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7 October 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.

**COVID-19 Vaccines

This morning, as you may have seen, the Secretary‑General took part in a joint virtual press conference with Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] of the World Health Organization (WHO) as he launched the Global Vaccination Strategy.

The Secretary-General said that vaccine inequality is the best ally of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  It is allowing variants to develop and run wild, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars, he said.

Mr. [António] Guterres noted that a plethora of global, regional and bilateral initiatives has failed to deliver, not getting us anywhere close to the first benchmark of 10 per cent vaccination in all countries by the end of September, which was the first benchmark set.

He said that the WHO’s new Global COVID‑19 Vaccination Strategy is a costed, coordinated and credible path out of the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.  It is up to Member States to do their part, to come together, doing everything that is needed for this strategy to succeed, he underscored.  Those remarks have been shared with you.

**Ethiopia

As you may have seen yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke in the afternoon at the Security Council’s open meeting on Ethiopia.  He was very clear that all humanitarian aid in Ethiopia is still not reaching anywhere close to the levels needed in Tigray.

All efforts should be squarely focused on saving lives and avoiding a massive human tragedy.  We will continue to play our mandated role and work with the Government of Ethiopia and with our partners to support millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and across the country, he said.  Mr. Guterres called on Ethiopian authorities to allow us to do this without any hindrance and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency that this situation demands.

Our humanitarian colleagues report today that the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Tigray remains heavily constrained via the only road access route through the Afar Province.  In the past week, 80 trucks arrived in Tigray carrying food, nutrition and other assistance, but, as we’ve been telling you for quite some time now, we need 100 trucks to enter Tigray every day to meet the needs on the ground.  Much‑needed fuel and medicine have not been allowed in since July.

A second flight by the European Union’s Humanitarian Air Bridge also arrived yesterday, carrying 10.6 tons of cargo, including nutrition supplies.  While this is welcome, it is only a small fraction of the supplies needed.

The lack of commercial supplies arriving to Tigray has led to severe shortages of essential commodities in markets.  Prices of these commodities have also surged in recent months.  For example, the price of cooking oil has increased by 433 per cent in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray.

Despite challenges due to the depletion of supplies, fuel and cash, our partners and us have continued to respond to some urgent needs in Tigray and scaled up responses in Amhara and Afar, which have also been impacted.  Since August, our partners have provided food to more than 440,000 people in Amhara and 72,000 people in Afar.

**Afghanistan

Moving on to Afghanistan and another humanitarian crisis, the World Health Organization said today that since August 30, nine flights have arrived in Afghanistan with a total of 186 metric tons of health supplies.  This is enough to benefit 2.5 million people.  WHO said the essential medicines and other urgently needed supplies have been distributed across the country.

For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it is scaling up its response to provide life‑saving assistance to internally displaced persons due to the conflict in Afghanistan.  UNHCR said that nearly 4,500 people were supported through emergency assistance to meet their immediate needs.

As you know, last month, the humanitarian community launched the Afghanistan flash appeal, calling for $606 million to provide priority life‑saving assistance to more than 10 million Afghan men, women and children.  This money is needed to cover the costs for the most vulnerable until the end of the year.  Despite the outpouring of support and global attention to the dire situation in Afghanistan, the flash appeal remains only 35 per cent funded.

**Syria

The sixth session of the Constitutional Committee Small Body for Syria will convene in Geneva, starting on Monday, 18 October.  The co‑Chairs will for the first time meet on 17 October together with the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, to prepare for the session.  The Committee’s sessions will be closed.

As Mr. Pedersen told the Security Council not too long ago, the co‑Chairs’ agreement on methodology is based on three pillars that formed the basis of the Special Envoy’s engagement with them:  1) respect for the Terms of Reference and Core Rules of Procedure; 2) the submission of texts of basic constitutional principles in advance of the meetings; and 3) regular co‑Chair meetings with Mr. Pedersen before and during the coming session.  The co‑Chairs are also committed to setting provisional dates for future meetings and discussing a workplan.  A note was shared with you on that.

**Mali

A couple of peacekeeping notes.  Peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have assisted in the evacuation of wounded Malian soldiers, following a complex attack carried out yesterday by presumed members of an extremist group.  The attack took place in the south‑west of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region, which has seen quite a bit of the violence.  A number of soldiers from the Malian armed forces were also killed in the attack.  In a tweet, Paul Ndiaye, the Acting Force Commander, expressed the Mission’s condolences to the families of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission there (UNMISS) tells us that it’s providing logistical support to set up three Special Courts in Rumbek State.  The aim of these new courts is to oversee fair and speedy trials for criminal cases in that area.

The Mission also recently handed over three new police facilities to national authorities.  These facilities will include detention sites for both women and men, a fully refurbished police station and a pharmacy for police officers.  As part of its efforts to respond to COVID-19, the Mission has handed over a 24‑bed isolation unit to the Nimule Hospital in Eastern Equatoria to help manage and control infectious diseases.

**Pakistan

Turning to Pakistan, our humanitarian colleagues report that there was an earthquake there earlier of 5.9 on the Richter scale in the Balochistan Province.  The Pakistan Red Crescent Society has reported 41 deaths as of this afternoon Pakistan time, and these numbers are expected to rise.

We are engaging with the National Disaster Management Authority, which has indicated that they do not expect to request international assistance.  We are also in contact with the Balochistan Provincial Disaster Management Authority.  The main sources of electricity in the area are out, but there are no reports of disruptions to water or phone connections so far.

**Poverty Index

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today released its global Multidimensional Poverty Index, which reveals stark inequalities among ethnic groups.  The Index, which examines the level and composition of multidimensional poverty across 109 countries covering 5.9 billion people, found that disparities in multidimensional poverty across ethnic and racial groups are greater than disparities across geographical subnational regions.

For example, in Bolivia, indigenous communities account for about 44 per cent of the population but represent 75 per cent of multidimensionally poor people.  The figures are also stark in India, where 5 out of 6 multidimensionally poor people were from lower tribes or castes.

**World Cotton Day

Today is World Cotton Day.  The aim of the Day is to raise visibility of the cotton sector as well as to raise awareness of the critical role that it plays in economic development, international trade and poverty alleviation.  The observance also aims to use cotton as an example to highlight the importance of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

**Food Prices

And lastly our good friends at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome said that world food commodity prices rose in September.  This was led by tightening supply conditions and robust demand for staples such as wheat and palm oil.  In September, the FAO Food Price Index was up 1.2 per cent from August and 32.8 per cent higher than in September of last year.

Voilà.  Mr. Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’ve got quite a few, but I’ll start off with two.  The Human Rights Council in Geneva had a resolution before it to renew the group of eminent experts, the human rights investigation in Yemen, and that resolution was defeated.  Does the Secretary‑General believe there is still a need to investigate human rights, possible war crimes and a need for an accountability in Yemen?

Spokesman:  “Yes” is the short answer.  The longer answer is that it was, obviously, a decision by Member States, as they do, and it’s their right and responsibility to take those decisions.  We will continue to press for accountability in Yemen, a place that… in which civilians have seen repeated and repeated crimes committed against them.

Question:  And one on Ethiopia.  Yesterday’s exchange between the Secretary‑General and the Ethiopian ambassador in the Security Council, the Secretary‑General demanded that documents be produced and shared with the UN to back up the new allegations the Ambassador made.  Has there been any contact in… I know it’s only a few hours, but has there been any contact from the Ethiopians to the UN in this period since…?

Spokesman:  No.  No, I had a discussion with the Secretary‑General a short while about this.  Nothing has been received.  Monsieur Abbadi, and it is nice to see you in the flesh, in person.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It’s good to see you.  The Iranian Foreign Minister said that the negotiations between his country and Saudi Arabia are on a positive path.  What does the Secretary-General have to offer to encourage these negotiations?  And if they were successful, what impact would they have on the region?

Spokesman:  Look, I think discussions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are extremely important and are, frankly — let’s be frank — are critical to the stability of the region.  So, we very much welcome those talks.  And as… of course, we are standing by to help in any way we can, should we be asked.  But the point is that they’re talking, and that’s definitely a good thing.  Benno?

Question:  Follow-up to James.  Following the Security Council yesterday, is there any meeting or conversation planned with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia?  Is there something coming up which you can foresee?

Spokesman:  I mean, I know of… there’s no scheduled phone call between the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister.  We, obviously, remain at the disposal of the Ethiopian Government should they want to send us anything.  But in the meantime — and I think it’s important to underscore — our focus is on delivering humanitarian aid.  I mean, what was said yesterday was very clear by the Secretary‑General, but that in no way distracts us from the task at hand, which is supporting the civilian population in Tigray and in other regions of Ethiopia that need help.

Question:  And if I may, another question.  Can you confirm that the investigation into Fabrizio Hochschild has concluded?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I have no new information is what I can tell you.  As soon as… if I have… am able to announce something, I will, but I have nothing in that department.  Mr. Bulkaty?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As my colleagues in this room, I’m covering currently the committees’ meetings, GA committees’ meetings.  And the other day, I’ve approached the diplomat… Ukrainian diplomat in First Committee, Mr. Lakomov, and I was seeking to ask him a quite precise question, quite substantial question, but he refused, which is okay.  And he explained his refusal, saying that all Russian media are terrorists… quote, terrorists and propaganda terrorists.

Given that, may I ask you the question, please, can you assess that in terms of how does that correspond to the principles of media freedom?  And how does that correspond to the rules of United… UNHQ, United Nations Headquarters?  I mean, when the diplomat of one country literally says to the journalists of other country that the journalists of this country are literally terrorists, could you please comment?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I clearly was not present at this interesting exchange that you had… what?

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I… and, Alan, I don’t question for a moment what you said to me.  I’m just saying I was not present.  For our part, I think it is clear that we strongly support every media organization that is accredited and present in this building and their right to ask questions.  Member States and delegates answer questions posed to them in the way that they see fit.  Ray, pardon?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I don’t know how many countries from Middle East and North Africa have committed to zero carbon emission by 2050.  It looks like the [United Arab] Emirates announced today that they will commit to that.  Do you have any comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve seen the announcement by the UAE of its intention to achieve net zero by 2050.  We very much welcome this very important announcement, and the Secretary‑General, I know, looks forward to the UAE submitting, as soon as possible, a new nationally determined contribution in line with this ambitious goal that the Government set for itself.  And we also encourage other states in the Gulf to follow this example, ahead… especially ahead of the upcoming COP26 (twenty-sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Glasgow.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  I mean, I think that’s… it’s up on the… probably up on the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) website.  It’s all pretty transparent.  We can… Florencia [Soto Niño] in my office can help you… guide you through that data.  Frank?

Question:  Yeah.  Of the people that were… UN officials that were expelled from Ethiopia, where are they now?  And do you expect those same officials to be let back in the country?

Spokesman:  They’re all out of the country in different places.  I don’t know where, their exact location.  They’re all working remotely.  We are looking to send in additional staff into Ethiopia, and we’re in discussions… and visas have been applied for, and we’re in discussions with them.

Question:  Based on what… the conversation or the exchange between the Secretary‑General and the Ethiopian envoy yesterday, do you expect to be able to send in other officials, but these officials remain persona non grata even though it’s…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I’m not going to repeat what we’ve said about the applicability of the concept of persona non grata.  I mean, I think that’s pretty clear.  So, that’s our… our position remains our legal position.  Obviously, there are issues of safety of personnel and of individuals that’s at stake.  We do expect and we’re looking to add and increase the number of people.  We’ve put in visa applications.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  I don’t see anything… oh, Pam Falk.  Pam, and then we’ll go back to the room.

Question:  Yes, Stéph.  On the WHO-SG press conference, will there be any follow‑up on this strategy and what comes next?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the… both the Secretary-General and Dr. Tedros [were] very clear, a lot of what comes next will be for Member States to also play their part.  But I know WHO will be updating regularly moving forward, as they have, frankly.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Also great to see Mr. Abbadi there.  You… in your opening remarks, you referred to the earthquake in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province with a death toll of 41, which is… but… the latest one.  Could… but did you have any reaction from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  We send our condolences to all the victims and our sympathy to the families of the victims.  As we’ve said, we have told the authorities we are ready to help.  We are in touch with the national authorities, the provincial authorities.  At this point, it does not look like they are requesting any international help.  I mean, we know that Pakistan has a very… has an effective emergency disaster system.  We are, obviously, ready to help and ready to help mobilize international help should that be needed or requested.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Bays?  You’re welcome.

Question:  Couple more.  Following up from Mr. Abbadi’s question, I know the Secretary‑General has floated the idea of some sort of regional mechanism in the Gulf, sort of similar to the Helsinki process that led to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

Spokesman:  Platform, yeah.  Yeah.

Question:  So, does he… I think he previously also said he’d felt the time wasn’t right for that.  Does he believe, perhaps, with these discussions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that it would be a good time to suggest that idea again?

Spokesman:  I think, to use an Arabic term, shway shway.  These are extremely important talks.  I don’t think anyone would want to overburden the expectation that we very much hope they keep moving in a positive way.  And the Secretary‑General continues… [swats at a fly] I feel like Mike Pence.  [Laughter.]  The Secretary‑General continues to feel that, at some point, a platform where the countries in the Gulf could come together to talk about how they can cooperate on issues of mutual interests would be beneficial.  But it’s clear that the Saudi‑Iranian relationship is a critical backbone to any such project.

Question:  COVID-19, I did hear most of the Secretary-General today.  I’m afraid I had to go before he finished, so I don’t know… I don’t think he was asked this question, but has the Secretary‑General had his third booster shot?  Because my understanding is that he probably is eligible under New York rules.

Spokesman:  He is eligible.  He has not…

Question:  And you have said in the past that the United Nations will completely follow the host city and the host country’s rules.  So, is he planning to get his third shot, as you said he hasn’t had it?

Spokesman:  He has not had it.  I’m not aware of him to… at this point, for any plans to have it.

Question:  And is that because he is opposed to the third shot, that he thinks it would be better for people in… to get to this 70 per cent by the middle of next year, before people have third shots?

Spokesman:  I think he’s discussed this issue of booster shots, I think, in a number of interviews, and it’s not… I think, for more… the WHO has a very clear position on it, and they’re in the medical lead.  We also think that it’s… there’s a broader issue that there is enough capacity to produce enough vaccine for people to get the shots that they need.  We very, very much need to get as many shots in the arms of people in those countries that don’t have access to the vaccine to protect all of us from the variant.

Question:  And finally, the numbers of people in this building, I know the Secretary-General raised, at various points, the level of how many people needed to come into the office and whatever.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  This is just on my observation, but there don’t seem to be many people in the building.  Are the number of people that the Secretary‑General wanted to return to work at UN Headquarters actually turning up?

Spokesman:  Listen, the important thing is that the Organization is functioning as it should.  We’re continuing to look at numbers and capacity in… and I will leave it at that for the time being.  Okay.  I don’t think there are any more… okay.  Thank you, all.  No Monica [Grayley] today, but we shall see you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.