25 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, and happy Tuesday.  So, let’s get going as soon as my computer decides to let me go.  There we go.

**Secretary-General — Tourism

As you are aware very early this morning, we published the Secretary‑General’s latest Policy Brief, this time looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism.  In a video message, the Secretary-General called tourism one of the world’s most important economic sectors, employing 1 in every 10 people.  He called tourism itself one of the wonders of the world, which is why it is so painful to see how tourism has been devastated by the pandemic.  The Secretary-General said that in the first five months of this year, international tourist arrivals decreased by more than half and some $320 billion in exports from tourism were lost.  Overall, 120 million direct jobs in tourism are at risk, and the crisis is an emergency for developing nations.  Mr. Guterres stressed that it is important that we rebuild the tourism sector in a way that is safe, equitable and climate friendly.  The full Policy Brief, as well as the message, are all online.

**Middle East

Back in New York, the Security Council held an open video teleconference on the situation in the Middle East.  Briefing was Nickolay Mladenov, our Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  In his remarks he reiterated how the Secretary-General has welcomed the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, saying he hopes it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage.  Mr. Mladenov noted that the deal has the potential to change dynamics across the region, creating new opportunities for cooperation at a time when the Middle East and the world face grave dangers from COVID-19, as well as radicalization.  He added that it will create new economic opportunities and opportunities for peace.  He also voiced concern over the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel.  The UN, along with our partners, have continued to support Palestinians in responding to the pandemic, including by addressing critical gaps in medical supplies and equipment.  His full remarks have been shared with you.

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

And just a note from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), they tell us that they are extremely concerned about the closure of the lone power plant in Gaza since last Tuesday, 18 August with the impact it will have on health care and other sectors.


And in response to a question on Lebanon yesterday, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that that we, along with our partners, are continuing to deliver emergency assistance to those most in need following the Beirut blast.  More than 180,000 people are being reached with critical, life-saving humanitarian assistance, including health, food assistance, and protection assistance.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been able to deliver 18 shipments of critical humanitarian supplies, totalling 67 tons, through two airlifts and commercial cargo routes, to support children and families impacted by the Beirut explosions.  The shipments included vital personal protective equipment, medical, health hygiene and nutrition supplies.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that it brought in 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour into the country to stabilize the price of bread across Lebanon.  WFP has also begun constructing mobile storage units at Beirut port, which can be used by our partners as storage space for bagged food items and non-food items.  WFP is also working to provide food parcels to families that have impacted by the blast.  Each food parcel contains around 60 kilogrammes of food items — enough for a family of five for one month.  And UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, is running mobile medical units that provide medical care and reproductive health services to women impacted by the explosions.


Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues report that heavy rains and flooding since March continue to impact the country, with some 300,000 people believed to have lost their homes and livelihoods.  The rains are also impacting people who have had to flee conflict.  Nearly 150 people have died from the flooding, which has also damaged homes, roads, electrical towers and telecommunication services, among other infrastructures.  We along with our partners are assessing the situation and mobilizing emergency assistance, including food and other items.  However, our partners are running low on emergency shelter and other non-food items in several districts.  Aid agencies are struggling with severe funding gaps for many core programmes, which is contributing to these challenges.  To date, our UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is only 24 per cent funded.  We urge donors to pay all outstanding pledges, and those who have already given to increase and those have not given yet to give.


Turning to Afghanistan, fighting in Kunduz Province has led to the displacement of approximately 52,500 people.  This began on [16] August, when a non-State armed group staged multiple attacks on Afghan National Security Forces outposts, which in turn responded with ground offensives and air strikes.  As of today, fighting has reduced in intensity, but remains in concentrated areas, however, the security situation remains tense across Kunduz.  We along with our partners have deployed joint assessment teams in Kunduz.  An additional surge of staff from other parts of the country is ongoing to boost assessment and response capacity.  We will, also along with our partners, start providing humanitarian assistance including shelter, food and health based on assessed needs.


Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we remain concerned about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country, where capacity to test and to respond remains limited.  To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has confirmed 2,293 cases, that’s including 92 deaths.  As part of its support, the UN Syria Humanitarian Fund has begun the disbursement of $23 million for 32 approved projects in the health, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as protection, food and logistics sectors.  WFP has also expanded its activities to include food distribution at quarantine centres and UNICEF has included soap in its general food assistance packages.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the UN preparedness and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the north-west and in the north-east.

**United Nations Peacekeeping

A couple of updates from our peacekeeping mission and their activities during this pandemic.  The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has provided antibacterial soaps and handwashing buckets to communities in Eastern Equatoria, making it easier for people to follow recommended hygiene guidelines.  The Mission also donated an ambulance to the COVID-19 task force in Kodok in Upper Nile State to help local workers move around easier.  The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has provided personal protective equipment and other supplies to host communities in the country’s south-east.  The mission will donate further supplies to other municipalities in southern Lebanon in the coming days.  In Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) continues to deliver on its mandate as it also works to address the pandemic.  As part of its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, the Mission helped to inaugurate a community centre for young people in the city of Askia, in Gao, to help fight violent extremism and youth radicalization.  This new centre will host meetings and training for young people as part of the implementation of the National Policy for the Prevention and Fight against Violent Extremism in Mali.

**Republic of Moldova

And a note from Republic of Moldova, and what the UN team there is doing to address the pandemic.  The country has more than 33,000 cases and some 940 deaths.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Simon Springett, is working with authorities to tackle the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.  The COVID-19 response and recovery plan seeks to recover better to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  While nearly all companies in Moldova are either small or medium-sized, employing 60 per cent of the population, a recent report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that only one in three companies have the resources to cushion the impact of the pandemic.  UNDP and its partners are offering training to help businesses survive and adapt to the new challenges.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNDP surveyed the Moldovan diaspora, finding that 150,000 Moldovan migrants are expected to return to their home country this year.  This could lead to an eight per cent jump in unemployment by the end of 2020.  UN‑Women has found that, during the pandemic, women in urban areas have registered more cases of domestic violence compared to those in rural areas.

**Digital Financing

Lastly, I want to flag the launch tomorrow at 10 a.m. of the report entitled “People’s Money: Harnessing Digitalization to Finance a Sustainable Future”, which was put together by the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Financing.  The report highlights how billions of people around the world are responding to the pandemic using digital tools to work, spend and socialize.  It argues that there is an historic opportunity to harness digitalization in placing citizens, the ultimate owners of the world’s financial resources, in control of finance to ensure that it meets their needs, today and in the future.  The report also identifies key opportunities going forward to use digital finance as a critical building block for sustainable development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  And the Secretary-General will be speaking at the launch and you can also watch it live on WebTV.  Okay.  Let's go, not to the videotape, but let's go to the chat, see if anybody wants to talk.  Wow, looks like I left some of you speechless, which would not be a bad thing.  I don't see anybody in the chat.  If you have a question, wave.  Otherwise… all right.  Well, if nobody has any questions…

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Hi.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, yes.

Question:  Sorry, it's Gloria.  Could you…?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  The ship in Lebanon that's owned by a Lebanese banker, perhaps Hizbullah were involved, and in some way, it could relate to the carelessness of these explosives?

Spokesman:  I think that's, that will have to be looked at as part of the investigation being run by the Lebanese authorities.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  I'm trying to see.  Do you hear me?

Spokesman:  I hear you.  I know what you look like, so as long as I hear you, that's good.

Question:  Okay, okay.  Thank you, I'm sorry for that.  Well, I have a few questions on Mr. Mladenov's briefing.  He started his speech by saying this agreement between United Arab Emirates and Israel stops the Israeli plans over part of the West Bank.  He used the word "stops".  And he thanked Israel for its commitment not to annex part of the West Bank.  I think both, as probably everyone knows, that's very inaccurate description of the real things in this agreement between Israel and United Arab Emirates.  It didn't stop, and Israeli did not express commitment to not… not to annex parts of the West Bank.  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, that's more of a commentary than a question.  Mr. Mladenov's views represent the Secretary‑General's views.  I'm not sure what else I can add.  I think we will have to agree to disagree on the analysis of the situation.

Question:  The second question is that he, in most of his speech, put the blame on the Palestinians.  He mentioned militant activities in Gaza.  He mentioned incendiary balloons, rockets firing.  And when he wants to talk about Israel, he used the word "responded", two times he used "in response to that".  So, why he cannot blame the occupation?  Why he cannot blame the siege imposed on Gaza by Israel?  Why only the Gazans are to be blamed for militant activities?

Spokesman:  I don't… I don't think he is solely blaming the Palestinians or the… for this situation.  He is reporting on the period that he's meant to report to to the Security Council.  I think it is very clear what his, what our ultimate vision is, which is a resumption of negotiations, a halt to the activities that puts civilians at risk and in pain and at risk of death.  So, again, I think you're… you are free and encouraged to do analysis and commentary on what he said, but he said what he said, and I really have nothing to add to it.  Toby?

Correspondent:  No, I read what [inaudible].  I'm not inventing it.

Spokesman:  I'm not saying you're inventing.  I'm saying we have different visions of the words on paper.  So, I'm not here to interpret or analyse what Mr. Mladenov said.  Mr. Mladenov used very clear and precise language in English, and that's what he said.  And he represents the views of the Secretariat in that regard and the Secretary‑General.  Mr. Toby?

Question:  Hi there, Steph.  Just moments ago, the President of the Security Council said that he's not in a position to take further action with respect to the US request to initiate snapback.  I just wanted to for the record… I just wanted to get your office's opinion on that.  I know it's not the Secretary‑General's job to resolve all the matters in the Security Council, but I just wanted to ask if you had any response to that, and then, also, just as a technical point, to ask if the legal office of the Secretary‑General was consulted at any point by the Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that, and these are decisions that the Presidency needs to make, that the Security Council needs to take collectively or… and the Member States have their own positions.  This is not an issue for the Secretary‑General to insert himself within, at this point.  As for any action of the Security Council, once there is a decision and instructions to the Secretariat from a legislative body, we will act.  But, at this point, this is in the hands of the Council and clearly in the hands of the presidency.  Okay.  All right, it's been a pleasure to do a short briefing.  Just as a reminder, tomorrow, I will be in the building briefing from the podium, tomorrow and Thursday.  We will do a hybrid briefing, where some of you will be allowed in the room and the others will dial in.  Please check with Valeria at UNCA.  I've asked her to put in place some sort of a system… rotation or whatever, because we have a limited… we have about 10 seats available at this point to journalists to be in the building.  So, it's up to you guys to organize yourselves, but I will be in the building and looking forward to seeing some of you from afar.

Question:  Can I ask a question?  I'm sorry, one more.

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.  Go ahead.  And then, Iftikhar, I don't know if you're waving goodbye or wanted to ask a question?

Question:  Thank you.  One thing was… one… many things were missing in his briefing, especially the bodies of the Palestinian killed by Israel and the night raids that go on and on on Palestinian homes.  At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, about 60 soldiers went to the village of Nabi Saleh to arrest young man Mohammed — sorry — Mohammed Bilal Tamimi.  Mohammed Bilal Tamimi is 21.  He was released from jail eight months ago.  He has a bullet in his chest, and he's been under doctor's protection and supervision.  Sixty soldiers went there, 15 of them inside the home, threw a pepper bomb on the family's house, and they arrested him.  Until now, no one knows where he is.  They've been trying to reach out to every organization and UN to find out where is Mohammed Bilal Tamimi.  Until now, they don't know where he is.  Can you come up with an answer?

Spokesman:  I will… we will refer that to Mr. Mladenov's office and see what we can get.  Okay, all right.  Thank you, all, and see you tomorrow.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.