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DSG/SM/1404
27 April 2020

Press Conference by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed at United Nations Headquarters

Following is a transcript of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s press conference on the launch of the “Rise for All” initiative, held in New York today:

Thank you very much, Stéphane.  Thank you to all of you for being with us today, and I am really delighted to be joined by Achim Steiner, the Administrator of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].

As we all know, we are living in surreal times.  The world as we know it has been hit by an unprecedented health, humanitarian and economic crisis.  COVID-19 is a pandemic touching all corners of the world, and we will need our solidarity to rise to the occasion of the global response that is needed at a magnitude that we have never seen before.

Every country and community will be affected and under the leadership of the Secretary-General, our job in the United Nations is to be ready to serve and to support countries, Governments, communities, businesses, in fighting the pandemic, suppressing the virus, and ensuring that we support all leaders in the socioeconomic recovery.

Today, I am pleased to launch two efforts in support of the world’s response to COVID-19 and recovery.  First, the framework for immediate socioeconomic response and recovery to COVID-19, which puts into practice the Secretary-General’s report, “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity”, that he released in March.

The second is “Women Rising for All”, putting women leaders at the forefront, calling the world to action for the responses that we will need on the health, the economic and the humanitarian front.

For the framework, this complements all UN efforts, particularly in health, which is being ably led by the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus].  It is also being led in the humanitarian sector, on the Humanitarian Response Plan.

The Framework centres around five interconnected clusters.  In a nutshell, ensuring that our health services are protected, reinforced and capacities built to build back better.  The second, ensuring that people have access to social protection and basic services;

The third will be to protect jobs, SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises,] in supporting economic recovery.

The fourth, supporting elements of the fiscal and financial stimulus macroeconomic framework, including the call for a debt standstill to allow a fiscal space to address the crisis.

And the last, but not least, is that community engagement that we will need to build the resilience of the most vulnerable.

This framework restates and commits to human rights, environmental sustainability, climate action, gender equality, thus reflecting the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement.  COVID-19 may have put a pause button on the world, but it certainly hasn’t stopped climate change, nor has it stopped the vulnerabilities or the inequalities around the world.  And we must take profit from this crisis to look at the opportunities that we can address.

The framework guides action through the next 12 to 18 months, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinators and our country teams, and we will be relying on the technical lead of UNDP to ensure that we can operationalize this framework in the shortest possible time.  It is the first time that we are looking at development with an emergency lens.  We have looked at the humanitarian and the health, but now for development it is equally urgent that we attend to the crisis.

Aligned with the call, the Secretary-General has launched the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.  This will catalyze action at the country level to mobilize, in the first instance, $1 billion by the end of the year and $2 billion overall.  This call has already gone out to 47 of our most vulnerable countries, and we have received all responses, hoping that we will get out to deliver on those calls by the beginning of May.

We will be rising to this occasion with women at the forefront.  We have heard over and over again how they carry the brunt of the burden of COVID-19, and the health, the humanitarian and certainly the socioeconomic piece.

And for that, we have an amazing number of women who are coming forward today to support us in that call to action.

I would like to welcome the leadership of President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia; Prime Minister [Erna] Solberg of Norway; our Sustainable Development Advocate and founder of the Education Above All initiative, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, and the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley; Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many more incredible leaders as we rise today to take our actions forward in ensuring that we come out — we conquer COVID-19 — and we come out the other side better.

Now more than ever, we need to come together to overcome this global threat that affects us all.

The United Nations is fully committed to supporting people and Governments as we go in this struggle together.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  We will now go to your questions.  If I can get the journalists slate up on the screen, that would be helpful.

I think our first question is from Pam Falk at CBS News, who asks how the fundraising is going so far and how the resource mobilization efforts are going.  DSG?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much for that question.  Well, as with all things, fundraising has become quite a challenge, inasmuch as we expect to have received so much more.  What I would say is that the first steps have been really positive, that we have had four or five countries step up to the fund on the socioeconomic but also to thank those that have put money forward for the humanitarian response and the health response.  These three go together, and we, so far, are seeing over a billion dollars in the response to all three of the emergencies.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Achim [Steiner], did you want to add something?  Okay.

Thank you.  Abdelhamid, are you on the line?  Let's see if we can get a live question.

Correspondent:  Yes, I am.

Spokesman:  Please, Abdelhamid… Go ahead.  You're on.

Correspondent:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And Madame Amina Mohammed, first, happy Ramadan to you and your family.

I want to ask you, Madame, about the Middle East.  There, the oil prices have plunged to all-time low, many different wars and conflicts, and also the corona pandemic.  How do you see the recovery in the Middle East?  What the UN can do to help those areas struck by wars and conflicts and in addition to all these problems we've talked about?  Thank you.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much, Abdelhamid.  Ramadan Kareem to you and your family, as well.

Well, this is what is, you know, really a… for us, a global response does not mean that we just have one size fits all.  The solution in the Arab world has also a context which is very difficult, and so we are working together with Governments to see, first, how we can ensure that we prevent the transmission, in the beginning, those supply chains to… particularly to more vulnerable communities are open and that Governments are coping with ensuring that they are testing and, when they are able to find positive cases, they're able to trace and isolate and then treat.

But on the socioeconomic side, I think this is really important, where we're seeing stimulus packages being put together, and there is this call, as you would have seen from the G20 [Group of 20], where we are asking for the fiscal gaps that there are to be supported.

In a number of countries, in Kuwait, we are working with them on special packages that they have to ensure that the social protection programmes are there, cash transfers, and that we are able, with small businesses, to keep them going for the day after COVID-19, when one would hope that they can recover positively.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Christiane, ARD, German Television.

Question:  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Thank you for taking the question.  I was wondering, in case a medication or a vaccine will be available, which is most likely going to happen through one of the huge pharmaceutical companies, is there any idea or consideration how this can be contributed worldwide also to countries who are not rich?  Because I heard from leading scientists that they are waiting for a protocol to be installed in order to do just that.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  Important question.  You'd have known that we launched the vaccine initiative on Friday last week, and that initiative was to focus on, first of all, developing the vaccine in half the time, 6 to 12 months, but also ensuring that we're able to produce it and to deliver it to everyone.

The [Secretary-General] has called for this as a global public good, and that is what we're working towards.  The initiative commits itself to that, and the Government structures to make sure that all the partners come to the table to make that happen.  There will be an announcement on 4 May by the European Commission, where they are looking at the funding mechanism for that.

So, I believe all hands are on deck, first and foremost, to see how we can develop this vaccine as soon as possible, but the production and its access to everyone will be in everyone's minds.  And the commitment, as you'd have seen on Friday, is towards that, and we will see that reinforced on 4 May, with more leaders coming to the table on how we will finance this.

Question:  May I just have a short follow-up?  Have you had any resonance from the pharmaceutical companies?  Is there anybody out there who said, “Yes, we would commit”?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Yes, there are a number of pharmaceutical companies who are committing to this initiative in the call to action.  You will see them listed there.  And they come under various alliances, but the pharmaceutical companies are on board.

The specifics of how this goes about is still to be worked out, but I can tell you that there's a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of understanding that the solidarity and global response for this is unprecedented.  It needs to be to solve the problem.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Iftikhar Ali of Associated Press of Pakistan has a question:  First of all, happy Ramadan.  In view of the lockdown situation around the world, how will women leaders mentioned by you, DSG, help promote your cause?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  Ramadan Kareem to all those in Pakistan, as well.

Well, you know, as we said, making people aware of the situation that women face on the front lines as health workers, you'll know that of recent, you see gender-based violence on the increase and many of these happening in our homes where we're in lockdown.  So, awareness is one of them and then the solutions and the connectivity to the resources you can have to actually resolve these.

What is important today is that we're seeing women leaders at all levels take up the gauntlet for this crisis health, humanitarian and socioeconomic.  Many of our women are in the informal sector, and they will be hit hardest by this.

Many people talk about, in the developed world, a paycheck and stimulus packages that go to resolve the short-term response to that.  But in the developing world, it's about a daily living, and most of that daily living is brought to the table by women.  And so, for us, it's really just bringing to the fore some of those huge challenges, making the case for why we need to have a debt standstill to release resources for a Government to use for social protection programmes, cash transfers, programmes that, perhaps, were going a little slower before COVID-19 but now we see the emergency of it and the exclusion of so many, particularly women.

Spokesman:  Thank you. We'll go back to our live questions.  I have not gotten any more questions on my phone.  Any other questions, Florencia, from anyone?

Edie, Edie Lederer, AP.

Correspondent: Thank you very much.  Sorry.  I have something going on in the background.

Spokesman:  If you could mute your computer, yeah.  Thank you.  Go ahead, Edie.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  My question is, a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but for three separate appeals that have very large appeals, what percentage of that is represented?  And I'm… my guess is that there's still a long way to go.  Can you tell us how much that is and, in this economic climate, how you can try and get donors to contribute that significant amount remaining?

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you, Edie . It's great to hear you, and I hope that you're well and safe.

What is important, I think, here is, for the first time, we are bringing to the forefront that this emergency goes beyond a health one.  The health emergency is absolutely just that, and we try to confront it.  But bringing the socioeconomic piece here is to make the call for other money.  The money that you see in the fund right now is to support the work of the UN, and while it has got off to a slow start, I believe that it's positive.  And once people see the work being rolled out in very difficult circumstances with the support of the UN, we will get much more.  Today, we're getting inquiries on how to put their pledges forward on this.

I don't think that the over 6 billion that one is asking for the support is a large amount of money that cannot be made available.  It is there in the financial system.  We've seen it where countries have been able to turn around stimulus packages of over 2 trillion, and this is actually saying to us that, if we take care of the most vulnerable COVID-19 that is anywhere is certainly everywhere we prevent that coming back again.

So, I do believe that we'll be able to use this initiative to leverage other funding.  You'll know that the UN is repurposing over 2 billion of its funds to focus on this, but we're also finding other bilateral and multilateral institutions that are also moving this way, and so, we see leveraging quite a large amount.

The private sector has also indicated that it would like to partner with the UN at the country level on many of these initiatives, and I think that, in the coming weeks and months, you will see, from the proposals that are put forward by country teams in support of Government priorities, the leverage for increasing the funding.

We're all concerned that the funding is not coming in as quickly as it should, but we're hoping that we will put the investment case out there and the case for enlightened self-interest, because I think this has to be seen as a solidarity that's needed to protect everyone everywhere.

I don't know whether Achim would like to add to this?

Spokesman:  Yeah, Achim Steiner, please go ahead and jump in.

Mr. Steiner:  Thank you.  I think, echoing what the Deputy Secretary-General has said, quite clearly, we can see that, for much of the developing world right now, there is, first of all, domestically inadequate financial resources available, at least developed countries but also middle-income countries that are considered developing or emerging economies are struggling with the extraordinary need to mobilize financing, first of all, domestically and then internationally.

I think we need to look at this problem also from three different perspectives.  We've seen a first response by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] countries, although one has to emphasize the vast majority of these funds are essentially credit lines.  So, countries are borrowing in order to create fiscal space for the response in their countries.

The second phenomenon is clearly the reprogramming in the development aid financing arena and in the Humanitarian Response Plans also, because our concern is, first of all, that existing humanitarian crises are not neglected and defunded, because that will simply create explosive situations.

We are trying to leverage additional resources in UNDP and many of our agencies within the UN.  We are talking to capitals in the countries we work in but also donor capitals to quickly reconfigure the financing that is available for a rapid COVID response.

However, the real challenge and I think… and our hope is that, over the coming months, as countries, first of all, look inwards to deal with the crisis themselves, this was clearly the first response, we need to recognize what the Secretary-General has called for.  At the global level, the same logic applies. Somewhere above 10 per cent of annual GDP is probably the volume of financing that is needed in order to create the kind of mechanisms and means by which to be able to cope with this crisis.

And an earlier question also referred to countries in crisis and in conflict.  I just want to remind the world of situations such as Yemen, where already right now, the resources are not adequate.  Therefore, some of the humanitarian responses have to be cut back, but even in a country like Uganda, cutbacks and food rations were necessary because not enough funding is available.

We are facing a very serious situation, and I think we must reach out to countries in the developed world to sensitize them, very much as the Secretary-General has called, out of a sense of enlightened self-interest, because if you do not respond, these crises can easily go out of control, not just in terms of humanitarian suffering but also from a geopolitical point of view.  And that is why it is so critical that the notion of solidarity is not just one that we apply within our own countries and communities but really as a global family.  And this is very much the meaning also of the United Nations stepping in front of the world right now and asking it to be part of that capacity to respond.  Thank you.  

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  And I think this concludes our briefing. We hope to have the Secretary-General here with us later this week.  In the meantime, thank you to the Deputy Secretary-General.  Thank you to Achim.  Thank you to all of you, and thank you to your technical staff for pulling this off.  So, take care, be safe, and see you soon.

Deputy Secretary-General:  Thank you very much. Be safe.

For information media. Not an official record.