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28 October 2021

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, everyone.

**Noon Guests Today

In a short while, I will be joined by Achim Steiner, the Administrator for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Cassie Flynn, UNDP Strategic Adviser on Climate Change and Head of UNDP’s Climate Promise programme.  They will brief on the launch of UNDP's Nationally Determined Contribution Outlook report, which, among other things, finds that small island developing States and least developed countries continue to lead the way on greater ambition on climate action with their pledges or nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General will depart New York today to travel to Rome, Italy, to take part in the G20 Summit.  He will stress to leaders that we are at a make‑or‑break moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc across the globe, causing developing countries to suffer disproportionately.  The Secretary-General will underscore how we are moving further off-track from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with global poverty, hunger and inequalities rising.  Additionally, he will say that the spectre of climate change has become a deadly reality for developing and developed countries alike.  Our goal of 1.5°C — and the future of humanity as we know it — are becoming even more elusive.  All of these require the full commitment of the G20, and the Secretary-General will call on G20 leaders to urgently put forward concrete solutions to end the pandemic, unleash a more balanced recovery, and ensure a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive future for all.  At the G20 Summit, the Secretary-General will participate in sessions on the global economy and global health, climate change and sustainable development.  While in the Italian capital, he will meet with leaders in attendance, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy.  And he will also speak to the press tomorrow.

On Sunday, 31 October, the Secretary-General will depart Italy for the United Kingdom to attend the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow.  On Monday, he will take part in the World Leaders’ Summit and the “Action and Solidarity — the critical decade” event, hosted and chaired by United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.  He will call on countries to take bold action and implement new, concrete policies to tackle climate change, and he will reiterate the need to phase out coal and invest in clean technologies.  He will also underscore the need for global solidarity to help all countries make this shift.  In addition, he will be holding bilateral meetings with leaders from various countries.  He will also meet with his Youth Advisory Group and other civil society representatives and activists on Tuesday.  The Secretary-General will then go to Cambridge, where he will receive an honorary degree on Wednesday, and the next day, he will take part in a round‑table discussion on the ethics of climate change with Cambridge University students.

**Security Council

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General to the high-level debate on cooperation between the UN and the African Union today in the Security Council, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General, said that today’s discussions are taking place in the context of worrying trends across the continent.  In too many places, the Deputy Secretary-General said, we are seeing a rise in seizures of power by force.  She reiterated that the military coup in Sudan poses a major threat to the political transition.  And in northern Ethiopia, she added that the conflict continues unabated, despite appeals by the African Union and the United Nations for a permanent ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access to the Tigray region.  Ms. Mohammed said that throughout the African continent, we’re seeing growing cooperation among the United Nations, African Union and subregional organizations on sustainable development, elections and peace processes.  But, she added, while our partnership is a necessary condition for peace, security, development, and justice in Africa, we also recognize that all Member States need to support these efforts.  Her full remarks have been shared with you.

**Syria

The Security Council discussed Syria yesterday afternoon, and the Under‑Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, warned the Security Council members that daily life in Syria is becoming less and less affordable.  Over 90 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line, he said.  At the same time, Mr. Griffiths remains optimistic that we will be able to further expand cross-line access over the coming months.  Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, detailed last week’s meetings in Geneva of the Constitutional Committee.  He said that the 45 members of the Small Body were not able to move from submitting and discussing initial draft constitutional texts to developing a productive textual drafting process.  And he added that an agreement on dates and a commitment to meet twice before the end of the year was regrettably not possible.

**Iraq

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) strongly condemned the attacks in Diyala on Tuesday night, which caused many deaths and injuries.  The Mission extends its sincere condolences to the victims’ families and wishes the wounded a speedy recovery.  UNAMI calls on the authorities to fully investigate the attacks and exert every effort to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.  The Mission added that national unity is key, and that those who seek to harm and divide cannot do so if Iraqis stand together as one.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, we are extremely concerned about the continued escalation of hostilities and violence in the northern part of the country, including air strikes in Tigray today.  Earlier today, two air strikes were reportedly carried out on a residential area in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.  According to initial reports, 6 people were killed and 22 injured.  A number of houses are understood to have been destroyed or severely damaged.  We are also alarmed by the ongoing hostilities in Afar and Amhara regions, which are causing large-scale displacement, livelihood disruptions and food insecurity, and preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in both regions.  The escalation of hostilities risks worsening the already dire humanitarian situation in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, where millions of people need urgent humanitarian assistance.  We call on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Nigeria

François Louncény Fall and Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for Central Africa, and for West Africa and the Sahel, are in Nigeria today to meet with Government and military officials, as well as humanitarian and development partners.  They will also visit internally displaced people and refugee camps.  This mission is the third leg of a tour of Lake Chad Basin countries affected by Boko Haram.  Mr. Annadif and Mr. Fall are encouraging the countries affected by the resurgence of Boko Haram, and other extremist groups, to pool their efforts to confront terrorism.  Prior to Nigeria, Mr. Annadif and Mr. Fall went to Cameroon and Chad.  They will finish their mission with a visit to Niger.

**Afghanistan

Moving to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid services continue to be carried out across the country by both male and female aid workers.  In the north-east, food assistance and education programmes are ongoing.  In the coming weeks, the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide food assistance to more than 100,000 people in Baghlan Province.  Needs assessment will begin next week with each beneficiary family expected to receive four months of food rations.  In Kunduz Province, the Education Cannot Wait Initiative will provide community-based education support to 250,000 out-of-school children.  Among them, 33 per cent are boys and 63 per cent are girls.  Our humanitarian colleagues warn that the crisis in Afghanistan continues to deepen following decades of conflict, natural disasters, including an ongoing drought and a looming economic crisis.  Aid agencies need funding urgently to continue to scale up the humanitarian response.  Afghanistan’s Flash Appeal, seeking $606 million to help 11 million people through the end of 2021, is 48 per cent funded.

**COVID-19/Africa

The ACT-Accelerator has launched its new strategy for the next 12 months and is calling for $23.4 billion to help the most at-risk countries secure and deploy COVID-19 tools.  Inequitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines is prolonging the pandemic everywhere, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.  It is also risking the emergence of new, more dangerous variants that could evade current tools to fight the disease.  According to WHO, so far, only 0.4 per cent of tests and 0.5 per cent of vaccines administered worldwide have been used in low-income countries.  And on a related note, our colleagues from WHO Africa said today that only five countries on the continent are projected to hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of their population, unless efforts to accelerate the pace take off.  Those countries are Cabo Verde, Mauritius, Morocco, the Seychelles, and Tunisia.  Africa has fully vaccinated 77 million people, just 6 per cent of its population.  In comparison, over 70 per cent of high-income countries have already vaccinated more than 40 per cent of their people.

**COVID-19/Kyrgyzstan

We have a COVID update from our UN team in Kyrgyzstan, led by Resident Coordinator Ozonnia Ojielo.  They tell us that yesterday, the country received 260,000 doses of vaccines donated by the Government of the United States through COVAX, in addition to another COVAX batch of over 110,000 doses.  Our UN team on the ground has been supporting authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic, including by boosting the vaccination drive to achieve the country’s goal of reaching 80 per cent of the eligible population.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is procuring vaccines, refrigeration equipment and special supplies.  Earlier this month, the first four ultra cold-chain freezers for vaccine storage were delivered and installed.  The UN team is also training medical personnel on the correct use of this equipment.

**Remote Learning

A report released today by UNICEF shows that at least 200 million schoolchildren living in 31 low- and middle-income countries that remain unprepared to deploy remote learning in future emergency school closures.  The report outlines the limitations of remote learning and inequalities of access, warning that the situation is likely far worse than the available data shows.  UNICEF notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of lack of remote learning readiness was especially felt by students living in countries where schools were fully or partially closed for at least half of the past 19 months, such as the Republic of the Congo and Madagascar.  More information online.

**Climate Change/Forests

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today released a report showing that forests in UNESCO World Heritage sites play a vital role in mitigating climate change by absorbing 190 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.  However, the report warns that 10 of the 257 forests released more carbon than they captured between 2001 and 2020 due to pressure from human activity and climate change, which is alarming.  The increasing scale and severity of wildfires, often linked to severe periods of drought, is also a predominant factor in several cases.  The report urges strong and sustained protection of UNESCO World Heritage sites and their surrounding landscapes to ensure their forests can continue to act as strong carbon sinks and stores for future generations.

**Road Safety

Today, the World Health Organization is kicking off the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, with the ambitious target of preventing at least 50 per cent of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.  WHO notes that globally, more than 3,500 people die every day on the roads.  This amounts to nearly 1.3 million preventable deaths and an estimated 50 million injuries each year — making it the leading killer of children and young people worldwide.

**Press Briefings

As you know, after I’m done, we will have our guests and we will also have Monica Villela Grayley, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.  And then, tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, will be here in this room to brief you.  Then at 12:30 p.m., the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, will be here to brief.  And that's it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A couple of questions on Sudan.  Could you give us an update on what meetings and activities Volker Perthes has been undertaking in Khartoum?  And also, can you give us a reaction to the military's dismissal of six ambassadors who supported the civilian‑led transition government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We're certainly aware of the issues involving the ambassadors.  I wouldn't have any comment on the internal proceedings, but certainly, you're aware of the concerns that we've previously stated about the need for the restoration of the Government.  As you know, the Secretary‑General calls for the immediate and conditional release of all the government officials who continue to be unlawfully detained.  Their human rights must be respected, and all transitional arrangements and institutions, as defined in the Constitutional Document, must be reinstated.  The Secretary‑General calls on the military and security agencies to respect the right to peaceful protest and refrain from violence at this time.  And regarding the meetings we've been having, you're aware that Volker Perthes, who is the Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Sudan, did meet with Prime Minister [Abdala] Hamdok yesterday at his residence.  He was pleased to find that Prime Minister Hamdok was in good health, but we continue to call for the full restoration of his liberty.  And as you know, as Stéphane [Dujarric] pointed out to you, Mr. Perthes also met with Lieutenant General [Abdelfattah] al‑Burhan yesterday, and he encouraged the Lieutenant General to de‑escalate the situation.  And Mr. Perthes stressed the responsibility of the military and security agencies to respect the right to peaceful protests and ensure the protection of all those detained.

Question:  Can we get an update on what activities he undertook today?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll see whether I can get any further details, but those were the most significant of the meetings he's had, but he continues to have meetings.

Correspondent:  Yeah, we had most of that yesterday.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes, please, Benno?

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Ethiopia.  The air cargo from the United Nations, did it resume actually normally since the incident a few days ago?  Is… are UN planes able to land in Mekelle?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We have not been able to resume the normal activities of the UN Humanitarian Air Service, and we want to do that.  We still have some 400 of our personnel in Tigray.  So, there are people who are there who can help to make sure that aid is moving, but the problems of access continue.  As we just pointed out, there continue to be air strikes today.  So, the situation on the ground and in the air in Tigray continues to be unsafe, and we want that to stop so that we can have our humanitarian flights return to normal.  James Reinl, I believe you have a question?  Do we have WebEx access?  What?  What?  It's gone?

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  What?  So, the line has been cut.  Sorry.  We're unable to have the WebEx access right now.  We're… hopefully, we need to have that restored.  If… James, if you can see this on TV, once it's cut, you get your question.  Are there any other questions in the room?

Voice:  It's working, Farhan, just now.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's working? Okay.  Great.  James Reinl, are you there for one last question, and then we'll turn to our guests?  I guess not.  James, if you're around and hear this, email us your question.  And now we will turn to our guests, who are on‑screen.

For information media. Not an official record.