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.
Today I will be joined by Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary‑General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, otherwise known as UNCTAD. She will be here to brief you on the forthcoming UNCTAD15 conference that will take place in Barbados and that the Secretary-General will attend.
Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council a short while ago, and said that he was deeply troubled by the continued loss of life and serious injuries in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
He added that he is deeply concerned by the continued settler‑related violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. And the Special Coordinator said the launching of indiscriminate rockets and incendiary devices towards Israeli population centres violates international law and must stop.
He told Council members that Gaza requires political solutions that will see a focus on working towards advancing intra‑Palestinian unity, lifting the debilitating closures in Gaza, and, ultimately, returning to a peace process that will end the occupation and create a viable two‑State solution.
**Syria and Iraq Returnees
The Secretary-General spoke in a video message this morning at the virtual launch of the Global Framework on UN Support on Syria and Iraq Third Country National Returnees. He drew attention to the plight of tens of thousands of returnees – including people living in crowded camps or denied basic services.
This situation cannot go on, he said. The framework being launched today provides integrated technical and financial support to address the urgent human rights and humanitarian needs of returnees from Iraq and Syria, he added.
He urged donors to support this vital and timely effort by contributing generously to the Framework’s multi‑partner trust fund. His remarks are online.
Turning to Afghanistan, a quick update for you: the World Health Organization (WHO) today warned of a deteriorating health situation in the country. Access to health care is decreasing. There are more cases of measles and diarrhoea, and less response to the pandemic. There is also a resurgence of polio.
According to WHO, only 17 per cent of the over 2,300 health facilities previously supported by the World Bank are fully functional. Two thirds of these health facilities have run out of essential medicines. WHO is working with donors to sustain these health facilities to prevent a surge in deaths.
Also today, several humanitarian partners working in Afghanistan reiterated their commitment to continue working together to support Afghanistan’s health system. Yesterday the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said they will scale up their work in the country, with up to 100 new mobile health and nutrition teams.
For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that midwives throughout Afghanistan are continuing to operate, bringing critical life‑saving care to women and girls in need. UNFPA’s midwifery helpline has been providing uninterrupted remote support to midwives facing complicated deliveries, dangerous pregnancies and other critical concerns.
The Flash Appeal seeks $606 million to help 11 million people in the remaining months of this year. The Appeal is only 22 per cent funded, which according to OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) calculation is $135 million.
We ask donors to fast‑track funding to prevent avoidable deaths, prevent displacement and reduce suffering. We are also asking our donors to ensure that funding is flexible enough to adapt to the fast‑changing conditions on the ground. In three words: cash, cash, cash.
On Ethiopia, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, says that, after 11 months of conflict and three months of de facto blockade, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray is spiralling out of control. He said that 5.2 million people still require food aid, with 400,000 people living in famine‑like conditions. Our humanitarian colleagues say that child malnutrition is at the same level as at the onset of the 2011 Somalia famine. Mr. Griffiths warned it is likely to get far worse before it gets better, pointing to desert locusts, a potential poor harvest, humanitarian aid not getting through and conflict spreading into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that the delivery of aid, including fuel, into Tigray is still a challenge. In the past week, 79 trucks carrying aid arrived in Tigray via the Semera‑Abala‑Mekelle corridor. This brings the total number of humanitarian trucks that have entered Tigray since 12 July to 606. As we’ve said many times, what we need is 100 trucks to enter Tigray every day. So we are way below that target. Trucks carrying fuel and medical supplies still cannot enter into Tigray. Trucks are waiting in Semera, in Afar, to travel to Mekelle.
Mr. Griffiths said that he continues to engage with Ethiopian Government authorities to advocate for the easing of these blockade‑like conditions and to allow for sustained and regular access to aid convoys. Commercial supplies have been blocked since the end of June, causing severe shortages of essential commodities and a sharp rise in prices. For example, the price of cooking oil has increased by 400 per cent, salt by 300 per cent, and rice by 100 per cent. Humanitarian partners are continuing to respond to urgent needs in the area but are facing the depletion of stocks and resources.
And our friends in Geneva at the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, today announced that this year’s recipient of their Nansen Refugee Award will go to the Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development, a Yemeni humanitarian organization that has provided a lifeline to tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Yemen.
The founder, Ameen Jubran, has himself been displaced by fighting and nearly killed. The organization employs more than 160 people and is supported by an additional 230 volunteers, many of whom have been displaced themselves. It is based in Hudaydah, in the Red Sea port city, it has provided jobs and around 18,000 emergency shelters for people who are internally displaced and living in informal sites in Hudaydah and Hajjah.
There were also five regional winners and you can find more about it on the interweb.
Quick COVID update for you, and this one from the South Pacific, in Samoa, which remains free of the virus mainly due to the rapid response of the authorities, who closed borders which controlled the virus coming into and spreading in the country.
The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator Simona Marinescu, and our partners also have been providing assistance, including for the country’s vaccination programme. As you may recall, Samoa was one of the first countries to receive vaccines from COVAX. The UN team on the ground has also trained front‑line workers in cold chain management systems, risk communications, community engagement, border screening, isolation and prevention measures.
This week, we and Samoan authorities organized a two‑day mass vaccination campaign. More than 94 per cent of the people have received their first shot and nearly 50 per cent are fully vaccinated.
**Central African Republic
Quick COVID update from the Central African Republic, where our peacekeepers are continuing to support the country’s response to the pandemic. Currently, there is a vaccination campaign targeting men and women in the country’s prisons. Over 500 prisoners have now received at least a first dose of the vaccine.
**International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction
Today is the International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. In a tweet, the Secretary‑General noted that 14 per cent of the food produced globally each year is lost and 17 per cent is wasted. He added that this has disastrous impacts on our planet. As you know this was very much discussed at the food summit recently, the Food Systems Summit. The Secretary‑General stressed that we must do better, and added that we all have an important role to play in reducing food loss and food waste.
Tomorrow, my guest will be coming to you from Yangon and it will be the Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN system in Myanmar, and that is Andrew Kirkwood, and I hope you will be asking him questions. Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much, Stéph. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on North Korea’s saying that it launched a new hypersonic missile?
Spokesman: I mean, we’ve, obviously, seen these very disturbing reports. We remain convinced that the only way forward for the Korean Peninsula is for diplomatic engagement by the parties.
Question: And could you tell us what’s happened to the statement on Cyprus that I have not seen and I don’t think anybody else has seen?
Spokesman: Well, Edie, I would include myself in that group of people that have yet to see anything. The pipelines in this building are sometimes mysterious even to me. As soon as we have something, we will share it with you.
Question: Can you check… I mean, it’s two days…?
Spokesman: I have… Edie, trust me. I have checked. My plumbing skills have been improved. Célhia?
Question: Stéph, do you have an update on the status of the investigation into Gabonese peacekeepers accused of sexually abusing Central African Republic?
Spokesman: Yeah. I mean, as you know, the Gabonese contingent has been repatriated. Gabonese national investigative officers are working jointly with people from OIOS (Office for Internal Oversight Services), trying to speak to victims. So, the investigation is ongoing. We very… what we very much hope, as well, is that the Gabonese authorities will take action against those who are the perpetrators.
Question: I have another. Do you know when the bar will reopen at the Delegate’s?
Spokesman: I will refer you to my answer that I gave Edie. I don’t know. [Laughter.] Yes? We could do an impromptu one. Yes. Sorry…
Question: Libya is one of your high priorities with the supposed timeline for the elections. The Security Council, as you know, renewed the mandate for UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) for just two weeks, and now they have… well, they were supposed to adopt a new one today, and they’re still wrangling. Is the Secretary-General concerned about a lack of unity on Libya by the Security Council at this absolutely vital moment?
Spokesman: Look, we’re… I’m well aware of the delays, even today, in adopting the resolution. We very much hope that Member States will come together and speak with one voice in renewing the mandate of the Mission. This comes at a time where we’ve expressed our worry and our concern about the lack of unity of political leaders in Libya with the elections, as you referred to, coming up on 24 December.
Question: And given the timeline and where we are now, nearly October, 24 December, is there really any chance of actually organizing elections on time? When is the cut‑off time, do you think?
Spokesman: I’m not going to get into cut‑offs or red lines. I think the… what is clear is that the people of Libya deserve to have elections. They deserve to be able to choose their own future and their own way forward. Philippe?
Question: Stéphane, still Libya, for how long Mr. [Ján] Kubiš will be in place as a Special Envoy for the UN?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mr. Kubiš is currently the Special Envoy. He operates under the current rollover mandate, but I’ve no indication as to any change of leadership. Okay. Nothing in the chat. Oh, yeah. Sorry, Stefano.
Question: Yes, a follow‑up on Libya. I understand that the Secretary‑General is worried. Would it be awful also to indicate from here, from this building, who is not helping in the process of Libya for arriving to this election? I mean, to start to point fingers in a way… so, maybe countries or major actors will stop to mangling with the situation…?
Spokesman: I think we will do from here or from Tripoli what is most helpful. What we need is unity all the way down the line, right, as I mentioned to James, unity in the Security Council. We need all of those countries, whether in the region or beyond, who have influence over the various political sides to press them to come together to continue on this road of unification of institutions, of unification of the country, for the sake of their people. Yes, James?
Question: You just said you had no indication of a change in leadership in UNSMIL. Is that really true? Because we’ve all heard suggestions that Mr. Kubiš is going to stand down. You heard nothing about that? No whispers in this building?
Spokesman: There’s a difference between whispers and pronouncements.
Question: Next door to Tunisia, political turmoil and crisis there. The opposition have all got together in a coalition because they believe that the Constitution is being subverted. The Tunisian President has now appointed a Prime Minister. What’s the Secretary‑General’s reaction?
Spokesman: We’ve taken note of the decision by the President, and we continue to stand ready to help Tunisia on its reinforcement of democratic institutions.
Question: The High‑level Panel on Internal Displacement today announced its findings, called for a Special Representative on internal displacement. Is that the call the Secretary‑General is going to follow? Is he going to find somebody for such a post?
Spokesman: He received the report. He was grateful, obviously, for the work of those who put together the report, but he will now… we will now study these recommendations. Carla, and then we’ll go to our guests.
Question: Thank you. Does the UN have any comment on Norway’s announcement and Singapore that they are lifting COVID‑related restrictions? And I believe Denmark and Sweden are scheduled to do the same next week and several other countries.
Spokesman: No, no particular restrict… I mean no particular comment. I think Member States need to do what, A, they… what is the safe approach, coordinated approach, so we’ll leave it at that. Okay. Miss Grynspan. I’ve done my job. Your turn.