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20 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 Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Victims of Terrorism

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the noon briefing.  I apologize for the delay.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Event to Commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.  The actual Day is tomorrow.

He said that on this Day, we remember and honour the individuals, families, communities and societies that have been traumatized by terrorist acts.

The theme this year is “Surviving Terrorism: the Power of Connections”.   The Secretary-General said that focusing on connections is particularly important in the current pandemic environment, which restricts our movements and limits our ability to see loved ones.  He said that “today we say to all victims and survivors of terrorism: you are not alone.  We recognize your pain and the invaluable benefits of support, care, and connection for your mental and physical health and well-being.”

The Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, also spoke at the event.  He urged all Member States to establish comprehensive assistance plans for victims of terrorism and their families that can address their short- and longer-term needs.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Haiti

As you may have seen, the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed is in Haiti to express solidarity with the Haitian people following the earthquake and storm that impacted the country six days ago.

Today, Ms. Mohammed, who is accompanied by the UN Development Programme Administrator, Achim Steiner, will be visiting the South Department, one of the most affected by the earthquake.

Yesterday evening, she met with Prime Minister Ariel Henry and reiterated the UN’s support for the Government.

“We stand here in solidarity with Haiti and are in awe at the incredible work the national authorities and the UN agencies are doing to help in these difficult times,” she said.

Ms. Mohammed also met with the UN country team, as well as with members of civil society.  She offered words of encouragement to national and international employees working alongside national institutions for a better response to the crisis.

Today she will hold a press briefing at 2:30 p.m.  and you will be able to watch that live on UN WebTV.

**Haiti — OCHA

Also on Haiti, Ramesh Rajasingham, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, will visit the country from August 23rd to 25th, to draw international attention to the increasing humanitarian needs following the devastating earthquake that struck the country’s south peninsula on August 14th.

During field visits, he will meet with internally displaced people, local authorities, and national and international responders.  He is also expected to meet national authorities and diplomatic representatives in Port-au-Prince.

And the ECOSOC Ad Hoc Advisory Group released a statement today expressing its solidarity with the people of Haiti and called on the international community to remain engaged in the country.

**Burkina Faso

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack perpetrated by unidentified gunmen on 18 August on a convoy near the town of Arbinda in Burkina Faso, where dozens of people were killed and several wounded.  He conveys his condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. 

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the spiral of violence orchestrated by extremist groups in the Liptako-Gourma area.  He calls on the Burkinabé authorities to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The Secretary-General reiterates the solidarity of the United Nations with the Government and people of Burkina Faso and the Sahelian countries in their efforts to counter and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, promote social cohesion and achieve sustainable development.

**Climate Change

UNICEF today released a report which says that 1 billion children are at extremely high risk of the impacts of the climate crisis.  The report says that climate change threatens the health, education, and protection of children, particularly those in the Central African Republic, Chad, and Nigeria, among other countries.

The report ranks countries based on children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability to those shocks, based on their access to essential services.  UNICEF warns that the number of children at risk will likely increase as the impacts of climate accelerate and is calling on Governments to increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground remain concerned over the dire humanitarian situation in the country.  Armed conflict and insecurity since February 1st have led to the displacement of more than 210,000 people in various parts of the country.  More than half the people have been displaced by conflict and violence in the south-eastern parts of the country.

The humanitarian situation is compounded by the impact of monsoon flash floods, which have reportedly impacted more than 125,000 people across the country, as well as an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, which continues to exacerbate people’s vulnerabilities.

The United Nations and our humanitarian partners are working to deliver life-saving assistance and protection services to a total of 3 million people affected by conflict, violence, natural hazards and food insecurity.  These efforts, however, are hampered due to overall insecurity, access constraints, including road blockages, bureaucratic impediments, and COVID-19-related restrictions.

We call on all sides to facilitate safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian partners to all the people in need.  The UN and humanitarian partners’ relief efforts are always guided by the internationally recognized principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.

**Central America

I have an update from Central America.  We, along with the Governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, launched the Humanitarian Response Plans to address the critical needs of more than 2.5 million of the most vulnerable people in these countries.

The Plan for El Salvador responds to the needs of 912,000 people and is appealing for $156 million.  The focus will be on addressing critical needs in areas prone to the impact of disasters and violence and restoring essential services and systems.

The Plan for Guatemala targets 1.7 million people and is appealing for $210 million.  The response is focused on areas affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, communities subject to recurring climate shocks, and areas with a high presence of people on the move.

More information on this is available on OCHA’s website.

**Afghanistan

And an update from our UN Development Programme colleagues in Afghanistan.  They said today that they are alarmed that the current trajectory of conflict, uncertainty, drought and the pandemic could endanger fragile development gains, including the rights of Afghan women and girls.

The unfolding humanitarian and development emergency, accelerated by paralysis of State institutions, could erase hard-won development progress over the past twenty years.

The UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said that the Afghan people need development and humanitarian support now more than ever, and we are committed to continue our efforts to address early recovery, the COVID-19 response, and prevent large scale displacement and vulnerabilities.  UNDP says it is our moral imperative to stay and deliver, responding to these critical needs.

**Afghanistan Report

Just lastly.  We’ve been asked by many of you about a report on Afghanistan that’s referenced in an article by the New York Times.

We can tell you that the source of the paper is a Norwegian non-governmental organization and not the United Nations.  It is not a UN document.  And that’s it from me.  James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A quick follow-up on that.  Was it a document specifically prepared for the UN or part of the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re seeking clarity on that, but I just want to clarify again:  This was not something that was written by the United Nations.

Question:  Okay.  Can I get an update on the political and diplomatic work that’s going on in Afghanistan?  Have there been any further high-level conversations with the Taliban, who has Deborah Lyons been meeting?  What is Jean Arnault doing?

Associate Spokesperson:  You heard the Secretary-General yesterday speak to you about the situation in Afghanistan.  He mentioned that our colleagues are in contact with the Taliban.  Our colleagues earlier this week at WFP, UNICEF, and UNHCR told you they are in touch with the Taliban on the operational and the strategic levels.  I have no further information on the quote-unquote high-level talks, but I can assure you they are indeed ongoing.

Question:  And one last one on Afghanistan, if I can, and I would have asked this to the Under-Secretary-General Voronkov, though he cancelled his briefing that was slated for yesterday and he didn’t even do a stakeout.  It’s about the prisoners that have been released in Afghanistan. 

Across Afghanistan, but particularly the prisoners at the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul and at the Bagram high-security jail on the edge of Bagram Airbase.  Those were not just Taliban; all sorts of other groups, including al-Qaida and ISIL.  What does the UN know about those prisoners?  Is the UN urgently trying to find information about who exactly has been released?  Are you making contact with the Taliban, with former Afghan Government officials, and with the US, who probably have a good inventory of who was there?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information at my fingertips, but we will check with Mr. Voronkov’s office and others and see what we can get before you.  Hopefully, before your vacation starts.

All right, does anybody else have any questions?  Yes, Dulcie.

Question:  Just a few details on the UN and Kabul airport.  Do you have your own hangar, your own gate, your own section of the airport?

Associate Spokesperson: I do believe we have an area of the airport, but right now, as I’m sure you’ve seen the images, the situation is extremely fluid, to say the least, and so we are doing our best to make sure that we can help, I guess, re-establish some semblance of working order.

Question:  So all three of your planes are damaged?  That’s what I think was said here in the briefing earlier this week?  And that to airlift, relocate some people, 100 international staff, to Almaty, you used an outside contractor?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that’s the case.  I believe it’s two planes, but if I’m wrong, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Question:  And so who was the contractor who was hired to fly…

Associate Spokesperson:  That information I don’t have, and I’m sure for security reasons, we might not be able to share that.

Anybody else in the room?  Oh, on the screen.  Iftikhar.  Sorry.  Iftikhar, yes.

Question:  Thank you, Eri.

In regard to the uncertain situation in Afghanistan, and you have your sense that the State institutions are paralyzed; are the UN agencies able to deliver humanitarian aid to the needy?

Associate Spokesperson:  To the… I’m sorry?

Question:  Humanitarian aid to the vulnerable people?

Associate Spokesperson:  As our colleagues told you this week, their mandate is, obviously, to stay and deliver, and they are doing what they can to operate, you know.  It’s been a few days since this whole situation has erupted.  They are in touch with the authorities in the areas that they are operating, and they are doing their best to get the aid out.  Thank you.

Question:  Are they doing it?

Associate Spokesperson:  They are trying to do it.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Associate Spokesperson:  One second.  Okay.  James.

Question:  Sorry.  Another quick one for you.  Just your answer on the airport.  You said we are trying to help bring calm.  So does the UN believe there’s a role potentially for the UN?

We clearly have a problem, a simple problem, the Taliban are on one side, the US are on the other, and they need someone to broker people through the gap.  There are lots of UNAMA staff there, some probably with adequate experience to do this.  Could the UN offer to help manage simply the gate for people, as an honest broker between the two to help people get into the airport?  I wouldn’t have thought — I don’t know; I’m not an expert — that is beyond the capability of the UN.

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, as the Secretary-General told you yesterday, I think, you know, operationally, it might be slightly beyond what the UN is capable of right now given the…

Question:  [inaudible] … manage the airport, which is a massive undertaking.  I’m asking whether the UN could simply help at the gate of the airport, provide some personnel who are neutral to try to work out who has a passport, who has a visa to let them through, movement control, operation.  Is that not something the UN might be able to do?

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, our colleagues on the ground are doing their best to get the airport to be functional.  We are also trying to get our own planes in and out, but I think given the current situation, it’s a little bit too in flux for us to be able to say what definitive role we could play right now.

Question:  I mean, I’ll give you an example.  The UN has its… I know it’s part of the big airport, same runway, but it has its own separate entrance, secure entrance to the UN compound.  Couldn’t you then guide people, have visas, to go down that entrance, and then provide buses and take them across to the US, for example?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, I believe our colleagues are doing the best they can, given the situation on the ground.

Question:  I have one more, and it’s an even more one odd one, I’m afraid.  People, like myself, who spend far too much time at the stakeout, from a conversation we had yesterday amongst ourselves.

This Organization prides itself as a green building.  Has anyone looked at the television lights that are in the stakeout area?  Because they probably are of the design that existed at the foundation of the UN.  They use so much heat that probably, if they were left on, it would be a fire hazard, and so much electricity that probably, modern lights would pay for themselves in less than six months.  Is it something the UN can address, considering this building is supposed to have totally green credentials?

Associate Spokesperson:  I hear what you’re saying.  We will look into that, thank you.  Does anybody else have any questions?  No?  Okay.  I don’t see any.  Thank you so much.  Have a great weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.