The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today, we want to welcome our guests from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation who will be with us during the noon briefing. Thanks, and welcome.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan, David Shearer, have both strongly condemned the killing of six aid workers in an ambush on 25 March as they were travelling from Juba to Pibor. The ambush represents the highest number of aid workers killed in a single incident since the conflict began and comes after two other grave attacks on aid workers this month. Mr. O’Brien said this is completely unacceptable and must stop now, especially at a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels.
Mr. Shearer noted that this latest attack occurred in an area controlled by the South Sudanese Government and urged the Government to investigate and apprehend the offenders. At least 12 aid workers have been killed in 2017 in South Sudan. Since the start of the conflict in December 2013, at least 79 aid workers have lost their lives as attacks have continued with impunity. There is also a statement from the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, online.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Marta Ruedas, has welcomed the decision by the Government of Sudan to open a new humanitarian corridor for food aid to be delivered by the World Food Programme (WFP) from El Obeid in central Sudan to Bentiu, a town in Unity State, South Sudan, where 100,000 people are enduring famine amid a deepening humanitarian crisis across the country. This week, WFP will be moving an initial delivery of 11,000 metric tons of sorghum in seven convoys of 30 to 40 trucks, which is enough to feed 300,000 people for three months.
**Central African Republic
We have an update from the Central African Republic. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that tensions persist in Bria in Haute-Kotto, after peacekeepers intervened on Friday to protect civilians against anti-Balaka attacks in the Gobolo neighbourhood. In the ensuing clashes, one anti-Balaka combatant was killed, two were wounded and nine others were captured along with weapons.
Yesterday, as the UN mission began the transfer of the nine anti-Balaka captured to Bangui, anti-Balaka elements reportedly started shooting near the Bria airport in an effort to release the captured combatants. This was thwarted by a forceful response from peacekeepers. In Mbomou Prefecture, peacekeeping reinforcements have been deployed to Bakouma and the Mission continues to ensure the protection of local civilians. In Ouaka Prefecture, clashes were reported between the FPRC and the UPC south of Ippy over the weekend. Aerial surveillance was undertaken and patrols have been deployed in response.
In a statement issued last night, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said that this week sadly marks two years since the terrible escalation of the conflict in Yemen. He said that man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine. Today, nearly 19 million Yemenis — over two thirds of the population — need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation.
Mr. O’Brien said that the UN and its partners are already providing life-saving assistance in all of Yemen’s 22 governorates and reach almost 6 million people every month. He added that urgent funding is needed in coming weeks – or it will be too late. The Emergency Relief Coordinator said that parties to the conflict must also facilitate immediate, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access. Most of all, the Yemeni people need the parties to commit to political dialogue, or this man-made crisis will never end.
I’d been asked a few times over the weekend about the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and I can say that the Secretary-General reiterates his full support for Mr. de Mistura. We must all ensure the success of the Geneva talks. Meanwhile, the UN is deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 400,000 civilians following reports of ongoing military operations in populated areas in Raqqa. We continue to receive reports that fighting and airstrikes result in death and injury to scores of civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure, including schools, bakeries, markets and water infrastructure.
An estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people have been displaced as a result of fighting since November 2016. Humanitarian partners are responding to people in need, providing winter and food assistance and distributing mine risk education materials, especially for children. The UN reminds all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure as required by international humanitarian law and human rights law.
An estimated 279,000 people are currently displaced as a result of the military operations in Mosul, Iraq. More than 198,000 of these are estimated to be displaced from western Mosul since military operations on the western neighbourhoods began in late February. Assistance continues to displaced people and to people in newly retaken areas wherever access allows. Trauma care capacity for patients from western Mosul has been further strengthened with the establishment of two new field hospitals at Adhba and Hamam al Alil, south of Mosul. Five trauma stabilization points and four field hospitals to the south and east of Mosul are now receiving patients from Mosul.
I also want to flag a new report from our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on food insecurity in the near East and North Africa. According to this report, food security and nutrition levels in the region have sharply deteriorated over the last five years, undermining the steady improvement achieved before 2010 when the prevalence of undernourishment, stunting, anemia and poverty were decreasing. This deterioration is largely driven by the spreading and intensity of conflicts and protracted crises. Beyond conflicts and crises, the report argues that water scarcity and climate change are the most fundamental challenges to ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that joint efforts and strengthened cooperation are crucial for improving the situation of asylum-seekers and refugees in Greece. UNHCR has issued eight recommendations aimed at putting in place a sustainable refugee response in Greece, including improving reception conditions as a top priority. Steps need to be taken to provide more accommodation opportunities in urban areas and to address the specific needs of unaccompanied and separated children. The situation in Greece can be managed, said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but would require moving from the current emergency response to a sustainable system.
Another new report from our colleagues at FAO stresses that managing urbanization sustainably poses new challenges and opportunities to recast food and agriculture systems in ways that benefit both cities and the countryside. This new report presented by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the FAO addresses a wide range of issues linked to urbanization. Meeting the rising urban demand for food could generate much-needed employment and development prospects for the people who will remain in the countryside of developing countries, while also making healthier food easier to access in cities. Globally, some 2.5 billion more people will be living in urban areas in 2030 than do today.
For briefings, tomorrow, at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Organization for Peace and Sport on the role of sport as a tool to tackle the challenges that the international community is facing. That is it for me. Do we have any questions? Yes, Olga?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Thank you. Do you have any new information on Mosul after… on the airstrikes that UN and UN Mission in Iraq expressed concerns about last week?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, you've heard the concerns expressed, including by our Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, and we stand by those
concerns. We hope that all steps will be taken to ensure that civilians are spared from harm and that all parties abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.
Question: Just a follow‑up? I mean, is UN asking information on the situation from Coalition?
Deputy Spokesman: We hope that all of the parties, including the Coalition, will provide the information that they need… that needs to be provided and investigate thoroughly the actions taken by their respective forces. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Any reaction on Russia and the right to protest?
Deputy Spokesman: We certainly respect the right to peaceful protests everywhere in the world and hope that it will be observed by all the forces on the ground.
Question: And is there any reaction specifically to what's happening in Russia right now?
Deputy Spokesman: We're monitoring what's going on. Of course, like I said, all people engaged in peaceful protests anywhere have the right to engage in that, and we hope that there will be respect for that right and that any… that… we're aware of arrests that were carried out, and we hope that all… that due process will be followed and that the basic rights of the people to protest will be respected as that process continues. And if that's it, I wish you all a good afternoon.