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19 November 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.  A very happy Friday to you all.

After we’re done, you’re done with me, we’re very delighted to welcome Paulina Kubiak, who will be taking over as the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And Paulina will brief you for the first time right after I’m done.

**Trip Announcement — Colombia

I have a trip announcement to make.  The Secretary-General will visit Colombia from 23-24 November in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the signing of the landmark 2016 Final Peace Agreement between the Government of Colombia and the former FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army).

The Secretary-General will meet with President Iván Duque and officials of his Government, as well as with leaders of the former FARC-EP guerrilla movement.  He will attend commemorative events and observe peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts involving former combatants, communities, and authorities.  The Secretary-General will meet with heads of the transitional justice system, victims of the armed conflict, and leaders of Colombian civil society, including women, youth, indigenous and Afro-Colombian representatives, as well as human rights and climate activists. 

Through his visit, the Secretary-General will take stock of the major achievements of the peace process, as well as the outstanding challenges.  He will convey a strong message of encouragement for the continued implementation of this far-reaching and transformative Peace Agreement for the benefit of all Colombians.

**Somalia

A quick note for you from Somalia, where the Federal Government and the humanitarian community today jointly said that they are alarmed at the rapidly worsening drought in the country.

Somalia is on the frontline of climate change and has experienced more than 30 climate-related hazards since 1990, including 12 droughts and 19 floods.

Some 2.3 million people — or 18 per cent of the population — are severely affected by serious water, food and pasture shortages.  The risk of waterborne disease is on the rise due to the lack of access to safe and potable water.

Nearly 100,000 people have abandoned their homes, especially in central and southern areas, in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.  Over 70 per cent of all Somalis live below the poverty line.

The deteriorating situation has increased vulnerabilities at a time when the number of people who need assistance and protection in Somalia is predicted to climb by 30 per cent, from 5.9 million now to 7.7 million in 2022.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, said that a severe storm is brewing in Somalia and stressed that we must act now to prevent a slide into the crippling kind of drought and even famine conditions experienced in previous years.  The people who are affected have already endured decades of conflict, climate shocks and disease outbreaks.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund is allocating $8 million for the drought response and the Somalia Humanitarian Fund is making a reserve allocation of $6 million.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, David McLachlan-Karr, condemned in the strongest terms a deadly attack that took place a few days ago on 11 November on the village of Kisunga in the territory of Beni in North Kivu.

In this attack, 35 people were killed and 4,000 displaced.  The area’s health centre was looted and destroyed, depriving 12,000 people of health-care services.

In Beni alone, some 798,000 people are internally displaced.  Despite this volatile security context, aid workers have provided food security assistance to more than 458,000 people across the territory since January.

However, the needs remain high, with the recent Ebola outbreak adding to the already existing challenges.  To scale up the response, it is critical that humanitarian partners have safe, timely and sustainable access to all people in need.

**Afghanistan — Agriculture

On Afghanistan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today is helping farmers and herders as the people of the country face widespread drought, the collapse of rural livelihoods and widespread economic upheaval.

In Afghanistan, at least 18.8 million people face acute food insecurity — meaning they are unable to feed themselves on a daily basis — and that number is projected to rise to 22.8 million people by the end of the year.

FAO is supporting farmers and herders with seeds, fertilizer, cash and livelihood support to keep agricultural production going and to avoid widespread livelihood collapse in several parts of the country.

The Director-General of FAO, Qu Dongyu, warned that millions of Afghans are living on the edge of catastrophe, which he said will occur if their animals die or fields go unplanted.

**Eastern Caribbean — COVID-19

A quick update from the Caribbean, where our UN team in Barbados and 10 Eastern Caribbean countries and territories today launched a new initiative to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

This effort brings together experts from multiple UN agencies and seeks to increase research and public policy options to boost vaccination rates.

The Resident Coordinator in the area, Didier Trebucq, highlighted the importance of vaccination, as the pandemic is heavily impacting economies and societies, increasing debt and deepening existing inequalities.  He acknowledged the hard work of the authorities in the region in securing offers of vaccines.

Mr. Trebucq said the restrictions of movement through border controls, curfews, school closures and lockdown measures have come at a huge cost to the region.  But, he said, science is on our side, with vaccines being available in the Eastern Caribbean.

**World Toilet Day

Today is a very important day — it is World Toilet Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General says that life without a toilet is dirty, dangerous and undignified.

He stresses that everyone should have access to hygienic, safe, and sustainable sanitation, yet 3.6 billion people still live without safely managed sanitation, threatening their health, harming the environment, and hindering economic development.

Every day, 700 children under five die from diseases linked to unsafe water and sanitation.  Toilets also drive improvements in gender equality and in society as a whole. 

Also marking the Day, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke in a prerecorded video message to an event hosted by the Permanent Missions of Singapore and co-hosted by [the Permanent Missions of] India and Nigeria.

Amina Mohammed said that every dollar invested in sanitation delivers five-fold in economic benefits, adding that achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation may seem expensive, but the cost of inaction is far greater.

**Guests on Monday

And finally, our guests on Monday will be the Under-Secretary-Generals Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atul Khare and Catherine Pollard — for the Peacekeeping, Operational Support and Management departments.

They will be joined by the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Cho [Hyun], to brief you on the 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting, which will be held from the 7th to the 8th of December.

This meeting will bring together Member States at the ministerial level and aims to strengthen UN Peacekeeping by improving the performance and impact of our operations.

Before we allow Paulina to come to the forefront, I'll take your questions. 

**Questions and Answers

Edie and then James. 

Question:  Steph, is there any further word on the detainees in Ethiopia and Yemen?

Spokesman:  On Yemen, sadly, absolutely no change despite our best efforts to try to secure the release of our colleagues.

In Ethiopia, it's a fluctuating picture.  The latest numbers I just received are five UN staff and two dependents are in custody.  Six staff, as we mentioned, were released yesterday, and one was released today.  However, one UN staff member and a dependent were detained today.

James.

Question:  Austria has gone into lockdown.  Austria has also said that it wants everyone to be vaccinated.  It's making it mandatory to be vaccinated unless you have a medical excuse, and you could be fined and possibly jailed.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction?  Is that a model that other countries should follow?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not going to dictate the health policies of certain countries.  I think it's very important that countries take serious and active public health policies to protect their population.  And, as a general rule, I would say that public health policies also need to respect basic rights.

Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A few days ago, I raised the issue of the five Palestinians who are on hunger strike and passed their 100th day.  And Fasfous is in his 128th day, and he's about to lose his battle…  so, you said you'll get back to me with some language, and I didn't hear anything, so if you have anything for me.

Spokesman:  Okay, let me check.  I didn't see anything, but let me check. 

Okay, yes, Grigory.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  NATO Secretary General said that, if Germany will decide to remove US nuclear weapons from its territory, it's possible to deploy such weapon.

Spokesman:  If who would decide to…

Question:  Germany.

Spokesman:  Uh‑huh.

Question:  Germany.  So, if Germany decides to remove US nuclear weapons from its territory, it's possible to deploy such weapons in other countries like maybe in Eastern Europe.  Do you have any comments on that?  And would it bear some risk to non‑proliferation regime?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to comment, I didn't see the full comments from the NATO Secretary General, and we're not going to comment on these sorts of things.  I mean, our basic position is one for greater discussion, greater progress in non‑proliferation and greater action towards non‑proliferation.

Okay, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  There are reports that residents in Queens, teachers and students are urging the Secretary‑General to intervene to save their school from being closed down in…  the UNIS [United Nations International School] in Queens.

Spokesman:  I have no comment on that.  I would refer you to…  I would refer you, if you have any questions about the UN school and decisions taken, I would refer you to the school itself.  We can put you in touch with them.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  James.

Question:  The UK Government is planning to prescribe all of Hamas, not just the military wing, the political wing, as well.  This is a permanent member of the Security Council.  The UN has dealings with Hamas in Gaza and elsewhere.  Is it helpful?

Spokesman:  We continue and we will continue to deal with the authorities in Gaza and wherever we need to deal with them, and we leave it to the Member States to take their decisions.

Question:  Also asked you yesterday about the numbers coming into the building.  I don't know if you've managed to get any statistics for us…

Spokesman:  Yeah.  So…

Question:  …and whether those numbers mean that the Secretary‑General's order of coming to work some days a week and not others are actually being respected or not.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the, every decision taken by the Secretary‑General given to staff is being respected, of course.

[laughter]

Strange question.  No, the numbers that we're getting in terms of people coming into the building over the last, let's say, five days varied between 3,700 to 2,600 depending on the days.  The staff numbers have over about 2,000.  We do believe that staff are taking the Secretary‑General's…  are abiding by the Secretary‑General's…

Question:  How many UN staff work…  how many UN staff have passes that…  or have offices that…

Spokesman:  It's a…  as with most things about the UN, simple questions have complicated answers.  There are a lot of UN staff that have passes to come into this building.  They may not work in this…  I mean all the staff from UNDP, UNICEF and others all have passes.

The building also, I mean, clearly, the building is emptier than we're used to.  I mean, I think the fact that civil society is not fully back in the building, they will be, as I understand it, beginning of January, then not all journalists are back in, but we are seeing an increase in staff numbers. 

Okay.  I wish you all a wonderful weekend because it is Friday.  James, don't look too stunned.  I can confirm that it is Friday. 

And, yeah, I'm…  Sorry.  Eri, who is monitoring the…  we have about 9,900 staff in the building, I mean, in New York.  So, we're about, about a third, which is, I think, kind of on target.

Okay, thank you.  You can all go…  oh, Paulina.  I'm so sorry.  I'm so excited that it's the weekend, but I'm so delighted to cede the podium to Paulina, and I know you will be kinder to her than you are to me.  There we go.  Paulina, break a leg, as they say.  Yeah, I was about to send you out of the room but I was…  there you go.  All right.

For information media. Not an official record.