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Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service, 11 February 2020: Situation in Idlib, Syria; Madagascar

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Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The topics addressed were: situation in Idlib, Syria; displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo; Afghan refugees; humanitarian situation in Madagascar; coronavirus; and a meeting of the WHO emergency committee on Ebola.

Situation in Idlib, Syria

Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), said that the concern for millions of civilians in the Idlib area could not be overstated. It was essential that all parties immediately agree to a cessation of hostilities. There needed to be a cooperative approach to the situation in Idlib. The Special Envoy, who had recently visited Iran, would continue high-level discussions with a broad range of actors, stressing that further massive civilian displacement and major loss of civilian life were unacceptable.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that nearly 700,000 had been forcibly displaced in Idlib over the past ten weeks. That was the largest number of people displaced in such a short time period ever since the conflict had erupted in Syria. The latest displacement compounded an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idleb, and protection, shelter, food, water, sanitation & hygiene, health, and emergency education were all urgent priorities. A massive humanitarian operation was underway, and in February only over 230 trucks with humanitarian aid had been sent to northwest Syria, serving 440,000 people in urgent need. A humanitarian readiness and response plan required an additional USD 336 million for the next six months to reach up to 800,000 people.

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stressed that UNHCR was deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in north-west Syria. The humanitarian crisis was becoming increasingly desperate, with massive numbers of people on the move. A critical need was shelter, compounded by the harsh winter conditions. Many schools and mosques were filled with displaced families, and even finding a place in an unfinished building had become almost impossible. Mr. Mahecic reminded that the conflict in Syria had caused the biggest displacement in the world, with 5.5 million Syrian living in the region, and more than six million displaced within the country. The full UNHCR statement can be read here.



Jean Benoit Manhes, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), informed that two weeks earlier, torrential rains in Madagascar had affected more than 120,000 people, destroying 174 schools, and forcibly displacing 16,000 people. The floods were not a story per se, but just one example of the challenges that the Madagascar population, including children, were facing in the context of multiple national disasters and disease outbreaks. The results of a recent national household survey showed that the conditions for children had not improved since the last such survey in 2012; in many cases the situation was getting worse. Forty percent of the population practices open defecation; 93 percent of drinking water in Madagascar was polluted with e.coli. Around 42 percent of children were stunted, and fewer than a third of children were fully immunized, informed Mr. Manhes. Two out of five girls got married before 18, and child labour was prevalent. Three quarters of the population lived in extreme poverty. New epidemics could further destabilize the system. Madagascar was in a constant state of emergency due to those appalling indicators. The international community should not forget Malagasy children, who needed continuous help and attention.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that Madagascar was one of the most silent and forgotten crises in the world. Altogether, there were five million people in the country living in areas prone to natural disasters. Malnutrition remained a major public health problem. Madagascar had the world’s fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition. Some 730,000 people were classified in acute food insecurity IPC3 (crisis) and IPC 4 (emergency) in the Great South of Madagascar. As of now, the WFP was assisting 230,000 out of those 730,000 severe food insecure people from nine districts in the south with emergency, early recovery and nutritional assistance activities during the lean season (December 2019 to April 2020). For the year 2020, WFP was facing a USD 42 million shortfall. More information on the WFP’s activities in Madagascar can be found here.

Responding to a question, Mr. Manhes said that only three percent of UNICEF’s 10 million appeal had been received thus far. There was a resurgence of malaria in areas where it had been absent before, partly because of the changing weather patterns.