HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STÉPHANE DUJARRIC,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
WEDNESDAY, 20 MAY 2020
In a new policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on the African continent, the Secretary-General highlights the continent’s swift response to the pandemic, but also calls for global solidarity with Africans now and to recover better.
In a video message recorded for the launch, the Secretary-General said that most African countries have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers, and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.
They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumours and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers. But, despite these efforts, the pandemic threatens progress achieved on the continent and will aggravate long-standing inequalities.
The Secretary-General called for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, as well as cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.
The Secretary-General also emphasized that African countries should have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment. These must be considered global public goods, he said. He added that ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world.
This morning, during the opening session of the Africa Dialogues series, the Secretary-General reiterated the solidarity of the United Nations with African countries as they tackle the new coronavirus.
He welcomed African support for his call for a global ceasefire, but also warned that the pandemic is affecting capacity to support peace and security efforts across the continent.
My message to the international community, he said, is that failure to respond quickly and adequately could jeopardize progress towards Silencing the Guns by 2020 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as well as Africa’s “Agenda 2063”.
He said that the empowerment of African youth and repeated that women should play a central role in all peace processes, just as they needed to be central to every aspect of the COVID-19 response.
These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly, he concluded, as he renewed his appeal for global solidarity with all African countries.
HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF/ AFRICA
In a joint statement following the publication of the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on Africa, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Solomon Dersso, called for urgent measures to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
Bachelet and Dersso said that while measures to restrict movement and increase social distancing were essential in the fight against the virus, they were having a dramatic impact on populations, especially those who rely on informal daily work for their survival.
They both also underlined the importance of preserving freedom of association, of opinion and expression as well as access to information during this time. The human rights chiefs joined the Secretary-General's call for equitable access for COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, today launched her report on the new Development Coordination Office in her capacity as Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG). The launch was part of the continued virtual Operational Activities Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Ms. Mohammed said that the human crisis caused by the pandemic is a reminder of the need to move faster and farther to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She added that now is the time for stronger coordination – for governments and societies to come together to respond to the devastating impact of the virus and recover better.
Ms. Mohammed explained that the report provides an overview of all activities and key results of the wider Resident Coordinator system.
The full report is on ECOSOC’s website.
Also, in the spirit of transparency of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for reform, a new online portal went live today to better track the Special Purpose Trust Fund.
This is the financial backbone of the UN coordination system and now you can see where the money is coming from and to which country it is going.
It’s available on unsdg.un.org/SPTF.
GLOBAL HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
Today, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said that global human development – which is the combined measure of the world’s education, health and living standards – is set to decline this year for the first time since 1990, when the concept was first developed.
The Human Development Office said that the world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, but still development gains continued to grow. However, COVID-19 may change this trend.
More information on this is available on UNDP’s website.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that COVID-19 may push an additional 10 million of the world’s children into acute malnutrition. The UN agency estimates that the number of young children suffering from this life-threatening form of undernutrition could increase by 20 percent as a result of the pandemic.
WFP is working with governments to monitor populations vulnerable to the virus and adapting nutrition support where required. WFP is also working to ensure the production of specialized nutritious foods is not disrupted during the trade restrictions.
SECURITY COUNCIL/MIDDLE EAST
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning. He warned that the continuing threat of annexation by Israel of parts of the West Bank would constitute a most serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-State solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace and our broader efforts to maintain international peace and security.
He noted the announcement by the Palestinian leadership yesterday evening that it will sees itself absolved “of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones.”
Mr. Mladenov told the Council members that, whatever our individual assessments of the Palestinian reaction to the Israeli threat of annexation may be, it is certainly one thing: it is a desperate cry for help. It is a call for immediate action.
He added that he would be meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister tomorrow to get more details on the decision.
He asked the Security Council members to join the Secretary-General in his call against unilateral steps that will hinder current diplomatic efforts to create the conditions for bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the table. He said that Israel must abandon threats of annexation and the Palestinian leadership must re-engage with all members of the Quartet.
This afternoon, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, will brief the Council in an open session on Venezuela.
In South Sudan, UN peacekeepers are in Pieri in northern Jonglei state, following reports that many people were killed and injured in intercommunal clashes over the weekend.
Peacekeepers couldn’t verify the numbers of casualties due to conflicting reports, but the UN team spoke directly with the relatives of those killed, injured or forced to flee their homes. They also saw many huts having been burnt to the ground.
The Mission says the violence is being fueled by economic deprivation due to devastating floods which wiped out many homes and killed thousands of cattle. The Mission also said those involved in the fighting are emboldened by the Government not having appointed local governors.
In recent months, to deter intercommunal violence, the Mission has brought the warring groups together for reconciliation and peace building. However, COVID-19-related travel restrictions and prevention measures have stalled these talks.
Also, during these same weekend clashes in Jonglei, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), staff member and two staff members of another humanitarian organization were killed on May 16th.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, strongly condemned the killings, noting that the Government, all parties and communities must step up efforts to protect aid workers who are taking great risks to their safety in order to provide much needed assistance to the most vulnerable people in South Sudan.
An update on Super Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in India today along the border with Bangladesh: our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the UN continues to work with the Government of Bangladesh to prepare and support those in need.
Given the current pandemic, this support includes distributing personal protective equipment, disinfectants and other materials to evacuation shelters. To reduce the person-to-person contact during the delivery of aid, e-cash distributions will be used.
We, along with our partners, are mobilizing more than 1,700 mobile health teams and preparing for emergency food deliveries.
The Super Cyclone is taking a westerly trajectory towards India, but nearly 8 million people in Bangladesh remain at risk. The Bangladesh Government has evacuated more than 1.8 million people in high-risk areas.
In Kenya, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other aid agencies as well as the Government are strengthening their COVID-19 response, after authorities confirmed that two people tested positive for the virus in the Dadaab refugee camp.
In Dadaab, isolation and quarantine centres with nearly 1,000 additional beds have been constructed, and 125 handwashing stations are being installed at food distribution sites, schools and markets.
UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and their partners have provided double rations of food and hygiene products such as soap and jerrycans, to minimize the need for large gatherings and queues.
UNHCR’s Global COVID-19 Response plan has so far received 31 per cent of the $745 million needed to assist refugees impacted by the virus.
In Armenia, where there are more than 5,000 confirmed cases of the virus, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Shombi Sharp, has been supporting the Government’s plan to address the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is directly helping the Ministry of Health and is providing personal protection equipment, test kits and other supplies. UN experts are also ensuring that laboratories, hospitals and other facilities are prepared to respond to the pandemic.
To ensure that education continues, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have provided computers to the Ministry of Education so that vulnerable children can access distance learning. UNICEF is also working with the Government on training teachers and providing guidance.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is helping to retrain young people living in communities where jobs have been lost due to COVID-19 for remote work, while UNHCR is increasing its support for refugees through online language education and psychosocial support.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners are also distributing cash assistance to refugees and asylum seekers and the team is also helping with distribution, sending supplies to some 1,600 elderly people living alone in remote villages.
WORLD BEE DAY
Today marks World Bee Day. This year, the focus is on good practices adopted by beekeepers to support their livelihoods and deliver quality products.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an undeniable impact on the beekeeping sector, affecting production, the market and as a consequence, the livelihoods of beekeepers.
Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities.
One her twitter account, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, reminded that bees are some of our smallest climate action heroes. She added that a wide variety of plants that keep our planet healthy depend on bees - not to mention all the people who depend on pollination for their livelihoods and on honey to make our lives a bit sweeter.
To mark the day, a virtual event - under the theme "Bee Engaged" - will highlight the importance of traditional knowledge related to beekeeping, the use of bee-derived products and services, as well as their importance in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
I want to flag that Friday is the International Day for Biological Diversity. This year’s theme is “Our solutions are in nature.” In his message, the Secretary-General said that preserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is necessary for mitigating climate disruption, guaranteeing water and food security and even preventing pandemics.
COVID-19, he said, has shown how human health is intimately connected with our relationship to the natural world.
NOON BRIEFING GUEST TOMORROW
Tomorrow morning, at 9:30 am, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, will launch a revised appeal for the Desert Locust crisis. The event will be webcast on FAO’s website.
FAO has revised the initial appeal for which $131 million has been pledged, to address expanding threats and needs in West Africa and Southwest Asia, in addition to the Greater Horn of Africa. $311 million is now needed to implement locust control on 3.2 million hectares and provide livelihoods support to 313,000 households.
To answer your questions about the revised appeal, Keith Cressman, FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, will be our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.