Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock completed his two-day mission to Malawi on Saturday; he met with the President of the country and other senior Government leaders as well as development partners, and heard from Malawians struggling through the current lean season.
Following projections at the end of 2018 showing that 3.3 million people would be severely food insecure between January and March, Mr. Lowcock earlier released $10 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
Also, from our humanitarian colleagues, I can tell you that we are concerned by reports of civilian casualties in Syria, both due to continued hostilities and unexploded ordinances left behind in the north-west part of the country.
At least four civilians were reportedly killed, many more injured during shelling in Idleb, Hama and Aleppo governorates in the first three days of March.
Yesterday, two civilians were reportedly killed when an unexploded ordnance went off in north-west Aleppo. The threat of explosive hazards of all kinds remains a major problem and a major concern in Syria, with more than 10 million people estimated to live in contaminated areas. One in two people live at risk of explosive hazards.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues in the country remain gravely concerned about the situation of tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the last Da’esh-held areas of Al-Baghouz in rural Deir Ezzour and are now hosted at the Al Hol camp. There are now 54,800 people in the camp, of whom over 90 per cent are women and children.
Staying in the region, our humanitarian colleagues warn that, following several days of heavy rainfall and possible flooding, an estimated 300,000 people in 60 communities across Gaza are at risk of displacement due to fragile infrastructure and potential property damage.
The ability of authorities in Gaza to respond to emergencies is limited due to funding shortages, import controls and the ongoing energy crisis and the limited capacity of the Palestinian Civil Defense.
Several mitigation measures have been implemented, including advance clearing of existing drainage systems and the deployment of mobile pumps — many of which were provided by the United Nations — at various hotspots. Flooding monitoring teams have also been deployed.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released its annual report, which highlights the agency’s work on issues from fighting air and marine pollution to helping nations meet their goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The report says that while 2018 was a challenging year, there was a growing global commitment from Governments, civil society and businesses to tackle environmental challenges. An example of this was the accelerated action to eliminate plastic pollution, which was the theme for last year’s World Environment Day. The UNEP campaign reached people in 190 countries and India pledged to phase out single-use plastics by 2022.
The report is available on UNEP’s website.
In Paris today, UNESCO is holding its first global conference to promote a humanist approach to artificial intelligence. The conference aims to foster dialogue between public and private sectors, technical community, media and academia [to] ensure that artificial intelligence serves humanity’s sustainable development goals.
Conference participants include Cédric Villani, the winner of the 2010 Field Medal, the highest distinction in mathematics; Nanjira Sambuli, the senior policy manager of the Web Foundation and Member of the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and Sy Lau, the Senior Executive Vice-President of Tencent.
**International Narcotics Control Board
And lastly, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) will launch its Annual Report for 2018 in Vienna tomorrow at 10 a.m. GMT — 5 a.m. here in New York, if you are awake.
The Report examines the global drug control situation, with a focus on the risks and benefits of medical use of cannabis and a look at legislative developments on the non-medical use of cannabis.
A special supplement to the report looks at the progress made in improving global availability of internationally controlled medicines.
The launch will be webcast.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Mr. Barad… yes, that's it. I'm sorry to disappoint you. Happy Monday. Mr. Barada, you look overeager today.
Question: So, there are a lot of demonstrations, against the fifth term of President Bouteflika running again for elections. Have you had anything for us on this, any comment from the Secretary‑General? Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, just to say that we've been following the situation closely. We've been very much monitoring the situation. We've seen demonstrations having taken place that so far have been generally peaceful, but we'll leave it at that for the time being.
Question: Follow‑up. Obviously, it seems there is a new trend of… in the region and elsewhere in the world to extension for presidents or rulers in the region. Any comment from the SG on this trend?
Spokesman: I think we'll leave the analysis of trends to analysts — analysts. Excuse me. Yes, ma'am, and then Edie. Sorry.
Question: Stéph, any updates on Yemen? Mr. Griffiths said like ten days ago when he was here that the redeployment was imminent that day or in the next couple of days. We haven't heard anything more. And did WHO make any determination on the Red Sea Mills on the wheat? I know they visited but…
Spokesman: WFP. No, I haven't…
Question: Sorry, not WHO, [inaudible]…
Spokesman: Sorry. I have nothing more from WFP that they were obviously fumigating — they were fumigating the wheat, and I think they're waiting for some analysis on the water, possible water damage. On Mr. Griffiths, he is in Riyadh for discussions with officials there, will then be making some other regional spots… stops. We're, obviously, continuing to work with the parties to… for the implementation of the redeployment that was agreed to on 18 February. Discussions are going on. We have nothing to announce further at this point.
Ms. Lederer. Sorry.
Question: Two questions. First, Russia has suspended its participation in the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear treaty signed in 1987 in response to the US decision to withdraw from the treaty as well. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on now both sides withdrawing from this treaty?
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary‑General said that the INF is a very important part of the international arms control architecture. It has contributed tangibly to the maintenance of peace and stability, notably in Europe. We very much hope that the US and the Russian Federation in the coming months are still — are able to resolve their differences as to regards to the treaty. Your second question?
Question: And… and Juan Guaidó has just returned to Caracas. I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any response to his call for more demonstrations and comments from others saying the only way that this is going to be resolved is through dialogue.
Spokesman: Well, it comes as no surprise to you that we would agree that the only way the situation could be resolved is through political dialogue. Watching the return — I mean, I was just watching some of the coverage as we were coming in. We, obviously, remain very concerned about the situation in Venezuela, and I think it's important, from the Secretary‑General's viewpoint, that every… all actors, all political actors in Venezuela and, and abroad make all efforts to lower tensions.
Question: Some countries have expressed concern about the safety of Guaidó upon his return to Venezuela. Now he's there. Does the UN have any concerns?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, from what I've seen, he was able to enter, enter the country without… without incident. But that's as of five minutes ago, of what I've seen.
Spokesman: Our general concerns, I think, have already been expressed. We'll, obviously, keep watching the situation closely.
That's it. Thank you all for coming for this wonderful briefing. Hope you learned something. If not, come back tomorrow.