Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

29 January 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

29 January 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


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

Good afternoon.

I am waiting for a statement to come down, I don’t have it.  But you should be expecting one on the situation in Madagascar.

**Guest at Noon

The guest today is Daly Belgasmi, the World Food Programme’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. He will brief on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

**Secretary-General in Davos

The Secretary-General today announced in Davos an appeal for $613 million to cover the immediate recovery needs of the people of Gaza for the next six to nine months.  A formal appeal will be launched next week, 2 February, in Geneva.

In a joint press conference with Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, the Secretary-General said “help is urgently needed”, including food, clean water, shelter, medicine and the restoration of basic services.  He told reporters: “When I saw the people in Gaza, the destruction and severity of the challenges were beyond description.”  He urged the international community to contribute generously to the appeal.

He was asked about the violence reported over the past few days in Gaza, and replied: “The incident which took place two days ago clearly shows us that this ceasefire is very fragile.  Therefore, this ceasefire must be translated into a durable and sustainable one, which can be respected by all the parties concerned.”  Later today, the Secretary-General also participated in a plenary session of the World Economic Forum on Gaza, where he stressed the need for a durable ceasefire and for a viable peace process.

In a separate event, he marked the tenth anniversary of the UN Global Compact.  He said that, 10 years on, it stands as the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, with more than 6,000 business participants in more than 130 countries.  The Global Compact has become a byword for corporate responsibility, he noted.

At another private session in Davos, he pushed for a climate change communication initiative that will explain, educate and ask for global engagement, leading to success at the December summit in Copenhagen.

While in Davos, the Secretary-General also met, last night and today, with a number of leaders.  He discussed climate change and the Middle East peace process with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  He discussed Haiti with former United States President Bill Clinton.  And, in a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, he talked about climate change, food security, the Millennium Development Goals and Haiti.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that as many as half of the 5,000 men, women and children injured over the past three weeks may suffer life-long impairment.  Such disabilities were brought on unnecessarily because rehabilitation workers were unable to respond immediately, according to OCHA.

At the same time, OCHA reports that the water situation in parts of Gaza has improved, with 70 per cent of the water system functioning in certain areas.  But this does not mean that everyone is getting water.  Also, the sewage network in some parts remains damaged.  For its part, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) recently provided more than 150,000 litres of fuel to municipalities so that they can cover all their solid waste management needs until mid-March.

UNRWA also provided 75,000 litres of fuel this week to the water utility so that they can operate their water and waste water assets on an emergency basis.

Also on Gaza, the UN Mine Action Service is working to verify that main roads are clear of unexploded ordnance so that essential goods can be transported.  It has also worked with UNICEF to ensure that school buildings are clear.

And OCHA reports that the number of people receiving UN food aid in Gaza has now increased to 1.3 million.  And we will, of course, be hearing more about that from the World Food Programme shortly.

** Sri Lanka

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today said that she is deeply concerned by reports of the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing a quarter of a million civilians trapped in northern Sri Lanka’s conflict zone.  She also expressed concern over alleged human rights abuses and the significant number of civilian casualties, as well as the huge level of displacement.

Pillay is also worried by the highly restricted access to the Vanni region for aid agencies and impartial outside observers, including journalists and human rights monitors.

Pillay added that it seems there may have been very grave breaches of human rights by both sides in the conflict.  She also stressed that it is the Government’s duty to provide safety to all Sri Lanka's citizens, whatever their ethnic origin or political views.  Her full statement is upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

Gordon Weiss, Spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka, informed us that UN international staff members today accompanied a convoy of hundreds of wounded civilians away from the front lines in Sri Lanka.  This is an update from what we reported to you yesterday.

He said that a quarter of a million people continue to be stuck in a pocket of land which is a third the size of London, where they are near the recent fighting.  UN staff, he said, witnessed the injury and deaths of dozens of people over the weekend at close quarters, while the hospitals in the area are being overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded.

And we should have a transcript of Mr. Weiss’ radio interview with UN Radio available upstairs with more details.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council today is holding a private debate on respect for international humanitarian law.  UN Legal Counsel Patricia O’Brien opened the discussion of the Security Council’s effectiveness at ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.  Senior officials from the UN Refugee Agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also contributed to the discussion.

** Somalia

Somalia’s presidential election will take place tomorrow in Djibouti.  Several candidates, including prominent members of both the Transitional Federal Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, will vie for the post.  That’s according to Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS).  He said that the Somali leadership and the international community are working to ensure that the vote is transparent and fair.

Once sworn in some 24 hours after the election, the new Somali President will head to Addis Ababa for the African Union Summit, after which he will appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet.

And yesterday, some 150 new members of the Transitional Federal Parliament were sworn in at a ceremony in Djibouti, where reconciliation talks are ongoing between the Government and the opposition.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, has issued a press statement, in which he calls on the parties to cease hostile military actions to minimize the suffering of the people of Darfur and to create a conducive environment for a political dialogue to resolve the conflict peacefully.  His full statement is upstairs.

** Liberia

Caterpillars destroying crops across northern and central Liberia have now been conclusively identified as armyworms, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  FAO says the infestation has also spread into villages in neighbouring Guinea.

The agency warns that the situation may be about to get much worse.  Many of the armyworms have bored into the ground -- where pesticides can’t reach them -- and formed cocoons.  In the next week or two, they will emerge as moths.  “Each moth can fly up to 1,000 kilometres and lay 1,000 eggs,” says Winfred Hammond, an entomologist who is FAO’s permanent representative in Liberia.  And you can read more about what FAO is doing to deal with this matter.

** Myanmar

Earlier this week, the UN in Myanmar organized a meeting and field visit for international donors helping with post-Cyclone Nargis relief efforts.

Areas hardest hit by the storm still need substantial support if people are to resume their livelihoods, according to the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator there.  The cyclone killed large amounts of livestock and destroyed boats, fishing nets and farm tools.

While crops in Myanmar as a whole are expected to be satisfactory, as we reported to you yesterday, rice production in the delta is down 50 per cent, according to the assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.  And you can read more about this upstairs, as well.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

I promised you to give more information on the second leg of the Secretary-General’s visit.

Following his attendance at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, the Secretary-General will travel to Abu Dhabi on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Thereafter, he will travel to Islamabad on an official trip to Pakistan.

The Secretary-General will then travel to New Delhi, India, to attend the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2009.

During the course of his visit, he will meet with senior Government officials in the various countries concerned.

And that is what I have for you.

**Follow-up to Yesterday’s Questions

And just to follow up on a couple of Matthew’s questions from yesterday.

UNHCR has accessed some of the Rohinga refugees in Thailand.  There is information on that upstairs for you.

And the Secretary-General did comment on the BBC dispute over the broadcasting of a humanitarian appeal.  His remarks are contained in the transcript of his press conference in Davos today.

Our guest is already here in the back, waiting.  I can take one or two questions if they are urgent and then I’d like to turn over the floor.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Regarding the Secretary-General’s trip to Islamabad, any subjects that he will discuss?  What is the agenda?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I have read.  I just wanted to let you know that his trip will be extended beyond Addis Ababa.

Question:  And he is not going to Kabul?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is what I have for you right now.

Question:  The Secretary-General announced that he set up some sort of investigation concerning the UNRWA headquarters, the bombing in Gaza.  Is this investigation committee only going to investigate the attacks against the UN buildings or also other alleged violations in Gaza itself?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General again refers to the fact that he will set up an investigation into the UNRWA and UNSCO facilities in Gaza, and we will let you know more when we will be able to announce details of who will take on that investigation.

Question:  But their mandate is only UNRWA and UNSCO, not Gaza in general?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is correct.

Question:  You read out this press release about this Transitional Federal Government in Somalia going to Addis Ababa.  Once that meeting is over, is that Government actually going to return to Somalia?  What will be the seat of this UN-sponsored and recognized Government, inside the country or outside?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll get back to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that she had been informed that all members of Parliament and the new Cabinet members were expected back in Mogadishu next week.]

Question:  There are a lot of articles that say that Vuk Jeremić, the Foreign Minister of Serbia, is going to meet with Ban Ki-moon today, which somehow seems unlikely, because Ban Ki-moon is not here.  But who in the Secretariat is going to meet with Mr. Jeremić and what is the response by the UN to Serbia’s complaint about the Kosovo Security Force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can confirm that the Serbian Foreign Minister is at UN Headquarters today.  The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Europe, so he is unable to meet with the Foreign Minister.  Right now, the Foreign Minister is meeting with the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy.  For more details you should probably contact DPKO.

Question:  The Security Council is meeting right now with, as you mentioned, a lot of UN figures taking part in it.  Why is it closed?  Why can’t we get to know what Ms. O’Brien and the others are saying?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you need to ask that to the Security Council President.

Question:  So this was not upon the request of the UN Secretariat officials?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is a meeting organized by the Security Council President, so you need to address the question to him.

Question:  A technical question.  Mr. Ging’s  (of UNRWA) videoconference was cancelled earlier this week.  Will we have a chance next week possibly to speak with him at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If there is still demand to talk to him -- absolutely.  We will get him on the air.  We are also trying to arrange some other videoconferences in other parts of the world as well.  But we will certainly be looking into when we can schedule him again.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later announced John Ging as the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.]

Question:  Do you know if Mr. Holmes on 2 February is organizing a flash appeal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, there is, in Geneva.  This is what I mentioned to you, that the Secretary-General in Davos today flagged that appeal that will be officially launched on 2 February by John Holmes in Geneva.

Question:  Nothing about that in New York that day, about the flash appeal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing has been scheduled, but if you need a briefing, we can ask OCHA to try to organize one for you.

All right, thank you very much.

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