The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right, if you have the courage, please stay on for my briefing and then Brenden [Varma].

**Sahel — Ministerial Conference

Just to stay on the subject at hand, I just want to flag that, next Tuesday, on the 20 October, the Secretary-General will send a video message to a ministerial conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central Sahel, a region that includes Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.  The conference will be hosted by our humanitarian colleagues — along with Denmark, Germany and the European Union — and aims to raise money for humanitarian action and to encourage both donor countries and countries of the region to come up with policy commitments to build resilience and stave off future humanitarian needs.

Our colleagues warn that people living in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are now at the epicentre of conflict, poverty, and climate change.  More than 13 million people need humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million people are internally displaced, a 20-fold increase over two years.  Lockdowns and other COVID-19 prevention measures have pushed an additional six million people into extreme poverty.  The UN will be represented at the virtual meeting by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation and the European Union’s Commissioner for Crisis Management will also hold a webcast press conference.

**World Food Day

And, as you heard, today is World Food Day and this year’s theme is “Grow, nourish, sustain.  Together.  Our actions are our future”.  In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General says that the awarding of this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) recognizes the right of all people to food and our common quest to achieve zero hunger.  He stresses that, in a world of plenty, it is a grave affront that hundreds of millions go to bed hungry each night.

**Cost of Food

According to a study released by the World Food Programme today, a basic meal is far beyond the reach of millions of people in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic joins conflict, climate change and economic troubles in pushing up levels of hunger around the world.  WFP’s Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 report highlights the countries where a simple meal, such as rice and beans, costs the most when compared with people’s incomes.  South Sudan is once again at the top of the list, with basic ingredients costing a staggering 186 per cent of people’s daily income.  If a resident in New York State had to pay the same proportion of their salary for a basic meal, the meal would cost $393.  Seventeen of the top 20 countries featured in the index are sub-Saharan African countries.  The report notes that conflict is a central driver for hunger in many, many countries.

**Kyrgyz Republic

And an update on the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic, as I have been asked by a number of you:  as we said yesterday, we took note of the transfer of presidential power to Prime Minister [Sadyr] Japarov following the President’s resignation.  We have also taken note of Mr. Japarov’s announcement before Parliament today regarding the convening of presidential elections.

In this context, we welcome all efforts to bring the country back to the path of stability within the constitutional and legal framework.  We reiterate our call on all Kyrgyzstani political actors to ensure that decisions on the way forward in the Kyrgyz Republic are being made in an inclusive and transparent manner.  The United Nations is committed to provide all necessary support in that regard.  As you know, Natalia Gherman, our Special Representative for Central Asia, is in Bishkek, and she met today with a range of local and international partners to discuss the current situation and UN engagement going forward.  She will continue her dialogue with Kyrgyz authorities, the main political parties, civil society, women and youth groups, all in the coming days.  We will try to update you on her activities.

**Syria

Yesterday, one of you asked a question about the Al Hol camp, and our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that they are very concerned about the plight of more than 64,000 people living in challenging humanitarian conditions in the Al Hol camp in the north-east, particularly women and children who make up about 94 per cent of the camp’s population.  There are around 34,000 children under the age of 12 in Al Hol.  More than 120 of them are unaccompanied or separated from their families and living in an interim care centre in the camp.

Conditions in Al Hol are difficult by any measure.  In the past month, humanitarians have expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation in the camp following a rise in violent incidents.  In addition, four cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far.  Testing is relatively limited, and a wider outbreak remains a significant risk.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, are providing comprehensive assistance to the camp, the UN stresses that this cannot be a substitute for durable solutions for all the residents.  In the past two months, more than 1,000 people are reported to have left the camp.  There have also been reports of plans by local authorities to expedite and increase departures of displaced Syrian families in the coming months.  Any departures must be voluntary, safe, fully informed and dignified, and in the best interests of the children.

**Mali

You saw that earlier this morning we issued a statement on Mali, where the Secretary-General strongly condemned the two attacks perpetrated against the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) yesterday in which an explosive device hit a Mission vehicle, killing one Egyptian peacekeeper and seriously injuring another.  In Timbuktu, indirect fire against the Mission’s integrated camp resulted in the wounding of at least one peacekeeper from Burkina Faso.  The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the people and Governments of Egypt and Mali.  And that full statement is available on email.

**Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, said today on the first anniversary of the start of the popular protests in the country that protestors have planted the seeds for [systemic] changes and their struggle continues.  He paid tribute to the people of Lebanon and remembers the martyrs and injured from among the protesters and the security forces.  He added that their legitimate grievances and needs have gone unheeded.  Mr. Kubiš underscored the UN’s full support for the right to peaceful protests as part of freedom of assembly and of expression that must be protected, allowing the people to fully exercise these rights within the rule of law.  He said the UN will continue to stand closely by Lebanon and its people in their pursuit of a just, dignified, prosperous, stable and peaceful future.

And a quick note from our peacekeeping colleagues in Lebanon, who are continuing to implement their mandate and support national and local authorities in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.  In order to improve the food security situation of the host communities, UN peacekeepers launched a campaign this week in partnership with the Red Cross and community volunteers, to distribute over 30 metric tons of food packages over the coming weeks in five villages.  In addition, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) recently provided food processing equipment to an organization working towards women’s empowerment in one of the southern villages.

**Libya

From Libya, our colleagues at the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomed the arrest earlier this week of Abd Al-Rahman Milad, commonly known as “al-Bija”.  He was arrested by law enforcement agencies and the Government of National Accord.  He has been on the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee list since June 2018 for his involvement in human trafficking and fuel smuggling.  The Mission stresses the imperative for a fair, transparent and speedy trial for Mr. Milad and all individuals currently held in pre-trial detention.  We are committed to continuing our partnership with Libyan competent authorities to ensure due process and the supremacy of the rule of law.

**Africa — Migration

A couple of more quick notes: Our colleagues at the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the African Union have launched their first ever report on African migration.  It found that [African] migration in the twenty-first century takes place mainly by land and not by sea, and that African migrants’ destinations are overwhelmingly each other’s countries, and not to Europe or North America.  While we often hear stories of desperate Africans on rickety boats trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe or embarking on the perilous trek to the Gulf States.  Most African [migrants], however, are moving across land borders, not across [oceans].

**Poverty

I want to flag that tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that the COVID-19 pandemic is a double crisis for the world’s poorest.  First, they have the highest risk of exposure to the virus and the least access to quality healthcare.  Second, estimates show that the pandemic could push 115 million people into poverty this year – the first increase in decades.  And the Secretary-General will take part in a virtual event tomorrow hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the NGO International Movement ATD Fourth World, with the support of the Permanent Missions of Burkina Faso and France.  You can watch it on online.

**Press Briefing

At 1:30 p.m., there will be a virtual briefing by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

**Financial Contributions

And lastly, we say thank you to two countries, Mozambique and Tanzania.  Both of them have paid their regular budget dues in full for this year, taking us up to 128.  James Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, can I ask you about Nagorno‑Karabakh?  My understanding from a number of diplomats is that it was one of the main discussions at the Secretary‑General’s lunch with the Security Council.  And that there were discussions about what to do going forward, once perhaps there was a more double ceasefire.  And those discussions involved the possibility of UN peacekeeping, UN monitoring or the Security Council backing a regional organization.  Can you tell us about the contingency plans that seem to be under way for an UN presence there?

Spokesman:  Look, I have, excuse me, two seconds because I have an actual note here and I apologise.  I’m really… too much stuff going on.  Sorry, listen, I can’t go into any details of in the way of contingency planning that may or may not be going on.  What I can tell you is that obviously the Secretary‑General remains very concerned about the ongoing hostilities, especially its impact on civilian populations.  We are very troubled by the continuing suffering of the civilian population.  There is a need to reiterate the strong condemnation of any targeting or attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure.  The Secretary‑General has continued his personal engagement on this issue.  He spoke yesterday with the Foreign Minister of Armenia.  Today he is scheduled at some point, it could be very soon, but this afternoon with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan.  His message to both sides is clear:  [it is] crucial that they implement and fully uphold the ceasefire that they agreed to as a matter of priority for humanitarian purposes.  He also stresses that the UN stands ready to assist on humanitarian needs if requested.  And if conditions allow, to prepare to work with all sides concerned accordingly.  I think this conflict is a dynamic one.  It’s very important that both sides move towards de-escalation very quickly because there is obviously risk of widening of the conflict, further destabilization of the region.  And the focus for us politically remains on the parties to return to negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Minsk Group Co‑Chairs.

Question:  You said that the UN stands ready to help with any humanitarian assistance.  Does the UN stand ready, without going into detail, to help with any security mechanisms if there is a ceasefire?

Spokesman:  Let me give you a generic answer.  The UN is always standing ready.  Okay, wave if you have a question, otherwise… hold on and let me look in the chat.  I’m highly technically unprepared today.  Alan Bulkaty, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question regarding New START treaty.  The UN several times urged Russian and the United States to extend it to maximum term for five years.  Today, Russian President [Vladimir] Putin proposed to extend it at least for one year, just to gain the time to arrange for the agreements.  Can you comment somehow on this topic?

Spokesman:  The discussions are ongoing.  And so, I don’t want to comment on whatever position each side may have.  You know, for the Secretary‑General, the extension of the New START treaty should remain a priority.  And we very much hope that the parties, the Russian Federation and the United States, will agree on a path forward.  It’s not for us to give the details, but we cannot underscore enough the need for that treaty to be extended.  Okay, unless there are other questions, there are not, sorry, James, and then we will give the podium to Brenden.

Question:  Do you have any updates on the situation in Thailand, state of emergency, there are protests continuing?

Spokesman:  Yes.  What I can tell you is that we’ve been monitoring the situation closely.  In fact, on the ground our colleagues from the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have been observing the protests, routinely engaging with the authorities.  So, we are keeping, you know, not just an, I guess, a close eye from New York, but on the ground.  And to restate what we have said many times and many places of the world, people have a right to demonstrate freely.  They should be allowed to exercise that right, the right to demonstrate freely and peacefully.  Okay, Brenden… yes, Carla go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  I think it was the director NATO, Rasmussen [sic], is it, has invited Georgia to join NATO.  Do you have anything further on that?

Spokesman:  The head of NATO may be a Secretary‑General but he is not mine, so I cannot speak for him.  [Jens] Stoltenberg.

Question:  Sorry, about that.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

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