This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.
Top scientists gather at UN to speed up coronavirus response
A key international meeting on the coronavirus has begun at the UN in Geneva to help decide next steps on how to contain the epidemic.
As of Tuesday morning, deaths surpassed 1,000 - almost entirely in China, the World Health Organization said - with almost 43,000 cases in the country and some 300 in 24 other countries.
As infections continue to rise since the outbreak was declared in central China on 31 December, WHO said that this was because of better detection measures, and the fact that a “backlog” of cases was now being tested in laboratories.
At the meeting at WHO headquarters, hundreds of scientists, public health agencies, ministries of health and research funders have two days to share the latest information about the virus before deciding how best to confront it.
Here’s spokesperson Fadela Chaib in Geneva:
“Three hundred high-level scientists is a lot, in my opinion and they are also working in networks and organisations. The information is shared, we are sharing the genome sequencing of the virus with hundreds of laboratories worldwide, so there is a real international mobilisation against this novel coronavirus.”
Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against coronavirus and no proven therapeutics to treat infections.
One of the hoped-for outcomes of the meeting is an agreed roadmap for research, around which researchers and donors can align.
Appeal for long-term help for Madagascar as child emergency worsens
In Madagascar, UN humanitarians say that the plight of children there has not improved since 2012 – and is in many cases getting worse.
UN Children’s Fund UNICEF raised the alarm on Tuesday, noting that two weeks ago, torrential rains in Madagascar affected 120,000 people, cutting off roads, destroying 174 schools and forcibly displacing 16,000 people.
The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, also warned that the current lean season has left more than 700,000 people without enough to eat.
It is helping 230,000 of them but warned that 11.4 million people in the country are undernourished.
UNICEF Madagascar Deputy Representative Jean Benoit Manhes warned that the recent floods are just one of the many challenges faced by Madagascar’s children “all year long”.
These include natural disasters, drought, and pandemics – challenges which have been aggravated by climate change and which require far more international attention and support, he said:
“Because of poor access to sanitation, 40 per cent of the population still practice open defecation. As a consequence, 93 per cent – I repeat, 93 per cent – of drinking water in rural areas is contaminated by e-coli. This, coupled with widespread poverty and a generally poor diet, leads to one of the highest chronic malnutrition rates in the world; 42 per cent of children being stunted or as we say, chronically malnourished.”
In an appeal for long-term assistance to Madagascar, UNICEF highlighted that two out of five girls get married before they are 18, and that more than one child in three works in dangerous conditions such as in mica mining.
The agency also warned that fewer than one in three children has received the vaccines they need, leading to “annual pandemics” of polio and plague.
New epidemics – such as the measles outbreak this year which killed more than 1,200 children – could further destabilize the system, the agency said.
Eastern DRC displacement leaves thousands in dire conditions – UNHCR
To the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo finally, where conditions are dire for more than 100,000 civilians, who’ve fled their homes in the past two months.
UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday that attacks by armed groups since December on communities in eastern Beni’s Watalinga Chiefdom, had displaced families to the town of Nobili.
Many had already been displaced by attacks last April - and only returned to their villages in November last year.
Tensions have been rising since the launch of a Government-led military operation in December against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Civilians, including those displaced in November and December, were among those to have been targeted by armed groups, including the ADF.
An estimated 252 civilians are reported to have been killed in Beni Territory since December last year, according to local authorities.
Most of those forced to flee in the latest wave of violence are being sheltered by host communities in Nobili.
They have welcomed displaced families but lack resources to even meet their own needs, UNHCR said.
The agency and partners are providing emergency shelter assistance and helping schools to reopen.
But thousands more live in dire conditions across a hundred or so informal settlements, sleeping in huts made of branches, UNHCR said.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.