fixture.

Giir Salfa Deng, 25, a biotechnology student in his second year at the institute, said the education he’s been receiving is much needed in his country.

“We are doing all the sciences, so it could have been an advantage for the country,” he said. “The only service that I could offer to my people is through my degree. If I could get a degree today, then this is the same degree that would be able to uplift the upcoming generation.”

Sleeping on the compound

Gaaniko Bangoye Michael, 23, who is studying electronic commerce at HIT, said the embassy was so small that “students are just sleeping around the compound, under the trees, because we are not given rooms.”

There are 147 South Sudanese students spread across other universities in Zimbabwe under the same South Sudan-sponsored scholarship program, according to the students in Harare. They said the government had not paid their fees either, and they expected the others to reach the embassy in the coming days.

But Agheer Marial, 25, studying electronic engineering, said the embassy is struggling to host the students already there.

“Me, personally, I have been sleeping in a chair in the reception room. So I think I spent about five days in that chair sleeping, somehow,” said Marial.

He said that for him, the interruption was more than just a financial shock; the situation has taken an emotional toll. Marial said it was “heartbreaking” to come so far in the four-year program and not know what will happen.

“We have actually spent, like, two years already in the university, so we are almost to the last part of our courses,” he said. “But unfortunately, it has happened that we have been kicked out of the university.”

Up in the air

Rebecca Achok, a biotechnology student and one of five women in the group, said she was hoping to take her degree back home, but so far the government has not been responsive to their calls.

Students are “not yet sure if they will take us back or if they will pay our school fees,” said Achok, who added that it had been difficult not knowing what would happen to them.

The students said the South Sudanese ambassador to Zimbabwe and the cultural attache were urging their government to pay the fees promptly.

Bangoye said they were in a situation that “we can’t control by ourselves,” and they urged Juba to look into their issue “as fast as possible” so that they can take exams in a couple of weeks.

Email and phone call requests for comment to the Harare Institute of Technology have gone unanswered. The government of South Sudan did not return a request for comment.

Source: Voice of America

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US Criticized for Slashing Funds to UN Population Fund

UNITED NATIONS �

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres deeply regrets the United States’ decision to cut funding to the U.N. Population Fund, which provides life-saving care to millions of women and girls around the world.

The Trump administration said Monday it would no longer fund the program, because it has determined that it supports, or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.

A spokesman for Guterres said Tuesday the U.N. chief believes this decision is based on an inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work of UNFPA” and he urged donors to increase their support for the fund.

In 2015, UNFPA received $979 million in total contributions for its work in more than 150 countries. The United States provided nearly $76 million to the fund’s core budget and specific programs and initiatives, making it one of the top international donors.

UNFPA issued its own statement Tuesday, rejecting the U.S. accusation that it supports coercive abortion and forced sterilization in China.

UNFPA refutes this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination, it said. Indeed, United Nations member states have long described UNFPA’s work in China as a force for good.

For decades, China had a one-child policy for couples and last year revised it to a two-child policy, which it has been accused of using forced sterilization and abortions to enforce.

The support we received over the years from the government and people of the United States has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities, UNFPA said. With previous United States contributions, UNFPA was combating gender-based violence and reducing the scourge of maternal deaths in the world’s most fragile settings, in areas of conflict and natural disasters, including Iraq, Nepal, Sudan, Syria, the Philippines, Ukraine and Yemen.

UNFPA provides family planning assistance to poor and vulnerable women.

According to the fund, in 2015 it helped 18 million women gain access to contraceptives and reproductive health services, preventing more than 12 million unintended pregnancies and 4.4 million abortions. It also works to reduce HIV/AIDS and end fistula and female genital mutilation.

We are very concerned about the Americans cutting the funds to the UNFPA, Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters. We think UNFPA is doing a great job, we support them. We think they save lives of women and girls around the world, not least in the developing world.

Sweden is the top contributor to the fund’s core budget, giving more than $57 million in 2015 and an additional $32 million to specific initiatives.

The United Kingdom continues to support that part of the United Nations, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said when asked what he thought about the U.S. decision. Britain gave nearly $200 million to UNFPA in 2015.

U.S. reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood slammed the Trump administration for putting politics before women’s health.

The administration is once again relying on ‘alternative facts’ to undermine women’s access to health care, said Latanya Mapp Frett, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global. Instead of helping women, extreme politicians are cutting off access to the U.N. agency that’s best positioned to prevent and reform coercive reproductive health practices.

She said withdrawing U.S. support would have a devastating impact on UNFPA and hurt the lives of the people they serve.

The Trump administration has resumed the so-called Mexico City Policy established by former president Ronald Reagan in 1984. The policy declared “the United States does not consider abortion an acceptable element of family planning programs and will no longer contribute to those of which it is a part.”

The policy has been in effect for 17 of the past 32 years during every Republican administration, and rescinded under every Democratic one, including under Barack Obama.

One of the Trump policy’s expanded requirements is the United States not contribute to any organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.

In general, conservative Americans oppose abortion on demand, the so-called right to life, while liberal Americans support legal abortion, the so-called right to choose.

Source: Voice of America

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US First Lady Presents International Women of Courage Award

STATE DEPARTMENT � U.S. first lady Melania Trump, in a rare solo public appearance, presented the International Women of Courage Award to 13 women in Washington on Wednesday.

“These honorees on the stage with me have fought for their rights and for the rights of others. Each [of them] battle forces, such as governments, the courts, gender bias, terrorism, war and corruption, and were willing, in each moment, to face harsh penalties including imprisonment and death,” Trump said.

Together, with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching. It is therefore our duty to continue to shine the light on each miraculous victory achieved by women� all capable of trying, truly leading the change to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves, she said.

The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award honors women around the world for exhibiting courage and leadership in their advocacy for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.

The award often honors women who have been imprisoned, tortured or threatened with death or serious harm for standing up for justice, human rights and the rule of law.

This year, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the Vietnamese green blogger and environmental activist known as Mother Mushroom, could not attend because she’s been in prison since October 2016.

The State Department has consistently called on the government of Vietnam to provide for Quynh’s immediate release.

We believe that international recognition for her courage and advocacy will help bring attention to her work to address corruption and promote human rights in Vietnam, State Department East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau spokesperson Grace Choi told VOA.

We hope that the award will shed a spotlight on the issue of freedom of expression, including on the Internet, in Vietnam, Choi added.

In Colombia, a law that increases penalties on attackers who use chemical agents was passed in January of 2016, bearing the name of Natalia Ponce de Leon. She survived an acid attack three years ago and has been an advocate for the rights of burn victims. The law also requires the ministry of health to improve training in hospital burn units for acid attacks and other burn victims.

During my recovery, I understood that I had two options: the easy way, I could lie in bed, filling myself up with hate and anger; or the hard way, standing strong and making all these tragedies something greater. And so I did, Natalia Ponce de Leon told an audience at the State Department.

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka became one of the first women in Niger to join the army in 1996. She was recognized for her advocacy to raise awareness about gender sensitivities in conflict areas.

Traveling to the United States for the first time, Veronica Simogun from Papua New Guinea was honored for her campaign to protect women from gender based violence.

I am fighting for equality, gender justice in my country. I deal with these cases all the time. There’s a lot of abuses and a lot of discrimination, Simogun told VOA.

Women’s voices need to be heard, and there should be equality for women and children.

Since its creation in 2007, the program has awarded more than 100 women from 60 countries.

Trump presented the awards alongside Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.

After the ceremony, the women will travel to a number of American cities on individual International Visitor Leadership Programs before reconvening in Los Angeles to discuss further collaboration to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe.

The 2017 awardees are:

Sharmin Akter, Activist Against Early/ Forced Marriage, Bangladesh

Malebogo Molefhe, Human Rights Activist, Botswana

Natalia Ponce de Leon, President, Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation, Colombia

Rebecca Kabugho, Political and Social Activist, Democratic Republic of Congo

Jannat Al Ghezi, Deputy Director of The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka, Deputy Director of Social Work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, Niger

Veronica Simogun, Director and Founder, Family for Change Association, Papua New Guinea

Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista, Lawyer and Founder of Not One Woman Less, Peru

Sandya Eknelygoda, Human Rights Activist, Sri Lanka

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, Member, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (F.M.A.), Syria

Saadet Ozkan, Educator and Gender Activist, Turkey

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Blogger and Environmental Activist, Vietnam

Fadia Najib Thabet, Human Rights Activist, Yemen

Source: Voice of America

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