Press Releases

    ECOSOC/6168
    18 July 2005

    Economic and Social Council Calls for Wide-Ranging Steps to Strengthen Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance

    Reliable Funding, including Improved Emergency Revolving Fund, Standby Capacities, Specialist Expertise among Items Addressed

    NEW YORK, 15 July (UN Headquarters) -- Stressing the importance of rapid access to funds in emergencies, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning called for a wide range of steps to strengthen the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance, as it concluded the humanitarian segment of its current session with a focus on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.

    By a resolution adopted without a vote, the Council emphasized the need to establish reliable funding mechanisms, including through the Consolidated Appeals Process, and it recommended that the General Assembly improve the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, perhaps through including a grant facility component based on voluntary contributions.

    Other measures called for included:  improvement of a common needs assessment; coordination of activities through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee; engagement with regional and national bodies to deploy resources; elaboration of mechanisms to identify and develop specialist technical expertise; use of local resources, expertise and emergency standby capacities; linkages with Member States offering military assets for natural disaster response; and strengthening the response capacity of resident and humanitarian coordinators.

    During action on the draft, the representative of Cuba spoke in explanation of position before action.  He said mention of the Consolidated Appeals Process in the draft was limited, and excluded exploration of other sources of funding.

    Speaking after adoption, Canada’s representative said all concerns of Member States could not be included in a draft.  She also noted the importance of ensuring the safety of those who delivered emergency humanitarian assistance.

    In the continued debate on assistance, Pakistan’s representative said funding was the crucial factor in success or failure in delivering assistance.  He said financial mechanisms should be strengthened and common services expanded to maximize the predictability and effectiveness of deployment.

    Japan’s representative said the Central Emergency Revolving Fund should be restructured to provide rapid access to resources in crises.  More effort should be put into identifying national technical expertise and into developing mechanisms to mobilize quickly.  Humanitarian coordinators should take on additional roles in strategic planning; and disaster prevention and mitigation should be part of national development planning.

    The United Republic of Tanzania’s representative called for regional and subregional centres to be set up to help States develop and strengthen their emergency response abilities.  She said they could serve as hubs for storage and distribution of supplies.  The Secretary-General’s proposed central humanitarian emergency fund could help agencies coordinate relief efforts to avoid the competitiveness that had marred relief efforts in the past.

    In closing remarks on the humanitarian segment, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, called for a more reliable humanitarian response system by 2006.  He said the effects of underfunding in Africa were dire.  He said he agreed with the Special Envoy on Tsunami Recovery that the past six months had reconfirmed the value of the United Nations as the primary coordinator of international humanitarian aid.  He also agreed that the greatest challenge was to sustain the momentum of tsunami relief towards recovery.

    In his closing remarks, ECOSOC Vice-President John Verbeke (Belgium) noted that the function of the substantive session was to provide policy guidelines. The resolution adopted on the strengthening of coordination in emergency humanitarian assistance served that function well.

    Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Kenya, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Colombia, Namibia, Brazil, Malaysia and Guinea.

    Statements were also delivered by representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

    Finally today, the Council took note of the Secretary-General’s report on transition from relief to development (document A/60/89-E/2005/79) and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report on post-tsunami actions undertaken by the World Tourism Organization (document E/2005/48).

    The Council is expected to meet again at 3 p.m. Monday, 18 July, to begin the general segment of its current session.

    Background

    The Economic and Social Council met today to conclude the humanitarian segment of its current session by continuing its consideration of special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.  The Council was also expected to take action on a draft resolution for strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance.  (For background on the Council’s current session, see Press Release ECOSOC/6154 dated 23 June.)

    By the draft on strengthening coordination for emergency humanitarian assistance (document E/2005/L.19), the Council would request relevant organizations of the United Nations system to coordinate activities through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and to engage with regional and national bodies to maximize the efficiency of deploying resources.  The Council would also request the Secretary-General to consult with organizations and States and to encourage the elaboration of mechanisms to identify and develop specialist technical expertise to fill existing gaps in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  He would also be asked to encourage:  the use of local resources and expertise along with emergency standby capacities; to develop systematic links with Member States offering military assets for natural disaster response; and to strengthen the response capacity of resident and humanitarian coordinators.

    By the draft, the Council would also call upon relevant United Nations entities to improve common needs assessment, including through review of the Consolidated Appeals Process Needs Assessment Framework and Matrix, under the direction of the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Stressing the importance of rapid access to funds, the Council would emphasize the need to establish reliable funding mechanisms through the Consolidated Appeals Process and would request the Assembly to improve the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF).

    Statements

    JUDITH MBULA BAHEMUKA (Kenya) recommended that early warning systems be created and strengthened to identify, monitor and track pending disasters and that disaster preparedness and training be incorporated into the institutional framework.

    She stressed the need to increase coordination efforts and build capacity amongst all players in humanitarian relief work -- governments, the United Nations system, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities.  That cooperation and coordination should take place before, during and after the disaster, she said.

    And in order to make resources available during all stages of humanitarian crises and accelerate their distribution, Kenya supported the expansion of the donor base, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and other financial initiatives.  She agreed with the statement made by the representative of Jamaica on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.

    YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan) commended the work done by OCHA and the entire United Nations in the aftermath of the tsunami.  Disaster mitigation should emphasize prevention, advocacy and awareness-raising programmes, as well as the development of early warning capacity.  As humanitarian coordination in the field was important, strengthening the capacity of the resident/humanitarian coordinator was critical.

    Azerbaijan, he said, was at risk for a range of natural disasters, including earthquakes, landslides and floods, which have struck over the past few decades and had reinforced the need to accelerate disaster preparedness.  Those activities include the development of a national strategy by the Government and cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its training programme.

    He said that national ownership of transition programmes was essential; however, there was also a need for efficient burden-sharing between national authorities and international actors, particularly when mass displacement and limited national capabilities were involved.  Capacity gaps in the United Nations coordination mechanisms must be addressed, and planning and monitoring must improve.  Overall, the United Nations as a whole still had to clearly define its role in transition phases, particularly when it involved so-called “frozen” conflicts.  In addition, gaps in coordination and protection in regard to internally displaced persons must be filled.  In conclusion, he supported the draft resolution before the Council.

    SUJANA ROYAT, Deputy Coordinating Minister People’s Welfare of Indonesia, aligned himself with the statement made by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  He supported, in particular, the expansion of the Central Revolving Fund to address immediate needs after a disaster.  It was essential, moreover, to better coordinate the transition from relief to development and improve humanitarian capacity at the regional level.

    In regard to the tsunami response, he admitted that the rapid pace of assistance coming in for the reconstruction of Aceh and North Sumatra was overwhelming the government agencies and authorities.  One key to improving coordination would be to allow a greater share of official international funds to be channelled through the government budget.  To that end, the Government had announced an independent oversight board.  He invited donors to help the Government ensure accountability and efficiency by joining it in that effort.  His Government was also requesting the United Nations to encourage NGOs to include their funds in the broader tracking system.

    His Government was faced with high expectations and a growing impatience among the affected people.  It was intent on improving their living conditions through its blueprint for rehabilitation and reconstruction.  To do that, private sector contributions must be matched with public reconstruction priorities.  The Government was still experimenting with ways to do that and would like to share its experiences with the international community.

    JAWAD AMIN-MANSOOR (Iran) said mechanisms should be created to allow for smoother interaction between the United Nations agencies and local authorities, and he urged the United Nations to improve its own inter-agency coordination at the country level through the resident or humanitarian coordinator.  He also said governments should make disaster preparedness and prevention and the creation of early warning systems a priority within their national development plans.

    He stressed the need for a more even allocation of resources and supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation to expand the use of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund to fill funding gaps.  He agreed with the statement made by the representative of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

    MARIA ANGELA HOLGUIN CUELLAR (Colombia) stressed that all humanitarian assistance should be extended at the consent of the affected national government and noted paragraph 53 of the report, “Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2005/78).  The international community should undertake all humanitarian actions in accordance with the Charter and international law, she said.

    She also said international agencies should work to develop national capacity and strengthen national institutions and voiced her concern with paragraph 40 of the report “Transition from Relief to Development”, E/2005/79, that referred to humanitarian agencies and their substitution for national authorities.  Colombia supported the statement made by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

    JORGE CUMBERBATCH (Cuba) said the world had not changed much in the past year.  It was still a unipolar world full of inequities and biases rather than impartialities.  The delicate issue of protecting people was used as a pretext to violate the sovereignty of countries.  Some of the most outspoken critics of perceived human rights violations had stayed quiet during the invasion of Iraq and had said nothing as abuses taking place in prisons came to light.  The claim of combating terrorism must not be used as an excuse for coercive unilateral measures by a lone super-Power.  Such situations only complicated inter-State relations.  And by what mandate of Member States had OCHA become involved in protecting people, an encroachment claimed to be an emerging United Nations activity?  Such practices must cease at once, if there were to be transparency in the Organization.  No wonder people did not trust humanitarian interventions.

    Furthermore, he said, economic growth and sustainable development were the approaches to take with the alarming increase in natural disaster emergencies.   According to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation, 608 million people had died in natural disaster since 2002, which was triple the number that had died in the previous decade.  The increase in category 3 hurricanes in the region told the story and most of the victims lived in the developing world.  Cuba had hosted a workshop in Havana a month ago to address the problems anticipated in the next hurricane season.  The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, had attended.  However, the phenomenon of climate change must be addressed.

    FRANCIS KOOPER, Deputy Director of the Emergency Management Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister, Namibia, aligning  his views with those expressed by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77, said that standby national structures provided the quickest response to emergencies, but many countries still needed to create them.

    In southern Africa, he said, the humanitarian crisis caused by the triple threat of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and poverty required swift humanitarian action.  Recovery there posed a great funding challenge, and he supported attempts to mitigate vulnerability in the region.  Beside the threats mentioned, Namibia was also vulnerable to droughts and floods.  A national framework, which included his Unit, was being developed to mitigate the effects of those problems.

    He expressed concern over the lack of voluntary funding for humanitarian needs, despite recent campaigns for neglected emergencies.  He, therefore, agreed that only a flexible and informed approach by donors that addressed complex needs could arrest the decline in life expectancy and other human capacity and economic indicators.  He commended donors who endorsed such good humanitarian donorship.

    SHINICHI KITAOKA (Japan) said United Nations capacity should be strengthened if the Organization was to effectively assist and protect vulnerable populations.  He said ineffectiveness could result from a lack of expertise and leadership, or because a mandate was not clearly defined.

    Stronger efforts to identify the technical expertise of many countries and establishment of a mechanism to mobilize it quickly in the event of a crisis would result in a more efficient use of existing resources, he said.  In addition, the role of humanitarian coordinators should not be limited to eliminating duplication, but instead expanded to include strategic planning.

    He said his country supported a restructured Central Emergency Revolving Fund as a way to ensure rapid access to the financial resources needed for an effective response in the initial phase of a humanitarian crisis.  Although further efforts were needed to address the problem of underfunded agencies, experience had shown that a new funding mechanism did not always increase overall financial resources for international cooperation.

    He concluded with a call for redoubled efforts on the part of the international community to incorporate disaster prevention and mitigation in national development planning, noting that the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, should be steadily implemented.

    FREDERICO DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) paid homage to the work of OCHA and the global humanitarian community.  He stressed that humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.

    Despite much improvement, there was still much room for improvement of the international humanitarian response system as noted in the Secretary-General’s report.  He agreed with many of its recommendation.  He said there was also a need to build and sustain national capacity and preparedness.  For that purpose, the transfer of technology and expertise was necessary.

    He said he hoped that the international solidarity that came together following the Indian Ocean tsunami would continue through the long-term recovery phases in the affected country.  The response to that disaster should serve as a model for response to the neglected emergencies in Africa, which were receiving much less than they needed.  A more equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance must, therefore, be ensured, which could take the form of an expanded use of the CERF.  In all those efforts, humanity must be put first.

    JOYCE MAPUNJO Commissioner for External Finance, Ministry of Finance for the United Republic of Tanzania, said the international community -- through the United Nations -- should establish regional and subregional centres to help regional States develop and strengthen their emergency response abilities.  The centres could also serve as hubs for the storage of supplies and the coordination of distribution networks.

    She strongly supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to create a central humanitarian emergency fund to which all States could contribute.  That financial facility could help agencies coordinate their relief efforts.  Also, she believed a primary shortcoming of past relief efforts has been the lack of coordination among United Nations agencies and between United Nations agencies and NGOs. That lack of coordination had allowed agencies to compete for publicity and higher profiles, she said.

    RADZI RAHMAN (Malaysia) said Malaysia agreed with the Secretary-General that ECOSOC could help the United Nations’ humanitarian policy agenda by pinpointing the gaps in the system and promoting broad ownership and accountability.  By the creation of appropriate procedures, ECOSOC could help the United Nations strengthen its response capacities at different levels, including the regional and national levels.  Further, Malaysia supported the proposal to strengthen disaster financing mechanisms through expansion of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund.  Malaysia also supported the statement made by the representative of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77.

    ASAD KHAN (Pakistan) said efforts to strengthen the humanitarian response capacity would be most effective if conducted within the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.  More attention should be given to strengthening financial mechanisms and in expanding essential common humanitarian services so as to maximize the predictability and effectiveness of deployment.  Predictable and timely funding was the crucial factor that determined the success or failure of humanitarian action.

    He said the remarks made yesterday by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery were particularly relevant in emphasizing the need to strengthen capacity, especially in the area of establishing early warning systems to meet humanitarian situations.  Also in stressing the complications stemming from lack of capacity.  More than ever, capacity-building was the key to better addressing and managing humanitarian crises, with relief assistance activities and development ones coupled for viable and durable solutions.  The logistical and technical capacity of existing mechanisms for humanitarian coordination must also be strengthened.

    PAUL GOA ZOUMANIGUI (Guinea), associating his statement with that of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77, welcomed the clarification of ECOSOC’s role in matters of humanitarian assistance.  In regard to the transition from relief to development, it was important to create capacity at the local level to improve the living conditions of affected people.  Building such capacity should be a primary focus.

    Neglected emergency situations required the good will of donor countries, he said.  He welcomed international actions taken following the Indian Ocean tsunami, and he hoped that the enthusiasm for assistance that it created would continue.

    He said that humanitarian challenges such as desertification and disease kept Africa extremely vulnerable.  Besides providing more equitable funding, the international community should fine-tune its intervention to have maximum effect on the ground.  Resident coordinators should be strengthened for that purpose.  Guinea itself, though not facing chronic conflict, had provided assistance in the context of neighbouring conflicts, had suffered rebel attacks and had many displaced persons, which took resources away from development.

    LUCA DALL’OGLIO, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the organization welcomed the opportunity to take the floor as a partner in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which had become the principal mechanism for coordinating humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance operations.  It was important to look at the proposed humanitarian reforms through the unique characteristics offered by the IASC and capitalize on its strengths, now that the articulation of the detailed proposals to enhance response capacities was being developed.

    He said that last year’s tsunami had brought renewed attention and commitment to the importance of dealing more effectively with mental health and psycho-social support in emergency and post-emergency situations.  Mental health and psycho-social well-being were linked broadly linked to the daily realities faced by mobile populations, whether they moved voluntarily or were forced to do so.  The migration process could create great stresses and mobile populations could be more vulnerable than native populations.

    Over the past decade the international community had witnessed an important increase in activities relating to mental health and psycho-social support, he said.  While many of those activities had been of great relevance, however, there was a lack of practical guidance in developing quality.  That often led to well intended efforts that may not optimally benefit those in need and may even do them more harm than good.  That called for a coordinated effort to bring good practices and experiences together and to provide concrete, action-oriented guidance to those who could bring direct assistance to communities affected by emergencies.

    RICHARD CHINA, Acting Director of the Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division and Coordinator of Tsunami Response, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said coordination in the field was crucial to successful relief efforts and the agency has continued to strengthen its cooperation with other United Nations agencies.  For example, two years ago the FAO signed a joint letter of cooperation with the World Food Programme (WFP), and the agency and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have finalized a similar letter on strengthening cooperation.

    The agency also has streamlined its procedures in order to improve its response to emergencies.  For example, a special fund was established to improve its disaster response time and has allowed the agency to quickly assess damages and losses to agriculture, to obtain the needed inputs before the cash came in from donors, and to begin the planning and coordination of early recovery.

    Action on Draft

    The Council took up the draft resolution on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance (document E/2005/L.19)

    In explanation of position before the vote, Cuba’s representative said he wanted to make clear that there was no universally agreed upon understanding of the term humanitarian intervention.  Also, the draft’s paragraph 16 on funding was limited.  In naming the Consolidated Appeals Process, it excluded a good portion of additional mechanisms that called for more coordination between resident coordinators.  The point should be clarified in the Assembly.

    The text was then adopted.

    In explanation of position after the vote, Canada’s representative said many views of Member States had not been able to be included in the draft.  When considering the strengthening of humanitarian coordination, the safety of humanitarian workers on the ground had to be taken into consideration.  Protecting humanitarian workers remained a challenge, and Member States should promote measures to ensure their safety.

    Closing Statements

    JAN EGELAND, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, thanked delegates for their contributions to the Humanitarian Affairs segment and said that the segment this year provided him with very concrete guidance and direction for next year’s work agenda.  He also paid tribute to humanitarian agencies and Special Envoy Bill Clinton for their contributions.

    Echoing Mr. Clinton’s view that the past six months reconfirmed the value of the United Nations as the primary coordinator of international humanitarian aid, he agreed that the most challenging days lay ahead in sustaining the momentum of tsunami relief towards recovery.

    Many leaders in the tsunami response spoke during the session, he said, from the government, military and private sectors, all of whom spoke of the need for systemic coordination.  Streamlining of operations was called for, but it was important to remember that the United Nations worked through the governments of the countries affected and the communities that were being served.

    He said there was this year a unique opportunity to greatly improve humanitarian response, given intensive work on everyone’s part.  Strengthening underdeveloped capacity in certain sectors among the agencies, consideration of an expanded CERF, and strengthening of coordination in the field were among the issues that would be addressed.

    “We must be able to go into 2006 with a more predictable humanitarian response system”, he said.  The effects of underfunding in Africa were dire, and donors must pay attention to forgotten emergencies there.  He hoped that developed countries and countries with emerging economies would contribute proportionately to those emergencies.

    Humanitarian principles must be promoted and defended, he said.  He looked forward to revisiting all related issues –- both principles and actions –- at the General Assembly this fall.

    JOHN VERBEKE (Belgium), Vice-President of ECOSOC, also reviewed the session and thanked participants.  The function of the substantive session was to provide policy guidelines, he said, and that function was well performed.  The guidance today’s resolution provided would help the humanitarian community pursue very important initiatives.

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