Syria; Violence in Gaza; Libya mission extended; Rio +20 and more

Syria:  Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos gave a briefing to the press today, upon her return from Syria. She has reached agreement with Syrian foreign ministers to set up a preliminary assessment mission, in order to assess the most urgent humanitarian needs. However, she will continue to fight for full, unhindered access to the country.

Meanwhile, addressing a Security Council meeting on the changes in the Middle East, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the call by Mr. Annan when he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus over the weekend to act swiftly and respond within days to the envoy’s proposals to end the violence.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of violence in Syria, the head of the United Nations-appointed panel probing human rights abuses in the country said today, noting that the use of force by security forces and the military against armed groups has often led to collective punishment.

Those killed over the past year since the pro-democracy uprising began include more than 500 children, Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told the UN Human Right Council in Geneva. He cautioned that increased militarization and supplying arms to opposition groups are not the right responses to the violence as it could lead to more bloodshed and make it harder for human rights and peace to prevail.

: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern on Monday about a recent flare-up in violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, while the United States condemned rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled enclave. At least 74 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and three Israelis have been wounded since the violence began on Friday.

“I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel and once again civilians are paying a terrible price,” Ban told a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the “Arab Spring” uprisings. “Rocket attacks out of Gaza against Israeli civilian areas are unacceptable and must stop immediately. I reiterate my call on Israel to exercise maximum restraint,” he said.

South Sudan:
  As civilian disarmament begins in Jonglei state in South Sudan, the United Nations mission in the country said today that it will provide support by collecting weapons held illegally and monitoring the process, which represents a key element to end the violence in the region.

UNMISS, which will have both its peacekeepers and civilian teams present in Jonglei to monitor developments, stressed in a news release that the disarmament process will only be successful if it is carried out as part of a comprehensive approach to peace, justice and reconciliation, and includes protection of the communities by security forces.

Libya mission extended:
The Security Council today extended for 12 months the United Nations mission assisting Libya with its democratic transition, while adjusting its mandate to support national efforts to promote the rule of law, protect human rights, restore public security, and hold free and fair elections.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the Council also decided that the extension of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will be subject to review within six months.

The 100-day countdown to the United Nations conference on sustainable development that will be held in Brazil in June kicked off today with a call to governments, businesses and civil society to make sustainability a core issue for the future.

In celebrating the 100-day mark, expected participants of the Rio+20 forum, including global stakeholders and UN system partners, will take to social media and share messages of support and highlight the more important issues and objectives of the summit, slated to take place in Rio de Janeiro from 20 to 22 June.

UN World Water Development report:
An unprecedented rise in the demand for food, rapid urbanization and climate change are significantly threatening global water supplies, according to a UN report released today, which stresses that a radical new approach to managing this essential resource is needed to be able to sustain future consumption levels.

The UN World Water Development Report, which will be launched at the World Water Forum in Marseille, estimates that there will be a 70 per cent increase in demand for food by the year 2050, leading to a 19 per cent surge in water used for agriculture. At the moment, 70 per cent of freshwater is already being used for agricultural purposes.

In addition, climate change will also have a growing impact on water resources as it alters rainfall patterns and soil humidity, melts glaciers and causes water-related disasters such as floods and droughts, which impact food production. The report estimates that by 2070, this impact will affect up to 44 million people all over the world.