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11 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.  And my apologies for being late; everything that could possibility go wrong with my computer did, so here we are.  Just remember on your end to mute your mics, and please, please send out both video and audio when you want to speak.

**COVID-19 — Economic and Social Council

This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at Economic and Social Council informal briefing entitled “Joining Forces:  Effective Policy Solutions for COVID-19 Response”.  In her remarks, she stressed that, now more than ever, people and countries everywhere rely on the United Nations to rise to the challenges of this global pandemic.  She added that, since the start of this crisis, the UN has mobilized to full capacity through its 131 country teams, to immediately support national authorities in developing public health preparedness, as well as response plans.  The Deputy Secretary-General noted that, going forward, we will need to keep in mind dual imperatives:  to respond urgently to stem the impact of the pandemic, while also helping Governments and people respond in a way that recovers better, more resilient, future.  She added that we will remain guided by the 2030 Agenda and will prioritize helping those who are most vulnerable to this crisis.  Her remarks have been shared with you.

**COVID-19 — Religious Leaders

And a couple of upcoming events that I want to flag.  Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will open a high-level video conference on the Role of Religious Leaders in Addressing the Multiples Challenges of COVID-19.  The Secretary-General will highlight the areas where religious leaders can play a pivotal role to deliver solutions to not only address the pandemic, but also recover better.  The conference will also have interventions from the President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande; the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco, Ambassador [Omar] Hilale, who is organizing this meeting; as well as religious leaders of the three monotheistic religions, as well as others.

**Chief Executives Board

And next Thursday, 14 May, the Secretary-General will bring together the heads of the UN system in a virtual meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) of the UN.  The senior UN officials will discuss the future of multilateralism beyond the immediate response to COVID-19.  They are also expected to touch on topics such as human rights, global governance, ethics, international cooperation, conflict resolution, as well as international law in a post-COVID world.  CEB members will also look at financing the COVID-19 response while keeping up the pace on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and also how to use data as a strategic asset to inform the post-pandemic recovery.  CEB will also consider ways towards reversing the current trajectory of biodiversity loss,degradation of nature, as well as climate change, while rebuilding stronger and more resilient economies in the aftermath of the pandemic.

**COVID-19 — HIV

And a few COVID-19 updates for you:  The World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said today that COVID-19-related service disruptions could cause hundreds of thousands of extra deaths from HIV.  A modelling group estimated that without mitigation efforts, a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could lead to more than 500,000 extra deaths from AIDS-related illnesses, including from tuberculosis, in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020–2021.  WHO and UNAIDS also noted that people could continue to die from the disruption in large numbers for at least another five years, with an annual average excess in deaths of 40 per cent over that period.  The research highlights the need for urgent efforts to ensure the continuity of HIV prevention and treatment services in order to avert excess HIV-related deaths and to prevent increases in HIV incidence during the pandemic.

**Libya

And turning to Libya, I know I have been getting a lot of questions on the current situation, and I want to tell you that the Secretary-General strongly condemns any attacks on civilian populated areas.  Last Thursday, two civilians were reported killed and three injured in the shelling of a residential neighbourhood in Tripoli.  He also condemns the shelling of the Mitiga International Airport that took place on 9 May, and that airport is, as you know, the only functioning airport in Tripoli, civilian airport.  The strikes reportedly damaged passenger aircraft, fuel storage facilities, firefighting trucks, the passenger lounge, and caused civilian casualties.  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has renewed its call for a truce during the holy month of Ramadan to allow for an effective and coordinated response to the pandemic threat facing all Libyans.

The Secretary-General urges the immediate halt of all military operations in order to de-escalate the situation and prevent an all-out conflict.  He emphasizes that there is no military solution to the Libya conflict and calls on all parties to engage in immediate dialogue to reach a political solution.  The Secretary‑General’s Acting Special Representative in Libya stands ready to facilitate that dialogue.  UNSMIL will continue to document violations to be shared, where relevant, with the Panel of Experts and the International Criminal Court.

**Mali

And you will have seen that in a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General strongly condemned the improvised explosive device attacks against a convoy of peacekeepers in the region of Kidal, in Mali.  Three peacekeepers from Chad and four others were seriously injured in the attack that took place Sunday morning.  The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.  He reaffirmed once again that such cowardly acts will not deter the UN from its resolve to continue supporting the people and Government of Mali in their pursuit of peace and stability.

**Jordan

And from Jordan, where there are 540 confirmed cases of the virus, the Resident Coordinator there, Anders Pedersen, as well as the whole of the UN country team are working with the Government to address the pandemic.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing monthly cash assistance for 33,000 refugees, and they are also helping to fully staff the main hospitals and clinics in Zaatari and Azraq camps, which together host about 120,000 Syrian refugees.  UN Women is providing cash to female Syrian refugees using blockchain technology.  It is also working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to distribute kits for babies.  The kits are produced and sold by refugee women themselves.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is boosting sexual and reproductive health services in camps and supporting gender-based violence prevention and attention services.

For their part, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNICEF and UNHCR are developing an emergency education plan, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has put remote-learning techniques in place for more than 118,000 Palestinian refugee students.  The UN team in Jordan is also addressing the medium- and long-term socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are working with the Government to ensure food production — by working with farmers, protecting consumer prices and monitoring the levels of stocks and grains.

**Syria

And turning to Syria, where we remain concerned by the impact of the COVID‑19 on people across that country, many of the displaced and particularly vulnerable.  As of yesterday, 10 May, the Syrian Government had confirmed 47 cases, including 3 fatalities.  WHO is leading UN efforts to support preparation and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the north-west and north-east.  The focus is on enhancing the capacity to detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus to the extent possible, and also to ensure adequate surveillance of entry points and to provide protective equipment and training to health workers.  The UN is helping build testing capacity across Syria.  Four laboratories have been established in Damascus, Lattakia and Aleppo Governorates and one in Idlib in north-west Syria.  According to assessments, $385 million in funding is required in 2020 to address COVID-19 response across Syria.  This is in addition to the $3.4 billion already requested for the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

And today, our Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, along with the UNICEF Special Representative and the Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) there, issued a joint statement expressing concern over the continued detention of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities in light of the pandemic.  They called for the immediate release of all children in detention, including Palestinian children.

**COVID-19 — Sahel

We have an update on the humanitarian impact of the pandemic in the Sahel.  As of today, almost 2,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania.  Our humanitarian colleagues say that, as the health systems in this region have been weakened by conflict and insecurity, there is a high risk of spread for the virus.  In conflict-affected areas of Mali, almost a quarter of all health facilities are not functioning.  And those that are functioning often do not have the required equipment and treatment capacity.  In Burkina Faso, the situation is similar, with 12 per cent of health facilities not functioning.

The Sahel is also home to over a million internally displaced people.  Containing the virus would be difficult if it spreads to displacement sites.  As we have previously mentioned, the pandemic is also aggravating food insecurity in the Sahel.  Over 13 million people could suffer from severe food insecurity by August — without including projections from the impact of the disease.  Food assistance is being distributed in line with virus exposure prevention measures.  Displaced people and the families hosting them are receiving hygiene kits.  There are also plans to reorganize the internally displaced people settlements.  And finally, the Sahel Humanitarian Response Plans have only received 11 per cent of the $2.6 billion requested so far.  In these circumstances, we urge donors to provide funding urgently.

**Somalia

In Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues there said that more than half a million people have been affected by flooding following the rise in the level of the Shabelle River due to heavy rains in both Somalia and the Ethiopian highlands.  In addition to COVID and water-bourne diseases risks, the country is also facing the worst desert locust infestation in 25 years, with new swarms reported in Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug States.  Despite these threats, funding for humanitarian operations in Somalia remains very low.  As of today, the revised 2020 Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan calling for more than $1 billion is only 16 per cent funded.  Aid organizations and authorities are scaling up their efforts and have reached nearly 160,000 people with life-saving assistance across the country.

**Desert Locusts

And in other news, FAO today said that, while significant gains have been made in the fight against the desert locust upsurge in East Africa and Yemen, more needs to be done to prevent a food security crisis.  You see, the ongoing rainy season is providing favourable conditions for locusts to breed, as we just said.  Since FAO launched its response in January, more than 365,000 hectares have been controlled in 10 countries, and 720,000 metric tons of cereal — enough to feed 5 million people a year — have been saved.  However, the agency said that a second wave of locusts will reach adult stage in June and will take flight at a critical time when many farmers in East Africa prepare to harvest their crops.  FAO said it will revise its appeal, not only for East Africa and Yemen, but also for Iran and Pakistan, which are also dealing with locust problems.

**COVID-19 — Myanmar

And in Myanmar, our colleagues there tell us that, with international commercial flights suspended due to the pandemic, WFP has launched humanitarian flights linking Yangon with Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.  The first flight brought 10,000 virus testing kits, the first batch that UNICEF has procured to help Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports.  The European Union and Switzerland are generously funding the first stage of this flight service.  Each flight can bring up to two metric tons of humanitarian cargo, as well as personnel.  The UN’s Resident Coordinator there, Ola Almgren, thanked all donors and Member States for their support.  And also in Myanmar, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UNHCR today agreed with the Government to extend the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding for work through June 2021 in Rakhine State.  The Memorandum, originally signed in June 2018, aims to allow for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.  It also supports development benefiting all communities living in the three northern townships in Rakhine.

**Virtual Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

And this time tomorrow, we will have a guest, the first in a while.  Joshua Setipa, who is the Managing Director of the UN Technology Bank, which is based in Turkey, will be launching the Technology Access Partnership.  This is a new coordinated initiative to strengthen developing countries’ responses to COVID-19 and increase access to lifesaving health technologies.  All right.  I think I have used up all the words I wanted to use.  Let me hear some of yours, and we'll start taking your questions.  Let's see what Florencia [Soto Nino] has to say.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Michelle.  All right.  I think Michelle's having audio problems.  She says:  Given President [Donald] Trump and Mike… and Vice‑President Pence are being tested regularly for COVID-19, I wanted to check in on the SG, how he's feeling.  Has he been tested?  Has he been tested for antibodies?

Thank you for caring for the Secretary‑General.  He is in good shape.  He's not been tested, as far as I'm aware.  I can tell you, though, that he is very much limiting his contact with people.  He's working partly from the residence, going to Headquarters when he needs to.  And at Headquarters, there is a skeleton group of people around him.  We're wearing masks and taking all the necessary precautions as guided by our medical staff.  Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Good to see you.  A question on Libya.  You said that the Secretary‑General condemned the attacks over the weekend on civilians, but the global ceasefire buzz by the SG seems to be ignored by the parties in Libya, particularly by Haftar forces.  There were attacks on Mitiga airport, resulting in casualties over the weekend, but also last week attacks nearby Turkish and Italian embassies also resulting in casualties.  He condemned the attacks, as you said, but has he picked up the phone and talked to General [Khalifa] Haftar to tell him to stop these attacks particularly on civilians?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  This is exactly what our Special Representative… our acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, has been doing.  She's been in constant touch with all the parties.  I think the message… the Secretary‑General's message is very clear.  It is being conveyed through different channels, but he has expressed, as he did in his recent report, his disappointment that, really, neither side has taken up his appeal for a global ceasefire.  And we remain very concerned about the situation in Libya.  As you noted, the Mission has also condemned the attacks on the embassies… on the compounds of the Italian and Turkish missions.  So, we're… you know, once again, at a time of heightened risk due to the pandemic, it's the Libyan civilians that are bearing the brunt of all this.  Pam?

Question:  Yes, hi, Steph.  You can hear me, yes?

Spokesman:  You're not sending video.  You need to send video, because otherwise, it's all blue.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I sent a question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  But turn on your camera if you can.

Correspondent:  I cannot.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  What is your question?

Question:  The question is just that OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]… I mean… yeah, it was UN… upped the… was it UN OCHA… upped the fund‑raising from a lower amount to 6.7 billion.

Spokesman:  Yes, that would… yes, sorry.  Go ahead.  No, no, I didn't mean to cut you off.  What was the question?

Question:  Just are there any updates?  Has the appeal gotten any resonance…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I don't have any updates from OCHA, but their website has a real‑time… keeps up real‑time donations for their appeal.  So, as they come in, the website is being updated.  We can share that with you once again, if you'd like.  Abdel…?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Sorry about the video.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry?  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  I said, sorry about the lack of video.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question about Yemen.  Today there was fighting in the Governorate of Abyan.  The Southern Transitional Council is fighting there and trying to take over the capital, and there was a strong statement by [Aidarus al] Zoubaidi, the head of the Southern Transitional Council.  What is going on in Yemen?  Now, Saudi Arabia is almost withdrawing from the island of Socotra, allowing the pro‑United Arab Emirates (UAE) to take over.  So, where's Mr. [Martin] Griffiths in all these developments?

Spokesman:  You know, what is going on in Yemen is what you've just said, is that there continues to be fighting.  Mr. [Griffiths], for his part, is continuing his work in trying to bring the parties together to accept… to have all of them accept the proposals that he's made, notably on the nationwide verifiable ceasefire.  But, we have not been able to report any progress, but when we will… when we're able to, we shall.

Pam, just to let you know, the latest, as of 11 May, there was $813 million pledged towards the $6.7 billion appeal.  Okay.  Sorry.  Let me go back to the list.  Samira.  Samira?  Okay.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just first, a follow‑up on your answer to Pam's question just now.  Was that… there had already been $1 billion pledged.  Is this $813 million in addition to the $1 billion, I assume?

Spokesman:  Yeah, let me doub… I don't… I'm getting this texted to me.  Let me… I'll get back… we'll get back to you on the correct number, and we'll send the list again — to the website.  You had another question.  Was that it?

Question:  Yeah, another question.  The Security Council has again failed to adopt a… or agree on a COVID‑19 resolution.  Does the Secretary‑General fear that it's not… he's never going to get any backing for his call for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world?

Spokesman:  How to answer?  You know, obviously, we would and would still very much, I think, look forward to a strong unified statement from the Security Council on the global ceasefire.  The Security Council has a critical role to play in global peace and security, and I'll just say that we look forward to that time when we receive that.

Iftikhar had a question:  In Afghanistan, a prominent Afghan general, Abdul Jalil Bakhtawar, has joined the Taliban after fighting the militant group for years.  Any comment?

No, but I will try to get you something.  Samira, have you come back on the line?

Correspondent:  Sorry.  I did not sign up for a question, so I’m not.  Sure…

Spokesman:  Well, anyway, nice to hear from you.  Okay.  Listen, I… again, I apologize for being late, and we shall see you all tomorrow.  And just to let you know, we will have another policy brief, this one on mental health and COVID-19, and we'll send it to you under embargo, probably early tomorrow morning for a Wednesday release.

Question:  Can I have the last question, Mr. Stéphane?

Spokesman:  You can have a question.  Whether or not it's last is not up to you, but you can have the question.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Well, the Elders today issued a statement regarding the Israeli plan to annex part of the West Bank.  I mean, I have been following the action of the world Powers regarding this plan.  The only person who did not issue a clear‑cut statement representing the United Nations at the highest level is the Secretary‑General.  Why is that?  I mean, with this major development, it's not something like bulldozing a house, as the Israeli did this morning in this village of Kobar, or shutting down a clinic in East Jerusalem.  This is annexing part of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.  So, why there is no clear‑cut, concrete statement from the Secretary‑General?  I will keep asking that again… sorry.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, you and I are going to travel on parallel roads on this for quite some time.  I think, if you look at Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov's latest statement to the Security Council, I think the Secretary‑General's position against any annexation is very, very clear for all to see.  All right.  Any other questions?  I guess you did have the last question.  All right.  See you all tomorrow.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.