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23 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Rome

Good afternoon, everyone.  Since we want to get you to our guest fairly soon, I will start now.  First of all, happy Friday.  This morning, in Rome, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, met with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Vatican.  They discussed the UN Food Systems Summit, including the need for integration among all sectors and for implementation of the new actions agreed during the summit, in order to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Also today, the Deputy Secretary-General held talks with the Italian Minister of Sustainable Infrastructures and Mobility, Enrico Giovannini.  Ms. Mohammed welcomed Italy’s support for the Sustainable Development Goals and encouraged the use of the 2030 Agenda as a beacon for the design of the COVID-19 recovery efforts.  Following this, the Deputy Secretary-General met with Italy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Luigi Di Maio.  She emphasized the link between climate and food systems and the alignment between the Food Systems Summit and Italy’s Group of 20 objectives.  She also underlined the need to move toward food systems capable of delivering healthy diets with greatly reduced environmental impacts.

The meeting was followed by a press briefing, where the Deputy Secretary‑General said that Italy has long been a valued and important partner to the UN in support of global goals.  She emphasized how Italy has shown enormous international solidarity and compassion despite the trials of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General will take part in a Farmer’s Market Event, where she will meet with farmers and will pay tribute to producers, particularly women, for their central role in food systems.  She will then travel to London to attend the first day of the July Ministerial meeting convened by the incoming President of the Conference of Parties on Climate Change, Alok Sharma.  She will return to Rome on Sunday for the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit, which will take place in a hybrid format from 26 to 28 July.  And after my briefing, we will hear from Agnes Kalibata, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit.  She will brief you on the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit.  Dr. Kalibata will brief virtually from Rome.

**Climate

Also today at the environment and energy ministers meeting of Group of 20 nations in Naples, Italy, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, called on countries to provide the necessary leadership to hold the global average temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5°C.  “There is no path to 1.5°C without the G20,” she said.  Ms.  Espinosa also reminded developed countries of their pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually to developing nations by 2020, a commitment made more than a decade ago.  Only 97 countries have submitted updated nationally determined contributions — or NDCs — that’s less than half of all signatory countries of the Paris Agreement.  Ms. Espinosa called on G20 nations to show leadership by presenting more ambitious NDCs in line with science and urged nations and businesses to align their portfolios and activities to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said that water-related hazards dominate the list of disasters in terms of both the human and economic toll over the past 50 years.  According to WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes, of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the largest human losses during the period have been droughts (with 650,000 deaths), storms (577,232 deaths), floods (58,700 deaths), and extreme temperature (55,736 deaths).  That Atlas will be published in September.  With regard to economic losses, the top 10 events include storms and floods.  The data shows that over the 50-year period, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50 per cent of all disasters, 45 per cent of all reported deaths and 74 per cent of all reported economic losses at the global level.  WMO Secretary‑General Petteri Taalas said that “no country — developed or developing — is immune.  Climate change is here and now.  It is imperative to invest more in climate change adaptation, and one way of doing this is to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems.”  More information is available online.

**Lebanon

More than four million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon — that’s according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  With the rapidly escalating economic crisis, shortages of funding, fuel and supplies such as chlorine and spare parts, UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks.  If the public water supply system collapses, UNICEF estimates that water costs could skyrocket by 200 per cent a month when securing water from alternative or private water suppliers.

Also concerning Lebanon, I’d like to announce that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will be travelling to the Middle East from 25 to 30 July, where he will be visiting the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Throughout his visit to Lebanon and Israel, he will hold meetings with Government officials and key stakeholders to discuss UNIFIL’s operations and priorities.  He will also visit the UNIFIL area of operations and meet with the personnel of UNIFIL to thank them for their service in a challenging environment.

And you’d asked about yesterday’s Security Council consultations on Lebanon, which included briefings by Mr. Lacroix and by Joanna Wronecka, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  Focusing on the recent developments in Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka highlighted the country’s multiple and accumulating socioeconomic, financial and political difficulties and their impact on the people.  She reiterated the UN’s calls for the formation of a fully empowered government that can put the country on the path to recovery.  And the Special Coordinator added that the United Nations is doing what it can to mitigate the situation, but ultimately the responsibility for salvaging Lebanon lies in the hands of Lebanon’s leaders.  Speaking of the Security Council — today at 12:30 p.m., it will hold an open meeting on Cyprus.  We have been told that the Permanent Representative of Cyprus will speak at the stakeout following that meeting.

**Syria

Moving to Syria, we remain deeply concerned about the escalating violence in north-west Syria, which poses a growing risk to civilians.  Ongoing fighting has killed and injured dozens of civilians in recent weeks, including many women and children.  The latest reports indicate that, yesterday, shelling in Beiyloun village in southern rural Idlib killed seven civilians, including three children.  Seven other civilians were injured, including a girl.  Such attacks raise further concerns about compliance with international humanitarian law, which requires the parties to take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize civilian harm.  Yesterday, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow and also spoke to the press there.  In his remarks, he said that he hoped that the common understanding that was made on humanitarian issues could also be developed into a more unified approach to the political process so that we can address all the issues in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  His remarks are available online.

**Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues are reiterating that while access within Tigray has improved, the road between Afar and the Tigray region, via Semera - the capital of the Afar region — remains restricted due to security reasons.  This makes the movement of humanitarian personnel impossible for now, and also prevents food stocks, fuel and other humanitarian goods from entering Tigray.  The Afar Regional Government estimates that more than 54,000 people have been displaced from the districts of Yalo, Golina and Awra, due to clashes.  There is a risk of further displacement in neighbouring districts should fighting continue to spread in the region.  The regional authorities are reportedly identifying school buildings in Semera to house displaced people while others are staying with relatives in Logia town.  Priority needs for the displaced people include food, non-food items, emergency shelter, health services, water, sanitation and hygiene.  About 200,000 people in the Afar region, mainly in the border areas with Tigray, have been severely affected since the start of the crisis in November 2020.  This is due to electricity and telecommunications blackouts, lack of banking services and movement restrictions.

**Burkina Faso

We have an update from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the impact of violence on civilians in Burkina Faso.  New Government data released this week tells us that in the first half of the year, 237,000 people fled their homes to seek refuge in other parts of the country.  This is a sharp increase compared to the 96,000 people registered during the second half of 2020.  In total, more than 1.3 million people have been displaced inside the country in the past two years.  UNHCR is also alarmed by the increase in the number of people seeking safety across the country’s borders.  In the past six months, the total number of refugees and asylum seekers from Burkina Faso has nearly doubled, reaching 38,000 people across the region.  UNHCR is calling for concerted action towards peace and stability in the Sahel region, as well as for additional resources to address the growing humanitarian needs in Burkina Faso and neighbouring countries.

**El Salvador

And last, I have a COVAX update.  Yesterday, El Salvador received 1.5 million vaccine doses as part of a second shipment from the United States through the COVAX mechanism.  With this delivery, the country has received 3,417,480 doses of vaccine via COVAX.  And that is it for my part.  Do we have any questions before we turn to our guest?  First, I’ll turn to people in the room.  Yes, I see Edie’s hand.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I might have missed… I have a couple of questions.  I might have missed this, but who represented the United Nations at the funeral in Haiti of slain President Jovenel Moïse?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that that is meant to be our Special Representative there, Helen La Lime, the head of BINUH [UN Office in Haiti].  I’ll check if it’s otherwise, but she was supposed to have attended for that.

Question:  Okay.  And another… couple… two other follow‑ups on stories.  China has rejected the World Health Organization’s (WHO) plan for further investigations into the origins of COVID‑19.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on China’s rejection?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding this, as you’re aware, it’s the World Health Organization that’s in charge of this process, and we’ll leave them in charge of how this investigation is carried out.  We implore all Member States, including China, to cooperate fully with the World Health Organization, and if the World Health Organization believes it requires further information, we hope that they will all cooperate.

Question:  And on… I know you just talked about Tigray.  Does the UN have any information from the ground in Tigray on Eritrean refugees in Tigray coming under attack?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware of the situation of Eritrean refugees, although we’re concerned about the overall violence in the area.  I would add on that that the Secretary‑General expresses his deep concern over the widening of the conflict in northern Ethiopia and its impact on civilians and the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance.  He reiterates his call for unfettered humanitarian assistance, for all hostilities to stop, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable resolution of the conflict.  Okay.  Moving on.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is… a few questions also.  One is a follow‑up to Edie’s question on Tigray.  There were reports from the World Food Programme (WFP) that there was a truck delivering humanitarian aid that was attacked.  Can you give any updates on that?  That was on 18 July, I believe.  And what is the general sense of the increase or continuation of the violence?  And then I have one more question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’ve just stated what the Secretary‑General’s concerns are over the continuation of the violence.  It’s clear that this is not good for civilians throughout the northern part of Ethiopia, in fact, beyond the Tigray region itself.  And as for the World Food Programme… I believe the World Food Programme has made it very clear that we’ve been having problems with our access and with the treatment of our vehicles.  There have been difficulties.  On the one hand, we’ve been pleased that at least we’ve been getting aid coming in, and as we pointed out, the UN Humanitarian Aid Service was able to do a flight in recent days.  But, for the 18 July moment, yes, WFP has confirmed that it was attacked, and it called at that point for all parties to agree to a ceasefire so that the humanitarian response can be rapidly scaled up and all routes can be used urgently to reach those most in need.  Benno, you have a question?  Oh.  Oh, sorry.  One more from Pam.

Question:  One more.  Thank you, Farhan.  The second question is about Haiti.  A United States delegation has arrived.  Do they have an interest in talking to the Haitian transition team and the Prime Minister about elections and about security assistance?  There’s the pending request from Haiti for the UN, which would have to go to the Security Council.  What is the Secretary‑General’s view of the need for quick elections and security assistance?  Has he recommended anything to the Security Council?  And has that moved forward?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this point, I won’t be able to share a lot of the details, which are being worked out.  As you know, Helen La Lime is trying to work with the various key political actors in Haiti to make sure that we can get a good timetable and have a consensual and inclusive government and a peaceful transition.  And so, she’s going to continue with those efforts, but, while those details are being worked out on the ground, I won’t disclose our approach in any great detail here.  Okay.  Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Belarusian opposition leader [Svetlana] Tsikhanouskaya will be in New York for the next days.  Is there any event planned with any UN representative, meetings or whatsoever?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we can check whether she’ll meet with any officials while she’s around.  The Secretary‑General will not be here next week, and as we just pointed out, the Deputy Secretary‑General remains in Rome and also will be in the United Kingdom, but will only be back in New York at the very end of the week.

Question:  Sorry.  Follow‑up:  But, is there any other official meeting her at this time, not only the SG?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re most apprised of the two senior‑most officials, but I’ll see whether there’s any other official in the system who meets with her.  Okay.  And, Michelle, on the video, you’ve got… on the screens, you have a question.  Right?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Yeah.  Just another follow‑up on Haiti.  There’s reports from on the ground that the US delegation and other foreign dignitaries had to be sort of hurried or rushed from the funeral due to protests outside and possible shots fired.  Do you have any update on the status of the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] and whether she was one of those people who had to leave quickly and what may have been going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, we’re aware of these reports, and we’re checking up on them.  I cannot confirm from here whether those reports are accurate, but at this stage, we are aware of this, and we’re trying to get some details from… about the situation on the ground.  I’ve not been informed of any issues or problems with any of our UN staff in Haiti.  Okay.  Ibtisam, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Thank you.  Sorry if you talked about it in the first minute of your briefing.  I missed it… if I missed it.  And so, my question is about Iran and demonstrations there.  Do you have any comment?

Deputy Spokesman:  On… sorry, what did you ask?

Correspondent:  Iran, Iran.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Well, you will have seen that Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, made some comments about Iran, especially its handling of the situation in Khuzestan, and I would just refer you to what she said, which is now available on the website of the High Commissioner’s office.

Question:  Yeah.  I saw her comments.  So, does the Secretary‑General also support her comments, like, including her saying that the state security forces appeared to have reacted with [disproportionate] force, et cetera, against unarmed peaceful demonstrators?  And what… is he… do you think he or somebody from your office is in contact with Iranian parties or ambassador here in New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we remain in touch with the Iranian Government at a variety of different levels.  At this stage, the comments that I want to draw attention to are those of the High Commissioner.  It’s certainly within her purview to talk about how these protests have been handled, and we hope that Iran, as well as other Member States, will listen to her various recommendations.  Okay.  And with that, I’m going to turn the floor over to our guest, Agnes Kalibata.

For information media. Not an official record.