The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Quick update from Afghanistan on airplanes, and our colleagues at the Humanitarian Air Service, which as you know is operated by the World Food Programme. Excuse me. Let’s start again.
In Afghanistan, the UN Humanitarian Air Service, operated by the World Food Programme, is resuming flights to enable 160 humanitarian organizations to continue their life-saving activities in Afghanistan’s provinces.
The air passenger service is currently linking Islamabad to Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar, with three flights already having taken place to Mazar-i-Sharif since 29 August. WFP says all efforts are being made to step up operations as soon as possible and increase the number of flown-to destinations in Afghanistan. In addition, a cargo airbridge is being established to transport non-food items, such as medical and other emergency supplies to where they are needed the most.
UNHAS’ domestic passenger service requires $18 million and $12 million is required for the cargo airbridge. Both services will be utilized by the entire humanitarian community.
From 2002 to 2021, the UN Humanitarian Air Service in Afghanistan served more than 20 destinations in the country; it will seek to return to these locations once security and funding permits.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there reports that yesterday, unidentified assailants ambushed a civilian convoy of approximately 100 vehicles that was being escorted jointly by UN peacekeepers and the Congolese military. This happened near Ofay, which is south-west of Bunia in the Ituri province.
Our colleagues there, along with the Congolese troops, responded by opening fire against the assailants. A UN Quick Reaction Force was also dispatched to the scene. The incident resulted in at least four civilians killed and 16 vehicles burnt. Peacekeepers said there were no casualties for UN personnel or damage to UN assets.
UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army have been escorting civilian convoys between the towns of Komanda and Luna — that’s about 40 kilometres north of Beni — since 7 August. They started doing this following an increase in threats posed by the ADF group in the area. The Mission said today they are determined to continue this joint activity with the Congolese Army, reiterating that it is essential to the population and the humanitarian community.
Moving on to Ethiopia. In a statement issued today, the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia, Grant Leaity, warned that with the inability to bring in sufficient and sustained levels of humanitarian supplies, cash and fuel, the humanitarian situation in the North of the country is set to worsen dramatically, particularly in Tigray.
Mr. Leaity noted that an estimated 5.2 million people, or 90 per cent of the population across the Tigray region, urgently need humanitarian assistance. He said that millions are on the brink of going hungry, including 1.7 million people in the bordering areas of the Afar and Amhara regions.
Mr. Leaity pointed out that while humanitarian access is now viable and secure inside most of Tigray, the region remains under a de facto humanitarian aid blockade, where access to bring life-saving humanitarian relief continues to be extremely restricted. Stocks of relief items, cash and fuel are running very low or are completely depleted in certain locations. Food stocks already ran out on 20 August.
The Acting Humanitarian Coordinator stressed that the lives of millions of civilians in Tigray and neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara depend on our capacity to reach them with food, nutrition supplies, medicine and other critical medical supplies.
Our colleagues at the Office for Children and Armed Conflict told us that new action plans were signed between the UN and the Plateforme — and this is concerning Mali — a coalition of armed movements in Mali.
With these action plans, the Plateforme has committed to releasing all children present in its members’ ranks. They have also committed to end the military use of schools and to guarantee unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to all children.
Ms. Gamba, our Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has called on the international community to support reintegration activities for the children, emphasizing that these services, which include psycho-social support and access to education, are essential to help boys and girls fully regain their place in communities and society as a whole.
The Plateforme has been listed in the Annexes of the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict since 2018.
**Covid — Africa
A COVID note. The World Health Organization said today 42 of Africa’s 54 countries are set to miss the goal of vaccinating the world’s most vulnerable 10 per cent against COVID-19 by the end of September.
Almost 21 million COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Africa through the COVAX Facility in August alone. This is an amount equal to the previous four months combined. With more vaccines expected from COVAX and the African Union by the end of September, WHO said there is a possibility that enough doses could be delivered to meet the 10 per cent target.
As more doses arrive, African countries have to move forward with their plans to rapidly vaccinate the millions of people that still face a grave threat from COVID-19. This was by said Dr. Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director.
Currently, 39 million people — that’s around 3 per cent of Africa’s population — is fully vaccinated.
And a more local note, this time from the Philippines. The Philippines has received 13.2 million vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility. As of 22 August, the country has administered more than 30 million doses. Our team, under the leadership of [the Resident Coordinator] Gustavo Gonzalez, has been supporting the Government, including through the use of digital tools for contact tracing in cities with a high number of cases and in leading risk communications and community engagement.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome said that global food commodity prices rebounded rapidly in August after two consecutive months of decline. This was led by strong gains in the international price quotations for sugar, wheat and vegetable oils.
The FAO Food Price Index was up 3.1 per cent from July and 32.9 per cent from the same month last year.
Clean air. The UN Environment Programme today launched a report which says that one third of the world’s countries have no legally-mandated outdoor air quality standards. That’s a lot of countries.
Where the law exists, standards vary widely and often misalign with World Health Organization guidelines. The report also says that at least 31 per cent of countries that do have the power to introduce air quality standards have yet to adopt them. The report is online.
And we are now up to 126 Member States who have paid up their budget dues in full. One country is from the Caribbean the other one from West Africa, and they are both double‑barrelled names. Do‑do‑do‑do.
Correspondent: Trinidad and Tobago.
Spokesman: Trinidad and Tobago is one. Another double‑barrelled name from West Africa. Come on, guys. No? Guinea‑Bissau.
**Questions and Answers
All right, Edie. You won 50 per cent of the prize money, so you get to ask half a question. Go ahead.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the meeting today between the President of Egypt, Jordan's King, and the Palestinian President aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process? Was the UN involved in any way?
Spokesman: We very much welcome the meeting of these three leaders. We hope it will lead to a positive outcome and a… regain of traction of diplomacy in the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.
Spokesman: I'm not aware that we're present, but I can check.
Question: Thanks, Steph. On Afghanistan, can you provide any update on the fighting in Panjshir Valley? That seems to be continuing, intensifying.
And what's the Secretary‑General's message to the Taliban and the other parties engaged in the fighting there?
Spokesman: Well, we're… obviously, any continued fighting is of great concern to us, making a humanitarian situation that's difficult even worse, obviously, having… it increases the issues of access for us.
I think the message that it's very important for… as in any conflict, for the parties to avoid targeting civilians, avoiding civilian casualties, as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Was the UN building impacted in any way by this deluge last night?
Spokesman: We're very fortunate to have no major impact from the storm yesterday, and I would say… I would add that we also extend our condolences to the families of all the victims from this horrendous weather yesterday.
The UN Headquarters is situated in New York. New York is our community, as well, and we're… when New York is impacted, I think we're all impacted.
Question: Secondly, Steph, I may have missed it, but I did not hear Kabul airport when you mentioned the resumption of flights from Islamabad by WFP to various airports in Afghanistan.
Spokesman: That is very correct, Iftikhar. That airport is not yet operational, for us at least. We, obviously, very much hope that it will be in the near future. I think access to airports throughout Afghanistan is very important given the difficulty of often travelling by road. And, obviously, the airport in Kabul is, indeed, very important for us to be able to rotate staff and bring in goods.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Oh, Dulcie. Dulcie?
Question: Yeah. Hi. Can we get an update on the number of international staff, the UN staff, in Afghanistan and national staff? Thanks.
Spokesman: It has not fluctuated in any major or minor way that I'm aware of. We've not had… I think last we flagged, I think, last weekend a relocation flight, and there's been none since.
Question: Hi, Mr. Dujarric. I have two questions, the first one on Afghanistan. There are still some government forces resisting the Taliban. What's the UN position in this struggle?
My second question is about journalists in the region. The Taliban official said there wouldn't be any problem with journalists working in the field. Are you keeping in touch with them? And the UN prepares any measures regarding the safety of the journalists who are there now or will go in the future?
Spokesman: I think on your first part, I addressed it when Amanda asked the question in the beginning. On your second part, journalists provide a critical service in any society. It is incumbent on the authorities in place on the Taliban to ensure that journalists are able to do their work, women journalists are able to do their work, free of fear and harassment. It is part of the bedrock of any society.
And I do know that my colleagues on the ground in Kabul remain in touch with Afghan journalists and international journalists who remain in Kabul and Afghanistan.
Okay. Thank you, all. And see you tomorrow.