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8 July 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Common Agenda

As you heard from our friend, Amy, the Secretary-General spoke this morning with the Member States in a closed interactive session on the common agenda.  They were discussing how to follow up on the declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN, and, as you know, that declaration calls on the Secretary-General to deliver a report on the common agenda, which he will.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

This morning, our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, arrived in London on a trip to meet with senior UK Government officials and other stakeholders to discuss efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and tackling climate change.  As you know, the UK will host the next COP meeting in Glasgow in November.

She will be back in the office on Monday.

**Security Council

This morning the Security Council held its biannual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel.  The [Special Representative] and the head of the [UN] Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, stressed to the Council members that the UN system is fully mobilized to ensure that development aid efficiently reaches the people of the Sahel through inclusive, sustainable, and people-centred responses.

Mr. Annadif said that, in the face of persistent farmer-herder conflicts across the region, his office continues to co-chair the UN regional working group on farmer-herder issues and conflict prevention.

His full remarks have been shared with you.

Also, this morning, the Security Council held a private meeting on the situation in Haiti.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the political office, Helen La Lime, is briefing Council members and she will be speaking to you afterwards in a virtual stakeout.  She will be beamed in here and I will moderate from here.  If it happens in the middle of the briefing, we will interrupt to take her.

And, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, if the day wasn’t busy enough, the Council will convene in-person on an ongoing disagreement involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, under the agenda [item], “Peace and Security in Africa.”

There will be two UN briefers:  one is the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, our friend, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.  He is expected to stress how more needs to be done, given that recent negotiations have yielded little progress and it is undeniable that this is a matter of critical importance – that is, the dam.  Also briefing will be the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen.  She will underscore the readiness of the UN system to assist the parties in any way we can.

Those remarks will be shared with you around 1:30, 2 p.m., under embargo, both of theirs.

**Secretary-General — COVID-19

You will have noted that, last night, we issued a statement marking the grim mark of the 4 millionth death due to the COVID-19 virus.

In a statement, the Secretary-General noted that this tragic toll is more than the population of one out of three countries on Earth.

He noted that, while vaccines offer a ray of hope, the virus [is] outpacing vaccine distribution.

The Secretary-General stressed how many millions more are at risk if the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire.  The more it spreads, the more variants we see — variants that are more transmissible, more deadly and more likely to undermine the effectiveness of the current vaccines.

Bridging the vaccine gap requires the greatest global public health effort in history, he said, calling for a Global Vaccine Plan.

**COVID-19 — Africa

Staying on topic, the World Health Organization today said that Africa has marked its worst pandemic week ever.

COVID-19 cases have risen for seven consecutive weeks since the start of the third wave in May.  During the week ending on 4 July, more than 251,000 new cases were recorded — a 20 per cent increase over the previous week.

They warned that the worst is yet to come, with the end to the precipitous rise in cases still weeks away.

WHO said there are signs of progress on the vaccine front, with COVAX deliveries to Africa picking up pace.  In the past two weeks, more than 1.6 million doses were delivered, and an additional 20 million doses are expected to arrive soon from the United States through COVAX.

**COVID-19 — Malawi

Staying on the continent and on the same topic, the UN team in Malawi, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, is working to help Malawian authorities address the multiple effects of the pandemic.

COVID-19 infections have risen sharply there in the past month and the Government is restricting travel and public gatherings to reduce the spread of the virus.

To address the [vaccine] shortage, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are facilitating the delivery of the remaining 900,000 vaccine doses through COVAX.  The agencies are also helping authorities to intensify the screening of travellers, testing and contact-tracing.  We have provided nearly 10,000 [testing] kits.

The UN team is working to promote the prevention [of the] spread of COVID-19 through communications campaigns and community engagement.

We have also provided cash transfers to more than 100,000 of the most vulnerable people to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, ahead of the country’s tenth anniversary tomorrow of its historic achievement of independence, the UN peacekeeping mission there said that this is an important opportunity to inject fresh momentum into the peace process to deliver the stability, peace, and prosperity that the country’s citizens deserve.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, [Nicholas Haysom,] said that, tomorrow, we celebrate this important occasion alongside the people of South Sudan who fought long and hard for their independence and endured great suffering to secure a better life for themselves and future generations.

The UN mission says that, while significant progress has been made since the signing of the 2018 peace deal, the implementation of the revitalized agreement is slow and peace remains fragile, with a lack of a unified security force, insecurity due to intercommunal fighting and crime driven by economic deprivation.

Mr. Haysom urged the country’s political leaders to seize this opportunity to make the hopes and dreams of a decade ago a reality by securing the sustainable peace needed to enable full recovery and development.

He stressed the need to fully implement the Revitalized Peace Agreement and for the international community to continue its support for the country.

**Climate

A couple of climate notes:

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke, via pre-recorded video message, to the first Climate Vulnerable Finance Summit hosted by Bangladesh.

Mr. Guterres said that he is inspired by the leadership of climate vulnerable countries, who stand at the front lines of the climate crisis and continue to take climate action even as they continue to suffer the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General also said that the COP26 in Glasgow — for it to be a success, we need to see the same level of commitment from all countries.  He noted that developing countries will also need reassurances that their ambition will be met with financial and technical support.

“Solidarity begins with $100 billion dollars,” he said, adding that he will emphasize this point to G20 finance ministers at their meeting in Venice tomorrow.

**Hydromet Report

Today, the World Meteorological Organization and its partners released the first Hydromet Gap report.  The report says that an estimated 23,000 lives per year could be saved and potential benefits of at least $162 billion per year could be realized by improving weather forecasts, early warning systems, and climate information — known as hydromet.

In a message, the Secretary-General said that these services are essential for building resilience in the face of climate [change].  In particular, he noted that small island developing States and least developed countries would benefit the most from improving their basic weather data.  He called on donors, the multilateral development banks and private finance institutions to work with vulnerable countries on the development of innovative financial instruments to make this a reality.

**Economic and Social Council

The High-Level Political Forum of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) continued today in a morning session, which explored the situation and linkages among the SDG Goals 3, 10, 16 and 17, the discussions [identified] ways forward toward more peaceful, equal and inclusive societies, including next steps in the health response to the pandemic, protecting past advances in the area of health.  It also addressed the issues of inequalities within and across countries.

The morning also included a short session on how to support local authorities in implementing the SDGs and how to build on voluntary local reviews.

Also, the President of the Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram, as well as the President of the Ad Hoc ECOSOC Group on Haiti, issued statements and condolences on the death of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.  Of course, the Security Council President also did the same.

**Human Trafficking Report

A new study released today by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on victims and survivors of human trafficking.  According to the report, traffickers took advantage of the global crisis, capitalizing on people’s losses of income and the increased amount of time both adults and children were spending online.

The study found that children are being increasingly targeted by traffickers who are using social media and other online platforms to recruit new victims and profit from the increased demand for child sexual exploitation material.

It’s a tragic report that is worth being looked at.

**Central African Republic

A quick note from WFP and UNICEF, who said today that at least 80,000 children under the age of 5 are currently at risk of severe acute malnutrition across the Central African Republic.  This is a 29 per cent increase compared to the projections for 2021.

The UN agencies also warned that more than 632,000 people, which represents more than one in eight [people] in the Central African Republic, will fall into a catastrophic hunger situation between the first week of July and the end of the lean season without urgent action.

**Global Food Prices

Also on the issue of food, our colleagues in Rome at the FAO today said that food commodity prices fell in June for the first time in 12 months.  The FAO Food Price Index was down 2.5 per cent from May, but still 33.9 per cent higher than the same period last year.

FAO noted that the drop in June reflected declines in the prices of vegetable oils, cereals and, somewhat more moderately, dairy products.

According to the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report, which will also be released today, the effects of the pandemic have increased vulnerabilities and heightened existing levels of food insecurity.  FAO assesses that, globally, 45 countries, including 34 in Africa, 9 in Asia and 2 in Latin America and the Caribbean, are in need of external food assistance.

**West Bank

Lastly, I was asked about the recent demolition of Palestinian housing.

I just want to update that, yesterday, in the Jordan Valley, representatives from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), non-governmental organizations and Member States sought to gain access to the community of Humsa Al-Baqi’a, but were refused access by the military while the demolitions were taking place.  As of noon today, no assistance had been allowed in and an OCHA team that had entered the community was requested to leave the site by Israeli forces.

The Secretary-General is, indeed, very deeply concerned by yesterday’s demolition of Palestinian property in the Bedouin community of Humsa Al-Baqi’a, in Area C of the occupied West Bank.  He reiterates his call on the Israeli authorities to cease demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank.

Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  All right.  Let’s go to Célhia.  Go ahead.

Question: Stéphane, regarding those 80,000 children who are at risk of severe malnutrition, is it because WFP cannot deliver the food?  Is it because they lack the money to deliver the food?  Is it because of the security?  What is the reason…

Spokesman:  It’s a combination.  Our humanitarian appeals, whether in Central Africa or in other places, are severely underfunded.  As you know, the UN humanitarian system works on an as-needed basis.  Right?  There’s an emergency.  We do an appeal.  We have a bit of reserve cash through the Central Emergency Response Fund, but that’s really just a very small, though very important, band-aid.  So, it’s a mix of lack of funds and lack of security.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  You said that the SG and the DSG are away…

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Who is leading… yeah.

Spokesman:  No.  The SG is here.

[cross talk]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  The SG is here.  I mean, I saw a man who looked like him this morning, and he called me…

[laughter]

…and I… I mean, I didn’t ask him where he was, but he’s here.

[laughter]

Question:  Okay.  Because I was going to ask who is leading…

Spokesman:  No, no.  No, no.  No, no.  That’s okay.

[laughter]

James and Fathi and then Edie.

Question:  Okay.  On the last item you read on the demolitions, you said the Secretary-General was deeply concerned, but what does he make of the fact that OCHA representatives were not allowed to attend and then were told to leave?  Does he think that is acceptable?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we need to have the access in order to provide humanitarian assistance and to assess the situation as needed.

Question:  The Secretary-General’s COVID statement today, the more the virus spreads, the more likely there are to be variants, what is the Secretary-General’s view then on countries that lift restrictions while cases are still rising?  Is that foolish?

Spokesman:  Look, the issue for the Secretary-General is one focused on the vaccines.  This is why he has been calling for equal vaccine access throughout the world since the vaccine was rolled out.  I mean, he has been warning, like others, about the health impacts of vaccine nationalism, which is what we’re seeing.  So, his message to the G20, to those countries that have the wherewithal, financial and technical, is to put together a global vaccination plan.

We will leave it to national authorities to figure out what is best for their people.  They’re accountable to their people.  He’s taking a much more global picture linked to the vaccines.

Fathi and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I’ll follow up on James’ question regarding the vaccines.  You said… the Secretary-General said the virus is outpacing the vaccine.  Where did the almost close to a billion doses that the United States contributed, as well as the G7…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say again.

Question:  Where are the 1 billion doses that’s been contributed to the COVAX?  And what is the problem on distributing them?  Is it…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I mean, the problem is not on the distribution.  I mean, they are being distributed.  The problem is on how many doses we have for distribution and how much money COVAX has.

UNICEF, I think, is running the COVAX website.  It will give you a very clear picture of where we are, but we’ve been working with every Member State that is requesting our help on distribution because it is not only, obviously, getting the vaccines from the warehouses to the country.  It’s on ensuring that the whole supply chain, the cold chain, the vaccination sites are set up.

And I mean, today I was reading to you about Malawi, but almost every day, I’ve been giving you updates about what we’re doing in different countries to help with the rollout.

Now, some countries are also getting vaccines bilaterally.  They’re working on that on their own.  The ones working through COVAX, the UN country teams are assisting.

We very much welcome the recent donation by the US of many doses of COVAX vaccines.  Some of them are already being distributed in Latin America and other places.

Question:  Still on the vaccine, before my main question on the GERD [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam], does the Secretary-General support sort of having a vaccine passport as the European Union…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think the issue…

Question:  …introduced in July for the Headquarters?

Spokesman:  The issue of the vaccine passport, we will let WHO speak to it.  What is important is whatever measures are taken in place to not increase the inequality, and there are also, obviously, other issues to be taken, but that’s really a question for WHO.

Question:  Okay.  On the GERD, does the Secretary… based on Miss Inger Andersen statement and the Secretary-General previous statements on the issue, does the Secretary-General support or lean towards having a time limit for the negotiations to continue among the tripartite…

Spokesman:  I think that is an issue, I think, that is to be… my understanding from having read what you’ve read in the press about the draft resolution, that will be up to Member States to decide.

For the Secretary-General, it is vital that there be a negotiated settlement.  He has been fully backing the African Union.  We’ve been offering our help.  He’s been very involved.  Miss Andersen has also been providing technical advice as needed.

Whether it’s the Nile, the Blue Nile or any river, they can be a source of discord between nations, but they can also be an amazing source of cooperation.  And we have seen in other places with major rivers going through many countries where you can find mutually acceptable solutions.  It’s not a zero-sum game.

Edie.

Question:  A follow-up on the Secretary-General’s statement on the 4 million COVID-19 deaths.  He called for an emergency group on vaccines, including all the producers…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …the WHO, financial…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  The G20, yeah.

Question:  …institutions, etc.  Is he actually planning to convene a meeting that’s going to put all of these groups together to do something?

Spokesman:  We are very much looking to the leadership of the G20.  We need countries that — let’s put it simply — that have the cash and have the technical know-how to move this forward.

I’m going to ask you to put a pin in your questions because we have Helen La Lime on the line, and I don’t want to keep her waiting, and I know you’re here to hear her.  SRSG, can you hear us?

[Briefing pauses during guest presentation]

[Briefing continues]

Spokesman:  All right.  We’ll go back to the regular programming unless… if you have questions.

Yes, Edie and then Benno.

Question:  My quick question was that Belarus authorities blocked one of the main online media sites today.  This is another action in cracking down on the media.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment?

Spokesman:  I will check on those reports because I hadn’t seen it, but our basic stance for journalists to be able to do their work free of harassment anywhere is unchanged.

Abdelhamid.

Correspondent:  Just want to say Ghandanfar Abu Atwan who was on hunger strike was released today, and thanks to the statement of the Secretary-General.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Benno.

Question:  About cross-border, it seems that the draft on the table right now contains just one border crossing.  I just wanted to know if the Secretary-General thinks that this would be a solution that he could live with.

Spokesman:  There’s a lot of activity in the Security Council kitchen.  Let’s see what comes out.  What we have asked and what we have said is for the critical importance of continued cross-border delivery and, obviously, also, if we can, increase cross-line deliveries.

Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.