PRESS ENCOUNTER BY

 SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES

FRIDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2020

In recent days I have warned repeatedly about the risk of a serious escalation of the hostilities in northwest Syria. 
I fear that with the events of the past 24 hours, we have reached that point.
This is one of the most alarming moments across the duration of the Syrian conflict.
Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour.
 
And as always, civilians are paying the gravest price.
Nearly 1 million people have fled their homes in the past three months.
Airstrikes have continued to hit schools and medical facilities.
Even camps and other sites where displaced families have sought shelter have been struck by shelling.
And as the noose keeps tightening, and as the frontlines are moving, they reach more densely populated areas.

The most pressing need is an immediate ceasefire before the situation gets entirely out of control.
In all my contacts with those involved, I have had one simple message: step back from the edge of escalation.
I also reiterate my appeal for civilian protection. 

The conflict in Syria will soon enter its tenth year. 
A decade of fighting has brought nothing but ruin and misery.
There is no military solution. The only path is a UN-facilitated political process pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254.  I remind everyone that the resolution called for a nationwide ceasefire.
Now it is the time to give a chance for diplomacy to work and it is essential that fighting stops.
 
Let me now say a few words about the coronavirus.
Today the World Health Organization raised the risk assessment of COVID-19 to very high at the global level. 
We are seeing cases in a number of new countries, including now also the African continent. 
This not a time for panic – it is time to be prepared – fully prepared. 
As WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros said – the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus.  It is fear, rumours and stigma.”
 
Now is the time for all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease – and to do so without stigmatization, and respecting human rights. 
We know containment is possible, but the window of opportunity is narrowing.
And so I appeal for solidarity and full global support, but with all countries fully assuming their responsibilities. 
As they do so, they can count on the support of the United Nations and naturally of the World Health Organization, that is part of our family.

Questions and Answers
 
Spokesman:  Thank you. Talal?
 
Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General. Talal Al‑Haj from Al‑Arabiya Al‑Ahdath.
 
I would like to ask you concerning Syria and Idlib ‑‑ I'm sorry. My voice is a bit cold ‑‑ have you been in contact with the leaders of Russia and Turkey? And, if you did, did you feel there's preparedness by the two countries for an immediate, immediate ceasefire and a lasting ceasefire to save the civilians, as you said, the misery that they are living in now?
 
Secretary-General:  I've been in very close contact. I've been strongly appealing for that. I think we are not yet there. I hope we will be there in the near future, because the situation can get completely out of control.
 
Spokesman:  Alan?
 
Question:  Thank you, Alan Bulkaty with RIA Novosti.
 
Mr. Secretary‑General, don't you find it necessary to send additional… I mean to send the personnel of UN to Idlib, to north‑west Syria, just to get the clearer picture of what is happening in there?
 
Secretary-General:  There is a preparation of a humanitarian mission exactly with that purpose.
 
Thank you very much.

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE U.N. SYSTEM

FRIDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2020

 
YEMEN 
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, strongly condemns the recent military escalation in Al Jawf governorate in northern Yemen. He calls on all involved in the conflict to freeze all military activity in Al Jawf, Ma’rib and Nihm areas and to work with his office to achieve that goal.
He said he is deeply disappointed and dismayed with the continued wave of military escalation in Yemen. He is particularly alarmed by this reckless military attitude, which runs counter to the stated desires of all sides to reach a political solution.
Mr. Griffiths stressed that the parties are accountable for the grave humanitarian consequences of this escalation. Mr. Griffiths warned that the parties have no time to lose and reiterated that there is no alternative to a negotiated political settlement.
 
COVID-19
In his daily update, Dr. Tedros, the Head of the World Health Organization, said the assessment of the risk of spread and impact of COVID-19 has been increased to very high at a global level.
This follows an increase in the number of cases, and affected countries over the last few days. Since yesterday, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Nigeria have all reported their first cases.
Dr. Tedros pointed out that WHO does not see evidence, as of yet, that the virus is spreading freely in communities. He said that most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases.
The key to containing this virus, he added, is to break the chains of transmission.
 
DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL
Yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke to the African Group of Member States, and she briefed them on where we stand on the regional review process, the Decade of Action and climate change.
She told the African Group that she had just returned from the Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development in Zimbabwe, where she had also participated in a special session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism. She said it was an inspiring few days and the appetite for better collaboration and for greater impact was palpable.
The Deputy Secretary-General added that climate change is one of the Secretary-General’s foremost priorities and 2020 is a “make or break” year for climate action. She told the Group that we must ensure that all Member States deliver enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions this year, to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow is the success the world needs it to be. 
 
SECURITY COUNCIL 
This morning, the Security Council unanimously voted to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in Guinea-Bissau until the end of the year.
  
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO 
Today in Kinshasa, the Congolese government, the UN and humanitarian partners launched the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020. The Plan requests US$ 1.82 billion targeting 8.1 million people with humanitarian assistance.  Despite progress in some areas in 2019, the number of people in need has doubled from 7.5 million in 2016 to 15.6 million in 2020.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains at a major humanitarian crisis due to violence and conflicts, natural disasters, high levels of poverty, weak public infrastructure and lack of basic services, which continue to generate displacement, malnutrition, food insecurity, epidemics and protection threats.
Five million people are internally displaced in the DRC, making it the country most affected by internal displacement in Africa; two major epidemics- measles and Ebola- have killed more than 6,000 and 2,200 people respectively; an estimated 15.6 million people face acute food insecurity, the second highest number worldwide and some 4 million children under five years of age are acutely malnourished. 
Despite challenges, the UN and humanitarian partners have continued and will continue working to reach affected people. In 2019, 4.9 million people received emergency food aid; 2.7 million displaced persons have been provided with basic health care, 2 million with clean drinking water, and 230,000 received emergency shelter; 1.4 million malnourished people received nutritional care; over 600,000 displaced schoolchildren returned to school; and 35,000 survivors of gender-based violence had access to care services.
Humanitarian actors estimate that without sufficient funds, over 8 million people will not be able to meet their basic needs and their lives will be threatened.
This appeal comes as the DRC has recorded its lowest funding rate of the past six years. In 2019, a $1.6 billion appeal was only 46 per cent funded.
 
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo welcomes the signing today of an Agreement between the Government and an armed group, the “Force de résistance patriotique de l’Ituri”, better known as the FRPI. 
The Mission hopes for a rapid and efficient implementation of the Agreement, adding that this is an opportunity for the Ituri population to turn the page on more than twenty years of conflict and to enter a new phase of peacebuilding and development.
The UN has supported the political process over the past two and half years, leading to this Agreement through good offices, advocacy and logistical support. The peacekeepers also played an important role in creating weapon-free perimeters around the meeting areas between the Government and the FRPI. This has helped to create a climate of trust between the parties. In its implementation phase, the Peacekeeping mission will continue to support the FRPI disarmament process, will accompany the return of the displaced and the restoration of state authority.
 
FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION
Belgium, Indonesia and Qatar have made full payments to the regular budget. The total number of paid-up Member States is now 59.