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UN calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria, welcomes new approvals from Government

In December 2015, a mother loads preserved food supplies in a truck as the family prepares to move out of Nashabieh village to a neighbouring safer town within besieged East Ghouta, Syria. Almost 400,000 people are trapped in besieged locations. Photo: UNICEF/Amer Al Shami
In December 2015, a mother loads preserved food supplies in a truck as the family prepares to move out of Nashabieh village to a neighbouring safer town within besieged East Ghouta, Syria. Almost 400,000 people are trapped in besieged locations. Photo: UNICEF/Amer Al Shami

7 January 2016 – The United Nations is calling today for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach people in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas of Syria, while welcoming the recent approval by the Government to access the towns of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to 4.5 million people in the war-torn country live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 in 15 besieged locations that do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need. In the last year, only 10 per cent of all requests for UN inter-agency convoys to these areas were approved and delivered.

A statement issued by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Kevin Kennedy, underlined the particular concern about the plight of these hundreds of thousands of people besieged by parties to the conflict in locations such as Deir Ez-Zor city, Daraya, Foah and Kafraya, as well as besieged areas of East Ghouta.

Meanwhile, almost 42,000 people remaining in the town of Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation; the UN has received credible reports of people starving to death and being killed while trying to leave. According to OCHA, a 53 year-old man reportedly died of starvation last Tuesday while his family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition.

The statement further highlights the ongoing conflict continues to hamper the humanitarian response, and that freedom of movement is restricted by the presence of armed actors and landmines. Madaya last received a joint UN, Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) convoy on 18 October, and some medical evacuations took place in December, but the town has been inaccessible since then despite numerous requests for access.

While the UN prepares to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days, it is recalling that international humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians and their starvation as a tactic of war, and reiterates its call for immediate humanitarian access and for the facilitation of safe evacuation of civilians.

World Bank downgrades global growth in 2016; cites slowdown in major emerging economies

World Bank Headquarters. Photo: World Bank/Deborah W. Campos
World Bank Headquarters. Photo: World Bank/Deborah W. Campos

7 January 2016 – Global growth disappointed again in 2015 – slowing to 2.4 per cent – and is expected to recover at a slower pace than previously envisioned, the World Bank Group said today in a new report, which also warned that a broad-based slowdown across developing countries could pose a threat to hard-won gains in raising people out of poverty.

While noting that weak growth among major emerging markets will weigh on global growth in 2016, the World Bank’s January 2016 Global Economic Prospects states that economic activity should still pick up modestly to a 2.9 per cent pace, from 2.4 per cent growth in 2015, as a modest recovery in advanced economies continues and activity stabilizes among major commodity exporters.

The report goes on to note that spillovers from major emerging markets will constrain growth in developing countries and pose a threat to hard-won gains in raising people out of poverty.

“More than 40 per cent of the world’s poor live in the developing countries where growth slowed in 2015,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, stressing that developing countries should focus on building resilience to a weaker economic environment and shielding the most vulnerable. The benefits from reforms to governance and business conditions are potentially large and could help offset the effects of slow growth in larger economies, he added.

According to the report, global economic growth was less than expected in 2015, when falling commodity prices, flagging trade and capital flows, and episodes of financial volatility sapped economic activity. Firmer growth ahead will depend on continued momentum in high income countries, the stabilization of commodity prices, and China’s gradual transition towards a more consumption and services-based growth model.

Developing economies are forecast to expand by 4.8 per cent in 2016, less than expected earlier but up from a post-crisis low of 4.3 per cent in the year just ended. Growth is projected to slow further in China, while Russia and Brazil are expected to remain in recession in 2016, the World Bank says. The South Asia region, led by India, is projected to be a bright spot. The recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership could provide a welcome boost to trade.

“There is greater divergence in performance among emerging economies. Compared to six months ago, risks have increased, particularly those associated with the possibility of a disorderly slowdown in a major emerging economy,” said World Bank Group Vice President and Chief Economist Kaushik Basu. “A combination of fiscal and central bank policies can be helpful in mitigating these risks and supporting growth.”


Solutions needed to stem global refugee crisis, says new UN agency chief

UN High Commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, addresses staff at headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: UNHCR/S. Hopper
UN High Commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, addresses staff at headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: UNHCR/S. Hopper


7 January 2016 – With record numbers of refugees and displaced people worldwide, the new head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is urging greater diplomatic efforts to find solutions to the conflicts and abuses driving people from their homes.

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” Filippo Grandi said on Thursday at his debut press conference after taking office at the first of the year.

“We owe it first and foremost to the forcibly displaced themselves, but we also owe it to States…States are desperately looking for solutions to situations involving refugees,” he declared, stressing that “even under more desperate circumstances we have to think of solving displacement.”

Noting that there are now some 60 million people displaced around the world as a result of conflicts from South Sudan to Syria, Mr. Grandi pledged to work closely with partners. He urged governments to invest more energy and resources to solving wars and conflicts and providing solutions to the causes of refugee crises.

The new UN High Commissioner for Refugees stressed that countries which host especially large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, now home to over one million Syrians, need better help. He also highlighted resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as tools which can allow refugees to find safety in other countries, “not through trafficking but by what we call legal pathways.”

Following a year in which over one million refugees and migrants arrived on Europe’s shores, Mr. Grandi said he would urge the European Union to pursue a “coordinated and cohesive” approach to dealing with people seeking safety, and warned that the rest of the world was watching the continent’s response closely.

He said that if Europe erected barriers and closed doors, the rest of the world would do likewise.

“The EU is struggling with an equal sharing of the burden of refugees within the Union, within the continent,” he said while noting that less than 10 per cent of the world’s current refugee population was actually in Europe.

“The massive arrival of refugees in Europe has opened the eyes of this very rich part of the world to the fact that refugees have massive needs that are not met,” he added.

Mr. Grandi also noted that UNHCR is ready to help refugees return home to countries that have become safe again. Focusing on refugees and forcibly displaced people in Côte d’Ivoire and Colombia, he underlined the importance of successful peace talks and reconciliation to create these opportunities for return.

UN deplores ‘deeply troubling’ hydrogen bomb test announced by DPR Korea

On 6 January 2016 the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO) monitoring stations picked up an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Credit: CTBTO
On 6 January 2016 the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO) monitoring stations picked up an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Credit: CTBTO


6 January 2016 – The United Nations at all levels today deplored the underground nuclear test announced by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling it “deeply troubling” and the UN Security Council vowing to immediately begin considering the “significant measures” it had vowed to take in the event of another nuclear test by the country.

Calling the announced incident “a grave contravention of the international norm against nuclear testing,” Mr. Ban, addressing reporters at UN Headquarters, added: “This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts. I condemn it unequivocally.”

The UN chief went on to demand that the DPRK cease any further nuclear activities and meet its obligations for verifiable denuclearization.

“We are monitoring and assessing developments in close coordination with the concerned international organisations – including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) – and interested parties,” concluded the Secretary-General.

The Vienna-based CTBTO, which will be officially established when the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty enters into force, oversees the International Monitoring System (IMS), which, when complete, consist of 337 facilities worldwide to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions.

Immediately following urgent closed-door talks this morning, members of the Security Council strongly condemned this test, which the deemed a clear violation of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and 2094 (2013), and of the non-proliferation regime.

In a statement to the press, the Council’s 15 members also recalled that they have previously expressed determination to take “further significant measures” in the event of another DPRK nuclear test, and in line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, they said the Council will begin to work immediately on such measures in a new resolution.

Following the announcement today by the DPRK, the head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that if the nuclear test is confirmed, it is in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and is “deeply regrettable.”

“I strongly urge the DPRK to implement fully all relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the IAEA,” said Director General Yukiya Amano in a statement.

He added that the IAEA remains ready to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue “by resuming its nuclear verification activities in the DPRK once a political agreement is reached among countries concerned.”

Meanwhile, the CTBTO has said that its monitoring stations picked up “an unusual seismic event” in the DPRK today at 01:30:00 (UTC), and that its initial location estimate shows that the event took place in the area of the DPRK’s nuclear test site. If confirmed this will be the fourth nuclear test carried out by the country since 2006. CTBTO experts are “analysing the event to establish more about its nature.”

“If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act constitutes a breach of the universally accepted norm against nuclear testing; a norm that has been respected by 183 countries since 1996,” said the Executive Secretary of the CBTO, Lassina Zerbo, in a statement.

“It is also a grave threat to international peace and security,” he continued. “I urge the DPRK to refrain from further nuclear testing and to join the 183 States Signatories who have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.”

“It’s about time that we be more proactive rather than being reactive to what the North Koreans are doing,” Mr. Zerbo underscored in an interview with UN Radio.

Also in a statement today, the President of the General Assembly said he was “dismayed and disappointed” by the news of an underground nuclear test by the DPRK.

“Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction threaten the existence of humankind and must be eliminated,” said Mogens Lykketoft.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should abandon its nuclear weapon and missile programmes in a verifiable and irreversible manner, cease all related activities and comply with all its international obligations, including the UN Security Council and IAEA board of governors resolutions as well as other international disarmament and non-proliferation norms.” he added.

He further called on the country to pursue its objectives by “choosing dialogue over demonstrations of power that present a serious threat to global peace and security.”

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Source: United Nations


Karl William

Editor United Nations Section

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Robert Williams

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