HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STÉPHANE DUJARRIC​,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
THURSDAY, 21 MAY 2020

 
[The briefing began with an announcement by Melissa Fleming, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, on the launch of the “Verified” initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation.]
 
SECRETARY-GENERAL/ASIA-PACIFIC
Today, the 76th session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific was held in a virtual setting.
In a video message sent to the gathering, the Secretary-General noted that governments and leaders are grappling with a wide range of challenges that risk recent progress in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world. He said that, while many countries in the region are charting a solid course toward COVID-19 solutions, millions in the region remain highly vulnerable and at risk.
The Secretary-General stressed he is strongly convinced that we have an opportunity to build back better on the foundations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. He said that means forging common solutions to the climate crisis, economic and social inequalities, and new forms of violence, as well as rapid changes in technology and demography. You can find his message online.
 
DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL/LABOUR
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General and the head of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, jointly held a virtual conference with the UN’s Resident Coordinators who are leading our response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 162 countries and territories.
Ms. Mohammed said that we previously thought we had 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the urgency of this cause.
For his part, the ILO Director-General said that the world cannot accept a “new normal” with more inequality and more people left behind.
UN teams around the world are working closely with governments, civil society organizations and the private sector to roll out our framework for the immediate socioeconomic response and recovery. The UN is spotlighting social protection schemes, such as cash transfers, that can help prevent millions of people, especially women and children, from sliding into poverty.
 
DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL/FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT
Tomorrow, the Deputy-Secretary-General will be available to brief you, in an embargoed briefing, on the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond. That is scheduled to take place on 28 May, next Thursday. The event is being convened by the Secretary-General, along with the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, and will aim to set a definite pathway to concrete and effective solutions on critical sustainable development finance issues that threaten to adversely impact billions of people over the next two months. We will be in touch with you regarding the exact time of that briefing.
 
DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL/BBC/DIVERSITY
To mark the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, the BBC is hosted a Diversity and Inclusion Conversation with the UN on LinkedIn. The BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall and the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, led an hour-long discussion with creative experts on how to ensure diversity and inclusion is at the heart of plans to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation is feeding into the values of the 17 SDGs adopted by world leaders.
While the discussion’s main focus is the creative industry, the intention is for themes and learning to be applicable across multiple industries. 
In her remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General said that a true diversity of voices and ideas produces better communities and workforces, allowing us to identify, prevent and respond to vulnerabilities, as we accelerate our vision into the future. She added that we need all voices to be heard, especially our youth.
The event was broadcast to the combined audiences of the BBC and the UN’s millions of LinkedIn followers, as well as to LinkedIn members who are in the creative industry. It is also on the UN’s Web TV platform.
 
PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS REPORT
The annual report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict has been released. Covering the year 2019, the report documents the death and injuries of tens of thousands of civilians; the displacement of millions; as well as widespread reports of sexual violence. Children were also forced to take part in fighting, according to the report. 
It also details how the work of humanitarian organizations was hampered by violence and bureaucracy, while attacks against hospitals and health clinics continued. As COVID-19 spreads around the world, the virus could further devastate conflict-affected States.
The report is scheduled for a discussion in the Security Council next week.
 
VERIFIED INITIATIVE TO COMBAT COVID-19 MISINFORMATION
Today the UN launched ‘Verified’, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.
“We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate,” said the Secretary-General.
Verified is led by the UN Department for Global Communications (DGC) and will provide information around three themes: science – to save lives; solidarity – to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions – to advocate for support to impacted populations.
 
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
As part of the Operational Activities Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is under way virtually, Member States had a dialogue with UN Resident Coordinators and members of UN country teams in six countries: Armenia, China, Haiti, Seychelles, Uruguay and Yemen.
Our colleagues working in these countries are responding to questions from Member States on changes on the ground following the repositioning of the UN development system which started early last year.
The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the start of the session and noted that the Resident Coordinators and UN Country Team members, together, are rising to the challenge to ensure more responsive and effective support to the 2030 Agenda.
Today’s dialogue centers around the UN’s successes and challenges of UN country teams, as well as how they are responding to the pandemic in the first so-called stress test for how effective the changes on the ground are following the reforms.

SECURITY COUNCIL/SOMALIA
The Security Council held a meeting on Somalia over videoconference today.
Briefing Council members was James Swan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.
He said that Somalia has more than 1,500 recorded cases of COVID-19, but that actual figures are almost certainly higher. Mr. Swan noted that the consequences for Somalia are acute, given that, even before the pandemic, more than 5 million Somalis needed humanitarian aid.
He added that the 2.6 million internally displaced people are particularly at risk. In addition, almost one million Somalis are affected by flooding and the country faces its worst desert locust infestation in a quarter of a century.
On the security front, Mr. Swan expressed regret that al-Shabaab has not embraced the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, and that their terrorist operations continue unabated.
 
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Some updates from the field: our colleagues in the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic continues to support the Government in its efforts to secure the city of Ndélé. The ultimate goal is to free the city of weapons. 
On Tuesday, at the request of the Central African Republic’s Special Criminal Court, peacekeepers arrested nine armed elements. The arrests were parts of investigations conducted by the Government and the UN mission into violence that has affected the country’s northeastern region since early March. Fifty-six individuals, including 39 civilians, have died as a result of this wave of violence.
As we mentioned a few days ago, the peacekeeping mission has launched a military operation in Ndélé aimed at protecting civilians and creating security conditions for the humanitarian activities as well as the restoration of State authority, including justice.
In a different part of the country, the UN Mission continues to closely monitor developments in Obo in Haut-Mbomou prefecture. Yesterday, six members of an armed group – the Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique, or UPC – and three other suspects were arrested by peacekeepers as they attempted to attack the town. Weapons were also confiscated. 
Finally, the peacekeeping mission’s support to support local authorities in the fight against COVID-19 is ongoing. They are conducting training and awareness-raising workshops aimed at influential and religious women leaders on the need to observe preventive measures, social distancing and overcrowd avoidance. 
 
SYRIA
In Syria today, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Imran Riza, announced the release of $23 million by the Syria Humanitarian Fund to provide rapid, life-saving support to communities across Syria to fight the pandemic. 
The funds will prioritize interventions in health, water and sanitation, protection, and logistics support, including early investments in reinforcing preparedness, such as infection prevention and control, and strengthening testing and tracing capacity. This contribution from the Syria Humanitarian Fund will go directly towards urgent and decisive action that will help curb transmission of the virus, said Mr. Riza.  It will also protect frontline health workers and support vulnerable communities who can ill-afford the destructive impacts of the pandemic.
 
YEMEN
Turning to Yemen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that COVID-19 is making the humanitarian crisis in the country much worse, which was already the world’s largest.
Epidemiologists estimate that the virus could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences in Yemen than in many other countries.
Although official figures stand at 184 cases and 30 deaths today, actual incidence is almost certainly much higher. Tests remain in short supply. Aid agencies are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country.
We, along with our partners, are focusing on effective case management and protecting the public health system, and on scaling up awareness and risk communication interventions. An estimated 16 million people in the first half of May were reached with awareness-raising activities.
 
LEBANON
UN peacekeepers in Lebanon report to us that they are continuing to support the COVID-19 response in the mission area. Recently, they handed over a public water purification plant to the local community in Abbasiyah in southwest Lebanon. UNIFIL also donated computer equipment and clothing in Social Development Centres to benefit communities in four south-eastern Lebanese villages.
 
BANGLADESH
And an update on Cyclone Amphan, which recently made landfall between India and Bangladesh: Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the storm has damaged houses and crops in Bangladesh. Power has been cut off to cities and towns, many of which are working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The cyclone has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but it is still expected to bring heavy to moderate rain over the next 24 hours.
It is believed that around 10 million people in Bangladesh are impacted by the cyclone, with half a million families potentially having lost their homes.
The Government of Bangladesh has evacuated nearly 2 million people. There are more than 12,000 cyclone shelters, which have supplies, such as masks and sanitizers, to combat COVID-19.
Humanitarian partners and authorities will rapidly assess the damage. In Cox’s Bazar, early reports indicate minimal damage in refugee camps, but aid agencies are looking into the situation there.
 
MIGRANTS/EUROPE
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are calling on Malta and other European States to disembark some 160 rescued migrants and refugees who remain at sea on board two Captain Morgan vessels. The UN agencies are also deeply concerned about reports that States have been ignoring or delaying responses to distress calls, especially amid a sharp decrease in State-led and NGO search-and-rescue capacity.
 
DISPLACED PEOPLE/COVID-19
Earlier today, on a related note, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR signed an agreement to strengthen public health services for the millions of forcibly displaced people around the world. A key objective this year will be to support the ongoing efforts to protect some 70 million displaced people from COVID-19.
 
W.H.O.-SMITHSONIAN GUIDE FOR YOUTH ON COVID-19
WHO, the Smithsonian Science Education Center, and 140 national academies of science, engineering and medicine have developed a guide to help youth between the ages of 8 and 17 to better understand COVID-19. The new guide is called “COVID-19! How can I protect myself and others?” and asks questions that explore the impact of the pandemic, as well as how to practice hand and respiratory hygiene and physical distancing. All of the tasks in the guide have been designed to be completed at home. The new guide is free and will be available online in more than 15 languages.
 
VENEZUELA
Yesterday afternoon, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed Security Council members on the situation in Venezuela. She warned that there is a heightened concern regarding the stand-off and the absence of any serious negotiations between the main political parties in Venezuela, especially amid the potentially far-reaching effects of the current pandemic.
Rosemary DiCarlo called on the main political actors to engage in constructive negotiations to create conditions conducive to the holding of credible, inclusive and participatory elections. She also added that the UN remains concerned about reports of detention of political leaders and journalists reporting on the pandemic and the politicization of humanitarian aid, as well as threats and intimidation against health workers for expressing, for example, concern about the lack of equipment to fight the pandemic or actually just giving the number of cases.
Finally, she reiterated the Secretary-General’s appeal for the waiving of sanctions that could undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.
 
INTERNATIONAL TEA DAY
Today is the first International Tea Day, which is promoting collective action in favor of the sustainable production and consumption of tea and raising awareness of its importance in fighting hunger and poverty. Tea production and processing constitutes a main source of livelihoods for millions of families in developing countries and is the main means of subsistence for millions of poor families, many living in least developed countries. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, with more floods and droughts, have already affected yields, tea quality and prices, lowering incomes and threatening rural livelihoods.
 
[The guest at today’s Noon Briefing was Keith Cressman, the Senior Locust Forecasting Officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).]