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More than 15 million children and their families in Yemen, Syria and Gaza set to face COVID-19

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Save the Children calls for an easing of restrictions on aid for hard to reach areas

Fewer than 730 ventilators and 950 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are available for more than 15 million children and their families in areas that are hard for aid agencies to reach in Yemen, northern Syria and Gaza – meaning they are critically underequipped to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19, Save the Children is warning.

The Gaza Strip has been under blockade for 13 years, Syria has just entered its tenth year of conflict – with the Northern front currently the most active – and Yemen is in its sixth year of war. Healthcare systems across all three areas have been decimated, in some cases to the point of paralysis, and have minimal do not have nearly enough medical resources to respond to ongoing needs, let alone a global pandemic. As of March 29, Syria had confirmed 9 COVID-19 cases and one death, Gaza 9 cases, and Yemen is yet to declare any.

  • In North West Syria, there are a total of 153 ventilators and 148 beds in ICU, while nearly a million recently displaced people are living in overcrowded areas. In North East Syria, there are fewer than 30 ICU beds, only ten adult ventilators and just one paediatric ventilator.
  • In Gaza, there are 70 ICU beds and 62 ventilators for 2 million people. It is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with a high proportion of the population living in refugee camps with limited access to water and other basic services.
  • In Yemen, where only half of the hospitals are still fully functional, there are 700 ICU beds, including 60 for children, and 500 ventilators.

The continued support of humanitarian organisations to people in need is vital to slow the spread of coronavirus in this critical phase, but access to children and their families is often hampered by conflict, movement restrictions and other challenges. Preventive measures such as social distancing and hand washing are difficult if not impossible in overcrowded areas like Gaza and displacement camps in Northern Syria. Water sources are unreliable across all three locations, and shortages can occur daily. In Gaza, 96 percent of the available water is unsuitable for human consumption.

Children in Gaza told Save the Children about their fear. Raafat*, 13, said: What Im most afraid of is that Gaza is highly populated and doesnt have enough resources to face the virus. Jood, 11, said: This pandemic affects us, because we have to stay home and there is no income for the family.

In Yemen, Moneer*, 17, from Taiz said: I have heard about Corona. People in my family said that it was very dangerous and we wouldnt survive it if it came to Yemen. Every day, my mother walks for 15 minutes to the well to fill the container with water and then walks back for another 15 minutes. The water doesnt look clean, but it is the nearest source for us. We use it for cooking, drinking, and washing. We try to use as little as possible so we dont have to go fetch it again.

Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s Regional Director, said: In places where medical care is scarcely available, prevention is critical. Yet measures like social distancing are hugely challenging in countries in conflict. If people need to stay two metres apart, for Palestinians living in Gaza to comply with this, the territory would have to be ten times larger than it currently is; for Syrians living in displacement camps, families would need to spread out in numerous tents currently unavailable; and for Yemenis, of whom about 2 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, the priority would be getting food.’

Many children in Gaza, Syria, and Yemen suffer from pre-existing health concerns caused by childhoods consumed with war. They will be malnourished, injured, or will not have been properly vaccinated. The same is true for their parents, many of whom have little or no family support and cannot afford to become ill. It is literally a matter of life and death to support these areas in their efforts to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, he added.

Save the Children is calling on the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de-facto authorities in Gaza to uphold their international responsibilities by ensuring the right to health is fully provided to children in the West Bank including Jerusalem, and Gaza. Restrictions on humanitarian and medical relief items entering Gaza must be lifted, and people in need of medical care must be afforded access to it.

We are also calling on warring parties in Syria to observe a complete ceasefire in the North West to allow for the full and unhindered access to people in need. In Yemen, all warring parties must fully and truly implement the recently announced ceasefire to help the country prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak. As an aid agency, Save the Children is already facing a slowdown in its response because of closure of international borders, grounding of flights, and new limitations to movements in country. Teams on the ground need to be able to reach people in need with existing humanitarian aid, and distribute for example hygiene products, awareness sessions, sim cards, and cash without any impediments.

‘Situation of children in Somalia is devastating’ – UN Special Representative

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New York, April 1 2020 – Children in Somalia have endured among the highest levels of violence of all countries on the Children and Armed Conflict agenda, with number of cases of recruitment and use, abduction and sexual violence exceeding those verified in other country situations, highlighted the fifth report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Somalia.

A total of 14,856 grave violations against children have been verified during the reporting period, between August 2016 and September 2019.

“The situation of boys and girls in Somalia is devastating,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. “The correlation between violations is particularly distressing, with abductions of children often leading to their recruitment and use or sexual violence; even once released, their ordeal is not yet over as boys and girls are often detained for their association with armed elements, perpetuating an infernal cycle of violence.”

Recruitment and use of children remained one of the most worrisome violations with Al-Shabaab as the main perpetrator, followed by Government Security Forces, including increasingly the Somali Police Force and the regional forces of federal member states. An alarming number of 4,462 children were abducted, almost all by Al-Shabaab and often for the purpose of recruitment, making the country by far the one on the CAAC agenda with the highest verified numbers of abductions.

The detention of children for their alleged association with armed groups remained highly concerning, with 910 children affected. The Special Representative reminded that children associated with parties to conflict should be treated primarily as victims and detention used only as a last resort and for the shortest period of time. She further called on the authorities of Somalia to fully implement the Standard Operating Procedures for the reception and handover of children associated with armed groups, endorsed in 2014.

The number of children killed or maimed remained high (2,916), which was the result of crossfire, lack of precaution in the conduct of military operations, improvised explosive devices, explosive remnants of war and airstrikes. Access to education and health care was also disrupted because of the conflict; 242 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals were verified, the majority attributed to Al-Shabaab; 148 incidents of denial of humanitarian access were verified. The Special Representative praised the work of humanitarian colleagues on the ground, often operating in challenging environment.

Despite the high number of verified cases for rape and other forms of sexual violence (958 children), the actual figures are likely to be higher as the violation remains consistently underreported for fear of stigma, reprisal, or lack of services for survivors. Somali security forces were responsible for one-third of the violations; girls were also forcibly married to Al-Shabaab combatants.

Engagement for Children

Despite the dramatic figures, some steps have been taken by the authorities in Somalia. The commitment of the Federal Government to better protect children, as evidenced in the proposed Sexual Offences Bill and Child Rights Bill, among other things, is encouraging and welcomed by the Special Representative. She called on the authorities to pursue their engagement for children by enacting the two pending bills, so they effectively criminalize grave violations against children.

The Special Representative also noted the efforts of the Somali authorities to expedite the implementation of their Action Plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use as well as the killing and maiming of children through the signature of a roadmap during her visit in October 2019. The roadmap also incorporates measures for the prevention of sexual violence and other measures to enhance the cooperation on child protection at the federal member state-level.

Spains COVID-19 cases surpass Italy as lockdown set for extension

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Spains COVID-19 cases surpassed Italy as Europes two main epicenters continue to struggle to curtail the virus, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announcing plans to extend the countrys lockdown by two weeks until April 25.
“I understand its difficult to extend the effort and sacrifice two more weeks,” Sanchez said in a televised speech on Saturday. “These are very difficult days for everyone.” A longer lockdown would need the approval of cabinet and congress.
Confirmed cases increased by 7,026 to 124,736 over the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data, while deaths rose by 809 to 11,744. Total cases are now higher than Italys 119,827.
A slower pace of fatalities and new cases though is offering hope that Spains outbreak may be edging toward a peak. Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Friday that the goal of slowing the epidemic was “within reach.”
Spains economy is already taking a hit from the virus: The purchasing managers index for Spanish services fell to a record low of 23 in March, while jobless claims in the month had their biggest ever increase.
The government in Madrid has imposed some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in Europe, shuttering most businesses and forcing people to stay in their homes except to buy groceries and seek health care. Containment measures across the continent have cut off border passages and limited air travel, while countries have announced trillions of euros in aid to support businesses and individuals.
Italys ruling parties and the Treasury reached an agreement to free up an additional 200 billion euros ($216 billion) of liquidity for firms, according to daily newspaper La Stampa. It said the moves, part of a new aid decree, will be approved by Monday and will let companies seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, most of which will be granted by the state.
Meanwhile Polands 100 billion-zloty ($23.6 billion) support mechanism for businesses affected by the outbreak secured European Union antitrust approval, according to a statement from the European Commission in Brussels.

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MSF provides relief items and adapts response for COVID-19 in Idlib

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Deir Hassan camp in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, is one of the many camps to which hundreds of thousands of displaced families fled, to escape the military offensive by Syrian government forces with their Russian allies between December 2019 and early March 2020. Deir Hassan camp hosts more than 164,000 people in settlements scattered over the hills and, as is the case across northwest Syria, it lacks basic services. It is now also threatened by the potential spread of COVID-19.

On 16 March, after assessing the needs in Deir Hassan camp, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) distributed essential items to 180 families in the Latamneh and Al-Habeet settlements, including family tents, mats, plastic sheeting, blankets, cooking sets and hygiene kits.

“We witnessed people living in the open; we also saw two or three families sharing a tent which did not protect them from the cold or the rain,” says Ahmed, MSF project team leader. “There were too few tents to accommodate the new arrivals.”

The next day, the MSF team distributed the same relief items to 115 families in Abo Obeidah, another settlement in Deir Hassan.

“Thanks to MSF, we got tents,” says Manaf Shamma, a displaced mother living in Latamneh. “This camp was set up eight months ago, but it needs latrines, sewage, proper roads.”

COVID-19 pandemic adds to health risks

In Deir Hassan camp, the water and sanitation facilities are inadequate for such large numbers of people, raising the risk of water-borne diseases. So far, upper respiratory infections have been the main condition seen by the MSF mobile clinics. But now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has become a huge challenge worldwide and in Syria.

The Syrian government reported the first case of COVID-19 in Syria on 23 March. While no cases have been declared in Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold, the disease may spread very quickly through the region, especially in camps, where people live in large settlements, in overcrowded conditions with little sanitation.

MSF has suspended our mobile clinics in Deir Hassan camp to allow our staff to attend training on infection prevention and control (IPC), and to make sure they wont spread the virus. In the coming days, MSF community health workers will hold health education sessions on COVID-19 with displaced families in 10 settlements in Deir Hassan camp, and will distribute leaflets and specific hygiene kits.

As our teams are now focusing their work on infection prevention and control measures, they are providing assistance for the triage and screening of patients in the two MSF-supported health centres, in Deir Hassan and Tal Karama.

USA: Immediately revoke COVID-19 suspension of environmental protections

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Responding to the US Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) announcement it would indefinitely suspend enforcement of environmental laws due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richard Pearshouse, Amnesty Internationals Head of Crisis and the Environment, said:

“The Trump administration is cynically abusing this crisis to achieve its pre-COVID-19 goal of gutting US environmental regulations.

The Trump administration is cynically abusing this crisis to achieve its pre-COVID-19 goal of gutting US environmental regulations. Its difficult to overstate the risk. The decision to indefinitely suspend the protections afforded by environmental laws will kill or compromise the health of large numbers of people.[contfnewc] Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International

“Its difficult to overstate the risk. The decision to indefinitely suspend the protections afforded by environmental laws will kill or compromise the health of large numbers of people. These impacts will be felt by everyone in the USA, but particularly by people already facing marginalization and discrimination, including those who live in areas surrounded by heavily polluting industrial facilities.

“EPA enforcement of environmental laws saves hundreds of thousands of people from premature death each year, and millions more from unnecessary illnesses and sicknesses. This decision should be immediately revoked.

“This could have a devastating knock-on effect on human rights globally if other state authorities follow suit and abdicate their responsibility to protect their populations from pollutants in the air, water and ground.”

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IOM Steps Up Humanitarian Response on Turkeys Land and Sea Borders

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Edirne- As the situation on the Turkey/EU border enters its second week IOM, with its partners, continues to provide humanitarian aid to the thousands of vulnerable migrants who have been sleeping in rough conditions, without proper access to food, shelter or sanitary facilities.

Since Friday 28th February migrants have been moving towards the Turkey EU/border in the province of Edirne. Many remain there, after walking long distances carrying their belongings, children, and babies on their backs.

IOM Turkey has committed over USD 100,000 on food, clothing and hygienic items and other items with funds donated by the US Government. Teams on the ground have been actively distributing food and relief items on the border for days and are now significantly picking up operations. Additional staff have been deployed to border areas. Aid was distributed today at Pazarkule crossing point with more distributions planned tonight at two other points along the border.

IOM response teams are also present along the Aegean coast providing assistance to vulnerable migrants, however activities in the Aegean have been very minimal as weather conditions have largely prevented migrants from trying to cross.

In less than a week, IOM distributed over 8,000 relief items – food kits, blankets, jackets, shoes, among other necessities to migrants in need in Edirne and along the coast. About 20,000 relief items are on the way from the IOM warehouse in Turkey and from vendors in Istanbul to be distributed over the course of this weekend.

In the midst of a fluid and changing situation on the ground, it is proving difficult to estimate the numbers of migrants on the move. People have managed to come and go from border areas with food items, but sanitation and health conditions of migrants remain a concern, posing health risks for migrants and their families, especially the many young children. Some may wish to return to provinces they travelled from and require transportation assistance.

“We are grateful to our donor the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration for their swift support, said “IOM Turkeys Chief of Mission Lado Gvilava.

“ Additional funding will allow us to reach a great number of those in need.”

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Shipwreck off coast of Libya pushes migrant deaths on the Mediterranean past 20,000 mark

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Berlin – A tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya last month and more than a dozen other recent fatalities elsewhere have pushed the death toll in the Mediterranean Sea to 20,014 since 2014, according to IOMs Missing Migrants Project.

“The disappearance and presumed drowning of at least 91 people reported missing aboard a dingy north of Garabulli, Libya, on February 9 is the latest in a series of so-called ghost boats that have vanished en-route to Europe, claiming hundreds of lives,” said Frank Laczko, Director of IOMs Global Migration Data Analysis Centre.

“Two-thirds of the fatalities we have recorded are people lost at sea without a trace. The fact that we have reached this grim new milestone reinforces IOMs position that there is an urgent need for increased, comprehensive SAR capacity in the Mediterranean.”

Ghost boats, also called invisible shipwrecks, are usually reported by NGOs such as Alarm Phone and Caminando Fronteras, which receive calls from migrants in distress at sea, and family members searching for lost loved ones. In dozens of similar cases recorded by IOM, no search and rescue operations are ever carried out, and those onboard are presumed to be lost at sea.

“If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are a migrant in the Mediterranean,” said Laczko.

“With each passing year, more families find themselves living in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive.”

In addition to the tragedy off the coast of Libya, the bodies of three young men washed up on a beach in Tunisia last week. They are likely linked to a ship carrying 18 people that departed from Algeria on 14 February, the fate of which remains unclear.

Although the annual number of deaths has decreased every year since 2016 when more than 5,000 lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, the proportion of deaths compared to attempted crossings rose in both the Central and Western Mediterranean in 2019 compared to previous years – a continuation of the increasing risk of death seen since 2017.

With no end in sight to the tragedy unfolding on the Mediterranean, IOM reiterates that improved and expanded safe, legal pathways for migrants and refugees are urgently needed, both to reduce the incentive to choose irregular channels, and to help prevent the unnecessary and avoidable loss of lives.

For the latest data on migrant deaths and disappearances, visit IOMs Missing Migrants Project website.

Brutal cold intensifies desperation for rising numbers of displaced in north-west Syria

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Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria where more than a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the past four days. Over 830,000 people have been displaced in the region in the last two months and more than 1.2 million since April 2019, according to the United Nations.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is extremely concerned about this rapid and ongoing rise in displacement which continues to rise in the tens of thousands every day, particularly as conflict spreads northward to highly populated urban areas.

“Over 80,000 people forced to flee violence in the last few months are sleeping under trees or in open areas in the snow,” said Joseph Ashmore, IOMs Global Shelter Coordinator.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and many more may die as extreme winter conditions take hold, provoking one of the most severe shelter crises the humanitarian system has faced in the last decade,” he added.

The majority of the uprooted are staying with host families, in camps or unfinished buildings. As displacement rises, there are less places to house people seeking refuge.

IOM has been assisting partners on the ground to reach nearly 300,000 people with humanitarian aid since mid-December 2019. In the past weeks, IOMs partners have delivered emergency items – including blankets, hygiene kits and other goods – as well as shelter materials to 129,000 people in need.

However, insecurity has impeded access of some partners – compromising the ability for affected populations to receive the most basic services.

Health centres, schools, markets and camps have been targeted by violence with increased civilian casualties reported every day.

The Organization is seeking increased funding from the international community to adequately respond to rapidly rising needs. IOM also reiterates the UN Secretary Generals call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and attacks of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Syrian conflict, approaching its tenth year, has displaced more than six million people within the country and provoked more than 5.5 million people to flee to neighbouring countries in the region.

Italy contributes €500,000 (US$ 610,000) to help relieve drought-affected people from hunger

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LUSAKA – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has welcomed a €500,000 (US$ 610,000) contribution from the Italian Government to provide food to people affected by the drought in Zambia.

Drought and prolonged dry spells have left 2.3 million people severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian food assistance.

“In the context of the current crisis, the Italian emergency contribution confirmed in December 2019 is crucial to WFP. The funds will enable WFP to procure around 340 MT of pulses to cover the food needs of about 99,000 people for an entire month, helping WFP ensure that the people residing in the areas most affected by the drought can receive the immediate assistance they need,” said Jennifer Bitonde, WFP Country Representative in Zambia.

“At the same time, WFP will continue to work to strengthening communities resilience to future climatic shocks under its five-year Country Strategic Plan (2019-2024),” she added.

As part of the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, WFP is currently supporting the Governments response by providing logistics support by delivering Government-supplied maize meal, as well as by procuring and delivering pulses to ensure a nutrition-sensitive food basket. WFP is also working closely with partners to monitor food distributions and guarantee that resources reach those most in need.

About 1.1 million people are expected to receive WFPs support, while the remaining 1.2 million will be assisted by the Government and other partners, with whom WFP is working and closely coordinating.

Contact

For more information please contact (email address: [email protected]):
Paola Di Tommaso, WFP/Lusaka Mob.+260971020341

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The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

UNHCR to suspend operations at GDF in Tripoli amid safety concerns

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners amid worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya.

“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCRs Chief of Mission in Libya.

“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” he added.

UNHCR has started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.

UNHCR will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas. This includes around 400 asylum seekers who had left the Tajoura detention centre after it was hit by air strikes last July as well as some 300 asylum-seekers from the Abu Salim detention centre who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities. All will be provided with cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCRs Community Day Centre in Tripoli.

“Other important aspects of our work in Libya continue at full pace and we hope to be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so,” Cavalieri said.

On 2 January, UNHCR expressed serious concerns after three mortar shells fell close to the GDF and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex.

The GDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was established as a transit site to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation. Since December 2018, nearly 1,700 formerly detained refugees have been evacuated out of Libya to safety, through the GDF. With close to 900 individuals entering the GDF spontaneously since July, it became severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.

UNHCR continues to urge all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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