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    UNIS/SG/2356
    9 September 1999
    Secretary-General Stresses Shift from Culture of Reaction to One 
    Of Prevention in 1999 Report on Work of Organization

     

    NEW YORK, 9 September (UN Headquarters) -- The humanitarian community faces a major challenge today from the increase in the number of natural disasters, and by a recent upsurge in armed conflict, according to Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his 1999 report on the work of the Organization, which is being released today.

    Confronted with those challenges, the Secretary-General calls for the strengthening of the Organization’s capacity to bring relief to victims, and for more effective strategies to prevent emergencies from arising in the first place.

    The case for better and more cost-effective prevention strategies is the central theme of the report.  Its introduction -? entitled “Facing the Humanitarian Challenge ? Towards a Culture of Prevention” -- is also being published separately as a stand-alone essay.

    The 43-page report (document A/54/1) is divided into six chapters, covering such issues as achieving peace and security; cooperating for development; meeting humanitarian commitments; and engaging globalization.   Other topics covered are the international legal order and human rights and managing change.

    The introduction notes that 1998 was the worst on record for weather-related natural disasters, while armed conflicts broke out or re-erupted during the year in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Kashmir and Kosovo, and between Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Other wars continued largely unreported by the global media.

    The challenge that the humanitarian agencies confront is heightened by the fact that neither the media, nor the international community, respond in a consistent way to humanitarian emergencies.  The crisis in Kosovo received saturation coverage; the more protracted and deadly war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the resumption of Angola’s savage civil war received relatively little.

    It is the Secretary-General’s strong view that international assistance should not be allocated on the basis of media coverage, politics or geography, and that the sole criterion should be human need.

    The first step to successful prevention strategies, according to the Secretary-General, is a clear understanding of underlying causes of the conflicts and disasters.  With respect to disasters, the answers are relatively straightforward.  Poverty, population pressures and unsustainable development practices increase the costs of natural disasters, while the recent increase in weather-related natural disasters is associated with the steady accumulation of carbon emissions and global warming.

    Noting that the causes of war are inherently more difficult to explain, the introduction points out that recent research has shown that countries afflicted by war typically also suffer from inequality among ethnic, religious or other social groups, and that the shift from non-violent disputes to wars is many times triggered by the deliberate mobilization of grievances often propagated by hate-media.  In other cases, armed conflict has less to do with ethnic, national or other enmities than the struggle to control economic resources.

    Taking prevention more seriously will help ensure that there are fewer wars and less consequential disasters to cope with in the first place, the report states.  There is a clear financial incentive for doing so.  In the late 1960s, it observes, natural disasters caused some $52 billion in damage; in the 1990s the cost has already reached $479 billion.  The cost to the international community of the seven major wars in the 1990s, not including Kosovo, was $199 billion.  That was in addition to the costs to the countries actually at war.  More effective preventive strategies would save not only tens of billions of dollars, but hundreds of thousands of lives as well.

    The report argues that shifting from a culture of reaction to one of prevention is essential for the reduction of the human and economic costs of wars and disasters.  It also warns that the transition will not be easy.  While the costs of prevention have to be paid in the present, its benefits -? the wars and disasters that did not happen -? lie in the distant future.  Moreover, for prevention to succeed, governments must place the welfare of all citizens over narrow sectional interests.

    The report notes the major shifts in global conflict patterns in the 1990s with most wars taking place within, rather than between, States, with an overall reduction of some 30 per cent in the number and intensity of armed conflicts after 1992 and with a sharp increase in the number of peace agreements ?- three times as many in the 1990s as in the previous decade. This has also been the era of inter-agency “peace-building” efforts by the United Nations, which have been generally successful, and greatly increased resort to international sanctions, where the track record has been ambiguous at best.

    The new upsurge of conflict in 1998 was particularly worrying, as was the continued targeting of civilians, including United Nations personnel, the report further notes.  The year has also been a difficult one for the United Nations as it sought to fulfil its collective security mandate.  This was most obviously the case with respect to Kosovo, where division within the Security Council prevented any United Nations-sanctioned peace-enforcement operation in Kosovo.

    On the peacekeeping front, the report states that the United Nations faces major new challenges with the unprecedentedly complex operation in Kosovo, preparations for a new mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, expansion of the mission in Sierra Leone and possible new operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea and East Timor.

    In its ongoing efforts to reduce poverty and enhance economic and social development, the United Nations, according to the report, is placing increasing emphasis on cooperation and coordination between the various elements in the United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods institutions.  This is reflected in the establishment of United Nations Houses around the world.  More than 50 are already in place or are planned. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) is playing an increasingly important role in assisting the development goals of national governments.  Since 1997 more than 60 countries have initiated common country assessments with the aid of UNDAF.

    In June and July this year the review process of the International Conference on Population and Development culminated in a special session of the General Assembly, which was informed by a number of reports from within the United Nations system and which adopted a number of important recommendations, the report states.

    It further states that the socio-economic impact of globalization continues to be a major focus of the United Nations, with the issue being intensely debated in a number of Economic and Social Council meetings.  One result of these system-wide discussions has been the 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development that will be presented to the General Assembly later this year.  The report also draws attention to the costs as well as the benefits of globalization, with specific references to global “uncivil society”, the international drug trade and the dark side of the Internet.

    It states:  “Global demand for particular commodities, such as timber, diamonds and drugs, has provided the funds that have allowed warring factions to sustain fighting over many years.  The same Internet that has facilitated the spread of human rights and good governance norms has also been a conduit for propagating intolerance and has diffused information necessary for building weapons of terror”.

    In the humanitarian field, the report states, there has been increasing emphasis on the need to improve the environment for humanitarian action in the face of widespread attacks against civilians and, in many cases, United Nations personnel as well.  A report dealing specifically with the protection of children in armed conflict will be presented to the Security Council in September, it adds.

    The report refers to the progress that continues to be made towards the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and notes that 84 States have now signed the Rome Statute, which was adopted last year at the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries.

    The innovative ways being pursued to get the Organization’s message out and to improve access to its information sources are highlighted.  The popularity of the United Nations Web site continues to grow at spectacular rate with usage increasing from 11.5 million “hits” in 1996 to a projected 150 million this year.

    The report draws attention to the Organization’s financial situation, which remains critical.  It observes that in mid-1999, the United Nations was still owed $2.5 billion.  As a result, the Organization has not been able to repay Member States the $900 million owed for peacekeeping.

    The report refers to the only self-financing entity of the Organization, the Project Services Office, which provides services for the United Nations agencies and other organizations.  New business acquisitions exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 1998.  As the United Nations embarks on a new relationship with the private sector the experience and advice of Project Services will be very valuable, it notes.

    The Secretary-General observes that a culture of internal oversight, provided by the work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, has been accepted and strengthened.  The number of reports produced by the Office has been increasing each year, with more than 50 per cent being in response to mandates from the Security Council.  The Office is also responsible for investigation of violations of United Nations rules and criminal acts perpetrated against the Organization.

    Concluding the report’s introduction, the Secretary-General states:  “Today, no one disputes that prevention is better, and cheaper, than reacting to crises after the fact.  Yet our political and organizational cultures and practices remain oriented far more towards reaction than prevention”.

    Noting that the transition from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention will not be easy for the reasons outlined in the report, he stresses that the difficulty of the task ahead does not make it any less imperative.  “War and natural disasters remain the major threats to the security of individuals and human communities worldwide.  Our solemn duty to future generations is to reduce these threats.  We know what needs to be done.  What is now needed is the foresight and political will to do it”.

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