HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STÉPHANE DUJARRIC,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
THURSDAY, 7 MAY 2020
COVID-19 HUMANITARIAN APPEAL
A short while ago, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, launched a $6.7 billion appeal and updated a global plan to fight COVID-19 in fragile countries.
Mr. Lowcock said that, while the virus has now affected every country and almost every person on the planet, the most devastating and destabilizing impacts will be felt in the world’s poorest countries.
On March 25th, the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan was launched. But with humanitarian needs continuing to rise, today’s updated Plan is calling for $6.7 billion for the remainder of 2020. The Plan includes nine more vulnerable countries, beyond the 54 covered in the original appeal.
Today’s appeal includes more of a focus on food insecurity, as well as how to help the most vulnerable and how to address gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, among others.
Mr. Lowcock said that donors have been fast and generous in their response, but it’s clear that much more is needed. He noted that, while some may be skeptical that additional resources can be generated in the current circumstances, that is not our experience. He pointed to how, after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, fundraising for UN coordinated humanitarian appeals increased by more than 40 per cent by 2010.
He was joined at today’s briefing by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley; the Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies [Programme], Dr.Mike Ryan; and the President and CEO of Oxfam America, Abby Maxman.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be releasing a statement on hate speech in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. He will appeal to all countries to stand up against xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering. He will also stress that the virus does not care who we are, where we live or what we believe.
In a statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the formation of the new Government of Iraq led by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
The Secretary-General expresses his support to the new Government and calls for the implementation of meaningful reforms that make tangible improvements in people’s lives and strengthen Iraq’s democratic institutions. He reiterates the importance of acting in the interest of all Iraqis through a political process in which women, youth and all of Iraq’s diverse communities, including ethnic and religious minorities, can participate actively.
The Secretary-General encourages the swift completion of the formation of the government, including by appointing women to cabinet positions yet to be filled. He reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to support the people and Government of Iraq in their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, also welcomed the confirmation by the Council of Representatives of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and a majority of his ministers. She urged the complete formation of the Cabinet so that the new administration can swiftly move to address mounting security, social, political, economic and health challenges.
Last night, we issued a note providing details of a roundtable that was hosted by the Deputy Secretary-General last Friday on different aspects related to debt vulnerability and COVID-19, which was also attended by more than 20 policy-makers, thought leaders and experts from around the world.
That discussion made clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic crises it has already triggered will derail our chances to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – unless we respond rapidly, with new tools that enable a comprehensive global response, and build back better.
In 2020, we expect to lose the equivalent of more than 300 million jobs; experience a decline in global trade of between 13 and 32 per cent; and face a drop in remittance flows to low- and middle- income countries by around 20 per cent. There is also expected to be a decline in foreign direct investment by 35 per cent.
FOOD COMMODITY PRICES
Today the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that world food commodity prices declined for the third month in a row during April.
FAO noted that the economic and logistical impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in significant contractions in demand for many commodities.
The FAO’s Food Price Index averaged 165.5 points in April, some 3.4 per cent lower than the previous month and 3 per cent lower than April 2019.
The Sugar Price Index, for example, hit a 13-year low, declining [14.6] per cent from March. The Meat Price index declined 2.7 per cent.
FAO pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting both the demand and supply sides for meat, as restaurant closures and reduced household incomes lead to lower consumption. Meanwhile, labour shortages on the processing side are impacting production systems in major livestock-producing countries.
Ahead of Mother’s Day, which is recognized in May in nearly 130 countries, our UNICEF colleagues said today that an estimated 116 million babies will be born under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF said that new mothers and newborns will experience global containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews; overwhelmed health centres; supply and equipment shortages; and a lack of sufficient skilled birth attendants.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said that it is hard to imagine how much the coronavirus pandemic has recast motherhood. The organization is urgently calling for governments and health care providers to take measures, including helping pregnant women receive checkups and delivery care, and ensuring that health workers are provided with the necessary personal protective equipment.
Meanwhile, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said today that the measures implemented by governments to curb the pandemic have disrupted illicit drug trafficking routes by air. According to a new report, there was also a drastic reduction or increased interdiction in overland trafficking routes.
Several countries have reported drug shortages at the retail level. UNODC pointed out that this can lead to an overall decrease in consumption, but mainly for drugs consumed in recreational settings. However, in the case of heroin, a shortage in supply can lead to the consumption of harmful, domestically-produced drugs. In terms of drug production, for example, in Afghanistan, restrictions resulting from the lockdown could hinder the production of opiates, with the key harvest months being March to June.
UNODC noted that, in the long-run, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to lead to a lasting and profound transformation of drug markets.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said that it is concerned about the increasing impact of the pandemic on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.
According to WMO, meteorological measurements taken from aircraft have plummeted by an average of 75 to 80 per cent compared to normal. In the southern hemisphere, the loss is closer to 90 per cent.
WMO said that as we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the pandemic may exacerbate multi-hazard risks so it is essential that governments pay attention to their early warning and weather-observing capacities.
Also linked to air travel, the number of international tourists could decline by as much as 80 per cent this year – that’s according to new data released by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The data shows the pandemic has already caused a 22 per cent fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of the year – that’s 67 million fewer tourists and a loss of about $80 billion in exports from tourism.
A bit of good news today: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that while deforestation continues around the world, it is happening at a slower rate. Ten million hectares a year are being converted to other uses since 2015, down from 12 million hectares a year in the previous five years. This is according to a new report by FAO in conjunction with 700 experts which examined several factors in 236 countries and territories.
The report says that the area of forest in protected areas globally has increased by 191 million hectares since 1990 and now 18 per cent of the world's forests are located within protected areas, with South America home to the highest share of these.
That means that the world has met, and surpassed, the Aichi Biodiversity Target to protect at least 17 per cent of terrestrial areas by 2020. In addition, 2 billion hectares of forests, more than half the total, are now subject to management plans. More information on the key findings of the report online.
In response to COVID-19, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reported that earlier this week, UN peacekeepers donated various medical equipment, including personal protection equipment to the Municipality of Beit Lif, in South-Western Lebanon.
From Darfur, the UN Mission there, together with the Government and UN agencies, funds and programmes, have agreed to allocate nearly $2 million to support the Transitional Government of Sudan’s COVID-19 National Response Plans focusing on Darfur. The funds will help to contain the spread of the virus, as well as to set up isolation centres and bolster the capacity of local health and community systems. The funds will also go towards providing personal protective equipment, sanitizers and handwashing facilities, among other supplies.
Regarding Libya, heavy shelling and armed clashes have continued in many areas of Tripoli, reportedly causing civilian casualties.
We continue to remind the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm and call on all parties to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, given their likely indiscriminate effect.
Last week, two more health facilities were hit by shelling causing material damage. One of them is closed for repairs.
Already this year, 13 attacks have impacted field hospitals, health care workers and ambulances, including on hospitals identified to treat COVID-19 in Libya.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to 64 with three reported deaths. The UN fears that figures may be underreported as there is a lack of testing capacity and contact tracing.
In Syria, we continue to be concerned by the impact of the virus on people across the country, many of them displaced and particularly vulnerable. As of 6 May, the Syrian Government has confirmed 45 cases, including three fatalities.
WHO is leading the UN’s efforts to support preparation and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the north-west and north-east. The UN continues to step up efforts to mitigate the virus’ spread, with a focus on enhancing the capacity to detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus to the extent possible, while ensuring adequate surveillance of entry points, and providing protective equipment and training to health workers.
The UN continues to support the establishment of testing capacity in all parts of Syria. Four laboratories have been established in Damascus, Lattakia and Aleppo governorates in government-controlled areas, and one in Idlib in the north-west.
The UN has assessed the needs and identified $385 million in additional requirements for 2020 to address COVID-19 across Syria.
In Kenya, our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 233,000 people – half of whom are displaced – have been impacted by rains which have intensified in the past three weeks, causing death, displacement, flooding and landslides.
We, along with our humanitarian partners, led by the Kenya Red Cross Society, are responding to the needs of affected people. Shelter and other items have been distributed to about 43,000 people; one-off cash voucher assistance to about 5,500 people; and food assistance to nearly 7,500 people.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has distributed dignity kits and emergency reproductive health kits and is also working to prevent gender-based violence, including for refugees. UNICEF has helped more than 19,000 displaced people by providing vital water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, while WHO is working to respond to cholera threats.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Our colleagues from the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic tell us that, yesterday, several armed soldiers from the country's Armed Forces demonstrated in Bangassou’s central market area. They were allegedly demonstrating against their chain of command for failing to relieve them from their 12-month assignment in the town. The soldiers established barricades, blocking all traffic, and also fired shots into the air. In response, the peacekeeping mission deployed a Quick Reaction Force to prevent an escalation of the situation and to protect civilians. No casualties were reported.
Following mediation facilitated by the UN Mission and local authorities, barricades were removed, and today, the situation is back to normal.
In another part of the country, peacekeepers have strengthened their presence in Ndele, following violence last week. This will help to protect the population, as well as humanitarian workers assisting, among others. Some 8,000 people sought protection near the Mission compound. The Mission is also supporting the investigation into last week’s attacks. A team has been in Ndele since last Friday to document human rights violations.
DAY OF VESAK
The Secretary-General is sending warm wishes today to all who celebrate the Day of Vesak.
Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world.
The Secretary-General said that, as we honour the birth, enlightenment and the passing of Lord Buddha, we can all be inspired by his teachings.
He added that, as the human family suffers the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the sutra, and I quote: “Because all living beings are subject to illness, I am ill as well.”
Guterres noted that this timeless message of unity and service to others is more important now than ever. It is only together that we will stop the spread of the coronavirus and recover.