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7 August 2020

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Happy Friday, everyone.

**Lebanon

Today, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock released $6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help the response to the Beirut port blast, bringing the total UN funding for this crisis to $15 million. 

The allocation will fund trauma care and other urgent support to hospitals, the repair of damaged homes for the most vulnerable people affected by the explosion, and logistical support. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) will be allocating 5,000 food parcels to affected families in Lebanon.  Each package is enough to feed five people for one month and includes basic food items such as rice, pasta, oil, sugar, salt and tomato paste.

On Thursday, a flight to Beirut — carrying 8.5 metric ton of surgical and trauma equipment donated by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs — set off from the WFP-run United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for $15 million to cover the immediate needs and ensure the continuity of the COVID-19 response across the country.  COVID-19 remained a concern.  Due to the blast, 17 containers of WHO essential medical supplies had been destroyed, with personal protective equipment items completely burnt.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reports that up to 100,000 children were among those whose homes had been destroyed or damaged and who had been displaced.  Fifteen primary health centres had sustained some damage.

And the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that hundreds of thousands of people have had their homes completely or partially damaged in the explosion.  The need for shelter is massive.  UNHCR is making available its in-country stocks of shelter kits, plastic sheets and tens of thousands of other core relief items, including blankets and mattresses, for immediate distribution and use.

**Secretary-General — Nagasaki

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will have a message to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing.

He is expected to call the city a true example of resilience, recovery and reconciliation and will praise its citizens’ dedication to ensure that such a catastrophe never befalls another city or people.

The Secretary-General will pay tribute to the survivors, or hibakusha, saying that, rather than being held captive by suffering, they have transformed their plight into a warning about the perils of nuclear weapons and an example of the triumph of the human spirit.

His remarks will be delivered at the ceremony by the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande has issued a statement extending condolences to the bereaved families and wishing the injured a fast recovery after yesterday’s strike in the Haraad area of Al Jawf, in northern Yemen. 

This is the third attack in less than a month to cause multiple civilian casualties.  It occurred as the victims were traveling by road.  Although the number of victims is still being confirmed, our humanitarian partners report that as many as nine children were killed and seven wounded; two women are also reportedly wounded.

Ms. Grande reiterated that the primary responsibility of a party to a conflict is to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have the assistance they need to survive.

Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  Nearly 80 per cent of the population — more than 24 million people — require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. 

**COVID-19 — Egypt

In Egypt, where there are more than 95,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Richard Dictus, is working closely with the Government to mitigate the health and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

The UN has provided protective equipment and medical supplies to the Ministry of Health and Population.  We have also organized communication campaigns to share verified information with millions of people on how to reduce the spread of the virus.

To protect the most vulnerable people — including women and children, refugees, people living with HIV, and prison inmates — the UN in Egypt is providing counselling, support against gender-based violence, shelter, mental health care, hygiene kits and an economic safety net through cash transfers.

**COVID-19 — Zimbabwe

Turning to Zimbabwe, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that COVID-19 cases are increasing in the country, which has more than 4,000 confirmed cases and 84 deaths.  The number of cases has doubled in the last 14 days.

The UN and our partners are supporting the Government-led efforts, including boosting surveillance and testing, helping to isolate people confirmed to have the virus, and quarantining people returning to the country.  We are also helping to support the most vulnerable people by providing food, cash transfers and water, as well as sanitation and hygiene support.

Before the pandemic, some 7 million people were already in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across Zimbabwe and at least 4 million people were facing challenges accessing primary health care.

In July, more than 400,000 people received food aid, cash or vouchers, while more than 1.5 million people were reached in June.

In camps for displaced people, the UN is helping to prevent the spread of the virus by setting up handwashing stations, among other activities.

The UN and our partners need $85 million to respond to the immediate public health crisis and the secondary impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable people, in addition to the $715 million required in the Humanitarian Response Plan for Zimbabwe.

**Mali

In Mali, growing insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic have hindered improvements in the country’s human rights situation.  Between April and June, the UN Mission, MINUSMA, has documented 632 human rights violations and abuses, which have caused the death of 323 people, including 23 children and 11 women.  This is a nearly 6 per cent increase compared to the first three months of the year. 

The Mission says that violence in the past three months was characterized by recurrent attacks by extremist groups.  In response to these attacks, the country’s defence and security forces carried out numerous operations, some of which resulted in human rights violations.  Violence linked to intercommunal tensions also continued in the Mopti region, which was, overall, the most affected by human rights violations. 

The movements protesting the final results of the legislative elections have also led to human rights violations. 

On a positive note, the report mentions steps taken by the Government in the fight against impunity.

The full report is available online. 

**Somalia

In Somalia, the UN refugee agency said today that more than 150,000 people have fled their homes since late June — including 230,000 in the last week alone — due to flooding in the southern parts of the country.

Somalia has experienced extreme flooding this year, with more than 650,000 people across the country having been displaced by heavy rains since the start of the year. 

Many of the newly displaced are now living in overcrowded, makeshift shelters.  Food is in short supply and many are going hungry.

Sanitary conditions are poor and access to medical care remains scarce.  While there has been no reported major COVID-19 outbreak, testing remains extremely limited and congestion and unsanitary conditions are risks for wide-spread transmission. 

UNHCR has been providing blankets and plastic sheets, among other items, as well as cash to thousands of affected families. 

UNHCR is calling for urgent international support.  So far, the agency has received just 33 per cent of the $154 million needed for its humanitarian efforts in Somalia.

**West Africa

In a statement, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency said they are deeply saddened by the tragic death of 27 people off the West African coast between Mauritania and Western Sahara. 

The migrants were on a boat that the agencies believe had left Dakhla, in Western Sahara, some days ago, and was headed to the Canary Islands, before having engine trouble.  Those on board were left stranded at sea and began suffering from extreme dehydration.  The passengers were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and included Guineans.

One survivor has been brought to shore following a rescue operation by the Mauritanian coast guard yesterday.

IOM and UNHCR are calling on States to step up efforts to dismantle the smuggling and trafficking networks that thrive off the desperation of migrants and refugees looking to travel to Europe.  This, they say, should go hand in hand with more opportunities for safe and legal pathways to asylum and migration.

And that is all I have for notes.  So, now we'll turn to your questions. 

**Questions and Answers

And I have a question from Pam Falk. 

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you for the briefing.  It's Pam Falk from CBS.  The question is, there have been calls for…  an…  a UN investigation on the Beirut explosion.  Have you gotten any of these letters that we've seen reported, or would…  and would you consider any kind of UN‑sponsored investigation?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're certainly willing to help with the Lebanese authorities however they so choose.  We have not received a request from them at this point, but of course, we would be willing to consider such a request, were we to receive one.

Question:  And the Major‑General, head of the command of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), told us that there should be a transparent and just investigation.  He didn't say what kind.  Do…  have you communicated with UNIFIL about an investigation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, UNIFIL's mandate…  the mandate of the Interim Force in Lebanon is a very different one and wouldn't concern anything having to do with Beirut.  But, of course, we are aware of the views of the officials throughout the UN system. 

Like I said, we would be willing to consider such a request if we were to receive one.  Nothing like that has been received, however.

And Maria Khrenova, you have a question?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Farhan.  I wanted to ask if United Nations representatives are going to take part in the fund‑raising conference announced by France to help Lebanon.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we do expect to do that.  I don't have anything to announce just yet about this, but we are trying to see whether we can have the involvement, including by the Secretary‑General and by Mr. Lowcock.  And we'll try to announce something once we have any arrangements locked in. 

But, certainly, we're appreciative of all of the international efforts to get aid to the Lebanese people at a time when they need it.

And, Edie, you have a question?

Question:  Sorry.  Can I just follow up a little bit?  So, United Nations definitely is going to take part.  You just can't say at which level exactly at this time.  Right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  The discussions about this are happening at this stage.  We would be hopeful that we could involve the Secretary‑General in this, but I can't confirm it just yet, but certainly, we are moving ahead in terms of making the appropriate arrangements. 

And now onward to Edie Lederer.

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  My question was similar, but also, you had said yesterday that there was a possibility of Mark Lowcock briefing us.  What happened to that?

And, also, what about the assessments?  And do you have any indication of when, where and how this fund‑raise…  this international fund‑raising appeal for Lebanon will be held?  We read that Charles Michel, the European Union top official, will be going to Lebanon on Saturday to discuss their partici…  their donation, their participation.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  And as you can see from the news around the world — and it's a good thing, certainly — that a number of bodies are interested in working out arrangements to find ways to raise funds and get aid in to the people of Lebanon.  And, like I said, we appreciate those efforts, and we're trying to work with them. 

Tentatively, if President [Emmanuel] Macron hosts a meeting of support for Lebanon on Monday, like I said, we're trying to get our participation in that.  And, also, I had indicated to you yesterday that we expected a briefing by Mr. Lowcock to the Member States concerning support for Lebanon.  And at this stage, that meeting will, in all likelihood, be moved to next Tuesday. 

And, of course, because Mr. Lowcock has been busy with a lot of the arrangements on a lot of these topics, he had been willing to try and talk to you today but we were unable to follow up with that arrangement.  So, I'm sorry that didn't happen, but we'll try to get speakers to come to you over the course of the next week as they become available. 

Question:  A follow‑up.  Is…  the assessments that the UN has been carrying out were also expected on Monday.  Are those now going to be made available before this conference that the French are going to be organizing on Monday, or are those now not going to be announced until Tuesday?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll try to get them out as early as we can.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is working out what the numbers are as we speak, and we'll see whether…  which meeting it's available for.  But, certainly, we will have information to part both on Monday and Tuesday, and we'll share that with you at the times that we provide it to the States. 

Toby from NHK, you've got a question?

Correspondent:  Hi.  Thanks.  My question was answered, so all good.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you. 

Ibtisam, over to you.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you.  Just to follow up, so, my…  can you explain more on the meeting for Monday, what exactly you are expecting?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think, for that, ultimately, I think the French Government, which is trying to convene this, would have more details.  What we are trying to do from our side is make the appropriate arrangements so that we can provide, hopefully, like I said, the Secretary‑General and Mark Lowcock for that meeting.  But I believe it will be something convened by President Macron, so I think, for that, you would need to turn to the Government of France for any further details.

Question:  No, I was…  yeah, no, thank you, but I was…  I meant the UN meeting that you were supposed to have on Monday.  Is it still happening on Monday?  And what is to expect exactly?  Is it only about…  yeah.

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I was saying to Edie, at this stage, I think that that meeting will now be something that we'll move to Tuesday.  I don't have that locked in just yet.  So, it's nothing I can quite announce, but our expectation at this moment is that the Secretary‑General and Mark Lowcock would talk to the Member States about support for Lebanon and provide some basic figures in terms of needs on Tuesday.  We'll see how that adjusts.  Right now, we are adjusting to the rapidly moving schedule of events among the different Member States.

Question:  And a short follow‑up.  Do you expect it to be an open meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  That's our hope.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  We try to make sure everything's open, as far as we can possibly do it.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, I do, Farhan.  First, I want to ask you if the Secretary‑General is thinking or planning or has the desire to go and visit Lebanon and see for himself the amount of destruction that happened in Beirut.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, as you know, different types of travel are actually quite difficult.  Our expectation is that the head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, may visit Lebanon over the weekend, possibly on Sunday.  The Secretary‑General is expected back here in New York, where, upon his return, he is supposed to be quarantining at his residence.  So, I don't have any travel on his part to announce.

Question:  One more question, Farhan.  In the first half of this year, 2020, Israel has destroyed 313 Palestinian homes and structures.  Is that…  does…  is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov aware of that surge in the number of structure and houses destroyed, especially in Jerusalem and Hebron?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been following the destruction of structures and reporting on them, as you know, to the Security Council.  We have made clear our concerns about such actions.  And, of course, with regard to Jerusalem, we are always consistently expressing our concerns to any things that could alter the status quo there.

And with that, let me turn to Dulcie from PassBlue.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks very much.  I missed the top of your speech, but this Human Rights Report on Mali, who produced the report?  I didn't catch that.

Deputy Spokesman:  It was produced by the UN Mission, MINUSMA.

Question:  Okay.  I just went to their site.  I don't see the report there.  I see a 5 June 2020 report from the Secretary‑General.  So, is that the report?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think my colleagues can help.  If you are in touch with Stephanie [Tremblay] from my office, she can show you to where the report is.

Question:  Can you put the link in your transcript that you send out in the afternoon?  Often you don't put… provide the links to these reports and then, you know…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, transcripts are different, but like I said, once you can get in touch with Stephanie, she can show you where it is.

Question:  But what I'm saying is, in your transcripts of your noon briefing, you always say “the report is online”, and you don't provide the link to the given report.  So, it would be really helpful if you could provide the hyperlink to these reports.

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't actually provide links on transcripts, which are separate documents that are done by a transcriber, not by our office, but I can take that up with my colleagues down the line.  Anyway…

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Michelle, you have a Lebanon follow‑up?

Question:  Yes, please, Farhan.  Thanks.  Just for those of us with audiences who aren't as down in UN procedure as some of us might be, can you clarify that, when it comes to a possible international investigation into the blast in Beirut, the UN would only get involved if a request came from Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are many ways, as you know, that the UN investigative mandates can be given, and you've been aware of them over the years.  Different bodies of Member States, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, have provided the UN with mandates to pursue different types of investigative activities.  So, it's not simply the Member State in question. 

At this stage, there's no one who has requested the UN to do an investigation of what has happened on the ground.  And, of course, we are waiting to see what the Lebanese authorities themselves will do.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  Nabil, you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  Yes, please.  Thank you, Farhan.  First of all, is there any communication between the SG and the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) about the explosions that happened in Beirut?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sorry.  Can you repeat that?

Question:  Is there any communication you can tell us about…  any communication between the Secretary‑General and the OPCW about the explosions?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any updates from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to tell you. 

As far as we're aware, by the way, although these are chemical compounds, it's…  this is not necessarily an issue involving the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Question:  And is the UN or…  has the UN been aware of these chemical stocks in the Port of Beirut?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, this has been something that has been reported as something of concern over the years.  The UN, I don't believe, had any involvement in this particular issue.

Question:  So, you did know about it.

Deputy Spokesman:  …And regarding that, by the way, one thing I wanted to point out is — hold on one second — is, I'd also like to take the opportunity to refer to the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines developed by the United Nations in 2011 to support national authorities in the safe and secure management of ammunition types. 

The International Ammunition Technical Guidelines contain detailed, practical advice on how to store ammunition and explosive components safely. 

Safe and secure storage of highly explosive material is essential, given the dangers posed by accidental explosion.

So, that is something, like I said, that we have been providing advice to Member States on since these guidelines came out in 2011.

Question:  Great.  But can we be specific about Lebanon?  Did you know about these stocks?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is an issue, ultimately, for the Lebanese authorities.  This has not been an issue involving the United Nations.

Question:  But you said…  you said that…  in your first answer, that it was reported.  What do you mean by that?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is a topic that has come up over the years in the media.  You…  that is to say, reported by people such as yourself, the idea that… the situation of the ship.  So, that is something we were aware of, but this is not something the UN has been directly involved in.

Question:  So, you already took note about these stocks in the Port of Beirut since when?  Can you tell me since when?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We were aware of the media reports.  This is not an issue that has involved the UN.  We were aware of it, just the same as you would be.  The matters involving the ship have been in the news for about seven years now.

Question:  And because you have the guidelines and it's already established since 2011, as you said, did you send any letter, did you have any communication with the Lebanese Government based on your guidelines about these stocks that you knew about from media reports?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, let's be clear here.  I mean, what we're talking about in this case is ammonium nitrate.  It's not directly the case that what we're talking about is munitions or armaments.

So, what I was telling you about has to do with the safe storage of armaments.  But the general principle is one where explosive materials need to be stored safely, and these guidelines are available to all Member States. 

Okay, Maria…

Question:  One more question…

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  No, no, no…  all right.  If it's the last one, then…  and then we have other people questioning.

Question:  Sorry…  thank you.  I appreciate it.  Now, can you help us to understand the way the Secretary‑General is thinking about this incident?  Because the scale of the explosions are bigger than any other explosions that happened in…  maybe in the region and maybe in long time in history.  The nature of the explosion is chemical nature, is also very dangerous and bigger than many other conventional bombs that we've seen in wars around the region and the scale of damages, casualties, etc.  It's not clear enough until now how dangerous is this material, which is still in the air in Lebanon, around Beirut. 

So, can you help us to understand the way the Secretary‑General is thinking about how this damage should be addressed, through what mechanism, what platform?  What was he thinking about?  It's not any conventional incident that happens, like, on daily basis, of course.  This is something bigger than anything else in the region.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of that, and we've been talking at length over the last several days about what the needs on the ground are.  We're continuing to assess what the Lebanese people's needs are, whether they are about their health, whether they're about their economic needs now that things like food stocks have been destroyed, whether it's about medical needs given the destruction of medical facilities at a time when COVID‑19 is raging and, of course, environmental needs because there will need to be an assessment about the conditions in which the people are living. 

So, we're working on all those fronts.  The Secretary‑General will speak on Lebanon, likely on Monday and on Tuesday, and he'll be able to lay out at length what those evaluations have come up with.

Okay.  I have another question from Maria before we go over to Gloria.  So, Maria?

Question:  Thank you.  Actually, now I have two.  One is more like suggestion, if we could speak to Mr. Beasley after his trip to Lebanon.  As far as contact, Mr. Lowcock…  probably Mr.  Beasley is very good at describing the situation on the ground, so it will be very helpful.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  We will ask our WFP colleagues.

Question:  Thank you.  And also follow‑up on Nabil's question, I wonder if you have any update on the number of United Nations workers affected by the explosion. 

And, also, if you say that United Nations saw the reports about the ammonium nitrate, does it mean that United Nations Mission in Lebanon knew about it, was informed about it and knew that their workers could be danger?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Again, the media itself had reported the situation of the ship and its stores of ammonium nitrate.  So, to that extent, we were aware of it.  Again, this was an issue for the Lebanese authorities, not for the United Nations.  So, it's not something the UN was directly involved in.

Okay.  Gloria Starr Kins.

Correspondent:  To Nabil, we have in Lebanon living there one of the outstanding members of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association), Raghida Dergham, prize‑winning UNCA…  I believe she was president of UNCA.  She's the one who can get to the…  all the heads of any of the political parties in Lebanon.  She can help you.  She's a colleague.  She can help you get some of your questions where the United Nations could never help.  And she's on the ground, and she wants to help to fund‑raise.  She wants to help her country. 

I would suggest anybody here get directly to her as a colleague and call her, and I think she'll take you wherever you want to go.  She wants to help Lebanon.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Thank you.  And, of course, again, we send our thoughts to Raghida and her family, who have…  whose home has been very, very badly damaged in this blast.

Sylviane, you have a question?

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  My home also has been destroyed in Lebanon. 

I wanted to ask if there is a meeting on Tuesday on the situation on the mandate, UNIFIL mandate.  Is there any extension of this mandate and expansion of the mandate on the whole Lebanon, the whole inside Lebanon and outside Lebanon to help and…  yeah.  Go ahead.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, okay.  That is, of course, a matter for the members of the Security Council to consider.  Any changes in the mandate would be up to them.  So, we will see what they have to say. 

The members of the Security Council on Tuesday will receive a briefing by Ján Kubiš, our Special Representative…  our Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  And, so, we expect him to provide the latest information, including about what's happened this week.

And before I…

Question:  One more question?

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  The letter…  we spoke in the beginning about the letter requesting the adoption of resolution establishing an independent commission to investigate the explosion and the creation of a UN‑sponsored process for the collection and distribution of aid and reconstruction for…  this letter has been sent already to Ján Kubiš, I can guarantee you.  I have the confirmation that this letter is already sent to Ján Kubiš.  Did you receive any feedback on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  At this stage, as I've been saying, we're in touch with the Lebanese authorities, but I don't have anything…  any further thing to say about any letter.

Before we go on…  I think Michelle has one more question, but before we go on, I'd like to let Dulcie know that the French press release…  the French website for MINUSMA does have the link to the report.  So, go to the French website, and you can get the link.

Okay.  Michelle, another question from you?

Question:  Yeah.  Thanks, Farhan.  Just a quick one, just on…  sorry to hop on this, on this French fund‑raising meeting that you said the SG and Lowcock will also be attending.  Is there a suggestion that the UN will actually co‑chair this meeting with France, or they'll simply attend?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  Again, you'd…  you will get better information from the French Government about the arrangements for that particular meeting.  That's one that they're in the lead on.  We are in touch with them, but again, they're in the lead on that.

Okay.  Question from Kevin Pinner.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you.  Has the Secretary‑General's Office been made aware of the Wall Street Journal report from two days ago, which suggests that China is helping Saudi Arabia build a facility to extract uranium yellowcake and they're not telling the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) about this facility?  It also mentions that they don't need to under their specific arrangements.  Is that something that the Secretary‑General's following?  And in his discussions with Saudi Arabia, is that something that he would bring up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we are aware of The Wall Street Journal article.  Regarding the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it's for them to determine how this issue needs to be handled.  So, I'd suggest that you contact them on that.

And with that, I wish you all a good weekend.  Have a good one.

For information media. Not an official record.