HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STÉPHANE DUJARRIC,
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
TUESDAY, 24 NOVEMBER 2020
The Secretary-General spoke by video teleconference to the Third Roundtable of Renowned Economists on Rebirthing the Global Economy, and he told them that we face not only an unprecedented crisis — but also the opportunity to make real, foundational, and necessary change.
He noted that many more than one million people have died from the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty. At the same time, he added, we face an urgent need for climate action while recognizing that developing countries, in particular, are on the precipice of financial ruin - so we need global solidarity and global coordination.
The Secretary-General said that he has been pushing for a New Social Contract at the national level with a strong emphasis on education as the main equalizer, access to the new digital economy, and a new generation of social protection measures and of measures related to fair labour markets. We also need a New Global Deal at the international level, he said.
This morning, in a pre-recorded video message to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, which is taking place in Geneva, António Guterres stressed that the people of Afghanistan face serious challenges, including conflict, poverty and the uneven application of the rule of law.
The Secretary-General noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified humanitarian and development challenges in the country. He said that he is also deeply concerned about continued high levels of violence and that the Afghan people have suffered for far too long.
The Secretary-General urged redoubling of efforts towards an immediate, unconditional ceasefire, in order to save lives and prevent the further spread of COVID-19. He added that this will create a conducive environment for the Afghan Peace Negotiations in Doha and he also underscored that the Afghan women have paid a high price in the conflict, while still playing a central role in creating peaceful, inclusive communities with more opportunities for all.
Also speaking at the conference was Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan. She said that she is encouraged by the resolve shown by the negotiation teams in Doha to remain at the table and engaged in talks.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today urged the parties to the conflict in Ethiopia to give clear orders to their forces to spare and protect the civilian population from the effect of the hostilities. She added that the highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for the city of Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger.
Ms. Bachelet said she was also deeply disturbed at the continuing communication blackout in Tigray, making it very difficult for civilians to communicate with families, and for the UN to monitor the human rights and humanitarian situation.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that more than 40,000 Ethiopians have now crossed into Sudan since violence broke out in Tigray. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners have been able to deliver and distribute life-saving aid, including food, to more people. But the humanitarian response continues to face logistical challenges and remains overstretched as there is not enough shelter capacity to meet growing needs.
UNHCR is also moving refugees away from the border – with logistics and distances limiting the number of people that can be transferred. Inside Ethiopia, UNHCR remains concerned about civilians, including displaced populations and aid workers in Tigray. We along with our partners are urgently seeking $76 million until January to help 2 million people in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia.
The UN has received an official letter from the de facto Ansar Allah authorities on Saturday indicating their approval of the UN proposal for the planned expert mission to the FSO Safer oil tanker, in Yemen.
This has followed several weeks of constructive technical exchanges on the activities that will be undertaken by the expert team; it represents an important step forward in this critical work.
The objective of the UN-led expert mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial light maintenance, as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralize the risk of an oil spill.
Now that the UN proposal for the expert mission has been agreed, mission planning will immediately pivot towards deployment preparations.
This includes procurement of necessary equipment, entry permits for all mission staff, agreement of a work-order system onboard and logistical planning.
The de facto authorities have assured us that they will provide all the necessary facilitation to ensure that the expert team can deploy as quickly as possible.
The UN expresses its appreciation for the support and cooperation received to date from all parties, including the de facto authorities in Sana’a and the Government of Yemen. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make this critical mission a success and to start work as soon as possible.
In New York, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative for the UN in Iraq, briefed the Security Council by video conference. She warned that several distinct, yet interlinked and mutually reinforcing, crises - on the political, security, financial, social and sanitary fronts – continue to force the hand of the Iraqi Government, pressing it into a reactive, crisis-management mode.
She said that the economy is projected to contract by nearly 10% this year and that the impact of the pandemic has wreaked further havoc on already extremely weak private sector activity. At the same time, she said, any effort to reform Iraq’s economy must be accompanied by improved governance and transparency.
The Special Representative also added that one year after the start of protests in Iraq, that the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be defended at every turn and throughout Iraq.
The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, told the Agency’s Advisory Board yesterday that UNRWA still desperately needs $70 million in contributions to avoid painful measures in the coming weeks and to limit the amount of liabilities carried over into 2021.
He said that, if it does not secure the funds for November and December salaries, the Agency will continue to lack the cash needed to operate in January, according to the currently available information on 2021 contributions.
UNRWA this year faces a shortfall of $115 million – including the $70 million which is needed to cover November and December salaries of over 28,000 staff.
The Commissioner General was compelled last week to secure an additional $20 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help with cash flow and cover part of the November payroll. Based on the funds available, he will decide later this week if UNRWA proceeds with partial payment of salaries at the end of the month or delays full payment.
With decreased contributions by several donors, UNRWA’s shortfall in 2020 is the lowest the Agency has had since 2012, while the needs of refugees are huge, especially with the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
In the Central African Republic, the members of the G5 welcomed the measures taken by the country to advance preparations for the December 27th election. The G5 is a group that includes the UN, Member States and international institutions that are partners of the country.
The measures they welcomed include the establishment of the Consultation Framework, the adoption of a code of conduct for the media and the ongoing work on a code of conduct for political parties.
In a statement, they also condemned all forms of violence, and called on the signatories of the peace agreement to publicly affirm their support for the holding of elections, and to facilitate all electoral operations without conditions or reservations.
Finally, the G5 reaffirmed its commitment to stand alongside the Central African people and institutions to ensure the success of this electoral process.
In Zimbabwe, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, continues to boost the COVID-19 national health and socioeconomic response. Last week alone, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered personal protective equipment, lab supplies, stationery and information-technology equipment worth
$100,000 to the National Institute of Health Research.
WHO and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) led a five-day cholera vaccination campaign, targeting children 1-year old and older.
In the country, hunger has become a major driver of urban poverty, compounded by successive droughts and the pandemic. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN entities are exploring ways to advance urban farming.
For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and authorities conducted surveys to evaluate the vulnerabilities and needs of those who returned to Zimbabwe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returnees highlighted the need for support packages that help them reintegrate, and increased access to health care services. The survey is helping put together an upcoming national support scheme for returnees.
As part of ongoing efforts to support host communities in their fight against COVID-19, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), donated protective equipment and medical supplies to social development centres of the south-eastern towns of Frun and Rachaya al Foukhar. These are expected to benefit 17 villages in the area. In addition, psychologists from one of the UNIFIL contingents recently organized stress management courses in south-western Lebanon for Lebanese doctors and other medical personnel who have been at the forefront of fighting the virus.
For its part, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is supporting the construction of a new outpatient unit at Bor Hospital, the referral facility that is serving all of Jonglei State. The new infrastructure, which includes an emergency room and a pharmacy, will be operational in January of next year. Facilities, current facilities are obviously currently overwhelmed with the arrival of additional displaced people in need of medical attention due to floods. Most primary health care centers in Jonglei and the neighbouring Greater Pibor Administrative Area have also been flooded.
Next Wednesday, 2nd December, at 8:45 a.m., the Secretary-General will be speaking at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum on the state of our planet. His speech will be followed by a virtual question and answer session with Columbia students and will be shown live on UN WebTV.
Tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m., there will be a virtual briefing on the forthcoming Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which takes place starting November 30th.
Also tomorrow, the noon briefing will have two guests - the Executive Director of the UNFPA, Natalia Kanem, and the journalist and writer, Isha Sesay, who will be introduced as UNFPA’s newest Goodwill Ambassador. In this new role, she will help raise awareness about the global scourge of violence against women and girls and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.