Syria; Iran; Disaster risk reduction; Press Freedom; and more

Syria: The United Nations relief chief Valerie Amos announced today that she will visit the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday to urge all parties to the conflict to allow unhindered access for aid workers to evacuate the wounded and deliver essential humanitarian supplies.

She will arrive in Damascus on Wednesday 7 March and leave on Friday 9 March, after being delayed entry by Syrian authorities last week.

Meanwhile, the joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, will travel to Damascus on March 10 for his first visit since being appointed to the post, the UN announced this morning.

The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog today highlighted ongoing serious concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme, adding that the country has tripled its monthly production of enriched uranium.

The IAEA will continue to address the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and in a constructive spirit, aiming to resolve all outstanding issues, particularly those related to possible military dimensions of the country’s nuclear programme, added IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.

UN Atlas:
Access to secondary education is still a challenge for girls, especially in parts of Africa and Asia, according to a United Nations atlas published today that highlights the differences in education between girls and boys in terms of access, participation and progression.

The atlas reflects patterns in education by visualizing a series of data, including the school-life expectancy (SLE), which is the average number of years of education that a boy or a girl entering the system can expect to receive. In the Arab States for example, girls are likely to spend 10 years in schools while boys still have an advantage with having at least one extra year for instruction. The atlas also shows how access to education may not always translate into better opportunities for women in terms of employment and income.

Disaster risk reduction
: The economic cost of disasters in 2011 was the highest in history — costing at least $380 billion, mainly due to earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, a U.N. envoy said Monday.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said the figure was two-thirds higher than the previous record in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the southern United States.

The United Nations disaster risk reduction office  announced the start of consultations on a new international blueprint for reducing disaster losses ahead of a conference on the issue that Japan has offered to host in 2015.

Press Freedom:
Recent global events have highlighted the fact that journalists and media workers reporting on human rights issues are particularly vulnerable to threats and attacks, Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said today, calling for greater protection for those who carry out such vital work.

“Their work is of extreme importance in holding Governments accountable. However, those same Governments often crack down on them, including through threats, harassment, arrests, detentions, and in the worst of cases killings,” she added in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, which is currently meeting in Geneva.

Restrictions on media and press freedom, and impunity around violations against journalists and media workers defending human rights can foster a climate of intimidation, stigmatization, violence and self-censorship that can have a chilling effect on their work, according to the expert.

DR Congo
: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his profound sadness at the loss of life and destruction caused by the accidental explosion of an ammunition depot in the capital city of the Republic of Congo. Yesterday’s explosion in Brazzaville reportedly killed at least 200 people and wounded more than 1,000. It was so powerful, according to media reports, that its impacts were felt several miles away in Kinshasa, the capital of neighboring DRC.