8 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

Good afternoon.  In just a short while, we are going to be joined from Kabul by Alison Davidian, who is the Deputy Country Representative for UN‑Women in Afghanistan.

**Hybrid Briefings Today

Before that, just a couple of programming notes.  As soon as our briefing here is over, we will be joined by Amy Quantrill, from the office of the President of the General Assembly.  At 2 p.m., the relatively new Executive Director of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Rob Floyd, will be here to brief you on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  And tomorrow at noon, as I’m sure Amy will tell you, the President of the General Assembly’s seventy-fifth session, Volkan Bozkir, will be here for his final press briefing, which means we will brief after the President of the General Assembly.  And we will be joined by two senior officials from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kanni Wignaraja, and Abdallah al Dardari, who will speak to us about Afghanistan and the economic situation there.


Turning to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that this week, a plane carrying 53 metric tons of medicines and supplies landed in Mazar‑i‑Sharif.  This is one of three flights planned in coordination with the World Food Programme (WFP).  Recently, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided safe water through water-trucking to 166,000 people in areas affected by drought.  UNICEF is also drilling boreholes and installing water supply systems in Balkh Province.  Some 3,000 students are in community-based education classes in Faryab, were taught by 100 teachers.  For its part, WFP has been bringing in supplies and distributing food to tens of thousands of people.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has supported health services to tens of thousands of people in need in Kabul, Kunduz and Helmand Province.  We are also told by our humanitarian colleagues that, on 30 August, heavy rains and floods were reported in several districts in Kunar Province, which resulted in damage to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, also damage to livestock and farmlands.  Inter-agency assessment teams from the UN have been deployed to the impacted area to assess humanitarian needs.  UNICEF and local organizations have responded to needs in flood-affected areas of Kunar Province.  That is it for my part on Afghanistan.  As a reminder, Allison Davidian is the Deputy Representative for UN‑Women and she is speaking to us from Kabul.

[Guest briefing.]

As a reminder, Amy [Quantrill] will brief right after you are all done with me.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke virtually at the opening session of the High-Level Dialogue of the Americas on Climate Action, which was hosted by Argentina.  He said that with less than 60 days left before COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of Parties], we all need to work together to overcome the current stalemate.  He underscored the need to align the pandemic recovery packages with the 1.5°C climate objective and to invest in adaptation and resilience to deal with the impact of climate change.  In Glasgow, he said, we need to restore trust, and that goes hand in hand with providing support to developing countries on vaccines, on debt, on liquidity, as well as, of course, on climate finance.  He also said that developing countries need support to implement a just transition that will ensure workers in high emission industries will have alternate options and social protection.  His remarks have been shared with you.

**Security Council

At the Security Council, the Secretary-General also took part in a debate on peacekeeping and transitions, in which he said that transitions are complex processes that involve a careful reconfiguration of the UN’s presence, strategy and footprint in a country.  Success, he added, depends on early and sustained collaboration among field missions, host Governments, UN country teams, and of course, local and global partners.  The drawdown of UN peacekeeping can be an exciting moment for a country emerging from conflict, but, the Secretary-General added, it is also a moment of heightened risk.  Years of peacebuilding and protection gains are at stake, and the role of the UN and the global community remains essential as these countries continue their journeys.  His full remarks were shared with you.


A quick update on what is going on in Guinea:  Our UN team on the ground and at the regional level are continuing to monitor the situation closely.  Our Resident Coordinator there, Vincent Martin, is coordinating efforts to share regular updates and to communicate with key international partners.  Our team on the ground also remains committed to supporting the country, including its ongoing efforts to tackle the multiple impacts of COVID‑19, while also monitoring the Ebola situation, which was declared over just three months ago.  And as we mentioned yesterday, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamet Saleh Annadif, is participating in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit that is taking place as we speak.


Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the ongoing hostilities in the country and their impact on civilians.  Since June, hostilities in north-west Syria have intensified, despite the March 2020 ceasefire.  In recent days, attacks in southern rural Idlib have reportedly impacted residential areas and a camp for internally displaced persons, resulting in civilian casualties.  Three incidents between 6 and 7 September reportedly resulted in the deaths of four civilians and left at least seven civilians injured, including women and children.  We remind all parties to the Syrian conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.


And our friends at the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomed the mediation exercised by the Libyan Prime Minister [Abdulhamid AlDabaiba] to ensure the unity and integrity of the National Oil company.  The unhindered operation of the National Oil Corporation remains a cornerstone to Libyan security and economy.  It remains of the utmost importance that it operates as an impartial actor and one that works for the interests of all Libyans and the country as a whole.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Quick note from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has now declared an outbreak of meningitis in the Tshopo Province, in the country’s north-east, with some 261 suspected cases, including 129 deaths.  This is a fatality ratio of 50 per cent.  The country’s health authorities have deployed an initial emergency team, and with the support of WHO, efforts are under way to quickly ramp up the response.  A crisis committee has been set up in Banalia, the community impacted by the outbreak, as well as in Kisangani, the provincial capital.  WHO has provided medical supplies in Banalia and plans to deploy more experts and resources to the area.


Quick COVAX update:  This one from Venezuela, which received yesterday its first shipment from COVAX with nearly 700,000 doses of vaccines.  This is the first of several deliveries to immunize approximately 20 per cent of the country’s total population.  This batch is an addition to more than 9 million doses Venezuela has received through bilateral agreements.  Our team on the ground continues working with Venezuela to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic.

**International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day.  This year, the Day will be celebrated with the theme “Literacy for a human-centred recovery:  Narrowing the digital divide”.  In a message for the Day, Audrey Azoulay, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General, notes that progress in literacy across the world continues to be hampered by the pandemic.  She points out that a lack of access to distance learning has meant more than 500 million students have been left behind, as they have been unable to continue learning how to read and write, and in some cases have been unable to commence their schooling.  It’s half a billion people.  Ms. Azoulay says the virus highlighted the tremendous importance of education and the need to step up our efforts.  I will now make an effort and answer your questions.  Philippe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  At the beginning of the briefing, you told us about this plane who land in Mazar.  Is it possible that UN take people in this kind of plane, to… when they are… when they let people who want to leave the country?

Spokesman:  These are humanitarian flights meant for… to rotate… to bring in humanitarian aid.  If needed also, to rotate humanitarian personnel.  That being said, it is clear that, as in any country, people who wish to leave the country, be allowed to do, so and if they are fleeing violence or persecution, that they be given refuge.  Edie, and then Kristen.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A follow-up on Mr.  [Martin] Griffiths.  Is he planning to make any… do any other travels, including directly to Afghanistan himself?

Spokesman:  I mean, nothing immediate for a return visit.  My understanding is he'll be heading to Geneva to be there Monday for the humanitarian appeal, and then at some point, he'll be back here in New York where he's based, and we hope to have him here, but, obviously, if there are any other trips, we will flag them to you.

Question:  Could I put in a request from, I'm sure, all of us for him to come here?  We have not, as far as I know, spoken to him…

Spokesman:  We had him from Doha earlier this week.  No, but… we would like to have him in the flesh.  Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Do you have any reports or confirmation of reports out of Ethiopia about Tigray and forces killing civilians?

Spokesman:  No, we don't have anything to confirm.  We've seen a lot of very disturbing reports of human rights violations from various… all the parties in the conflict, and also very harrowing reports of famine.  We have been talking about the risks of famine for quite some time, but we don't have any first-hand accounts of these reports that we can share with you.  Pam, and then I will come to you, Fathi.

Question:  Thank you.  On 13 September, the SG goes to Geneva.  Can you give a little fleshing out of that?  Is that an in-and-out?  Or will he make other…?

Spokesman:  No, he will be in Geneva arriving Monday, leaving Tuesday.  The focus is to launch the Afghanistan humanitarian appeal.

Question:  And he'll be back for the opening of the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly]?

Spokesman:  How could the show open without one of its stars?

Question:  Okay.  All right.  When… I know this is a PGA question to some extent, but when will you know how many Heads of State will be in‑person and how many…?

Spokesman:  Look, you know, we do expect sort of an updated list of speakers to be available soon.  I will turn to Amy…

Correspondent:  No, but when… yeah.

Spokesman:  Okay.  You know, I think everything remains very fluid, so closer to the date, we'll have a bit more details, but I know some who had expressed interested in coming who are no longer coming at the presidency level.  So, listen, it's an ongoing process, and I know you all are trying to plan.  We're all trying to plan.  Our security colleagues, our protocol colleagues, are planning.  But, listen, we live in a world… any time that plans… what is it?  "Man plans; God laughs."

Question:  And one last one, which is just… is the SG meeting with President [Joseph R.] Biden at some point before UNGA?

Spokesman:  No.  Fathi?

Correspondent:  If I may quote, President [Dwight] Eisenhower said:  "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

Spokesman:  We're doing everything in that case.

Question:  Just a quick request.  I know you don't have the answer for it.  Bolivia yesterday [sic; El Salvador] announced it's going to introduce cryptocurrencies as a legal tender into its economy.  Is that a possibility to have a briefing from some of our colleagues at the economic affairs, since this will… this represents…?

Spokesman:  In answer to your question, I will… it's a very… it's a good question, and I would be happy to have somebody brief and actually explain to me how cryptocurrencies work, because I've tried and I've failed.

Correspondent:  No, but I mean, as a… as a Member State…

Spokesman:  It has very… it will have real-world consequences.  Mr. Iftikhar Ali, and then we'll go to Alan.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just a bit of information; this second consignment of medical supplies to Mazar-i-Sharif, was it carried out by Pakistan International Airlines, as was done before?

Spokesman:  I do not know.  What I do know is that WFP has been operating flights.  I can try to find out.  Mr. Bulkaty, and then we'll go to Michelle Nichols.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Former President of Afghanistan [Ashraf] Ghani said he would welcome the audit, under the auspices of the UN or other independent organizations, to prove that he hadn't taken any money of Afghanistan.  Any comment from your part?

Spokesman:  We have not been contacted in any way, shape, or form on this issue, so I will leave it at that, except to say that, obviously, it is very important that the resources of the Afghan people go to the Afghan people.  Okay.  I think that's it.  I don't see or hear any more questions.

Question:  Steph?  Steph?

Spokesman:  Oh, Michelle.  Yes, you were in my head, but I forgot to verbalize it.  Go ahead, Michelle.

Question:  Sorry, just a quick follow-up to something Martin Griffiths said yesterday about humanitarian flights restarting back into Kabul in the coming days.  Do you have any update on that? Thanks.

Spokesman:  No, the… I mean… I was just in discussion with some of our senior colleagues.  There's a lot of discussions going on.  We do know that some countries are operating flights.  There’s been some upgrades to the airport.  We're not yet in a position to bring in flights, but we do hope that will happen very soon.  Have a good day.  Today is Wednesday.  As a reminder, Amy is about to brief.  Tomorrow, my briefing will be delayed; I will wait for the [President of the General Assembly] to finish.  And on Friday, the Secretary-General will be here to do my job.  Cheers.

For information media. Not an official record.