Afghanistan + 20 more

Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (A/60/87-E/2005/78)

Originally published



General Assembly
Sixtieth session
Item 74 (a) of the preliminary list*

General Assembly Sixtieth session
Item 74 (a) of the preliminary list*
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster
relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance

Economic and Social Council Substantive session of 2005
New York, 29 June-27 July 2005 Item 5 of the provisional agenda**
Special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance

Report of the Secretary-General***


The present report addresses the theme of "strengthening of the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance, including capacity and organizational aspects". It examines some of the key humanitarian developments and challenges, particularly capacity gaps experienced in both complex emergencies and disasters during the past year. The report also analyses the implementation and impact of Economic and Social Council resolutions 2002/32, 2003/5 and 2004/50 with a view to strengthening the policy guidance such resolutions provide to the international community on humanitarian issues and activities. Finally, the report briefly discusses the roles of and complementarity among relevant United Nations entities in the area of multidimensional missions and follows up this and other issues with a set of observations and recommendations from the Secretary-General to both the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for further strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.

I. Introduction

1. The present report has been prepared in compliance with General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to report annually to the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance. Moreover, it is submitted in compliance with the requests contained in General Assembly resolution 59/141 of 15 December 2004 and Economic and Social Council resolution 2004/50 of 23 July 2004 on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.

II. Humanitarian developments

2. The level and scale of violence witnessed during the past few years in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur (the Sudan) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is evidence that threats to human security are prevalent and continue to take an unprecedented toll on human life. That an earthquake in the Indian Ocean could trigger simultaneous emergencies in 12 separate countries and cause the largest single loss of life in places as far away as Sweden confirms that the impact of humanitarian crises is more far-reaching than ever before. Such large-scale conflicts and disasters have tested humanitarian response capacity to the limits and have challenged the ability of the humanitarian system to guarantee that such a response is effectively and appropriately applied. The expectation that larger and more visible crises will require greater capacity, quality and accountability in humanitarian response requires that the United Nations system examine - and strengthen - its current systems, tools and competencies. And the recognition that threats to human security are global and interconnected requires that humanitarian crises be tackled with common actions and joint resolve.

A. Overview

3. The Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for 2005 reported that 26 million persons in 20 crises worldwide need US$ 4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance. Though this represents a decrease in the overall number of humanitarian crises during the past year, the financial requirements to address these crises are 25 per cent higher ($3.4 billion) - a testament that the last 12 months have witnessed a series of particularly large and destructive humanitarian crises.

4. The massive earthquake that took place off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on 26 December 2004 and the resulting tsunami unleashed a series of major disasters across more than 12 nations, killing more than 240,000 persons and displacing well over a million. The hurricanes that struck the Caribbean in the fall of 2004 were the strongest storms in a decade, wreaking havoc on numerous small island developing States, many of which were unprepared for the level of devastation such storms would bring. Despite considerable early warnings, a swarm of desert locusts infested 10 different west and north African countries and decimated millions of hectares of crops in the summer of 2004. Thirty-five epidemics broke out worldwide, including polio, meningitis and tropical ulcers in the Central African Republic and an intense outbreak of the Marburg virus in Angola. The spectre of the avian flu threatens parts of Asia with possible dire humanitarian consequences. Though the effects of disasters are difficult to measure, using preliminary figures compiled by the Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, it is estimated that in 2004 alone there were 360 disasters affecting more than 145 million persons and causing more than $103 billion in material damage.

5. Ongoing and indiscriminate fighting continues to escalate throughout the Darfur states, resulting in looting, burning of villages and killings, and includes a high incidence of violence against women and girls and deliberate attacks against aid workers. Such insecurity has displaced more than 2.4 million persons and continues to restrict the delivery of humanitarian aid - as of April 2005, 17 per cent of the region remained inaccessible to humanitarian actors, though humanitarian needs remain high. The World Food Programme estimates that 3.25 million persons in Darfur require humanitarian assistance in 2005; this is likely to increase as populations suffer the effects of drought. Access will be further complicated by the coming rainy season that will make it very difficult for aid agencies to deliver food over the region's inadequate roads. Additionally, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that since the end of 2002, the number of Sudanese refugees in Chad increased from 13,000 to 225,000, raising tensions between refugee and host communities as they compete for water, firewood and grazing land.

6. Remnants of civil strife and disagreements over the distribution of tsunami aid in Sri Lanka, rising tensions between the Government and Maoist insurgents in Nepal and failed peace negotiations, disarmament programmes and prevailing insecurity in West Africa, are undermining humanitarian efforts to assist civilian populations in many areas, pitching these countries towards humanitarian crises on a larger scale. Zimbabwe is this year suffering the worst food shortages in three years as a result of drought, acute shortages of agricultural inputs and a controlled price structure. Official sources indicate that maize production is below 500,000 tonnes, less than one third of the annual requirements of 1.8 million tonnes; the Government has provisionally indicated that 2.4 million of the most vulnerable people are currently in need of food aid.

7. In several areas of the world, refugees have been able to find a solution to their plight. According to UNHCR, the global number of refugees, excluding 4.1 million Palestinians assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, is an estimated 9.3 million in 2004 - the lowest level since 1980. An estimated 1.5 million refugees worldwide were able to return to Afghanistan (940,000), Angola (90,000), Burundi (90,000), Iraq (194,000) and Liberia (57,000). However, almost 400,000 asylum requests were registered in 50, mostly industrialized, countries in Asia, Europe and North America in 2004.

8. Of continued concern is the number of internally displaced persons, which far outnumber recognized refugees: today 25 million persons remain displaced by war and human rights abuses in about 49 countries; from 70 to 80 per cent of them are women and children. An additional 25 million persons have been displaced by natural disasters. These numbers have remained virtually unchanged since 2000.

B. A case for Africa

9. Prospects for peace in nine African countries, including the resolution of the long-standing crisis in Angola and Sierra Leone, and the promise of the formation of the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, present potential opportunities to make progress on the humanitarian front. In addition, several regional and subregional organizations, such as the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the South African Development Community and its New Partnership for African Development initiative, are making great strides in promoting humanitarian assistance, peace, security and sustainable development in a number of countries across the region.

10. However, high levels of humanitarian needs persist, the challenges involved in addressing such needs remain significant and attempts to exploit such opportunities and effectively engage regional, subregional and national institutions to address these needs have not worked. If the humanitarian system is serious about ending suffering in Africa, it must be more systematic in the way it approaches humanitarian crises there. This includes taking focused and coordinated steps to identify the level of need, to build, re-establish and employ indigenous early warning, preparedness and response capacity and to commit to funding such initiatives in an equitable and predictable way.

11. Today, many parts of Africa are dominated by several crises of protection and displacement, where acute insecurity and increased violence against civilians in many areas are preventing humanitarian agencies from delivering basic services to vulnerable populations. In Darfur, the escalation of fighting, high levels of sexual and gender-based violence and the deliberate targeting and killing of humanitarian staff have dramatically reduced the ability of the humanitarian community to provide assistance and address protection concerns throughout the crisis. In northern Uganda, an increase in violence and brutal killings, abductions, rapes and attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army is preventing humanitarian agencies from expanding basic services to 1.4 million internally displaced persons. In addition, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about 20,000 children have been abducted since 1986, serving as soldiers, porters and sex slaves, and 35,000 children continue to travel by night to avoid abduction. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization estimates that nearly 40,000 women and men, girls and boys have become victims of sexual and gender-based violence, compounding the human impact of a conflict that has killed more than 3.8 million civilians since 1998. In Togo, violence following the outcome of the presidential elections has triggered refugee movements (34,000 persons) to Benin and Ghana. The number of internally displaced persons is unknown.

12. The African Union has been instrumental in enhancing the protection of civilians in Darfur, as it has provided protection in displacement camps and along routes used for the collection of firewood and water and has usefully ensured a proper balance of female police officers to assist in cases of sexual violence. Substantially increasing the levels of deployment of the African Union would go a long way to improving protection to civilians in Darfur. Such practices should be replicated in other contexts.

13. Successive seasons of drought in the Horn of Africa and in southern Africa have led to loss of assets and livestock and to severe food insecurity, requiring acute and coordinated interventions to address the underlying problems in these regions. In Eritrea alone, close to 60 per cent of the population requires food assistance and the maternal malnutrition rate of 53 per cent is among the highest in the world. In southern Africa, where some areas received as little as 10 per cent of normal rainfall between mid-January and mid-March, reports of crop failures are already becoming more and more disturbing; Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and parts of Mozambique seem worst affected. The AIDS epidemic there has only compounded humanitarian needs and increased vulnerability to drought cycles: UNICEF estimates that 4 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS live with little access to the basics for survival; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that countries affected by the AIDS pandemic could lose 13 to 26 per cent of their agricultural labour force by the year 2020.

14. Broad-based efforts, such as under Ethiopia's Coalition for Food and Livelihood Security, have begun to address response to drought and climate fluctuations through innovative insurance mechanisms. In southern Africa, high degrees of collaboration across the United Nations and with other stakeholders, including national Governments, donors and the Southern African Development Community non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been instrumental in preventing increases in acute malnutrition and deaths arising from hunger. However, overall levels of vulnerability are increasing in both these areas in the absence of urgent and acute interventions, requiring that coordinated and sustained engagement through these initiatives continues.

15. The locust invasion in the summer of 2004, while preventable, attests to the fact that the critical capacity that once existed in Africa has been lost or eroded. The magnitude of the locust swarm that descended upon the Sahel region of Africa overwhelmed local response capability, as many of the affected countries had not faced locust problems for over 15 years. Although the United Nations had long promoted the development of the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) to address such a situation, the programme in west and north-west Africa is still not operational because of the lack of donor support. Though efforts are under way to contain future locust infestations, the desert swarms will most likely form again in north-west Africa at the beginning of the summer of 2005. It is therefore essential to expand the early warning capacities and build and maintain operational capacity on the ground to reduce the scale and impact of future swarms.

16. Despite both high levels of need alongside promising opportunities, funding levels for the United Nations consolidated appeals as of May 2005 demonstrate that donors still approach humanitarian crises with insufficient resources and an uneven hand. Of the 14 appeals for Africa, 8 have received less than 20 per cent of requirements so far. And with the exception of a small flash appeal for Angola, none have received more than 40 per cent. These funding imbalances are neither new nor aberrant: an analysis of the financial tracking system for the past three years suggests that resources that pay for prominent crises (Afghanistan, Iraq, the Indian Ocean tsunami) are indeed diverted from other areas and that promises to replenish aid budgets depleted by large-scale crises are not generally kept. These concerns also apply to the chronic, uneven funding of certain neglected sectors. Such funding levels and patterns are unacceptable if Africa is to be a global humanitarian priority, as stated by so many on so many occasions. What is needed is a "new deal" for humanitarian assistance in which the donors, for their part, develop less restrictive mechanisms for the disbursements of humanitarian assistance in exchange for humanitarian organizations agreeing to operate against agreed benchmarks as to the scale, speed and intensity of response.


* A/60/50 and Corr.1.
** E/2005/100.
*** The report was delayed for technical reasons.

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