Press Releases

    ECOSOC/6227
    19 July 2006

    Economic and Social Council Adopts Resolution on Strengthening Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance

    Holds Panel Discussion on Chronically Underfunded Emergencies, Concludes Humanitarian Segment

    NEW YORK, 18 July (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council this morning adopted a resolution on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.  It also held a panel discussion on chronically underfunded emergencies, in the context of its humanitarian affairs segment on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, and concluded its humanitarian segment.

    In the resolution, adopted by consensus, the Council encourages Member States to continue their efforts in preparedness and disaster risk reduction, and encourages the international community and relevant United Nations entities, within their respective mandates, to support national efforts in this regard; requests the relevant organizations of the United Nations system to continue to engage systematically with relevant authorities and organizations at the regional and national levels to support efforts to strengthen humanitarian response capacities at all levels, in particular through preparedness programmes, with a view to improving the overall adequacy of the deployment of resources; stresses that the United Nations system should make efforts to enhance existing humanitarian capacities, knowledge and institutions; and encourages all States to strengthen their capacity to respond to natural and man-made disasters.

    Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in an introductory statement to the panel discussion on chronically underfunded emergencies, said this was one of the most important discussions that would happen in the segment, as it was one of the issues that the system had been trying to grapple with over many years, and the formula still did not exist to inject enough equity into the system, despite improvements, in order to provide aid when and where it was required in all cases.  Today, the United Nations was grappling with the latest tsunami, as well as with Lebanon, Gaza, Israel and Darfur.  The United Nations would respond to the full extent of its capabilities, but it was the other silent emergencies that would be discussed today -- silent because they were not getting the attention they deserved.

    Antonio Covaco, Director-General of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department, said the European Commission gave special attention to forgotten crises that failed to attract adequate international funding to meet even the most basic needs.  Institutional donors had a particular responsibility to ensure that vulnerable populations received adequate assistance in such cases.  The Commission had developed an approach for a global analysis of needs, through which it sought to ensure consistency and impartiality in allocation of its overall budget for humanitarian aid, and, although there was scope for improvement, the Commission felt that this already provided a certain objectivity and consistency that had sometimes proved wanting in the consolidated appeals process.

    Abdi Ali Raghe, Chief Executive Director of the Africa Rescue Committee in Somalia, said years of food insecurity and high malnutrition rates in Somalia had just been compounded by an unprecedented drought, the worst the region had seen in over a decade.  Despite these obvious levels of need, Somalia remained one of the most chronically underfunded humanitarian crises in the world.  It went without saying that the lack of adequate funding meant that planned humanitarian activities did not take place, but it would be a mistake to accept these challenges as reasons for inaction.  Inadequate funding and inappropriate responses to the current, as well as previous, droughts, combined with the prolonged lack of investment in basic social services and development, had continued to knock the overall well-being of the Somali people lower and lower.  The long-term human and development costs of this neglect were staggering.

    Dennis McNamara, Special Adviser to the Emergency Relief Coordinator on Internal Displacement, said that, during conflicts, it was essential to protect and help vulnerable groups, and, in post-conflict situations, it was necessary to permanently settle the victims; the victims should be rehabilitated and resettled.  Underfunding would lead to a vicious circle of assistance and the continuation of the conflict if people were not resettled.  The cycle of crises of displacement should be broken through appropriate funding.  Those who were wishing to integrate should be provided with adequate funds to satisfy their basic needs.  Unless one provided the basic necessities through adequate funding, there would not be long-term solutions to the crises.  The response of the international community should focus on resolving the crises through adequate funding, which was not the case at present concerning Africa.

    In the interactive dialogue, speakers raised such issues as and asked questions on, among others, that the duty to protect was a universally recognized duty, and should become a fundamental part of the United Nations methodology and mandate; the need to remember that it was the suffering of human beings that was at stake; the lack of continued and maintained solidarity subsequent to disasters; the need to address the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and other persons affected by forgotten crises with timely, predictable and sufficient funding, and an effective response by humanitarian organizations; that accurate and timely needs assessments should point out funding gaps; the frequent application of double standards and the lack of political will to find solutions to problems such as late delivery of aid and assistance, and, therefore, the need for increased political will; and the sometimes deliberate obstructions that humanitarian workers encountered whilst trying to carry out their work.

    Speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Guinea-Bissau; Finland, on behalf of the European Union; Guinea; the World Food Programme; the United States; Iran; the United Kingdom; the World Health Organization; the Netherlands; Canada; and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

    In concluding remarks to the humanitarian section, Mr. Egeland said it was possible to overcome chronic underfunding, where needs and priorities were well defined, and where principles of good donorship defined the state of play.  The principles of broad-based partnership would be the focus of the work during the next phase of reform, including the development of stronger coordination arrangements at the field level, and more strategic dialogue at the top.  What the international community was witnessing these past days in the Middle East should convince the world that the decisions collectively made in the room were never more relevant, never more urgent.

    Also in concluding remarks to the section, Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka), Vice-President of the Council, said the purpose of the humanitarian affairs segment was to provide policy guidance on the operational aspects of humanitarian coordination and, in this regard, the goal had indeed been accomplished.  Delegations were commended on the drafting and adoption by consensus of what was an action-oriented resolution.  At the opening of the discussion, he said, Mr. Egeland had brought the Council up to date on the progress made in building and strengthening the overall capacity of the humanitarian response system, and the resolution encouraged the continuation of these initiatives.  It also included several concrete and coherent recommendations for more rationalized and coherent intergovernmental discussions on humanitarian work.  The guidance the resolution provided would be instrumental in helping the United Nations humanitarian system pursue these important initiatives, and all looked forward to the continuation of the dialogue in the General Assembly.

    The next meeting of the Council will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 July, when the Council will start its general segment and take up the implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits, and the implementation of General Assembly resolutions 50/227, 52/12B and 57/270B.

    Action on resolution on Strengthening Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of United Nations.

    In a resolution (E/2006/L.13) entitled strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, adopted as orally amended by consensus, the Council requests the Secretary-General to encourage the relevant organizations of the United Nations system to continue to identify and use, as appropriate and available, local resources and expertise from within the affected country and/or its neighbours, in response to humanitarian needs; encourages Member States to continue their efforts in preparedness and disaster risk reduction, and encourages the international community and relevant United Nations entities, within their respective mandates, to support national efforts in this regard; requests the relevant organizations of the United Nations system to continue to engage systematically with relevant authorities and organizations at the regional and national levels to support efforts to strengthen humanitarian response capacities at all levels, in particular through preparedness programmes, with a view to improving the overall adequacy of the deployment of resources; stresses that the United Nations system should make efforts to enhance existing humanitarian capacities, knowledge and institutions; encourages all States to strengthen their capacity to respond to natural and man-made disasters; and also encourages national Governments to create an enabling environment for capacity-building of local authorities and local and national non-governmental and community-based organizations; and encourages the relevant entities of the United Nations system and other relevant institutions and organizations to support national authorities in their capacity-building programmes designed to enhance the participation and contribution of local authorities, and local and national non-governmental and community-based organizations.

    The Council recognizes the importance of involving, as appropriate, relevant entities that provide humanitarian assistance in national and local coordination efforts, and invites those entities to participate in the improvement of humanitarian assistance, as appropriate;  invites the relevant United Nations humanitarian entities to continue their efforts to coordinate, as appropriate, with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in the provision of humanitarian assistance; requests the Secretary-General to continue to develop more systematic links with Member States offering military assets for natural disaster response, in order to identify the availability of such assets, and to report to the General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council in this regard; requests the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to continue to improve the analysis and reporting of comprehensive financial information through its financial tracking service, and encourages Member States, multilateral and private donors, relevant United Nations humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide timely and accurate information on contributions; welcomes efforts to strengthen the humanitarian response capacity of and the support to the United Nations resident/humanitarian coordinators and to United Nations country teams; and stresses the importance of a coordinated process of assessing lessons learned in the international response to a given humanitarian emergency; and welcomes the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund.

    The Council encourages the international community to provide humanitarian assistance in proportion to needs and on the basis of needs assessments, with a view to ensuring a more equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance across humanitarian emergencies; recommends that the General Assembly, in order to have a more focused discussion on humanitarian issues, explore the possibility at its sixty-first session of reallocating to the plenary of the General Assembly the sub-items of its agenda related to the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, currently considered by the Second Committee; encourages Member States to continue to strengthen cooperation and coordination between the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on humanitarian issues; and requests the Secretary-General to include in his report lessons learned and best practices in the implementation of the pilot projects using the cluster approach, in consultation with affected countries and with the active involvement of relevant United Nations humanitarian entities.

    Statements on Panel Discussion on Chronically Underfunded Emergencies

    JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in an introductory statement to the panel discussion on chronically underfunded emergencies, said this was one of the most important discussions that would happen in the segment, as it was one of the issues that the system had been trying to grapple with over many years, and the formula still did not exist to inject enough equity into the system, despite improvements, in order to provide aid when and where it was required in all cases.  The United Nations was at its best when it had sufficient resources.  The panellists represented the efforts of the United Nations to do better, especially for events that were not getting enough attention.  Today the United Nations was grappling with the latest tsunami, as well as with Lebanon, Gaza, Israel and Darfur.  The United Nations would respond to the full extent of its capabilities, but it was the other silent emergencies that would be discussed today -- silent, because they were not getting the attention they deserved.

    ANTONIO CAVACO, Director-General of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department, said that, in 2005, the European Commission, through its Department for Humanitarian Aid, had provided €652.5 million of humanitarian aid to assist people in 84 countries, and to fund disaster preparedness activities.  The European Commission gave special attention to forgotten crises; those where human suffering had fallen out of the spotlight of the world's media; those forgotten were most often complex emergencies of long duration.  They failed to attract adequate international funding to meet even the most basic needs.  Institutional donors had a particular responsibility to ensure that vulnerable populations received adequate assistance in such cases.  A high quality field assessment was fundamental to assessing needs in a given crisis.  The Commission had developed an approach for a global analysis of needs, through which one sought to ensure consistency and impartiality in allocation of its overall budget for humanitarian aid.

    The European Commission welcomed the United Nations work on highlighting underfunded crises.  The Commission and a number of European Union member States were amongst the most significant donors in United Nations humanitarian appeals.  Of the 15 consolidated appeals and 10 flash appeals made in 2005, the Commission had provided funding to assist the vulnerable people in all countries covered.  The Commission allocated most of its humanitarian funding for particular countries or regions applying the assessment tools.  The Commission channelled its funds not only through the United Nations, but also directly to other implementing partners.  Though there was scope for improvement, the Commission felt that its assessment approach already provided a certain objectivity and consistency that had sometimes proved wanting in the consolidated appeals process.  It was not enough simply to lament a lack of donor response to funding appeals.  It was critical that United Nations appeals should have solid basis of needs assessment and should take into account local coping capacity and the ability to implement.

    ABDI ALI RAGHE, Chief Executive Director of Africa Rescue Committee in Somalia, said Somalia had suffered from 15 years of armed conflict and general violence, and could be on the brink of still more years of conflict, State collapse, and humanitarian crisis.  Since 2000, it had been inching towards the restoration of a central administration, law and order.  But, there were signs that the Islamists may still yet resort to military solutions, rather than dialogue.  It could be asked if the humanitarian situation could get any worse.  Years of food insecurity and high malnutrition rates had just been compounded by an unprecedented drought, the worst the region had seen in over a decade.  Despite these obvious levels of need, Somalia remained one of the most chronically underfunded humanitarian crises in the world.  It went without saying that the lack of adequate funding meant that planned humanitarian activities did not take place, but it would be a mistake to accept these challenges as reasons for inaction.

    There was much that could be done, even within the existing operating environment, as was proven by the collective efforts of the humanitarian community operating in Somalia.  But, the lack of reliable funding meant that urgent needs were not met, and people died as a result.  People also suffered, sadly, from common and easily preventable diseases, as well as simply from the lack of food.  But, what was less obvious, and perhaps of even greater importance today in Somalia, was the cumulative effect of this neglect on the livelihoods, indeed the very existence, of the Somali people.  Inadequate funding and inappropriate responses to this and previous droughts, combined with the prolonged lack of investment in basic social services and development, had continued to knock the overall well-being of the Somali people lower and lower.  The long-term human and development costs of this neglect were staggering and, without greater investment in livelihood interventions, the recovery and reinstatement of lost livelihoods would continue to be delayed, thereby creating a cycle of emergencies.  A twin-track approach of responding to emergencies while initiating and shifting to longer and medium term livelihood protection programmes should be adopted.  This would require a shift in the international humanitarian community's thinking, and a willingness to fund large-scale emergency livelihood programming.

    DENNIS MACNAMARA, Special Advisor to the Emergency Relief Coordinator on Internal Displacement, said most of the major areas and regions had been under chronic underfunding, particularly in Africa.  In Côte d'Ivoire, for instance, the fund allocated for 700,000 displaced persons was not sufficient to satisfy the needs of those people.  During conflicts, it was essential to protect and help vulnerable groups, and, in post-conflict situations, it was necessary to permanently settle the victims; the victims should be rehabilitated and resettled.  Only 25 per cent of the requested funding was obtained to cover the crisis in Burundi and Liberia.  Underfunding would lead to a vicious circle of assistance and the continuation of the conflict if people were not resettled.

    The cycle of crisis of displacement should be broken through appropriate funding.  Those who were wishing to integrate should be provided with adequate funds to satisfy their basic needs.  Unless one provided the basic necessities through adequate funding, there would not be a long-term solution to the crises.  The response of the international community should focus on resolving the crises through adequate funding, which was not the case at present concerning Africa.

    Mr. EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, rounding up the panellists' presentations, said the international community seemed able to tolerate problems in some areas, which were decried in others.  Some appeals received significant funding and others less, but lives were equally devastated in each situation.  What could be done to fix the current situation, he asked, wondering how the humanitarian community could proceed further on the road towards better appeals, better needs assessment, better advocacy and better response, so there was absolutely no doubt that every penny was going to real, undisputed humanitarian needs, and that every penny would be effective.  How could better political will be achieved among countries that could afford it; how come statistics showed that, among the economies that were giving the most consistently, they were giving up to 30 times more in proportion of gross domestic product to appeals than those that did not; and how come many economies in the South did not participate at all when they said they were equally concerned about forgotten and neglected emergencies? he asked.

    How could better mechanisms be achieved? Mr. Egeland asked.  The Central Emergency Revolving Fund would only be a partial response, and there was a need for agencies to work well, and outlets such as the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department to have their budget increased.  Many questions were posed, and speakers should give counsel to this effect.

    Interactive Dialogue

    In the interactive dialogue, speakers raised such issues as, and asked questions on, among others, that this was a moral crisis, and the duty to protect was universally recognized, and should become a fundamental part of the United Nations methodology and mandate; the need to remember that it was the suffering of human beings that was at stake; the lack of continued and maintained solidarity subsequent to disasters; the need to address the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and other persons affected by forgotten crises with timely, predictable and sufficient funding, and an effective response by humanitarian organizations; that accurate and timely needs assessments should point out funding gaps; that donors should ensure that funding of humanitarian action in new crises did not adversely affect the meeting of needs in ongoing crises; the stress placed on political issues, which sometimes impeded the resolution of a humanitarian crisis and how this could be resolved; the frequent application of double standards and the lack of political will to find solutions to problems, such as late delivery of aid and assistance, and, therefore, the need for increased political will; issues related to the food and non-food needs of refugee populations; issues linked to key financing and the delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection; and the sometimes deliberate obstructions that humanitarian workers encountered whilst trying to carry out their work.

    ANTONIO CAVACO, Director-General of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department, said the European Commission had designed a mechanism of funding of emergency crises and had made available funds for immediate release.  The Commission could release €3 million to be used on an urgent basis to deal with emergency situations.  The annual budget for crises had been increased.  In addition, there had been reserved funds to be used for crises, such as the Darfur humanitarian crisis.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, a development fund had concentrated on health and shelter, in addition to the emergency assistance.

    ABDI ALI RAGHE, Chief Executive Director of the Africa Rescue Committee in Somalia, said Somalia was a forgotten emergency situation, and besides the problems that had been going on for quite some years, it could face another emergency with an uncertain political situation, where the Islamists and the Transitional Federal Government could fight, leading to a humanitarian disaster.  The Member States should be very cautious with regards to this issue, and it seemed that there were no contingency plans to cover this.  If it took place, then the fighting could last another 15 years, with the consequent deaths and humanitarian disasters.

    DENNIS MCNAMARA, Special Advisor to the Emergency Relief Coordinator on Internal Displacement, said it was essential to have an inter-agency and inter-donors dialogue on the issue of underfunding.  The dialogue might help to find solutions by seeking other sources of financing humanitarian crises.

    JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in closing the panel discussion, said it had been a very interesting discussion, on a very important topic, proving that progress was being made and that the world was moving in the right direction.  There were an increased number of donors, with more predictable help in crises.  There were more organizations, including United Nations partners, who did more predictable work in more crises and in more communities than ever before.  There was progress on the donor side and on meeting some of the chronic and systemic humanitarian problems.  The midyear review of the consolidated appeals would be launched at 1 p.m. today.  Needs assessments were undisputedly better today and, with the needs assessment framework that was being put in place, it would be systematically better across the board.

    Appeals were better, although there were still projects included that should not be, but discipline would address this issue.  They were also much more inclusive.  Before, only a piece of the picture had been presented, but, now, more and more was being shown, and the ambition was, through the cluster approach and humanitarian efforts, to show the comprehensive picture of what the needs were and how they should be met.  The problem was of course that progress was not being made fast enough.  Children were still dying of hunger, and this made it clear that there was something fundamentally wrong with the pace of what was being done.  The single most important thing would be to get all the traditional donors, as well as the emerging donors who could not afford to be predictable to say that they believed in the appeals, and would always fund 2, or 5, or 8, or 12 per cent of the appeals, so as to have a critical mass of funding that was secured.  This would avoid loss of life and take recovery into rehabilitation.

    JAN EGELAND, Emergency Relief Coordinator, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in his concluding remarks at the end of the humanitarian segment, said the panel that had just ended had highlighted the impact of underfunding on programming and on beneficiaries, including chronic and costly dependence on aid; the threat of escalation and the rationalization of crises; and the irreversible costs to individuals and families, as they "mortgage their future", in order to survive today.  However, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department had reminded that as a key humanitarian donor, it was possible to overcome chronic underfunding, where needs and priorities were well defined and where principles of good donorship defined the state of play.  The informal event on post-disaster transitions had been able to articulate -- perhaps more concretely than in previous years -- the specific, programmatic, logistical and coordination challenges of the so called missing middle, when the operational environment, the role of relief actors and the focus of programming shifted.

    What the international community was witnessing these past days in the Middle East should convince the world that the decisions collectively made in the room were never more relevant, never more urgent.  Attacks on civilian targets had already killed hundreds of civilians, threatened to harm many more and would only intensify the social crisis already present among communities in the Middle East.  Those were simply the latest examples of civilians paying the ultimate price of conflict with their livelihoods and their lives.  Lebanon had requested international assistance, and that would be followed by a flash appeal later this week.  The humanitarian community should help in the work to protect civilians and provide life-saving humanitarian relief.

    PRASAD KARIYAWASAM (Sri Lanka), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the purpose of the humanitarian affairs segment was to provide policy guidance on the operational aspects of humanitarian coordination and, in that regard, the goal had indeed been accomplished.  During the panel discussion on gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies, the Council had heard directly from Governments, United Nations agencies and civil society groups working to assist survivors and bring the perpetrators to justice.  During the panel on underfunded emergencies, the Council had heard from donors about practical ways to overcome imbalances in aid flows, and from United Nations and non-governmental organization representatives about what could be achieved, in the countries where they worked, with adequate funds.  During the informal event on the transition from relief to development, the Council had heard from a variety of humanitarian and development actors on the need to improve coordination, planning and financial mechanisms in support of those countries facing reconstruction and long-term recovery following a natural disaster.

    Mr. Kariyawasam commended delegations on the drafting and adoption by consensus of what was an action-oriented resolution.  At the opening of the discussion, he said Mr. Egeland had brought the Council up to date on the progress made in building and strengthening the overall capacity of the humanitarian response system, and the resolution encouraged the continuation of these initiatives.  It also included several concrete and coherent recommendations for more rationalized and coherent intergovernmental discussions on humanitarian work.  The guidance the resolution provided would be instrumental in helping the United Nations humanitarian system pursue those important initiatives, and all looked forward to the continuation of the dialogue in the General Assembly.

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