Secretary-General's press conference with Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary

22 Dec 2013

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE WITH

FOREIGN AFFAIRS SECRETARY


Manila, Philippines, 22 December 2013

Magandang umaga [“Good morning” in Tagalog].

I am pleased to be here with the Honourable Albert F. Del Rosario, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the current situation in South Sudan, which is a source of grave concern of the international community at this time.

I am gravely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan. I demand that all political, military and militia leaders stop hostilities and end the violence against civilians.

Up to 40,000 civilians have taken refuge in the United Nations bases and other locations around the country.

I have condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the outrageous attack in our base in Akobo on 19 December, where two United Nations peacekeepers were killed while protecting civilians who had taken refuge there.

I call on President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and opposition political leaders, including former Vice President Riek Machar, to come to the table to find a political way out of this crisis. They are responsible to the people of South Sudan to end the crisis and find the political means of addressing their differences.

I call on them to do everything in their power to ensure that their followers hear the message loud and clear that continued violence, ethnic and otherwise, is completely unacceptable and poses a dangerous threat to the future of their young country.

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen,

I have come to the Philippines to show solidarity with the Government and people of the Philippines so hard hit by Typhoon Yolanda.

Yesterday I was deeply moved and also inspired by my visit to Tacloban.

People are working hard to recover.

We must not allow this to be another forgotten crisis.

The Government's Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda strategic plan for $8.17 billion over four years was launched on 18 December to guide the recovery and reconstruction in the affected areas.

The plan aims to restore the economic and social conditions of the affected areas at the very least to pre-typhoon levels and to create a higher level of disaster resilience.

We will fully support the Philippines Government's efforts.

To that end, the United Nations and partners have launched a one-year Strategic Response Plan for $791 million dollars.

I urge all donors to add to their already generous response so that we can help communities to build back better and safer.

This morning, I had a meeting with key ambassadors stationed in the Philippines and I explained about my visit to Tacloban and I urged the donor countries to provide their generous support to the Philippines and [to the] United Nations appeal.

The Philippines is among the most vulnerable nations to natural disasters.

But it is also showing leadership in improving preparedness and building resilience.

The United Nations stands firmly with the country in these efforts.

We were among the first responders when disaster struck.

I join the Government of the Philippines in thanking the armed forces of 25 nations which played a vital role in overcoming the initial logistical hurdles to delivering humanitarian assistance. 

There has been excellent cooperation between the United Nations and its partners and the Philippines authorities at every level. 

Aid deliveries have been scaled up significantly.

More than 4 million affected people have now received food assistance.

Some 100,000 hygiene kits and 65,000 water kits have been distributed, and 30 water treatment units are in place.

More than 200,000 households have received emergency shelter.

Cash assistance has also been provided to help people rebuild damaged and destroyed houses.

More than 180 foreign and national medical teams have provided emergency health aid and nearly 260 mobile clinics are now functioning.

More than 40,000 children have been screened for acute malnutrition.

Rice seeds have been distributed to more than 10,000 farming households so far.

Our aim is to ensure that at least 72,000 hectares can be planted, so the vital upcoming 2014 harvest is not lost. 

In the longer term, the United Nations will continue to work with the Government on its development priorities.

While here, I have also been able to discuss with President Aquino and Secretary Rosario other issues of national importance.

I commend the Philippines Government’s efforts to promote peace and democracy and inclusive growth.

It is in this context that I congratulate the Government on progress in the Mindanao peace process, particularly the agreement reached between the parties in December.

I hope a final agreement will be reached soon.

Thank you.

Maraming salamat [“Thank you very much” in Tagalog]. 

Q: Sir, how much of the $791 million response plan has been funded? And there are some who say that relief operations will be over by February - how are we going to sustain this effort? Based on your visit yesterday, are there still backlogs in terms of aid delivery? Thank you.

SG: Our appeal for $791 million has been funded around 30 per cent as of now. That is why I'm appealing to the international community to speed up and scale up their support. The Philippines Government needs to help those people to mitigate and adapt to this tragedy. 

I urge all again to provide their generous support. That is why I met the key donor countries' ambassadors this morning here in Manila and I urged them to provide and speed up their support. 

They need this support immediately because there is still a shortage of food, water, sanitation, and they need shelter. 

My impression having visited Tacloban yesterday was [that it is a] very, very dire situation, it's still very dire. At the same time, I was very much impressed by such strong resilience of the people. The businesses were coming [back] slowly to normalcy and the people were motivated. And I was impressed when many people, citizens, wearing safety helmets, were clearing debris - whatever they could do, they were doing. But there are many difficult things remaining which may need heavy equipment. This may require time.

Now, about this backlog, this is a huge logistical challenge because of the geographical location and weather conditions - it's not always favourable. But you should know that all United Nations humanitarian agencies are fully mobilized under the leadership of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. I met all of the representatives of the UN agencies yesterday, and I asked them to work as one team, knowing that we really must meet the expectations of those people who desperately are in need of our support. 

And the United Nations will continue to be committed, standing by the Philippines Government.

Q: Just to follow up on the South Sudan issue, what measures will the UN be taking to help de-escalate tensions, given that violence is spreading? Would you, for instance, be recommending an increase in the number of peacekeepers there, or would you recommend scaling down the number of peacekeepers, given that some UN peacekeepers were killed in a camp just last week?

SG: We are doing our best efforts to mobilize, first of all, mediation capacity. I have dispatched one Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Juba, who will work closely with my Special Representative in South Sudan. They are cooperating closely with the leadership of South Sudan.

And I understand that the African Union has also sent their mediation team. The foreign ministers of five countries of IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development], they are also on the ground, meeting with both parties - South Sudan and the former Vice President Machar's party.

At this time, I know that there are differences between the two parties, but regarding these differences, it is important that this young, independent country, which is just two years old, address all of these political differences [through] an inclusive dialogue. I have spoken to President Salva Kiir recently and I have issued my statement that they must address this issue. I'm encouraged that President Salva Kiir expressed his willingness to engage in dialogue.

As I said earlier in my statement, the leadership of these two parties must sit down together with the aid of the African Union and the United Nations to address the root causes of this and try to find a political solution. They must stop the violence. 

These 40,000 civilians who took refuge in the United Nations compound - they are very much vulnerable. There are many more thousands of people who are very much in fear and vulnerable, and at this time, the priority of the United Nations is to [protect] the lives of civilians. For that, we are now actively trying to transfer our assets from other peacekeeping missions, like MONUSCO [the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and some other areas. And we are also seeking support from other key countries who can provide the necessary assets. We are in shortage of capacity. When the United Nations compound was overrun by 2,000 armed elements, we were having difficulties. That is why in the course of this protecting civilians, two United Nations peacekeepers unfortunately were killed.

Again, I'm urging them to stop violence and protect lives and address [the crisis] in a political way. Thank you.

Q: Your visit is a wonderful Christmas gift of hope and generosity of the UN family. Is it possible in reconstruction to promote the values of peace and sustainable development?

SG: When this kind of magnitude of disaster hits the country and communities, there are many, many issues which need to be taken into account in the course of the reconstruction and rehabilitation and recovery process. 

First, most immediately, we have to provide, deploy, life-saving support. This is what the United Nations and other key donor countries have been doing: providing water, sanitation and food and shelter. This has been done and will have to continue. 

Then, the Government will have to have mid- and longer-term plans for resettling and reintegrating, providing rebuilding, infrastructure, and safer buildings on the basis of safer building codes, construction codes, and also longer-term development and livelihoods, development projects. The UN and the Philippines Government will continue to provide and work together. Basically, the United Nations position will be dovetailing with the ministries of the Philippines Government in their longer-term projects. 

Now, in other areas, there are many areas of inclusivity. There are many different ethnicities and vulnerable groups of people - like girls, women, disabled people - who will be very much vulnerable in the course of recovery. I sincerely hope that the Government will have comprehensive plans to address these issues. The UN is always ready to work very closely with the Government officials.

Yesterday, I was grateful that many secretaries, like the Social Welfare and Development Secretary, Defence Secretary, Interior Affairs Secretary, and we had the Health Secretary, they were all with with me, and we listened to the concerns and wishes of the people on the ground. 

I hope my visit will provide an occasion for the international community [to] keep focus on this crisis. This should not be a forgotten crisis - that's why I'm here. Thank you.

Q: After having met with the President and some high officials yesterday, what do you think of the Government's reconstruction plan? Are their priorities correct? And based on the UN's own assessment, how long will rehabilitation take?

SG: I'm sorry to monopolize the questions - this [question on the] recovery plan should be answered by Secretary Rosario!

But as I said in my remarks, we fully support the Philippines Government's recovery and reconstruction plan. The UN will support this. Your President has announced the amount of $8.17 billion for medium and longer-term support. This is based on assessments, like damage and loss assessments, as well as post-disaster needs assessments. Therefore, the United Nations, the country team and all agencies will work very closely to help these long-term recovery and reconstruction plan be realized as soon as possible. Thank you.