7 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.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian Appeal

As you will have seen, a short while ago, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, launched a $6.7 billion appeal and updated a global plan to fight COVID-19 in fragile countries.

Mr. Lowcock said that, while the virus has now affected every country and almost every person on the planet, the most devastating and destabilizing impacts will be felt in the world’s poorest countries.

On 25 March, the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan was launched.  But with humanitarian needs continuing to rise, today’s updated Plan is calling for $6.7 billion for the remainder of 2020.  The Plan includes nine more vulnerable countries, beyond the 54 covered in the original appeal.

Today’s appeal includes more of a focus on food insecurity, as well as how to help the most vulnerable and how to address gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, among others.

Mr. Lowcock said that donors have been fast and generous in their response, but it’s clear that much more is needed.  He noted that, while some may be sceptical that additional resources can be generated in the current circumstances, that is not our experience.  He pointed to how, after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, fundraising for UN coordinated humanitarian appeals increased by more than 40 per cent by 2010.

He was joined at today’s briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley; the [Director] of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies, Dr. Mike Ryan; and the President and CEO of Oxfam America, Abby Maxman.

**COVID-19 — Hate Speech

I wanted to flag to you that, tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be releasing a statement on hate speech in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He will appeal to all countries to stand up against xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.  He will also stress that the virus does not care who we are, where we live or what we believe.

We will be sending you embargoed copies of the statement a bit later today.

**COVID-19 — Debt Vulnerability

Last night, we issued a note providing details of a round table that was hosted by the Deputy Secretary-General last Friday on different aspects related to debt vulnerability and COVID-19, which was also attended by more than 20 policymakers, thought leaders and experts from around the world.

That discussion made clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic crises it has already triggered will derail our chances to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – unless we respond rapidly, with new tools that enable a comprehensive global response, and build back better.

In 2020, we expect to lose the equivalent of more than 300 million jobs; experience a decline in global trade of between 13 and 32 per cent; and face a drop in remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries by around 20 per cent.  There is also expected to be a decline in foreign direct investment by 35 per cent.  There are more details in the note to correspondents that was shared with you.

**Food Commodity Prices

Today the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that world food commodity prices declined for the third month in a row during April.

FAO noted that the economic and logistical impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in significant contractions in demand for many commodities.

The FAO’s Food Price Index averaged 165.5 points in April, some 3.4 per cent lower than the previous month and 3 per cent lower than April 2019.

The Sugar Price Index, for example, hit a 13-year low, declining [14.6] per cent from March.  The Meat Price index declined 2.7 per cent.

FAO pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting both the demand and supply sides for meat, as restaurant closures and reduced household incomes lead to lower consumption.  Meanwhile, labour shortages on the processing side are impacting production systems in major livestock-producing countries.

**COVID-19 — Babies

Ahead of Mother’s Day, which is recognized in May in nearly 130 countries, our UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) colleagues said today that an estimated 116 million babies will be born under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNICEF said that new mothers and newborns will experience global containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews; overwhelmed health centres; supply and equipment shortages; and a lack of sufficient skilled birth attendants.

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said that it is hard to imagine how much the coronavirus pandemic has recast motherhood.  The organization is urgently calling for Governments and health care providers to take measures, including helping pregnant women receive check-ups and delivery care, and ensuring that health workers are provided with the necessary personal protective equipment.

**Drug Trafficking

Meanwhile, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said today that the measures implemented by Governments to curb the pandemic have disrupted illicit drug trafficking routes by air.  According to a new report, there was also a drastic reduction or increased interdiction in overland trafficking routes.

Several countries have reported drug shortages at the retail level.  UNODC pointed out that this can lead to an overall decrease in consumption, but mainly for drugs consumed in recreational settings.  However, in the case of heroin, a shortage in supply can lead to the consumption of harmful, domestically produced drugs.  In terms of drug production, for example, in Afghanistan, restrictions resulting from the lockdown could hinder the production of opiates, with the key harvest months being March to June.

UNODC noted that, in the long-run, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to lead to a lasting and profound transformation of drug markets.

**Weather Forecasts

I wanted to flag another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our world.  The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said that it is concerned about the increasing impact of the pandemic on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.

According to WMO, meteorological measurements taken from aircraft have plummeted by an average of 75 to 80 per cent compared to normal.  In the southern hemisphere, the loss is closer to 90 per cent.

WMO said that as we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the pandemic may exacerbate multi-hazard risks, so it is essential that Governments pay attention to their early warning and weather-observing capacities.


Also linked to air travel, the number of international tourists could decline by as much as 80 per cent this year – that’s according to new data released by the World Tourism Organization.

The data shows the pandemic has already caused a 22 per cent fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of the year – that’s 67 million fewer tourists and a loss of about $80 billion in exports from tourism.


A bit of good news today:  The Food and Agriculture Organization has said that while deforestation continues around the world, it is happening at a slower rate.  Ten million hectares a year are being converted to other uses since 2015, down from 12 million hectares a year in the previous five years.  This is according to a new report by FAO, in conjunction with 700 experts which examined several factors in 236 countries and territories.

The report says that the area of forest in protected areas globally has increased by 191 million hectares since 1990 and now 18 per cent of the world’s forests are located within protected areas, with South America home to the highest share of these.

That means that the world has met, and surpassed, the Aichi Biodiversity Target to protect at least 17 per cent of terrestrial areas by 2020.  In addition, 2 billion hectares of forests, more than half the total, are now subject to management plans.  More information on the key findings of the report online.


Turning to Iraq, the Special Representative for Iraq for the Secretary-General, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, welcomed the confirmation by the Council of Representatives of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and a majority of his ministers.  She urged the complete formation of the Cabinet so that the new Administration can swiftly move to address mounting security, social, political, economic and health challenges.

The Special Representative reaffirmed continued UN support to the Iraqi Government in addressing the challenges they face.  She added that the new Government must move forward to enact meaningful changes.


And in response to COVID-19, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reported that earlier this week, UN peacekeepers donated various medical equipment, including personal protection equipment to the Municipality of Beit Lif, in South-Western Lebanon.


From Darfur, the UN [and African Union] mission there (UNAMID), together with the Government and UN agencies, funds and programmes, have agreed to allocate nearly $2 million to support the Transitional Government of Sudan’s COVID-19 National Response Plans focusing on Darfur.  The funds will help to contain the spread of the virus, as well as to set up isolation centres and bolster the capacity of local health and community systems.  The funds will also go towards providing personal protective equipment, sanitizers and handwashing facilities, among other supplies.


Regarding Libya, heavy shelling and armed clashes have continued in many areas of Tripoli, reportedly causing civilian casualties.

We continue to remind the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm and call on all parties to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, given their likely indiscriminate effect.

Last week, two more health facilities were hit by shelling, causing material damage.  One of them is closed for repairs.

Already this year, 13 attacks have impacted field hospitals, health-care workers and ambulances, including on hospitals identified to treat COVID-19 in Libya.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to 64 with three reported deaths.  The UN fears that figures may be underreported as there is a lack of testing capacity and contact tracing.


And in Syria, we continue to be concerned by the impact of the virus on people across the country, many of them displaced and particularly vulnerable.  As of 6 May, the Syrian Government has confirmed 45 cases, including three fatalities.

WHO (World Health Organization) is leading the UN’s efforts to support preparation and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the north-west and north-east.  The UN continues to step up efforts to mitigate the virus’s spread, with a focus on enhancing the capacity to detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus to the extent possible, while ensuring adequate surveillance of entry points, and providing protective equipment and training to health workers.

The UN continues to support the establishment of testing capacity in all parts of Syria.  Four laboratories have been established in Damascus, Lattakia and Aleppo governorates in Government-controlled areas, and one in Idlib in the north-west.

The UN has assessed the needs and identified $385 million in additional requirements for 2020 to address COVID-19 across Syria.


In Africa – in Kenya this time – our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 233,000 people – half of whom are displaced – have been impacted by rains which have intensified in the past three weeks, causing death, displacement, flooding and landslides.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, led by the Kenya Red Cross Society, are responding to the needs of affected people.  Shelter and other items have been distributed to about 43,000 people; one-off cash voucher assistance to about 5,500 people; and food assistance to nearly 7,500 people.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has distributed dignity kits and emergency reproductive health kits and is also working to prevent gender-based violence, including for refugees.  UNICEF has helped more than 19,000 displaced people by providing vital water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, while WHO is working to respond to cholera threats.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us that, yesterday, several armed soldiers from the country’s armed forces demonstrated in Bangassou’s central market area.  They were allegedly demonstrating against their chain of command for failing to relieve them from their 12-month assignment in the town.  The soldiers established barricades, blocking all traffic, and also fired shots into the air.  In response, the peacekeeping mission deployed a quick reaction force to prevent an escalation of the situation and to protect civilians.  No casualties were reported.

Following mediation facilitated by the UN Mission and local authorities, barricades were removed, and today, the situation is back to normal.

And, in another part of the country, peacekeepers have strengthened their presence in Ndele, following violence last week.  This will help to protect the population, as well as humanitarian workers assisting, among others.  Some 8,000 people sought protection near the Mission compound.  The Mission is also supporting the investigation into last week’s attacks.  A team has been in Ndele since last Friday to document human rights violations.

**Day of Vesak

The Secretary-General is sending warm wishes today to all who celebrate the Day of Vesak.

Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world.

The Secretary-General said that, as we honour the birth, enlightenment and the passing of Lord Buddha, we can all be inspired by his teachings.

He added that, as the human family suffers the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the sutra, and I quote:  “Because all living beings are subject to illness, I am ill as well.”

[António] Guterres noted that this timeless message of unity and service to others is more important now than ever.  It is only together that we will stop the spread of the coronavirus and recover.

And I think that is it for me.  So, we’re having little connectivity issues, but let’s see what we have.

**Questions and Answers

I think Pam has the first question.  So, Pam, please, go ahead.  Pam Falk.  Hi, Pam.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Okay.  I have a new mic.  My question is, the fundraising, the global response report launched today was for… was up to $6 billion.  The Secretary‑General still has a request to global leaders for 10 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product).  Could you sort of give a summary of the different fundraising drives?

Spokesman:  Well, part… you have the global humanitarian fund, which Mr. Lowcock just launched.  You have a solidarity fund for middle‑income countries, which the Secretary‑General also launched, and the numbers of how much has been given to those countries is already out.

The figure of 10 per cent GDP was also what the Secretary‑General was hoping countries would invest in, post‑COVID.  So, not all the funds have to go to the UN.  That was more of a policy recommendation.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesman:  Edie?

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re welcome.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the gas leak from a South Korean chemical plant in southern India today that killed 11 people and left over 1,000 people with difficulties breathing?  And is the UN involved in any way?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that we’re involved in any way.  We, obviously, send our condolences to the victims and hope for a quick recovery to those who have been impacted.  And I think these kinds of incidents need to be fully investigated by the local authorities.

James Reinl?  [silence]

Okay.  We’ll move on.  Evelyn?  Evelyn Leopold?  Evelyn, you’re up.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Correspondent:  Fine.  How are you, Steph?

Spokesman:  Good.

Question:  Does the United Nations get updates from Governor [Andrew] Cuomo or [Mayor] Bill de Blasio on a regular basis on the state of New York City in light of the Governor’s two‑week increments and in light of pressure being applied by the President…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We remain very much in touch with the host city, with the state, the Federal Government.  Our medical experts are in touch with them regularly.  So, the short answer is, yes, we are in touch with those authorities.

Hold on a second.  Philippe?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  Maybe I miss this info, but did the Secretary‑General take a decision to extend the work‑at‑home in June?

Spokesman:  No, no decision has yet to be taken.  The last standing order is for the end of May.  The senior emergency management group will be meeting soon, will make a recommendation to the Secretary‑General, which will be based on advice of senior officials and, of course, medical advice, and we will all then be informed.

Okay.  Samira?

Correspondent:  Testing, testing…  1, 2, 3.  Can hear me?  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  James.  Yes, I can hear you, James.

Correspondent:  Hello?

Correspondent:  Hi, can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you now.  Go ahead, James.

Question:  Listen… thanks so much.  So, it’s a question about Yemen.  The US just announced $225 million for aid through WFP for Yemen.  This comes shortly after the WFP said that it was going to cut by half the amount of food aid it was given to the Houthi‑run parts of Yemen.  WFP, obviously, is run by David Beasley, an American.

The question is:  The WFP’s decision to cut aid, food aid, to Houthi‑run Yemen, was that an insistence by the Americans, or is it an independent UN policy?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, I would stress that Mr. Beasley is a UN official and operating under Article 100 of the Charter.  So, I think his nationality is not a factor.

What is important — and I think WFP has been pretty consistent on that in the last months — is, they have been engaged in discussions with the authorities in Houthi‑controlled and rebel‑controlled areas.

The issue of the lack of ability to distribute aid to those who need it has been a big issue.  They had to take some decisions, because they weren’t feeling comfortable that the aid was getting to who needed it the most, and that’s a decision based on operational and humanitarian needs.

We, obviously, welcome the $225 million, or thereabouts, being given by the US to the World Food Programme.


Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  I can’t turn on my video, but can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  Okay, great.  So, in Bangladesh, in 48 hours, there was a spree of arrests of journalists, cartoonists and citizens who have merely commented online about the Government’s lack of appropriate measures against the virus.  Does the SG have any comments on this?  Is this something you’re monitoring?  Because there were about 11 arrests in just two days.

Spokesman:  We’ve seen these reports.  They are of concern to us.  We stand… whether it’s in Bangladesh or everywhere, we stand for the full freedom of expression, whether it’s in words or whether it’s in… with a paint brush, in drawing.  And I think these are some of the issues that the Secretary‑General himself flagged in his recent human… reports on human rights.

Abdelhamid.  Abdelhamid?  [Cross talk]

Question:  On Tuesday… yes, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Yeah.  On Tuesday afternoon, five Arab Ambassadors met with the Secretary‑General, and they are the ambassadors of Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the League of Arab States and Palestine.  And they expressed their utmost concern about the Israeli plans to annex part of the West Bank on 1 July.  Do you have anything to say?  Do you have readout what the SG… [cross talk] What did he say?

Spokesman:  I don’t have a specific readout, but the Secretary‑General’s position on that has been expressed clearly, and I would advise you to reread Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov’s last briefing to the Security Council in which he expressed the Secretary‑General’s position.  The SG’s position on the possibility of annexation is the same in private as it is in public.


Question:  Hi.  Yes, thank you so much, Steph.  My question is about Venezuela.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the reports about US mercenaries’ failed attempt to kill Venezuela’s leader Nicolás Maduro?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we… I think we answered that question earlier in the week.  For… we’ve seen the reports.  For us, the only way forward in Venezuela is through political dialogue in order to solve this crisis and a political solution with full respect for human rights.

Gloria, you had a question?

Question:  My question is, does telemedicine have a role to play in the outreach to the most impoverished countries and areas of conflict and the refugee camps, telemedicine, which can be done by technology?

Spokesman:  I would assume so.  I mean, I think our colleagues at UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and other UN agencies are working with whatever technology they can get their hands on, but it seems like a good thing to do.

Okay.  Any more questions?  Florencia?  Looking to our nice… our lovely host.

No.  We’re done.  I hope you all have good lunch plans, and we will see you mañana, if not earlier.  Take care.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.