UN agencies, partners to launch polio vaccination campaign across Africa

24 March 2017 – More than 116 million children are set to be immunized against polio starting tomorrow in one of the largest of its kind synchronized vaccination campaigns across west and central Africa, United Nations agencies today announced.

All children under five years of age in the 13 countries will be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a press release.

Twenty years, ago, &#8220every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease. Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir,&#8221 said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The campaign aims to vaccinate all young children in Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Of particular concern are the five Lake Chad Basin countries. Four children were paralysed by the disease last year in north-eastern Nigeria where insecurity cut off health access. This area is one of the few where polio is active.

&#8220Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable &#8211 but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal,&#8221 said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier.

Organizers said that more than 190,000 polio vaccinators will deliver bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to every house across all cities, towns and villages of the 13 countries.

&#8220Volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycle, in often stifling humidity and temperatures in excess of 40°C. Each vaccination team will carry the vaccine in special carrier bags, filled with ice packs to ensure the vaccine remains below the required 8°C,&#8221 according to the press release.

The polio campaign will run through 28 March.

Two years on, Yemen conflict targets children, food trucks and even fishermen’s boats – UN

24 March 2017 – The conflict in Yemen is raging, the United Nations human rights chief today warned, urging those fighting to work towards a ceasefire and to allow humanitarian aid to get through to millions of people in need.

&#8220The violent deaths of refugees fleeing yet another war, of fishermen, of families in marketplaces &#8211 this is what the conflict in Yemen looks like two years after it began…utterly terrible, with little apparent regard for civilian lives and infrastructure,&#8221 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

In the past month alone, at least 106 civilians were killed, mostly by air strikes and shelling from war ships, the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR) said in a press release.

Of particular concern is fighting in and around Al Hudaydah, which has left thousands of civilians trapped and blocked deliveries of humanitarian aid, as was the case last month in the port city of Al Mokha in the hard-hit Taizz Governorate.

One of the worst incidents there was on 10 March, when a ship carrying at least 70 people was shot by what appeared to be an Apache helicopter overhead, killing at least 33 people and severely wounding 29 others, including children.

OHCHR also reported at least four incidents of fishermen being targeted by missiles and airstrikes.

Meanwhile, the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and former President Saleh have continued to encircle densely populated areas in Taizz Governorate, preventing civilians from leaving and restricting humanitarian access to Taizz city, according to OHCHR.

&#8220Two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health and security &#8211 enough is enough,&#8221 Mr. Zeid said ahead of the infamous 26 March anniversary.

&#8220I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance.&#8221

The UN High Commissioner has also called for an international, independent investigative body to look into hundreds of reports of serious violations in the country.

Hundreds of thousands trapped in Mosul with ‘worst yet to come’ – UN agency

24 March 2017 – An estimated 400,000 Iraqi civilians are trapped in Mosul’s Old City as fighting intensifies and people continue to flee, the United Nations refugee agency representative today warned.

&#8220The worst is yet to come,&#8221 said Bruno Geddo, the Representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Iraq.

Speaking by phone, Mr. Geddo said the fighting in the west has been more intense than in the less densely populated east of the city, where the battle ended in January.

&#8220People are stuck between a rock and a hard place,&#8221 he added. &#8220There’s fighting shelling, bombing.&#8221

When people try to flee, extremists shoot them. Some have tried to leave during prayers or under cover of fog at first light &#8211 but were killed, Mr. Geddo said.

Meanwhile, life in the Old City is becoming impossible with a lack of food, clean water or fuel, Mr. Geddo said.

Meeting with civilians at the UNHCR transit and reception centre at Hammam al-Alil, outside of the city centre, Mr. Geddo said the number of people moving through has &#8220surged&#8221 in recent days with up to 12,000 people arriving daily.

Some 340,000 people have been displaced since the fighting in Mosul started last October. Of those, about 72,000 have returned home.

VIDEO: Desperate to flee fighting, thousands of displaced Iraqis from west Mosul are arriving in Hammam al-Alil camp, a few kilometres south of the city. Many spend their first night in a reception centre awaiting their tents. Others are transferred to nearby camps to reunite with other family members. Credit: UNHCR

The UN representative called on all those fighting to allow civilians to leave areas of conflict for safer zones, and no one should be forced to come back home.

&#8220Liberating Mosul is necessary but not sufficient,&#8221 Mr. Geddo said. &#8220We equally have to get it right with the protection of civilians and in the humanitarian response.&#8221

Child rights must be at the centre of Syria peace talks – UNICEF

24 March 2017 – Those participating the intra-Syrian peace talks in Geneva must put the rights of children at the centre of all their deliberations as children throughout the Middle Eastern country continue to come under attack, a senior United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official has said.

&#8220Those meeting in Geneva this week should put the rights of children at the centre of all their deliberations &#8211 the right of every boy and girl to be protected, the right to receive life-saving humanitarian assistance no matter where they are and the right to an education,&#8221 UNICEF Regional Director Geert Cappelaere said in a said issued yesterday, ahead of the resumption of the Geneva talks.

Citing reports that Wednesday’s attack on a school in Ar-Raqqa which is sheltering internally displaced families has killed 53 civilians including 12 children, he said the international community once again failed the children of Syria. &#8220We have been failing them for more than 2,200 days already,&#8221 he added.

We have been failing them for more than 2,200 days already

&#8220UNICEF reminds all parties engaged militarily in Syria that it is their responsibility to protect and safeguard the lives of children and their families. Civilian infrastructure including schools and hospitals should be protected, no matter who controls the area,&#8221 Mr. Geert said.

He said that children are being deprived of their basic right to life and denied their right to an education.

&#8220All parties to the conflict and those with influence must redouble their efforts to find a political solution to end a conflict that is leaving nothing but death and destruction in its path,&#8221 he said.

DPRK’s latest ballistic missile and engine test raises risk of regional arms race – UN Security Council

23 March 2017 – The United Nations Security Council today strongly condemned the ballistic missile launch and a ballistic missile engine test conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) this week in flagrant and provocative defiance of a number of Council resolutions expressly forbidding such activities.

“The launch and engine test are in grave violation of DPRK’s international obligations under [numerous] UN Security Council resolutions,” said the 15-member Security Council in a statement today.

“The members of the Security Council reiterated that DPRK refrain from further actions, including nuclear tests […] and comply fully with its obligations under these resolutions,” the statement added.

They also deplored all ballistic missile activities, including the most recent launch (on 21 March) and the engine test (on 19 March) and noted that such activities contribute to the country’s development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension in the region and beyond as well as the risk of a regional arms race.

They further regretted that the country is diverting resources to the pursuit of such activities while its citizens have great unmet needs.

Also in the statement, the Council called upon all UN Member States to redouble their efforts to implement fully the measures imposed on the DPRK by the Council, and directed the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006) to intensify its work to strengthen enforcement of relevant resolutions and assist Member States to comply with their obligations under those and other resolutions.

Further, reiterating the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in North-East Asia at large, Council members expressed their commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation and welcomed efforts by Council members, as well as other Member States, to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue.

They also emphasised the vital importance that DPRK shows “sincere commitment” to denuclearization.