News from Lebanon, Guinea and Japan

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on April 1, 2014

Syria-refugees-LebanonLEBANON – U.N. says Syria refugee crisis poses major threat to Lebanese stability

An influx of almost 1 million refugees from Syria into neighboring Lebanon poses a serious threat to the already fragile country, but donor nations may not grasp the potential impact of further destabilization, a U.N. official said on Thursday.

“There is not a single country in the world today that is shouldering as much in proportion to its size as Lebanon,” said Ninette Kelley, regional representative for Lebanon for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“If this country is not bolstered, then the very real prospect of it collapsing and the conflict of Syria spreading full force to Lebanon becomes much more likely,” she said during a visit to Washington.

Last month, top U.N. officials said that as Syria’s grinding conflict enters its fourth bloody year, Syrians are set to replace Afghans as the world’s largest refugee population.

While hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also sought refuge in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere, the largest concentration of Syrian refugees, close to 1 million people, can now be found in Lebanon, increasing the population of the tiny country by about a quarter, the United Nations said.  Lebanon is smaller than the state of Connecticut.

Lebanon is about the size of Connecticut.

Lebanon is about the size of Connecticut.

The massive influx threatens to upset Lebanon’s fragile demographic balance between Shi’tes, Sunnis, Druze and Christians, and comes as the country, which fought its only bloody civil war from 1975-1990, struggles to contain mounting violence seen as linked to the conflict next door.

Earlier this week, Lebanon’s foreign minister said that the crisis was “threatening the existence of Lebanon.” This month, the Lebanese parliament gave a newly formed cabinet a vote of confidence, ending almost a year of political deadlock.

A major challenge for the new government will be the mounting cost of the refugee crisis, which has strained public infrastructure as people fleeing violence in Syria seek housing, food, and healthcare at a time of economic slowdown in Lebanon.

The challenge of educating refugee children provides one stark example. Kelley said that 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon require schooling, now outnumbering Lebanon’s own 300,000 children in public schools.

To help the country cope, Kelley said the United Nations is seeking to support informal education for refugee children who cannot attend overwhelmed Lebanese schools.

But such activities will require additional, sustained funding from donors who are facing their own fiscal pressure and competing needs from elsewhere. Kelley said the United Nations and other aid providers were struggling to secure such funding.

The United Nations has estimated that $1.7 billion is needed for this year to help the United Nations, aid organizations, the Lebanese government and others to support refugees from Syria in Lebanon, and to mitigate the impact of the refugee crisis there. So far, pledges have been made for 14 percent of that amount, the U.N. said.

The U.S. has been the largest single donor of assistance related to the conflict in Syria. The U.S. State Department says that U.S. humanitarian assistance across the region related to the conflict amounts to $1.7 billion to date. …

GUINEA – Guinea faces Ebola epidemic on unprecedented scale, doctors warn

Guinea faces an Ebola epidemic on an unprecedented scale as it battles to contain confirmed cases now scattered across several locations that are far apart, the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders] said.

Ebola_Doctors Without Borders

Because Ebola is highly contagious, Doctors Without Borders staff treating patients suffering from the disease must wear protective equipment to prevent transmission.

The warning from an organization used to tackling Ebola in central Africa came after Guinea’s president appealed for calm as the number of deaths linked to an outbreak on the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone passed 80.

The outbreak of one of the world’s most lethal infectious diseases has alarmed a number of governments with weak health systems, prompting Senegal to close its border with Guinea and other neighbours to restrict travel and cross-border exchanges.

Figures released overnight [March 31st] by Guinea’s health ministry showed that there had been 78 deaths from 122 cases of suspected Ebola since January, up from 70. Of these, there were 22 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola, the ministry said.

“We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” said Mariano Lugli, the co-ordinator of Médecins sans Frontières’ project in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

The organization said on Monday it had been involved in dealing with nearly all other recent Ebola outbreaks, mostly in remote parts of central African nations, but Guinea is fighting to contain the disease in numerous locations, some of which are hundreds of miles apart.

“This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic,” Lugli added.

ebolaThe outbreak of Ebola – a virus which has a fatality rate of up to 90% – has centred on Guinea’s south-east. But it took authorities six weeks to identify the disease, allowing it to spread over borders and to more populated areas.

Cases were confirmed in Conakry last week, bringing the disease – previously limited to remote, lightly populated areas – to a sprawling Atlantic Ocean port of two million people.

Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, appealed for calm late on Sunday. “My government and I are very worried about this epidemic,” he said, ordering Guineans to take strict precautions to avoid the further spread of the disease. “I also call on people not to give in to panic or believe the rumours that are fuelling people’s fears,” he added.

Liberia has recorded seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths, the World Health Organisation said. Sierra Leone has reported five suspected cases, none of which have been confirmed yet.

Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, said a screening process had been introduced on the country’s northern border with Guinea. Travellers are being asked where they are coming from and whether they or anyone they had been in contact with had fallen ill, he said.

Senegal, another neighbor of Guinea, closed its land border over the weekend and has suspended weekly markets near the border to prevent the spread of the disease.

The regional airline Gambia Bird delayed the launch of services to Conakry, due to start on Sunday, because of the outbreak.

If the deaths are all confirmed as Ebola, a disease that leads to vomiting, diarrhoea and external bleeding, it would be the most deadly epidemic since 187 people died in Luebo, in Congo’s Kasai-Occidental province, in 2007.

JAPAN – UN orders Japan to halt whaling in the Antarctic

United Nations judges have ordered Japan to end whale hunts in the Antarctic after dismissing Japanese arguments that the hunting was carried out for scientific research purposes.

JapanOrderedtoEndWhalingThe International Court of Justice‘s ruling is binding on Japan and cannot be appealed following a case bought by Australia in 2010.

“Japan shall revoke any existent authorization, permit or licence granted and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance to the program,” Judge Peter Tomka said.

In a case that symbolizes an East-West culture clash, the judge has upheld a long-standing Western campaign to end whale hunting in the Southern Ocean with a judgment that “special permissions granted by Japan [to those who hunt whales] are not for purposes of scientific research.”

“The evidence does not establish that the program’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to its stated objectives,” the court said.

Norway and Iceland have continued commercial whaling programs in defiance of a 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium.

In contrast, Japan has always claimed that its whaling is scientific but has admitted that the meat from slaughtered whales ends up on Japanese dinner plates.

The UN court ruled that “funding considerations, rather than strictly scientific criteria, played a role” in the granting of Japanese whaling permits.

Australia presented evidence to the court to show that Japan has slaughtered more than 10,000 whales since 1989 under the pretext of scientific research in breach of international conventions to preserve marine mammals. …

A Japanese Fisheries Agency official told AFP that “Japan’s whaling is purely for the purposes of obtaining scientific data, so that whale resources can be sustainably maintained.”

Previously, Japan has defended the practice of eating whale meat as a culinary tradition and vowed that the Japanese would “never stop whaling.”

But Japanese officials have signalled that Tokyo will accept the verdict of the UN court, set up after the Second World War to rule in disputes between countries.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at Reuters on March 27 and March 31 and Daily Telegraph on March 31.)



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a United Nations agency mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland and is a member of the United Nations Development Group.

Ninette Kelley, representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said, "Not everyone appreciates the small size of Lebanon and that 25 percent of its population are now refugees, most of whom came in a single year."

"I also don't think it's widely appreciated that, should Lebanon become destabilized, what that would mean in terms of how much more difficult that would be to form a solution inside Syria, the risk that could have to Israel's stability, the kind of ground that would provide to more militant actors," she said.  (from the Reuters article above)




The International Court of Justice:

The International Whaling Commission: