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5 August 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, we will be joined by Martin Kimani, who is the Permanent Representative of Kenya to these United Nations, and he will be here in his capacity as Chair to the Seventh Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, otherwise known as PoA.

He will be here to discuss the outcome of the meetings and he will take your questions.

And just to let you know, we had planned to have the Special Envoy [on Myanmar, Christine Schraner] Burgener, tomorrow at 10 a.m.  We have moved that, given that tomorrow is already going to be a busy day on Afghanistan, so that will be Monday or Tuesday next week.  […]

You can thank Amanda for reminding me to check my calendar before we book anything.  I made it sound like we had already done it, but we hadn’t.  […]

**Secretary-General — COVID-19

In a pre-recorded video message to the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation, which was hosted by China and held virtually, the Secretary-General stressed the need for vaccines to reach everyone, everywhere, as quickly as possible.

The Secretary-General said this is a matter of fairness and justice, but that it is also critical to avoid the emergence of further variants that can resist the current vaccines and undermine national vaccination efforts.

He said that we need more than 11 billion doses to vaccinate 70 per cent of the global population, which is a key threshold to ending the acute phase of this pandemic.

This will take the largest public health effort in history, Mr. Guterres said.

He reiterated the need for a Global Vaccine Plan to at least double production of vaccines and ensure the equitable distribution, using COVAX as the platform.  We also need an Emergency Task Force — at the G20 level — to coordinate and implement this.

**COVID-19 — Africa

And to give you some examples of the critical situation on COVID, WHO [World Health Organization] said today that weekly deaths from COVID-19 in Africa reached a record peak in the week that ended August 1st.

More than 6,400 deaths were recorded that week, marking the highest seven-day toll since the onset of the pandemic in Africa.  South Africa and Tunisia accounted for more than 55 per cent of the fatalities.

WHO said the latest data shows that Africa is still on the crest of a third wave.

Vaccine shipments to Africa are ramping up, as we have been telling you almost daily, with nearly 12 million doses having arrived through the COVAX facility just in July.

The continent has received 91 million doses so far, with some 24 million people — which is just 1.7 per cent of Africa’s population — having been fully vaccinated.  Africa needs up to 183 million more doses to fully vaccinate 10 per cent of its population by the end of September and up to 729 million more doses to meet the end-of-the-year goal, which is to fully vaccinate 30 per cent of Africa’s population.

**COVID-19 — Peru

Just a country update on COVAX from Peru, where our team tells us that over 101,000 vaccines landed yesterday in Peru through the COVAX Facility, and those were donated by Spain — thank you.  With this shipment, Peru has received a total of more than 1.7 million doses [through] COVAX since March.  The Resident Coordinator of the UN, Igor Garafulic, thanked Spain for its contribution to Peru’s vaccination campaign.

**Ethiopia

Moving to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that as of yesterday, 175 trucks with humanitarian supplies, including food, non-food items and fuel, have arrived in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray.  These include 50 trucks that crossed into Tigray over the past month with the remaining trucks crossing only in recent days.

These are among at least 223 trucks with humanitarian supplies for the UN and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that left Semera, the capital of Afar Region, towards Mekelle.  Most of the remaining trucks are being scanned at checkpoints and a few trucks are in Abala, the last entry point into Tigray.  Two trucks were reportedly blocked by civilians and looted at a checkpoint in Afar, 97 km from the capital city of Afar, Semera.  That took place on July 28th.

Our humanitarian colleagues stress that, while the recent entry of supplies is a positive step, it is still insufficient, with an estimated 100 trucks needed to arrive every day to assist 5.2 million people that are in need.

**Lebanon

And in Lebanon today, the head of the UN peacekeeping force there, UNIFIL, Major General Stefano del Col, chaired a tripartite meeting with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.

This follows yesterday’s launch of rockets from Lebanon and return of fire from Israel, as well as today’s Israeli air strikes into Lebanon.

At today’s meeting, Major General del Col called on the parties to act with urgency to de-escalate tensions and prevent breaches of the cessation of hostilities.

He called for full and timely cooperation of the parties with the UN mission to ensure a successful conclusion of all ongoing investigations into recent incidents.

As a reminder to you, regular tripartite meetings have been held under UNIFIL’s auspices since the end of the 2006 war in Lebanon.

**Myanmar

And, on Myanmar, you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday afternoon in which the Secretary-General welcomes the appointment of Mr. Erywan Yusof, the Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Chair on Myanmar.

The appointment is an important step towards the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus adopted by ASEAN in April.

We look forward, of course, to working with the Envoy to continue our deep cooperation with ASEAN.

The Secretary-General renews his urgent call to the country’s military to respect the will of the people, refrain from acts of violence and repression, and act in the interest of peace, sustainable development and human rights.

As Myanmar is facing growing humanitarian needs [and] the devastating impact of COVID-19, the UN is focusing its efforts, in cooperation with international and regional partners, notably ASEAN, to provide humanitarian and life-saving assistance.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call to ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those who need humanitarian aid.

**Somalia — Sexual Violence

Turning to Somalia, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and her colleague, Pramila Patten, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, today said they were appalled by the alarming increase in the scale and severity of sexual violence in the country.

Ms. Gamba and Ms. Patten pointed out that, in 2020, 400 civilians, primarily girls, were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Somalia.  This represents a staggering increase of almost 80 per cent compared to 2019.

They noted that sexual violence was closely linked with the prevailing insecurity in Somalia.  This has been marked by political tensions in the run-up to national elections, intercommunal clashes [related to] land-based disputes, as well as a surge in Al-Shabaab’s activities, which intensified during the climate of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Ms. Patten and Ms. Gamba urge the Government of Somalia to take concrete measures to end and prevent the recurrence of sexual violence against women and children, while expediting the implementation of protection commitments, including at the Federal State level.

**Food Price Index

And Food Price Index:  our [Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)] colleagues in Rome are telling us that the global food commodity prices fell in July for the second consecutive month.

FAO Food Price Index was 1.2 per cent lower than the previous month.  However, it was still 31 per cent higher than at its level in the same period of 2020.

According to FAO, the July drop reflected declines in the quotations for most cereals and vegetable oils, as well as dairy products.

**Farewell

Lastly, I want to bid farewell on behalf of the Spokesman’s Office to a colleague, Maria Khrenova, who told us that she is going back to Moscow, having finished her assignment here at the UN.  Great reporter for TASS — TASS is lucky to have her, and I’m sure you join me in wishing her all the best and hoping we see her soon.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  And Maria’s been on the board of the UN Correspondents Association, and I know everybody on the board and in UNCA wishes her well.  She has a new child, so she’s going home with more company than she arrived!

[laughter]

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Something more… exactly.  More luggage than she arrived with, which is great.

[laughter]

We’re very happy for her.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two Iran-related questions.  First, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the swearing-in of a new President of Iran and expectations for cooperation with the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Well, we look forward to working with the new President of Iran on a host of issues that are of interest to both the United Nations and Iran.

Question:  Second, related to Iran, the Israeli Defence Minister has threatened to attack Iran over the attack on a tanker off Oman last week, which it’s… it blames on Iran.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think, for us, what is important is for all of the parties involved or interested in this to avoid any escalatory action or rhetoric that could make the, the tense situation worse.

Amanda, and then madame.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A couple questions, first on Ethiopia.  There have been some new reports of the conflict spilling beyond Tigray.  We’re hearing that Tigrayan fighters have taken control of Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Does the UN have any information on what’s going on there?

Spokesman:  I have not gotten any information from colleagues on that particular case.  We are aware that there’s been a spillover, as you say, and I think this would just, hopefully, increase the resolve of the parties to solve this situation through political means.

Any conflict often starts out as small and, if it is not tended to, has a tendency to spill over and to get larger.  And in the meantime, the people who are paying the price are the civilians.  I mean, as I’ve said, there’s more than 5 million people that we need to access.  Trucks are going in, but we see trucks are looted.  Trucks are also delayed, and we need a hundred trucks per day, if not more, to get in there.

Question: [inaudible] a question on Afghanistan.  You gave us a pretty detailed update on Lashkargah yesterday.  Do you have any new information about what is going on there, what the situation is for civilians who are potentially caught in the crossfire?…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  The situation for civilians in Lashkargah continues to be dire.  We, again, call on all the parties, not only to refrain from violence, but also to ensure that there is no indiscriminate fire that would put civilians in even more of harm’s way.

Madame.

Question:  What I would like to know is, who is in charge of distributing the vaccines when either the WHO or the UN, country send vaccines to Africa or elsewhere?  [inaudible] in South Sudan, the Government kept the vaccines for them and their friends and their family, and by the time they wanted to use it, it was too late.  So, it was wasted.  So, is there like an office or someone who is in charge of making sure that it goes to the population?

Spokesman:  Governments throughout the world access vaccines through different mechanisms, whether it’s — no, no — whether it’s bilateral, whether it’s through COVAX.  Whichever the mechanism is, these are sovereign Governments that have the responsibility, moral and otherwise, to ensure that their populations are vaccinated once they have vaccines.

What we do at the country level, which we kind of talk about every day, like in Peru, is, at the request of Governments, we are there to help them distribute the vaccine, ensure it gets to… work with them to make sure it gets to the most marginalized communities, help with the cold chain, the distribution, the transportation.  But that can only be done at the request of the Government.  Right?

Vaccine… the issue of vaccine equity is one that is important, not just between countries, but also within countries, and that is prominent in a number of places.

Okay.  Let’s see if we have anything in the chat.

I don’t… nope.  Okay.  So, I will ask you to stand by.  We will go get…

[cross talk]

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph?

Spokesman:  Oh.  Oh, Michelle, Michelle, Michelle.  I…

Correspondent:  Sorry.  Sorry.

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I’m glad you set your alarm…

Question:  Sorry.  Just a follow-up on the vaccine issue.  Does the UN have any concerns about, once these vaccines have landed in-country, do you have concerns about them actually then making it into people’s arms?  Like who’s… how involved is the UN in that aspect of it?

Spokesman:  Again, I think it… as I told Célhia, we are there ready to help at the request of Governments, right?  There are a number of possible hurdles for, before vaccines get into people’s arms.  One is just logistical: cold chain, trucks, gas.  If we’re asked to help, we are there to help.  Communications, fighting vaccine hesitancy.  Vaccine hesitancy is something that we see across the board, in every part of the world.

So, we can help on the communications.  We can help on the distribution, on the logistics.  We are very concerned of, about situations where we’ve seen where vaccines have gone unused, right, either for administrative reasons, for lack of proper care or, frankly, for vaccine hesitancy.

Question:  So, when it comes to COVAX and the deliveries from COVAX, those… it’s up to those countries to deliver those… to get those into arms unless they specifically ask for help.

Spokesman:  Through COVAX, which is… which the UN system is involved in and others, we are there to help, and we do… the updates we’ve been giving you is really about the vaccines that we get through COVAX.  And Governments… we are there to help to make sure they are distributed in a timely and efficient manner.

Question:  And is there any kind of monitoring?  Do you have any data on… you’ve got the data of how many have landed in-country, but do you have the data of how many have actually been given out?

Spokesman:  I would check… I would… if it’s not on the COVAX UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] website, come back to us or check with WHO.  But I, off the top of my head, I don’t know if that data is there, but I do know things are highly monitored.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask if the UN gave any assistance to Turkey trying to contain the fires that is one… or anywhere tried to help.

And my other question related to that, the Turkish President, [Recep] Erdoğan, suggested that the international community should do something about containing fires, as it’s becoming more frequent.  He said, similar to these kind of diseases, that the world community should work together to find some solutions to the raging fires, especially in the woods and jungles…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  So, a couple of things.  I’m not aware of having received any direct request from Turkey to the United Nations for assistance.  Obviously, if we do get a direct request, as always, we are willing and able to help in whatever way we can.

I am aware that there’s a number of bilateral support being given to Turkey just from what I’ve been watching on the news.  People with actual air assets and… and human power to help fight the fires.

Whether it’s fires or floods or extreme weather, it is always important that there is real and quick demonstration of international solidarity.  We see it with earthquakes when people, countries send teams to one country and another.  Fires and floods are no exception.  It is important to have that global solidarity.

There’s also an issue of extreme weather linked to climate change, which is yet another example to show why we need… we need the money for mitigation measures.  We need the money for adaptation.

So, on many levels, it is very important that we see that global solidarity.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I will now go get our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.