1 September 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I have follow-ups to two statements we had issued yesterday in the name of the Secretary-General on the bridge collapse in Baghdad and Hurricane Katrina.

** Baghdad Bridge Collapse

Regarding Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq reports that it has begun delivering help to Iraqi groups working on the aftermath of the bridge collapse in Baghdad that reportedly killed about 1,000 people.

Deputy Special Representative Steffan De Mistura says that the UN Mission has delivered emergency oxygen units to nine hospitals in Baghdad plus enough health kits to treat 1,000 people.

De Mistura said the United Nations is also supplying large amounts of emergency drugs and is organizing special financial support for the families of the victims.

**Hurricane Katrina

Then on Hurricane Katrina, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that it has been in contact with the US Government.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, in a letter to US Ambassador John Bolton, has offered to help in “any way possible”.  Egeland has been encouraging donors to contribute to non-governmental organizations active in helping the hurricane victims.

In addition, the UN Staff Unions in both New York and Geneva are working to raise money for hurricane survivors.

** Lebanon

Detlev Mehlis, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon, today spoke to the press in Beirut to say that the investigation has made progress on several fronts.

Mehlis said that the Commission has identified and interviewed five suspects, whose statements are now being reviewed.  However, he added, the case is not closed, and the rights of the suspects are being fully preserved.

Mehlis also confirmed that he intends to ask for an extension for the Commission to complete its work.

We have copies of his opening statement to the press upstairs.

**Security Council

The Philippines takes over the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of September.  Today, the new Council President, Ambassador Lauro Baja, is holding bilateral meetings with the other Council members to determine the programme of work for this month.

The Council is expected to hold consultations on the programme of work tomorrow.  After that, at around 12:30 we hope, Ambassador Baja will come here to hold a press conference and brief you on the Council’s programme for the month of September.

** Afghanistan

Some 7 million Afghan children under the age of five will be vaccinated against polio in a three-day campaign, starting on 5 September.  Forty thousand people will be involved in the vaccinations and monitoring, which is being supported by the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization.

There’s more information on this in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, Afghanistan.

**West African Cholera Meeting

A West African regional meeting on cholera, convened by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ended yesterday in Dakar, Senegal.  The meeting agreed that the current West Africa cholera outbreaks are serious, with nearly 500 deaths so far out of over 31,000 reported cases, and figures still rising in many countries.

We have more information on this upstairs.

**UNEP – Sumatran Orang-utans

From the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), fewer than 250 wild Sumatran orang-utans may exist in 50 years, their habitat is disappearing and the devastation of the Asian tsunami has accelerated the rate of destruction.

These are among the findings announced today at the launch of the first World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation, published by the UN Environment Programme.  The Atlas provides a country-by-country assessment of the 23 States hosting the wild great apes.

It notes that it isn’t just humans who will benefit from a campaign to “make poverty history”, as many great apes are targeted for the growing trade in ape meat.

We have a press release upstairs on that.


We also have a press release from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on the foot and mouth disease in European cattle and sheep herds.

** Summit Security/Logistics Briefing

And immediately after this briefing, we will have a press briefing on the Summit security arrangements.  Inspector Phyllis Moore of Headquarters Security and Safety Service, together with Gary Fowlie, Chief of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, will be here to brief you on logistical and security arrangements during the World Summit and the general debate.

If they’re both here, we can probably start earlier, as soon as the briefing is over.

Are there any questions for me today?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Zimbabwe, two things.  One, is there any update on efforts to try and get the Joint Appeal, and suggestions that Mr. Gambari might go, and also, does the UN have any comment on the recent constitutional change there?

Deputy Spokesman:  On the appeal, I have not had an update since the UN Country Team began discussions with the Government to work on details of the Joint Appeal.  I will follow that up for you.

In regards to Mr. Gambari -- is that your question? and his possible visit -- this is something that is being discussed with the Government, but I have nothing further on that.

I don’t have any reaction from us immediately on your third point.

Question:  Can you tell us anything about a meeting between Paul Volcker and the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can tell you on that is that as with all individuals about whom statements may be made in the upcoming report, the Secretary-General has been given the opportunity to respond by the Independent Inquiry Committee.  As he has done previously, the Secretary-General has exercised that right and met with Mr. Volcker this morning.

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s schedule now?  Will he be remaining in New York until the 8th or... what are his plans?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, he interrupted his vacation.  He came back yesterday.  He addressed the core negotiating group on UN reform.  He met with a series of ambassadors yesterday.  He also has a slew of meetings this afternoon with more ambassadors on UN reform.  You should have gotten a note through the UN Correspondents Association on an upcoming visit for your planning purposes and we hope to have something to announce on that tomorrow.

Question:  Do we have any idea when the “oil-for-food” report will be out next week?

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to ask Mr. Volcker’s Committee about the precise date, but we are expecting it next week and that’s all I can tell you from our end.

Question:  Not a question, just a follow-up on what you said about the notice.  We received it within the hour, within the last hour and it’ll be going out within the hour to the membership.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Are there any other questions for me?

Question:  On this response to the hurricane and the affected areas in the United States, besides this appeal, are there any other plans for the United Nations to help the United States in any way?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, if the United States asks for help, then the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs could dispatch a UN disaster assessment and coordination team to coordinate efforts on the ground.  This is a standard operating procedure that OCHA follows in the event that they’re asked for help.  But as far as I know it has not been requested.  But I think the message here is that we would like to help in any way possible.

So, if there are no more questions for me, can I invite our guests to come, are you ready to start?  Well, in that case, if we can just break for a few minutes and we’ll start at 12:30 sharp.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.