Press Releases

    GA/EF/3114
    12 October 2005

    Delegates in Second Committee Stress Importance of Developing National, Regional Disaster-Response Capabilities; Creating Conditions for Long-Term Development

    Committee Also Concludes General Discussion on Macroeconomic Policy Questions

    NEW YORK, 11 October (UN Headquarters) -- Delegates in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this morning emphasized the need to develop national and regional disaster-response capabilities, and to create conditions favouring long-term development.

    As the Committee began its general discussion on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance, and special economic assistance to individual countries and regions, Myanmar's delegate noted the importance of a regional approach in preparing and ensuring rapid responses to disasters in situations that exceeded national coping capacities.  United Nations humanitarian agencies should focus on developing procedures of direct benefit to affected populations, he added.

    Azerbaijan's representative pointed out the importance of burden-sharing, which was essential to securing moral support for countries with special needs, such as Azerbaijan's landlocked neighbour, Kazakhstan.  For 40 years, that country's Semipalatinsk region had been the site of nuclear testing that had left an estimated 1.3 million people suffering from its effects to date.  In such a situation, information-sharing and a "best practices" exchange on the subjects of medical rehabilitation, radiological security and scientific and technical diversification would be implemented as part of a special programme seeking solutions to the problems of Semipalatinsk for the period 2005-2007.

    Kazakhstan's delegate added that in order to stimulate economic development and improve living standards in the Semipalatinsk region, the Government had launched health, education, ecology, as well as water and sanitation programmes, the most recent of which was introduced this year.  However, more work would be needed due to the deep-rooted and highly technical problems of radioactive contamination.

    The representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said humanitarian assistance must take recovery and longer-term development needs into consideration early on, adding that countries recovering from conflict or disasters must invest in institutional capacity-building at the community level.  In Somalia, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies continued to work with the Somali Red Crescent to ensure basic health care and social support.  In Ethiopia, the national Red Cross Society formed part of the Interagency Coordinating Committee in conducting HIV/AIDS preparedness in consultation with the National AIDS Committee, while the Timor-Leste Red Cross Society was addressing high death rates due to preventable diseases.  Governments should mobilize the resources and skills of their national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and include them when formulating disaster-management and development plans.

    Introducing the Secretary-General's report on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions, Mark Bowden, Chief of the Policy Development and Studies Branch, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), described outstanding problems faced by countries in the Horn of Africa, saying that recurrent flood and drought cycles from the overuse of water resources and climate change, erosion of the natural-resource base and high population growth had continued to exacerbate problems in that region.  Addressing the consequences of those cycles required both short-term assistance and longer-term efforts, which were vital in stabilizing food security and enabling development.  Internal conflict and political crises in countries like Somalia had continued to limit the humanitarian community's ability to get aid to those needing it most.

    The Director of the Division for United Nations Affairs, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), also made a statement.

    Earlier, the Committee concluded its general discussion on macroeconomic policy questions, during which speakers expressed concern over increased capital flows from developing to developed countries, and stressed the need to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) and other forms of aid.  Algeria's delegate noted that capital flows from developing to developed countries had risen from $247.5 billion in 2003 to $353.8 billion in 2004.  The distribution of resources must be stabilized, and developing-country access to liquid funds, as opposed to foreign-reserve accumulation, must be improved.

    Speakers were also concerned about the continuing external-debt problems of developing countries, noting that debt-servicing drew vitally needed resources away from development and social needs.  Zimbabwe's delegate welcomed the Group of 8 proposal to cancel debt for the poorest countries, but stressed the need to expand that initiative to include low- and middle-income countries, which also lacked adequate resources to finance the Millennium Development Goals.

    Also speaking today were the representatives of Zambia, Kenya, Libya, Togo, Jordan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Pakistan.

    The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 12 October, for a panel discussion on "External debt relief and the achievement of the MDGS (Millennium Development Goals):  challenges and opportunities".  It is also expected to take up follow-up and implementation of the outcome of the International Conference on Financing for Development.

    Background

    The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met today to consider United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, including special economic assistance.

    Before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/60/302), which discusses humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Somalia and Timor-Leste.

    Noting that the situation in Djibouti has stabilized, the report recommends that international aid go towards economic development, rather than humanitarian or rehabilitation purposes alone.  Although the country began implementing an economic adjustment and restructuring programme in 1996, supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, success has been limited.  United Nations agencies have offered financial, material and technical assistance through the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), 2002-2007.  Following a debate on special economic assistance to individual countries or regions at the current session, the General Assembly no longer considers Djibouti under that agenda item.

    The report states that chronic food insecurity in Ethiopia continues to afflict 5 million people, acute food insecurity 3.8 million people, and extensive flooding in May an additional 55,000.  In addition, conflict and ethnic tensions have caused displacement in eastern Oromiya, as well as the Somali and Gambella regions.  United Nations agencies continue to monitor the Ethiopia-Eritrea border demarcation process, and are prepared to support humanitarian interventions for affected populations.  The Productive Safety Net Programme provides food for labour, while the 2005 humanitarian appeal provides emergency food assistance.

    In Kazakhstan, with an estimated 1.3 million people affected by 40 years of nuclear tests, the report notes that national mortality rates in 2003 were 163 and 189 per 100,000 people respectively in the Pavlodar and East Kazakhstan oblasts, where the nuclear test site was located, compared to 126 per 100,000 people in other areas.  In September 1999, an international conference on the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing area was organized in Tokyo to consider the Semipalatinsk Relief and Region Rehabilitation Programme.  The programme consisted of 38 impact-oriented projects valued at $43 million for relief and rehabilitation in five main areas:  health, environment and ecology, economic recovery, humanitarian support, and information and advocacy.  In response, the international donor community pledged more than $20 million in assistance.

    The report says implementation of the Programme was fragmented and that the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organized a local donor meeting in Almaty in February 2004 to better coordinate Semipalatinsk activities.  As a follow-up to that meeting, the Government developed a new programme for the period 2005-2007.

    United Nations bodies in Rwanda continue to develop and implement programmes to support survivors of the 1994 genocide, the report states.  Vulnerable groups such as orphans, widows, returnees and internally displaced persons are of particular concern during the rehabilitation and reconstruction process.

    According to the report, insecurity resulting from inter- and intra-clan conflict in Somalia continues to prevail in many parts, particularly in the south and central regions.  Heightened insecurity was also brought about by the murder of two humanitarian aid workers and the wounding of six others in Mogadishu between January and April 2005.  The Indian Ocean tsunami hit the north-eastern coast of Somalia in January 2005, and heavy rains and flash floods since then have caused additional damage.

    The report says that the rehabilitation of the Duduble Canal in Jowhar, carried out by the local administration and the community with support from the World Food Programme and UNDP, is the first development project in the central/south region in two decades, allowing the most fertile part of Somalia to be regenerated.  Agricultural produce from that region is being exported to other African countries, creating employment opportunities, while irrigation canals may provide 1,200 families with water access.

    While the private sector and remittances continue to buoy the Somali economy, the country lacks institutional support to assist in developing or regulating private entrepreneurship, the report continues.  A large proportion of the population remain vulnerable to shocks, such as bans on the importation of Somali livestock, and natural disasters, including drought, floods, unseasonable weather and tsunamis.

    Finally, the report states that Timor-Leste continues to require assistance to ensure sustained development, mainly in the areas of justice, rule of law, human rights and support for the country's police and other public administration, and rehabilitation for its infrastructure.  Hospitals must be rebuilt, and social institutions, including secondary and higher schools, need support.  Also required are psychosocial support networks for children affected by violence and gender-related institutions to combat domestic violence and other crimes.  The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which concluded in May 2005, has been succeeded by a special political mission, the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), with a new mandate until May 2006.

    Before taking up humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions, the Committee concluded its consideration of Macroeconomic policy questions.

    Statements

    ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria), aligning himself with the "Group of 77" and China, said that doubling foreign direct investment (FDI) and other forms of development AID would make it possible for countries to reduce their debt.  However, Algeria was concerned that the reversed flow of capital from developing to developed countries had risen from $247.5 billion in 2003 to $353.8 billion in 2004.  If that amount were to continue to rise, it would hinder agreements made at the Millennium Summit to enhance financing for development.

    Towards that end, the distribution of resources must be stabilized, and access by developing countries to liquid funds, as opposed to foreign reserves accumulation, must be improved.  World economic policies must be made consistent, which in turn required developing countries to participate in the decision-making process within the international financial system, as well as to decide on the norms and codes governing that system.  In addition, the monitoring of financial and commercial systems must be better managed in a transparent, equitable, predictable and non-discriminatory way.  Tolerable indebtedness in the long term also depended on better access to markets for products from developing countries.  The creation of a just, coherent and equitable trading system required a collective effort.

    TENS KAPOMA (Zambia) said the external debt crisis remained a grave concern for developing countries in general and the least developed countries in particular, despite numerous initiatives implemented over the years.  Although economic indicators showed high economic growth for developing countries in 2004, individual countries were still facing large unsustainable debts.  Zambia welcomed the recent Group of 8 proposal to cancel 100 per cent of the outstanding debt owed by eligible Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).

    He said it was essential that additional funding be made available to HIPC countries to help them avoid further debt.  The debt crisis must be addressed fully and effectively, and the current initiatives enhanced and expeditiously implemented.  The international community must also honour its commitment to contribute 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to official development assistance (ODA) for developing countries.

    THOMAS AMOLO (Kenya), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that the state of the international financial system had a significant effect on world development.  The system was responsible for making and administering the rules governing loan repayments and debt servicing, and should rightly take the special needs of developing countries into account.  Another function of the system was to ensure the allocation of resources for their most productive use, such as agriculture and food production, education, health and infrastructure.  Kenya called upon international financial institutions to give priority to those areas and to allocate resources to the most deserving countries.

    Expressing concern over the limited influence of developing countries in the Bretton Woods institutions, he said they were left vulnerable to the whims of developed countries through conditionality.  Therefore, reform of the international financial system must result in a level playing field, a return of capitals flows from developed to developing countries, enhanced surveillance of the national and international monetary systems, and increased South-South cooperation.  Also, eligibility criteria for the HIPC Debt Initiative should be made less rigid so that more countries could become recipients.

    MEHDI ELMEJERBI (Libya) noted that net resource flows from developing to developed countries had continued, a situation that must be reversed to ensure that resources were available to developing and transition countries to transform their economies and ensure basic services like education and health.  Necessary measures must be found to increase financing and tackle financial instability in many developing countries, as well as to eliminate the conditionality and credit conditions of the World Bank, IMF and other institutions.

    He also stressed that developing-country participation in international decision-making, as well as economic and technical cooperation, should be increased.  Moreover, there was an urgent need to deal with external shocks, as well as the debt burden, especially in heavily indebted poor countries.

    ESSOHAN ADEWUI (Togo) said most developing countries had credible national strategies to deal with development, but the lack of transparency and responsibility could sometimes prevent the attainment of concrete results.  Development-financing problems and debt were additional obstacles to development and conditionality attached to aid was a stranglehold for certain countries.  Accused of lacking democracy, Togo was deprived of external financial assistance.  The country did not doubt the role of democracy in development, but development partners did not take into account the domestic problems of developing countries.

    Despite progress in human rights, Togo's foreign partners continued to drag their feet in re-initiating development funding, he said.  Certain developing countries continued to face stumbling blocks in becoming eligible for the HIPC Debt Initiative.  Togo understood the fear of those countries that had not benefited from that initiative and voiced an urgent need for the international community to address that issue.  Domestic debt also threatened to undermine growth prospects in some countries by causing a dwindling of the middle class.  That phenomenon may shift the centre of gravity regarding development, and deserved attention.

    HUDA HIJAZI (Jordan) said the Group of 8 initiative to cancel debt for the poorest countries had come at a time when the international community was realizing that without substantial international assistance, HIPCs would fail to achieve the Millennium Goals.  In 1989, Jordan had faced an economic crisis as a result of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, when many of its people working there had been forced to return home.  Remittances had been lost and the economy negatively affected.

    Determined to emerge from the crisis, Jordan had put in place a policy to reduce debt and bolster the economy in 1989, with the help of the relevant international institutions, she said.  Its economy, however, was still vulnerable to national or regional crises.  The international community must pay increased attention to middle-income countries.

    LAURO BAJA (Philippines) said developing countries would fail to emerge from poverty if the net transfer of international financial resources to developed countries continued.  While net private flows to developing countries had improved recently, they were still inadequate to dent the development agenda.  In reversing that trend, the international community must organize deeper and faster debt relief to help low- and middle-income developing countries to fight poverty.

    To that end, he said, the Philippines had proposed a "Debt-for-equity in MDG Projects" programme to complement the Group of 8 agreement to write off multilateral debt owed by the poorest countries.  The programme would convert part of outstanding debt and use those resources to fund development programmes.  It did not call for debt forgiveness, cancellation or moratorium, and required no new monies from rich-country parliaments.  Rather, rich countries, multilateral institutions, and large commercial banks would plough back into debtor-country economies 50 per cent of an agreed portion of the debt-service payments due them in the form of equities or other financial assets, and channel them towards Millennium Goal programmes.

    He said debtor countries could readily offer specific economic and social projects as the object of debt-for-equity programmes, including debt for reforestation; debt for energy; debt for mass housing; debt for irrigation, food production and post-harvest facilities; debt for eco-tourism; debt for wealth-creating projects; debt for education; and debt for hospitals and health care.  Several Governments and institutions had already expressed a readiness to cooperate with the Philippines in realizing the proposal.

    ANDREY L. KONDAKOV (Russian Federation) said debt relief was the most important way to mobilize resources for development and resolve social issues.  Together with its Group of 8 partners, the Russian Federation provided multifaceted assistance to the poorest developing countries, and took their interests into account in its international activities.  Currently, Russia was among the leaders in cancelling.  Its share amounted to $2.2 million for the poorest African countries under the HIPC Debt Initiative.

    At the same time, the quantitative increase in foreign assistance was not a panacea, he said.  Aid quality and effectiveness was also important, as were a stable and more predictable basis for ODA and the improvement of the structures and modalities of the assistance provided.  Innovative sources of financing were welcome, though some initiatives, such as the international financing facility, were still dogged by conceptual and legal problems.  But such efforts were laudable, as were efforts to bring down the cost of migrant remittances and to counteract money laundering and terrorism financing.  Ensuring the stability of the international financial system was a key factor in achieving sustainable development, as was the effective functioning of national financial and banking systems for mobilizing domestic resources.

    BONIFACE GUWA CHIDYAUSIKU (Zimbabwe) said most debt initiatives implemented during the 1980s and 1990s had failed to address the indebtedness prevalent in Africa.  Although the HIPC Debt Initiative was a step forward, debt relief was needed on a much more comprehensive scale if developing countries were to accelerate development.  The ineligibility and exclusion of several poor countries from the initiative reduced Africa's ability and that of many developing countries to achieve sustained growth.  High indebtedness reduced the capacity of countries to attract foreign direct investment, as well as domestic investment, resulting in limited economic growth and public investment and reducing expenditure on poverty-reduction programmes.

    The solution to the debt crisis was a debt write-off to break the vicious cycle in which many developing countries were trapped, he said.  The Group of 8 proposal was welcome, but restricting debt cancellation to only 18 countries out of at least 60 that required cancellation was cause for concern, given that low- and middle-income countries also faced problems of inadequate resources to finance the Millennium Goals.  Zimbabwe called for an expansion of the Group of 8 debt cancellation to other countries in need, while ensuring that no new conditions were set.  The cancellation should also be inclusive, comprehensive and free of political conditionality.

    EYOB TEKALEGN (Ethiopia), noting that conditionality should be tailored to a country's circumstances, urged the streamlining of conditionality and enhanced programme ownership by developing countries.  The need to broaden and strengthen their participation in international economic decision-making should move in tandem with the agreements contained in the Millennium Declaration and the Monterrey Consensus.  Mutual accountability and responsibility for development entailed consultation and participation, with a view to accommodating the specific development challenges of each country.

    He welcomed the Group of 8 proposal to cancel the debt of eligible members of the HIPC Debt Initiative, saying that Ethiopia had followed the World Bank and IMF deliberations on that matter with interest.  There was a need for immediate implementation of that proposal so that countries included in the initiative could begin using the resources saved for development purposes.

    The Committee then took up its agenda item on humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.

    Introduction of Reports

    MARK BOWDEN, Chief, Policy Development and Studies Branch, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, introduced the report on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/60/302), noting that recurrent flood and drought cycles from overuse of water resources and climate change, erosion of the natural-resource base and high population growth had continued to affect countries in the Horn of Africa.  Addressing the consequences of those cycles required short-term assistance and longer-term efforts to address the underlying poverty, malnutrition and chronic food insecurity that caused populations to become increasingly susceptible to such shocks.  The twinning of short- and long-term assistance was vital in stabilizing food security and enabling development.  Such initiatives should continue to enjoy the international community's support.

    Internal conflict and political crises in some areas had continued to limit the ability of the humanitarian community to get aid to the populations that needed it most, he said.  An increase in inter-clan fighting in parts of Somalia, particularly, was contributing to some of the highest malnutrition rates in the country, but preventing humanitarian access to those needing food.  Allowing access by humanitarian workers to all drought-affected areas and ensuring the safety of humanitarian staff were critical in stabilizing the country's humanitarian situation.

    MOURAD WAHBA, Director, Division of United Nations Affairs, United Nations Development Programme, noted that emergency relief and rehabilitation were considered together with the issue of longer-term development, as reflected in the report's treatment of Djibouti, Rwanda, Somalia and Timor-Leste.  In the area of development, items were clustered by issue, rather than by agency, as with its discussion of Rwanda.  Beyond the conceptual need to examine humanitarian relief and rehabilitation, as well as longer-term development together, the report also focused on capacity-building so that countries could improve domestic relief efforts.

    Statements

    U AUNG LYNN (Myanmar) noted that leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in Jakarta in January 2005, had adopted the Declaration on Action to Strengthen Emergency Relief, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Prevention in the Aftermath of Earthquake and Tsunami Disasters.  Following that special meeting, the United Nations General Assembly had discussed the same issue, and adopted a resolution to strengthen emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

    He said Myanmar was also encouraged by the international community's adoption of the Hyogo Declaration and the Hyogo Framework for Action set out by the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in January 2005, which stressed the need to develop and strengthen regional approaches in preparing and ensuring rapid and effective responses to disaster in situations exceeding national coping capacities.  The United Nations should improve its ability to make the best use of humanitarian capacity at different levels, including regional capacity, by working out procedures to benefit affected populations.

    YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan) said his country was deeply concerned that despite the efforts of the Government of Kazakhstan and the international community, there had not been enough progress to mitigate the suffering caused by years of nuclear testing.  High morbidity and mortality rates, environmental degradation and economic problems continued to present serious challenges.  Azerbaijan was committed to strengthening the institutional framework, increasing financial support and better coordinating rehabilitation activities for assistance to Semipalatinsk.

    He said burden-sharing was essential for complementing rehabilitation efforts and securing moral support for landlocked Kazakhstan.  In addition, sharing information and best practices in the areas of medical rehabilitation, radiological security, scientific and technical diversification was useful in implementing the complex solutions to the problems of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear-test site for the period 2005-2007.

    BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said the situation in his country's Semipalatinsk region remained critical.  Some 468 nuclear tests conducted over a period of 40 years had negatively affected an estimated 1.3 million people in the region, many of whom continued to suffer to this day.  Fortunately, economic growth over the past five years had allowed the Government to allocate more resources to rehabilitate the region.

    He said that several programmes in the fields of health, education, ecology, and water and sanitation were focusing on the rehabilitation and economic development of Semipalatinsk.  In 2005, the Government was launching a programme to improve the ecological, economic, medical and social factors affecting the living standards of the region's population.  However, despite those efforts, more work was needed to solve the deep-rooted and highly technical problems of radioactive contamination.

    ENCHO GOSPODINOV, Permanent Observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that its core activities centred on community participation in disaster preparedness and response.  Community participation was reinforced by disaster-management training and coordination with regional organizations, Governments, the United Nations and non-governmental systems.  An example of such an effort was the annual pre-hurricane season workshop and contingency planning meeting involving 33 Caribbean and Central American Red Cross societies, the United Nations, the European Union, non-governmental agencies, donors and regional disaster-management agencies in the Caribbean.

    He said humanitarian assistance must take recovery and longer-term development needs into consideration early on.  Countries recovering from conflict or disasters must invest in institutional capacity-building at the community level, as in Kazakhstan, where efforts were being undertaken to deal with populations affected by nuclear and industrial pollution in the Semipalatinsk region.  In Somalia, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies continued to work with the Somali Red Crescent to ensure basic health care and social support.  In Ethiopia, the National Red Cross Society formed part of the Interagency Coordinating Committee in conducting HIV/AIDS preparedness in consultation with the National AIDS Committee.  The Timor-Leste Red Cross Society was addressing high death rates due to preventable diseases.  Governments should mobilize the resources and skills of their Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies, and include them in the formulation of disaster-management and development plans.

    AZANAW ABREHA (Ethiopia) described two of his country's complementary approaches in dealing with food security humanitarian appeal and the Productive Safety Nets Programme.  The aim of the Safety Nets Programme was to achieve the food security needs of about 5 million Ethiopians within three to five years by tackling the root causes of food insecurity.  Those included a rapid increase in the human and livestock populations; pressures on exhausted arable land and pasture; desiccation of water resources; lack of water conservation measures; the near-complete dependence on rain-fed agriculture; and the lack of access to irrigation.  Poor access to basic social services like public health, water, sanitation and education, as well as limited access to technology and other inputs, were basic challenges in improving farming productivity and income.

    Noting that the humanitarian appeal for 2005 was substantially lower than in 2004, he stressed the importance of full coverage for the non-food component of the appeal in assisting Ethiopia to make the transition from relief to development.  The main responsibility for improving the humanitarian situation and creating conditions for long-term development lay with the Government, which had put in place an early-warning system to predict disasters and respond quickly in minimizing their consequences.

    ANDRE OMES (Indonesia) said his country recognized the importance of helping Timor-Leste to integrate into the international community, and invited the United Nations and other international organizations to assist in Timor-Leste's capacity-building efforts.  The relationship between Indonesia and Timor-Leste had reached satisfactory levels through the establishment of the Truth and Friendship Commission, and Indonesia would continue to take part in international efforts to develop Timor-Leste.

    ASAD MAJEED KHAN (Pakistan) expressed his gratitude for the international support his country had received following the recent earthquake, and offered his condolences to India and Guatemala for the recent disasters in those countries.  The world was witnessing an unprecedented cycle of natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods and cyclones, which raged across entire countries and continents.  The time had come to cooperate in agreeing on mechanisms to coordinate effective and immediate relief, as well as long-term assistance for affected countries.  Pakistan supported the Secretary-General's recommendation for strengthening regional and community-risk reduction and response mechanisms.

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