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

25 February 2009

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

25 February 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.

**Secretary-General in South Africa

The Secretary-General is in South Africa, and he met for almost two hours today with the President, President [Kgalema] Motlanthe and other Government officials, as he started his week-long African trip with a stop in South Africa -- his first official visit to that country as Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General and the President discussed a wide range of political issues, including Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and South Africa’s role in peacekeeping operations.  The Secretary-General also stressed the leading role played by South Africa in engaging non-industrialized countries on the global threat of climate change.

Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said that the partnership between the Zimbabwean parties will need to be nurtured.  He said that the United Nations is ready to ensure that the enormous challenges confronting the Zimbabwean people are effectively addressed.  But he warned that he remains concerned about reports of arrests and detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders, and that he hopes that these people will be freed as soon as possible.

He added that the United Nations will support nationally owned stabilization and recovery programmes to deal with the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe.

The Secretary-General and his wife later had a private meeting with former President Nelson Mandela and his wife at the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.

** Zimbabwe

And on Zimbabwe, the UN humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe, made up of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) led by the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), has concluded its mission to that country, and the mission reports that it found that humanitarian needs in the country remain grave.

Despite tremendous effort to contain one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks in recent times, major challenges remain.  There are areas, the mission said, where the results of our concerted efforts can be seen in declining number of new infections, but there are many places which have not been reached with the required services and where cholera continues to spread.

Food security is another major issue, the team added.  A growing number of households are reducing the number of meals they have per day.  There will be a need for continued food assistance throughout 2009.  The scale of the needs will be determined by upcoming assessments.

Farmers must obtain all the agriculture inputs they need for the next planting season, which begins in September and October.  Otherwise, next year could be like this one, in which 7 million people require food aid.

The mission said that its discussions with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister [Morgan] Tsvangirai, and a number of cabinet ministers were positive, and the mission received assurances of full cooperation.  OCHA said that the international community has been very generous to the people of Zimbabwe, and they may receive requests for additional resources based on new assessments of the evolving situation.

The Secretary-General, speaking to reporters in South Africa today, said that he expects to receive a report from Catherine Bragg on her recommendations on how to mobilize more humanitarian assistance and dealing with refugee issues.  And that transcript is now available upstairs.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, travelled today from Algiers to Madrid, continuing a trip which has taken him to Rabat and Tindouf, and will continue in Paris and Washington.

Ross spoke to reporters before departing Algiers, where he said he held three days of “intensive, frank, and useful discussions”, including with President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  “These discussions dealt with Algeria’s position towards the Western Sahara issue and the best means to resume the negotiating process, for which the Security Council has called, between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front to find a just and lasting political solution to which both parties agree and that provides for self-determination for the Saharawi people,” he said.

Ross said that, at this stage of his first trip, as the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, he had “arrived at a clear understanding of the positions and points of view of the two parties and one of the neighbouring States and have found them to have a sincere desire to continue down the road and support my efforts”.  He added that he intends to visit Mauritania at the earliest possible opportunity.  And we do have his full remarks he made to the press before departing Algiers for Madrid.

** Colombia

Turning to Colombia, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who is also the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, is wrapping up his visit to Colombia today with a meeting with the Colombian President [Alvaro] Uribe.

Yesterday, [John] Holmes travelled to north-western Colombia, where he met with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, whose lives have been affected by floods, landmines, displacement and violence related to conflict and drug trafficking.

Having received more than $8 million so far this year, Colombia is currently the fifth largest recipient of money from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund in 2009.  We have more on that upstairs.  And of course, John Holmes will be able to brief you in person when he comes to the noon briefing later this week on Friday.

** Darfur

And on Darfur, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has indicated that the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have arrived in recent weeks in Zam Zam camp for the displaced in North Darfur has exceeded 15,000.

IDPs are continuing to arrive each day following fighting in several South Darfur towns.  Due to the large influx, the provision of water to camp residents is of critical concern, says OCHA.

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), meanwhile, says an additional 150 Senegalese peacekeepers arrived today in El Fasher, North Darfur, to bring the total number of members in the Senegalese infantry battalion to 834.

The principal duties of the battalion, which is based in El Geneina, West Darfur, include conducting patrols to enhance security and encourage confidence within the local population, and conducting escorts for humanitarian convoys.

To date, the total number of military forces deployed in Darfur totals 12,753.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the United Nations today issued an alert to donors concerning two regions in the southern and central part of that country.  In that alert, the UN warned that, without immediate funding for nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene operations, the already critical malnutrition and disease levels in the country will worsen.

According to OCHA, there are already more than 200,000 acutely malnourished children in Somalia.  Some 60,000 of them are suffering from severe malnutrition and need immediate treatment in order to survive.

The current crisis has been brought on by poor rains, crop failure, the depreciated Somali shilling and security threats against relief agencies.  And there is more information on that upstairs.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.

Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that the leaders had held discussions on the issue of property and had decided to continue these discussions next Thursday, 5 March.

Following the property talks, they will move on to discussions on matters concerning the European Union.  And there is more information on this upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

And as the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka places the health of tens of thousands of people at risk from insecurity and limited access to health care, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for a rapid health needs assessment, improved preventive and curative care and better coordination among all health partners.

The health sector is seeking $7.4 million in the Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka for health care for internally displaced persons and host communities in affected areas, of which WHO is seeking $4.5 million.

Under WHO’s leadership, and with support from UNICEF, coordination meetings are held with health partners.

WHO adds that critical understaffing in the health sector has reduced health care for many people, while insecurity and population displacement are affecting patient referrals.


WHO also announced today that the emergence of drug-resistant parasites at the Thailand-Cambodia border could seriously undermine progress in the global fight against malaria.  The parasites have been detected in an area where workers walk for miles every day to clear forests.

WHO is warning that, if the situation is not contained, it could spread rapidly to neighbouring countries.

The agency notes that more than 1 million people die from malaria each year.  And there is a press release on this upstairs.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

There is also a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has predicted that food prices could go down this year thanks to better than expected rice production.  Much of the global production gains will be seen in Asia, where rice-producing countries anticipate bumper harvests around May.  Africa is also forecasting exceptional results, due to Government support and new high-yielding seed varieties.  As a result, rice imports to Africa are now expected to decline to their lowest level since 2004.

But FAO has also warned that the global economic slowdown could outweigh the gains for the poorest of the world’s rice consumers, because of falling incomes and rising job insecurity.

**World Meteorological Organization

The World Meteorological Organization’s latest research provides new evidence of the widespread effects of global warming in the Polar regions.

According to its findings, snow and ice are melting in both Antarctica and the Arctic, affecting human livelihoods and local plant and animal life.  Researchers have also discovered that North Atlantic storms are major sources of heat and moisture for these regions.  And we have more upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And finally, tomorrow at 11 a.m., the UN Global Compact Office will hold a press briefing on current anti-corruption efforts by its corporate participants.  The briefing is in conjunction with the Compact working group’s fourth meeting on anti-corruption, which starts later this week. 

And that’s what I have for you. Anything for me?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This report that a threat was found against the Secretary-General, not a threat but a… to disrupt his visit to Tanzania by these Pemba elders.  One, is that something that the UN can confirm? And two, what history does the UN system or Secretariat have with this Pemba issue in Tanzania?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have seen the press reports, and I have not heard anything in what I’ve read that would be affecting his travel plans.

Question:  And also, you just mentioned this Common Humanitarian Action Plan in Sri Lanka and the WHO call.  I mean, there are a number of stories now about how these camps are being built up for people leaving those other camps -- up to 200,000 people, large camps, and I am wondering whether any of these funds are… what the UN’s involvement will be in these camps when much people won’t actually be allowed to leave, according to the report.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s save those questions for John, he will be here on Friday at noon.  John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be speaking on his mission to Sri Lanka as well as his just concluded trip to Colombia, which I mentioned to you.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Thanks, Marie.  The Joint Inspection Unit recently published a report in which they warned that the UN’s management of some of the worldwide treaties and the programmes that the UN is administering in line with the environmental issues -- global warming, climate change and sustainable development -- that there are real problems here, that the management and the handling of things overall is in disarray, and the report calls for the Secretary-General to intervene.  Can you share what you know is being done to address the concerns that were raised in that report and what the Secretary-General is doing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all I can tell you that, yes, there is a report, as you mentioned, by the Joint Inspection Unit.  The report is not confidential and was made available to Governments at the first opportunity and has already been presented by the primary author to Governments.  This is according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  The CEB, the Chief Executives Board, has also commenced a process of internal consultations across the system and is preparing a response to the system-wide recommendation.  The General Assembly has also grappled with the topic over the past two years or so, and is now seeking the inputs of environmental ministers to help find a way forward on this.  The report was presented to the Governing Council, the Global Ministerial Environmental Forum, last week, to the world gathering of environmental ministers and they have already issued the following in which they decided that a special group of developed and developing country ministers or high-level representatives will be established to develop a set of options aimed at improving the way the world’s environmental architecture is run in order to streamline and boost the ability of the global community to tackle persistent and emerging environmental challenges.  So this is what I have for you on that.

Question:  The Secretary-General himself, I mean this has been a pet project of his, obviously he hears a lot about this.  The report mentions that there is duplication in part, some of it sort of didn’t exactly blame… in some cases maybe did blame the Secretary-General and the enthusiasm of getting this thing running that there is now duplication and a need to streamline things.  What is the Secretary-General himself doing to see that his…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I mentioned that the Chief Executives Board is already looking into this, and as you know, this is one of the main bodies that the Secretary-General convenes on a regular basis to try and coordinate and streamline the work of the United Nations on all the issues that it’s tackling.

If there is nothing else for me, have a good afternoon.

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