Print
28 July 2021

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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit

In Rome, the Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit concluded today.  Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, met with Government officials from Italy, Russia and Latin America, among others.

In the closing plenary, the Deputy Secretary-General thanked the Italian Government and the UN Rome-based agencies for all the support they provided to make the Pre-Summit possible and successful in the COVID-19 era.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that the Summit is awakening the world to the fact we must work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food.  She also noted that the Summit has made clear that there cannot be separate conversations about food systems, climate, health and nutrition, energy, oceans and biodiversity, and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

In a closing media event with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, Ms. Mohammed said that over the past three days, more than 500 delegates from 108 countries, including 62 Ministers, joined the Summit in person.

She added that more than 17,000 people joined virtually from 190 countries, and that among virtual delegates, there was near gender parity.

The Deputy Secretary-General said in a media event that she is leaving Rome hopeful.  We will soon share her full closing remarks with you.

**Middle East

Lynn Hastings, the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, who is also the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, briefed the Security Council this morning on humanitarian efforts following the fighting in Israel and Gaza in May.

She noted that, according to the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) issued by the UN, the World Bank and the EU earlier this month, damages in Gaza are estimated at between $290 million and $380 million, while economic losses may reach nearly $200 million.

She said that international efforts — coordinated by the United Nations — to implement the humanitarian response and stabilize the situation on the ground in Gaza are well under way.  Thus far, some $45 million (out of a requested $95 million) has been raised for the consolidated humanitarian flash appeal published by the UN in May.

Ms. Hastings said that it is essential that Israel implement additional measures to allow unhindered entry of all humanitarian assistance, including materials to implement the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan and the Flash Appeal.

She also called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the death of Nizar Banat and all allegations of use of disproportionate force against protestors by Palestinian Security Forces are investigated in a thorough, transparent and independent manner and that those responsible be held to account.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues continue to report major challenges to accessing Tigray with humanitarian assistance.

The last convoy reached Mekelle on 12 July, yet an estimated 500 to 600 trucks of relief items are needed every week to meet mounting humanitarian needs.

All roads into Tigray from the Amhara region remain closed due to restrictions and insecurity.  The only possible road through the Afar region is inaccessible since 19 July, following an attack on a World Food Programme convoy a day earlier.

Meanwhile, today, 44 trucks with humanitarian supplies left Semera, in the Afar region, and are headed for Tigray.  About 150 trucks remain on standby in Semera, pending security clearances.

As you are aware, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the current food supply in Tigray will only last until this Friday.  Nutrition partners will also soon run out of the essential Ready to Use Formula to treat an estimated 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

A lack of supplies, fuel and communication equipment is expected to effectively halt humanitarian response in two weeks.  Fuel shortages have particularly affected health assistance, including vaccinations and other life-saving services, and risk disrupting access to safe water for up to 450,000 people.  At least 200,000 litres of fuel, or 4 to 5 tankers, are needed weekly to enable operations to continue.

We continue to call for the restoration of basic services, electricity, communications, commercial flights and the banking system.  We also reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for unfettered humanitarian access to ensure that vital and life-saving assistance can reach people in need as soon as possible.

Finally, we also continue to call on all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia to protect civilians and humanitarian workers and their assets in compliance with international humanitarian law.

**Central African Republic

We have an update from the Central African Republic.

On Monday night, in the eastern city of Obo, UN peacekeepers repelled coordinated attacks by combatants allegedly belonging to the UPC (Union des Patriotes centrafricains).

The UN base there was among the sites targeted by the attackers.  One peacekeeper was injured during the clashes.  He is receiving treatment and is in stable condition.

The UN Mission (MINUSCA) condemned these attacks against the population and its personnel, offered condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a speedy recovery.

And today, the UN Mission welcomed the establishment by the Central African Government of a commission of inquiry into the incidents of 21 July, which resulted in the deaths of several people in the Bossangoa sub-prefecture.  Our colleagues reiterated their readiness to assist authorities with the investigation.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN country team there says it remains concerned by the restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press due to the imposition of restrictive policies and practices since the military seized control of the Government on 1 February.

In the past six months, more than 100 journalists have reportedly been arrested and at least 46 are reportedly still detained.

The UN country team calls on the military to respect the right of freedom of expression and the freedom of the press and to allow journalists to report without fear of reprisal.  These fundamental rights are even more important during the fight against COVID-19.

**Bangladesh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that it is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of six Rohingya refugees following heavy monsoon rains and strong winds which pelted massive refugee sites in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, causing flash floods and landslides.  According to initial reports, more than 12,000 refugees have been affected and some 2,500 shelters have been damaged or destroyed.

In the last 24 hours alone, more than 30 centimetres of rain fell on camps hosting more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees — that’s nearly half the monthly rainfall average for July in one day.  The situation is further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a strict national lockdown currently in place to respond to rising cases across the country.

In support of the Government-led response, UNHCR has deployed Emergency Response Teams to provide immediate support and assistance to affected families and to those forced to temporarily relocate.  Teams are also assessing the damage to shelters and initiating immediate shelter repairs and site improvements.

To date, the 2021 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh has received only 30 per cent of the $943 million required this year.

**COVID-19 — Thailand

I have two COVID-19 updates for you today from Thailand and Tajikistan.

In Thailand, our UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Gita Sabharwal, responded to a request from civil society to promote vaccine confidence and help with the vaccine rollout, especially in the southern border provinces.

The UN team pooled resources to share reliable and trusted information on vaccines in several local languages.  These messages address vaccine hesitancy, in close coordination with religious leaders, youth influencers and health volunteers in villages.

In densely populated, low-income communities in Bangkok, which have been hit hard by the pandemic, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has provided 22,000 sets of emergency relief supplies, including hand sanitizer, masks and learning materials for children.

For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working with authorities and a network of migrant health volunteers to help 25,000 migrants in four provinces.  IOM is also helping 50,000 migrant workers and their families with emergency aid, health services and financial support to respond to the recent lockdown of businesses.

**Tajikistan — COVID-19

Tajikistan has received more than 1.5 million vaccine doses which were donated to COVAX by the United States.  This brings the total number of vaccines delivered through COVAX to Tajikistan to nearly 1.7 million.

Our UN team there has been helping vulnerable people and supporting authorities tackle the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.  WHO and UNICEF have been supporting the national vaccination campaign since it kicked off five months ago.

The UN team has also made significant investments in intensive care unit infrastructure and has helped to enhance the capacity of medical staff and the ability of hospitals to handle a surge in the number of patients.  We have also provided medical equipment, such as oxygen and pulse-oximeters, for maternity wards in the most affected regions.

**Refugee Convention

As we mark the seventieth anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that recommitting to its spirit and fundamental principles is more urgent than ever.  Millions of lives have been saved because of the Convention, Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said.  But he also expressed alarm at recent attempts by some Governments to disregard or circumvent the Convention’s principles.

He stressed the need for the international community to uphold the key principles of refugee protection as laid out in the Convention, including the right of someone fleeing persecution not to be sent back into the path of harm or danger.

**Financial Contribution

After a short dry spell, I am delighted to announce a fresh payment to the UN’s regular budget.  This one comes from the Marshall Islands, and we thank our friends there for taking us to 115 fully paid-up Member States.

**Press Briefing

Tomorrow, at 9 a.m.  there will be a hybrid press briefing here by Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Chargé d’affaires of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.

And also tomorrow, you will have as our briefer, our colleague, Eri Kaneko.

Are there any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Célhia?

Question:  Farhan, I’d like to know what happened to the UN people being on mission in different part of the world when it come to the vaccine.  Who is taking care of them?  Do they get vaccine and from whom?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it varies from place to place, but there are many areas where our host Governments who are hosting our staff have been able to provide vaccines in different areas.  In other areas, of course, we simply follow national practises and get vaccines the same way that the citizens of each nation do, as we do here in the United States.

Question:  If they’re in countries where the population does not get vaccines, so they get nothing?  They work for the UN; they get nothing?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, we’ve been able to provide vaccines to our staff.  Like I said, sometimes they’ve been provided by host Governments.  Other times, like I said, there are national policies instituted in different countries, and we do the same policies of registration and lining up to get those vaccines in those.

Yes, Pam?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  A little quick follow-up on what you said about Tigray.  The World Food Programme chief did talk about this Friday deadline when food runs out.  He said the trucks are stuck now in Afar and can’t leave.  Can you do two things; one is explain what is stopping the trucks.

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s a number of things.  As I just read out, there are problems due to restrictions on the one hand and also due to insecurity.  And so, the one possible road that we could use through the Afar region has been closed since 19 July, and of course, what… that’s a closure… basically a problem of access for the last nine days.  So, we need that to happen.  We need to get the security clearances for about 150 trucks that remain on standby in Semera, and then we need to make sure that basic services, including electricity, communications, commercial flights and the banking system, will be restored.

And so, there’s… so, between the various restrictions and the security issues, we’ve had different things, and we’re calling on all the sides, both the Government and the de facto authorities, to help us with that.

Question:  And so, this is really a call to the Ethiopian Government on the lifting of the restrictions and restoring the electricity.  True?

Deputy Spokesman:  I mean, yes, it is, but there’s calls that we’re making to the other forces, as well.  The insecurity on the ground doesn’t help.  Sometimes there are problems getting clearances through de facto authorities.  So, we want those to be cleared up, as well.

Question:  And there’s been… who’s been on the ground actually negotiating this?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t say about negotiating.  We’ve had a number of senior UN officials who have been travelling back through the country.  I’ll probably be able to provide some more details in the coming days about who those are, but a number of senior officials have been in touch with the Ethiopian Government over the past days.

Yeah, Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The first round of negotiations on strategic stability between Russia and US concluded just right now in Geneva.  Both sides admitted that it was rather productive, professional.  The next round is going to be held in September, if I’m not mistaken.  Any comments from your side on this?  And what are your expectations of results of this strategic negotiation?  When do you expect results?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as for what our expectations are, I won’t speculate on what the future holds, but we welcome any productive dialogue between… certainly between all Member States but in particular between key States such as these two permanent members of the UN Security Council.  And so, we continue to be hopeful that these talks will continue to be productive.

And before I go on to any further questions, I have the following to read to you:  that we have been following with growing concern continuing reports of tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, including the latest incident reported today.  While the UN is not in a position to verify such reports, we urge both sides to exercise restraint, refrain from any action that could escalate tensions, and address related concerns through dialogue.

And with that, I’ll turn to James Reinl for a question.  James?

Question:  Yeah.  Hi there.  Can you hear me, Farhan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Thanks so much for the briefing, of course.  Question here about the Olympics in Tokyo right now.  A little bit from the left field for you guys, but there’s been a number of incidents there.  For example, the Norwegian triathlete Kristian Blummenfelt vomited after winning gold, complained of exhaustion.

Just now, on the tennis courts, the Russian player, Daniil Medvedev, he said to the umpire, “I can die.  If I die, who will take responsibility?” — because of the heat and exhaustion.

Other issues, too, the US gymnast Simone Biles is pulling out of some events over mental health issues related to competing.

There seems to be a lot of problems with athletes and their welfare.  I’m just wondering, from the point of view of the SG or their sports envoy, is there a human rights dimension to this?  And are you guys in any way concerned about the welfare of Olympic athletes?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding your general question, it’s really… that, I see, is really more a question for the International Olympic Committee and not for the United Nations, so I’ll leave that under their purview.

Certainly, we hope that all of the athletes participating in this event are able to go through with this with their physical and mental health respected.

Yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Afghan authorities have arrested four Afghan journalists for going to Spin Boldak, an area occupied by Taliban or seized by Taliban, and reporting from there.  Do you have any comments on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, we don’t have any first-hand reporting on this.  Obviously, any issues involving Taliban activity we would be concerned about, and you’ve seen what the Mission has had to say about that.

Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In her speech to the Security Council, the Deputy Special Coordinator repeatedly urged Israel not to confiscate Palestinian land.  She asked Israel not to use force against civilians.  It asked Israel again and again.  It keeps repeating that.  Is that what the U… all that the UN can do regarding a country that violates international law, urge and ask and appeal?  That’s all?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s not all that we do.  We back up our appeals with on-the-ground diplomacy, but clearly, one of the tools in our toolbox is briefings to the Security Council and getting the Security Council not simply to know about the situation but also to act upon it, and that is what Ms. Hastings is doing today.

Question:  Thank you.  My second question, Morocco decided to establish a huge port in the city of Dakhla, which will cost over a billion dollar.  Is the UN aware of that?  And do they have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  In the city of Dakhla?  Which is where?

Question:  Of Dakhla, in Western Sahara, in the southern part of Western Sahara, close to the Mauritanian border.

Deputy Spokesman:  I… this is the first I’ve heard of it, but I will check with our colleagues in MINURSO (United Nations Mission in Western Sahara).

Correspondent:  Yes.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Thanks very much, and have a great afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.