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.
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General is on his way back from Geneva right now.
This morning, he called on the international community to face up to the devastating and complex issue of internal displacement as he opened the inaugural meeting of a new High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.
The Secretary-General said it is unacceptable that millions of people are so brutally dislocated from their home and then linger without solutions for years. Being displaced should not be an interminable problem, he said.
The Secretary-General expressed confidence that the High-Level Panel will bring fresh ideas to prevent forced displacement, better protect and assist displaced people and identify swifter solutions to displacement.
The Secretary-General also met with young people at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, as part of the global conversation on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations.
The Secretary-General’s remarks to the displacement panel have been shared with you.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General is in Zimbabwe today. She spoke at the sixth Session of the African Regional Forum for Sustainable Development. She said that 2020 is an opportunity for all of us to chart a different course and to kickstart a Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As we begin this exciting decade, she said, it is vital that we recognize the progress being made in Africa on multiple fronts. She said that Africa continues to have some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and growth is projected to remain stable in 2020. And the proportion of people living in poverty in Africa is declining — from 34.5 per cent in 2015 to 32.5 per cent in 2019.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that in Africa — as elsewhere — we need to accelerate the pace and scale of our collective action. Her remarks have been shared with you.
I know I’ve been asked, so I just wanted to let you know that the Secretary-General has written, to offer his condolences to the Government of Egypt and to the family of the former President, Hosni Mubarak, following his death that was announced today.
The Secretary-General, in a letter, wrote that President Mubarak played an important role in diplomatic efforts throughout the Middle East, including in promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and supporting the endeavours by the League of Arab States to end conflict in the region.
The Secretary-General reaffirmed the commitment of the UN to continue working alongside the Government and people of Egypt in advancing the country’s democratic development, respect for human rights, and economic prosperity for the benefit of all Egyptians.
Turning to Syria, we remain alarmed about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria, as reports of air strikes and shelling continue to take a heavy toll on the civilian population.
Reports indicate continued hostilities in many parts of north-west Syria, with air strikes in at least 24 communities and shelling in 20 communities in the last 24 hours. Two civilians were reportedly killed and six others reportedly injured in the overnight fighting.
The latest estimates suggest that some 948,000 people have been displaced in north-west Syria since 1 December; that’s an increase of some 73,000 from the previous week.
Yesterday, the UN launched the revised Humanitarian Readiness and Response Plan for north-west Syria. The plan has been updated in response to the surge of needs of the people on the ground. It aims to reach at least 1.1 million people in need with humanitarian assistance, at a total cost of $500 million.
At the same time, we continue to seek improved access to people in need, including in conflict-affected areas. Discussions are under way with Turkey to increase the capacity of aid crossing at the border from 50 trucks a day to 100 trucks. The UN is also organizing assessment missions from within Syria to identify the needs of civilians that remain in former frontline areas.
The Office of Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, is hosting a consultative meeting with a group of Yemeni public and political figures in Amman, Jordan, on 26‑27 February 2020. That’s tomorrow and Thursday.
The meeting brings together a diverse group of Yemeni stakeholders, both men and women, including members of some political parties and independent public figures. Discussions will focus on approaches to resume the official peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations.
Participants will further engage in a constructive dialogue about ways to ensure that the peace process is inclusive and capable of bringing sustainable peace to Yemen.
I have an update on locusts in East Africa. The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) today called for increased funding to deal with the swarms of locusts.
On 20 January, FAO called for $76 million to help combat this pest, but the resources to control the outbreak have been too slow in coming.
The officials said that since then, as the locusts continue their invasion throughout eastern Africa, the cost of action has doubled, to $138 million. WFP warned that the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone will be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now.
To date, $33 million has been received or committed.
And a briefly related note: James Swan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, told members of the Security Council yesterday that 2020 had the potential to be a transformative year for Somalia.
He warned that while technical advances across political, security, economic and humanitarian agendas have continued, these gains will quickly reach their limits without the necessary political agreements.
The Special Representative also said that the worst locust outbreak Somalia has experienced in 25 years is adding to extreme humanitarian challenges faced by the country’s most vulnerable.
Mr. Swan concluded by saying he looks forward to Somalia’s leaders taking the bold steps necessary to enable progress in this critical year.
Just to flag that in Burkina Faso, almost 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since last December. As of today, a total of nearly 766,000 people have been displaced.
More than half of those displaced inside the country — or 56 per cent — have no adequate shelter or no shelter at all.
This month, $10 million was allocated from the Central Emergency Fund for Burkina Faso to provide shelter, water and sanitation, protection and health services.
However, the UN and humanitarian partners are targeting 1.8 million people this year and are requesting $312 million.
Just to flag that in Norway today, Prime Minister Erna Solberg will gather a group of the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Advocates and UN representatives on the Norwegian Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard to witness a new seed deposit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
The seed vault aims to preserve a wide variety of plant seeds that are duplicate samples, or “spare” copies, of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. It is also an attempt to ensure against the loss of seeds in other gene banks during large-scale regional or global crises.
Ms. Solberg will be joined by her co-chair of the Secretary-General’s SDG advocacy group, President [Nana] Akufo-Addo of Ghana, as well as by Agnes Kalibata, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.
The Prime Minister and her guests will have meetings relating to sustainable development and issue a call to action on food security, preservation of genetic diversity and combating climate change in support of the Decade of Action to Deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Universal Postal Union (UPU) today welcomed the resumption of international postal exchanges between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Post will be transiting through Oman between these destinations.
The agreement follows a 29 January meeting at UPU’s headquarters in Bern, Switzerland, between representatives of the countries and the UPU Director General, Bishar A. Hussein.
Lastly, we have now reached 54 in the number of countries that have fully paid up. Anybody can guess who paid us today? Turkey. And we are very thankful to our friends in Ankara for having done so.
This awkward silence means it’s time for you to ask questions. Yes, ma’am?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi. Samira Sadeque with Inter Press Service. Does the Secretary‑General’s Office have any comments on the ongoing… on the violent riots between Hindu and Muslims in Delhi, where 13 people have been killed and a mosque was vandalized earlier today?
Spokesman: I think it’s very important that demonstrators be allowed to demonstrate peacefully and that security forces show restraint. This is the SG’s constant position.
Yes. Sorry, go ahead.
Question: Are you monitoring the situation as it’s going on…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yes, we’re obviously following it closely. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Yes, the United Nations is trying to get more humanitarian aid into Syria. Do you know how the talks with Turkey are going to help…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: We’re try… you know, we’re try… we’re in discussions with Turkey to expand the capacity of number of trucks that will go through the crossings, from about 50 a day to 100. And, as you know, there will be a presentation soon, I believe — I have to check the exact date — of the Secretary‑General’s options for cross‑border delivery, as he was requested to do so by the Security Council.
Question: Is he supposed to give a report on that?
Spokesman: Yes, he is, and that… it should be coming… it should be discussed in the Council very shortly… very soon. Yes?
Question: Yeah, it’s a continuation of that theme. Reuters had a story on Friday saying that, in the SG’s report, he suggests that Tel Abyad crossing could be used as a kind of replacement to the Al‑Ya’rubiyah one that was closed. Just on that simple point, can you confirm that that’s correct?
Spokesman: No. The report as… I mean, you know the procedures here. The reports go in advanced copies to Security Council members. Somehow, they find their way outside of that conclave, but until the report is presented, we’re not going to comment on it.
All right. Oh, go ahead.
Question: So, Universal Postal Union welcomed the resumption of mail services, but there are reports today that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is leading a push to resist efforts to open their airspace to Qatar. How does the SG feel about the airspace issue…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: From the beginning, we have always hoped that the various members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could find a common way forward to get over the current hurdles, and we hope that dialogue will continue.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I understood that when the Secretary‑General was in Geneva, he met with Geir Pedersen and that he also had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister.
Spokesman: Yes, yeah.
Question: Can you tell us what was discussed at the… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, Mr. Pedersen updated him, obviously, on the status of the work he’s been doing. Mr.… the Secretary‑General and Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov did meet. They spoke about a host of issues of mutual concern, as we like to say, and that, obviously, includes the situation in Syria.
Question: Yeah, one more. There are reports coming out of Iran that one of the reasons they’re really struggling with the coronavirus outbreak right now is because they’ve been under sanctions for so long, and they don’t have the right medical kits and equipment to be able to take the steps that are necessary. Are you watching this? And does the UN think that Iran has been over‑sanctioned?
Spokesman: Look, WHO (World Health Organization) is in the lead in the contacts with the public health authorities in Iran. We very much hope that Iran, like all other countries that have been impacted by the coronavirus, will get the help that is necessary to help with the continued… our continued efforts at containment of the COVID‑19 virus.
All right. Thank you, all.