Press Releases

    GA/9978
    27 November 2001

    GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS TOLD NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CATASTROPHE STILL BEING FELT, 15 YEARS LATER

    Debate Begins on United Nations Relief, Disaster Assistance;
    Delivery of Aid, Protection of Humanitarian Workers Among Issues Raised

    NEW YORK, 26 November (UN Headquarters) -- When the General Assembly met this afternoon for a general review of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, it was reminded of an event 15 years ago which, it was said, continued to cause significant material and financial losses. The representative of Ukraine described the ongoing consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe.

    He said his Government had closed the Chernobyl nuclear plant a year ago. It proposed to use the area around the plant as a testing ground of the International Scientific and Research Centre, where the consequences of nuclear accidents might be studied, for the sake of present and future generations.

    The representative of Brazil told the Assembly there was an ongoing debate concerning the obstacles for effective delivery of assistance for those in need. For some, he said, it was a matter of scant resources, and for others it was the attacks perpetrated against humanitarian workers and the lack of a safe and secure environment.

    The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that one of the main difficulties for humanitarian action was staff safety. The European Union would spare no effort at the political and diplomatic level to ensure that principles of international humanitarian law were respected and to protect humanitarian workers. He was pleased that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court made it a war crime to direct attacks intentionally against personnel and equipment deployed in humanitarian assistance.

    When providing humanitarian assistance, the international community must strictly observe the principles of the United Nations Charter, such as humanitarianism, neutrality and justice, as well as respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity, according to the representative of China. Without those principles, he said, humanitarian assistance may not achieve the expected results or, worse, could give rise to new disasters.

    The representative of Argentina said that the "White Helmets" initiative -– involving the use of volunteers -- had proven to be a valuable mechanism in the field of cooperation, and in the financing and mobilization of resources. The teams, previously identified and trained, were available to the United Nations for relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities.

    The representative of Egypt called on all countries to be more involved in the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people. He said the peace process must be saved, and Palestinian economy and institutions protected.

    The representative of Tajikistan introduced a draft resolution on emergency international assistance for peace, normalcy and rehabilitation in his country. The representative of the Bahamas, on behalf of the Caribbean Community, introduced a draft on emergency assistance to Belize, following extensive damage caused by the powerful Hurricane Iris on 8 October.

    A further draft was introduced jointly by Greece and Turkey on emergency response to disasters. It concerned the progress achieved by the governments of the two countries, in cooperation with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the formation of a joint Hellenic-Turkish standby disaster response unit.

    Also addressing the Assembly this afternoon were the representatives of Norway, Japan, India, United States, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Panama and Canada.

    The General Assembly meets again tomorrow, Tuesday, 27 November at 10 a.m. to consider the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba. The debate on humanitarian and disaster relief assistance will resume tomorrow afternoon.

    Background

    The General Assembly met this afternoon to consider strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.

    The Assembly had before it a report of the Secretary-General (document A/56/384 and Corr.1) on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel. The report details threats against United Nations personnel, includes data on those who have lost their lives, and describes measures taken to enhance security. In recent months, three United Nations staff members have lost their lives to violence, bringing the total number of victims to 201 since 1 January 1992. Staff members of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations have also been targets of rape and sexual assault, ambushes, armed robbery, attacks on humanitarian convoys, carjackings, harassment and arrest and detention.

    The report proposes that a full-time Security Coordinator be appointed to increase the efficiency of the Organization’s security management system. Eight new professional staff have already been recruited at Headquarters, so that the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator can better respond to new crises, undertake more security training missions and initiate inspection and compliance missions. Other improvements include greater commitment within the United Nations system to security training and better coordination of staff security interventions. The report also describes steps taken to enhance stress counselling, increase security requirements and ensure a minimum telecommunications level at each duty station.

    The report recommends that greater efforts be made to prevent incidents of violence towards humanitarian workers as well as bring the perpetrators to justice. Also, personnel should be given the tools and ability to minimize their exposure to risk. Member States must insist that there be a universally accepted system of security coordination, with appropriate funding for personnel, training and equipment. Inter-agency collaboration should be improved and strengthened by harmonizing security management between actors in the humanitarian community.

    Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations

    Regarding this sub-item of its agenda, the Assembly had a report (document A/56/95) of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations. The Secretary-General describes the diversity of issues faced by the United Nations and its humanitarian partners, such as natural disasters, complex emergencies, coordination and response in humanitarian crisis and chronic vulnerability to humanitarian crisis.

    The progress and constraints in strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance are discussed in the report, with special emphasis on tools and mechanisms of humanitarian response; support for the coordination and response role of regional, national and local actors; the strengthening of coordination and linkages in crisis situations as well as the role of information management. The Secretary-General highlights the challenges to providing humanitarian assistance through focusing on issues of access, safety and security of staff, sanctions and the "war economy" in humanitarian emergencies.

    Concerning coordination of humanitarian assistance, the Secretary-General recommends that the General Assembly urge Member States to coordinate the allocation of resources to the consolidated appeals process and ensure balanced funding for the entire package of projects. He also suggests that the General Assembly call upon Member States to support initiatives that encourage the sharing and dissemination of information among humanitarian organizations and governments, and the increased use of information technologies to strengthen further the humanitarian crisis preparedness and response capacities, particularly in developing countries.

    On prevention, preparedness and response issues, the Secretary-General recommends that the General Assembly requests the international community to provide more support for strengthening regional and national capabilities through the provision of technical and financial assistance.

    In his report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/56/307), the Secretary-General states that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is the focal point for promoting and coordinating disaster response preparedness among the United Nations humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian partners. That system-wide responsibility encompasses a mechanism for centralized dissemination of information, making arrangements for coordination, and tracking contributions made and outstanding needs.

    In response to the floods of Mozambique in 2000 and 2001, the United Nations development agencies and the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recognized the recurrent nature of the disaster and undertook a preparedness and contingency planning exercise that resulted in an improved response capability during the 2001 floods. Another mechanism for disaster assistance was the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction established by the General Assembly in 1999. The Strategy is aimed at reducing the vulnerability of societies to natural and other environmental and technological hazards.

    The report adds that the Emergency Relief Coordinator has been instructed to mobilize, direct and coordinate all international assistance to natural disaster in response to a request from a country affected by disaster. In 2001, the Coordinator has been performing this function in the face of a changing natural disaster environment of greater losses, resulting from increasing urbanization, and the ever swifter response required by vigilant and fast responding international media.

    The United Nations disaster assessment and coordination team system remains one of the most effective participatory international rapid response tools available to the Emergency Relief Coordinator, the report states. It carried out 11 missions during 2000 to assist in coordinating international response to natural disasters in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. In the first half of 2001, six missions were undertaken, including in response to the severe winter in Mongolia, floods in Russia and earthquakes in El Salvador, India and Peru.

    At the conclusion of the report, the Secretary-General states that an inventory of existing disaster mitigation capacity does not yet exist, but the usefulness of such a facility should be further explored. It is recommended that the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, in collaboration with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme and other partners, take the lead in this respect and appraise the General Assembly of the results.

    The Assembly further had a note by the Secretary-General (document A/55/649) on enhancing the functioning and utilization of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF), which was established by Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991 as a cash-flow mechanism to ensure the rapid and coordinated response of organizations of the United Nations system to humanitarian emergencies.

    According to the note, CERF has been an important source of funding for timely, prompt and effective response by operational organizations. The decline in its use has been the result of the availability within operational organizations of their own emergency funds. Given the uneven pattern of its utilization and the availability of emergency funds within operational organizations, it is proposed that the level of CERF be reduced from $50 million to $40 million.

    In the note, it is also proposed that the opportunity for the use of CERF be expanded to include: humanitarian assistance resulting from natural disaster; humanitarian assistance for protracted emergencies; and security arrangements for United Nations and associated personnel.

    Regarding emergency response to disasters, the Assembly had a draft resolution submitted by Greece and Turkey (document A/56/L.14) by which it would note with satisfaction the progress achieved by the Governments of Turkey and Greece, in cooperation with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the formation of a joint Hellenic-Turkish standby disaster response unit, having no financial implications on the programme budget of the United Nations.

    The assembly would request the Secretary-General, through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to continue its work on the modalities for the utilization of the standby disaster relief unit by the United Nations system, and to report on progress made in the implementation of the draft to the Assembly at its fifty-seventh session.

    Special economic assistance to individual countries or regions

    The Assembly had several reports on this sub-item.

    The Secretary-General’s report (document A/56/158) on international assistance to and cooperation with the Alliance for the Sustainable Development of Central America describes the international cooperation activities of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organs, organizations and programmes of the United Nations, carried out during the period from August 1999 to April 2001, in support of the efforts of the Central American countries to implement a new sustainable development strategy in the region.

    The report makes reference to the efforts being made by the Central American governments and people to recover from the devastation of natural disasters and to utilize the reconstruction process as an opportunity to transform their societies within the framework of the Alliance for the Sustainable Development of Central America (ALIDES) and to catalyze further international support for their national efforts to make the region a zone of peace, freedom, democracy and development.

    The report contains sections on the macroeconomic framework and cooperation activities, as well as peace and democratic governance, including segments on support for consensus-building processes and on the strengthening of democratic institutions. Concerning economic and social development, the Secretary-General covers social vulnerability and poverty eradication, agricultural development, health and nutrition, public finance and economic growth, environment and sustainable development. Institutional aspects and management capacity are also discussed.

    The report of the Secretary-General (document A/56/264) on assistance for the reconstruction and development of Djibouti provides a brief description of the progress made in implementation of the most recent resolution on assistance for the reconstruction and development of Djibouti. The Secretary-General states that Djibouti’s development challenges are first and foremost related to the economic and financial crisis, which resulted from civil strife and changes in the international and subregional context. In addition, recurring emergency situations, including drought, floods and epidemics, combined with large-scale destruction of livestock, water points, health and educational facilities, have led to the large-scale movement of displaced populations and considerably increased Djibouti’s need for further emergency and humanitarian assistance.

    The Secretary-General states that the rehabilitation process already initiated has to be strengthened and that most schools, roads, hospitals, water facilities and dispensaries have to be reconstructed. Assistance is also needed in the fields of governance, administrative reform and economic management. He adds that Djibouti will have to find a way to enable the refugees and the displaced persons of neighbouring countries to return to their countries of origin. This can be done with the active support of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and UNHCR. Finally, the Secretary-General calls upon the international community to provide financial support to enable him to provide technical assistance for implementing urgent socio-economic programmes for the reconstruction and development process in Djibouti.

    The Secretary-General’s report on special assistance for the economic recovery and reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (document A/56/269) states that the continuation of armed conflict in the DRC in 2000 for a third consecutive year has further exacerbated the tragic social and economic situation. Judging from the number of persons displaced by the conflict (which rose from 480,000 in November 1999 to almost 2,100,000 in June 2001), the situation has worsened, pointing to the need for greater resources and increased humanitarian activity. Regrettably, international cooperation, whether bilateral or multilateral, remains dependent on progress in the political sphere, particularly on implementation of the Lusaka Agreements.

    The Security Council, by resolution 1355 (2001), extended the mandate of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) until 15 June 2002. The Mission was established in 1999.

    Also before the Assembly was a report from the Secretary-General on assistance for humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and development in East Timor (document A/56/338), covering the period from January 2001 to June 2001. The report noted that the humanitarian situation in East Timor had dramatically improved and attention had shifted to rehabilitation and development. Some 181,665 East Timorese refugees had been repatriated and more than 7,170 had been registered. A child-tracing programme, carried out by United Nations agencies in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had reunited over 500 children with their families.

    The report reviewed several sectors, including health care, education, justice, law and order, agriculture and infrastructure. Some 80 per cent of the population now had access to permanent health care facilities, it said, although improvements to those services were still hindered by a lack of human resources. Damage to educational facilities during the violence had been severe, and an original target to rehabilitate 2,100 classrooms had increased to 2,780 to accommodate higher-than-predicted enrolment numbers. As for security, legislation had established the East Timor Defence Force at the end of January, and 650 of a total 1,500 regular soldiers had been recruited.

    The report noted that the Court of Appeal and District Courts of Dili, Baucau and Oecussi were fully operational, and four District Prosecutors Offices, a national Public Defenders Office in Dili and a District Office in Baucau had been established. Some 25 judges, 13 prosecutors and nine public defenders, all East Timorese, were employed in those public offices. Crime had dropped significantly and civilian policing was steadily shifting to the Timor Lorosa’e Police Force, which aimed to be at its full capacity of 3,000 personnel by April 2003.

    All district agricultural offices were now under Timorese management, the report said. Emphasis in the coming period would move from supplying resources and replacing lost assets to demand-driven programmes addressing weaknesses in rural markets and distribution systems. Infrastructure rehabilitation had advanced rapidly, although long-term sustainability was hampered by a lack of capacity. Operations at the port and airport had normalized and the aviation and maritime sectors were expected to fund their own development from revenue during the next year. Nineteen major public buildings of the East Timor Transitional Administration were being reconstructed and roads were gradually being rebuilt.

    The Secretary-General’s report on humanitarian assistance to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (document A/56/361) covers developments from 1 July 2000 to 15 July 2001. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia comprises the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. Owing to the fact that the province of Kosovo is under the interim administration of the United Nations, the situation there is covered in separate paragraphs of the report.

    Section II of the report reviews major humanitarian developments in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, covering the severe decline in the economy and basic services, refugees and displaced persons, improving bilateral relations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, and humanitarian assistance in Kosovo. Section III of the report examines recent socio-economic developments. It states that the quality and capacity of public services have been undermined, gross domestic product in the country in 2000 was less than half the 1989 level, the social welfare system is seriously overstretched and agriculture has continued its decline over the past year. In Kosovo, however, some improvements have been made in the provision of basic public services and utilities, and homes for 50,000 families have been constructed.

    Section IV of the report reviews human rights developments. Following the election of new Governments in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia, the report states, there has been a major improvement in the human rights situation, although there are still many unresolved issues. Section V of the report deals with assistance provided by the United Nations and its partners and discusses coordination arrangements, winterization efforts, food aid, shelter, health, water and sanitation, education and child welfare, agriculture, promotion of durable solutions, environmental damage, mine action and human rights. Section VI of the report covers assistance provided by Member States.

    The report concludes that during the period under review, the domestic and international political context of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia changed dramatically, and the process of transition is expected to accelerate in the coming year. However, the process of development is unlikely to be linear and significant obstacles remain regarding durable solutions. The report further states that although political developments in Belgrade have enhanced prospects for stability, the situation remains volatile both internally and regionally. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a destabilizing factor, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also fragile. Furthermore, while the overall situation in Kosovo has continued to improve, many difficulties remain.

    The report by the Secretary-General (document A/56/389) on assistance for humanitarian relief and the economic and social rehabilitation of Somalia is a review of the current situation in Somalia, detailing humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance provided by the United Nations and its partners over the past year, and draws attention to priority areas of assistance according to likely developments.

    The section on the socio-economic situation includes sections on the political and security situation, humanitarian issues, and economic issues. The report also covers United Nations assistance in Somalia, including assistance provided by Member States, relating to food security and rural development, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, human rights and gender, repatriation and reintegration, development programmes and coordination and security.

    The report emphasizes that the combined effects of a decade of continuing conflict at varying levels, climatic change and economic disinvestment have made Somalia one of the poorest places on earth. It also stresses that further steps need to be taken to assist in the building of a sustainable peace in Somalia, and that such a transition must include a robust framework which addresses many of the issues arising from the Somali conflict. These issues include the nature of governance and political structures in Somalia, the forced appropriation of land and property and past human rights atrocities.

    The report of the Secretary-General on humanitarian assistance to the Republic of the Sudan (document A/56/412) contains a review of the current situation in the Sudan, detailing humanitarian assistance provided by the United Nations and its partners during the period from 15 July 1999 to 15 July 2001.

    The section on emergency humanitarian operations, including Operation Lifeline Sudan, covers areas such as the security situation affecting humanitarian relief efforts, internally displaced persons, non-governmental organizations, relief food assistance, non-food assistance and assistance to refugees.

    The report observes that humanitarian assistance is at best slowing the overall deterioration of the situation. Short of a peace settlement and for the sake of the civilian population, the parties to the conflict must work at reinstating humanitarian ceasefires. Those that were in effect from July 1998 to July 2000 contributed, however little, to containing armed confrontations. The report also highlights that in view of the situation in the Sudan, increased humanitarian access, safety and protection of civilians, adequate resources and guaranteed security for humanitarian workers remain the core conditions of the aid programme. It is especially important for the humanitarian action in critical areas of southern Sudan to benefit from an extension of the humanitarian space and to operate with minimal security guarantees.

    The Secretary-General’s report on emergency international assistance for peace, normalcy and rehabilitation in Tajikistan (document A/56/470) covers the period from 15 July 2000 to 15 July this year. It contains information on the situation in Tajikistan and role of the United Nations political presence in the country, the economic situation, humanitarian operations and assistance provided by Member States.

    The report observes that following the parliamentary elections and establishment of new governmental structures, the security environment has improved significantly over the past year. There had been only limited progress made in the social and economic sectors of the country and living conditions in the country remain at the level of the world's lowest-income countries. Humanitarian agencies have made persistent efforts to deliver relief assistance in a way to promote self-reliance and contribute to economic recovery, yet needs are now so urgent that any interruption of relief assistance would be catastrophic.

    The United Nations humanitarian strategy in the 2001 Consolidated Appeals specifically focused on needs in the transitional period. Most programmes are aimed at addressing the consequences of drought and other emergency needs, but some others are aimed at a smooth transition from relief to rehabilitation and sustainable development. The United Nations in Tajikistan is now re-evaluating its activities in order to prepare a common humanitarian strategy for 2002 that would support the relief and recovery operations during this transitional period. Additionally, United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) is planning to lead the development of a peace-building strategy that would provide an overall framework for the United Nations system to address the root causes of conflict and economic destitution in the country.

    The report observes further that the donor response to the 2001 Appeal has been significantly low, and entire sectors such as health, education and water and sanitation remain underfunded. The provision of increased humanitarian and development assistance is crucial to maintaining and strengthening the achievements of the United Nations post-conflict peace-building efforts and keeping Tajikistan on the road to stabilization, democratic development and economic reform.

    The Secretary-General’s report on economic assistance to the Eastern European States affected by the developments in the Balkans (document A/56/632) was prepared in response to the Assembly’s concern at the persistence of special economic problems confronting the Eastern European States affected by the developments in the Balkans. In resolution 55/170 of 14 December 2000, the Assembly invited all States and the relevant international organizations to continue to take into account the special needs and situations of affected States in the region.

    Part II of the report discusses information on economic assistance to the affected States. Pursuant to resolution 55/170, the Secretary-General, in a note verbale dated 18 June 2001, invited all governments and relevant international organizations to communicate to him information on action taken by them to alleviate the special economic problems of the Eastern European States affected by the developments in the Balkans. As of 26 October 2001, seven States, namely Belarus, Gambia, Italy, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and United Kingdom, had replied to the note of the Secretary-General.

    Replies had also been received by 11 organizations, programmes and funds of the United Nations system. These were the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Updated information was also provided by the European Union, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

    The report concludes that during the period under review, the reconstruction and recovery process in south-eastern Europe continued to advance. Furthermore, the recent democratic changes in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have strengthened prospects for resuming and enhancing cooperation. However, recent analyses indicate that the affected countries of South-eastern Europe continue to face varying economic difficulties and adjustment problems. Continued donor support, participation of regional organizations and the involvement of the private sector will be essential for reconstruction, stabilization and development in the Balkans.

    Two draft resolutions were submitted under this sub-item.

    By a draft text on emergency international assistance for peace, normalcy and rehabilitation in Tajikistan (document A/56/L.15), the Assembly would encourage Member States and others concerned to continue to provide assistance to alleviate the urgent humanitarian needs of Tajikistan, and to offer support for its post-conflict rehabilitation and the reconstruction of its economy.

    By the terms of the draft, the Assembly would urge the authorities to simplify and streamline without delay the relevant internal bureaucratic procedures and requirements for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, emphasizing the importance of further cooperation and assistance by the authorities in facilitating the work of humanitarian organization, including non-governmental organizations, and welcoming the establishment of the National Coordination Committee on Humanitarian Assistance by the Government of Takjikistan.

    By the same terms, the Assembly would urge Member States to fund fully programmes included in a consolidated inter-agency appeal for humanitarian assistance for 2002.

    The Assembly would call upon the Secretary-General to continue to re-evaluate all United Nations humanitarian assistance activities in Tajikistan with a view to preparing a common humanitarian strategy with a major focus on promoting self-reliance and sustainable development.

    The Assembly would further stress the need to ensure the security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel, and of United Nations and associated personnel, as well as the safety and security of their premises, equipment and supplies.

    The draft resolution is sponsored by Denmark, Egypt, Portugal, Russian Federation and Tajikistan.

    A draft resolution on emergency assistance to Belize (document A/56/L.16), would have the Assembly, aware of the extensive damage caused by powerful Hurricane Iris on 8 October, urge Member States to contribute generously to the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of Belize.

    The Assembly would request the Secretary-General, in collaboration with the international financial institutions, agencies and bodies of the United Nations system, to assist Belize’s Government in identifying medium-term and long-term needs and in mobilizing resources, as well as to help with the efforts towards rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected areas in Belize.

    By the draft, it would also request the Secretary-General to make all necessary arrangements to continue mobilizing and coordinating humanitarian assistance from the specialized agencies and other organizations and bodies of the United Nations system with a view to supporting the efforts of the Government of Belize.

    It would encourage the Government of Belize further to develop strategies aimed at preventing and mitigating natural disasters, in accordance with the international strategy for disaster reduction.

    The draft was sponsored by Algeria, Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Canada, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Gambia, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Nauru, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Suriname, Sweden and Tuvalu.

    Strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster

    On this sub-item, the Assembly had a report of the Secretary-General (document A/56/447) on optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, which presents the activities of the United Nations system undertaken in the past two years to optimize the international humanitarian response to the evolving consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

    The report contains sections on the situation 15 years after the accident, ongoing international assistance efforts, advocacy and public awareness, resource mobilization efforts, and the optimization of the United Nations approach to Chernobyl.

    The report concludes that the recent assessment mission to the affected areas had proposed a strategy for a new phase of activities, to include a new set of initiatives focused on addressing the human needs of the affected individuals. The aim is to help to progressively restore life to normal for the majority of the inhabitants over a 10-year period.

    The mission presented recommendations to national and international partners to advance in a new direction. In a significant shift from previous policies, an overarching development strategy is proposed, as well as projects focused on affected communities. The goal is to give people control over their own lives, and communities control over their own futures, in a context of sustainable economic and social development within the coming decade.

    "White Helmets"

    The Secretary-General’s report on the sub-item of participation of volunteers, "White Helmets", in the activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (document A/56/308), covers the two-year period from July 1999 to the same month of the present year.

    In his report, the Secretary-General recalls Argentina’s initiative to promote the concept of trained teams of volunteers from national volunteer corps that can be placed at the Secretary-General’s disposal in support of immediate relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities. He then gives an overview of progress in collaboration with various partners, in particular the Government of Argentina, through that country’s White Helmets Commission.

    Highlights of programme activities centre on the Year 2001 being the International Year of Volunteers, the report indicates. Joint activities undertaken in the context of the United Nations Volunteers and White Helmets Commission partnership include active participation in promoting and celebrating the Year. The underlying premise was that voluntary service is needed to tackle priority concerns in the social, economic, cultural, humanitarian and peace-building fields. Field involvement included participation in food delivery to flood victims in Mozambique, the formation of a rapid response team, participating in relief efforts in El Salvador after earthquakes, and participation in Middle Eastern development projects. Outside the partnership with the United Nations Volunteers and the United Nations system, the White Helmets contributed directly to relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters throughout the Middle and South Americas.

    Further, the report gives an overview of existing mechanisms and partnerships for relief efforts, as well as of financing and resource mobilization activities. During the reporting period, activities were undertaken in collaboration with such United Nations agencies as the UNDP, the United Nations Office for Project Services, UNHCR, WFP, United Nations peacekeeping operations and national institutions in beneficiary countries. For joint-venture missions in Angola, Haiti and the occupied Palestinian territory, White Helmets had the financial and technical support of France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States.

    Further, while Argentina continues to be the primary contributor to the United Nations special financial window, the report states that a number of other countries have expressed interest in supporting activities through cash or in-kind contributions. Also, by a 1999 initiative for a Regional Technical Cooperation agreement between the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank, the integration of a fund was being facilitated to finance humanitarian actions through the White Helmets initiative.

    The report concludes that an increasing number of States are willing to consider creating and strengthening national volunteer capacities in support of the White Helmets initiative. Argentina has ratified its support to the initiative and has designated a new president and board members for the Commission. To build on successes and strengths, financial contributions to the special financial window of the United Nations Volunteers are being encouraged.

    Assistance to the Palestinian people

    The Secretary-General’s report on this sub-item (document A/56/123 and Corr.1) notes that priorities in the occupied Palestinian territory have changed significantly due to the current crisis, which began on 28 September 2000. Intense violence throughout the territory and Israel has led to the deaths of several hundred Palestinians, the wounding of tens of thousands of Palestinians and the deaths of over 100 Israelis. The Palestine economy has suffered, wiping out more than three years of prior growth, with over 50 per cent income losses and a tripling of unemployment.

    Several months of political crisis have severely affected the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority, dramatically reducing its ability to offer essential goods and services. An estimated 50 per cent drop in the territory’s GDP means a 50 per cent reduction in potential tax revenue, according to the IMF and other sources. That figure has been further reduced by the fact that about two thirds of the Palestinian Authority’s revenue is dependent upon transfer of taxes collected by the Government of Israel.

    A United Nations emergency mechanism, the Humanitarian Task Force for Emergency Needs, was set up within days of the outbreak of conflict. Emergency assistance has greatly contributed to meeting some of the immediate needs, but much work is needed to repair extensive damage to the Palestinian economy and society. The report argues that restoring security and stability will be impossible without a just settlement and economic activity leading to improved living conditions.

    United Nations agencies have to strike the optimal balance between relief and development, according to the report. The Secretary-General calls upon the international community to provide needed resources for assistance programmes for the Palestinian people. The dramatic deterioration in the economic and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory underlines the urgent need to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. He urges parties to end the current cycle of violence and resume a meaningful political process based on United Nations resolutions.

    Statements

    ELIAS GOUNARIS (Greece), introducing the draft on emergency response to disasters (document A/56/L.14), said the document reflected steps already taken by Greece and Turkey to cooperate against natural disasters, namely earthquakes, landslides or floods. The formation of a Joint Hellenic-Turkish Standby Disaster Response Unit was now a reality. The idea originated from the suffering endured by victims of the devastating earthquakes that had hit Turkey and Greece in 1999.

    The Governments of the two countries, motivated by the mutual assistance offered voluntarily by their people, had decided to promote a bilateral arrangement that could enhance cooperation between Greece and Turkey against natural disasters, and also supplement existing structures of the United Nations system, he said. The Response Unit provided urban search and rescue, rescue or relief, emergency medical care, and technical expertise in disaster management.

    The Unit was prepared to offer its services primarily in the Mediterranean, but in any other part of the world, if needed, he continued. Rapid urbanization, environmental degradation, climate change and the depletion of natural resources were among factors contributing to the increased vulnerability of communities all over the world to natural disasters.

    UMIT PAMIR (Turkey) recalled that the Joint Hellenic-Turkish Standby Disaster Relief Unit had begun in the wake of the devastating earthquakes that hit his country and Greece in 1999. The show of solidarity, support and understanding for each other’s grief by the people of both countries had catalyzed the idea.

    He said natural disasters recognized no borders and the magnitude of their effects generally exceeded the relief capacities of any nation. Greece and Turkey had recognized the merits of pooling their capabilities and had tabled a resolution enabling them to work closely with the United Nations through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Unit was now complete, with the Foreign Ministers of both countries having just recently signed the relevant Protocol. The present resolution was a follow-up to the earlier one. It included information on steps taken in relation to the Unit, which would work within the framework for cooperation with the United Nations in accordance with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

    Equal numbers of people from both countries would be represented in the Unit, he continued. There would be no financial implications to the programme budget of the United Nations because operational costs would be fully absorbed by the two national budgets. OCHA would be an integral part of the Unit’s activities in a variety of ways. It would attend meetings of the Unit’s Coordinating Committee, provide input to training activities, participate in field exercises twice a year, and ensure response preparedness by linking the Unit with the scientific community. While the geographical area for operations was defined as the peri-Mediterranean area, the Unit’s resources would not be limited to that vicinity.

    LYUDMILA LAPSHINA (Tajikistan), introducing the draft resolution aid for that country (document A/56/L.15), said the following countries had become co-sponsors: Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan.

    She said the draft had been discussed at informal consultations, during which valuable proposals had been made and agreement had been reached on all paragraphs. She was grateful for the contributions made by the European Union and the Russian Federation and appreciated all other delegations for the spirit of partnership. She hoped the draft would be adopted by consensus.

    ANTHONY CHARLES ROLLE (Bahamas), on behalf of the Caribbean Community, introducing the draft resolution on emergency assistance to Belize (document A/56/L.16), said that several countries had joined as co-sponsors of the resolution. They were Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Guyana, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, Syria, United Kingdom.

    He said the resolution highlighted the devastation and extensive damage caused by Hurricane Iris in October 2001. It also underlined the human suffering caused by the displacement of thousands of people, the negative ecological impact to the coastal region, and the enormous efforts needed to repair the damage.

    By the terms of the resolution, Member States were urged to contribute generously to the relief and reconstruction of Belize. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General, in collaboration with financial institutions and various bodies of the United Nations, to assist the Government of Belize in identifying medium- and long-term needs, and in mobilizing resources.

    STEPHANE DE LOECKER (Belgium), speaking for the European Union and Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey and Iceland, said events of the past weeks had once more demonstrated the importance of effective coordination of humanitarian operations conducted by the international community. Afghanistan had suffered an unprecedented drought and had been torn apart by conflicts for more than 20 years. He was pleased that humanitarian aspects had received from the international community equal attention with political, diplomatic, military and economic aspects.

    He stressed the importance of a holistic approach to all crises, taking into account the situation of women, children, the elderly and the handicapped, respect for human rights, distribution of food, health care, accommodation, mine-clearing and reconstruction. He encouraged all humanitarian organizations to take an active part in the process of the Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals and welcomed improvements made since the process was launched almost 10 years ago.

    Nevertheless, he said, further clarification of the objectives of consolidated appeals would be desirable. The European Union, through its member States and the European Community Humanitarian Office, was by far the largest contributor to humanitarian aid and intended to enhance its contribution to the work of the United Nations.

    He said the prevention of natural disasters and the responses to them were important issues. He stressed the importance of prevention, prior planning and early warning systems, and the development of an adequate response capacity at both local and regional levels. It was essential to be able to make rapid use of means of telecommunications in order to reduce loss of human life, suffering and damage caused by disaster, and he urged Member States to sign and ratify the Tampere Convention. Prevention and coordination applied to all humanitarian situations, including those generating refugees. The establishment of a small unit within the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would enhance the efficiency and coordination of responses to the needs of displaced persons.

    He said one of the main difficulties for humanitarian action was staff safety. The European Union would spare no effort at the political and diplomatic levels to ensure that principles of international humanitarian law were respected and to protect humanitarian workers. He was pleased that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court made it a war crime to direct attacks intentionally against personnel and equipment deployed in humanitarian assistance, and he urged States to ratify and accede to the Rome Statute. United Nations measures to protect security must be developed under the regular budget. The Nobel Peace Prize award reminded the world more than ever of the crucial role played by the United Nations in peace affairs, he said, and it should induce Member States to take action to enable its staff to carry out its noble task in the best conditions.

    OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said it had become difficult to fulfil the requirements stipulated in the Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals process. Lower funding for humanitarian assistance would undermine the Appeals, ability to serve as a strategic planning instrument with predictable donor response. Also, the continued tendency of donors to favour bilateral assistance, especially when that came at the expense of multilateral funding, reduced the coordination possibilities of the Appeals.

    Over the past decade, the international community had witnessed a considerable increase in natural disasters, he continued, and at the same time the number of protracted emergencies had grown. It was worrying that even the minimum immediate financial requirements of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were not being met today. That was also true for the new small, inter-agency Unit for internally displaced persons, which was scheduled to be operational by January 2002.

    The humanitarian imperative might know no borders, but those who responded to it must take such political realities into account, he said. International and national humanitarian workers must be granted access to those who needed assistance, and the host government must guarantee their safety. If the security of humanitarian staff could not be guaranteed, the ultimate victims would be those who would not receive the assistance they so desperately needed.

    IHAB GAMALELDIN (Egypt) said natural disasters caused enormous human losses and damage to infrastructure. Ninety per cent of those disasters occurred in the developing countries. In spite of the fact that wars among countries had dropped, there had been an increase in armed conflicts leading to destruction of infrastructure and human losses. There were also unprecedented numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons. It was time to discuss those problems.

    He welcomed the fact that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court had dedicated intentional attack on humanitarian personnel as war crimes. He called upon all parties to an armed conflict to respect the rights of humanitarian workers, and reiterated that violations of their safety constituted a threat to international security. Humanitarian actions should be carried out in a legal manner with respect for sovereignty of the host country, he said.

    Humanitarian assistance should not be accompanied by any activity threatening the territorial integrity of the host country and should be carried out at the request of the countries concerned. It should not be used as a guise for political interference. He did not agree that any non-governmental organization should on its own decide to extend assistance to a population of a country without consent of that country. He said Egypt condemned any violations of international humanitarian law to which civilians were exposed in time of war, including obstruction of humanitarian aid or the use of civilians as human shields. International humanitarian law should be binding on all countries.

    He called on all countries to intervene in the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians. He looked to the conscience of the world to save the Palestinian economy and institutions, to provide protection for the civilians and to save the peace process. Internally displaced persons, he said, were not an independent category, but were part of the civilians covered by the Geneva conventions. The task of protecting them should be shouldered by their governments. He called on countries able to do so and the international financial institutions to increase their contributions to relief activities.

    YUKIO SATO (Japan) said he wished to make three points on humanitarian relief assistance to Afghanistan. First, it was essential to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel and their unhindered access to refugees and displaced persons. Second, the cooperation of neighboring countries was essential for the smooth implementation of humanitarian assistance; it was therefore necessary for the international community to strengthen its assistance to these neighboring countries. Thirdly, it was important to ensure that humanitarian relief activities would be followed by rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance without interruption.

    It was necessary, he continued, to begin preparations at an early stage for extending rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance so as to make it possible to carry out those activities in such a way as to build upon the results of humanitarian relief activities. Moreover, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance would facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and also promote the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. Further, giving the Afghan people a prospect for such progress would, in turn, encourage them to strive for political stability.

    Needless to say, there were many other parts of the world where humanitarian aid was urgently needed. Natural disasters were also a grave humanitarian problem, to which equally serious attention must be given. These disasters and the consequent need for humanitarian aid occurred suddenly. Thus it was important to make preparations in normal times so that it would be possible to respond effectively to such disasters.

    CHOKILA IYER (India) said her country would provide medical assistance, general supplies and a million tons of wheat for the needy in Afghanistan through United Nations agencies such as the WFP. It would also extend a line of credit amounting to $100 million for post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation, as an immediate neighbour intent on helping Afghanistan achieve lasting peace, stability and development.

    Contributions to the consolidated appeal process had been steadily declining, she pointed out. Since funding for humanitarian emergencies was uneven, it would be a welcome step for OCHA to conduct an analysis of donor funding and patterns to identify ways of addressing imbalances. Also of concern was the tendency to use bilateral agencies and international non-governmental organizations for delivering humanitarian assistance when multilateral mechanisms were the appropriate channel. The capacities of nearby developing countries should be used for natural disaster relief efforts as a way of extending limited resources.

    While there was considerable preoccupation with incorporating a long-term perspective into responses for humanitarian crises, she said consideration of the mechanisms for funding the transition from relief to development was a matter for donor attention. It was also imperative to distinguish between the political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and human rights aspects of work if the United Nations were to maintain its credibility in humanitarian assistance. It must be admitted that humanitarian aid could not be provided, and certainly could not be sustained under fire.

    With regard to the advocacy efforts for raising the profile of the guiding principles on internal displacement, as mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report, she said it should be kept in mind that the principles had been developed by legal experts and did not enjoy inter-governmental approval. Over all, the guiding principles for humanitarian assistance had been clearly outlined in the annex to the resolution before the Assembly.

    IHOR SAGACH (Ukraine) said that 15 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, the disaster continued to cause significant material and financial losses and radiation damage. The international conference held in Kiev in April, "Fifteen Years of Chernobyl, Lessons Learned", had underlined the fact that the disaster was not over. The United Nations Quadripartite Ministerial Coordination Committee on Chernobyl should be further strengthened in order to provide better coordination of United Nations activities in addressing the multifaceted and complex problems cause by the accident.

    He said his Government had closed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 15 December 2000 and proposed to use the area around the plant as a testing ground of the international scientific and research centre, where consequences of nuclear accidents might successfully be studied for the sake of present and future generations. He stressed that decommissioning of the plant should not mark the end of the Chernobyl item on the global agenda. The scope and long-term nature of the consequences proved to be not only a matter of internal concern, but of global attention. Ukraine was sincerely grateful for the assistance provided by the donor community, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and funds, and he believed that the international community would continue to support the efforts of the Chernobyl-affected countries, to mitigate the consequences of the disaster.

    He said another important issue for his country was economic assistance to the Eastern European States affected by developments in the Balkans. The Security Council sanctions against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis had had a negative impact on his country’s economy as well as on that of other countries. Assistance to affected States in their efforts to overcome the negative consequences had, regrettably, not been sufficient. Further measures should be taken by the international community to ensure economic growth and development of the States of the region, in particular development of transport and infrastructure, as well as renewal of navigation on the Danube River.

    SHEN GUOFANG (China) said the international community, when providing humanitarian assistance, should strictly observe the principles of the United Nations Charter, such as humanitarianism, neutrality and justice, as well as respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. Without those principles, humanitarian assistance may not achieve the expected results or, worse, could give rise to new disasters.

    Experiences over the past 10 years had shown that humanitarian assistance efforts could not take the place of political action, he continued. Without coordinated political and diplomatic efforts, it was impossible to find a proper solution to a crisis in many cases. The international community should make it a priority to eradicate the roots of humanitarian crises and avoid their recurrence.

    The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had achieved good results in international humanitarian affairs over the past year. He hoped it would be able to obtain sufficient financial resources to ensure that global humanitarian efforts would have more resources and respond to emergent situations more effectively. The White Helmet Initiative was an important complement to humanitarian assistance efforts. It helped strengthen the capacity of all countries, developing countries in particular, to fight against disasters.

    SICHAN SIV (United States) said world attention was focused on Afghanistan. The international community was committed to helping the Afghan people. A well-coordinated relief and construction effort must be carried out, with the United Nations playing a central role. The effort should provide a positive vision for the Afghan people, linked to a broad-based government and women playing prominent roles. The Afghan people must have a central role in rebuilding their societies, through involvement at all levels from the national, provincial and local to the grass-roots. The Afghan diaspora should contribute to the effort and the international community should address issues related to it.

    He said the safety and security of humanitarian workers must be insured, with safe access provided to affected populations. Mines must be cleared, schools reopened, the health-care system re-established and agriculture placed high on the list of reconstruction activities. At the same time, the international community must also respond to the other humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters around the world. Access to vulnerable populations was paramount in all relief efforts and the Emergency Relief Coordinator must be able to negotiate improved access. Then, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee must be improved, to cut down on problems associated with selecting and deploying coordinators.

    Further, he said, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund should be expanded to include humanitarian assistance resulting from natural disasters, as well as for protracted emergencies and for security arrangements on behalf of United Nations and associated personnel. Finally, governments should better allocate resources to the consolidated appeal. More countries should become donors and they should explore ways to increase funding for transitional activities. Relief efforts should build on the strengths of affected populations, with women involved in conflict management. In the area of disaster management, closer ties should be formed with the non-United Nations community. Emphasis should be on building national and regional disaster-management capacity.

    GELSON FONSECA (Brazil) said that there was an ongoing debate concerning the obstacles to effective delivery of assistance. For some, it was a matter of scant resources. For others, it was the attacks perpetrated against humanitarian workers and the lack of a safe and secure environment. In fact, depending on the situation, different combinations of factors could hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It was time to stop politicizing the debate and adopt a fresh perspective concerning the United Nations role in providing humanitarian assistance. Relatively simple ideas could create a whole new window of opportunity.

    He highlighted three broad areas that were inescapable in any attempt to improve the performance of the system: prevention; coordination, and protection. Although emergency relief to natural disasters was essential, preparedness was also crucial. International assistance, including for long-term development, was key and could make a difference in mitigating damages and reducing the need for post-disaster aid and reconstruction. Prevention had an equally important role to play, when it came to the so-called complex emergencies. In that context, prevention involved building a peaceful society through cooperation for development, poverty eradication, and the strengthening of the rule of law.

    States had the primary responsibility in the delivery of assistance to their population, he said. But, if they were unable to do so, they must comply with their international obligations and ensure safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to those in need. Humanitarian workers and the civilian population bore the brunt of the highly complex environment of today's conflicts. They were increasingly targeted and became victims of either deliberate or random violence. The number of civilian staff killed in the service of the United Nations was shocking and there were many non-United Nations humanitarian workers who had also been victimized.

    ROBERTO LAPERCHE (Argentina) said that the White Helmets Initiative had proven to be a valuable mechanism in the field of cooperation, and in the financing and mobilization of resources. The Secretary-General’s report affirmed the White Helmets as valid volunteer teams, previously identified and trained, available to the United Nations for relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities.

    The active participation of civil society in United Nations activities was an indispensable requirement for the success of humanitarian relief missions, he continued. The availability of White Helmets Volunteers was an effective mechanism for securing such participation in an orderly and growing manner. A draft resolution to be presented to the General Assembly shortly by his Government would give Member States the responsibility for securing the necessary political guidance that international assistance mechanism required, through strengthening and broadening mechanisms for consultation.

    The draft resolution would include Argentina’s regional perspective and refer to the consideration given the Initiative by the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), namely Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and its associated countries, Bolivia and Chile. In that respect, the seminar "White Helmets in MERCOSUR: A Humanitarian Regional Will" was recently held. That dimension would improve the efficiency of the common effort, and extend the availability of human resources at a regional level.

    SUN JOUN-YUNG (Republic of Korea) said that in the past decade, the world had witnessed an exponential growth in the scale and number of natural disasters, a trend that continued to this day. Natural disasters had tended to recur in the same forms and in the same regions, such as the droughts in the Horn of Africa and in Central and Southern Asia, the floods in Mozambique and in Asia and the earthquakes in Latin America and India. Given that fact, there was no disputing the increasing need to adopt preventive strategies that minimized the risk and impact of disaster. One such approach was to strengthen early warning systems by promoting information sharing at the regional and national levels, as well as to enhance the awareness and responsibility of regional bodies for humanitarian response.

    It was noteworthy that the Pan American Health Organization/WHO had made significant progress in developing an effective response to disasters in the Americas and the Caribbean, and that the establishment of a Southern African regional mechanism for disaster management was under way, he said.

    In carrying out those humanitarian activities, special attention must be paid to internally displaced persons, particularly women and children. Women were not only a vulnerable group but also key actors for positive change in conflict and post-conflict situations. He added that the 'culture of protection' must also apply to aid workers. He was pleased to note the adoption of a resolution recognizing the need to consider the safety and security of locally recruited personnel and establishing an ad hoc committee to consider the recommendations made by the Secretary-General in his report to enhance the protective legal regime for United Nations and associated personnel.

    JORGE EDUARDO NAVARRETE (Mexico) said humanitarian assistance in emergency situations was one of the noblest expressions of international solidarity and cooperation. Mexico supported the guarding principles provided by Assembly resolutions, which constituted a plan of action and a standard of conduct in accordance with principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, as well as full respect for sovereignty of States. Humanitarian assistance should be extended only at the request of the receiving state.

    Humanitarian assistance should support development in the long term. In this, the United Nations must play a central role in leadership and coordination. It was always better to prevent than to cure. Sustainable development was the best deterrent to conflicts and the best defence against natural disasters. In recent years, the impact of natural disasters had increased significantly in terms of victims and damage. The Secretary-General’s report reflected the vulnerability of people to natural disasters, particularly those in developing countries. It also stated that people in poor countries were four times more likely to die from natural disasters than in rich countries. Humanitarian assistance should help the most vulnerable countries.

    He said his Government reiterated its condolences for and solidarity with all countries that had to deal with natural disasters. It also shared the international concern for the safety of humanitarian workers, which was a central element in the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

    RAMON MORALES (Panama) said the question of sustainable development was of particular concern to Central America. The Alliance for Sustainable Development had been a suitable mechanism for development in all areas including social and economic. The Alliance had also made significant process in consolidating peace.

    He said the Center for Prevention of Natural Disasters had been of particular relevance to his region. It had made a great impact in helping countries to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Its primary way of working was through the development of early warning mechanisms and the identification of national vulnerabilities to natural disasters. The point could not be overstressed that the region needed the sustained support of the world community and of the United Nations in managing natural disasters.

    PAUL HEINBECKER (Canada) said the environment for humanitarian operations had changed significantly over the last decade. Today, in response to both natural disasters and complex emergencies, the three challenges to effective implementation of humanitarian assistance were coordination, resources and responsibility.

    He said coordination was always a daunting task, made more complicated in the humanitarian context by competition for finite resources, the multiplicity of actors and concerns over in-fighting among agencies. Improvements at the United Nations in that area included developing the responsibilities of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, outlining the functions of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and transforming mechanisms such as the Consolidated Appeals and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. Also helpful had been efforts to clarify accountability and create better links between departments involved in relief and developmental arms of the United Nations. Recent actions of the Emergency Relief Coordinator in Afghanistan illustrated the lessons learned. Regional focal points had been appointed in a timely manner. The United Nations system’s response to meeting the needs of the internally displaced would be a litmus test.

    Resources were closely linked to effective coordination, he continued. Since financial flows were often not commensurate with needs and varied from crisis to crisis, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ decision to study funding patterns over the next year was welcome. The Consolidated Appeals Process could be improved by remembering that subscription depended on performance and demonstrated results. More creative funding and capacity-building mechanisms should be developed for dealing with the transition from relief to development.

    He referred to the responsibilities of affected States to meet the needs of their populations in relation to international responsibility. The two worked well in context of natural disasters, he said, but not in respect to conflicts, particularly in regard to access, when affected populations often could not be reached because of either security or policy issues. Finally, when all other issues were addressed, there remained the need for a secure environment in which to work.

    The working group of the Sixth Committee (Legal) to consider strengthening the legal protection for United Nations workers and associated personnel was very much needed. Providing an increase in regular budget funding for the United Nations security management system would undoubtedly strengthen it.

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