3 September 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

Just a couple of forward planning notes.  Obviously, as you know, Monday is Labour Day, it is an official holiday in the United States, which we will take full advantage of.  If you need anything you can always reach us by various electronic means. 

**Noon Briefing Guest Tuesday

On Tuesday, we will have a guest from Kabul.  We expect to have Alison Davidian, the Deputy Country Representative for UN-Women.  She will join us to give her impression of what is going on on the ground. 

**Secretary-General — Presser

And in exactly a week, on the 10 September, at 12:30 p.m., the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, will be here to give his traditional pre-GA press conference.  It is a bit earlier than usual, but this will be after he speaks at the General Assembly on his Common Agenda report, which will be published that day.  We also expect to have a background briefing for you on the Common Agenda at some point mid-week next week. 


Moving on to actual news, starting off with Afghanistan, I can tell you that the Secretary-General is indeed very grateful for the generosity of Member States — including, Denmark, Kazakhstan, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — who have made available facilities and arrangements in support of continuing UN operations in Afghanistan. 

With their offers and commitments, they have made a great contribution to the safety and security, operational delivery, and overall continuity of UN activities.

And our humanitarian colleagues on the ground warned that Afghanistan is facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis.  A third of the population, more than 12 million people, are acutely food insecure and their situation is expected to be greatly worsened by the drought — which has impacted a third of the country. 

Our humanitarian colleagues noted that as an economic crisis looms, job opportunities also remain limited across the country.  They added that the 2021 harvest is expected to be below average, and the next lean season is expected to be more intense and arrive earlier.

There is also a need to address water scarcity to prevent displacement and reduce hunger.  At the beginning of 2021, 9 million people were already in need of water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance in Afghanistan.  

Along with our humanitarian partners, we have been working to respond to the impacts of low rainfall on water availability, crop yields, agricultural labour opportunities, as well as affordability of food since the beginning of the year. 

In the first six months of the year, we have provided food and livelihood assistance to more than 5.5 million people, many of whom are in drought impacted areas.  But much more is needed. 

In certain parts of the country, the full impact of the drought is yet to be felt.  In the last few [months], many farmers have been unable to access their fields due to conflict at critical times for planting and harvesting. 

Afghanistan’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $1.3 billion to help more than 18 million people, is 40 per cent funded, leaving a deficit of $766 million. 

For its part, the UN refugee agency today said that it was seeing no large influx of refugees trying to access the borders to Pakistan and Iran.  However, UNHCR said that a displacement crisis is, in fact, taking place inside Afghanistan. 

They warned that without the entry of trade and support, this could lead to a major crisis and that the international community should not turn a blind eye to Afghanistan, and the Afghan people.


Our colleagues at the UN Mission in Libya today expressed their grave concern about ongoing armed clashes, including the alleged use of indirect fire, in Salaheddine, a densely populated area in the capital Tripoli. 

The Mission calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and reminds all parties to this conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to support the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**Trip Announcement

And a trip announcement concerning the head of our Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.  He will be travelling to Ethiopia and Sudan.  He will be there starting this Monday until 9 September, and he will be accompanied by the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga. 

In Addis Ababa, they will meet senior Ethiopian Government officials as well as African Union officials to discuss peacekeeping issues and, in particular, the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei — which is better known as UNISFA. 

On Tuesday, the two UN officials will travel to Khartoum, in Sudan, to discuss issues related to the UN peacekeeping mission in Abyei.  While in Khartoum, they will meet with senior Sudanese officials, as well as the co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC).  They will then visit Abyei, where they will engage with local leaders, as well as the Mission staff, and they will thank them for their contributions to peacekeeping. 

Following that trip, Mr. Lacroix will go to South Sudan, where he will be from the 9th until the 12th of September.  We will provide details on that trip a bit later. 


Turning to Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that over 88,000 people in 13 of the 18 states have been directly impacted by floods since the rainy season started in July. 

Humanitarian partners are conducting needs assessments and verification of people affected and have started delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance.  They are also using prepositioned supplies in Gedaref, West Darfur, South Darfur and North Kordofan state. 

As of Wednesday, two days ago, a total of 4,800 homes were destroyed, another 12,780 homes were damaged, and public infrastructure facilities and farmlands have been impacted.  Heavy rains are expected to intensify across most of the country this week, driving more flooding, particularly in the eastern, central and western regions. 


And turning to Haiti, UNICEF there warns that about 540,000 children in the area impacted by last month’s earthquake are now facing the possibility of re-emergence of waterborne diseases. 

The lack of access to shelter, drinking water and hygiene facilities are rapidly increasing the threat of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and cholera.

As we have mentioned in the past, there hasn’t been a single case of cholera reported in Haiti since February 2019.

UNICEF is working with Haitian authorities and civil society partners, to improve access to water, sanitation, with the aim of reaching 500,000 people.  

UNICEF said that several distributions centres had to be put on temporary hold because of tensions on the ground.  They are calling on local authorities to ensure safe conditions for humanitarian organizations to operate and scale up relief assistance to earthquake-affected communities.

**Air Quality

The World Meteorological Organization today published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin which highlights the factors that influenced air quality patterns last year, in comparison to other years.

The Bulletin shows how COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions led to a dramatic short-lived fall in emissions of key air pollutants, especially in urban areas. 

However, meteorological extremes fuelled by climate and environmental change triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms, as well as wildfires that affected air quality, and this trend is continuing this year. 

The full report is online. 

And I think that's it.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  At the beginning, you read out a list of countries that the United Nations was thanking for their assistance.  Is it possible to get details on what each of those countries has offered to the United Nations and will be providing?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  We'll try to get you some more details on that. 

Question:  Okay.  My second question is that there was a second demonstration in Kabul today by a small group of women's rights activists who were demanding access to education, the right to return to work and a role in Government in the country.  Does the Secretary‑General support these protests?  And what would he be telling the Taliban Government in relation to women?

Spokesman:  Sure.  First of all, as we've stated many times, it's very important that everyone everywhere has a right to demonstrate peacefully.  I think, as we've said on a number of times, we are concerned about the issues of human rights in Afghanistan, notably on the rights of women.  It is imperative that women have the right to work, to work in a safe environment.  And those are some of the issues that have been brought to the attention of our interlocutors in Kabul and elsewhere. 

Yes, sir. 

Question: Thank you, Steph.  On 31 August, the Houthis attacked civilian sites on Abha Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  About eight civilians was injured in this incident.  Any comment from the United Nations on these repeated violations of a Security Council resolution by Houthis?

Spokesman:  We have and will continue to condemn attacks on civilian infrastructure as the one that you have just mentioned.  International law is very clear that civilian infrastructure should never be targeted.  We're also concerned about the renewed fighting and casualties we're seeing around Marib, and I think it is very important for all parties involved to renew their commitment to a political process. 

Philippe and then Maggie.

Question: Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, I had the same question that Edie had at the beginning when you talk about facilities and arrangement for the help of this aid to country.  What does that mean?  Does it mean money?  Can you give us a global amount?  If you have, it would be great.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Some of it is facilities.  Yeah, I will try to get you a bit more details.

Correspondent: Thanks.

Spokesman: Maggie?

Question: Steph, on Mr. Lacroix's trip to Ethiopia, are they going to be discussing replacing the departing Ethiopian troops from UNISFA?  And has the UN had any offers of replacement troops yet?  And can you tell us a date when they're leaving?

Spokesman:  No, in reverse order, no.  Let me answer it more clearly.  Trying to remember what you asked.  There have been ongoing discussions about the future format of UNISFA in all its aspects, which is part of a strategic review, which has been requested by the Security Council, for which we will submit to the Security Council.  I think part of Mr.  Lacroix's trip can be seen within the context of that strategic review. 

As far as other peacekeepers, other nations coming forward, I have no comment on that at this time.

Question: And can I ask a second question on Haiti?

Spokesman: You may.

Question: Thank you.  So, on the cholera, what is the UN doing to prevent it?  Is there any sort of preventative or mitigation effort you can do so there's not another situation where you have a [inaudible]…

Spokesman: It has to do with ensuring that people have access to clean drinking water, and we've been working with the Haitian Government for quite some time on strengthening the public health system, including strengthening people's access to clean water.  But as we said, the issue of waterborne diseases is one that needs to be tackled quickly, and that's what we're working on with our Haitian partners. 

Okay.  Any other questions on this Friday, eve of a three‑day weekend?

Excellent.  Thank you, all.  See you Tuesday.

For information media. Not an official record.