17 July 2006
Economic and Social Council Discusses Special Economic, Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 14 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council this afternoon opened its humanitarian segment, taking up the issue of special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, and holding a general discussion on the topic.
Jan Egeland, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said at the time when the developed world had never been larger or more prosperous, the neglect of human suffering was both persistent and pervasive. The global population had doubled, the world economy was growing, public and private spending had never been higher, yet humanitarian funding levels did not reflect those trends. Did that suggest that the international community was becoming less generous? The world was rapidly changing, it was becoming better for some, but disproportionately worse for the millions that made up the most vulnerable.
Eric Swarch, Deputy Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Tsunami Relief, speaking on behalf of the Special Envoy, former United States President Bill Clinton, said there were still formidable challenges ahead in the tsunami recovery process. A key priority for President Clinton and his office had been to promote actively the process of education and learning in the region in order to develop lessons for the system regionally and internationally. Important progress had been made in recent months, but much remained to be done, and the Special Envoy was grateful for the continued participation of the international community and donors in the multi-year process.
Among the issues raised by speakers was that the number and scale of humanitarian emergencies in the last year alone had presented significant challenges for the humanitarian community. While a lot of work had been carried out to improve the humanitarian response, more still needed to be done, especially when it came to filling gaps in the humanitarian response. There appeared to be a stronger spirit of collaboration among humanitarian organizations and commitment to accountability. This past year, the international community had faced major humanitarian challenges that made clear the need for significant reform and improvements in the way business was done.
Speaking in the debate were the representatives of South Africa, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China; Finland, on behalf of the European Union; United States; Russian Federation; France; Canada; Australia; Pakistan; Japan; Norway; United Republic of Tanzania; China; the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and the World Health Organization.
The next meeting of the Council will be held on Monday, 17 July, at 10 a.m. when the Council will hold a panel discussion on gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies, subsequent to which it will continue the general discussion on the humanitarian segment.
The report of the Secretary-General (document E/2006/61) entitled humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for El Salvador and Guatemala, identifies the lessons learned from the humanitarian response effort in El Salvador and Guatemala and highlights key issues from the ongoing recovery effort in the affected countries. In doing so, it examines successes and challenges specific to the response and recovery effort linked to tropical storm Stan. The report includes a set of observations and recommendations from the Secretary-General to both the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for further discussion, with a particular focus on improvements to international, regional, national and local response capacity and coordination and on reducing the overall vulnerability of affected populations to disasters.
In the report of the Secretary-General (document E/2006/67) entitled strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake disaster, Pakistan provides an overview of the relief and recovery effort to date, and identifies key lessons that should be both immediately applied to ongoing recovery activities and considered in the response to future disasters. The report includes a set of recommendations from the Secretary-General aimed at improving disaster preparedness, response and recovery at all levels, and at stressing the importance of reducing the overall vulnerability of populations in disaster-prone countries and regions.
The report of the Secretary-General (document E/2006/77) entitled strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster provides a status update of the recovery process at the 18-month mark and seeks to identify some of the key emerging challenges and lessons learned in efforts to "build back better". It examines successes and challenges in tsunami response, focusing on long-term recovery. Specific themes discussed include coordination, models of Government recovery institutions, assessments of damages and needs, transparency and accountability, community participation in recovery, economic diversification, risk reduction, human rights and environmental issues. Each theme includes recommendations from the Secretary-General to both the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for further discussion.
The report of the Secretary-General (document E/2006/81) entitled strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations examines some of the key improvements to humanitarian activities, focuses on technical proposals to strengthen response capacities at all levels and highlights other issues of concern, such as gender-based violence and chronically underfunded crises.
JAN EGELAND, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that working closely with his humanitarian partners in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, he had developed the "cluster leadership approach" to improve coordination and accountability in areas where response was falling short. They had created nine global clusters for humanitarian action -- including in gap areas, such as water and sanitation, protection and emergency health. Though it was too early to claim outright success, the early application of clusters on the ground suggested greater efficiency and coherence in their activities. Following the earthquake in South Asia, the adoption of the cluster approach in Pakistan had brought a sense of structure to an overwhelming situation. There had been improved provision of emergency shelter and the deployment of protection experts to support the Government in assisting internally displaced persons. Unprecedented coordination had been seen between the United Nations and the Government, non-governmental organizations and host communities.
In Somalia, the education cluster had enabled more than 26,000 children to go back to school after 40 percent of schools were shut down from the drought. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the clusters had re-energized the relief effort by helping to articulate clearer assistance objectives and by improving relationships between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. On the other hand, one saw humanitarian actors spending too much time in meetings and not enough time delivering assistance, one identified persistent capacity gaps, and one recognized that cluster leads would require additional support to fulfil their new role. When violence in East Timor displaced an estimated 133,000 people, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which was launched in March by the General Assembly, allocated $4.1 million to the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) for emergency food, shelter and child protection ahead of the flash appeal and before bilateral assistance arrived. When a measles outbreak in the Horn of Africa killed 200 people in early May, CERF funds allowed the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to step up their immunization campaigns in the region.
At the time when the developed world had never been larger or more prosperous, the neglect of human suffering was both persistent and pervasive. The global population had doubled, the world economy was growing, public and private spending had never been higher, yet humanitarian funding levels did not reflect those trends. Did that suggest that the international community was becoming less generous? The world was rapidly changing; it was becoming better for some, but disproportionately worse for the millions that made up the most vulnerable. As the world was changing every day, the need for humanitarian solidarity had never been more urgent and yet never more achievable in the quest for effective protection and relief for all.
ERIC SWARCH, Deputy Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Tsunami Relief, on behalf of the Special Envoy, former United States President Bill Clinton, said critical systemic reform in the United Nations system for humanitarian response, which, therefore, affected the lives of the most vulnerable, had begun. There were still formidable challenges ahead in the tsunami recovery process. A key priority for President Clinton and his office had been to promote actively the process of education and learning in the region in order to develop lessons for the system regionally and internationally. Important progress had been made in recent months, with the construction of over 150,000 homes, the resolution of long-standing policy issues, and progress on long-term economic, sectoral and other planning in Aceh. Much remained to be done, and the Special Envoy was grateful for the continued participation of the international community and donors in the multi-year process.
Key recommendations had included the need for dedicated field bases, recovery management structures, adequate support for the coordination of recovery, donor support for national institutions of disaster-response, and the development of local capacities such as in the area of data collection. Early emphasis on livelihoods and better organization of risk reduction into the recovery process and the integration of human rights into the recovery process should all be used to not exacerbate the differences between population groups. Active implementation should be seen in the months to come.
G.J. MTSHALI (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that the problems posed by natural disasters were of crucial importance to developing countries, due mainly to the long-lasting consequences on affected populations and the adverse impact on the environment, as well as on social and economic development of affected countries. It was, therefore, important to examine the measures that needed to be taken to improve the response capacity of affected nations and the assistance and cooperation that could be provide by the international community in that regard. The Group of 77 and China recognized the essential role that civil society played in humanitarian response. Their active involvement had been proved fundamental in recent natural disasters, especially in situations where Governments were unable to reach people in need. It was important to create an enabling environment for the effective participation of non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations and other actors of civil society in the planning and coordination efforts of preparedness and efficient response to humanitarian emergencies.
There was an urgent need, therefore, to enhance existing humanitarian capacities, knowledge and institutions, including by promoting access to and transfer for technology to developing countries affected by natural disasters. The Group of 77 and China wished to highlight the importance of strengthening the health sector humanitarian response capacity in life-saving activities in order to minimize the impact of natural disasters. Cooperation by the relevant entities of the United Nations and all Member States in the aftermath of natural disasters was pivotal in preventing further disasters.
ULLA-MAIJA FINSKAS (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the humanitarian segment provided a welcome opportunity to bring together the humanitarian community, to reflect upon collective achievements, to consider the challenges that lay ahead, and to identify ways to improve humanitarian response. The number and scale of humanitarian emergencies in the last year alone had presented significant challenges for the humanitarian community. While a lot of work had been carried out to improve the humanitarian response, more still needed to be done, especially when it came to filling gaps in the humanitarian response. Humanitarian principles, such as humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence were important for the provision of humanitarian assistance, as well as the need to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law for the protection of civilians, free access of people in need to humanitarian assistance and the security of humanitarian workers.
The speed of deployment in humanitarian emergencies was essential in ensuring effective coordination and timely service delivery. Humanitarian aid should first and foremost be implemented by organizations with a humanitarian vocation. There was a need to strengthen United Nations leadership in disaster risk reduction and management. Indicators on emerging crises and needs assessments should be prepared in cooperation with other humanitarian actors and should be reliable, accurate and timely. Intergovernmental discussions in the United Nations on humanitarian affairs would benefit from regrouping humanitarian work in the General Assembly, agreeing on introducing core reports, clarifying the division of labour between the General Assembly and the Council, and streamlining post-crisis reporting.
TERRY MILLER (United States) said the United States was dedicated to the delivery of humanitarian assistance that was timely, targeted and effective. It was continuously looking for ways to improve its own national delivery systems and decision-making processes. He commended the work of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other United Nations agencies in developing coherent strategies in response to humanitarian crises, building on the core competences of specialized agencies, funds and programmes. The United States recognized the importance of a common definition for humanitarian emergencies and welcomed further intergovernmental discussion on how it could be applied to ensure that appropriate international assistance was mobilized and delivered. It was also felt that there was the need for further dialogue on delineating when the emergency phase of a crisis was completed and the lead coordination role was passed from OCHA to another appropriate agency or body.
The United States noted with interest the recommendation in the Secretary-General's report to develop indicators for humanitarian assistance. It recognized the benefit of having clearly defined minimum levels of assistance and it would like to highlight in that regard the good work done through the Sphere Project at the initiative of the non-governmental organization community. However, the United States would support setting targets for humanitarian assistance that would extend beyond the emergency phase or link in any way to the Millennium Development Goals. The fundamental premise of humanitarian action was that assistance was provided based on need, and it was important to keep a clear distinction between humanitarian and development assistance. This past year, the international community had faced major humanitarian challenges that made clear the need for significant reform and improvements in the way business was done.
NIKOLAY CHULKOV (Russian Federation) said the Russian Federation was in favour of strengthening the role of the United Nations in humanitarian assistance, and this was only possible if the fundamental principles of providing humanitarian assistance were taken into account: humanity, impartiality, independence, and others, none of which should prevail over others. The need to update the global mechanism for reaction was evident. It would be very useful to hold briefings on the reform processes for the Member States. Strengthening the role of humanitarian coordinators and providing the coordinators with emergency assistance was useful for constructing an effective vertical coordination of humanitarian assistance in the United Nations, penetrating all levels of reaction. What was now required was a strengthening in the developing countries that were most prone to disasters.
Where necessary, it was the right of national Governments to rely on the appropriate support of the international community in order to increase their abilities in humanitarian-related areas. There should be a clear division of labour between OCHA, UNDP, and the Secretariat for strategy. It would be hard to deny that involving military resources to conduct humanitarian operations had not played an important role in the success of these, however, an excessive and automatic repetition of this in humanitarian operations could lead to a wiping-out of the independence of humanitarian assistance and the way it was received by local populations, as well as to a distortion of the perception of the role of the United Nations.
JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (France) said France reiterated its full support for the specific and primary role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in coordinating emergency assistance as a response to complex crises and natural disasters. OCHA's response to the earthquake disaster of Pakistan last October had proved its capacity in fulfilling its role. OCHA should be able to accomplish its mission of oversight and alert and prevention at any time. At the same time, it should limit its intervention to humanitarian affairs in order to preserve the "humanitarian sphere" necessary to ensure the security of its staff and access to the population. France wished to reaffirm its interest concerning the creation of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). That new mechanism should allow OCHA to fully play its role in the event of exceptional crises to distribute funds to the UN agencies. The designation of heads of operation to different emergency interventions was also of interest because of the fact that they would facilitate identifying partners and exchanging information during and after the crisis. That system, however, should respect the diversity of actors and their mandates.
France did not favour transforming CERF into a global humanitarian fund and would like that its function be assessed at the end of 2006. The ongoing reform of the humanitarian disposition of the United Nations was part of the global process to strengthen the Organization decided during the World Summit of 2005. The Summit had also decided to double the resources of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to create the Human Rights Council, which recently held its first session in Geneva. The creation of a Peacebuilding Commission under the Security Council and the General Assembly was also a good idea. That mechanism would reinforce the effectiveness of the intervention of the United Nations in matters of peacekeeping missions.
CATHERINE BRAGG (Canada) said the past year had been one of reflection, transition and action in the international humanitarian system, in particular by United Nations entities. There was a reason for cautious optimism about the direction of the United Nations and global humanitarian action. There appeared to be a stronger spirit of collaboration among humanitarian organizations and commitment to accountability. There had been important first steps in a renewed effort to strengthen the capacity of the Humanitarian/Resident Coordinators, and this was overdue. Governments and agencies were more attentive to the protection needs of civilians, even if the rhetoric currently trumped implementation. Progress in these areas did not happen overnight: they built on more than 15 years of lessons learned and previous innovations and reflected what was hoped to be a collective international commitment to improve humanitarian action.
There were a further four key areas to which attention should be turned. The ability to assess and monitor humanitarian needs should be strengthened; existing coordination mechanisms for the use of military assets in natural disaster contexts should be enhanced; national and regional response capacities should be assessed in a more systematic way to enhance global preparedness for crises, and more investment should be made in disaster risk reduction; and finally, greater attention should be devoted to monitoring and reporting violations against civilians. Governments and agencies alike should take advantage of the momentum that had been generated over the last year.
KEREN DAVIES (Australia) said the international community faced an ever-growing range of complex and dynamic crises and challenges. In addition, humanitarian agencies were under growing pressure to increase the effectiveness of assistance and to accurately measure its impact. The international community had long acknowledged that there was room for improvement. There was a moral and operational imperative to maximize the impact of humanitarian assistance and one should be able to demonstrate that one was doing so. The current humanitarian reform agenda had an integral role to play in improving humanitarian response capacity, coordination and financing. Alongside that was the need for increased accountability and a stronger partnership approach with partner governments and all humanitarian actors. Australia supported those efforts and also commended progress in recent years in improving the coordination of the United Nations and enhancing the impact of humanitarian assistance.
Australia's primary interest was in demonstrable results on the ground. To that end, it would continue to support practical, results-focused reform measures. In the area of coordination and humanitarian response, Australia supported the central and unique role of the United Nations in providing leadership and coordination of international humanitarian action and it recognized that achieving a universally coordinated response to a complex humanitarian emergency was no easy task. In that regard, Australia supported progress in strengthening the humanitarian coordinator system. Steps to improve the capacity of the UN system and individual agencies to respond in key sectors were equally important.
MANSOOR AHMAD KHAN (Pakistan) said the year 2005 witnessed a large number of natural disasters, which unfortunately caused widespread human and material losses, and the exceptional magnitude and scale of natural disasters posed unprecedented challenges to the international community. With the cooperation and support of the international community, led by the United Nations, the relief phase of the greatest tragedy of Pakistan's history had been largely successful.
Building upon the lessons learnt by this major natural disaster, a number of points should be borne in mind: all responses to humanitarian emergencies should continue to be based on the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality; a strong leadership and rapid coordinated response by the Government concerned was crucial; building strong capacities for risk reduction and better response in case of disasters was vital in mitigating the devastating effects of emergencies; and the promotion of substantial national and local involvement including utilisation of human and material resources in any coordinated humanitarian response enhanced the pace of relief and provided a strong basis for early recovery and reconstruction.
SHIGERU ENDO (Japan) said Japan welcomed the ongoing reform aimed at more effective provision of humanitarian assistance and protection of people in need. Disasters caused by natural hazards in Asia, Central America, the Caribbean and many other parts of the world continued to claim a large number of human lives and deprived even more people of their livelihoods. Many civilians were still finding themselves caught in the midst of armed conflicts, where they desperately awaited a helping hand from the international community. Their plight made it essential that the Organization's capacity should be strengthened to respond to humanitarian crises in a timely and effective manner. The UN funds, programmes and agencies that conducted humanitarian assistance activities each had their own areas of specialization.
Significant progress had already been achieved in the humanitarian reform agenda. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was established in March. The training of humanitarian coordinators had been enhanced and a pool of candidates for the position was now in place. Japan believed that the key to successful reform was the involvement of and continued dialogue among all the relevant actors, including Member States, UN funds and programmes, and non-governmental organizations. Japan was encouraged that there were many new donors to the CERF.
FREDRIK ARTHUR (Norway) said as humanitarian actors, this was a world of vulnerability and risk, which was increasing. This required the international community to focus more attention on the high-risk areas of the world, on the root causes of humanitarian crises, and on prevention and preparedness at high levels. Crucial assistance was provided locally when a humanitarian crisis struck. In order to reduce risk and be better prepared, the humanitarian response needed to be improved, and human behaviour changed. Three important issues on the humanitarian agenda were the upgraded response fund, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which should be regarded primarily as a mechanism of first resort for funding; the cluster approach, which was an integral part of the humanitarian reform agenda, and should result in greater accountability and system-wide awareness; and the increasing prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian settings, and Member States should fulfil their responsibilities under national and international law and take serious steps to end sexual and gender-based violence.
The international community could also do more to end gender-based violence, and should take urgent action to ensure that efforts to do so were included in all humanitarian action. The participation of women in peace-building processes should be encouraged. A world of increasing vulnerability and risk was a demanding one, and reducing risk significantly required major investment and coordinated action, prevention and preparedness, protection and punitive action. People should change their behaviour in order to ensure the development that was being sought.
MATERN LUMBANGA (United Republic of Tanzania) said the United Republic of Tanzania was vulnerable to natural disasters, notably floods and drought. Conflict and instability in neighbouring countries had produced a large influx of refugee movement to Tanzania with the consequent devastating economic, social and environmental impacts. In the same vein, food insecurity was one of the more common calamities in the country. However, the Government had a Food Security Information Team, which was comprised of government entities, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and met regularly to review and provide technical advice. The increasing trend and pattern of those calamities was a vicious circle of persistent poverty and human sufferings. Concerted efforts were needed at both national and international levels for preparedness, prevention and mitigation of the impacts of those calamities in order to improve the prospects of achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, within the given time frame.
Tanzania had put in place a comprehensive disaster management policy, which aimed at prevention and ensuring a high level of preparedness. That policy was prepared through a participatory process involving all relevant stakeholders, including government machineries, UN entities, NGOs, the private sector and civil society. The policy aimed at developing capacity for coordination and cooperation for comprehensive disaster management among key players at all levels and mainstreaming disaster management activities as an integral part of development programmes of all sectors in the country.
NINGNING YANG (China) said the past year witnessed a frequent occurrence of natural disasters and emergencies, with significant loss of life. This posed a serious challenge to the humanitarian relief system of the United Nations. Relevant recommendations in the report of the Secretary-General constituted a good basis for discussion of reform. More and more organizations and agencies were involved in humanitarian assistance, and the role of the United Nations in this area had received ever more attention. OCHA should fully mobilise the comparative advantage of these relief agencies to maximise the impact of relief activities and provide overall coordination and leadership.
The international community should strictly follow the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, and provide assistance with the agreement of the Governments of the affected countries, which latter should shoulder the major responsibility for post-disaster relief, with the aid of the international community. The international community and the United Nations had the obligation to help those Governments to improve their capacity to cope with emergencies and in their transition from relief to development. These Member States and the international community should provide more expertise and technology to the developing countries in the context of humanitarian assistance.
MARIE-THERESE PICTET ALTHANN (Sovereign Military Order of Malta) said that recent experiences of natural disasters and complex emergencies had illustrated the importance of linking the first phase of emergency relief to rehabilitation and development assistance. It was especially for that purpose that Malteser International was created in 2005. By bringing together the human, material and financial resources of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta's 46 national associations, Malteser International was able to combine its relief activities with over 50 years of experience in specialized humanitarian aid and to strengthen its response capacity in all phases of crises. It targeted basic and life-saving aid such as the provision of food, water, shelter and health care services. Once those needs were covered, rehabilitation projects were developed to reduce vulnerability and poverty, helping the affected community set up its own survival means for the future.
With regard to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Sovereign Military Order of Malta fully recognized the need for ensuring predictable and rapid financing. It had noted with satisfaction that donor funding to CERF should be additional to the timely support from donors to the emergency response funds and appeals of individual agencies and humanitarian organizations. That was an important point, as the support pf public and private donors was essential to the work of all, in particular to independent stakeholders whose visibility in the field could attract substantial donations. Direct contribution to aid agencies and partners therefore remained essential if improvements to the humanitarian response system were to ensure continued involvement of all actors.
IBRAHIM OSMAN, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said 2005 was marked by an unprecedented number of natural disasters, and 2006 had been marked by wide-ranging post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation activities for millions who suffered around the world. The unprecedented burden for people already in a state of extreme vulnerability had placed a great strain on humanitarian organizations. Focus on recovery activities this year had provided further reflection on how to approach the delicate transition from relief to development following a natural disaster. It was essential that recovery planning began in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and be done with the close involvement of the communities themselves.
On the progress of United Nations humanitarian reforms, the cluster approach was a positive element. The task of the International Federation was to ensure that in all phases of humanitarian action, there was proactive work for the protection of vulnerable people from additional harm. Protection was a broad concept, but one part of it that should be highlighted was the prevention of gender-based violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
ALA ALWAN, of World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO had initiated, with other partners, several important projects to strengthen the technical support of WHO to Member States in emergency preparedness, emergency response and recovery and transition programmes. WHO was now working with other parts of the Organization in revising its operational procedures to allow prompt and more predicable response in emergencies. Despite the achievements made in improving its response to acute emergencies and disasters and also in implementing the health cluster approach, WHO, the lead agency for health, had reviewed the lessons learned in recent crises and was now focusing on addressing gaps in close, joint work with other partners and members of the health cluster. Several projects had been initiated; focusing on maternal and child health, chronic disease management, mass casualty management, strengthening the resilience of health facilities, and national preparedness strategies. There were obviously many challenges faced by WHO and others.
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