HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STEPHANE DUJARRIC,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
TUESDAY, 7 JANUARY 2020

AUSTRALIA
As the people of the country bravely battle the wildfires ravaging their country, the Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery. 
With forecasts of a long and challenging fire season, the Secretary-General commends the search and rescue operations being conducted by the Government of Australia and all those who are taking part in these efforts – as they fight these devastating fires, save lives and do what they can to preserve their country’s rich biodiversity.
For its part, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said today that the bushfires have killed more than 20 people, destroyed hundreds of homes, and created hazardous air quality, some of which has reached South America.
 
SYRIA
Mark Cutts, the Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said today that he is alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib, in the northwest of the country, where over three million civilians remain trapped in a war zone – the vast majority of them women and children. 
He said that at least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes in southern Idlib since mid-December, following a sharp escalation in hostilities. All this is happening in bitter winter temperatures, which pose further risks to people who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Mr. Cutts said that every day, we receive more disturbing reports of families caught up in the violence, seeking refuge and access to essential services in overcrowded camps and urban areas.  Many are now sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings. Critical shortages of food, shelter, health and winterization assistance, as well as other basic services required for survival, are being reported across Idlib.  
The United Nations continues to call on all parties to the conflict to take the necessary measures to ensure that civilians are protected, in accordance with international humanitarian law. The United Nations also reiterates the call of the Secretary-General at the end of December for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
 
SUDAN
The UN and partners are continuing to help people affected by clashes between communities in and around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State.
The situation appears to be stabilizing, with the hospital in the city open with the support of the UN and others. Clinics will be set up in seven areas for internally displaced people.
Some 40,000 people – most of whom were already living in IDP camps – have been uprooted by the fighting.
UN agencies and partners are providing food, blankets, sleeping mats, water, and protection services, among other services and supplies.
Thousands of people have crossed the border into Chad, seeking refuge in villages near the border with Sudan. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that it has identified at least 3,700 people of these people, noting that the conditions are dire, with most refugees staying out in the open, with food and water urgently needed.
A response plan is being prepared to provide assistance.
 
DR CONGO
Today, the World Health Organization said the death toll from the measles epidemic has surpassed 6,000 people, and said the outbreak is currently the worst in the world.
Since the start of 2019, around 310,000 suspected measles cases have been reported. The epidemic has been aggravated by low vaccination coverage among vulnerable communities, malnutrition, weak public health systems, and insecurity that has hampered the response in some areas.
 
MEXICO
The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix is in Mexico City to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the Joint Training Centre for Peace Operations of Mexico, which will take place tomorrow. President López Obrador will also be in attendance.
Today, Mr. Lacroix will give a keynote presentation at an event at the National Defense College in Mexico City.
During his visit, he will hold meetings with senior Government officials, including the ministers of Foreign Affairs, National Defense and the Navy, and thank Mexico for its support to peacekeeping and discuss ongoing operations.
 
VENEZUELA
Yesterday, a statement was issued in which the Secretary-General said he is following with concern the events surrounding the election of the president of the National Assembly.
He called on all actors to take immediate steps to lower tensions and to work towards a peaceful and sustainable solution to the political crisis.
 
POLIO
The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee said today that the risk of the spread of polio remains what it calls a public health emergency of international concern.
It found that cases of polio quadrupled in the past year, with no significant success in reversing this trend.
WHO says that the transmission of polio continues to be widespread in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan, the challenges posed by the security situation makes eradication efforts very difficult.
 
APPOINTMENT
The Secretary-General is appointing Ms. Daniela Kroslak of Germany as Deputy Head of the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement, or UNMHA for short. 
Ms. Kroslak brings to the position a wealth of experience in the field and at Headquarters. Since 2018, she has been the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti; and from 2014 to 2018, she was the Principal Officer for the Sudan Integrated Operational Team within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
 
SG
This afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening of an exhibit sponsored by the Italian Mission to the UN and titled: “Recovered Treasures: The Art of Saving Art.”
The exhibition presents works of art that have been stolen and subsequently recovered.
In his remarks, he is expected to point out how much of the world’s cultural heritage has been lost in recent years, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen, and Mali and Afghanistan and to highlight the importance of international cooperation to protect cultural property and prevent illicit trafficking.