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30 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

I will be joined by Herve De Lys, who you will know as the UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.  He is joining us live from Kabul to updates us on the situation on the ground and UNICEF’s activities in the country.  Will go to him in just one minute.

**Press Encounter

I want to flag also that at 3:15 p.m., the Foreign Secretary of India, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, will brief you at the Security Council stakeout, after the meeting on Afghanistan, at the stakeout live and in person.

**Afghanistan — Medicines and Health Supplies

Before we go to Herve, I just want to flag a couple of Afghanistan humanitarian notes, and then, we will go to him.  And is that the [World Health Organization] said a plane carrying its medicines and health supplies landed today in Afghanistan.  This is the first shipment of medical supplies to land in the country since the Taliban took control.  The 12.5 metric tons of supplies are enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people, as well as provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients.  They will be immediately delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.  The plane, which was provided by the Government of Pakistan, flew directly to Mazar-i-Sharif.  This is the first of three flights planned with Pakistan International Airlines to fill urgent shortages in medicines and medical supplies.

**Afghanistan — Farmers and Herders

Our friends in Rome at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also said that food production and agricultural livelihoods are under extreme pressure in Afghanistan.  FAO warned that if we fail to assist the people most impacted by the acute drought, large numbers will be forced to abandon their farms and be displaced in certain areas.  FAO added that Afghan herders and livestock owners also urgently need assistance to counter the impact of drought during the coming winter season.  Three million animals are estimated to be at risk, making livestock protection urgently critical for herders and livestock owners across the country.  FAO, along with its partners, is working to ensure access to livelihood protection assistance and to strengthen resilience capacity of farmers and herders in Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan — Refugees

And lastly, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, noted that the airlifts out of Kabul will be ending in a matter of days, and that the tragedy that has unfolded will no longer be as visible.  But it will still be a daily reality for millions of Afghans.  The High Commissioner stressed that we must not turn away and that a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning.  He pointed out that 3.5 million people have already been displaced by violence within Afghanistan, more than half a million since the start of this year, and that most have no regular channels through which to seek safety.

Okay.  I will leave it at that on the Afghanistan file, but I will now turn to someone who is much closer to the action, so Herve De Lys is the UNICEF representative in Kabul.  Herve, welcome to the briefing. You have the floor. And then there will be lots of questions addressed to you.  Go ahead, please.

[…]

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Okay.  Before you go at me for questions, I just want to flag a couple of other things for you in other news.

**Climate

The Secretary-General welcomes today’s announcement by the Government of Denmark that it will allocate 60 per cent of climate financial aid to climate adaptation measures in its national budget proposal.  The Secretary-General has called for at least half of all climate finance to be devoted to adaptation and resilience, and Denmark’s response is a powerful example of climate leadership for other donor countries and multilateral development banks to follow.  This is also a very strong a signal for all the countries and vulnerable communities on the front line that badly need protection from climate impacts.

Regarding the $100 billion goal, Denmark has demonstrated its leadership in both the quantity and quality of climate finance, with its target of delivering around $500 million annually in grant financing, mainly targeting the poorest and most vulnerable countries.  The world will be watching closely for other advanced economies, in particular from the G7, to come forward with their contributions before COP26, which, as you know, is taking place in Glasgow this fall.

**Environment

And today, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the global elimination of leaded petrol for motor vehicles, which follows the exhaustion of Algeria’s last stocks in July.  The Secretary-General called this a milestone for multilateralism and added that this achievement again shows what we can accomplish when we work together across countries and sectors for the common good.  We must now turn the same commitment to ending the triple crises of climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution, he said.  According to UNEP, the official end of [the use] of leaded petrol will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths and save $2.45 trillion a year.  More details on UNEP’s website.

**Biodiversity

And speaking of biodiversity, the Secretary-General this morning spoke virtually to the Biodiversity pre-Conference of the Parties hosted by Colombia.  He said that humanity is waging a senseless and self-destructive war against nature, and that as we reduce the variety and abundance of life, we remove options for society — from medicines to foods to the crucial solutions we need to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption.

Mr. Guterres added that we know the problems and we have the solutions, but so far, our efforts have not been adequate.  He told participants that the world is counting on an ambitious agreement that equips us with the tools to transform our relationship with nature.  Above all, we need commitment, ambition and credibility, he said.  His full remarks are online.

**Mali

And today, our colleagues at the UN Mission in Mali, otherwise known as MINUSMA, released their quarterly report on trends in human rights violations and abuses, which says that between April and June, at least 527 civilians were killed, injured, abducted or just disappeared.  This is an overall increase of more than 25 per cent from the first quarter.

Armed groups, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, as well as JNIM Jama’at nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin) killed, injured, or abducted 54 per cent of the victims nationwide.  Human rights violations were also documented during security operations conducted by the Malian Forces, as well as by international and regional forces.  The full report is online.

**Syria

I just want to flag that over the weekend the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, started a seven-day visit to Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.  In his meetings with senior Government officials and representatives of the humanitarian and donor communities, Mr. Griffiths has reiterated the grave hardship that civilians continue to endure 10 years into the conflict.

During his travels, Mr. Griffiths will look at the complexities of the humanitarian situation in the region, the challenges ahead and how the humanitarian system can address these.  This year, 13.4 million people need assistance across Syria and we, along with our partners need $4.2 billion to help them.  So far about 20 per cent of that funding has been received.

**Middle East

And as you may have followed, this morning, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the region.  He said that three months after the deadly escalation between Israel and militants in Gaza the situation remains tense, with militants launching incendiary balloons on multiple occasions and Israeli Defense Forces firing missiles.

Mr. Wennesland called on all sides to show restraint, avoid provocations at the fence and keep the protests peaceful.  He added that the UN continues to engage all sides to maintain calm and provide urgent assistance to residents of Gaza.  In addition, he urged Israelis to cease the demolition and seizure of Palestinian property throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.  He also welcomed Qatar’s contribution of $40 million over four months to the UN to provide cash assistance to some 100,000 needy families in Gaza and thanked donors who contributed some $45 million to the requested $95 million during the humanitarian flash appeal.  His full remarks are online.

**Security Council Votes

And before hearing from Mr. Wennesland, this morning, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, otherwise known as UNIFIL.  That was done for another year.  They also renewed sanctions measures in Mali for another year and extended the mandate of the Mali Panel of Experts until the end of September next year.  Finally, the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia was also extended until the end of May next year.

**Central African Republic

And our colleagues at the Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic are telling us that yesterday, some 50 suspected combatants from the 3R armed group, and the 3R stands for Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation, attacked the village of Dilapoko, in the Mambéré Kadéi prefecture.  That is in the country’s south-west.  One civilian died and another was wounded.  Our peacekeeping colleagues immediately sent a robust patrol to verify the incident and to protect civilians.  The injured civilians were evacuated to a local hospital for treatment.

**COVAX

And a COVAX note.  Over the weekend, a third shipment of 184,800 COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Dominican Republic through COVAX.  To date, close to 6 million people in the country have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Moving to El Salvador, the country received a third shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the United States, through the COVAX mechanism.  This shipment, which consisted of 188,000 doses, brings the total vaccine doses El Salvador has received to over 3,600,000.

And finally, in Yemen, 151,000 doses of vaccines arrived yesterday in Aden.  This second batch is part of 1.9 million doses that Yemen is anticipated to receive this year.  They have already received the first batch of 360,000 doses in March.  The UN is also contributing to the management of the reception and distribution of the vaccines with national authorities in Yemen.

**International Day Against Nuclear Tests

And lastly, yesterday was the International Day against Nuclear Tests.  It was also the thirtieth anniversary of the closure of the largest nuclear test site in the Soviet Union, the Semipalatinsk nuclear site in Kazakhstan, and I apologize for the mispronunciation.  Soon after the closure of that site, countries started negotiating the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the CTBT, which was adopted five years later.

In his message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General said the full potential of the CTBT has not been realized, as the treaty has not entered into force despite its near universal acceptance among States.  He urged those that have not yet ratified to do so.  Okay.  Betul?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Another question on Afghanistan.  Just wondering if the UN… or when was the last time for the COVAX initiative to send vaccines to Afghanistan?  And have you been in touch with the Taliban in terms of providing vaccines to the Afghan population?

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  It’s up on the website, but we can check.  We are in touch with their health and education authorities, obviously, on a wide variety of matters, but I will check specifically on the vaccines issue.  Okay.  Let’s see if there’s anybody in the chat.  Go ahead, please, Kristen?

Question:  Any more details you can provide about the Secretary‑General’s concerns when he meets with members of the Security Council on Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  The meeting he’ll have with the P5 this afternoon should be seen as an extension of his good offices in trying to get unity in the international community, unity in the Security Council on Afghanistan in the days forward.  I think the Secretary‑General’s been very clear on what is needed from the Taliban and that is a Government that is inclusive with minorities and women being represented, a full respect for human rights, especially for women and girls, and also insurance that Afghanistan would not be used as a place to launch terrorist attacks.  Dulcie?

Question:  Thanks. Do you have any updates on staff, national and international, who may have been evacuated since…?

Spokesman:  No, there’s…

Question:  …August 22nd?

Spokesman:  I just spoke to our security colleagues before coming down here.  There’s been no major relocation or any relocation that I’m aware of since we last informed you of that.

Question:  When you say “major”, you’re talking about under 50 or so?

Spokesman:  Maybe one or two people were relocated but nothing that’s been reported to me and nothing of a large scale.

Question:  But Pakistan said it is relocating… or evacuating staff, national and international.  So, do you have those numbers?

Spokesman:  Pakistan said they’re evacuating their nationals?

Question:  No, UN personnel.

Spokesman:  Yeah, we’ve been in discussions with the Pakistanis.  The Secretary‑General spoke to the Foreign Minister on Friday, but as I said, I have no details to share with you on any relocation.

Question:  And one other question about the airport.  Will the Secretary‑General be discussing with the P5 some plans or proposals regarding the security of the airport in Kabul?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the issue of the airport is an important one.  We are not involved, as far as I know, in any discussions on the operations of the airport.  The Secretary‑General will be discussing Afghanistan in general when he meets the five permanent members.  Yes, Betul?

Question:  Just a follow‑up, Steph, on the airport.  Does the UN have any presence at the airport right now?  And what happens after the 31 August deadline?  Will you stay there if you have any presence, or will you leave the airport?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we heard from Herve that UNICEF has some presence in dealing with children.  I’m not aware of any other presence.  What happens the day after, I don’t know.  We very much hope that the Taliban will be able to secure the airport and provide an environment in which the airport can function and an environment in which aircraft operators feel that their planes can land and take off safely.  Yes, Gregory, and then we’ll go to Abdelhamid.  Go ahead?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  So, are there any discussions about… in the [inaudible] of United Nations to deploy the peacekeepers in Afghanistan?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, not that I’ve heard in any way, shape or form.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Mr. Wennesland, in his remarks, he mentioned that the Palestinian Authority arrested 29 Palestinian peace activists, human right defenders.  Did that… did he in any way contact the PA and raise the issue, or just he was reporting that from the press report…

Spokesman:  My understanding, I mean, we’ve been in contact with the PA over the last few months on this issue.

Question:  Okay.  And the…

Spokesman:  Okay?

Question:  …second question…

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  …he didn’t mention the case of Miss Anhar al‑Deek, whom I raised her issues several times.  She’s giving birth any day now in her prison cell.  Do you have any answer to that concern?

Spokesman:  I don’t.  I mean, Mr. Wennesland, I think, gave a very thorough briefing of the situation on the ground.  Obviously, there are always specific humanitarian cases.  I think the fact that he may not have mentioned one specific case doesn’t take away from the importance of every case.  Okay.  Thank you, all. We will see you tomorrow.  And we hope to have more Afghanistan briefings for you this week.

For information media. Not an official record.