First, I would like to thank you and the United Kingdom for organising this important debate.
I would also like to thank the briefers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stress test of national and global health systems and our systems of governance. It has led to the loss of more than two million lives and disrupted billions more.
Now we, as an international community, and as this Security Council, must forge a united way forward. I will focus my remarks on three key challenges where Norway encourages targeted action.
First, we must ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Newly developed vaccines are being distributed as we speak. While this is promising, so far most of the vaccines have been made available to people in just a few high-income countries. We must make vaccines available for all, including in areas affected by conflict and insecurity.
The ACT-A partnership and its COVAX facility are fundamental in ensuring that all countries are included in our common fight to stop the pandemic. Norway fully supports the important work of Gavi, CEPI and WHO in this effort, and we are proud to co-chair the Facilitation Council of the ACT Accelerator together with South-Africa.
The COVAX humanitarian buffer will be vital to be able to reach people living in contested areas, or areas beyond the reach of national health authorities, including internally displaced persons, refugees and migrants.
Norway has so far contributed around 500 million USD to the ACT-A pillars, with a focus on COVAX. I strongly encourage more countries to contribute and help to close the COVAX funding gap.
Full and unimpeded humanitarian access is essential for vaccines to reach the most vulnerable groups.
In situations of armed conflict, all parties must fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Attacks on medical facilities and personnel are unacceptable. Patients, health workers and facilities must be protected and Security Council Resolution 2286 implemented.
Women are being disproportionately affected. They make up 70 per cent of health and social care workers, and they are at the forefront of information dissemination to local communities. This puts women at the heart of COVID-19 response, not least in the areas hardest hit by conflict and crisis.
Norway relies on WHO to lead and to coordinate the response to the crisis. Key humanitarian partners such as WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO and OCHA need flexible funding to respond to the many severe and rapidly changing consequences of the pandemic. As for Norway, we have significantly increased our flexible humanitarian support. The Red Cross and Red Crescent societies play a crucial role in rolling out life-saving vaccination programmes under these challenging circumstances.
Hostilities must cease in order to allow vaccination to take place in conflict areas.
We must be ready to engage with all parties. In many conflict areas, civilians and combatants are living in territories controlled or contested by non-state armed groups. Reaching these populations may involve engaging with actors whose behaviour we condemn. The successful dialogues with armed groups in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere to allow humanitarian access for polio and other health campaigns offer lessons for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Norway will continue to support Secretary-General Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire. We approached the parties in Colombia and the Philippines on the basis of Guterres’ call. They deserve credit for implementing humanitarian ceasefires. Political commitment, clear parameters, transparency and monitoring mechanisms are necessary – both to achieve ceasefires and to allow successful rollout of vaccines.
UN special representatives, envoys, and missions have adjusted their efforts to this changing reality, the UN system has shown its ability to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic on several fronts.
From Idlib to Gaza, from Menaka to Tigray: It is our duty as the Security Council to keep a close eye on these shifting dynamics, to coordinate efforts, and to facilitate full and unimpeded humanitarian access, as well as peaceful resolution of conflicts. We must call for concerted action across all the pillars and institutions of the UN to secure the widest and most equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
We must ensure that no one is left behind.