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13 July 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 to all of you.  I hope you had a nice weekend and you travelled far and wide and welcome back to our daily grindstone.

**Food Security and Nutrition

I just want to start with the publication of the latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, published today.  It estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019.  That is up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years.  High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. 

In a video message, the Secretary-General warned that the pandemic is making things even worse and many more people could slip into hunger this year.  He stressed that we cannot let this happen and that the report is clear: if the current trend continues, we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2, that is zero hunger, by 2030. 

And, to talk about this report, today my guest will be Maximo Torero Cullen, the Assistant Director-General for the Economic and Social Development Department at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. 

**Syria

And we informed you over the weekend that the Secretary-General took note of the Security Council’s decision on Saturday to extend the UN cross-border mechanism in north-west Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for 12 months. 

This reauthorization will help ensure that humanitarian assistance for 2.8 million people in need in the north-west is sustained until July next year.  Cross-border humanitarian assistance remains a lifeline for millions of people in need in the area and beyond. 

The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all parties to the conflict to ensure humanitarian access to all people in need, in accordance with international humanitarian law. 

**Yemen

And turning to Yemen, I can confirm that the local de facto authorities in Yemen have officially communicated to the UN their approval for an UN-led technical assessment and repair mission on board the Safer oil tanker off the coast of Ras Isa. 

We are working to ensure the technical team can deploy as soon as possible to assess the condition of the tanker and undertake initial repairs. 

The experts will subsequently advise on any remaining measures that would be needed to avoid an oil spill, which would be catastrophic for Yemeni communities, the Red Sea environment, bordering countries and their communities, as well as international maritime traffic. 

**Libya

Moving on to Libya, where I can tell you that we remain concerned about the military build-up around Sirte and its potential impact on the civilian population. 

While active hostilities have ceased, the situation in southern Tripoli remains precarious due to explosive hazards left behind by withdrawing forces. 

Fifty-two people have died and 96 have been injured by explosive hazards as they sought to return home or to clear the mine-infected areas. 

The humanitarian community in Libya has reached about 34,000 people, who were impacted or displaced by military escalations near Tarhuna and Sirte in June, with food, hygiene kits and other household items, as well as health supplies and health services. 

Across Libya, about 430,000 people are now internally displaced. 

In addition, Libya continues to report increasing COVID-19 cases with 1,512 confirmed cases and 40 deaths as of yesterday.  The south, which accounts for only 8 per cent of Libya’s population, represents nearly half of all infections and two thirds of all deaths. 

**Mali

And turning to Mali, where protests, which have been led by M5-RFP movement, have been ongoing in the country’s major cities since Friday. 

In Bamako, several protestors were killed following violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces over the weekend and several of the M5 leaders were arrested.  The situation is reported to be tense today. 

Yesterday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and representatives of the African Union, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the European Union in Mali issued a joint communiqué condemning the violence on both sides and calling for restraint and urging the Government of Mali to create the conditions for dialogue. 

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MINUSMA) is monitoring developments closely and continues to work with all stakeholders to find a solution.

**Central African Republic

I also sadly want to announce that in the Nana-Mambere prefecture in the Central African Republic, one peacekeeper was killed and two wounded during an attack by the 3R group.  We expect to have more details and a statement will be forthcoming in the next few hours. 

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

Meanwhile, in the Central African Republic, our peacekeeping colleagues are also continuing to support local anti-COVID-19 efforts.  The Mission there (MINUSCA) has provided more medical, logistical and personal protective equipment, including masks, water fountains, and hygiene kits to authorities in the 3rd district in Bangui. 

The peacekeeping mission also financed the construction of a Women's House in Ngoubi, in the Bria Haute-Kotto prefecture.  The house aims to provide a space where women can produce soap and provide hand-washing advice to the local population.  The Mission and its partners are also committed to supporting women in the region by providing them with income-generating opportunities. 

And in South Sudan, the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMISS) has distributed face masks and soap, as well as training sessions to police officers in Rumbek in Lake State on how to use protective gear. 

**COVID-19 — Philippines

And in the Philippines, where there are more than 56,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 1,500 deaths, the UN team there, led by Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, has been operating in full emergency mode to support the Government in its response. 

The UN arranged for two cargo flights carrying more than 1.3 million pieces of personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.  In an effort to leave no one behind, the UN has been helping the most vulnerable refugees and migrants, including 5,000 Filipino workers who recently returned from overseas.

The UN team has also been working to prevent the spread of the virus through communications campaigns, including webinars and training sessions in rural health centres. 

**COVID-19 — Kazakhstan

And turning to Kazakhstan, where today is a day of national mourning in memory of the victims of COVID-19, the head of the UN team there, Norimasa Shimomura, issued a statement expressing the UN team’s condolences to the families who have lost loved ones. 

Mr. Shimomura said that the pandemic is more than a health crisis, having hit the most vulnerable people the hardest.  He stressed that, if we manage the recovery process right, we can better achieve sustainable development that creates a country that is more resilient against future challenges, reiterating the UN’s solidarity with the people of Kazakhstan. 

**COVID-19 — Organized Crime

And a new research brief released today by our friends at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) analysed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on organized crime infiltration in the legal economy and illegal governance. 

The research shows that the pandemic has both reduced certain organized crime activities while providing opportunities for new ones. 

Organized criminal groups are trying to increase their profits not only by infiltrating private companies but also by misusing public funds. 

UNODC warns that these groups are seeking to benefit from the COVID-19 response, just as they have done in the past during other humanitarian crises.  More is available online. 

**Resident Coordinators

And we are happy to announce that we have a new Resident Coordinator in Honduras.  Alice Shackelford from Italy has been appointed, and that comes following confirmation from the Government of Honduras. 

As you know, Resident Coordinators seek to boost development coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes.  They are mobilizing resources to support Government and local partners on the COVID-19 response. 

They are activating the full capacity of the UN on all fronts, including health, humanitarian and socioeconomic.  This is fundamental to supporting countries in this Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).  We are also proud to announce that we remain at full gender parity among all our Resident Coordinators serving 162 countries and territories. 

**High-Level Political Forum

And as you know, the high-level political forum (HLPF) continues this week with presentations of the voluntary national reviews from Member States, reporting on their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The morning included two panel sessions, the first with presentations was from Nepal and Georgia.  The second panel featured presentations from Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. 

Individual presentations were also given by Bangladesh, India, Morocco, and Niger and in the afternoon, Panama will present its review, and this will be followed by two panel presentations:  the first from Benin and Costa Rica, and the second panel with Peru and Argentina.

And this morning in a virtual side event, the Secretary-General’s Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman Every Child launched a report entitled “Caught in the COVID-19 storm:  progress and accountability for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health”.  This side event was co-hosted by the Governments of Japan, South Africa and Georgia. 

It highlighted the importance of health accountability as a practical tool to ensure that countries deliver on the promise of universal health coverage for women, children, adolescents and those furthest left behind — especially as the pandemic threatens to disrupt progress and reverse the gains. 

**Rise for All

And finally, I want to flag that tomorrow at 8 a.m., the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will convene a special event that brings together women across different sectors in recognition of front-line leadership to build back better. 

The special event will look at how women leaders globally and locally are winning against COVID-19 on the health and socioeconomic fronts and why intergenerational leadership is needed now, with a focus on inspiring action to advance sustainability and inclusion.  Some of the participants of the “Rise for All” event will include the President of Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Barbados, and Africa’s first female elected president, the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  A keynote will be delivered by the Sustainable Development Goals Advocate Graça Machel. 

For more information and the full list of leaders who have joined Rise for All, go to www.un.org/riseforall.

And before we go to our guest, I'm happy to take some questions from you.  So, let me go to the right place, and let's get this over with.  All right.  Let's go to the chat. 

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  James Bays, you have a question.

Question:  My question is about the cross‑border aid statement that you put out.  It seems to me that the statement that you put out and I know you've read again now seems to be lacking something.  Can we please get the Secretary‑General's view on the fact there is now only one border crossing authorised and the fact that aid can no longer go through the Bab al‑Salam crossing?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General's view is what I've expressed.  This…  we had made…  I think the Secretary‑General's views ahead of the vote was clear, what he had asked in light of the needs.  We had a resolution which was adopted.  We are now working with that resolution and making things work. 

I mean, there is…  I can give you a bit more of context in terms of which…  the kind of — excuse me.  I just need to look at something here — in terms of the aid that went through which border. 

So, in the first six months of the year, we had 8,365 trucks cross from into Syria from Turkey.  Fifteen hundred of those were from Bab al‑Salam, which is the point we can no longer use; 6,779 crossed from Bab al‑Hawa so far this year, so this was…  the crossing was operating at near maximum capacity.  We now anticipate that it will operate at maximum capacity.

And obviously, in addition to the logistical challenges of the border, the aid deliveries will now need to travel further, including across lines of control.  And as a result of the loss of Bab al‑Salam, it will be more costly, higher risk, less timely and, ultimately, I think, a more complicated humanitarian response.

Question:  So, can I just follow up with a comment from Mark Cutts, who is your UN Humanitarian Coordinator?  He says, "Access has been reduced at the very time when COVID‑19 is spreading and we need more access.  The exclusion of Bab al‑Salam and Al‑Ya'rubiyah crossing points is very disappointing and presents major challenges for vulnerable citizens."  Does the Secretary‑General believe and…  and agree with Mr. Cutts that the outcome of the resolution is very disappointing?  Because that's not the tone of your statement.

Spokesman:  Look, there are different voices within the system.  Mr. Cutts is on the front lines, and I think his voice is, clearly, an important one.  I mean, you do the math.  We had asked for two…  continuation of two crossings.  We got one.  Would we rather have had two?  Of course, we would have.  This… 

Question:  So, should that not have been in your statement?

Spokesman:  We express our position, and I think we make it…  we've made it clear.  We're always happy to receive edits from you, James, but I think I've…  Mr. Cutts has expressed his position.  And, of course, we fully back Mr. Cutts, and he's doing an amazing job out on the front lines.  And I've said what I've had to say.

Mr. Iftikhar Ali.

Question:  Yes, sir.  Thank you, Steph.  Wire service are quoting a major Taliban attack in northern Afghanistan?  Have you heard anything from UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) about it?  And is there any reaction to this attack?

Spokesman:  Yes, there is.  I'm sorry, I'm having little technical problems. 

The Secretary‑General is, obviously, following the reports of the attack today in Samangan Province.  I think what's important for us is that all the parties take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from harm.  I think we've seen over and over again civilians being hurt, being in the front lines or being victims.

The urgency of achieving a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan in order to bring an end to such violence is urgent, and all parties should be working in that same direction.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Majeed, you have a question.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  Actually, I have a follow‑up to James' question.  It's…  also, I want to ask, since…  the impact of the closure of the border crossing.  On Saturday, a master, Dmitry Polyanskiy of Russia, said that since the closure of the Al‑Ya'rubiyah border crossing in January that humanitarian aid actually increased to north‑east Syria.  Can you, Stéphane, tell us if that's a fact, that that…  is that true? Has the humanitarian aid increased in north‑east Syria or other parts of Syria?  Because you keep saying that you need more border crossing.

Spokesman:  I don't have the data in front of me to be able to answer that question, Majeed.  What I can tell you is now that we are down to one border crossing.  The aid…  the delivery of aid will be more complicated, will be more costly, will be done at a higher risk and, we think, less effective.

Question:  And I have…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  And just, on that, like, is there any assessment from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) or should we expect about the impact of this humanitarian aid of the resolution?

Spokesman:  What I'm telling you is exactly their assessment.  I mean, I'm not making…  most times…

Question:  No, I mean precise, not numbers…

Spokesman:  I'm not trying to make things up.  I will…  if we…  they come up with more numbers, they will, and they will, obviously, report back to the Security Council, as they do on a regular basis.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me go back to the chat.  Any other questions? I don't see anyone, but wave if you need to ask a question. 

Nizar, I see…  I think you're waving.  I can't hear you, Nizar. 

Correspondent:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Did you read all the books in your library?  That's my first question to you.

Correspondent:  Yeah, of course.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  All right.  Stéphane, talking about Syria and the humanitarian situation and, of course, the warning you issued in the beginning or FAO, about the possibility of hunger, not just in Syria, in many countries. 

Syria presented in…  back in May a letter complaining about serious aggression against it with regard to incinerating crops, stealing oil, also destroying power stations, and taking a lot of crops to Turkey and other places.  And they asked for the United Nations to give an opinion about such activities and how compatible they are with the Charter of the United Nations. 

What has the Secretary‑General done about this? And what is your input regarding the situation if thousands of acres of land have been incinerated, as suggested in the letter?

Spokesman:  Look, I'll have to see if the letter was…  what the official response to the letter is.  What I can tell you, in general terms, is that years and years of conflict in Syria have obviously made the food situation that much worse.  Whether it's destruct…  whether it's farm…  agricultural lands being rendered unusable because of landmines, farmers fleeing, I mean, everything that you can imagine has, of course, made the situation worse, but I will check more officially on the letter for you.

Question:  Staying with regard to the crossings, can you confirm that Dar…  sorry, that al‑Salam crossing was ruled or was controlled by Hayat Tahrir al‑Sham, or al‑Nusra Front?  And how much of that…  of the aid which used to cross through al‑Salam crossing point reached the people who are in need?  Do you have any statistics about that?

Spokesman:  No, I can't confirm the answer to your first question.  Our aim is always to have, obviously, 100 per cent of the aid reach the people that need it most.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Unless I see anybody else waving frantically, which I don’t, I want to make sure that Maximo is on the line.  Maximo, are you there? Yes, I see you.

For information media. Not an official record.