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6 August 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  After we are finished here, our friend Reem Abaza, who speaks on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you, so please stay connected.

**Secretary-General — Hiroshima

Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the Secretary-General paid tribute to the victims in a video message to the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony.

He noted that the birth of the United Nations in that same fateful year of 1945 is forever intertwined with the death rained down on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Since its earliest days and resolutions, the Secretary-General said, the Organization has recognized the need to totally eliminate nuclear weapons, but that goal remains unachieved.

Seventy-five years is far too long not to have learned that the possession of nuclear weapons diminishes, rather than reinforces, security, he stressed.

The Secretary-General repeated his call for States to return to a common vision and path leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

In addition to the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombing, he said that we should listen to the voices and ideas of young people in the cause of disarmament.

The Secretary-General also had a video message today to a dialogue on the UN’s seventy-fifth anniversary hosted by Hiroshima Prefecture.

In it, he said that this milestone is an important opportunity for us to take stock and consider how the UN can enhance its efforts across the organization to achieve its shared goals of peace, human rights and sustainable development.

Both messages are online.

**Lebanon

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, today said that the crisis following Tuesday’s explosion requires the support of all to surmount the devastating impact of the crisis on the Lebanese people and the country.  Ms. Rochdi reiterated the Secretary-General’s commitment to supporting Lebanon at this difficult time. 

Ms. Rochdi is releasing $9 million from the Lebanese Humanitarian Fund, and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will release additional funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to address immediate needs and help strengthen the capacity of existing hospitals.  This will include expanding and establishing additional Intensive Care Units (ICUs) where needed, and providing trauma kits, ventilators, medical supplies and medicine.

Health organizations have already initiated the procurement of medical equipment and supplies to support the emergency response.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing assistance to cover 1,000 trauma interventions and 1,000 surgical interventions for people suffering from burns and wounds caused by glass and other debris resulting from the blast.

WHO reports that the blast has rendered inoperable three hospitals and two more have sustained substantial damage.  The equivalent of 500 hospital beds have been lost due to damage.

Further assessments are under way in coordination with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to identify available capacity, material needs and operational gaps in the health sector.  Health organizations have started to procure medical equipment and supplies.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is deploying SURGE teams including experts from the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) and UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) to assist with the emergency response. 

With the Beirut port inoperable, the UN and its partners are looking to adjust logistic networks to ensure sustained operations.  Humanitarian materials will likely be redirected through the Tripoli port.  The change may have adverse consequences for some supply chains, as Tripoli port has a lower capacity than Beirut port.  Beirut International Airport remains open for passenger and cargo flights.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that it is continuing its assessment of the Maritime Task Force ship that was damaged in the explosions in Beirut on Tuesday.  Mission leadership today visited the ship at the Beirut port.  Mission leadership also visited injured peacekeepers from Bangladesh in hospitals in the capital and in Saida.  In the aftermath of the explosions, a total of 23 UNIFIL peacekeepers from Bangladesh had been admitted to hospitals, of whom 18 have been discharged.  Two peacekeepers remain in critical but stable condition.

The UN Mission continues to engage with Lebanese authorities and reiterates its offer to support the authorities and the people of Lebanon in dealing with the aftermath.

**Security Council

This morning, during a Security Council session on the linkages between terrorism and organized crime, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, said that the COVID-19 crisis poses a host of new challenges to national authorities.

Comprehensive and cooperative responses are needed more than ever, she said, as organized criminal groups and terrorists may seek to capitalize on and exploit new vulnerabilities.

Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, added that terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate and division and radicalize and recruit new followers.  The increase in internet usage and cybercrime during the pandemic further compounds the problem.

Both speakers highlighted the support of the UN to assist Member States in implementing measures such as anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism, strengthening border security and more.

Under-Secretary-General Voronkov concluded with a call to continue our fight against terrorist groups and criminal networks to deny them the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.

Both sets of remarks have been shared with you.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

Some updates for you on what our peacekeeping missions are doing to respond to COVID-19, today from South Sudan and Kosovo:

In South Sudan, the UN Mission (UNMISS) recently trained 70 young people from Bentiu in advanced computer skills to address the economic impact of the pandemic in the Unity region.  The training aimed to help these young people find jobs and become economically secure. 

UN peacekeepers also donated computers and printers to the youth centre in Bentiu. 

In Kosovo, the UN Mission (UNMIK) supported youth cycling volunteers who delivered more than 600 reusable masks to 200 vulnerable families, and more than 1,000 posters with COVID-19 awareness information.  The activity was organized by a multi-ethnic network of young peacebuilders. 

The UN Mission is supporting this initiative and others that aim to build bridges between communities in raising awareness in the fight against COVID-19.

**Sudan Floods

In Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues say that intensified heavy rains there have caused flooding and landslides and have destroyed infrastructure, houses and livelihoods.

More than 50,000 people have been affected, with South Darfur, West Kordofan and El Gezira being the hardest hit states.

These storms are hampering the production of crops and increasing the risk of disease outbreaks, hampering the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of people have been displaced following the collapse of a dam that reached full capacity last week. 

The UN and our partners are supporting the Government-led response efforts and are providing aid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods.  Flights carrying emergency supplies have reached Blue Nile State, where roads are impassable, and food, medicine and other supplies have been distributed in affected areas.

**COVID-19 — Bhutan

In Bhutan, where there have been more than 100 COVID-19 cases but no deaths, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Gerald Daly, has been working closely with authorities on a health and socioeconomic response to the pandemic.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are providing protective, laboratory, medical and cleaning equipment to boost testing and treatment capacity, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is training reproductive and maternal health workers.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is providing information technology support and equipment for contact tracing and monitoring in border areas.

The UN is also mobilizing more than $9 million to help mitigate the impact of the crisis on the economy, particularly the tourism sector, and to help the agriculture sector and people displaced by the pandemic.

UNICEF is also training hundreds of young volunteers on infection prevention and, together with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), is providing learning materials and support to the national school reopening plan.

**COVID-19 — Pacific Islands

Our colleagues at the World Food Programme launched its humanitarian air service today to help the countries and territories of the Pacific Islands. 

The first flight, from Nadi in Fiji to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, delivered 44 cubic metres of medical supplies — including ventilators and masks — for Papua New Guinea’s response to COVID-19.

The supplies were transported on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, in support of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, which is a regional coordination platform established by the 18 countries of the Pacific Islands Forum to facilitate timely and rapid movement of medical and humanitarian assistance across the region.

The closure of airports and grounding of aircraft due to COVID-19 has dramatically reduced commercial air services, placing stress on the region’s supply chains and making it increasingly challenging for humanitarian and health organizations to get vital supplies and personnel to where they are needed most.

**COVID-19 — Latin America and the Caribbean

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) today said that the region’s foreign trade will experience a sharp drop of 23 per cent in 2020 as a result of the economic effects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The fall will exceed the 21 per cent decline recorded during the 2009 financial crisis. 

This decline is taking place in a global context in which international trade accumulated a 17 per cent drop in volume between January and May 2020.  Latin America and the Caribbean is the developing region most affected by this situation, and it will be marked mainly by reduced shipments of manufactured goods, minerals and fuel.

**Food Price Index

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that food prices continued rising for the second consecutive month in July, led by vegetable oils and dairy products. 

The FAO’s Food Price Index averaged 94.2 points in July, a 1.2 per cent increase from June and nearly 1 per cent higher than July 2019.

**United Against Racism

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today released the advocacy video entitled “United Against Racism”.  In the video, leading personalities from all over the world have joined UNESCO in denouncing mounting racial discrimination.

The black and white film features messages by prominent women and men from the worlds of cinema, media, music, sport and science alongside UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

You can watch the video on UNESCO’s social media.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I have a personnel announcement to tell you about. 

Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Hannan Sulieman of Sudan as the Deputy Executive Director, Management for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  This will be at the Assistant Secretary-General level.

Ms. Sulieman has spent 27 years with UNICEF.  Most recently, she served as Acting Deputy Executive Director, Management, where her expertise in management, operations, and policy have ensured optimal performance of several UNICEF divisions.  She previously served as Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of the Executive Director (2016-2019). 

More on this appointment in my office or virtually. 

And once I am done, we will hear from Reem Abaza, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.

So, do you have any questions for me before we get to Reem? Let me see what we have in chat. 

**Questions and Answers

I see that Nabil has a question.  Nabil?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a few questions, please.  First of all, you talked about funds will be sent to Lebanon.  So, what shall I think and other UN body… I missed which UN body it will be?

How do you monitor the delivery of these funds?  Because it's very well known in Lebanon that the public don't trust the State, and there is no transparency in Lebanon when it comes to receiving international aids.  So, how do you deliver these funds and through what, maybe, institutions in Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we do work with the key institutions of the Government of Lebanon.  As you know, we've been working with the Health Ministry regarding the immediate needs following the injuries in the aftermath of the explosion, and we will be working with other ministries as appropriate. 

The UN, throughout its humanitarian work, does follow up to make sure that all of the aid that we distribute goes to where it's needed.  And we will perform follow‑up activities, including through our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities (OCHA).

Question:  And do you report on this follow‑up in your periodic reports on Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We report on this, including to our donors.  This is a standard follow‑up practise that we do across the board.

Question:  I have… if you give me a chance to ask two more questions…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, let me come back to you.  First off, Edie Lederer has a question.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Question:  Thank you.  And one follow‑up to Nabil, because this issue of who gets money has become very important in Lebanon.  Is there any way that the UN can ensure that the funds that at least the UN controls do not go through Government hands?

And, secondly, you've said that there are quite a number of assessments going on about the extent of the damage, what's going to be needed.  Can you tell us when the results of those assessments will be available and announced to us?

And, thirdly, I'm sure that many of you know our colleague Raghida Dergham.  I checked in on how she was, and she said her apartment was totally destroyed, and she sent me pictures.  And she said she was lucky to be alive, because she believes that if she had been home, which she wasn't, that she would have been killed.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, it's very sobering.  I've seen the photos from our colleague Raghida, and certainly, as with some of the things I've seen and heard from my UN colleagues, it's a very, very scary situation.  And our hearts go out to all the people who are suffering, not even simply those who are injured, of whom there are thousands, but people who have lost their homes, who are displaced, who do not know where their next meal is coming from.  We'll need to pull together to take care of all the needs in light of this.

Regarding your questions, of course, as in every place that the UN works, we have to work with the authorities on the ground.  And, of course, we will do things in coordination with the Government of Lebanon.

But, as I told Nabil, we do follow up to make sure that all of the money that we provide, all the goods we provide are distributed to those who need it.  And, so, we will continue with that follow‑up activity, and we'll also do that with our various partners, our implementing partners, on the ground, you know, the non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies on the ground, who also will be using these facilities and the funding that we try to get.

Our hope is that, by next Monday, we'll have funding amount… information that we can provide to the Member States, but we're trying to get the relevant figures ready as soon as we can.  My hope is that we can get the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, to talk to you sometime tomorrow.  We're trying to get that set up, and we'll let you know if we can have him brief you on where we stand.

And with that, I believe Iftikhar Ali has a question.

Question:  But you didn't answer my question on when the assessments were going to be finished.

Deputy Spokesman:  The… like I said, what we're trying to do is have assessments ready that we can inform Member States about by Monday, by next Monday.  If… hopefully, we'll have some information, some factual information, tomorrow.  And for that, we're trying to get Mr. Lowcock to talk to you.  I'll let you know how that proceeds. 

Iftikhar?

Question:  Following up on Nabil and Edie's questions, I want to know whether the United Nations has sent specialists or experts to help Lebanese authorities deal with this situation, and does the UN intend to make a special appeal for additional funds for this tragedy?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we do intend to make a special appeal for funds, and we'll get more… we're trying to do these assessments right now so we know how much money is needed.  But, certainly, Lebanon will have very substantial needs — from help for the hospital system to the sort of food aid that they will be needing to the long‑term reconstruction costs that will be entailed.  So, we're trying to gather all that together. 

We're doing assessment there through our Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams, but in terms of other help on the ground, we do have teams who are specialists in search‑and‑rescue who are on the ground for the current phase, which involves trying to find the people who are still missing following the blast.

And as I said at the top of the briefing, our Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, is also trying to provide help, and they're working with the Lebanese authorities on this.

Thanks.  I have an emailed question from Joe Klein, who says, “US Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo announced yesterday the Clean Network programme aimed at China's apps and cloud‑computing platforms, in which he claimed 30 other countries were participating.  Please provide the Secretary‑General Office's comment.”

And this is a bilateral issue.  We do not have any comment to give on this at present.

Correspondent:  Farhan, can you hear me?  Farhan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Yeah, it's not bilateral.  It involves 30 other countries, so I'd like you to just note that and whether the Secretary‑General's Office has any comment.  If this were extended beyond bilateral, Secretary Pompeo claimed that at least 30 countries are participating in the programme.

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll need further information about what the participants are.  Like I said, we do not have any comment to provide.

And with that, before we go back to Nabil, I have a question from Gloria Starr Kins.

Question:  Yes.  What is important is the breakdown of the pollution in the ocean from the port, because you have oil pollution, and you have whatever was in that warehouse polluting.  And that's very serious, to clean the waters.  What steps can be taken there? I'm sure not overnight but over time, because that's a big part of the UN [inaudible] push.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  It's clear that there will likely be the need for environmental assessments, so that is part of the overall assessment activity that we're trying to do.

You're muted.

Question:  I feel that the nomination of a new person in the Secretariat for the CD, Sudan is brilliant, because there are two Sudans.  And if anybody could help them administrating both sides, because she's from that part of the world, from that country, they basically are still mentally one country, so I think…  I wanted to congratulate the Secretary‑General, please.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, thank you for your congratulations, but I'd like to just make clear, she's not being named for anything having to do specifically with Sudan.  She will take on a position at UNICEF.  So, you'll have the email that has the information about her tasks.

And with that, Nabil, you have the floor again.

Question:  Thanks again, Farhan.  So, among your casualties or injured personnel in Lebanon, do you have any missing people, dead people?  And can you give more, please, information?  Where were they when the blast happened, on a ship or around the port?  And, yeah, any other information you have on this, please.

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic information… I think I made clear that we… yesterday, that we had in the neighbourhood of about 100 or so people, including personnel but also including family members of our staff, who had injuries of various types.  Regrettably, there were two fatalities among the family members of our staff.  And the circumstances vary.  Some… the UNIFIL peacekeepers who I mentioned at the top of this briefing were members of the Maritime Task Force, so one of the ships was docked at Beirut Port.  That ship has been badly damaged, and a number of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers on board were injured.  Like I said, 18 of them have been discharged, but two of them remain in critical condition, and our thoughts and prayers go with them, and we have conveyed our support to the Government of Bangladesh at this time.

Other people were in their apartments or were in other parts of Beirut.  As you know, this was a very wide blast radius.  As Edie pointed out, even some of our journalistic colleagues have seen their homes demolished, and it's a very serious issue.

Question:  So, based on that, what's the due process here for the UN?  You have several casualties in Lebanon, and you have one of your ships also damaged because of the explosion.  What's the due process?  Are you planning to investigate the nature of the explosion?  Who's going to investigate this?  Is this going to be public?  What's going to happen?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, the investigation is under way from the Lebanese authorities, and we await learning of what they come out with.  There's been no request for the UN to have a role in this at this stage.

Question:  No, I'm not asking about the investigation on Lebanon.  You have your own people there.  You have your injured people, casualties.  Do you do any internal investigation for your own UN Mission in Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  For things like damages, the UN has a standard process involving claims, which we will follow.  But regarding an investigation into how this happened, of course, everything resulting from the explosion depends upon the investigation into the explosion itself, which is, of course, conducted by… at this stage, by the Lebanese authorities.

Question:  So, you're not doing your own investigation, you mean?  I'm sorry.  I need to understand…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not into the explosion.  When it comes to things like damages, the UN has a legal process of how we go about dealing with claims, and we will follow that and take them up with the responsible authorities.

Question:  And this include also casualties, people.  It's not only about damages.  It's about people, as well.  Right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, yes.  We follow that in all these cases, in terms of the casualties as well as the damages.

Question:  One more… can I have one more?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, you do not.  There are other people.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, you have the floor. 

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Follow to what my colleague has said:  There are many Lebanese leaders, four former Prime Ministers called on international investigation.  They don't trust the mechanism… the local mechanism of investigation in Lebanon.  The Government of Lebanon is almost discredited by the majority of the Lebanese people.  If these calls reach the Secretary‑General, would he cooperate and decide to conduct international investigation?

Deputy Spokesman:  The United Nations has made it clear that we fully intend to support the authorities, and as they deal with the explosion and its aftermath, if we get any such request from the Lebanese authorities, we would consider that.  But certainly, we have made clear that we already do intend to be helpful in whatever way that we can.

I have an emailed question from Margaret Besheer asking whether I can be more specific on UNIFIL assistance.

At this stage, I don't have anything further to say beyond what I've shared, but UNIFIL has made clear that they are in touch with the Lebanese authorities themselves, and they will be supportive of whatever is asked of us.  But in terms of the tasks being required of us, I don't have anything at this stage to give. 

And I also now have a question from Ibtisam Azem.

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  So, I have a follow‑up on something you said that it's not… I didn't get it.  So, what do you exactly mean when you say that you are going to make your own assessment or follow up on that? What does that exactly mean?

Deputy Spokesman:  On which topic?

Question:  In answer to Nabil, yeah.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  No, no.  We follow our own claims process when there is things like damages or injuries, so we will follow the normal procedures in terms of when our personnel are injured, when they are harmed, when facilities, like our ship, are damaged.  And we'll follow that up with the authorities.  It's not about our own assessment in terms of an investigation.  Like I said, the investigation, at this stage, is being done by the Lebanese authorities.

Question:  You know, I got that, but my que… just to clarify, because the process you are talking about, when you say you have your own… you have your own assessment regarding the damages, what is not clear to me, what does that exactly mean?  What do you do then?  Like, you assess what was damaged, how much it costs you, or do you go into how it happened and what was… so, what exactly you mean by that…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  For us, it's the first aspect.  It's the aspect of claims.  The aspect of how it happened, that's about the investigation.  And that, like I said, is being done, at this stage, by the authorities in Lebanon.

Question:  So claims for insurance and other issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, the… yeah, exactly, the same sort of way we would do it in any such case in any bureau.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Stefano Vaccara, you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  Hello.  Thank you, Farhan.  Yes, is still about Mario Paciolla's death.  Just a comment on this.  There is… in an article, a journalist that was in contact with him wrote that he had called security, the UN Security, okay, a few days before his death.  Now, usually, this… if it did happen, it's unusual, you know, to call security for some… we don't know what the conversation he had, but what the journalist has written that he told her that he had called security. 

Do you have this information?  I mean, are you aware and did you… in your investigation, if you're doing an investigation, do you have any information about that?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on that, as I've made clear over the past days, while this investigation is proceeding, we're not going to comment on the substance of it.  We're not doing anything to sidetrack the performance of this investigation.  What the United Nations has been doing is providing all the information we have at our disposal with the authorities, the Colombian authorities in this case.  And, so, we are following up with them, but I wouldn't have any comment on the substance of the information that we've provided, again, in order not to interfere with the investigation as it proceeds.

Abdelhamid, you have a question on Ethiopia?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Bilateral talks between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt fell apart.  Both Sudan and Egypt withdrew from the talks, claiming that Ethiopia was taking them back to square one, and the tension is rising.  Are you aware of these developments?  Is the SG taking any initiative?  Did he make any phone calls to the parties?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  What I can say is that the Secretary‑General is closely following developments related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  He encourages Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to continue with the negotiations facilitated by the Chairperson of the African Union in a spirit of compromise and consensus.  He calls on the parties to build on the commendable progress made thus far and to overcome the remaining differences in order to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Okay.  And Nabil has a question on Syria.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you again.  Actually, I just received a message.  It seems that the GA will hold a humanitarian appeal for Lebanon on Monday.  Do you expect the Secretary‑General to attend? And then I will ask about Syria.

Deputy Spokesman:  We ex… we will be represented at a high level there, and like I said, we expect Mr. Lowcock to be able to present information on Monday to the Member States, and it is at that information… at that event that you've just mentioned.

Question:  Okay.  On Syria, part of the international aid that go to Syria goes through Lebanon, the p ort of Beirut, actually.  Can you tell us how much you will be affected?  What's the percentage of these aids come through Lebanon?  And what's the alternative, maybe [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are, in fact, exploring using alternative ports in the short term, including in places like Cyprus and in Turkey, to make sure that we can get aid to Syria efficiently while Beirut port is being repaired.  In the short term, fortunately, it seems that some of our aid ships had left Beirut port shortly prior to this incident, so they have gone to places like Latakia with the aid.  So, in the short term, fortunately, we will continue without any major disruption.  And with that, I will leave you all to Reem Abaza.  Reem, the floor is yours.

For information media. Not an official record.