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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Afghanistan

Good afternoon, everyone.  We will just get started.  This morning, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2615 (2021), on a humanitarian exception in the UN sanctions regime applicable in Afghanistan.  In a statement, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the adoption, stressing that this milestone decision will enable urgently needed humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods in the country.  He said that this humanitarian exception will allow organizations to implement the work we have planned, and it will give legal assurances to the financial institutions and commercial actors we rely on to engage with humanitarian operators.  Mr. Griffiths noted that some 160 national and international humanitarian organizations are providing critical food and health assistance in Afghanistan, as well as education, water and sanitation, and support to agriculture, and that we urgently need to ramp up this work.  He said humanitarian operations in Afghanistan are set to be the largest anywhere in the world in 2022, reaching some 22 million people.

Also today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that children across Afghanistan are increasingly vulnerable to disease and illness due to the deadly combination of rising malnutrition, an unprecedented food crisis, drought, disruptions to vital health and nutrition centres, lack of access to and poor quality of water and sanitation services, and crippling winter weather.  UNICEF noted that, so far in 2021, more than 66,000 cases of measles have so far been reported in children.  There have also been outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea, malaria and dengue fever.  Four cases of wild poliovirus type 1 have been confirmed this year.  UNICEF warned that severe winter weather conditions, with temperatures already well below freezing in many areas, increase the risk of pneumonia and acute respiratory illness.  Children living in high altitude regions are especially vulnerable and require urgent life-saving assistance.  including winter clothing, blankets and fuel for heating.

**Ethiopia

I know you’ve been asking about our contacts regarding Ethiopia in recent days.  Over the past few days, while in Lebanon, the Secretary-General has been speaking by phone to key interlocutors regarding Ethiopia in an effort to find a way to end the conflict.  Over the past two days, one staff member and one dependent were released from detention in Ethiopia.  Ten staff members and one dependent continue to be detained, and we continue to call for their release.

**Deputy Secretary-General Travels

This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, travelled to Washington, D.C., to participate in an informal brainstorming meeting to discuss advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York this evening.

**Yemen

The World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that it is running out of funds to continue to provide food assistance to 13 million people in Yemen.  From January, 8 million [people] will receive a reduced food ration, while five million who are at immediate risk of slipping into famine conditions, will remain on a full ration.  The reductions come at the worst possible time for families in Yemen who are dependent on WFP’s food assistance to survive.  In the last three months, inadequate food consumption — one measure of hunger tracked by WFP — has risen rapidly to affect half of all families, as currency devaluation and hyperinflation drives the economy to near collapse.  Food prices have more than doubled across much of Yemen this year.  With food assistance reductions from January, families will receive barely half of WFP's daily minimum ration.  Without new funding, more severe reductions will soon be unavoidable.  This could see people cut from food assistance programmes completely.  Malnutrition treatment and school feeding for children may also be reduced.  WFP needs $813 million to continue to assist the most vulnerable in Yemen through May.  In 2022, WFP needs $1.97 billion to continue to deliver vital food assistance to families on the brink of famine.

**Cameroon-Chad

WFP is providing emergency food assistance to 104,000 Cameroonian refugees who have been arriving in Chad since the beginning of the month.  Our colleagues say they are in dire need of humanitarian assistance after being forced to flee their homes due to inter-communal conflicts in north-eastern Cameroon.  To date, WFP has assisted approximately 80,000 people with emergency food assistance across 28 sites in N’Djamena, Koundoul and Mandelia.  However, funding shortages have forced WFP to provide just 50 percent of the standard daily food rations to these people.  They are seeking additional support to fund these operations.

**Philippines

On the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of today, an estimated 2.6 million people have been affected by Typhoon Rai.  More than 600,000 people have been displaced, with nearly 160,000 houses having been damaged.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that increased food insecurity is being reported across communities affected by the typhoon.  This is due to food shortages and inadequate nutrition, especially among children, the elderly and breastfeeding women.  The Office says there is a shortage of drinking water, posing health risks.  The Government is leading assessments and the response, and the humanitarian country team is preparing to mobilize resources to help those most severely affected.  For its part, the UN Children’s Fund said that some 845,000 children need urgent assistance, including food, water, medicine and personal protective equipment.  UNICEF is on the ground conducting assessments and its emergency supplies — including for safe drinking water, sanitation and education — are ready to be distributed.

The Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Gustavo Gonzalez, will visit Dinagat Island and Surigao City to see the impact of the typhoon.  Mr. Gonzalez will be my guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, and he will speak of the experiences of affected people he met and highlight the new response plan.  And you will also hear from Paulina Kubiak, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  I'm sorry if the sound has been bad quality.  I hope the technicians are able to handle this.  And for questions, I'll first turn to Betul Yuruk.  Betul?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thanks.  Yes, the sound is very bad.  There were media reports about the UN providing or proposing $6 million to the Taliban to provide security for the UN staff and in the UN premises in the country.  Can you confirm it?  And should the UN be doing it, or has the UN paid to any other states or actors in the past?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s quite an echo.  Thanks, Betul.  What I can say on that is that we welcome all efforts to ensure sanctions regimes do not hinder humanitarian operations, and further general licenses by the US are an example of this positive effort, in particular for key sectors such as education.  Such exemptions are indispensable to the humanitarian response in Afghanistan.  Coupled with today's resolution adoption in the Security Council of a humanitarian exception, we can clearly see the importance that Member States have placed on ensuring unhindered and impactful humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.  I hope you heard all that.  Anyway, Kristen Saloomey, a question from you?

Question:  Sorry, Farhan.  Sorry.  Can I just follow up?  I did not really hear the beginning very clearly.  My question was about these media reports that the UN was providing or proposing $6 million to the Taliban, not about the resolution.  I'm not sure if you got the question right.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, okay.  Well, regarding that, I mean, obviously, it's… from our standpoint, it's clear that what we want to see as much of an ability to provide the sort of humanitarian assistance to people as they need.  We're not talking about aid to the Taliban, and indeed, we intend to maintain full compliance with all UN sanctions regimes.  And for a lot of the assistance that we're channelling, we're trying to channel it in such a way that it will reach the people who need it and it doesn't have to go through the de facto authorities.

Question:  And has the UN paid any States or any actors before for its security, UN staff and the UN premises security, before?

Deputy Spokesman:  On security, well, as you know, wherever we deal with the issue of security, it's an issue that we have to… where the authorities on the ground are the ones who are responsible.  On questions of security here, again, in Afghanistan, as everywhere else, host States have the primary responsibility to provide for the safety and security.  However, of course, the UN also has a duty as an employer to reinforce and, where necessary, supplement the capacity of host States in circumstances where UN personnel work in areas of insecurity that require mitigation measures beyond those which the authorities can reasonably be expected to provide.  And in view of the challenging operating environment and the limited ability of Afghan State authorities, over the past several years, to fully provide for the safety and security of UN personnel, property and premises, the United Nations in Afghanistan has, for some time, budgeted for supplementary security services, which would normally be expected to be provided by the host government.  UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] specifically budgets for such supplementary security services and fully declares it in its budget submission, which is reviewed, as a standard practise, by the General Assembly's Fifth Committee.  And of course, the 2022 budget proposal for UNAMA is in line with that.  Okay.  I hope that answers your question.  Kristen Saloomey?

Question:  So, the… I was… just a follow‑up on Betul's question.  The $6 million figure that was given is pretty substantial.  Can you confirm that that money has been paid?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, what I can say about that is that the budget proposal we had initially made for 2022 was prepared before the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan fell, and some of that language in our budget submission is no longer current.  So, that budget is currently under review.  Since the second half of August 2021, the United Nations in Afghanistan has requested various security assurances and assistance from the de facto authorities.  The system is providing allowances to personnel who perform supplementary security services, which are critical for the safety of our personnel and our compounds, as well as operations and movements in the country.  But, any such allowances, any such supplementary security services money, is provided to the concerned persons directly.  And, again, like I said before, it's not through the de facto authorities.  I don't see any other questions in the chat.  So, if that's the case, I will turn over now to Paulina Kubiak.  Paulina, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.