New York

26 March 2019

Secretary-General's press encounter on Cyclone Idai [full transcript]

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media. Thank you very much for your presence.

Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have suffered one of the worst weather-related catastrophes in the history of Africa. 
 
In an already intense storm season, Tropical Cyclone Idai delivered a direct, one-two punch of wind and flooding across a vast area long experiencing poverty and drought.
 
We have all seen the heartbreaking images:

-           raging waters;
-           people stranded on rooftops;
-           schools, hospitals and homes in ruins;
-           an entire city -- Beira -- practically razed to the ground;
-           and, enormous expanses of farmland -- Mozambique’s breadbasket -- inundated on the eve of the next harvest.
 
The death toll across the three countries is at least 700, but with hundreds still missing.
 
The devastation has affected an estimated three million people, nearly two-thirds of them in Mozambique.
 
At least one million children need urgent assistance – and this number may well grow.

We fear that whole villages have been washed away in places we have yet to reach.
 
There are reports that US$1 billion worth of infrastructure has been destroyed.
 
In many of the affected areas, electricity remains out.
 
Goods are scarce or unaffordable. In Beira, a box of tomatoes that cost about 500 meticals one week ago now costs up to five times that much.
 
And while a break in the downpours is welcome news, the risk of further rains and flooding remains.
 
Today I want to reiterate my complete solidarity with the people and Governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
 
Emergency teams from the United Nations and our partners were on the ground from the start of the crisis.
 
Under extremely difficult conditions, we have been air-dropping emergency kits that contain food, medicine, water purification gear, and shelter to communities that are still stranded by the flood waters.
 
We have reached 100,000 people with food assistance and are scaling up to reach many, many more. The head of the World Food Programme is travelling to Mozambique as we speak.
 
We are flying drones to support disaster management authorities as they map out needs across the affected areas.
 
We are racing to prevent the spread of potentially deadly diseases. Stagnant waters, lack of hygiene and overcrowding are breeding grounds for diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and malaria.  And we have heard today the appeal of the Mozambican related to cholera.
 
And we are working to protect children and ensure as little disruption to their education as possible.
 
I want to pay tribute to the humanitarian colleagues who are working around the clock to gain access to people in need, including in previously cut-off areas.
 
Our efforts are now turning to life-saving aid and reconstruction.
 
The UN Central Emergency Response Fund immediately allocated $20 million to help kick-start the response, in a decision that was immediately taken by my Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock.
 
Other countries have indicated support, for which we are grateful.
 
However, far more is needed. 
 
Yesterday, we launched a $281.7 million revised flash appeal for Mozambique, which is a scale-up emergency – the most severe.
 
The revised appeal for Zimbabwe and the response plan from the Government of Malawi will be issued in the days ahead. On Thursday in Geneva, we will be able to brief the donor community and all Member States.
 
I call on the international community to fund these appeals quickly and fully so that aid agencies can urgently ramp up their responses. 
 
To strengthen UN efforts, I have named Mr. Marcoluigi Corsi to serve as Humanitarian Coordinator for Mozambique, and Mr. Sebastian Rhodes Stampa as his Deputy, already stationed in Beira.  Both are highly experienced in steering UN efforts in crisis situations.
 
Let me also underscore that Cyclone Idai was an uncommonly fierce and prolonged storm – yet another alarm bell about the dangers of climate change, especially in vulnerable, at-risk countries.
 
Such events are becoming more frequent, more severe and devastating and more widespread, and this will only get worse if we do not act now. 
 
That is why I am convening a Climate Summit in September to mobilize greater ambition on mitigation, adaptation, financing and innovation.  In the face of turbo-charged storms, we need revved up climate action.
 
The people of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will need strong, sustained support.
 
Let that solidarity start with a generous response to the flash appeals.
 
Now, I would like to say a few words in Portuguese.
 
Permitam-me que reitere a minha solidariedade para com os Governos e os Povos de Moçambique, do Zimbabué e do Malawi.
 
Sinto-me profundamente consternado pelos níveis de sofrimento e destruição causados por uma das piores catástrofes ambientais vividas em África.
 
É extremamente doloroso constatar as centenas de mortos que o ciclone Idai provocou; ver localidades inteiras alagadas; saber que casas, hospitais e escolas estão em ruínas; verificar que colheitas vitais para a alimentação das populações foram perdidas; temer as doenças e epidemias que, normalmente, surgem nestas ocasiões. 
 
É-me, pessoalmente, doloroso verificar a dimensão da calamidade na bonita cidade da Beira que foi especialmente afetada e onde, no passado, fui eu próprio tão bem e tão calorosamente recebido.
A Comunidade Internacional mobilizou-se na resposta à crise. As Nações Unidas e seus parceiros empenharam-se de imediato na distribuição de alimentos e de água, providenciaram serviços básicos de saúde, disponibilizaram materiais de abrigo e produtos sanitários. Centenas de trabalhadores humanitários estão no terreno procurando chegar às populações necessitadas e proporcionar alívio e apoio. O “Fundo Central das Nações Unidas de resposta a emergências” atribuiu, de imediato, 20 milhões de dólares para responder à catástrofe. Diversos países disponibilizaram, também, ajuda que se tem revelado vital para salvar vidas.
 
Mas os meios de que dispomos não são suficientes. Com vista a reforçar a capacidade para fazer face à dimensão da tragédia, as Nações Unidas lançaram ontem um apelo humanitário de urgência no montante de 282 milhões de dólares para Moçambique. Seguir-se-ão idênticas iniciativas para o Zimbabué e Malawi. Apelo, uma vez mais, a uma resposta generosa por parte da Comunidade Internacional. Este é o momento para traduzir em gestos concretos a nossa solidariedade.
 
Na sexta-feira passada falei com o Presidente Filipe Nyusi a quem transmiti o incondicional e solidário apoio das Nações Unidas.
 
Hoje queria dizer às autoridades e ao povo de Moçambique e, em particular, às populações mais afetadas que “Estamos juntos!”.
 
Não nos vamos esquecer de vós. O apoio das Nações Unidas está a ser reforçado e será um apoio duradouro. Quando conseguirmos ultrapassar a fase da ajuda humanitária e de emergência, estaremos presentes no apoio aos esforços moçambicanos de retoma do caminho do desenvolvimento.
 
O hino moçambicano diz que a “Pátria amada” vai vencer!
 
Contem com o apoio da Organização das Nações Unidas. Moçambique vai vencer este momento especialmente difícil. 
 
Muito obrigado. Thank you.
 
Q: Thank you, Secretary-General.  Your remarks underpin what the World Meteorological Organization has said, that this is probably the worst weather-related disaster in that region. Given that this is one of the poorest regions of the world; Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, what are the prospects for countries like this, given the frequency that will increase in terms of these storms, they will be much bigger in the future, and frame your response within the context of the failures we are seeing in terms of climate change mitigation at the global level. Thank you.
 
SG: I think this really demonstrates that we must be much more ambitious, both in mitigation, which means reduction of emissions - and it is not Malawi, or Zimbabwe or Mozambique that are contributing to those emissions.  Let’s not forget that 80 per cent of the emissions that are relevant to climate change come from the G20 countries.  So it is to the countries with larger economies that falls the responsibility to really be able to reduce emissions in a way that allows for this phenomena not to go on being worse and worse and worse.  But at the same time, we need to invest much more in adaptation, in supporting these countries to be resilient in relation to this kind of storms; to support those communities to build resilience in relation to these kinds of storms.  For that, it is absolutely essential that the commitments made in Paris, namely $100 billion to support the developing world in relation to mitigation and adaptation, are indeed fully implemented.  So, let’s be clear, we are not winning this race. At the present level, things will get worse and worse.  We need to reverse this trend.  There is a huge responsibility [for] world political leaders to understand that we are not winning this race, and we need to substantially increase our ambition, and that countries need to substantially increase the commitments made in their national determined contributions when they will be reviewed in 2020.
 
Q: Olá, bom dia Sr. Secretário-geral, obrigada por este encontro e pela oportunidade de falarmos em português. Há vários dias a antiga primeira dama de Moçambique, Graça Machel, disse que Beira é a primeira cidade do mundo a ficar completamente destruída por causa de alterações climáticas e também disse que vai ser a primeira vez no mundo que se vão testar todos os métodos de reconstrução depois de alterações climáticas. Queria saber se concorda com estas declarações e também se a ajuda externa que se está a dar a Moçambique vai de alguma maneira implicar com a dívida soberana de Moçambique.
 
SG: Em primeiro lugar, concordo inteiramente com as observações e o que se está a passar hoje revela que, como há pouco disse, as alterações climáticas estão a criar condições para que os desastres naturais sejam cada vez mais frequentes, mais intensos e com consequências mais catastróficas. E o que se passou agora em Moçambique, no Zimbabwe e no Malawi, é a demonstração concreta desse fenómeno. E por isso obviamente estamos perante realidades novas, face às quais necessitamos também de respostas novas, nomeadamente no plano da reconstrução que se seguirá à ajuda de emergência. Temos consciência que Moçambique tem uma situação financeira complexa e nomeadamente uma dívida complexa. Neste momento, o nosso apelo é um apelo em relação à ajuda de emergência. Mas naturalmente que estaremos solidários com Moçambique nos esforços para que seja possivel, no futuro, tendo em conta a devastação causada e o impacto enorme na pr pria economia do país – a colheita esta perdida – para que seja possível a comunidade internacional ser também generosa em relação à forma como o tratamento da dívida será conduzido.
 
Q: A question on another subject, Secretary-General. As we speak, the Security Council is discussing Israel/Palestine. Can we have your comments on the current bombardment in Gaza, and can you tell us whether you believe that the recognition by President [Donald] Trump of the Golan Heights as Israeli will hinder peace efforts?
 
SG: First of all, we were clear in the condemnation of the rocket attack. But now we believe that it is absolutely necessary to avoid any scaling up and to have restraint. Our appeal is for restraint in the present moment, for the people not to suffer even more, both in Israel and in Gaza and in Palestine in general. 
 
On the other hand, I think the two things are disconnected. But our position in relation to the Golan Heights is very clear, it comes clearly established by the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, as my Spokesperson was able to, yesterday, clearly describe.
 
Q: Secretary-General, the initial appeal for the cyclone is for three months, but going forward, based perhaps on previous experience with other natural disasters, how long do you think the rebuilding, the recovery from this will take, what kind of money will it take, and is the UN committed to stay the course with the people of southern Africa?
 
SG: It is clear in situations like this that you have always three steps. One step is: rescue operation, to try to immediately find the people that were disappearing and give the first rescue response. 
 
The second has to do with what we are now doing, which is basically humanitarian aid in all its dimensions, in all aspects related to alleviation of the suffering of the people. And starting reconstruction, as soon as conditions allow.  
 
And then there is the third step, which is the rehabilitation and reconstruction that the country will need. I believe that, in devastation like this, the full reconstruction will probably take years.
 
Let’s be clear, this year’s harvest is lost in large parts of the country, and of course it will take a lot of time to fully re-establish working conditions for agriculture.  And the infrastructure that was destroyed, the houses, the cities, the equipment that was destroyed in a country that is extremely poor, as we know – this obviously will take time.  That is one reason more to accelerate our efforts. That is one reason more for the international community to step up with its support.
 
What we have presented now is a Flash Appeal.  The name is clear: Flash Appeal is an immediate appeal.  But it will be followed, naturally, by other more comprehensive appeals – both to cover the whole region, but also to cover a medium-term perspective of needs.
 
Thank you.