Sixty-first General Assembly
52nd & 53rd Meetings (AM & PM)
Assembly Also Considers Strategies to Forestall Disasters, Boost Response; Assistance to Palestinian People; Three Texts on Regional Cooperation Adopted
In the ongoing search to boost the collective humanitarian response capacity by preventing complex crises or mitigating their effects and, when necessary, rapidly and effectively providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations, the international community must not fail those who depended on the United Nations as their final hope, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain said today.
“Our common efforts to strengthen the coordination of the humanitarian and emergency response system of the United Nations should aim to alleviate suffering and improve chances of survival in times of emergency,” Sheikha Haya said, opening the Assembly's joint debate on the matter, which also touched on coordinating economic assistance during complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict, as well as providing assistance to the Palestinian people.
Recalling that, so far this year, the world had been spared major natural disasters, she urged the Assembly to use the opportunity provided by the unlikely pause to sharpen the Organization's focus on preparedness activities in several regions prone to natural events. It was also a good time to address a number of ongoing emergencies requiring urgent attention, such as the drought now affecting some 15 million people in the Horn of Africa, providing humanitarian relief for some 3.6 million people stranded in the Sudan's western Darfur region and lagging efforts to put effective measures in place to prosecute perpetrators of gender-based violence and establish structures to take care of the victims, she said.
When the floor was opened for discussion, delegations also noted the serious challenges facing the United Nations humanitarian response mechanisms. They agreed on the need to strengthen the Organization's coordination and disaster relief capacity and enhance cooperation with regional organizations in disaster-prone areas, as they had unparalleled knowledge of local conditions and prior relationships with national actors. Speakers from small island regions also highlighted the need to create adequate early warning mechanisms and improve global disaster response and reduction mechanisms.
Most delegations welcomed the implementation of the humanitarian reforms that had been called for in the outcome of the 2005 World Summit. Several speakers recommended strengthening the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which had rolled out a “cluster approach” in 2006, aimed at improving the timeliness, predictability and effectiveness of humanitarian response, and pave the way for recovery. That approach also sought to strengthen leadership and accountability in certain key sectors where gaps had been identified and to address the Assembly's repeated requests for an improved inter-agency response to the protection and assistance needs of the internally displaced.
While many speakers today noted that the cluster approach was only in its infancy and bore close scrutiny during its further expansion, Colombia's representative declared it an “inappropriate model” for humanitarian assistance. The main goal of United Nations agencies' support should be to strengthen national capacity to respond to emergencies, he said, stressing that Governments and States must coordinate humanitarian assistance, with the participation of agencies and not the other way around. Strengthening the role of the United Nations must not come at the cost of weakening the role of Governments in that sensitive area.
Another innovation that had been launched following the World Summit, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), also drew mixed reviews. While most speakers acknowledged that the Fund had been critically effective in delivering time-sensitive assistance in several crises during the past year, including the crisis in Lebanon over the summer, some expressed concern that voluntary funds for the mechanism were lagging behind predictions, and that CERF still did not do enough to address underfunded humanitarian emergencies.
China's representative said CERF had been a major achievement in reform of United Nations humanitarian assistance, but its resources amounted to only 5 per cent of the total amount the United Nations planned to raise through the consolidated appeals process; the Fund could not replace the consolidated appeals.
The representative of the United States added that clearer definitions and criteria were needed to govern the Fund's disbursements. Allocation based on percentages of funding received for each United Nations appeal was inadequate, as not all appeals fully reflected the range of humanitarian activity and some were not limited to emergency response.
Looking ahead, Brazil's speaker said that, as the United Nations humanitarian assistance reform agenda took shape, the international community must correct the misperception that developing countries were only recipients of aid and that assistance was merely in a monetary form. Developing countries contributed substantial amounts of humanitarian relief, particularly for conflict-ridden areas. Those countries also absorbed massive refugee flows and the highest economic and social costs of emergencies, and they must be assured of broader participation in the decision-making and policy management of humanitarian affairs.
From the Indian Ocean tsunami zone, Thailand's representative said her country's road to recovery in the aftermath of that 2005 disaster remained a challenge. With Thailand now focused on long-term recovery and preparedness, it looked forward to the United Nations and the wider international community's efforts to strengthen the capacity of national and local Governments and communities to prepare for and respond to crises. That was crucial for mitigating the negative effects of disasters. The United Nations should assess the existence of preparedness capabilities and networks at the national and local levels, in order to provide for the diverse needs of capacity-building assistance, she added.
When the Assembly also took up the Secretary-General's report on assistance to the Palestinian people, the Permanent Observer of Palestine said that by combining its aggression with economic siege, Israel had succeeded in neutralizing the positive outcome of international assistance to the Palestinian people over the past six years. Assistance had been geared towards emergency humanitarian assistance, rather than towards sustainable development, which did not build towards a bright future. A large number of Palestinians now lived under the poverty line of less than $2.10 per day. The poverty level over the past year had risen by 30 per cent to a “shocking 75 per cent”.
He emphasized that international assistance to the Palestinian people was the lifeline by which a viable Palestinian State could live side by side with Israel. The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, public buildings and other economically vital institutions amounted to war crimes and must be halted. The occupying Power must not be allowed to sabotage generous international contributions through collective punishment, denial of rights and destruction of chances for a viable Palestinian State, he declared.
On the agenda item concerning cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations, the Assembly, acting without a vote, adopted the following resolutions: Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe (document A/61/L.14) as well as Cooperation between the United Nations and the Economic Cooperation Organization (document A/61/L.8); Cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States (document A/61/L.17).
Also speaking today were the representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Ukraine (on behalf of the GUAM group of Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan), United Arab Emirates, India, Japan, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Australia, the Sudan, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Norway, Zambia, Kuwait, Egypt, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, Indonesia and Venezuela.
Observers also spoke for the Holy See, the International Organization of Migration (IOM), International Federation of the Red Cross and Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Malta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 November, to hold elections and make appointments to a variety of Committees and Commissions, as well as to the Joint Inspection Unit.
The General Assembly met today to consider the question of cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations, along with the question of strengthening coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief activities.
For its consideration of cooperation with regional organizations, the Assembly has before it a number of draft resolutions. One concerns cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe (document A/61/L.14), by which the Assembly would encourage the development of cooperation between the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and the Council of Europe, with a view to promoting post-conflict re-establishment and consolidation of peace in Europe, with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. It would further encourage cooperation between the two in the fight against transnational organized crime, and it would call for the deepening of cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Finally, the Assembly would request the Secretaries-General of both organizations to combine efforts in the search for answers to global challenges.
A draft resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the Economic Cooperation Organization (document A/61/L.8) would have the Assembly call for strengthening the technical assistance rendered in the area of trade to the organization's 10 member States in the Asian area around Turkey and Tajikistan, taking into account that some were in the process of becoming members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and that increasing their access to world markets and trade would boost their efforts to achieve development goals. The Assembly would note with satisfaction the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Decade of Transport and Communications (1998-2007) and welcome the signing of the intergovernmental agreement on the Asian Highway, calling on States to contribute to operationalizing the accord by identifying priority investment projects.
Further to the draft, the Assembly would welcome the signing of memorandums of understanding between the organization and the World Meteorological Organization and with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), calling for implementation. It would also welcome the organization's efforts towards building conditions enabling Afghanistan to assume a more active role in the region. The United Nations system and the international community would be invited to provide technical assistance for building early warning systems and capacities for timely response with a view to reducing human casualties and mitigating the socio-economic impact of natural disasters and infectious diseases.
By a resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States (document A/61/L.17), the Assembly would call on the United Nations system and the League to strengthen and expand cooperation in all fields, while strengthening the League's capacity to benefit from globalization and information technology, as well as to meet development challenges. The Assembly would call for stepped up cooperation and coordination in the area of seminars and training, implementation of initiatives and projects, and follow-up to multilateral and bilateral proposals.
Further to the draft, the United Nations system would also be called upon to increase cooperation with the League in priority sectors such as energy, rural development, environment, trade and finance, water, agriculture, women's empowerment, promotion of the private sector and capacity-building, aimed at greater reliance on Arab resources. The Assembly would reaffirm that cooperation would be enhanced by a meeting between representatives of the United Nations and the League once every two years, with joint inter-agency sectoral meetings held biennially to address priority areas. The Assembly would also reaffirm that the next general meeting between the two secretariats would be held in 2007.
Turning to the issue of humanitarian and disaster relief, the Assembly has before it a report by the Secretary-General concerning the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/61/463), which outlines threats against humanitarian and United Nations staff over the past year and provides an update on measures taken to address conditions.
In his report, the Secretary-General says a study of data on major incidents of violence against aid workers during the period from 1997 to 2005 had shown that, by United States standards, aid work was among the top 10 most hazardous civilian occupations, coming in at number 5 behind loggers, pilots, fishermen and structural iron or steel workers. During the one-year period under review, United Nations and humanitarian personnel had faced dangerous circumstances, resulting in death or injury in Afghanistan, Israel, Kenya, Somalia and especially in the Sudan. Those in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Darfur region of the Sudan had been subjected to the unrelenting hostility of armed groups.
While the Darfur Peace Agreement prohibits violence towards civilians and relief workers, that region accounted for 11 out of 15 attacks on humanitarian convoys, resulting in death or injury of personnel. The security climate in Lebanon, where the United Nations has been presented with new and extremely delicate tasks, remains fragile. In other areas where the presence of the United Nations has been established and remains vital, burglaries, robberies, harassment at checkpoints and the threat of being assaulted or taken hostage are prevalent. Recent events of international terrorism, while sparing United Nations facilities, presage a further widening of risks that spares no country or activity.
During the seven-month humanitarian response to the Pakistan earthquake, 51 security officers had been drawn from duty stations around the globe, and competing security demands in assigned countries proved that the United Nations Department of Safety and Security lacked the capacity to address multiple emergencies of such scale.
A change of culture in the Department of Safety and Security, which was established on 23 December 2004, has improved safety response with stronger staffing and capacity, the Secretary-General reports. It has made “significant and tangible” progress in achieving a professional security management system that can respond with stronger staffing and capacity, based on continuous analysis to allow the Organization to function safely in the face of a heightened global threat. However, host Governments continue to bear primary responsibility for the safety of United Nations and humanitarian staff. The difficulty of obtaining permission to import communication equipment in some countries was dismaying, and the restriction should be lifted. Some host Governments were also slow to respond with regard to information on incidents. Overall, however, the number of security incidents against United Nations and humanitarian personnel declined during the reporting period. While that fact was, no doubt, attributable to many factors, there was also no doubt the enhanced security management system initiated in 2001 has played a major role.
Annex I of the report lists the 15 civilian personnel who lost their lives as a result of malicious acts during the reporting period. Annex II lists the 26 staff members under arrest, detained or missing with respect to whom the right to protection has not been able to be fully exercised.
A report on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake disaster in Pakistan (document A/61/79 – E/20006/67) 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 the importance of reducing the overall vulnerability of populations in disaster-prone countries and regions.
The report recounts the events of 8 October 2005, when a massive earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck South Asia at 8.50 a.m. local time. This was the most devastating earthquake in a century in the region and it caused extensive destruction across 30,000 square kilometres of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir, including the latter's capital, Muzaffarabad, which was located near the epicentre of the earthquake. The official death toll stands at more than 73,000 people, including 1,300 in India and 4 in Afghanistan.
At least 17,000 children were killed when schools collapsed, a staggering 69,400 people were severely injured and some 3.3 million people were left homeless. The earthquake destroyed, or severely damaged, more than 400,000 homes, more than 500 health facilities, nearly 6,000 schools and colleges, as well as many Government buildings; and hundreds of doctors, nurses, teachers, Government officials and community leaders lost their lives. Civilian authorities, especially at the provincial level, were severely affected, with extensive damage to economic assets and infrastructure. Social service delivery, commerce and communications were also damaged or destroyed.
After defining the tragedy and providing an overview of the international community's initial response, the Secretary-General offers a series of recommendations on ways to strengthen emergency relief efforts in several areas, including response capacity, civil-military coordination, disaster preparedness, disaster recovery, disaster risk reduction, information management and resource mobilization.
Among other things, he recommends that United Nations humanitarian agencies and relevant international organizations and civil society groups should strengthen national and local capacities in support of the Government of Pakistan. This includes a commitment to review and assess the existing capacity, including standby arrangements and training programmes in-country and to support the development of dedicated civilian disaster management institutions at all levels. In addition, he says that this requires the establishment of national contingency plans and regulatory frameworks, which incorporate clear procedures for assessing needs against a set of baseline indicators of minimum requirements, developed in consultation with community leaders and local non-governmental organizations, to ensure that relief supplies reach all affected populations.
Also before the Assembly is a letter dated 18 October 2006 from the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly (document A/61/550), which contains a note on the results of the 12 October 2006 meeting of the Advisory Group of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which took place in Geneva. The note summarizes the key points raised during the discussion, on both the management of the Fund and its effect on humanitarian operations on the ground, and draws the Assembly President's attention to the Advisory Group's recommendation to reach the Fund target of $500 million as soon as possible. The Secretary-General says that he fully endorses that recommendation and calls upon Member States to contribute to the Fund.
The Assembly was also set to consider the Secretary-General's report on the Central Emergency Response Fund (document A/61/85/Add.1 – E/2006/81/Add.1), which notes that key findings show that the implementation of the upgraded Fund during its first six months of operation has made great progress towards its objectives of promoting early action and response to reduce loss of life, enhance response to time-critical requirements based on demonstrable needs and strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crises.
It also notes that the Fund has also helped to improve field-level coordination and has complemented other humanitarian funding arrangements. The timely disbursement of funds, however, has been an issue from the beginning. Adjustments are under way to accelerate those processes. The report further states that the future success of the Fund depends, not only on replenishing the monies that have been spent, but also on increasing overall levels, based on the demonstrated effectiveness of the Fund, towards the three-year target of $500 million, as endorsed by the Assembly.
According to the report, a high-level donor conference is scheduled for 7 December in New York, as an opportunity for donors to make new pledges and receive public recognition for their generous contributions. The Conference is also expected to draw broad-based political support for the Fund.
A report on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/61/87-E/2006/77), provides a status update of the recovery process at the 18-month mark, and identifies some of the key emerging challenges and lessons learned in efforts towards long-term recovery. It examines successes and challenges in tsunami response.
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.
Also according to the report, the assistance provided by the emergency relief effort -— which rapidly reached more than 2 million people —- included preventive health measures, temporary shelter, and emergency food assistance. Relief agencies also built temporary schools and health facilities. While the relief effort faced serious challenges, it was regarded as generally successful. Multi-agency assessment teams originally calculated that approximately $10 billion would be needed for long-term recovery. That figure has recently been revised upwards to approximately $11 billion. Official and private pledges for recovery reached just over $12 billion.
Work on long-term reconstruction is ongoing, with permanent schools, highways, harbours and homes under construction, and livelihood restoration programmes and support to communities and social services under way. Across the affected region, construction of permanent housing is the priority, with challenges raised by both the need to build 412,000 homes, and to procure land on which to build. Most of the affected countries face common challenges, which include insecure land tenure, increasing costs of building materials, the need for community consultation in housing construction, and lack of infrastructure at the new housing sites. Livelihood programmes during the early recovery phase have focused on replacing assets, notably in the fisheries sector —- but the disaster's effects on employment can still be felt across the region, the report says.
Among the report's recommendations, the Secretary-General suggests that aid agencies should increase support for national capacity to develop baseline data, and guarantee ongoing data collection and analysis efforts during recovery, so as to enable more effective assessment of relief and recovery requirements. The United Nations should systematically support Governments in these processes, as part of their recovery operations. He also recommends the effective deployment of environmental expertise in all stages of disaster response, rather than after key decisions have already been made.
Also before the Assembly is a report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/61/314), which highlights the key challenges facing the international community in improving the international response to disasters and in strengthening the capacity of disaster-prone countries in disaster management. The report states that over the reporting period (1 June 2005-31 May 2006), 404 disasters associated with natural hazards were recorded in 115 countries, killing more than 93,000 people, affecting almost 157 million people and causing economic damage amounting to $172 billion.
While the South Asian earthquake of October 2005, in which more than 73,000 people were reportedly killed, was by far the most destructive disaster of the period in terms of loss of human lives, the series of floods that struck India and China from May to July 2005 were among the most extensive disasters in terms of people reported affected (between 11 and 20 million people respectively), as was the typhoon that hit China in September 2005 (more than 19 million people were reportedly affected). The disaster that caused the greatest reported economic damage was Hurricane Katrina, which, in August 2005, generated economic losses amounting to $125 billion in the United States.
Pakistan reported the highest loss of human lives during the reporting period, both in absolute terms, and relative to its population. China reported the highest number of people affected (almost 96 million, equal to 7.3 per cent of its population). In the Comoros and Malawi, the number of people reportedly affected, although small in absolute terms, represented more than one-third of the population. Similarly, in Niger, the number of people reportedly affected represented 29.5 per cent of the population, and in Cuba, 22.9 per cent. In terms of economic damage, the United States reported the highest absolute figure (almost $142 billion), although that represented only 1.2 per cent of its 2004 gross domestic product (GDP). Guyana reported the highest relative economic damage, equal to 21 per cent of its 2004 GDP.
The report recommends that relevant international humanitarian agencies and organizations should reorient the focus of their disaster response policies and practices from the delivery of goods and services to supporting and strengthening local, national and regional capacities for disaster management. It also invites Member States to support the international disaster response law programme of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and actively participate in the consultations organized by the programme. Member States are encouraged to actively participate in regional disaster response networks, such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.
A report on assistance to the Palestinian People (document A/61/80-E/2006/72) covers the period from May 2005 to April 2006. In it, the Secretary-General outlines major developments, including the implementation of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, the attainment of an Agreement on Movement and Access only partly implemented, ongoing violence, continuation of a tight closure policy by Israeli authorities, the incapacitation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and legislative elections both in Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The Israeli election led to the formation of a coalition Government led by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Secretary-General continues. The Palestinian elections were won by the Hamas “Change and Reform” list of candidates. Following that victory, many donors reviewed their assistance to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government withheld payment of taxes and duties collected on behalf of the Authority. The result is an acute fiscal crisis, exacerbating an already precarious economic and social situation. Setting aside medium and longer-term planning, the United Nations agencies and programmes made emergency assistance the priority.
The report then describes actions taken to support the Palestinian civilian population by United Nations agencies in cooperation with Palestinian and donor counterparts. These actions are focused on the areas of human and social development, governance and institutional support, development of the private sector, emergency assistance and coordination of assistance. Donor response was in the form of emergency budget and fiscal support, as well as support for the Task Force on Palestinian Reform.
Identifying challenges, the Secretary-General says the overall situation during the period was characterized by uncertainty and failed expectations. Despite an apparent stabilization of the economy and growth in private sector activities after 2003, all Palestinians did not benefit comprehensively or equitably. The donor community is searching for ways to maintain vital support for the people, while pressing the Authority to accede to the three Quartet principles of recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and acknowledging previous agreements. Operationally, closures and security restrictions continue to constrain implementation of programmes and agencies need to adopt a more robust common approach to access.
Finally, the Secretary-General observes that the period under review was one of rapid change in the Territory. Significant financial support would be required to avoid further degradation in the quality of life there. Despite significantly scaled down planning time frames, the United Nations system remained fully committed to assisting the Palestinians. It was critical for agencies to quickly address needs through established mechanisms, such as the consolidated appeals process, while continuing to pursue the broader aim of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and the establishment of a sovereign, democratic, viable and contiguous Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel.
Introduction of drafts
Introducing the draft text on cooperation between the United Nations and Council of Europe (document A/61/L.14), VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that closer cooperation between the two organizations was important, particularly in defence of human rights and post-conflict peacebuilding. Adoption of the draft would also help in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and strategic goals passed at the Millennium Summit -- including those of social solidarity and cultural diversity. Expressing gratitude to all Member States in the Council of Europe for their cooperation, he hoped for the draft's adoption without a vote.
Action on drafts
Acting without a vote, the Assembly then adopted the following series of drafts introduced earlier: Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe (document A/61/L.14) as well as Cooperation between the United Nations and the Economic Cooperation Organization (document A/61/L.8); Cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States (document A/61/L.17).
Statement by General Assembly President
Opening the debate, Assembly President SHEIKHA HAYA RASHED AL KHALIFA of Bahrain, said that so far this year, the world had been spared major natural disasters and that there had been fresh opportunities for peace -- be those in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Timor-Leste. As a result of such favourable circumstances, there had also been a reduction in the demand for humanitarian services. “This pause gives an opportunity for the United Nations to focus preparedness activities in several regions prone to natural events,” she said, adding that that also provided an opportunity to consolidate the humanitarian reforms, which had been initiated during the Assembly's 2005 World Summit.
That reform programme had been successful thus far, she said, recalling that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), set up by the Secretary-General last December, had already delivered time-critical responses, which had helped to save lives in 25 countries. The Fund had been particularly effective during the Lebanon crisis over the summer, providing immediate resources for the transport of humanitarian goods across that country, when no funds would have been otherwise available. “It will be important to improve CERF and ensure that it is fully funded in the future,” she stressed.
She went on to say that, just last week, the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on United Nations System-Wide Coherence had noted that the Organization had a unique and leading role to play in humanitarian disasters and emergencies, and had recommended various measures to enhance that role further through building on ongoing reforms. The humanitarian community continued to face many challenges, among them, the number of emergencies requiring urgent attention, such as the drought in the Horn of Africa, which now affected some 15 million people in five countries. Drought cycles had increasingly rendered populations more vulnerable to minor shocks that could disrupt livelihoods, trigger famine and even cause conflicts.
Another challenge was gaining access to populations in need of humanitarian assistance in places such as the Sudan's western Darfur region, where some 3.6 million people required relief supplies. However, due to growing insecurity, humanitarian access in the region had been restricted. Indeed, since 30 June, 12 relief workers had been killed in Darfur. A substantial initial grant from the CERF had allowed helicopter access to remote areas, but only for a three-month period. “This is not a sustainable solution,” she declared. Gender-based violence was another of the humanitarian community's concerns. Such violence encompassed more than sexual violence, and also included forced conscription and the recruitment of young boys into military ranks. “Member States have a prime responsibility for preventing these violations, by putting in place measures to prosecute perpetrators and establishing structures to take care of victims,” she said.
Finally, she said the Assembly's debate today also covered assistance to the Palestinian people, and emphasized that the international community needed to provide significant, long-term financial support to help avoid further degradation of the Palestinian people's humanitarian and economic situations. Due to the ongoing political uncertainty and hardship, United Nations agencies had directed most of their activities towards immediate emergency assistance. She urged the Assembly to keep in mind all the vulnerable people around the world in need of humanitarian assistance. “Our common efforts to strengthen the coordination of the humanitarian and emergency response system of the United Nations should aim to alleviate suffering and improve chances of survival in times of emergency,” she said, declaring: “We must not fail those who depend on the UN as their final hope.”
KIRSTI LINTONEN (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the improvements in humanitarian response now under way as a result of reform efforts, but said joint and decisive actions were needed to improve humanitarian action and prevent crises from the outset. The European Union was especially alarmed at the deteriorating situation in the Sudan, especially Darfur, and in Sri Lanka. The primary responsibility for the protection of civilians rested with national governments, and she urged all Governments and parties to conflict to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian workers. The protection and security of staff in the field, and at Headquarters, was of utmost importance, and the Union condemned all threats and acts of violence against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.
She said that the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator System was a key to a successfully coordinated humanitarian response at the country level, and the Union welcomed the improvements, such as reinforced training programmes and the creation of a pool of humanitarian coordinators. Efforts to improve stand-by capacities for humanitarian assistance were also welcome, as that could include more permanent arrangements with Member States and regional organizations. The Union supported strong partnerships with local actors, non-governmental organizations and civil society. The Peacebuilding Commission could contribute to a coordinated United Nations response to States emerging from conflict, and the first country-specific meetings held in October on Sierra Leone and Burundi had been an encouraging start.
Turning to humanitarian funding, the Union believed the predictability, timeliness and equity of funding should be improved, as some emergencies remained chronically under-funded or neglected, she said. The creation of the CERF had been a major improvement and the Union believed that the Fund, and the rapid funding mechanisms of some United Nations agencies, should be viewed as complementary assets to each other. The Union also remained committed to the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative; effective coordination among donors themselves would produce a more coherent response and reduce overlapping actions. On the issue of natural disasters, additional investment was needed to shift disaster risk reduction from merely reacting to disasters, to building resilience. Donors and hazard-affected countries should invest more in disaster mitigation and preparedness. The priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) should be implemented.
RUTH ELIZABETH ROUSE (Grenada), on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called for improved access to funds in the initial phases of humanitarian emergencies and for ensuring equitable response to neglected and chronically underfunded emergencies. Small-island developing States were particularly vulnerable to weather events, but the international response had been inadequate to recent disasters in Grenada, Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica. CERF was a welcome mechanism for ensuring a more predictable and timely response, with its innovative grant element.
She said that, in order that the Fund remained an effective tool, Member States must transform pledges into commitments. Also, they must remember that the Fund was a mechanism of last resort and played a complementary role to other humanitarian mechanisms, emergency funds and appeals. The 12 October recommendations of the Advisory Group for the Central Emergency Response Fund should be followed with regard to the Fund's use and management of the Fund, while every effort should be made to achieve the $500 million target. The highest level of participation should be the aim for the 7 December donor conference for the Fund.
A Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency had been established in 1991 to provide information, mitigate disasters, develop and sustain response capabilities and coordinate relief for the region, she said. Among others, Turkey had provided support to the Agency through $400,000, which would help to bridge gaps in the programmes and enable the more predictable funding of country programmes. A financing agreement had been signed between the European Union and Caribbean region for institutional support and capacity-building. The project was intended to improve legislation, increase awareness and use of technology to better prepare and manage disasters.
She called on States to increase contributions to the Fund, so as to meet the three-year target for the $500 million the Assembly had endorsed.
ANDRIY NIKITOV ( Ukraine), speaking also on behalf of Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, on the strengthening of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, said that his delegation believed the key issues were further strengthening of the current international humanitarian response system; improving coordination of humanitarian assistance; sustained and unhindered humanitarian access; and flexible and predictable emergency funding. Humanitarian response did not always meet the basic needs of affected populations in a timely way. In fact, it had varied from crisis to crisis and current capacity levels were not always sufficient to meet the demands of simultaneous, major emergencies.
Expressing concern over the alarming spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he said that efforts to address that problem could be more successful if reinforced by concrete action by Member States -- especially through the development of national strategies that addressed the spread of HIV among humanitarian workers and international peacekeepers.
In conclusion, on the Chernobyl disaster, he said he appreciated the contribution by all Member States, United Nations organizations, civil society, the private sector and the donor community to mitigate and minimize the disaster's consequences.
ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI ( United Arab Emirates) emphasized the central role of the United Nations in strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. He valued the efforts made by the Organization and all groups working in relief activities and affirmed the importance of implementing the recommendations of international conferences on global coordination for confronting disasters. The United Arab Emirates had made many contributions in the field of humanitarian and relief assistance, for both emergencies and over the long term. For example, it had created the Dubai Humanitarian City to provide integrated services to national and international humanitarian organizations.
Turning to the issue of the Palestinian people, he said his country attached great importance to support and assistance for the Palestinian people and Government to alleviate their suffering during the humanitarian crisis created by the brutal assault by the Israeli occupying forces. The United Arab Emirates was deeply concerned by the aggravated humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory resulting from the economic, political and military blockades imposed by the Israeli occupying forces. He called upon the United Nations, especially the Security Council, to undertake its responsibility for protecting the Palestinian people and compel Israel to stop its aggression, lift its blockade of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and halt construction of the illegal expansionist wall. He also emphasized the need for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to keep providing services to refugees in all regions of its operations, and for the international community to maintain financial support of its activities.
NIRUPAM SEN ( India) encouraged the Emergency Relief Coordinator to address administrative delays in the CERF and streamline application processes. While the need to complete the requisite paperwork prior to disbursement of funds was appreciated, it was also essential that developing countries were not burdened by excessive paperwork at a time when their capacities were stretched in coping with the aftermath of a disaster.
He said that humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. The guiding principles contained in the annex to Assembly resolution 46/182 enjoined that sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected, and that humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and on the basis of an appeal by that country.
Expressing concern at the report's recommendations on “humanitarian access”, he said that the gains made by the establishment of the Fund could be built upon by retaining the neutrality and non-political character of United Nations humanitarian assistance. Well-functioning and stable Governments, with strong national and legal institutions, could and did take care of their internally displaced persons. They were also best placed to understand their own national context and legislative requirements.
He said that there was a need for further information and understanding of the cluster leadership approach, especially from the perspective of the receiving countries, where it had been implemented so far. That approach should be implemented at the country level, with the consent of, and under the leadership of, the national Government of the affected State. An evaluation of the effectiveness of the approach in enhancing coordination among United Nations agencies, taking into account the financial costs incurred and incorporating the inputs of the affected States, should be presented to Member States. The cluster approach could only be considered as a first step, however, and not as a solution.
TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan), referring to the strengthening of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, said that his Government had committed to contributing 100 million yen to the CERF. It was essential to properly review the Fund in a more comprehensive and systematic manner, including the examination of its challenges. Improving the speed with which it made disbursements for assistance in emergencies was one of those.
Expressing support for the cluster approach, one of the pillars of humanitarian reform, he said that it was a useful method for strengthening response capacity, increasing the effectiveness of multilateral humanitarian assistance and addressing the issue of internally displaced persons. As information exchange among humanitarian actors on the ground and strong leadership were vital for the cluster approach to be implemented effectively, Japan thus supported the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' ongoing efforts to strengthen the role of humanitarian coordinators. Disaster reduction was an essential pillar of sustainable development and Japan would share its experience, expertise and knowledge in that end.
NIKOLAY V. CHULKOV ( Russian Federation) said that giving the United Nations resident and Humanitarian Coordinators the authority to mesh the relief activities of the United Nations humanitarian agencies in the field was helping to improve the Organization's overall humanitarian response. But, United Nations country teams needed to maintain close partnerships with host Governments, as States had the responsibility to take care of their citizens. The so-called cluster approach was an important element for improving delivery in the field, but that should be applied cautiously and take account of local circumstances, without automatic expansion to other countries. Turning to CERF, he took note of the Advisory Group's recommendation on potential Fund allocations for disaster reduction activities. He was not convinced that that approach was right, however, especially given the existence of a separate United Nations Trust Fund for Disaster Reduction.
He said his country continued to assign the key role of humanitarian response to the United Nations and its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA should ensure that humanity, neutrality and impartiality, as well as independence, remained the fundamental principles underlying the provision of humanitarian assistance. He also supported measures to strengthen the planning and preparedness for emergencies triggered by natural disasters. It was necessary to build up the national early warning systems, damage assessment and disaster mitigation, as well as to increase global cooperation -- in that regard. He assigned the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction the key role in that endeavour. He was deeply grateful to all Member States for their solidarity with regard to the tragic accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 20 years ago, he said.
PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said Switzerland had advocated greater complementarity between the humanitarian work of the General Assembly and the humanitarian segment of the Economic and Social Council's substantive session, and had invited Member States to pursue discussions aimed at reallocation of humanitarian issues dealt with by the General Assembly. He was pleased with improvements in the United Nations emergency response capacity, and the increased attention to international humanitarian coordination. He called for greater sharing of information between humanitarian actors, but stressed that humanitarian action must be based on realistic needs assessments in the protection of, and assistance to, all persons affected by disasters, in accordance with humanitarian principles. The known capacity of all actors on the ground should also be kept in mind. The prime responsibility for protecting and assisting internally displaced persons lay with the Governments concerned, as outlined in the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”
He also stressed the primacy of civil organizations in the implementation of humanitarian aid, and invited Member States to make use of the existing instruments governing civil-military cooperation in crisis situations. He thanked the Norwegian Government and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for advocating the effective implementation of the “1994 Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief.” At the same time, preparedness capacities for natural disasters must be strengthened at the community level and in collaboration with other bodies involved at all levels, in accordance with the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. He was pleased with the efforts to strengthen the role of the Humanitarian Coordinator, which he described as the cornerstone of increased United Nations effectiveness and credibility at the field level. He was also pleased to note the forthcoming Inter-Agency Standing Committee Gender Handbook “Women, Men, Girls and Boys Different Needs, Equal Opportunities.”
RICHARD T. MILLER ( United States) said his country supported the cluster approach, which had helped to address some critical and long-standing gaps in coordination. Ongoing intergovernmental discussion could help to clarify its value. The United States also supported the assigning of overall protection of internally displaced persons to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Emergency Relief Coordinator should keep working towards substantial improvements in the selection and training of humanitarian coordinators. The United States agreed in principle with the recommendation to establish more effective stand-by arrangements for the deployment of humanitarian personnel in response to crises, and it was willing to share its experience in that area.
He agreed that an expanding CERF was an effective tool for responding rapidly to humanitarian emergencies, but the United States was less sure about its value in addressing “under-funded emergencies”. Clearer definitions and criteria were needed to govern disbursements. Allocation based on percentages of funding received for each United Nations appeal was inadequate, as not all appeals fully reflected the range of humanitarian activity and some were not limited to emergency response. The United States was also concerned about discussions citing a need for greater “equity” of resources as a goal of humanitarian assistance, as that contradicted the fundamental premise that humanitarian action was based on need. Attacks on humanitarian workers had become a significant impediment in many crises and work must be done to guarantee the safety and security of such workers.
GEORGE CAMPBELL, Senator, Parliamentary Advisor, Australia, said the international community faced an increased number of rapidly changing or complex crises, and, therefore, must work to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and accurately measure its impact. Indeed, there was a moral and operational imperative to maximize the impact of humanitarian assistance, and the United Nations system should demonstrate that it was doing that. Australia supported the Organization's central and unique role in providing leadership and coordination in the area of humanitarian action, and the United Nations humanitarian reform agenda, led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs played a key role in improving its response capacity and financing, as well as overall coordination.
While he commended progress towards implementing the agenda already under way, he stressed that much remained to be done, including strengthening the Organization's humanitarian coordinator system. He encouraged the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to continue to develop that system, including through the selection and training of resident and humanitarian coordinators, because it was critically important that the pool of personnel available for such deployment be enhanced and that its gender balance be improved. Improving the response capacity of the wider United Nations system, including that of individual agencies in key areas, was also essential, and in that regard, he welcomed the so-called “cluster leadership” approach, and noted the positive impact of that approach in responding to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Pakistan and Yokyakarta, Indonesia.
He also encouraged the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to continue to strengthen CERF and to broaden its donor base, including by attracting private donors and contributors from a wide range of Member States. He also expressed support for OCHA's efforts to build partnerships within the wider humanitarian community. Such partnerships were the “fourth pillar” of the humanitarian reform agenda, and the holding of a forum in July to bring together humanitarian actors had been an important step. Australia looked forward to hearing more about how those discussions would be taken forward to build stronger partnerships. He also emphasized the importance of military and civilian relationships in humanitarian response.
Finally, he called on the United Nations to strengthen its resolve to address violence deliberately directed against civilian populations and aid workers in emergency situations, particularly gender-based violence, which continued to be a significant problem during, and in the aftermath of, humanitarian emergencies. It was vital for the United Nations family to focus necessary resources and efforts on preventing and prosecuting gender-based violence, alongside working to address the causes of such violence. Australia urged all Member States to ensure that their national laws and judicial and community mechanisms adequately prevented, or promptly prosecuted, gender-based violence, as well as provided support to the victims of such acts.
MAHJOUB ALBASHA MOHAMED AHMED, Director-General, Department of Bilateral Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Sudan, speaking about the strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance, saluted the sacrifices made by those to reach the needy. He was highly appreciative of the organizations in the United Nations system, and particularly OCHA, for its aid to the Sudan.
On the Sudan's relevant experience, it was pioneering, and thus, could benefit the United Nations system as a whole. The Sudan was one of the largest host countries to African refugees, sharing its meagre resources and providing shelter. When humanitarian assistance was given, it was imperative that local Government, national organizations and a State's sovereignty be considered. A State's culture or dignity could not be overlooked, even in times of disaster or emergency.
Certain other facts needed reflection, where humanitarian assistance was concerned. For one thing, more than 60 per cent of funds from humanitarian assistance were allocated to administrative costs. Reducing those costs needed urgent attention, as did capacity-building at the national level, bearing in mind that national entities were more familiar with realities on the ground. On direct food assistance, particular care should be taken that such aid did not have a destructive impact on economy. Encouraging farmers to stop production could slow a country's recovery process. Furthermore, transparency and accountability between donors and recipient countries was crucial. Relief needed to take place in complete transparency. He reiterated his delegation's full cooperation with the United Nations in the field of humanitarian assistance.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that, due to various natural disasters in the past year, more than 92,000 lives had been lost, 30 million had been made homeless and 100 million people had lost their livelihood, which, along with damage to infrastructure, required increased international humanitarian assistance. The recently established Central Emergency Response Fund had raised $273 million and provided timely and effective disaster relief assistance, to which China had pledged $1 million. The Central Emergency Response Fund had been a major achievement in reform of United Nations humanitarian assistance, but its resources amounted to only 5 per cent of the total amount the United Nations planned to raise through the consolidated appeal process; the Fund could not replace the consolidated appeals. Nevertheless, he hoped the Fund would reach its target of $500 million.
With the growing number of organizations working in humanitarian assistance, it was necessary to further strengthen the leading role of OCHA, he said. Mandates and responsibilities of the various organizations should be clearly defined to reduce overlapping of work. He also welcomed the establishment and improvement of the humanitarian coordinator system within the United Nations and said coordinators should receive training and guidance to enhance their capacity to provide relief, on-the-ground coordination and more technical support for relief activities under the leadership of the Governments of affected countries.
He added that the Governments of affected countries should play a leading role in relief activities and in planning for recovery and rehabilitation. He called on the United Nations and the international community to adhere to the guiding principles of “humanity, neutrality and impartiality” and to provide assistance that was based on actual needs and priorities of affected countries. Given the experience of the United Nations in disaster relief, prevention and reduction, he said it should strengthen partnerships with other international organizations, financial agencies and non-governmental organizations engaged in humanitarian relief work. The international community should give greater priority to resources, mechanisms and technology to help disaster-prone countries and regions establish early warning systems, enhance storage and rapid deployment capability, and the ability to prevent and respond to natural disasters. He described China's comprehensive disaster prevention and reduction system and expressed the country's willingness to exchange and share experiences with other countries and carry out wide-ranging international cooperation in the field of disaster management and emergency relief.
JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said that, while key elements of the humanitarian reform agenda were becoming a reality, progress should not be taken for granted. Residual United Nations inter-agency rivalries still persisted and cooperation with non-governmental organizations and other partners was often strained. Further, conflicts such as those in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Northern Uganda and Sri Lanka reminded all what kind of toll violence took on civilian populations.
Applauding efforts made on the cluster coordination system, he noted that there were still a number of key areas, specifically in the global protection and early recovery clusters, where progress had been slow. To ensure for a more effective humanitarian response, it was crucial to strengthen the ability to assess and monitor humanitarian needs. Canada had made a significant contribution to the CERF, but its allocations should be guided by good evidence-based analysis, needs assessments and priority setting by country teams.
In addition, he said that the establishment by OCHA of a United Nations deployment capacity had been a welcome -- and much-needed -- common service. Protecting civilians remained fundamental to effective humanitarian action. The United Nations should also be more proactive in identifying gaps in civilian capacities best filled by military and civilian defence assets. Lastly, as a recent study had highlighted that national aid workers were more at risk then ever, there must be no impunity for those targeting and attacking aid workers.
MISHAL BIN ABDULLAH BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said that providing humanitarian assistance to mitigate the impacts of natural and manmade disasters was a noble obligation. Due to the increasing complexity of such disasters, as well as the lack of quickly available funds and the often spotty availability of material resources, it was necessary for the international community to enhance local and regional emergency response capacities. Saudi Arabia had long called for such improvements and continued to lead the global community's emergency response efforts, which included billions of dollars devoted to reconstruction in Iraq, rehabilitation of tsunami hit regions in the Indian Ocean, and the reconstruction effort in Lebanon.
Of the some $4 billion dollars in overall funding it had earmarked for emergency response over the past year, Saudi Arabia had supported the creation of disaster preparedness and response programmes at regional and global levels, he said. It had also provided substantial support to the CERF. Overall enhancement of the international community's response capacity required more than finances; it required that the countries of the North and the South hold real dialogue on the path from relief to development, in the wake of complex emergencies and disasters. Towards that goal, greater attention should be paid to easing global market access and international trade, and alleviating the debt of poor and middle-income countries.
The capacities of international and regional institutions working in the area of humanitarian relief provisions and response should also be enhanced, but that should occur in conjunction with efforts to ensure mutual cooperation, he continued. Aware of the broader effects of disasters and complex emergencies, Saudi Arabia supported initiatives that boosted health care, education and other socio-economic advances. Aware of the strategic and economic importance of oil commodities, the Kingdom also continued to act in an appropriate manner so that relevant markets would not be upset, and that developing countries would not adversely suffer because of market spikes. For that purpose, Saudi Arabia had established an energy forum in Riyadh to act as a forum for dialogue between consumer and producer economies.
Finally, he said that the world's enormous economic resources, if optimised, would bridge the gap between rich and poor countries, and would end hunger, poverty and disease. Using those vast resources properly would also go a long way towards finding just solutions to the problems that beset the search for international peace and security.
NIKOLAI CHERGINETS ( Belarus) said humanitarian assistance was always an important part of the United Nations' work, and the Organization was in the forefront of providing help during disasters. Humanitarian assistance had expanded from relief activities after natural disasters to include assistance during armed conflicts. While the United Nations and its agencies took too much time in assessing country needs, he complimented the work of Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in strengthening the Organization's relief efforts and its capacity to respond to crises. Efforts were needed to strengthen the funding mechanisms provided to United Nations agencies during emergencies so they could work more effectively.
He said that Belarus wanted to be an active participant in international humanitarian operations. The country had been one of the first to respond to the Indian Ocean disaster in 2004. It had also not been a bystander during the recent Middle East conflict. Belarus was working to develop agreements of cooperation with the United Nations that would aid disaster relief operations, such as a bilateral draft agreement that would speed up the transit of humanitarian cargo through its territory. Turning to the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he said the event could not be ignored, and Belarus was grateful to the many global organizations and individual Governments that continued to provide humanitarian assistance.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said that humanitarian attention to vulnerable populations was one of Colombia's main priorities, and the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation coordinated the Comprehensive Program of Action for the Displaced Population. Several years ago, Colombia incorporated the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into its legislation. Its adoption into the national legislation had been among the Secretary-General's recent recommendations. The registered number of displaced persons in Colombia for the 1998-2006 period was 1,875,000. Despite the complexity of the phenomenon, there had been a progressive and substantial reduction in the annual number of new cases of displacement from 450,000 newly displaced persons in 2002, to 90,000 so far in 2006.
She said that Colombia emphasized the importance that humanitarian assistance be carried out under the principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity, and that it complement the efforts of Governments. The cluster approach was an inappropriate model for humanitarian assistance. The main goal of United Nations agencies' support should be strengthening national capacities' response to emergencies. Governments and States must coordinate humanitarian assistance, with the participation of agencies, and not the other way around. Strengthening the role of the United Nations must not come at the cost of weakening the role of Governments in that sensitive area. Turning to financing, she said funding of humanitarian assistance should be channelled towards the agencies and institutions that worked best with the States -- the ones that demonstrated the best performance and best contributed to strengthening national institutions.
A. L. ABDUL AZEEZ ( Sri Lanka) noted that, two years after the tsunami, Sri Lanka was still recovering from unprecedented destruction and loss of life. The country's coastal line, encompassing 13 districts, had suffered most, with unbelievable damage also to the nation's infrastructure and communication networks. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Governments, the United Nations and other international organizations had rushed to help the victims in a wave of good will and generosity. The socio-economic impact had also been great, as the tsunami had compounded previously existing vulnerabilities. Due to the timely response by the Government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, bolstered by the United Nations and other organizations, Sri Lanka had recorded no additional deaths due to tsunami-related diseases or lack of medical treatment.
He said that the last decade had witnessed a significant increase in human and economic loss caused by natural disasters. The effects of climate change and the environment's increasing deterioration was a major future concern. Vulnerability to disasters described the degree to which a socio-economic system was either susceptible or resilient to the impact of natural hazards. Sri Lanka's Government had projected that it would take at least three to five years to complete the task of rehabilitation and reconstruction, at a cost of some $2.2 billion. The international community had committed about $2.1 billion, of which $0.6 billion had been disbursed. The Government was in the process of identifying remaining gaps and taking corrective measures to ensure the speediest recovery.
Disaster management had also become a national priority with the creation of a new ministry and the development of a national early warning and protection system, he said. Sri Lanka had also identified the importance of building local capacity for timely interventions in the event of natural disasters. United Nations efforts should support, but not substitute for, Government and civil society efforts. In the recovery and reconstruction process, equity concerns deserved particular attention. It was the shared responsibility of the Government and development stakeholders to ensure that no one was left behind. Development partners must be ready to adjust programmes to ensure efficiency. Pledges must be converted into commitments, enabling Governments to accelerate the reconstruction and development of affected areas. Continued international engagement in the post-disaster period was also critical.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said the international community was committed to support the political efforts of the Palestinian people by building an economically viable Palestinian entity but the commitment and the resulting accomplishments were constantly confronted by the crushing arm of the Israeli occupation, which had decimated achievements. With its illegal policies, military aggression and severe economic siege, Israel had ensured that the Palestinian economy was destroyed and that the people were transformed from a young and productive society into a crippled and starved one.
Every destruction of an internationally funded project meant that important and scarce resources had to be diverted towards reconstruction, he emphasized. But that was only half the story because it did not expose the wider picture or uncover the comprehensive effect of those devastating acts of aggression. By combining that aggression with the economic siege, Israel had succeeded in neutralizing the positive outcome of international assistance to the Palestinian people over the past six years. Assistance had been geared towards emergency humanitarian assistance, rather than towards sustainable development, which did not build towards a bright future. A large number of Palestinians now lived under the poverty line of less than $2.10 per day. The poverty level over the past year had risen by 30 per cent to a “shocking 75 per cent”.
That had been the consequence on the ground, of the new mechanism for international assistance designed by the Quartet in response to the new Palestinian Government, he said. Essentially, that had been the result of an international boycott of the Palestinian Authority and it had been absolutely paralyzing. Israel had compounded that boycott by withholding $60 million per month, which was owed to the Authority in collected taxes. The boycott was effectively a collective punishment against the Palestinian people since even the stable Palestinian public servants were not bankrupt. Israel repeatedly used the guise of “self-defence” and “security needs” to justify its unrelenting violations of law, its military aggression and siege on the Territory. But self-defence and security needs should never be acceptable excuses for gross violations of human rights.
Concluding, he said that international assistance to the Palestinian people was the lifeline by which a viable Palestinian State could live side by side with Israel. The destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, public buildings and other economically vital institutions amounted to war crimes and must be halted. The occupying Power must not be allowed to sabotage generous international contributions through collective punishment, denial of rights and destruction of chances for a viable Palestinian State.
SANSANEE SAHUSSARUNGSI ( Thailand) said the road to recovery in Thailand in the aftermath of the tsunami remained a challenging task for the country. The Thai Government had established a policy of preparedness for disaster as the national master plan for use by State agencies as a framework in setting up responses to future disasters. Of equal importance was pre-crisis and post-crisis management, which required international and national cooperation. One approach to mitigate the impact of disasters was to establish early warning systems, while raising the alert level of the general public and relief operators. Regional arrangements were another necessary response.
In that regard, she noted that, in late 2005, Thailand, along with countries in the Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean region, had established the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami early warning system, aimed at building capacity for tsunami early warning system for the countries in the region. Another arrangement was the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which sought to facilitate timely and effective relief efforts through strengthened linkages. She also welcomed the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund, which would strengthen responses to time-critical requirements and core elements of humanitarian responses in underfunded crises.
Sustainable development, with an emphasis on human and social development, was the core of Thailand's humanitarian assistance policy, she said. Emphasis should also be given to sustainable and long lasting results. In that regard, it was of utmost importance that United Nations agencies coordinate their policies and programme implementation, in order to deliver more effectively and make real changes on the ground. Capacity-building was also a key factor in determining sustainable responses. In that regard, United Nations country teams had a key role to play in strengthening synergies between the capacity development efforts of local and international actors to ensure greater policy coherence. Strengthening the capacity of national and local Government and communities to prepare for and respond to crises was crucial for mitigating the negative effects of disasters. The United Nations should assess the existence of preparedness capabilities and networks at the national and local levels in order to provide for the diverse needs of capacity-building assistance.
JOHAN L. LØVALD ( Norway) said Norway remained a strong supporter of the United Nations humanitarian work, but would like the Organization to intensify its efforts to integrate a gender perspective into all United Nations programmes in a systematic manner. Evaluations of recent emergency responses after the tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake and Darfur had shown that gender issues were largely neglected. More effective preventive and protective measures were needed to address sexual and gender–based violence. Turning to the Central Emergency Response Fund, he said that the Fund had successfully led to an improved response and more predictable funding for both sudden emergencies and neglected crises. He urged donors to increase their contributions as Norway intended to do in 2007, emphasizing that a wider donor base was needed.
He said that Norway remained fully committed to the cluster approach as a key element of humanitarian reform. While the system had been improved, more work was needed to ensure a clearer division of labour, improved capacity and defined operational targets. More effective partnerships between United Nations and non-United Nations actors should be developed and the prevention of humanitarian crises should be placed higher on the United Nations agenda. Turning to conflict situations, he said cooperation between military forces and humanitarian agencies in disaster relief operations must be approached from a humanitarian perspective. Hopefully, the updated “ Oslo guidelines”, which outlined the use of military, civil and defence assets in disaster relief and would be relaunched on the 27 of November, would produce better practices in civil-military coordination.
TENS C. KAPOMA ( Zambia) said that disasters created direct losses for productive capital and stocks, as well as for economic and social infrastructure. Disasters also led to indirect losses by disrupting production and the flow of goods and services, and a subsequent loss of earnings. International humanitarian efforts should develop a disaster management approach that addressed the interconnectedness of threats and vulnerabilities at the global level. That approach should also engage national Governments in strategic disaster planning and preparedness at the regional, national and local levels. To ensure consensus on national issues, Zambia had created the National Disaster Management Consultative Forum, a national platform that brought together Government, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and private sector agencies. It provided a forum for the exchange of information and served as an entry point for the private sector and civil society.
Turning to international cooperation, he said that Zambia had participated in several global assistance efforts, such as the international rescue operations surrounding the 2000 Mozambique floods. Despite many achievements in the area of disaster risk and reduction, Zambia faced several constraints. That included a lack of comprehensive baseline information on vulnerability, limited logistical capacity for timely responses and a still inefficient early warning system. He appealed to the international community for continued support to least developed countries. Some of the areas in which Zambia needed assistance were: education and training; logistical capacity for timely responses to disasters; the streamlining and strengthening of early warning systems; and carrying out a comprehensive vulnerability analysis and a national capacity assessment to determine resource availability and gaps.
FAHAD R. BOURESLY ( Kuwait) made note of the measures cited in the reports that had been taken to increase capacity-building for delivering humanitarian aid. His country had suffered from natural disasters and it had appreciated receiving humanitarian assistance when needed. Kuwait's policy was to provide bilateral assistance as quickly as possible. It had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to alleviating the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake. That was in addition to contributions it made to the agencies and funds involved in delivering humanitarian assistance.
He cited two priority areas related to humanitarian crises, which should be addressed urgently. One was the development of early warning systems on a regional basis. The other was the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The staggering poverty and the 23 per cent unemployment rate there amounted to crises. Direct assistance was provided to the Authority through UNRWA, but that was not enough, he stressed.
MAGED ABDEL AZIZ ( Egypt) reaffirmed the urgent need to build countries' institutional capacity to effectively deal with natural disasters, as well as the consequences of conflicts and wars. This should be done at the preventive phase, through the strengthened capacity of countries in the areas of predictability, preparedness and early warning. A second phase of capacity-building would alleviate the effects of the disaster, aid in reconstruction and place the country back on the path towards sustainable development. Egypt agreed with the Secretary-General's call for a regional dimension to deal with crises, which included a transborder response and greater support for regional coordinating mechanisms.
He said that recent events had underscored the urgent need to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, according to General Assembly resolution 60/126. He urged effective implementation of the Secretary-General's recommendation for broad international financial assistance, in order to avoid greater deterioration in the quality of life inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the further decline of the Palestinian economy. The role of UNRWA should be supported and Israel had to respect the “Cross Passage Agreement” to open up all means for the Palestinian people to interact with the outer world and receive humanitarian assistance. The Secretary-General's report concluded with some observations, but without presenting a future course for addressing the issues. Egypt believed the Secretariat should effectively rectify that in its future reports on the topic.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEE ( Guatemala) said that, on the issue of risk reduction, it was imperative to break away from the vicious cycle of vulnerability. There was a need to focus on potential disaster situations and it was crucial that regional perspectives take a long-term approach.
He said that Guatemala was an obvious site for potential natural disasters. From hurricanes to floods, from earthquakes to forest fires -- all were possibilities for Guatemala and could take on cataclysmic proportions. Guatemala remained among the countries most affected by natural disasters.
Turning to the Central Emergency Response Fund, he said that the Fund was beneficial in providing more predictability for humanitarian assistance aimed at specific needs. All disasters were equally important, regardless of the media coverage received. The establishment of indicators for humanitarian assistance was thus welcome and necessary. Categorically rejecting gender-based violence, he said that training and education were needed to combat that. Lastly, on the events in the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation there continued to deteriorate. It was imperative that crossing points be kept open, so that fuel and food could be delivered.
RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ ( Cuba) said the fury of nature did not distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries and the consequences of the various natural disasters over the past several years revealed the crisis facing Third World countries. It was essential that humanitarian assistance go along with a serious and unconditional commitment to the economic growth and sustainable development of developing nations. The principle of independence was crucial and humanitarian objectives should be separated from political, economic, military or any other type of objective.
He called on the international community to act diligently, so that countries recovering from natural disasters could retake their national plans to make economic growth feasible and advance towards sustainable development. In this regard, it was crucial to reactivate the socio-economic activities of the affected communities. That might mean the cancellation, significant relief or rescheduling of external debt, or the promotion of joint efforts among various sources of funding, including the World Bank. Cuba's supportive assistance to countries in need was a pillar of its foreign policy. The country had sent Cuban doctors, teachers and other professionals to various parts of the world. Those had included engineers and other specialists to share the Cuban national experiences in assistance and emergency aid and the fight against epidemic outbreaks. The selfless solidarity of Cuba, a small and blockaded Third World country, should motivate the hugely rich States and international financial bodies to provide necessary assistance to those terribly affected by nature.
GUSTAVO AINCHIL ( Argentina) expressed his delegation's serious concern for the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, including locally recruited relief workers. The Secretary-General's relevant report had indicated that such personnel continued to be killed, injured, physically assaulted, raped, detained and taken hostage. All that was simply unacceptable, he declared, reaffirming Argentina's support for relevant Security Council resolutions, which called on Governments to facilitate the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel. Special attention should also be given to vulnerable groups, such as women and children, as well as to representatives of non-governmental organizations working in the field.
He went on to say that the previous century had seen the emergence of horrible atrocities, such as genocide and massive attacks against civilian populations. While the Security Council had provided a legal framework covering the protection of civilians in armed conflict, at the same time, new concepts were being discussed, which questioned the absolute sovereignty of States above horrifying criminal acts. Argentina had repeatedly stated that the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States must be balanced by the principle of “non-indifference” against massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In that regard, the outcome of the 2005 World Summit had highlighted world leaders' approval of the “responsibility to protect” populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.
REZLAN ISHAR JENIE ( Indonesia) said that, after the immediate emergency relief had passed, there was a bigger and more arduous task of rebuilding and returning normalcy for the affected populations. Coordination between Governments and United Nations agencies was important to achieve greater coherence and avoid the duplication of programmes.
On the Central Emergency Relief Fund, he said that Indonesia had contributed $50,000 this year. While his delegation recognized that the cluster approach was in its early stages, it would be beneficial to learn if it had strengthened system-wide preparedness, technical capacity at the global level and delivery of humanitarian assistance at the country level.
On the issue of the suffering of the Palestinian people, he urged the international donor community to continue its generous support. It was imperative that the international community rededicate itself to peace in the Middle East and to the creation of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State.
RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG ( Brazil) said his country was increasingly involved in delivery of humanitarian assistance. It had donated food, medicines, blankets, shelter and other forms of assistance to victims of the tsunami and South Asia earthquake and floods in Guyana, Ecuador and Suriname. Resources had also been pledged for the reconstruction of Lebanon and the Occupied Territories.
With regard to the actions of the United Nations in the area of humanitarian assistance, he said it was vital to strengthen local, national and regional capacities in relation to preparedness and response as well as in post-emergency situations. All actors must be involved, including civil society. In addition, the sovereign right of States to protect their own populations should not be an excuse for denying access to humanitarian personnel, who must be protected with a stronger commitment by States. The transition from disaster to development should be a fundamental aspect of assistance, with capacity-building of national institutions another main feature, viewed from the comprehensive perspective of the phenomenon of climate change and its connection to natural disasters.
He said the dual model that placed providers and beneficiaries of human assistance in separate fields needed review. A balanced approach must correct the misperception that developing countries were the only recipients of assistance and that assistance was merely in a monetary form. Developing countries contributed substantial amounts of humanitarian assistance, particularly for conflict-ridden areas. Those countries also absorbed massive refugee flows and the highest economic and social costs of emergencies. They contributed human resources and cooperation besides the traditional forms of assistance. They must be correctly placed on the humanitarian reform agenda and be assured of broader participation in the decision-making and policy supervision of humanitarian affairs.
GONZALEZ MILLA ( Venezuela) said that his delegation attached utmost importance to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. He underscored the need for cooperation and coordination in that field, as well as in the field of reconstruction after crisis.
He said that, on the international level, Venezuela had provided support to many countries, including Cuba, Jamaica, Guyana, Guatemala, Ecuador and Suriname. In the case of Suriname, where the indigenous populations were among the most affected, there had been two stages of assistance. Tons of rice and clothing were sent in first and, later, fuel was provided and water pumps were installed. Venezuela had also sent more than 20 tons of assistance to Lebanon.
Venezuela's strength in the humanitarian field was based on its national constitution, he said. Natural disasters affected all people, regardless of class, and his Government was prepared to offer support in any situation that might arise.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said it remained vitally important to shed light on humanitarian situations, which had not gained international headlines and remained critically underfunded. Through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and organizations such as Caritas Internationalis, the Holy See was active in non-partisan humanitarian assistance around the globe. The growing globalized response to humanitarian emergencies required coordination and the United Nations should play that coordinating role. It was not the principle of coordination, but its modalities, however, that needed to be constructively adapted to meet the needs of all people and agencies.
He said that a set of criteria was required, in order to create comprehensive and respectful cooperation. First, any coordinating system should respect the independence of humanitarian organizations. Second, the coordinating body must not simply favour large organizations, but let competent mid- and small-size groups play a legitimate role in relief. Third, the United Nations bodies should not detract from the work of non-governmental organizations in the field, especially those well acquainted with the local people and their needs. Turning to funding, he hoped the Emergency Relief Coordinator would harmonize the Central Emergency Response Fund's activities with other inter-governmental and non-governmental emergency relief funds. Large relief funds, such as CERF, also should not limit the ability of civil society and faith-based humanitarian relief organizations to attract private and public donations.
LUCA DALL'OGLIO, Permanent Observer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that this year, the agency had been “guardedly optimistic” as the humanitarian reform programme had been implemented in all its sectors, including towards the improvement of operational response coordination, more predictable funding and the devolution of certain response functions to the field. The agency had played its part in the reform process, taking responsibility for “cluster” performance and, among other things, ensuring that relevant expertise had been planned and mobilized, in order to strengthen humanitarian coordination in the field.
He noted that, as “cluster leader” for Camp Coordination and Camp Management in natural disasters, the IOM had agreed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on a unified cluster approach at the global level for both natural disasters and conflict-induced internally displaced persons, which avoided duplication while recognizing the primary responsibility each had in its respective areas. A year into the cluster approach, the IOM was beginning to see some tangible results and, with the UNHCR, was performing the functions of a virtual Secretariat supporting the shared objectives of the cluster. Overall, even in its infancy, the cluster approach was providing a greater collaborative, inter-agency framework, which had been stimulating a more responsive, timely and effective mechanism, at both country and global levels.
SUSAN JOHNSON, Director, National Society and Field Support Division of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that, first and foremost, effective coordination in the area of disaster and emergency preparedness and response required that all parties had a thorough understanding of their respective mandates and capacities. In that regard, a historic meeting had taken place in Geneva in July bringing together 40 leaders from the three pillars of international humanitarian action: the United Nations, the non-governmental organization community and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. That meeting had allowed the respective representatives to agree to work together, as equal partners, with complementary roles, rather than through a system with one agency coordinating the others. That meeting had also recognized the unique role of the Movement in bringing together local and national actors.
Moreover, she stressed that effective coordination required a clear definition of responsibilities. Because the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had actively participated in the meetings of the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee, it had been in a position to assess and contribute to the outcomes of humanitarian reforms at the global level, along with other leading international actors. Along with ensuring the participation of national and local actors, effective coordination also required an approach that integrated preparedness, response recovery and risk reduction.
ROBERT SHAFER, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Malta, said the past year was marked by an 18 per cent rise in the number of large-scale disasters, affecting 157 million people. The Central Emergency Response Fund was bringing about field level coordination and strengthening response in underfunded crises. While such funding mechanisms were important, the management and funding of emergency assistance should not be overly centralized.
Describing the Order's work in the Sudan, in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization, he said it was imperative that humanitarian assistance go beyond immediate relief and into the development of long-term support systems. The Order had two goals in executing its work. It first placed a local non-governmental organization at the centre of the relief effort and trained local staff. Second, the Order made a long-term commitment to achieve a lasting impact on the community, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Order had been active for more than 10 years in the area of health care.
Noting that violence against humanitarian aid workers continued, despite the significant measures that had been taken to improve their safety and security, he called on States to fulfil their obligation to protect such workers. Finally, he said the Order was committed to assisting the Palestinian people. It had run the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem-Palestine for 16 years and more than 36,000 healthy children had been born there.
DOMINIQUE BUFF, International Committee of the Red Cross, said his agency wholeheartedly supported the reforms being implemented throughout the United Nations humanitarian system to improve the Organization's ability to respond to emergency situations. Although those reforms might appear to be only an internal matter, they would have significant implications for organizations outside the United Nations system. Indeed, an improved and strengthened United Nations response capacity would allow a more efficient and reliable humanitarian response where it counted most -– in the field -– for the people affected by disasters in armed conflicts.
The International Committee of the Red Cross would continue to cooperate with the United Nations to the extent such that actions were compatible with its mandate to act as a neutral and independent intermediary carrying out strictly humanitarian activities. At the same time, the Committee could not be governed by the cluster approach, which the United Nations was rolling out. In its task to meet the needs of affected populations in a holistic way, assistance and protection were the twin aspects of the Committee's mission. Indeed, needs could not be divided into categories or sectors. Still, the agency believed in the merit of diverse approaches, which allowed a variety of agencies to act according to their respective mandates and strengths. That also provided an effective presence where needed, as well as the capacity to deliver on the ground. For example, when the United Nations agencies had instituted the cluster approach in places such as Pakistan, Uganda, Somalia and Lebanon, where Red Cross delegations were already operational, the United Nations had participated in a constructive manner in the cluster meetings, while at the same time, respecting the Red Cross' principles of neutrality and independence.
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