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21 April 2020

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good afternoon.  I will start with my usual friendly reminder to please mute yours microphones and make sure that you are sending both video and audio if you want to speak.  Otherwise, it will not work.

**Security Council — Hunger

Today, the Security Council held an open video conference on the “Protection of civilians from conflict-induced hunger”.  This was the first time since the Council began working remotely due to the virus outbreak that their statements have been fully webcast.  The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, at his intervention, warned Council members that, at the same time that we are dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic.  He noted that, during his conversations with world leaders over the past months, before the virus became an issue, he has been saying that this year we would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War for a number of reasons.  Mr. Beasley stressed that we are not only facing a global health pandemic, but also a global humanitarian catastrophe, with 821 million people going to bed chronically hungry every night all over the world.  Also speaking was the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu.  He reiterated in his address that conflict prevention and early action to reduce the impact of conflicts are highly effective steps that can be taken to avert and reduce acute food insecurity.  Also speaking was the Secretary‑General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland.

**Food Crises Report

Staying on the issue of food security, an international alliance of UN, governmental and non-governmental agencies working to address the root causes of extreme hunger today released the annual Global Report on Food Crises.  The Secretary-General, in his foreword to the report, said that this year’s report highlights the plight of millions of people who must fight every day against acute hunger and malnutrition.  He noted that the report also points the way towards solutions that can rebuild lives and livelihoods in communities around the world.  The report indicates that, at the end of 2019, 135 million people across 55 countries and territories experienced acute food insecurity.  Additionally, 75 million children had stunted growth and 17 million suffered from wasting in 2019.  This is the highest level of acute food insecurity and malnutrition documented since the first edition of the report in 2017.  The drivers behind these trends were conflict, weather extremes and economic turbulence.  You can find the full Global Report on Food Crises on the web.

**Myanmar

We often mention in these briefings that our World Health Organization (WHO) colleagues are in the front lines trying to help the most vulnerable people.  And I’m saddened to report that a driver with WHO working in the Rakhine State in Myanmar has died following a security incident yesterday, while he was traveling in a clearly marked UN vehicle.  Pyae Sone WinMaung was transporting COVID-19 surveillance samples in support of the Ministry of Health.  The head of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], said it was tragic to lose a life while keeping the world safe.  And I do expect a statement from the Secretary-General a bit later on this.

**Libya

A few updates from our field missions now:  In Libya, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli and its surrounding areas as a result of the intensification of fighting in the past few days.  At least 28 civilians were injured and five killed, including women and children, due to the dramatic increase of indiscriminate shelling on civilian-populated areas.  The Mission in Libya is also alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tarhouna, due to the military escalation in and around the city, and that has resulted in fresh displacement of civilians.  The dire humanitarian situation is further exacerbated by the continued electricity cuts, in what is an apparent collective punishment for the people of the city, in retaliation against cutting off the gas supply to the Khoms and Misrata power station.  The Mission calls on all parties involved to immediately end these electricity cuts and restore the flow of gas immediately.  Our colleagues on the ground remind all parties to the conflict that indiscriminate attacks, as well as the targeting of hospitals and other medical facilities, and intentionally cutting off electricity, fuel, water or food supplies are violations of international humanitarian law and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to war crimes.

**Syria

And in Syria, we are continuing to step up our cross-border response efforts out of Turkey into north-west parts of the country.  This is to address the needs of 2.8 million people, including hundreds of thousands of people displaced since 1 December 2019.  In March, over 1,480 trucks carrying food, shelter material, water, sanitation, hygiene and nutrition assistance were sent into north-west Syria through the Bab al-Hawa and the Bab al-Salam border crossings.  These are authorized by the Security Council.  This is the largest number of trucks sent in a single month since the cross-border operation began in 2014.  The pace of deliveries continues to increase in April.  In the first week of April alone, over 300 trucks crossed into northwest Syria, monitored by the UN Monitoring Mechanism to ensure the humanitarian nature of the deliveries.  The deliveries are continuing daily, and 55 more trucks crossed today, setting the pace for another record aid‑delivery month.  Despite these deliveries, the needs remain incredibly high due to the mass displacement caused by intense hostilities earlier this year.  In addition, there are significant concerns about a further increase in the needs due to COVID-19. 

**Yemen

And turning to Yemen, General Abhijit Guha, the Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA), reiterates his condolences for the passing of Colonel Mohamed al-Sulihi of the Government of Yemen.  Col. Al-Sulihi’s service as a Field Liaison Officer along the front lines of Hudaydah city will always be valued by the United Nations.  General Guha is well aware of the Government of Yemen’s concerns and intends to discuss further with its Redeployment Coordination Committee team on the best way to address those concerns.  Despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Mission will continue to work on creating a conducive environment for the resumption of the work of the Redeployment Coordination Committee.  General Guha counts on the commitment of both parties to move forward with the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement.

Meanwhile, heavy rains and flooding across the northern governorates of Yemen, including Marib, in mid-April have led to casualties and damaged property and sites for internally displaced people.  By 18 April, across Marib Governorate, nearly 6,290 families had been affected by the torrential rains and flooding that started on 15 April.  Humanitarian partners are assessing the needs of affected families and damage caused.  Some local non-governmental organizations have already provided urgent assistance, including food assistance, and over 500 families are accommodated in hotels in Marib City itself.

**COVID-19 — Bangladesh

And I want to share with you some more updates from around the world of the UN’s work.  In Bangladesh, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today warned of life-threatening consequences if annual monsoon preparations cannot be completed in time during the pandemic.  This year’s preparations have been impacted by the suspension of disaster risk reduction efforts, and the lockdown has also made the delivery of supplies challenging.  While it is vital to prioritize public‑health-related preparations in the refugee camps, notably Cox's Bazar, cyclone and monsoon preparedness activities must also continue, the UNHCR stressed.  Both done together will ensure that refugees have safe and sanitary living conditions in additional to potential public health emergency.

**COVID-19 — Togo

And in Togo, even before the first case was confirmed in early March, our country team has been supporting the Government with its preparedness plans to address health needs and the impact on livelihoods.  Togo currently has 83 confirmed cases, and the UN team there has sent dozens of experts — including epidemiologists, medical doctors and others — to work directly with the Ministry of Health in areas including case management and the monitoring and tracking of contacts.  The UN team is buying personal protection equipment, testing equipment, respiratory kits, medicalized ambulances and mobile clinics to reach remote communities.  For its part, the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA) is donating delivery kits to improve pregnant women’s access to medical services.  The Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is helping to ensure access to medication for people with chronic health conditions.  The Resident Coordinator there, Damien Mama, is holding consultations with international partners to support the national response to the pandemic.

**COVID-19 — Guyana

And in Guyana, where there have been 63 confirmed cases of the virus, the UN team in the country has been supporting authorities in the areas of health, economic recovery, human rights, and logistics, among others.  The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is providing training and test kits and is training the Government’s staff on risk communications and on checking the health conditions of those arriving in the country.  Together with UNHCR, it has also provided personal protective equipment.  UNHCR is offering nearly 50 pre-manufactured housing units to serve as health facilities.  The Resident Coordinator there, Mikiko Tanaka, is working with UN entities to provide social protection to the most vulnerable to prevent them from sliding into poverty, while UNFPA is helping the Government to integrate gender-based violence prevention into the response plan.  Also, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR are distributing food, hygiene and other supplies to more than 4,000 migrants and refugees who have come from Venezuela into Guyana.

**COVID-19 — Workers

And this ongoing crisis is having a devastating effect on workers and employers in all sectors.  That’s according to information released today by the International Labour Organization (ILO).  Workers in essential services areas such as health and frontline emergency response are at high risk of infection.  Grocery workers, flight attendants and autoworkers are among those who have seen both their health and livelihoods threatened by the pandemic.  In all these affected sectors, the ILO has urged Governments to extend social protection to all and is advising on measures to promote employment retention, short-time work, paid leave and other subsidies.  The aim is to ensure that economies, labour markets and industries will become more resilient and more sustainable when the pandemic recedes.

**Disabilities

And today, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility Professor María Soledad Cisternas Reyes and the UN’s Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, released a joint statement calling for the right of all persons infected with the virus to have access to intensive care units, including life-saving support.  They emphasized that this included persons with disabilities, as well as older persons, and added that they must be treated on an equal basis and that no national regulations should refuse them these services.  They two added that refusal may be classified as cruel and inhuman treatment and therefore a violation of their human rights.  Their full statement is online.

**Regular Budget

And finally, I get to end with some good news.  There are three new full payments to the regular budget.  We thank our good friends in Barbados, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom.  These payments take us to 84 fully paid up Member States. All right.  We now move to the call‑in part of this show, and let's see what we have, for which I need my glasses.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you very much…

Spokesman:  Edie, hold on.  There we go.  I needed to shut down my news.  Edie, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have a Yemen question.  There was a report today of significant increase in civilian casualties in Yemen from both sides during April so far, and I wonder if you can give us an update on what Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is trying to do to achieve a ceasefire.

Spokesman:  Well, we've all noted the continued violence.  What Mr. Griffiths is doing is trying to get the parties to agree to a nationwide ceasefire, a sustainable nationwide ceasefire.  Those discussions are ongoing, obviously, in challenging circumstances.  But, that's what he's trying to do, and I think he was very clear in his aim when he briefed the Security Council on that front.

I will go with an email question from Richard Roth, who asked, what is the current presence of related agencies… UN‑related agencies in north… in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?  Have they reported any sign of health crisis for Kim Jong‑un?

No, we… like you, we have seen the press reports, but we don't have any information to share or we don't have any information, frankly.  And we still have a UN humanitarian presence and a country team in the DPRK.

What is the current… you're also… Richard — excuse me — also asked, what is the current UN staff infection levels in NYC and around the world?

I will tell you that, because I actually have that information.  As of the evening of [20 April], Sunday evening, there were 243 confirmed cases among the UN worldwide, 53 in the US and 32 in New York.

Okay.  Mr. Abbadi.  All right.  I think Mr. Abbadi sent in his question, which is, unemployment is spreading in the developing world.  What is the ILO saying about the situation?

I think I just flagged some of the ILO's concern, and I would refer you to the ILO for more information.  They have a lot of information up on their website.

Iftikhar Ali of the Associated Press of Pakistan asks:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on President [Donald] Trump's move to suspend all immigration to the US?

The answer is no.  We saw the tweet overnight, but I have no particular comment.  Abdelhamid and then Benny.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Yes.  Thank you.  Normally, Stéphane, when we ask a question about Israeli plan to do something, you normally say, we don't comment on intentions.  But, here, there's an Israeli new Government, which had been formed yesterday between Likud and the… between the… and the Lavan… Lavan Kahol or between [Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Benny] Gantz, and they put in writing that, as of 1 July, they will extend Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian land in the West Bank.  They didn't specify which, but it was part of the agreement.  So, is there a concrete position on this?

Spokesman:  You know, I think we have… Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov and we've said it in the past our concern about any movement towards unilateral moves or annexation and so forth.  That has been said in the past, and that position remains unchanged.  And Mr. Mladenov will be briefing the Security Council this week.  Benny?

Question:  Yes.  Actually, Richard Roth took my question about North Korea, but does the Secretary‑General or anybody at the UN system have any assessment on the effect of the oil prices drop in the world on world economy, on world… on the crisis, on anything of that nature?

Spokesman:  Well, look, we're not market commentators, but I think what is… what we're seeing with the oil and the economy worldwide is of concern to the Secretary‑General, notably how it impacts the most vulnerable, the most vulnerable nations and the instability that it brings with it.  And that's why, I think, there's a lot of thought being given and work being done on how to rebuild better the economies when we get to the other side of this — to have more inclusive economies, more stable economies and where we can refocus our work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and on tackling climate change, among others.

The… Dulcie has a question.  Dulcie, Dulcie.  How many deaths among UN personnel from COVID-19?  Right now, there are three fatalities that have been reported to us throughout the UN system.

And I would say, just to specify, because I gave the numbers earlier, those numbers are valid as of 20 April, not 19 April.

Okay.  From Toby:  DPRK report was finally published today.  Does the SG have a comment on how DPRK's been getting around sanctions?  Anything specific to that country?

I think the Secretary‑General's message is clear to all countries that are under sanctions, from the Security Council and those Member States, is that the Security Council regulation… sanctions need to be respected.

All right.  I think I've gone to the end of my list.  If our host, Florencia [Soto Nino], will give me the all‑clear, I will leave you.  Otherwise, I will wait.  Okay.  Going once, going twice.  I was about to wish you a happy weekend, but, unfortunately, it's only Tuesday so… though I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.