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

21 August 2009

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

21 August 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.

** Afghanistan

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General congratulated the Afghan people on the holding of the presidential and Provincial Council elections.  The Secretary-General said that the Afghans have again demonstrated their desire for stability and development in their country.  He also encouraged candidates and their supporters to cooperate with the authorities while the results of the vote are pending.

The members of the Security Council also welcomed the holding of the elections in a press statement yesterday evening.  The Council members reiterated the importance of the vote and congratulated the Afghan people on their participation.  They applauded the Afghan authorities’ efforts to prepare for the vote and recognized the strong support of international partners, including the UN Mission in Afghanistan, in that process.  We have copies of both statements upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo-Sudan

Thousands of civilians have fled renewed attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Sudan’s Western Equatoria region, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).  All UN humanitarian work in the border region between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was suspended as a result of these attacks, and aid workers were evacuated by helicopter to safer grounds.

Local authorities place at 5,000 the number of civilians displaced by the LRA attacks, which were condemned by the refugee agency.  UNHCR says that some 360,000 civilians have fled LRA attacks in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo while another 20,000 others have sought refuge in Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

** Yemen

And on Yemen, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) says it’s gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Yemen and the impact of the current crisis on women and children -- following the escalating violence in the north of the country.  According to UNICEF, more than 100,000 people have been affected by the conflict, the majority of them children.  The agency has already started distributing water filters, jerry cans and hygiene kits, as well as 300,000 water purification tablets.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to increase its food assistance to 150,000 people in Yemen.  That’s up from the 95,000 who had gotten aid last month.  Today WFP started distributing a full one-month ration of food to 10,000 people, and last week, WFP began handing out high energy biscuits to 7,000 others. 

According to estimates by the UN refugee agency, the fighting in Yemen has displaced some 35,000 people in the past two weeks alone.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says that many internally displaced families are reporting cases of diarrhoea, skin rashes and malaria.  And there is more on the humanitarian efforts under way in Yemen in the briefing notes from Geneva today.

** Haiti

In Haiti, UN agencies and the UN Mission in the country, MINUSTAH, are preparing for the 2009 hurricane season.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti says that an inter-agency plan has been established to assist national authorities in case of natural disasters, based on the experience of last year’s hurricane season.  It says that the United Nations system in the country will strengthen its cooperation with the Mission regarding logistics and reporting.

UN agencies have also pre-positioned food and essential items in different parts of the country.  Among them, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that 5,700 metric tons of food have been set aside for post-disaster relief -- enough to supply 500,000 people with an emergency one-month ration of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil and salt.  WFP has also stockpiled special, highly-nutritious food for 35,000 children and pregnant and lactating women.

** Pakistan

And this one’s for you, Masood.  On Pakistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that almost 229,000 previously displaced families have now returned to their places of origin.  As a result, 13 camps have closed down, although 17 still remain open in the North-West Frontier Province.

In terms of what UN agencies are doing to help, UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and the UN refugee agency have pledged to provide shelter assistance to about 10,000 families whose homes were damaged.  And the World Food Programme is distributing food in Waziristan.

Regarding funding, donors have stepped up contributions to the Pakistan humanitarian response plan during the past week.  The $542 million plan is now more than 60 per cent funded.

** Somalia

On Somalia, in an effort to prevent the spread of malaria in south-central Somalia, UNICEF is currently distributing 59,000 mosquito nets through partners in Sakow district, Middle Juba, and Wanla Weyne.

And during the past week, in one district, around 5,000 children between the ages of 6 and 36 months received the highly nutritious, ready-to-use food called ‘Plumpy doz’, which helps prevent acute malnutrition.

In Puntland, the World Food Programme (WFP) and local partners completed a supplementary feeding programme in three districts.  About 17,000 children under the age of 5 benefited from this programme.  WFP and its partners also distributed food to about 20,000 other people under institutional and supplementary feeding programmes in two regions in Somaliland.

And in the port town of Bossaso, in Puntland, the UN refugee agency and local partners launched an awareness campaign for hundreds of would-be migrants, who are prepared to make the hazardous boat voyage across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, in search of a better life.  Brochures containing information on the dangers of the journey were distributed during the week.

**Influenza A (H1N1)

On the H1N1 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), today launched a call to action in response to the H1N1 pandemic.  That call aims to prepare and protect all communities –- particularly those with weaker health systems and more vulnerable populations –- from the impacts of the disease. 

WHO notes that the spread of H1N1 is inevitable and has already reached such countries as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.  The call to action suggests a range of measures that health ministries can take, especially in those countries that might have limited access to antivirals and eventually to vaccines.  Those measures include identifying populations at increased risk of disease and death; reducing death by treating acute respiratory illness and pneumonia.  The measures also include reducing the spread of disease; continuing critical services; planning for the worst; and coordinating efforts.  There is more on this in the Geneva briefing notes.


And on malaria, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ray Chambers, and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, are currently in Uganda.  The goal of their trip, which has also taken them to Tanzania, is to review progress made in malaria control and better understand the remaining challenges in areas with high malaria levels.

Chambers and Chan are holding discussions with local malaria experts and government leaders and visiting urban and rural health centres focused on fighting malaria.  On Monday they met with President [Jakaya] Kikwete of Tanzania.

Their long-term objective is to end malaria deaths.  That can be achieved by meeting the Secretary-General’s goal of providing all endemic African countries with malaria control interventions by the end of 2010.  Chambers and Chan are joined on this trip by the President of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have a very brief Week Ahead for you for next week.

The Secretary-General will have his monthly luncheon with Security Council members on Monday.

And Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, will start a five-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo Tuesday, 25 August.  She will be in Kinshasa Tuesday and Wednesday and in eastern DRC from 27 to 29 August.

And on Thursday next week, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

And that’s all I have for you.  Let’s start today in the front.  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Last week you said that the Secretary-General takes the issues of nepotism that arose while he was away seriously, and that he expected to receive a report upon his return.  Now that he has returned, has he received such a report, from whom, and what is he going to do about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me follow up for you.  As you know, the Secretary-General is still on leave.  He popped back on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday he came into the office to attend the first UN Humanitarian Day and the anniversary of the Baghdad bombing.  But, as you know, he has not been at Headquarters for the last two days.  But, I will follow up and get back to you on that.

Question:  But even outside of whether he has now received such a report, do you have any idea of the status of the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) review of…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that review is ongoing.

Question:  How complicated can it be?  I guess…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have to ask that to UNDP.

Question:  Who is he going to…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I said I’d look into that for you.

Question:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Louis?

Question:  I wondered if the Secretary-General has had a chance to verify the contents of the memo from the Norwegian Deputy Permanent Representative, as most of us in the press have been able to do, and if he has got anything to say about his upcoming trip to Norway.  Then a second issue has to do, and maybe you’ll probably have to defer to Vienna on this, but I have to ask if there is any reaction to the reports that the Iranians have agreed to expand IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) monitoring at their enrichment facility.

Deputy Spokesperson:  That one -- we did check with the IAEA for you, and they don’t have any official confirmation of the reports that you have been reading.  But I would suggest you follow up with them, because I think they can tell you about what’s in the pipeline in terms of reports and what not, that they are expecting in the days or weeks ahead.  Your first question, I have nothing beyond what we had said on that subject on Monday.

Question:  Can I just follow up?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  I just want to follow up on… a sort of well-informed national diplomat told me that the Spokesperson’s Office was supposed to confirm the Secretary-General’s trip to Norway on Wednesday and then after the reports of this letter came out the Spokesperson’s Office was asked to not confirm this.  And I’m just wondering if there is any question of whether he is going to go to Norway because of this letter.

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can say is, again, what I told you on [Wednesday], which is that the Secretary-General has been considering a trip to the Arctic Circle as part of his efforts to get an agreement in Copenhagen.  You know, climate change is a top priority for the Secretary-General, and he has been considering such a trip and preparations for that trip are still ongoing.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this Iranian question, I just want to find out, will the Secretary-General take advantage of this so-called window of opportunity and engage the Iranian on this [inaudible] thing, that the talks between the international community and Iran on this nuclear programme…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s wait until we hear from IAEA, because at this point they have not given confirmation on the reports that we have been reading.  Yes.

Question:  On the question of impunity, the Secretary-General had issued a strong statement recently about the murder of a journalist, Natalia Estemirova of Grozny, Chechnya, and called for an investigation, an independent investigation.  Do you know if there has been any follow-up on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to see.  We’ll look into that for you.  Yes, Xinhua.  Wait, wait, there is Xinhua in the back, has a question.  Let her…

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General have a comment on the release of the Lockerbie bomber?  And also did the UN Mission in Afghanistan ever reveal more information to you about the media blackout and its effects on security?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, on Afghanistan, all I have today on Afghanistan is an update on the fact that there is still no result in the election there until one is declared by the Independent Election Commission.  And the item on the ban is precisely what I told you the other day and those concerns have been relayed to the Afghan authorities.  You had another question –- no, we don’t have anything to say on your first question.  Masood, you had one more?

Question:  Yes, I just want to confirm one thing.  You said that the appeal is 50 per cent funded, the IDP appeal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  60 per cent.

Question:  60 per cent?

Deputy Spokesperson:  60 per cent.  I think…

Question:  Are you sure it’s 60 per cent?  Earlier it was at 43 per cent and…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, take a look at the Geneva briefing notes or, actually no, this is an item we got from them today.  So, please go up to the office and see.  But more than 60 per cent funded is what we have.  So, I think the numbers are looking better there.  Last question.  Matthew.

Question:  The Indian military has started disciplinary proceedings against a Major General saying that he was involved in irregularities in procurement for a UN peacekeeping mission.  His name is Anil Sarup and I am assuming that has to do with MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).  I wonder, is the UN aware of this and if we could get the specifics of what the procurement irregularity is, and why the UN is not taking action rather than the Indian Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check that for you.  Okay, with that, have a good afternoon, and hope you have a nice weekend.  See you on Monday.

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