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23 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.

**Secretary-General on Climate

This morning, the Secretary-General addressed, via a pre-recorded video message, the students of Tsinghua University in Beijing.  This is during the “Global Lecture on Climate Change”.  In his message, which we’ve made available to you, the Secretary-General said how the world recovers from COVID-19 is a “make‑or‑break moment” for the health of our planet.  He added that the time for small steps has passed and what we need now is transformational change.  He noted that trillions of dollars have are being mobilized to save livelihoods and how this money is spent can either serve as a slingshot to hurtle climate action forward, or it can set it back many years — something we cannot afford.  If done right, he added, we can steer recovery towards a more inclusive path that will help achieve the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Secretary-General also said that we need to stop wasting money on fossil fuel subsidies and the funding of coal.  “There is no such thing as clean coal.  Coal should have no place in any rational recovery plan,” he told the students, and added that it is deeply concerning that new coal power plants are still being planned and financed, even though renewables offer three times more jobs, and are now cheaper than coal in most countries.  He reiterated his call to G20 countries to lead by example by committing to net zero emissions before 2050 and by submitting more ambitious national climate plans to the Paris Agreement before COP26 in Glasgow next year.  He added that China in particular can reap huge benefits by taking bold actions:  stronger growth, more jobs, cleaner air, better health, and he urged young people to keep innovating, to keep speaking out and to keep demanding action and ambition from their leaders.

**Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on Arab States

And in a new Policy Brief entitled “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arab Region” that was released very early this morning the Secretary-General said that the consequences of the pandemic on the region are likely to be deep and long‑lasting.  The region’s economy is expected to contract by 5.7 per cent, with the economies of some countries projected to shrink by as much as 13 per cent.  The impact of economic shocks will be felt by all countries and in communities in the region, with some groups likely to be especially hard hit.  The number of poor people is estimated to rise by 14.3 million, swelling to more than 115 million people overall in a region that is home to 436 million people.  The Policy Brief also notes that with the largest gender gap in human development in the world, women in the Arab region are likely to suffer significant consequences of the pandemic.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council met virtually to discuss the situation in Syria.  Our Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, briefed the members from Geneva, where he said he looks forward to reconvening the third session of the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee on 24 August, provided that travel conditions do not change.  Mr. Pedersen said that progress on the issue of detainees, abductees and the missing has been vastly insufficient.  He made what he called a loud and clear appeal for the Syrian Government and all other Syrian parties to carry out unilateral releases of detainees and abductees and meaningful actions on missing persons.  He added that we are now seeing a rise in reported cases of COVID-19, making Syria’s economic malaise worse and further constraining the humanitarian response.  He also stressed that, to end Syrians’ suffering, we must end the violent conflict, through a nationwide ceasefire, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), as well as an effective, targeted, [cooperative] approach to Security Council-listed terrorist groups in line with international humanitarian law.

**Syria — Humanitarian

Staying on the same issue, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they remain concerned about the rising number of the virus cases across Syria.  The Syrian Ministry of Health has announced 561 COVID-19 cases, including 165 recoveries and sadly 32 deaths; that’s as of yesterday.  Twenty-two lab-confirmed cases have been reported in north‑west Syria.  Additionally, 10 cases have now been reported in the north‑east, including 1 death.  While COVID-19 cases across Syria remain relatively low, the level of testing is extremely limited.  There have been some 10,000 tests conducted in Damascus, fewer than 3,000 conducted in north‑west Syria, and only 200 in the northeast of the country.

**Nigeria — Killing of Aid Workers

From Nigeria, our Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator, Edward Kallon, condemned the gruesome killing of four aid workers and a security guard by non-State armed groups.  They five were abducted last month while travelling on a main route connecting the town of Monguno with Maiduguri, in the Borno State.  Mr. Kallon stressed that, at a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels, aid workers and the assistance they provide to the most vulnerable make the difference between life and death [for] entire communities.  Nearly 8 million people were in need of urgent life-saving assistance in north‑east at the beginning of the year.  Today, 10.6 million people need urgent support as conflict-affected states battle the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Mr. Kallon urged all armed parties to step up to their responsibilities and stop targeting aid workers and civilians.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that the fighting in the Jonglei region has forced thousands of families to flee their homes and seek sanctuary next to the UN base in Pibor.  The sudden influx of 6,000 people came after the village of Likuangole was attacked by armed groups last night.  Tensions remain high in Pibor today, with many more families potentially seeking protection.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, David Shearer and head of Mission, said he is deeply concerned by the attacks and their impact on civilians.  He called on parties to immediately stop fighting and for the establishment of buffer zones to protect people and enable reconciliation to safely take place.  The area has already been badly hit by displacement, flooding, hunger and COVID-19.  Mr. Shearer warned that resources are thinly stretched for aid workers as it is.

**Health Workers

The World Health Organization (WHO) today warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa.  More than 10,000 health workers in 40 countries have been infected with the virus so far, a sign of the challenges that medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak face.  WHO says this comes as COVID-19 cases in Africa appear to be gathering pace.  There are now more than 750,000 cases of the virus on the continent, with more than 15,000 deaths.  South Africa is among the worst-hit countries in the world.  WHO has been working closely with health ministries to reduce health worker’s infections since the outbreak began.  WHO has trained more than 50,000 health workers in Africa in infection prevention and control and it has plans to train another 200,000.  WHO is also helping to fill gaps in the supply of personal protective equipment.

**Jordan

In Jordan, where more than 1,200 confirmed cases have been reported and 11 deaths, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Anders Pedersen, launched their socioeconomic framework to boost a rapid and sustainable recovery from the impact of the virus.  The new socioeconomic framework is a road map for the UN’s work with the Government Jordan and our partners to save lives and livelihoods, especially for women and children, strengthening inclusive social protection systems and boosting green and inclusive businesses.  For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is boosting livelihoods in poor communities through $1.5 million in funding from Italy.  In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing monthly cash assistance and support to refugees.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is helping survivors of domestic violence, while UN-Women is working with news outlets to address misinformation and better reporting on women and girls.  The UN is supporting the Government and civil society to provide safe referrals, services and justice to survivors of gender-based violence.  They’re also working to scale up public awareness campaigns to eliminate violence in all forms.

**Sahel

Today in Geneva, UNHCR, the African Development Bank and the G5 Sahel group of nations pledged to back efforts to curb the impact of COVID-19 on refugees and their hosts across the five countries in the Sahel.  The three entities signed an agreement that will provide [$20] million to allow the Governments of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to strengthen their national response to prevent the spread of the virus.  The response will prioritize activities in areas most impacted by conflict and violence, with a large concentration of forcibly displaced people and limited presence of government institutions.  The project will also aim to strengthen food and nutrition systems, in a region where 5.5 million people are at risk of food insecurity.

**Ebola

And a different virus, a different problem.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that more than 32 children have lost or have been separated from one or both parents due to Ebola since a new outbreak was declared in Equateur Province, in the western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  UNICEF and its partners have assisted 10 children in temporary protection facilities while one or both of their parents undergo screening or treatment in one of the four Ebola treatment centres.

**Bangladesh/Rohingya

Iftikhar, yesterday you asked me about how we are helping Rohingya refugees amidst the flooding in Bangladesh and I was told by our humanitarian colleagues that while the most severe flooding has not impacted Cox’s Bazar to date, monsoon rains are affecting the camps so we are continuing to prepare, protect and respond accordingly.  On the health front, there are mobile medical teams ready to help people in camps and host communities, while aid workers are helping to repair damage by rain [and] winds to toilets, wells and other infrastructure.  Food assistance is being distributed to people displaced by floods and landslides in the camps, and emergency shelter support is being provided for more than 1,200 households.  Excuse me.  On that note, I will open it up for questions if anyone wants to ask any.  All right, well… Evelyn, please, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Questions.  In Nigeria, excuse me, you can hear me, yes?

Spokesman:  Yes, please, I can.

Question:  In Nigeria, the Government and others have pointed to Boko Haram for the killings of the aid workers.  Is there any reason the UN has not fingered them?  And secondly, the Syria debate this morning talked a lot about impunity.  This mechanism that was supposed to try the worst perpetrators, does it still exist?

Spokesman:  Yes, the… there is a mechanism that still exists.  On Nigeria, we are not in a position to question the Government's statement.  From, from our end, you know, we're referring to this as non-State armed groups.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions on Syria.  The first one is why we haven't heard from Mr. Pedersen about the impact of unilateral sanctions on Syria, not just on Syrian Government, but other areas of Syria?  Given that the UN has such extensive presence in Syria, there should be some assessment about this question.  And my second question is about… related to the economy, as you know, the economic situation in Syria is very bad.  There's even a shortage of bread.  Are you aware of any UN programme or UN-related programme to help stimulate the economy, other than the humanitarian, extensive humanitarian programme you have in Syria?

Spokesman:  I mean, we are fully aware of the dire economic situation, the hyperinflation that we have seen hit, hit food baskets in parts of Syria.  As you said, our focus really is… is on… on a Band-Aid, so to speak, to help and increase food distribution.  I'm not aware that we're involved at an economic level in terms of stimulating the economy.  I think that's a question to ask the Government in Damascus.  Now, obviously, the best solution to the current economic woes would be peace, and that's where Mr. Pedersen's focus is.  And on your first question regarding the unilateral sanctions, we'll ask his office if they have any reporting observations or comments on that.  Any questions, other questions?  No…

Correspondent:  Iftikhar here.

Spokesman:  Yes, Iftikhar, please.

Question:  Yes, you didn’t get my text?

Spokesman:  No, not today.

Question:  I see.  Okay.  Thank you for the information about Rohingya refugees, and good to see you in your office.  There are reports in Pakistani news agencies that the president-elect of the UN General Assembly Mr.… in Pakistan… on Monday.  Do you have anything on it?

Spokesman:  No, who is… I didn't catch the person who was visiting Pakistan.

Correspondent:  The President-elect of the UN General Assembly.

Spokesman:  Oh, I don't… I don't know, excuse me.  It's the problem with being in the office; the phone rings.  No, I don't know.  Maybe perhaps Reem [Abaza] can help you out with that, if she's in contact with the incoming President.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  We shall see you all mañana, Friday.  Take care and enjoy the rest of the week.

For information media. Not an official record.