19 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Guests Today

In a short while, we will be joined by guests Elliott Harris, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and the UN’s Chief Economist, and Leila Fourie, the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Co-Chair and CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. 

They will join us virtually to brief on the outcome of today’s third annual meeting of CEOs of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance, as well as progress in the implementation of key deliverables aimed at scaling up sustainable investment globally.


On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation today in Mekelle, in Tigray, is calm but tense. 

Local health workers have reported that three children were killed and one person injured in an airstrike on the outskirts of Mekelle yesterday. 

A second airstrike in Mekelle town later in the day reportedly injured nine people and damaged houses and a nearby hotel. 

Our humanitarian colleagues are alarmed at the intensification of the conflict and once again remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. 

We also call for unrestricted and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need. 

**Middle East

Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council today.  He welcomed the ongoing engagement between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, and strongly encourages a further expansion of such efforts which can improve conditions on the ground and pave the way towards re-invigorating the peace process. 

He added that we should have no illusions about the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues to deteriorate, and we have seen no progress towards realizing a two-State solution, he warned. 

Mr. Wennesland said that the security situation in Gaza remains fragile and the security dynamics in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are deteriorating, including growing tensions in and around the holy sites. 

We can no longer lurch from crisis to crisis, he said.  Our approach cannot be to address the current situation piecemeal — incident by incident — on a short-term day-to-day basis as stand-alone issues.  A broader package of parallel steps by the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community is needed, Mr. Wennesland said. 


UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reported today that the Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone:  10,000 children have been killed or maimed since fighting started in March 2015.  That’s the equivalent of four children every day for the last six and a half years. 

These are of course the cases the UN was able to verify.  Many more child deaths and injuries go unrecorded to all but those children’s families. 

UNICEF added that four out of every five children need humanitarian assistance.  That’s more than 11 million children.  In addition, 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, more than 2 million children are out-of-school and another 4 million are at risk of dropping out. 


The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, encourages the discussion in the Parliament of a gender quota in the forthcoming elections.  She noted that women’s representation in politics is critical for an effective and well-functioning democracy and ensures that those in elected leadership are more representative of the people they serve. 

Ms. Wronecka said that the United Nations welcomes efforts to expand special measures for women, such as quotas, and to support Lebanese women’s participation in political life.

The Special Coordinator reiterated the importance of holding elections on time.


From Myanmar, the UN country team continues to remain deeply concerned over the humanitarian impact of the ongoing crises in the country. 

According to our humanitarian colleagues, some 3 million women, children and men urgently need life-saving assistance and protection due to conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and COVID-19.  This includes 1 million people who were in need at the start of the year, plus an additional 2 million people identified as needing help after the military takeover on 1 February. 

Some 219,000 people have been newly displaced since 1 February as a result of clashes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and different ethnic armed organizations and people’s defence forces.  The humanitarian situation in the country has been worsened by the recent wave of COVID-19, which is affecting people who were already in need of assistance. 

We once again call on parties concerned to ensure that aid can be scaled up to reach people affected by the continued armed conflict. 

Also in Myanmar, following floods in Rakhine and Kayin states, UNICEF and its partners have reached more than 33,000 people with water and sanitation supplies.

UNICEF continues to help nearly 150,000 internally displaced people and others in Kachin, Northern Shan, Rakhine and Sagaing. 

**Secretary-General — Finance in Common Summit

[Tomorrow], the Secretary-General [will speak] by pre-recorded video message to the Finance in Common summit, which brings together hundreds of public development banks, Governments and others. 

The Secretary-General calls on Public Development Banks to align their operations and policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and keep the 1.5°C goal within reach. 

He stresses the need for a stronger, more integrated and networked multilateral system, with public development banks as central players.  Mr. [Antonio] Guterres highlights the importance of deepening the cooperation between multilateral and national development banks as well as encouraging the private sector to mobilize finance for climate action and sustainable development.

**South Sudan

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today said it is alarmed by the humanitarian impact of the worst flooding in decades in South Sudan.  These floods have affected more than 700,000 people across the country. 

UNHCR is working with the Government and partners to help the most affected people — by providing food, emergency shelter, hygiene items and solar lanterns. 

In Upper Nile state alone, UNHCR teams met around 1,000 people who had walked for seven days to reach Malakal town.  Some of these people had not eaten in days.  Women are deeply worried about the health of their children, with the increased risk of infections from deadly water-borne diseases. 

UNHCR said that while the effects of the climate emergency are being felt on every continent and in every region, its impacts are profoundly felt in East Africa.  Communities which are already struggling are facing unprecedented floods and storms, unpredictable rainfall, and distress under hotter and drier conditions as their basic needs and rights to water, food, livelihoods, land, and a healthy environment are hit hard. 

There’s more on UNHCR’s website. 

Also on South Sudan, the UN Mission there (UNMISS) continues to help authorities address the COVID-19 pandemic, including by holding workshops for students on how to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Mission also says that fighting between armed groups continues in Warrap state.

The Mission and state authorities visited areas that have seen clashes to review the security situation and help to work towards a dialogue-based, peaceful resolution to escalating tensions.


Moving to Afghanistan:  The UN Children’s Fund today said that is has delivered nearly 40 tons of medical supplies — including kits and medicines for acute watery diarrhoea — to Kabul.  The medical supplies are part of UNICEF’s emergency response and will help treat around 10,000 people suffering from dehydration caused by the disease.

UNICEF noted that in the past weeks, the reported total number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea has surpassed 1,500 in Kabul city and surrounding districts.  This outbreak comes as Afghanistan grapples with alarming levels of malnutrition among children under the age of five, a measles outbreak and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UNICEF said that further supplies covering the needs of an additional 90,000 people are expected to be delivered in the coming weeks.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

I just want to flag that Miroslav Jenča, the Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, is in Bosnia and Herzegovina from today to 22 October.  He will meet with Government authorities, political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the international community to gain a better understanding of developments and views in the country. 

Mr. Jenča intends to reiterate the Secretary-General’s message in support of dialogue, trust-building and social cohesion in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region. 

**COVID-19 — Papua New Guinea

A COVID-19 update for you, today from Papua New Guinea, where our UN team there, led by acting Resident Coordinator Dirk Wagener, continues to help authorities respond to the pandemic. 

Our team has provided health supplies and supported the vaccination campaign, following a recent rise in the number of cases.  The number of new cases this week has doubled compared to last week.

Around 10 per cent of the target population has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while just 5.7 per cent of the target population is fully vaccinated.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are working closely with the Government to increase the number of people who are vaccinated.  They are also working to combat misinformation surrounding vaccines. 


A new report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that changing precipitation patterns, rising temperatures and more extreme weather contributed to mounting food insecurity, poverty and displacement in Africa last year.

The report, titled “State of the Climate in Africa 2020”, adds that the rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth’s system. 

Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability also shows how the potential benefits of investments in climate adaptation and early warning systems far outweigh the costs. 

The head of WMO, Professor Petteri Taalas, says that along with COVID-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continued need. 

The report was produced in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa and scientific organizations.  It is available online. 

**Global Foreign Direct Investment 

The UN Conference on Trade and Development — UNCTAD — today said that global foreign direct investment flows in the first half of 2021 reached an estimated $852 billion, showing stronger than expected rebound momentum.  UNCTAD’s Investment Trends Monitor noted that the increase in the first two quarters recovered more than 70 per cent of the loss induced by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

UNCTAD pointed out that developed economies saw the biggest rise, with foreign direct investment reaching an estimated $424 billion in the first half of 2021.  This is more than three times the exceptionally low level in 2020.

There is more information online.

**Guests Tomorrow

Beyond today’s guests, tomorrow, our guests will be Caitlin Williscroft, a specialist who works for UN-Women on the Women, Peace and Security Programme in the Afghanistan Country Office.  She will be joined by Naheed Farid, a former Afghan Parliamentarian, as well as Mariam Safi, Executive Director of the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS). 

They will be here to brief in the context of the anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and tomorrow’s open debate on Women, Peace and Security.

And that's it for me. 

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the latest missile launch by…  launches by the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), including one suspected of being a ballistic missile launched from a submarine?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we are concerned about the latest reported launches from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, including the report that a ballistic missile was launched from the sea.

At this point, we'd like to just reiterate what the Secretary‑General has repeatedly been saying.  We have repeatedly called on the DPRK leadership to comply fully with its international obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, and we've also called for the DPRK leadership to swiftly resume diplomatic efforts towards sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

So, we've been doing that.  As you know, there have been a number of recent tests, and our position remains consistent on that. 

Yes, James?

Question:  You're still, when you're talking about what happened in Mekelle, using the words “reportedly”.  You have people there.  Why are you not able to confirm whether there were air strikes or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have people on the ground, but at the same time, we're trying to get as much information as we can to verify this.  At this stage, we are relying on reports, including reports from people in Mekelle.  But obviously, we are not…  we don't have air monitoring and so forth at our facilities in Mekelle, and that's…  and so, we use the language that we use.

Question:  With regard to Ethiopia, we remember last week, the Secretary‑General in the Security Council and the exchange with the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia and the Secretary‑General making it clear that Ethiopia should come up with any evidence that it had against the UN staff, and the Ethiopian Permanent Representative said they would provide written evidence.  What has happened?

Deputy Spokesman:  We continue not to have any such evidence from the Ethiopian Government.  You…  we're aware of what they said in the Security Council, and you're aware of what the Secretary‑General's reply was, and we stand by what he said then.

Question:  And just one more on a different matter.  You…  just a follow‑up on you talking about the Security Council and Mr. Wennesland briefing.  Mr. Wennesland has now, to my knowledge, been in the job for more than ten months.  So, that's ten monthly briefings of the Security Council.  I am not aware of him doing a press briefing with us or a stakeout with us at any time during this time.  I understand it's COVID, but we are able to do stakeouts and press briefings remotely.  Why is he not talking to the media?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll be in touch with his team and see what he can do.  We have, of course, been extending the offer to all of the people who brief the Security Council to do these briefings.  And as you know, some of them have taken us up on this.  It's…  sometimes is just a question of logistics, but we'll try to make him available to you as soon as he can do so. 

Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  And so, my question is about the last statement of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.  He said that the United Nations cannot solve developing challenges and even condemning the world for new crisis.  Do you have any comments on that?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't really have any comment.  You're aware of the work we do.  You're aware of what the UN is capable of accomplishing, whether it's politically in terms of humanitarian support, in terms of economic support.  This is…  we are used to the idea that different Governments, different leaders, from time to time, can find criticism with how the UN functions.  And certainly, we ourselves have been conscious of the need to adapt to the world as it changes.  But I think you can see, simply from the work you do here in this building, the vast range of things that the UN is capable of accomplishing. 

Yes, please, in the back, yes, you.

Question:  Thank you.  On DPRK, the Security Council has held meetings following the previous ballistic missiles launches, but it doesn't seem much effective.  Has the SG thought about doing some personal diplomacy or speaking with the North Korean authorities?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we continue to encourage engagement, diplomatic engagement, between the…  including between the officials in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. 

The UN, as in all such cases, is willing to provide its good offices where all the parties agree to it, but at this stage, I don't have anything to announce from our side. 


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Last week, I asked Stéphane [Dujarric] about the girl from Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, called Faina Savenkova.  She…  as far as I know, she wrote a letter to the SG, and Russian Permanent Mission notified that they forward it to SG.  So, she calls the SG to help block this controversial website Myrotvorets, in which list she was included, because she says that a lot of minors are put in this list and being endangered by that.  Can you please confirm if you received the letter and what's the reaction by the SG?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I will have to check whether the letter has, in fact, been formally received.  Regarding that, as you're aware, we stand against the operationalization of children in these sorts of communications and want all parties to avoid doing that.  [He later confirmed that the letter was received.]

I don't see any questions in the chat.  If there are none, we will be turning over to our guests.  Are there any more from the floor?

Okay.  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.