Afghanistan + 33 more

Report of the Secretary-General to the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of ECOSOC 2001 - Advance Unedited Draft

UN Document
Originally published


Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations

1. The present report has been prepared pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991, which requested the Secretary-General to report annually to the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance, and to Economic and Social Council Resolution 1995/56 of 28 July 1995, which requested the Secretary-General to submit a comprehensive report on humanitarian assistance, and to subsequent resolutions.

2. The report is also submitted in response to the requests contained in General Assembly Resolution 55/164 of 14 December 2000 on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.

3. The report documents the implementation of the agreed conclusions of the 1998 and 1999 Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council.


4. It is now almost ten years since the General Assembly adopted Resolution 46/182 on 19 December 1991, with the goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN's humanitarian operations in the field. Significantly, it instituted the Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and the Consolidated Appeals Process.

5. Since 1991, the humanitarian community has increasingly had to operate in rapidly changing and deteriorating humanitarian environments. Internal conflicts have characterised most of the last decade's humanitarian emergencies. However, the world's understanding of and response to them has evolved. The international media can now conduct more or less constant live reporting as disasters and emergencies unfold. This has led to decision-makers and the general public being more aware of the devastating and widespread effects of certain crises and motivated more rapid response. An unfortunate corollary to this is that countries in crisis not under the media spotlight may struggle to receive the necessary resources.

6. The presence of humanitarian and other international actors in areas of crisis has increased dramatically and the spectrum of their activities has broadened. In the 1990s, the UN has increasingly been expected to provide assistance in areas affected by internal armed conflicts, through a system that was never designed or staffed to undertake these often ill-fated tasks. In fulfilling their mandates, humanitarian workers have moved ever closer to the conflict and are now frequently surrounded by it in their daily activities, often at great risk and sometimes unacceptably with fatal consequences. Peacekeeping operations have been launched, sometimes before the existence of any real peace, placing the peacekeepers and humanitarians side by side in their efforts to address and mitigate the consequences of conflict. Responses called for by the international community from humanitarians have broadened from providing basic humanitarian assistance, such as food, shelter and healthcare, to engaging in negotiations with both State and non-State actors for access and the ability to provide assistance to an increasingly targeted civilian population.

7. In many instances, massive forced displacement has become a common feature of the fighting to gain control of territory or resources and has even been an aim in itself in conflicts motivated by ethnic cleansing. The level of violence perpetrated against civilians has reached frightening levels. Rape has become a more common method of warfare. Children are not only caught in the conflict but have increasingly been conscripted into it. Those who are not forced to become combatants are increasingly targeted, victimized and displaced. The children that survive do so with less hope of a future with access to basic health services, education, clean water and food security.

8. Since the end of the cold war, warring parties have more frequently used ethnic and religious differences or different interpretations of history to fuel conflicts. As a result violations of human rights and humanitarian law often lie at the heart of a humanitarian emergency. At the same time, many of these conflicts pivot around the struggle for power, security, resources and even narcotics, which has, in no small measure, contributed to the prolongation of conflicts in many countries and created a "war economy". Equally disturbing is the trend of neighbouring countries being dragged into or implicating themselves in internal conflicts. The multiplication of parties and the resulting several fronts have made it yet more difficult for humanitarian workers to have access to the civilian population and huge numbers of the vulnerable are cut off from all forms of assistance.

9. All this has made political solutions difficult to realize, particularly where some elements or key players have found war or instability to be more lucrative than peace. It has also made the humanitarian environment in such countries more dangerous as many of the players have scant respect for international humanitarian or human rights law or the safety of humanitarian workers. Combined with inadequate state and community structures, weakened or destroyed because of conflict, these political and socio-economic factors have exacerbated the vulnerability of populations by weakening local economic activities and coping strategies.

10. The past decade has also witnessed an exponential growth in the occurrence of disasters. In 1999 alone, there were more than 700 large-scale disasters, resulting in the death of approximately 100,000 people and causing economic losses in excess of US$ 100 billion. Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction While all countries are susceptible to natural hazards, developing countries are much more severely affected, especially in terms of the loss of lives and the percentage of economic losses in relation to their Gross National Product. 90 per cent of disaster victims live in developing countries. The cause of the widespread loss of life and damage, resulting from natural disasters, is linked to the increasing number of people and assets which are vulnerable to disasters. This is due to a number of factors, including the increased concentration of populations in areas of accelerated urbanisation, and poverty, which often forces people to live in geographically unstable locations and in inadequate shelters. The cyclical nature of some disasters has left large populations chronically vulnerable. In other instances, other factors, such as inappropriate land use planning, poorly designed buildings and infrastructure, lack of appropriate institutional arrangements to deal with risk reduction, and an increasingly degraded environment, epitomised by widespread deforestation, are all linked to the current trend towards increased vulnerability.

11. Over the last ten years, the United Nations has become stronger in its responses. The Security Council has become more closely engaged with humanitarian agendas, such as the protection of civilians in conflict, the humanitarian aspect of sanctions, the protection of children in armed conflict, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in conflict and the need to incorporate gender perspectives in peace support operations. The UN system as a whole has continued to develop different mechanisms for achieving its humanitarian aims and has explored ways to link the different aspects of its humanitarian mandate into broader development and peace building frameworks.

12. The response to natural disasters has also been heightened by the engagement of a variety of actors with broad ranging expertise. The benefits of technology have been explored to locate and assist the victims of catastrophe, share information on needs both broadly and rapidly, and ensure efficient deployment of people and resources. Greater effort has gone into strengthening the capacity of regional, national and local authorities in disaster-prone areas to plan and prepare for disaster and thus mitigate its consequences when it strikes.

13. A snapshot of the Consolidated Appeals Process illustrates the increasing number and complexity of humanitarian emergencies during the last decade. When consolidated appeals were first issued in 1994, US $1.4 billion was requested to cover eleven complex emergencies. For 2001, the UN and its humanitarian partners have issued nineteen consolidated appeals, covering twenty-four complex emergencies and eight drought-affected countries, seeking some US$ 2.8 billion. Not all emergencies have been or are the subject of a consolidated appeal. However, six of today's crises have been appealed for every year since the Consolidated Appeals Process was introduced. In general, the number of protracted emergencies has grown, meaning that large segments of the population in those countries and regions remain chronically vulnerable and dependent on or in need of outside aid. Huge numbers of people have been displaced several times. Many more have not been able to return to their homes at all for very long periods of time and thousands of refugees have been born in exile, making their eventual integration yet more difficult. This demonstrates that humanitarian assistance is not a solution in itself. It cannot be a substitute for political action.

14. There are many constraints and challenges encountered in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Some of these shortfalls are well known. A failure to plan early for and improve the transition between relief and development can undo positive short-term results. Without shelter, refugees and displaced cannot return to re-establish their communities. Lack of employment or economic opportunities hinders already vulnerable populations from again becoming self-sufficient. In post-conflict situations, lack of security or sustainability can plunge societies back into violence. Combatants need to be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated. Without de-mining, landmines will continue to kill and disable and prevent access to important land resources and infrastructure. Although, not all of these issues can be fully addressed by humanitarian organisations, they have an impact on humanitarian operations and thus require linkages with political, military and other actors.

15. Key to the success of humanitarian action is the coordinated efforts of all players, backed by the political will and support of Member States. Member States have continued to be generous in their response to both natural disasters and complex emergencies, not only in financial terms but also in the provision of personnel and technical support. Yet there are significant needs that remain unmet. At the same time, opportunities to develop more efficient and effective responses exist, along with ways to support the most-affected countries in preparing for and responding strongly to the crises that afflict them.

In light of the changed and changing humanitarian environment, it is useful to examine whether the tools created ten years ago by General Assembly Resolution 46/182 to improve coordination and response in humanitarian crises have adapted accordingly. During the last decade, there has been a greater commitment to coordination. More effort is put into deciding coordination arrangements and many have been regularised. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the Consolidated Appeals Process are key examples. But the response to each crisis identifies new lessons to be learned and there are still many challenges to the coordination of humanitarian assistance to be met.

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