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6 May 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.  With the usual caveats:  please mute your mics; when you want to speak, please make sure you are sending out video and audio, so I can hear you loud and clear.

**COVID-19 — Persons with Disabilities

Today, we released the Secretary-General’s new Policy Brief on COVID-19 and persons with disabilities.

The brief shows that the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities are at greater risk of contracting the virus, developing more severe health conditions and dying from the virus.

They also may experience barriers to implement basic protection measures such as handwashing and maintaining social distance, as they often rely on physical contact and support.

In a video message to launch the Policy Brief, the Secretary-General emphasized that we must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access health care and life-saving procedures during this pandemic.

The Secretary-General also urges Governments to place people with disabilities at the focus of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

We shared with you the full Policy Brief, as well as the video message.

**Bosnia And Herzegovina

And this morning, in an open meeting, the Security Council heard a briefing by videoconference by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian Plan

And tomorrow morning at 11, Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will virtually launch the updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

You will recall that the Global Humanitarian Response Plan launched on 25 March as the primary vehicle for raising resources for the most vulnerable populations in the most fragile countries.

Mr. Lowcock for this update will be joined by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley; the Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies, Mike Ryan; and the President and CEO of Oxfam America, Abby Maxman.

We expect an embargoed copy of the updated Plan to be made available today.  UN-accredited journalists can submit questions to members of the panel in advance through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

This event will be webcast on UN WebTV.

**Bay of Bengal

And today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization on Migration (IOM) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a joint statement today on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Five years from the so-called boat crisis, in which thousands of refugees and migrants in distress at sea were denied life-saving care and support, the agencies say they are alarmed that a similar tragedy may be unfolding once more.

The agencies said they are deeply concerned by reports that boats full of vulnerable people are again adrift in the same waters, unable to come ashore, and without access to urgently needed food, water and of course, medical assistance.

There is no easy solution to the irregular maritime movements of refugees and migrants, but States in the region must uphold the commitments of the 2016 Bali Declaration, as well as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) pledges to protect the most vulnerable and to leave no one behind.

**Trafficking Victims

Meanwhile, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime today released new analysis that shows how measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus are exposing victims of human trafficking to further exploitation and limiting their access to essential services.

UNODC said that lockdowns, travel restrictions, work limitations and cuts in resources are having a negative effect on the lives of these already vulnerable people – before, during and even after their ordeal.  At the same time, new opportunities for organized crime to profit from the crisis are also emerging.  UNODC calls on countries to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime networks.

**COVID-19 — Aviation Safety

And the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) today released a new publication aimed at helping countries to address the aviation safety risks arising due to the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Produced specifically for national aviation regulators and civil aviation authorities, the new handbook outlines aspects to consider at different stages of the pandemic.  Its focus includes assessment and prioritization of risks based on collection and analysis of data, and the application of safety management principles.

For all you aviation geeks, the handbook is available on ICAO’s website.

**COVID-19 — Ecuador

And a few COVID-19 country-specific stories to share with you today.

In Ecuador, the UN and our partners have launched a $46.4 million plan to support the Government in responding to the virus.  Nearly 32,000 cases have been confirmed, with more than 1,500 deaths.

The UN is focusing on the most vulnerable people and is providing support in areas including water, food, education, shelter, and the prevention of violence against women.

Working with partners we have now supplied nearly 80,000 items – such as surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitizer – for front-line health workers.  Epidemiology and emergency specialists, among other personnel, are providing technical assistance.

The World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization on Migration are also providing food vouchers to displaced people.

And in the capital, Quito, and in the hard-hit city of Guayaquil, the UN is helping to distribute thousands of food kits to those most in need.

**COVID-19 — Indigenous Peoples

And in Ecuador, as well as Brazil, we are working with national and local authorities to curb the spread of the virus among indigenous peoples.  This is especially true in the Amazon and other regions.

In Brazil, according to official figures, there are 139 confirmed cases and eight deaths among indigenous peoples.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is supporting the national plan to curb the spread of the virus, including boosting surveillance of severe respiratory and flu syndromes, training health teams, and conducting outreach in several languages.  Working with the Ministry of Health, PAHO is monitoring cases of the virus among indigenous peoples and supporting the flu vaccination campaign.

Also in Brazil, UN-Women is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on indigenous women.

It is working for their inclusion in the decision-making process related to the pandemic, as well as ensuring adequate health care.  It is focusing on pregnant women and prevention of gender-based violence.

And in Ecuador, the UN team is also supporting authorities to curb the spread of the disease among indigenous communities.

The team has purchased chlorine for water treatment and disinfection of health facilities, and the UN is supporting a radio campaign in both Spanish and Kichwa to reach indigenous communities.

**COVID-19 — Barbados and Eastern Caribbean

And our UN colleagues covering Barbados and countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States will launch a $29.7 million appeal this afternoon to combat the staggering impacts of the virus in 10 countries and territories.

These are fragile economies, which are highly dependent on tourism and extremely vulnerable to climate change.  They are also bracing for another hurricane season.

The new plan will focus on boosting the economies, creating jobs, strengthening health systems and improving distance education.

This includes access to equipment, connectivity for vulnerable children and child social protection.

It will also endeavour to prevent and support victims of gender-based violence, with regional social protection schemes, like cash transfers, to buffer the impacts of the virus.

The Resident Coordinator, Didier Trebucq, said that it cannot be business as usual in the Caribbean small island developing States.  He said that the pandemic is an unprecedented human crisis challenging social and economic development.

The Caribbean has never before needed the level of assistance that it requires today, he added.

Mr. Trebucq will host the online launch today with Fekita-moeloa Katoa ’Utoikamanu, the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

They will be joined by the Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, along with the acting Prime Minister of Barbados.  The launch, which will take place at 2 p.m., is open to journalists, and if you are interested in asking questions, please contact Eri Kaneko in my office.

**COVID-19 — Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, there are a couple of things that I want to highlight.  First one from the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Denise Brown, who said that she allocated $12 million from the Humanitarian Fund to support emergency response under the Humanitarian Plan, including $3 million to cover COVID-19 projects.

The allocation will enable us and our humanitarian partners to implement priority projects in health, water, hygiene and sanitation, camp management, shelter, as well as non-food items, food security, nutrition, protection and logistics sectors.

With 94 confirmed cases of the virus as of yesterday, the Central African Republic is facing increasing needs within a context of extremely limited national capacities to detect and respond to the pandemic.

In addition to this, the humanitarian situation in the country continues to deteriorate due to conflict and increasing political tensions.

The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $401 million, but it is only 28 per cent funded so far.

And staying in the Central African Republic, our peacekeeping Mission there (MINUSCA) continues also to support the Government and local communities with the fight against the pandemic.

Together with the Government, the Mission organized a training session for media professionals, including women journalists, on crisis communication and reporting in the context of the pandemic.

The UN Mission also supported the training of 75 young community sensitizers on virus prevention, including 30 young people with speaking and hearing-impediments.

In order to facilitate access to health information and to help combat rumours and misinformation, the peacekeeping Mission also distributed more than 500 radio sets and is distributing 50,000 solar-powered radios to local communities.

They also supported the installation of water pumps at the capital’s main hospital and helped reinforce health checks at the M’Poko International Airport, in Bangui.

**Yemen

And in other news from around the world:  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) today called for $59 million to urgently protect the health and safety of women and girls in Yemen, where a woman dies every two hours giving birth.

For every woman who dies during childbirth, another 20 suffer injuries, infections or disabilities that are preventable.

UNFPA warned that 48,000 women could die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth due to severe funding shortages and the possible closure of reproductive health facilities, amidst rising risks posed by the current pandemic.

The funding would provide lifesaving reproductive health care and women’s protection services until the end of this year.

An additional $24 million is needed for the COVID-19 response plan to protect health workers and women and girls accessing reproductive health services in the conflict-affected country.

Right now, only 20 per cent of health facilities provide maternal and child health services due to staff shortages, lack of supplies or damage due to the conflict.

That is actually it.  I’m available to answer your queries, if you have any.  So, I will now turn to our colleague Florencia Soto Nino to see if anyone is interested.  Evelyn, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Good morning.  Good afternoon.  Do you have anything else on Brazil?  Because there doesn’t seem to be a national plan like you stated since the President is in a very… considered very controversial on this subject.

Spokesman:  What I have is — not to paraphrase Popeye, but I have what I have.

The team on the ground is doing what it can, working with regional authorities — but, of course, with the national Government, as we do in every country.  But we can try to send you a bit more information.  Mr. Bays, James.

Question:  My finger was nowhere near the de-mute button, but it is now.  I’d like to ask you about Libya.  Two reports that we are seeing today.  And I know you don’t want to talk about leaked reports, but one is the SG’s new report on Libya; the other is the Panel of Experts report on Libya.  The Panel of Experts reports on Libya, credit where credit is due, was first reported by Bloomberg.  But Al Jazeera has confirmed the details in it, that it states there could be as many as a thousand Wagner mercenaries, Russian mercenaries working as a force [for] the General [Khalifa] Haftar.

And also confirming, in addition to the Syrian fighters imported by Turkey, there have been Syrian fighters that have been imported on the Russian side from the Syrian Government – on Haftar’s side by the Syrian Government.  I know you won’t talk about the leaked reports, so this question:  How concerned is the Secretary‑General about the presence of mercenaries in Libya?

Spokesman:  We are very concerned.  And the intervention of foreign citizens in Libya is something the Secretary‑General has spoken out about publicly.  It is something of concern.  It is of no help to the people of Libya, who are in dire need of political reconciliation, so peace can return to their country.

Question:  A quick follow‑up.  A quick follow-up if I can, Steph.  In the Secretary‑General’s report to the Security Council, he talks about the need to get back to, obviously, the peace process and to the military commission.  And he now says he is going to put forward ceasefire proposals to the Security Council.  Can you give us some timing on that?

Spokesman:  No.  I cannot.  But that will be done.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, there.  Thanks, Steph.  Is there a centralized policy brief or any kind of document on helping indigenous peoples as a result… and what they are facing as a result of COVID‑19 or is that a country by country…?

Spokesman:  No.  At this point there is nothing, I mean, there is no policy brief like we have done.  I mean, we will be doing a number of other policy briefs as the weeks and the months roll out.  And I have no doubt that will be one of the issues we will look at.  But there is none that I’m aware of that is centralized.  But we can ask around some of the agencies to see what they’re doing.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  To follow‑up to James’ question, are we close… is the SG close to appointing a special envoy to Libya?  Is there a shortlist?  What is the status?

Spokesman:  You and I have been around, combined, for a few years at this Organization.  You know how the process works.  I think it’s an open secret that we were close, as I read in the press.  Obviously, the search very much continues, though I would hasten to say that there is no leadership vacuum.  We have an acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, whose is firmly in the lead in leading the Mission.  But, obviously, we are continuing the process of finding, suggesting a name to the Council… of working, excuse me, of naming… of nominating someone to head the Mission.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay, Iftikhar:  ICAO proposals, air travels, does UNHCR have any country [inaudible] and is ICAO helping with countries with nationals stranded in other countries?

I don’t know.  You would have to ask ICAO.

I would…  Toby, I do stand corrected that the socioeconomic framework that we issued earlier has a big chunk on indigenous people.  So, I would refer you to that.

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, so unless there are any more questions, I will go… hold on.  We are not liberated yet, says Florencia.  Maybe it’s an extra-terrestrial.  You never know.  Florencia, can I go?  No.  Okay, she says… Florencia says I can go eat, so that means you can all go eat.  All right.  Take care and we will see you manana.

For information media. Not an official record.