22 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, all, and thank you for coming early today.  It won’t happen ever again, and happy Friday!

After hearing from me today, Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you and answer your questions. 

**Secretary-General/Eid Message

Today, the Secretary-General will give a virtual Eid message at an interactive discussion with Member States representing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  The theme of the discussions will be “COVID-19 Solidarity:  Promoting Co-Existence and Shared Responsibility.”

The Secretary-General is expected to remind Member States that our world is like one body, and, as long as one part is affected by this virus, we all are affected.  Now, more than ever, solidarity and unity must be our leading principles. 

**Programme Budget 2021

And yesterday, the Secretary-General presented his proposal for the programme budget for 2021 at a virtual session of the Advisory Committee on the Administrative and Budgetary questions (ACABQ).  He noted that the meeting was happening at a time when the pandemic has put the lives of billions of people around the globe in turmoil, inflicting grave suffering and destabilizing the global economy.

In response, he said, the United Nations has mobilized fully to save lives, stave off famine, ease the pain and plan for recovery.  The Secretary-General said that we are open for business and are running the Organization from thousands of dining tables and home offices around the world. 

Regarding recent reforms, he added that reform is on track and beginning to yield results.  Resident Coordinators covering 162 countries and territories now have a direct reporting line to his office, enhanced analytical capacities and coordination tools, as well as support from a strengthened development coordination office. 

The new management processes and structures have proven instrumental in enabling the Organization to remain open and function effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Secretary-General said that, to fully implement the mandates entrusted to us, we will require a total of $2.99 billion in 2021, which represents a net reduction of 2.8 per cent compared to 2020, despite additional initiatives and mandated activities. 

As this stage, he added, no resources have been included for COVID-19, as the programme budget proposals were largely put together before the pandemic came on scene and the situation is still evolving. 


Today, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance, warned that COVID-19 is disrupting routine vaccination efforts around the world.  They said that this is putting about 80 million children under the age of one at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio. 

More than half of the 129 countries where data was available reported moderate-to-severe disruptions, or a total suspension of vaccination services during [the] March-April period this year. 

Measles campaigns, for example, have been suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns put on hold in 38 countries. 

On 4 June, at the Global Vaccine Summit, world leaders will come together to help maintain immunization programmes and mitigate the impact of the pandemic in lower-income countries. 


And I have a quick update for you from Bangladesh, where Cyclone Amphan made landfall earlier this week.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that some 10 million people in Bangladesh have been impacted by the storm, with 17 people having been killed. 

Early reports indicate there has been $130 million in damage inflicted by the cyclone so far.  Nearly 331,000 homes have been damaged and at least 100,000 people have been displaced, in addition to those already evacuated. 

Aid agencies are helping the Government of Bangladesh to distribute food and shelter items, as well as to set up clean water sources and latrines. 

In Cox’s Bazar, more than 100 shelters have reportedly been destroyed and nearly 1,500 damaged, affecting more than 7,000 Rohingya refugees.  Refugee volunteers are working to support and protect the community. 

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And a senior personnel announcement for you.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Sanda Ojiambo of Kenya as the new Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. 

As the second woman to be appointed in this role, she will succeed Lise Kingo of Denmark.  The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Ms. Kingo for her dedication and strategic leadership in steering the work of the Global Compact and broadening its contributions to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Ojiambo, who assumes the role on 17 June, brings to the job 20 years of experience.  She will lead the Global Compact in its next phase to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders and bring the full weight of the private sector to achieve the SDGs.


And in response to questions I've received on the situation with the UN Mission in Mali — this follows an article that appeared in Foreign Policy yesterday — I can tell you that we do not entertain speculations about senior positions.  Suffice it to say that the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Mali, Mr. [Mahamat Saleh] Annadif, has the full support of the Secretary-General. 

**Deputy Secretary-General

And after I’m done here and after Reem’s briefing, a reminder that the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will be available to brief you on the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond. 

That is scheduled to take place on 28 May, next Thursday. 

The event is being convened jointly by the Secretary-General, along with the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, and will aim to set a definite pathway to concrete and effective solutions on critical sustainable development finance issues that threaten adversely to impact billions of people over the next two months. 

So, please stay on the line for that briefing.  As a reminder, the briefing will be embargoed until 9 am on Tuesday, 26 May, so if you want to listen and watch the briefing, you will have to log in to WebEx, as it will not be on the webcast, the UN WebTV platform, until the embargo is lifted on Tuesday.

And another reminder that this will be an extra-long weekend for us.  Monday is Memorial Day, and we will be closed on… Tuesday is Eid, and the UN will be closed as well.  We will, as always, be available to you via email to answer any questions you may have during that time, but we will be back on Wednesday.

So, let me go to your questions. 

**Questions and Answers

I think Abdelhamid had a question.  Abdelhamid?

All right, James Bays.  Can you hear me? Oh…  Abdelhamid, I can't hear you.  You need to turn on your mic.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  You're good.

Correspondent:  I'm on?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, I have a question on Yemen.  There is a report by Médecins Sans Frontières that there is a disaster in the making now in the health sector in Yemen, especially in Aden, and we don't know much about Sana’a, the capital.  Can you tell us what do you have to tell, to share with us about the situation in Yemen?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, give me two seconds.  I'm trying to open a document here.  I beg your indulgence.

James, let's go to you, and then I'll come back and answer your question, Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Can I ask for a reaction from the Secretary‑General on the new proposed security laws for Hong Kong?  What is the view of the UN of these proposals?

Spokesman:  Look, at this point, I don't have any comment to make, as things are still in draft form, and nothing has been enacted but, so, at this point, we're not going to comment on debates within a legislature.

Question:  Does the UN, though…

Spokesman:  All right.

Correspondent:  Steph? I haven't finished.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Does the UN…

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  …believe this is potentially a breach of the Sino‑British Joint Declaration, which I believe is deposited at the UN, and one assumes the UN should have a view on that?

Spokesman:  Understood, but I do not have a comment on it at this particular time, but we'll see a bit later.

On Yemen, I can tell you that we're, obviously, very concerned at the rapid spread of the virus across the country.  I think, you know, statements like the one we saw from Médecins Sans Frontières yesterday are just another way to illustrate and underscore how serious the situation is and how urgent it is to take action. 

Specialists have already predicted that the virus would spread faster, more widely and with many, with much deadlier consequences in Yemen than other places, given the state of the public health system and the ongoing conflict.

As I mentioned, we believe that a lot of the cases are being under‑reported, and we have reason to believe that the spread is already happening with community transmissions ongoing and unmitigated in many places. 

Our humanitarian colleagues are getting a number of distressing reports from people across the country, both in the north and south of Yemen, coming from all directions. 

As you know, as we've been underscoring, we have severe shortages of testing supplies and other supplies, and we do…  I just wanted to flag there will be a pledging conference on the 2nd of June.  We very much hope donors will come prepared to pledge generously.  We've also underscored the fact that, if money does not come in with the current level of funding, you may see some programmes start to close in the next few weeks. 

I think it's very important that authorities all over Yemen do whatever they can to suppress the virus, and this also includes having a high level of transparency in reporting and working with clear and factual public information on ways to spread information about how COVID can be prevented and treated. 

We're very much eager to work with the authorities in doing whatever we can to stop the spread of the virus, and we keep talking that we're shocked and outraged in this context, but it's, obviously, shocking that, in this particular environment, we've not yet been able to secure adequate funding for the COVID‑19 response or procure enough personnel health workers.  What we're seeing, basically, in Yemen is a health system collapsing in front of our very eyes.


Correspondent:  Yes, Stéphane, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can. 

Question:  Thank you.  Today, the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Quartet meeting on the level of Special Representatives will be held today, on Friday.  So, I wonder if you have any update on this, whether this meeting already was held?  What's the outcome of this meeting…

Spokesman:  No, I don't have an update to raise, to share with you at this point, but it's, we're in touch with our colleagues on the ground, and, as soon as I have something, I will let you know.

All right.  I think Iftikhar had a question, which I will answer:  Does the SG have a statement on the crash of the Pakistan International Airlines?

We, obviously, send our condolences to the people and Government of Pakistan upon learning of this horrendous accident.  I think it also comes on the eve of the Eid holiday.  We understand many of the passengers were going home, which adds another level of tragedy, but our thoughts are with the families of the victims, as well as the Government and the broader people of Pakistan.

Okay.  That's it for me.  Reem will join you, if she hasn’t, if she's not already on.  Reem, are you on?  Reem? Okay, let's wait for Reem, so I don't want to leave you alone.

Okay, there's Reem.

And, just as a reminder for the background briefing as well afterwards, sorry, the on‑the‑record embargoed briefing.  All right.  Reem, have fun.

For information media. Not an official record.