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

1 October 2018

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary‑General arrived in India a few‑hours ago, and on arrival in New Delhi, he participated in the opening of the new and revived UN House in the Indian capital.  In remarks delivered at the ceremony, the Secretary-General noted the strong bond between India and the United Nations.  He told the assembled UN staff that the UN’s work in India cannot be business as usual.  Rather, we want the UN system to be united to fully support India’s Government development plans and to fully support India’s leadership in relation to climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals and so many other efforts in which India is showing a leadership role.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General is to lay a wreath in honour of Mahatma Gandhi at the Raj Ghat memorial.  This year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.  The Secretary-General will also join Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi at the closing session of the Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention.


You may have seen that, earlier today, the Secretary-General said in a tweet that he has been watching the unfolding tragedy in Indonesia.  He said that our hearts go out to all of the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami there.  The Secretary-General sends his deepest condolences to all who have lost family and friends, adding that the United Nations system is mobilizing to support Government-led rescue and relief efforts as needed.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, since the disaster took place, international humanitarian agencies have been in close contact with the Government.  Today, the Government welcomed specific offers of international assistance in line with identified humanitarian needs on the ground.  Given the scale and complexity of the emergency, UN agencies and non-government organizations are working closely with the Government to provide technical support.  As of today, more than 800 people were confirmed to have died and 600 others injured, but it is likely these figures will increase as more areas become accessible and more assessments are conducted.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, today decided to temporarily withdraw part of its international staff from Gaza following a series of worrying security incidents affecting its personnel in the Strip.  The Director of Operations and other international staff will remain.  UNRWA operations continue in Gaza.  Earlier today, a number of staff were harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties by individuals protesting recent measures resulting from UNRWA’s challenging financial situation, in particular in relation to the Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory.  Some of these actions have specifically targeted the UNRWA management in Gaza.  UNRWA calls upon the local authorities in Gaza to respond to its repeated demands to provide effective protection to its employees and facilities.


Our humanitarian colleagues report that fighting continues on the outskirts of Hodeidah, Yemen, as well as in districts south of the city.  About 550,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Hodeidah since 1 June.  The United Nations and partners have reached nearly all recently displaced people with emergency response kits containing food rations, hygiene supplies and items to preserve dignity.  The emergency response continues.  Additional assistance — including cash, household items and shelter supplies — are provided based on assessed needs.  Meanwhile, the Yemeni rial continues to rapidly lose value and has depreciated by nearly 200 per cent against the US dollar since 2015 — including a roughly 30 per cent loss in value in the last six weeks.  Because Yemen imports the vast majority of its food and other basic commodities, food and other commodity prices are rising beyond the means of millions of Yemenis at a time when famine remains a real threat.  Our partners estimate that an additional 3.5 million people may soon be added to the 8.4 million who are already severely food insecure.  

**Mediterranean Sea

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged European countries to accelerate efforts to establish arrangements in the Mediterranean for people who have been rescued at sea.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed that “refugees and migrants cannot be continually put at risk while States argue over their responsibilities”.  The agency also thanked Malta for allowing 58 rescued people from the non-governmental organization ship Aquarius to be disembarked, ending their ordeal after days at sea.  It also thanked France, Germany, Portugal and Spain, who have offered to receive these people from Malta.  However, UNHCR expressed concern about the future of search and rescue capacities in the Mediterranean and said that the de‑registration of the Aquarius is “deeply worrying and would represent a dramatic reduction of search and rescue capacity at precisely the moment when it needs to be stepped up”.


The UN has welcomed the announcement by the Government of Sudan on 27 September that it would facilitate its request to access the most vulnerable people in areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — North (SPLM-N) in parts of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.  The request is purely humanitarian in nature and is based on humanitarian imperatives.  The UN’s relief operations will adhere to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality, and the United Nations will monitor the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The UN calls on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access and the delivery of assistance to the most vulnerable people in the Two Areas.  For this United Nations initiative to succeed, consent by all parties, for sustained humanitarian access in accordance with humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality, is a must.

**South Sudan

Today, UNHCR welcomed South Sudan’s accession to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.  President Salva Kiir signed the accession instrument in Juba after it was ratified by the Transitional National Legislative Assembly.  South Sudan — which hosts some 300,000 refugees despite all the challenges of a civil war — becomes the 143rd country to accede to the Convention and its Protocol.


The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched its first global guidelines on sanitation and health, warning that the world will not reach the goal of universal sanitation coverage by 2030 unless countries make comprehensive policy shifts and invest more funds.  The guidelines offer guidance for international, national and local sanitation policies.  WHO says that by adopting them, countries can significantly reduce the 829,000 annual diarrhoeal deaths due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.  The guidelines are available online.

**Climate Change

This week in the Republic of Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change opened a meeting in the city of Incheon to consider its special report, entitled Global Warming of 1.5ºC, including the impacts and associated risks of such a temperature increase.  The report focuses on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse‑gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.  During the meeting, representatives of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 195 member Governments will work with scientists to finalize the Summary for Policymakers of the report, which will be released on 8 October.  More information is available online.

**General Assembly

We are almost at the end of the high-level segment of the seventy‑third session of the General Assembly.  By the end of this morning’s meeting, it is expected that all 193 Member States will have spoken.  That includes 77 Heads of State, 5 Vice‑Presidents, 44 Heads of Government, 4 Deputy Prime Ministers, 54 Ministers, one Vice Minister, and 8 Chairs of Delegation.  There were also 429 side events held between 18 and 30 September, with 14 more side events planned for today.  And to give you more information on the latest events, at 3 p.m. in this room, you will hear from the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés.  She will brief you on the high‑level week and discuss her priorities for the seventy‑third session of the General Assembly.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), along with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), will hold a joint press briefing entitled “The Future of African Youth — towards the Africa we want by 2030”.  That's it for me. Are there any questions?  Yes, Luke?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have any statement on the Macedonian referendum over the weekend on the… trying to resolve the naming dispute?

Deputy Spokesman:  I actually do expect a statement. It's in the works for now, but it's not ready yet as you can see.  But we have taken note, and have followed the results of yesterday's vote, and we do expect to have a response later in the day.  Yes, Evelyn?  [He later issued the following statement:  The Secretary-General takes note of the outcome of the consultative referendum in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which was held on 30 September.  The fact that an overwhelming majority of those voting supported the Prespa Agreement is important.  The Secretary-General urges all political forces in the country to proceed with implementation through the country’s institutions.  The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to provide all necessary support, if required, both through his Personal Envoy and through the relevant UN agencies, funds and programmes.]

Question:  Yes.  Do you have a number yet for how many hundreds of meetings the SG had in the last… since…

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a full number for the SG's meetings.  Obviously, we… we put out the readouts of all of his bilateral sessions so if you…

Question:  Do you want me to count them?  Are you going to count them or do we have to?

Deputy Spokesman:  If you can add all of those up on our website, that's the number of bilateral meetings he had, but the Secretary‑General did mention that he had 44 different high‑level events to attend in addition to, as you've seen, all the many readouts that we've placed.  Yes?

Question:  Can I ask one more?  I was watching the Global Poverty event on the weekend, and Amina Mohammed gave quite a stirring speech, got big applause.  Is there any money that's going to be flowing to the UN?  And I must say the name of the event is so much better than SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, thank you for your vote of confidence in the name.  We certainly hope that Member Governments will take seriously the need to provide the sort of funding to deal with efforts to end global poverty and certainly, it's not that there's a fund that this goes to, but we certainly hope that they increase their work for antipoverty events in general.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you give me more details about those staff withdrawing from Gaza, how many and how many left?  What is the percentages, if you have any?  And another question, can you very… can you tell me how many UNRWA staff had been killed through 60 years of operation by Palestinians and how many killed by Israelis?  So, I need…  I need numbers.  I know you don't have them now, but I really strongly request that.

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't have those numbers off the top of my head, but I would ask UNRWA.  It's a small number of international staff who have been temporarily withdrawn.  I believe my UNRWA colleagues would provide any further details as needed, but it is a small number.  It's a temporary measure, and we do anticipate that we'll be able to carry out the Relief and Works Agency's functions in Gaza as we have planned.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any update for Syria?  Syria should stop the case or something?  What's going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've provided updates on Syria, including last week.  We'll continue to provide more updates as they come along.  As you know, what we have tried to do is see how diplomatically we can strengthen the efforts since the agreement was put in place with the Governments of Turkey and Russia on a demilitarized zone, and what we're hoping for is to make sure that all parties will abide by the various agreements to make sure that there is no wide‑scale military operations in Idlib.  Yes. Yes, please?

Question:  Hi.  I’m from the Atlantic Council.  You mentioned Yemen, and I think I… I was wondering if there are any follow‑ups about the UN relief chief, Mark Lowcock’s, statement last month when he said there has to be immediate measures to stabilize the economy?  Are there any follow‑ups about that?  And my second question, do… how is it possible to continue the humanitarian assistance from the UN while the Yemeni economy is losing its… you know, the… the Yemeni rial devaluation?  So, I mean, technically most of the humanitarian assistance value will be by its half or lost.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, and I just mentioned, at the start of this briefing, our concerns about the devaluation of the rial and how that will affect our operations.  It won't affect the amount of aid we can get in, but certainly, any devaluation of the rial creates greater burdens on people who are trying to simply afford food and other facilities day to day, and it places more people into the ranks of those who need assistance.  As I pointed out, our expectation is that, potentially, an additional 3.5 million people may require further assistance because of that currency devaluation, and we are concerned about that, and we'll have to see what further measures need to be taken if the numbers rise, as we've expected.  Beyond that, in terms of our follow‑up, as you've been saying, we are trying to provide aid to all people throughout Yemen.  And, of course, for that, we need to make sure that all key areas, including the city and port of Hodeidah, remain open and accessible. If that's it, have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.