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27 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.

**Afghanistan

Good afternoon.  Starting off with Afghanistan.  I think you will all have seen the statements of condemnation at the terrorist attack that took place at the airport in Kabul yesterday — not only from the Secretary-General yesterday afternoon but from many other voices throughout the UN system.

For its part, the UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, not only condemned the attack but said that the UN is committed to stay and deliver.  The UN has been working for the people of Afghanistan for decades and the Mission stressed that they will remain and do everything for the people of Afghanistan who have suffered so much. 

The Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations and Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground, Ramiz Alakbarov, saluted medical NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who are responding to civilians wounded in the attack, including children.  He also reiterated our commitment to the people of Afghanistan and called for their immediate protection. 

**Noon Briefing Guest on Monday

And on Monday, this coming Monday, our guest will be Herve De Lys, who you will know as the UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.  He will join us live from Kabul to talk about the situation on the ground and UNICEF’s activities in the country. 

**Afghanistan/World Health Organization

Just flagging the work of some other UN agencies.  WHO, the World Health Organization, pointed out that while tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans are being evacuated through the air operations at Kabul airport, millions of vulnerable Afghans will remain behind — and we have a collective responsibility to assist them. 

WHO said that it has staff in all 34 provinces across the country monitoring the health situation.  The good news is that of around 2,200 health facilities that they are monitoring, 97 per cent of them remain open and functioning.  The more sobering news is that they are rapidly running out of medical supplies and WHO is not currently in a position to help them.

**Afghanistan/Food Security

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that food insecurity in Afghanistan and threats to rural livelihoods were already a concern prior to the current upheaval, as a consequence of drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.  FAO has appealed for humanitarian assistance to be scaled up as Afghanistan continues to be hit hard by an ever-worsening drought that threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million men, women and children who rely on agriculture or livestock. 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said that as of this month, it has provided livelihood and cash assistance across 26 out of 34 provinces, to almost 1 million people.  In the last two weeks alone, FAO has reached more than 20,000 households and aims to assist 250,000 vulnerable farming families — that’s some 1.5 million people — that’s for the upcoming winter wheat season.  There is also a funding shortfall of $18 million to support FAO’s Drought Response Plan for Afghanistan. 

**Afghanistan/UN Development Programme

And our friends across the street at the UN Development Programme said that they continue to provide development assistance to people in the country — irrespective of their gender, religion, ethnic background, professional affiliation or political beliefs.  UNDP is running a fully decentralized programme operation at this time and continues to be active in all regions, to support essential services, small infrastructure and livelihoods for the most vulnerable.

This week, for example, UNDP and its partners continued training of farmers who will help other farmers adopt better planting practices at multiple locations.  UNDP stressed that its projects are ongoing and will be scaled, where safety and operational conditions allow, because “the Afghan people need development and humanitarian support more than ever.”

**Ethiopia

Moving to Ethiopia.  You will have seen that yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke about the situation in the country in the Security Council.  He warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our very eyes, with more than 2 million people displaced from their homes, and millions more in immediate need of immediate life-saving humanitarian assistance. 

On this very point, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that while 100 trucks of food and other assistance are needed every day in Ethiopia, we, along with our partners, have not yet been able to bring any trucks into Tigray since 20 August, that’s seven days ago.

According to our colleagues, stocks of food assistance are depleted, and new distributions of food have stopped, other than in areas where supplies were already dispatched and en route. 

In the current round of food distribution, more than 3 million people have received assistance, including 547,000 people in the week of 12 to 18 August.  However, this distribution has been significantly delayed.

Between 17 and 23 August, 368,000 people also received clean water across 46 districts.  Nearly 30 mobile health and nutrition teams have been reaching about 16,000 people with outpatient consultations.  But the number has been scaled back due to fuel shortages. 

In Afar province, WFP (World Food Programme) is transporting emergency food for recently displaced people.  Our partners have also deployed four mobile health and nutrition teams to provide nutrition services.  Additional support, including shelter, health, and water has been planned. 

In Amhara, WFP will start providing food to new IDPs in some locations complementing food distribution by NGOs and the Government. 

We, along with our partners, are also providing health, nutrition, water and other support, including mobile clinics in North Gondar.

**Mali 

A short update from Mali.  A few minutes ago, the Local transition monitoring committee, which as you all know includes ECOWAS — that’s the Economic Commission for West African States — the African Union, our peacekeeping mission in the country, and members of the international community, welcomed the decision by the Malian Government to lift all restrictions linked to the former transition President, Bah N’Daw, and his Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, who you may remember is a former Permanent Representative of Mali to the United Nations here in New York.

We, along with members of the transition monitoring committee, had repeatedly called for their unconditional release. 

Today, the committee said this positive development is in line with the commitments made by the transitional authorities.  We urge all those concerned by the transition to demonstrate a spirit of responsibility, respect for the rule of law, and to refrain from any action that could impact the smooth running of the transition. 

**Madagascar

Turning to Madagascar, we along with our partners on the ground are gravely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Grand Sud.  A devastating combination of a severe drought — the worst in 40 years — sandstorms and pest infestations have led to crop losses of up to 60 per cent.  People have resorted to eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves.  More than 1.14 million people are severely food insecure in that area of Madagascar.

Funding is urgently needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe as we approach the October to April lean season.  Our humanitarian colleagues are asking for $75 million before the end of this year to scale-up the response.  $75 million is not a lot of money in the scope of things.

**International Days 

I want to flag some international days.  Sunday is the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.  The Secretary-General said a complete ban on nuclear testing is an essential step in preventing the qualitative and quantitative improvement of nuclear weapons and in achieving nuclear disarmament.  We’ll have more for you over the weekend. 

And on Monday is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  In his message, the Secretary-General said enforced disappearance deprives families and communities of the right to know the truth about their loved ones, of accountability, justice and reparations.  He reiterated his call to all States to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances to help tackle this cowardly practice. 

**Senior Personnel Appointment 

And a senior personnel appointment for you.  The Secretary-General has appointed Alexander Ivanko of the Russian Federation as his new Special Representative for Western Sahara and to be Head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, otherwise known by its acronym MINURSO. 

Mr. Ivanko brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in international affairs, peacekeeping and journalism.

As some of you know, he has been the Chief of Staff of MINURSO since 2009.  He previously served as Director of Public Information for the UN in Kosovo and as the Spokesperson for the UN in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We very much congratulate our colleague.  He as you know, succeeds Colin Stewart of Canada, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service and effective leadership of MINURSO. 

Basta.

**Questions and Answers

Madame. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  On Afghanistan, can you tell us if the UN is using the Kabul airport to bring in aid at the moment?  And after the 31 August deadline, there is uncertainty.  Nobody knows what's going to happen.  Do you have enough supplies in Kabul and Afghanistan, across the country, to be able to continue your humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, as our colleagues from the World Health Organization have said, their supplies are running very low.  Our colleagues at the World Food Programme who run what is known as the UN's Humanitarian Air Service are planning to restart the service and create a humanitarian air bridge in the next few days, in fact, over the weekend.  That will involve flights from Pakistan into various airports outside of Kabul, in Kandahar, Mazar‑e‑Sharif. 

Obviously, we will need increased funding for that, so WFP is appealing for about $18 million for the passenger service and $12 million for the cargo airbridge. 

The situation at Kabul airport, after the 31st, remains to be seen.  I think it will be on…  incumbent on the authorities in charge, the Taliban, to ensure that there is a system in place, security in place for Kabul to have a functioning airport, which is, obviously, critical not only to us but to the Afghan people.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  We have not…  there have been no…  as far as I know, there have been no UN flights today in the last hour or in the last couple of days. 

Mr. Hanna.

Question:  The UN Security Council statement on the attack in Kabul makes no reference whatsoever to any obligation that the Taliban, as the, basically, Government in power, has to ensure security not only now but also as for the UN continuing its operations there.  Is that an oversight?

Spokesman:  We…  I speak for the Secretary‑General.  You'd have to ask the presidency of the Council for analysis of their own statement.  I think we've made our position clear.

Question:  Your position is clear that the Taliban has a duty and an obligation to provide security.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  They have a duty and a responsibility to provide security to Afghan people, but as far as we're concerned, they have the same responsibilities as others in the protection of UN premises and ensuring the security of UN staff. 

Okay.  Let's see if there's anybody in the chat.  I don't see any questions…  I see Benno doing some sign language.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes, I do.  Thank you.  Regarding the meeting of the P5 with the SG on Monday, the SG yesterday seemed to downplay it a bit like a normal meeting.  We have heard that he was inviting the other…  like, the P5 especially because of the situation in Afghanistan.  I wonder how normal that meeting can be in this situation.

Spokesman:  If my boss is going to downplay it, I'm not going to up‑play it.  He said what he said, which is…  in fact, it is not extraordinary for him to meet with the P5 ambassadors.  But let's allow the meeting to happen before we say anything more.

Question:  Then let me please at least ask what the objective of the meeting is, the possible outcome, and what time you think it might happen.

Spokesman:  My understanding it will happen on Monday.  We'll have to wait till I get the final schedule. 

Again, I don't want to overplay or raise expectations, and let's see what happens in the discussion. 

Betul.

Question:  I just wanted to follow up on that question, Steph.  Is this such a meeting that he has every month with the P5 members, if that's a normal meeting?

Spokesman:  He… 

Question:  Does he do it every month with the P5?

Spokesman:  Every Secretary‑General that I've had the privilege to work for meets regularly with the P5.  It's not…  I'm not aware of a set periodic meeting, but the fact that a Secretary‑General of the UN meets with the P5 ambassadors is, as the Secretary‑General said, within the regular functioning of this United Nations. 

All right.  Let's see.  Abdelhamid and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first, the Palestinian Authority last Saturday arrested about 30 Palestinian activists who were peacefully demonstrating in favour of a transparent trial of the killers of Nizar Banat.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Listen, we have…  about the specific case, we've expressed our concern.  We've called for a full investigation, and we always stand by the people's right to demonstrate freely and peacefully and for the authorities to allow them to do so free of harassment.

Question:  My second question…

Spokesman:  Ev…  yes.

Question:  …Stéphane, about the Palestinian woman arrested in March and she was four months pregnant, she's expected to give birth anytime, any day now.  And I raised her case before, and I sent a letter that she sent from her prison cell, appealing to the whole world to let her give birth in a hospital, not in a prison cell.  However, Mr. Tor Wennesland did not respond to my letter.  Do you have any explanation?

Spokesman:  Let me reach out and find out what the situation is.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Hi, Steph.  Do you have any details of how the United Nations gets humanitarian goods from the airport to distribute to those in need?

Spokesman:  We have not received humanitarian aid through the airport since the change of circumstances in Kabul, as far as I'm aware.  There have been some road convoys into Afghanistan from Pakistan done by WFP, if I'm not mistaken.  We did have quite a large number of supplies pre‑positioned. 

So, I mean, WHO has been able to continue some distribution.  UNICEF feeding centres are working throughout the country, but those supplies are running low.  And that is why it is critical that we have a functioning airport in Kabul, and that's…  and as I mentioned, we're also looking forward to the operationalization of this airbridge by the World Food Programme into different cities outside of Kabul from their hub in Islamabad.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  Okay.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  It hasn't really changed all that much since last weekend.  So, it's about 3,000 international staff and, on the nationals, I think slightly under 200.  I'd have to double‑check again, but we haven't had any…  a significant movement of staff since last weekend.  [correction: it’s 3,000 national staff and under 200 international staff]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Sorry.  What did I say?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Thank you for paying attention.  I just want to make sure that you guys actually do pay attention.  Yes, it is the other way around.  Thank you. 

All right.  Thank God somebody's paying attention here. 

All right.  Thank you, all.  Have a wonderful weekend.  We will see you on Monday.  Hopefully, we'll start at noon, and I think we will start at noon with our guest from Kabul.  Thank you, all.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Oh, you missed it.  Herve De Lys, the UNICEF rep, and then we hope to have more people from Kabul during the week.

For information media. Not an official record.