News in Brief 3 February 2016 (AM) – Geneva

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Destruction in the conflict in Mykolaivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where the conflict dates back to 2014. Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Ukraine humanitarian situation is dire, fighting must stop, says UN

An immediate pause in fighting is needed in Ukraine to prevent more people dying and to repair essential services.

That's the appeal from the UN Human Rights Office, OHCHR, issued on Friday, following another night of shelling in the east of the country.

In the last week, aerial attacks have killed seven people and injured at least 40 more in heavily populated areas that are controlled by either government forces or separatist rebels.

Here's UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell:

"Reports suggest that two hospitals, a polyclinic, a dental clinic, three schools, and a kindergarten were damaged by shelling in Makiivka and Donetsk city, which are controlled by armed groups. UN Human Rights Office staff in Donetsk heard explosions over five days, from 29 January through the night of 2 February, and on 2 February saw a clearly marked ambulance in Donetsk that had been damaged by shrapnel."

Latest data shows that at least 9,800 civilians and members of armed forces have been killed since the conflict began in mid-April 2014 according to the UN Human Rights Office.

It also warns that sub-zero temperatures have also left civilians even more vulnerable amid the destruction of power lines and disruption to water, electricity and heating networks.

Some 3.8 million civilians in east Ukraine have been affected by the fighting and are now in in need of humanitarian assistance, an increase of 700,000 compared to a year ago.

Social media platforms "should do more to protect" migrants from smugglers

The protection of vulnerable migrants from people smugglers who torture them and take their money is a phenomenon that social media firms could help prevent, the UN has said.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Leonard Doyle from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) pointed to the dangers faced by refugees and migrants arriving in Libya, where traffickers work with relative impunity.

More needs to be done to stop gangs of smugglers using social media platforms to make false promises to people looking to start a new life abroad, Mr Doyle said:

"I think there's no question that Libya's not a great place for migrants to turn up when there's a danger that they're going to get executed, when there's a danger that smugglers will extort them, or more to the point, get onto the phone to their cousins, family and friends around the world, while they're torturing people, and these are credible accounts that we've heard …They're encouraged to do so because they get onto their mobile phones, and they get onto social media and they find somebody promising them an Eldorado that isn't there. So that's part of the problem, the social media process that tells them at the click of the button, 'This is where you can go and you'll be fine.' We'd like to see the social media companies stepping it up as well."

Mr Doyle was speaking ahead of a meeting of EU ministers in Malta, at which IOM and the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR have called for urgent action on Libya.

The agencies are also calling for measures to prevent so many migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe; more than 250 have died making the crossing so far this year.

Tax on sweet drinks in South Africa gets WHO backing

South Africa's plan to introduce a levy on sugary drinks has the backing of UN health chiefs who say it could help to fight a range of preventable illnesses.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the proposed tax could reduce sugar consumption and raise revenues to prevent and control chronic conditions including diabetes and obesity.

Such non-communicable diseases kill 38 million people a year and mainly affect low and middle income countries.

As part of its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, South Africa has pledged to reduce premature deaths from these diseases by one-third by 2030.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 3'41"

 

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