5 October 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.

**Press Conference

On Thursday morning, at 9:30 a.m., the Secretary-General and Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] of the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a joint virtual press conference on WHO’s global COVID-19 vaccination strategy.

The event will be hosted by WHO out of Geneva and held over Zoom.  You’ll be sent the log-in details.  The Secretary-General will make some remarks, so will the Director General of the WHO.  Then, the Secretary-General will take a few questions and then the press conference will continue with Dr. Tedros.

We are also working on creating another separate moment for you to be able to speak to the Secretary-General in person, hopefully this week.


Turning to Afghanistan, at the end of a two-day visit to Herat, the heads of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in Afghanistan, Hervé Ludovic De Lys and Mary-Ellen McGroarty, sounded the alarm on the dire state of malnutrition and food insecurity sweeping across Afghanistan.

With the winter fast approaching, they said it is now a race against time to assist Afghan families, who also lack access to safe water, health and nutrition services.  Fourteen million people in Afghanistan are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of 5 are expected to suffer from malnutrition by the end of this year.

The two UN agencies are adding 100 more mobile health and nutrition teams in the country.  There are already about 168 mobile teams providing a lifeline for children and mothers in hard-to-reach areas of Afghanistan.  Since the beginning of 2021, WFP has provided food and nutrition assistance to 8.7 million people.  Close to 4 million people were reached in September alone.  Additionally, so far this year, UNICEF has provided treatment for severe malnutrition to more than 210,000 children.

Our colleagues from WHO also said that after a pause in activities, the WHO-supported polio programme has resumed screening and vaccination of travellers moving between Afghanistan and Pakistan through the Torkham border crossing.  WHO has also recently dispatched 64 medical kits to health facilities in the western region to cover the health needs of 64,000 people for the next three months.  Since August, WHO has also airlifted about 185 metric tons of essential medical supplies through nine flights, including a shipment on Sunday.

And as a reminder that the Afghanistan Flash Appeal, which requires $606 million to support about 11 million people with humanitarian aid through the end of 2021, has received $212 million.  That’s 35 per cent funded.  So, those numbers are going up, but we would appreciate more cash.

You will hear more about Afghanistan and food insecurity there tomorrow when Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP Country Director, will join us live from Kabul at the briefing.


Turning to another humanitarian hot spot, in Ethiopia, the World Food Programme has completed its first round of food distributions to people impacted by the spread of conflict from Tigray into the Afar and Amhara regions.

Since August, WFP has delivered food to nearly 300,000 people in the two regions.  However, WFP said that aid distributions in Tigray are lagging behind due to impediments to the movement of supplies.  The second round of food distributions has been continuing in Tigray since late May and more than 2.4 million people have been reached with food assistance in the north-west and parts of southern Tigray.  WFP says anecdotal reports from Tigray, Afar and Amhara provinces suggest that food insecurity is rising as families flee from their homes and have their livelihoods destroyed.

The Rome-based agency stressed that it is absolutely vital that it has the full cooperation and support of all parties to the conflict so that it can reach all affected populations with urgently needed food assistance before we have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands across all of northern Ethiopia.


Turning to Syria, where we have received reports that 5 million people are being affected by the ongoing water crisis in the north and north-east of the country.

People across the northern parts of Syria have been unable to reliably access sufficient and safe water due to low water levels, disruptions to water systems, and the already reduced operational capacity of water stations.  Lack of safe drinking water is leading to an increased prevalence of waterborne diseases and is reducing a critical first line of defence to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.  The lack of electricity also adds to the strain on public health, education systems and is disproportionally impacting the general and reproductive health of women and girls.

We, along with our partners, have released a consolidated plan over the next six months, which will target 3.4 million of the most impacted people in those areas of Syria as a result of the water crisis.  The requirements identified the necessity of a multi-sector response of $251 million.  Only $51 million have been received.


Travelling south to Yemen, where Hans Grundberg, our Envoy for Yemen, concluded today a three-day visit to Riyadh.  Mr. Grundberg met with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan; Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, Mohamed Al Jaber, and other senior Saudi officials.  He also met with Yemeni Vice-President Ali Mohsen and other senior Yemeni officials.

He said that ending the conflict and reaching a comprehensive and inclusive political solution that meets the aspirations of Yemenis should be the primary and urgent objective of all relevant actors.

While in Riyadh, he also met with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell; the State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Ministry, Miguel Berger; and diplomats from the permanent members of the Security Council based there.  He is travelling today from Riyadh to Aden, in Yemen, for more consultations.

**Security Council

At the Security Council this morning, Bintou Keita, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], called on Council members to continue supporting the UN’s work.

She said that security and the protection of civilians remain the greatest challenges in the country’s east.  Cooperation between the Congolese armed forces and UN peacekeepers has been strengthened, and there is progress in operational planning and execution.  However, she added, much remains to be done, including to ensure that human rights are systematically respected in the fight against armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On the humanitarian situation, Ms. Keita reminded Council members that over 5 million people are displaced within the country.  She called on the international community to provide funding for the humanitarian appeal.

**COVID-19 — Pakistan

In Pakistan, our UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Julien Harneis, continues to work with authorities to address the health, humanitarian, and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.  As of 2 October, more than 82 million doses of vaccine have been administered.  Nearly 30 million people have been fully vaccinated, with twice as many being partially vaccinated.

On the health front, UNICEF is helping to ensure that essential primary care services continue in nearly 140 health facilities for more than 3.6 million men, women and children.  More than 110,000 children have been immunized against measles.  UNICEF also helped to train thousands of frontline health workers and community volunteers trained in identifying COVID-19 cases.  The UN team has delivered 1,000 oxygen concentrators and millions of personal protective items to frontline health workers across the country.


And a COVAX update from this hemisphere:  Honduras, Ecuador and Peru have all received additional shipments of vaccines from COVAX.  Across Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 53 million doses have been distributed through COVAX in 33 countries with the logistical support from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).


A report released today by the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) in Geneva says water-related hazards like floods and droughts are increasing because of climate change.  According to the report, 3.6 billion people had inadequate access to water at least one month per year in 2018.  By 2050, this is expected to rise to more than 5 billion.  More information online.

**Coral Reefs

A new report [supported] by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that rising sea surface temperatures have driven the loss of 14 per cent of corals since 2009.  The report warns that an irrevocable loss of coral reefs would be catastrophic as they are home to at least a quarter of all marine species, providing critical habitat and a fundamental source of protein, as well as life-saving medicines.  It is estimated that hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on them for food, jobs and protection from storms and erosion.  The full report is online.

**World Teachers’ Day

Today is World Teachers’ Day.  Take a moment to think about those teachers that have impacted your life.  This year’s theme is “Teachers at the heart of education recovery”.  The Day focuses on the support that teachers need to fully contribute to the pandemic recovery process.

In a joint statement, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF and Education International called on countries to invest in teachers and prioritize them in global education recovery efforts so that every learner has access to a qualified and supported teacher.  Célhia?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, it’s about the DRC.  The Mission has been in DRC for more than 20 years.  Why are we… is the UN still there?  Is the country a lost cause?  We did not make any progress.  What is going on there?

Spokesman:  Well, I don’t believe any country is a lost cause.  I think there has been progress in the DRC over the years and in State institutions, in humanitarian aid that we are able to deliver.  But there have been constant setbacks, especially in the east from non‑State actors, from terrorist groups that have been inflicting unspeakable violence on civilian population, and one of the main roles of a peacekeeping mission is there to protect civilians.  Philippe, and then we’ll come back to the front.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Good to see you again.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  Can you confirm that the SG would be part of the meeting… of a meeting of the Security Council tomorrow afternoon on Ethiopia?  And can you tell us if Ethiopia gave you more info about the… why they expelled seven people from…

Spokesman:  On your last part, no.  I mean, obviously, we’re continuing to have contact with Ethiopian authorities at different levels, but I think the situation from our end is pretty clear.  As you can see, our humanitarian operations are continuing, I would say are kind of struggling to continue, given the impediments that we face.  But we continue to do our work to the best of our ability with the resources that we have.  I hope to be able to confirm the Secretariat’s participation a bit later on today.  James?

Question:  Record number of military flights by the Chinese Air Force over the defensive area of Taiwan.  What is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to this, and does he see it as provocation?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any language on that for you at this very moment.

Question:  Is it an issue that the Secretary‑General is concerned about?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the Secretary‑General is following many issues closely, but at this point, I don’t have anything more to add.

Question:  Can you get back us to with some language?  Because it seems to be quite an issue.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.  Okay.  See if there’s anything in the chat.  Michail Ignatiou.  You have a question, and I think… I know the question, and unfortunately, I think I know the answer, but go ahead.  [laughter]

Question:  Stéphane, good afternoon.  If I may, I wanted to read you a statement by the President of Cyprus, and I wondered your comment, please.  He says that the non-issuance of a statement by the United Nations after the formal meeting in New York, as a result of the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriot leader, is disturbing.  Mr. [Nicos] Anastasiades emphasised that the decision was not a compromise but, rather, an obligation from António Guterres to work within the terms of his mandate.  Do you have an answer to this, Mr. Stéphane?

Spokesman:  We continue to work with the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus to move the Cyprus issue forward in a positive direction.  It has been a long‑standing issue that the United Nations has been involved in, and he will continue to work in that direction… in very good faith, I will add.

Question:  But why he change… If I may, why he change his decision for the Special — how you call it — Envoy to Cyprus?  He said to the two leaders that he’s going to send one.  Why he changed his decision?  Can you tell us why?

Spokesman:  Well, I’m not aware of a change in decision since we never announced a decision in the first place.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  All right.  Thank you for that short briefing.

Monica [Grayley], all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.