HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STÉPHANE DUJARRIC
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2020
Ahead of the virtual meeting of the G20 leaders this week, the Secretary-General has written them a letter in which he calls for concerted and decisive action on the current global health crisis that spreads human suffering and upends the global economy.
The Secretary-General called for a “war-time” plan, urging G20 leaders to step forward with a strong response package to address the various threats posed by COVID-19 to demonstrate solidary with the world’s people – especially the most vulnerable.
The Secretary-General called on the G20 to address three critical areas: First, he stressed the need for coordination and cooperation to suppress the virus. Second, he said we must minimize the social and economic impact of COVID-19 and stimulate a faster recovery everywhere.
Lastly, he underscored that we must reaffirm our common responsibility to recover better, with more inclusive and sustainable models of development. This crisis, he said, is a stark reminder of humanity’s common fate and the need for upfront investments to reduce the catastrophic downstream risks of the pandemic.
And you saw yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke to you, and he called for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world in the face of the common COVID-19 enemy.
The virus, he said, does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. The most vulnerable — women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced — are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.
The Secretary-General noted that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed.
The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war, he added, stating that it is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.
COVID-19/GLOBAL HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE PLAN
Tomorrow, at 10:00 am, the Secretary-General will launch the COVI-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, which aims to provide assistance to save lives in the most vulnerable countries, while containing the outbreak globally.
This will be a virtual event that can be viewed on UN Web TV (webtv.un.org) and other channels. The Secretary-General will be joined virtually by Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, and Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director.
From Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today said that broad sectoral sanctions should urgently be re-evaluated in countries facing the COVID-19 pandemic. These sanctions could have a potentially debilitating impact on the health sector and human rights, she said.
She added that, in a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us, calling for humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures.
For his part, the Secretary-General fully backs the High Commissioner’s sentiments. He has been in touch with a number of Member States, including those who have imposed sanctions.
Regarding Iran, the Secretary-General received a call from Foreign Minister Javad Zarif earlier this week to discuss the matter. The Secretary-General is aware of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment in Iran that makes it more difficult to contain the outbreak. He appeals to all members of the international community to facilitate and support Iran’s efforts at this critical moment.
COVID-19/WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the World Food Programme (WFP) is also looking to pre-position buffer stocks of food or cash to provide at least 3 months of food assistance to vulnerable people in priority countries. The agency’s main focus is to ensure that it has the resources in place to address the food and nutrition needs of 87 million people it plans to assist in 2020.
The World Food Programme appealed to government partners to approve an estimated $1.9 billion of contributions to the agency’s food assistance programs. They are also asking for maximum flexibility in the way that resources are used, allowing for a dynamic response to the changing outlook.
As an example of the agency’s support, the spokesperson for WFP explained how they deployed a team of supply chain experts to the World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva and in Iran, and provided a two-month supply of personal protection equipment for more than 2,000 staff and volunteers from the Iranian Red Crescent Society.
The UN team in Kenia, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been working closely with the Government in the response to COVID-19.
WHO experts have been integrated in the national COVID-19 technical and coordination committees since mid-January. More than 20 UN staff members have been seconded to Government teams, including in the area of communication to help disseminate prevention messages at national and local levels.
UNICEF and other UN entities are also helping the Government on emergency procurement, while WHO is sourcing lab kits to increase stocks.
The UN Resident Coordinator has also set up an inter-agency team with the Government, the European Union, the World Bank and other partners to support the Government with analysis of the impacts of COVID-19.
With cases of COVID-19 now confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN peacekeeping mission and the humanitarian community are mobilizing to support the Government’s response.
In a context with a fragile health infrastructure the Humanitarian Coordinator, David McLachlan-Karr, said efforts undertaken today to prevent the spread of the virus must apply throughout the national territory to help avoid a major health crisis.
People in the DRC continue to face one of the most complex humanitarian crises in the world and could further endanger the lives of millions of Congolese who are already at particular risk.
Also this morning, the Security Council members are hearing updates by VTC on the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC by Special Representative Leila Zerrougui and Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
In South Sudan, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country has put in place a seven-day freeze on staff traveling into the country as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus.
Cargo flights into the country will continue. Rotations of military peacekeepers were stopped on 4 March, well before the onset of the pandemic, and all upcoming rotations have been put on hold.
The UN Mission is committed to maintaining its activities to protect civilians and to build durable peace to the best of its ability given the challenges posed by COVID-19.
In a letter to the Member States, the President of the General Assembly presented a proposal for how the General Assembly can take essential decisions related to the Organization while dealing with the pandemic.
He submitted a draft decision that would enable the General Assembly to adopt essential decisions under a silence procedure.
If a plenary meeting of the General Assembly is not practicable due to the pandemic, the proposal would authorize the President of the GA to circulate, after consultation with the General Committee, draft decisions of the Assembly to all Member States under a silence procedure of at least 72 hours. If the silence is not broken, the decision shall be considered adopted.
That draft decision is itself under silence procedure, until 12 p.m. (noon) on Friday.
The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is launching an “Observatory on Border Crossings Status due to COVID-19”, which will gather all updated information regarding border crossings limitations worldwide. The aim is to facilitate the work of transport operators and preserve connectivity by keeping supply chains open as much as possible.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, today followed the Secretary-General’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire around the world by calling for a complete, immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria to enable an all-out-effort to suppress COVID-19.
He said that Syrians are acutely vulnerable to the virus, with the healthcare facilities having been destroyed or degraded and a shortage of key medical equipment and health professionals.
To confront the danger, he said, the long-suffering Syrian people desperately need a sustained period of calm throughout the country respected by all parties.
Mr. Pedersen also appealed on humanitarian grounds for large scale releases of detainees and abductees.
In Chad, the Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 was published today, which is seeking $545.3 million - a little over $69 million more than last year’s appeal - to help 3 million of the most vulnerable people in the country.
Continued conflict in neighbouring countries, and increased insecurity, due to non-state armed group’s activities in the lake Chad area have displaced over 650,000 people on the Chadian territory.
Thousands of people have been displaced multiple times for over a decade with little prospect to return home in the near future.
Malnutrition levels are also concerning with rates of Severe Malnutrition at 2.9 per cent above the emergency threshold.
SENIOR PERSONNEL APPOINTMENTS
The Secretary-General is appointing Deborah Lyons of Canada as the new Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Ms. Lyons succeeds Tadamichi Yamamoto of Japan, who has served in this critical role since 2016. The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Yamamoto’s important contribution and service to the UN mission since taking up his role as Deputy Special Representative in 2014 and then a Special Representative.
Ms. Lyons is a diplomat with 21 years of professional experience and in international cooperation and economic development. Most recently she served as Ambassador of Canada to Israel and from 2013 until 2016 as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General is also appointing Guang Cong of the People’s Republic of China as his new Deputy Special Representative (Political Affairs) for South Sudan and Deputy Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Mr. Cong succeeds Moustapha Soumaré of Mali to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his distinguished service in South Sudan.
Mr. Cong brings vast experience of international affairs to the position, including service with several United Nations peace operations.
Today is World Tuberculosis Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) today issued recommendations that will help countries accelerate efforts to stop people infected with tuberculosis (TB) from becoming sick with TB by giving them preventive treatment. A quarter of the world’s population is estimated to be infected with TB bacteria. There is a message from the head of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on this.