Delegates in second committee question report's conclusions on some post-conflict countries' progress beyond need for humanitarian assistance

Report
from UN General Assembly
Published on 11 Oct 2006
GA/EF/3150

Sixty-first General Assembly
Second Committee
11th Meeting (AM)

Countries emerging from conflict continued to need international capacity-building assistance, delegates stressed during today's meeting of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), even as a report of the Secretary-General said that some of them should no longer be considered for humanitarian assistance.

The report, Humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions, urges the international community to provide aid to Somalia, but says that Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Serbia and Montenegro have moved beyond the need for emergency relief to the development phase.

As Committee members discussed strengthening the coordination of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, Angola's delegate said the report failed to describe how it had reached its conclusions. While it was true that life expectancy in Angola had improved, that more students had completed their primary education and that more people had access to drinking water and basic sanitation, a lack of resources and institutional capacity made the fight against AIDS difficult, and the reintegration of internally displaced persons, refugees and former combatants still posed a great challenge.

Voicing similar concerns, Serbia's delegate acknowledged that his country -- which held the highest number refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe -- no longer required humanitarian assistance because the economy had improved since emerging from the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. However, the large number of refugees and internally displaced persons, coupled with high unemployment, rampant inflation and poverty, meant that Serbia still very much needed international financial help.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that the situation of refugees and internally displaced Serbians remained unresolved, said they had been forced to leave Kosovo, yet they had no security guarantees and could not return home. They should be able to count on international assistance -- on the basis of neutrality and impartiality -- as had similar vulnerable groups in Angola, Liberia and Mozambique. They should also be able return regardless of how the situation in Kosovo was resolved. It made no sense to await the final decision on the status of that Serbian province. The Russian delegation would make its primary statement on the subject during the General Assembly's plenary discussion.

In its consideration of a separate report, the Committee heard from the President of Argentina's White Helmets Commission, who said the Assembly could expect a draft resolution on strengthening the United Nations White Helmets initiative -- a network of volunteers that provided relief to earthquakes victims in El Salvador, India and Iran, in addition to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the hurricanes that devastated El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The text would highlight the importance of giving affected populations the means to manage risk, and touch upon the need to link countries into networks that would enable them to prepare rapid-response teams during emergencies.

Other speakers during today's discussion included representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Kuwait, China, Brazil, Liberia, Guatemala and El Salvador.

A representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also delivered a statement.

Introducing the reports under consideration today were Manuel Bessler, Chief of the Promotion of the Humanitarian Agenda Unit in the Policy Development and Studies Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); and Sara Sekkenes, Programme and Development Adviser in the Mine Section Unit of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 12 October, to take up information and communication technology for development.

Background

The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to discuss the coordination of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief efforts including special economic assistance.

Before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on Humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for El Salvador and Guatemala (document A/61/78-E/2006/61), which discusses lessons learned from the recovery efforts of both countries in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Stan in 2005.

According to the report, most of Guatemala's indigenous population live in extreme poverty and the impact of the storm only worsened their living conditions. Humanitarian assistance and early recovery activities remained a focus six months after the event and it is expected that pockets of the population will continue to need food aid for months to come given the loss of food reserves. The economic impact of the disaster has been estimated at $983 million, or more than 3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) at 2004 rates. Any new events could postpone the attainment of Guatemala's development goals.

El Salvador, meanwhile, was hit by two simultaneous disasters: the eruption of the Ilamatepec volcano and Tropical Storm Stan, the report says, noting that intense rains caused floods and landslides, affecting the country's communications infrastructure. More than 70,000 people were evacuated to temporary shelters and much farmland was destroyed. The economic impact of the two disasters amounted to $355.6 million, equivalent to more than 2 per cent of the total GDP for 2004.

Tropical Storm Stan highlighted the need for community-based early warning systems in both countries especially for high-risk areas, the report says. Some recommendations to improve future responses are included placing contingency stocks in the most disaster-prone area, and creating alternative delivery routes to those areas. Assistance should also be given to help Governments establish financial tracking systems to identify gaps in funding. On a positive note, the humanitarian community in both instances successfully relied on the military for logistical support. Similar stand-by arrangements could be developed for other disaster-prone countries.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on Humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/61/209), which describes the outcome of United Nations humanitarian and relief/rehabilitation assistance to Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Serbia, Montenegro and Somalia.

The report states that Angola left the emergency and humanitarian assistance phase and entered a reconstruction and development phase when a peace agreement was signed in April 2002. But while last decade's three-digit inflation dropped to less than 15 per cent in 2005 and GDP continued to grow over the past two years (from 11.6 per cent in 2004 to 20.6 per cent in 2005), the country still ranks 160th out of 177 in terms of its human development index. To sustain peace and improve security, the Government has embarked on major demining efforts and had begun reintegrating former refugees and combatants. To further the democratic process, Angola will hold elections in 2007 and has adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Turning to Liberia, the report says progress is hampered by a lack of resources and the phasing out of many non-governmental organizations especially in health care. Donor funding is difficult to attract with the 2006 United Nations Consolidated Appeal Process for Liberia receiving only a quarter of the amount requested. Components of the 2006 Consolidated Appeal Process relating to economic recovery and rehabilitation and education received no funding at all. Regional security concerns are widespread with neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea showing signs of unrest and the security situation remaining tentative in Sierra Leone. Contingency preparedness forms a part of plans by all United Nations agencies and many non-governmental organizations.

Mozambique, which faces the triple threat of AIDS, food insecurity and a weak Government, has approved a national disaster strategy for 2006-2013, the report says. The country is a beneficiary of several organizations; for example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) distributed seeds to households for the 2005-2006 planting season; the Ministry of Health with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and others, has implemented a nutrition programme and constructed or repaired several water points to improve access to safe water; and the WFP has provided monthly take-home rations as an incentive to keep vulnerable children in school. A major recipient of official development assistance (ODA), Mozambique also hosts one of Africa's largest aid programmes while the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helps coordinate the input of United Nations agencies there.

The report says that in Serbia, pockets of deep poverty remain despite rising living standards. Moreover, the country hosts the highest number of vulnerable groups in the region including refugees awaiting integration, internally displaced persons from Kosovo and 100,000-500,000 Roma. A number of economic, political and social obstacles are preventing the social inclusion of the most vulnerable. The United Nations Country Team and the Council of Ministers signed the United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2005-2009 to help increase the effectiveness of aid, and the Government is seeking a high level of development assistance until 2010 or 2011 to smooth democratic reform.

In Montenegro one third of the population is economically vulnerable despite some encouraging economic trends, the report states. Along with internally displaced persons and refugees, the Roma minority is by far the most vulnerable and socially excluded group with a poverty rate of 53 per cent. Democratization and the rule of law are slowed by underdeveloped legislative frameworks and a lack of qualified human resources in public administration and the judiciary. Although a framework for decentralization is in place, local authorities still do not perform fully their scope of jurisdiction. The country no longer faces a humanitarian crisis situation and is moving towards stabilization and economic development but the economy requires support in providing access to services for the most vulnerable.

According to the report, the already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia was further exacerbated by the worst drought in more than a decade, so that by early January 2006, some 1.7 million people were in urgent need of assistance. The 2006 Consolidated Appeal Process for Somalia was raised to $331 million in March because, despite rains in April and May, FAO has deemed southern Somalia to be in a state of humanitarian emergency until December. Meanwhile, the re-emergence of polio also poses problems. Since February, militia allied to the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism and the Islamic Courts Union have clashed in an attempt to gain control of the capital, Mogadishu, resulting in the displacement of 17,800 people during a round of fighting in May. Very limited assistance has reached the quarter of a million internally displaced persons in Mogadishu over the past 15 years and one response has been to create a protection-monitoring mechanism for that group.

Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on the Participation of volunteers, "White Helmets", in the activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (document A/61/313), which reviews progress from July 2003 to July 2006.

The report says much support has been given by the Argentinean Government through the White Helmets Commission of Argentina, enabling the volunteers to promote their initiative through training programmes for young people; support Latin American and Caribbean countries in strengthening their capacity to respond to emergencies, hunger and poverty; and respond to requests made by Governments or by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)and other United Nations entities for assistance in emergencies around the world.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the report says, relief missions were sent to help with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease along the Argentina/Paraguay border in 2004, respond to the emergencies caused by exceptional frost in Peru (2004) as well as to Hurricanes Stan, Dennis and Wilma in Cuba, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2005, among others. A White Helmets medical doctor also assisted the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and is now director of Gonaïves hospital, and the volunteers coordinated airlifts and shipments with donations to Haiti. Further, the White Helmets contributed to airlift services in Indonesia in 2005 and supplies to Pakistan after last year's earthquake. During the Lebanon crisis, the United Nations Volunteers and White Helmets from Cyprus sent humanitarian cargo to Beirut through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The report says Argentina has increased the budget for the White Helmets initiative but, hopefully, additional financial contributions could be made through the special financing window for United Nations Volunteer, to enable the initiative to grow in other countries. So far, 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries have officially entered the White Helmets regional network: Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Argentina. Belize, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are expected to designate their focal points in the near future.

Introduction of Reports

MANUEL BESSLER, Chief, Promotion of the Humanitarian Agenda Unit, Policy Development and Studies Branch, OCHA, introduced the Secretary-General's report on the Humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for El Salvador and Guatemala (document A/61/78-E/2006/61), saying it had already been introduced to the Economic and Social Council earlier in the year. Among other topics, the report had discussed the mobilization of military assets towards humanitarian uses, as well as the importance of developing risk reduction measures in high-risk countries. One of its main recommendations was that humanitarian agencies should reaffirm their support to the Latin American world in particular. It also contained an appeal for more resources to help improve coordination with Governments, a need made evident in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Stan, which, occurring soon after the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, had stretched the resources of many agencies thin.

He also introduced the Secretary-General's report on Humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/61/209), describing the responses to both natural and man-made responses in Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Serbia, Montenegro and Somalia. Apart from Somalia, those countries no longer needed life-saving assistance, but they nevertheless required relief in other forms. In Serbia and Montenegro, for example, floods and other new emergencies involving refugees and internally displaced persons meant that more, not less, humanitarian assistance was needed. In Somalia, drought and difficulties in reaching the 1.2 million people needing food meant that help continued to be needed. Donors were asked to provide flexible emergency funding and to consider investing in the logistical operations of non-governmental organizations.

Regarding the report on Participation of volunteers, "White Helmets", in the activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (document A/61/313), he said the Government of Argentina had sustained the initiative even during the country's own difficulties. The initiative was proof that stand-by arrangements were both flexible and cost-efficient.

SARA SEKKENES, Programme and Development Adviser, Mine Section Unit of the UNDP, said the Agency was providing support through its mine action and recovery programme with the aim of building the national capacity of each country and peace over the longer term. Some of its aims were economic recovery, good governance and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Most of the countries showed positive trends forward and there was a need for continued international assistance as capacity-building continued.

She said the Agency was helping Angola build lasting capabilities which would help them achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The UNDP's work in Liberia was directed towards transitional recovery efforts including disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and the building of new institutional capacity. Mozambique showed leadership in building its own capacity and the UNDP was directly supporting that work and coordinating the work of the international community. In Somalia, work included district-based peace projects and the representation of all voices.

Statements

GABRIEL FUKS, President, White Helmets Commission of Argentina, said he wished to strengthen a tool that for more than a decade had provided assistance in a spirit of neutrality. It was efficient and organized by volunteers from country "focal points", Governments, civil society organizations and local volunteers. Soon, a draft resolution would be produced on advancing the establishment of volunteer networks to continue the fight against hunger, advance other development goals and mitigate the damage created by emergencies and disasters.

He said that the victims of earthquakes in India, El Salvador and Iran had benefited greatly from the White Helmets as had people in the Czech Republic, whose agricultural lands were affected by floods; those in Haiti in terms of their health needs as well as the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and of cyclones in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The draft resolution soon to be drafted would also highlight the fact that the affected population itself should be given the means to manage risk. Regional systems should be developed to link countries into networks which would strengthen their ability to prepare teams able to rapidly respond to emergencies. Together with Brazil and Guatemala, the White Helmets Commission of Argentina planned to seek the partnership of the WFP since much of its work dealt with alleviating hunger.

KAISA HEIKKILA ( Finland) thanked the speakers for their reports on behalf of the European Union.

ALEXANDER PANKIN ( Russian Federation) said his country would make its primary statement during the plenary discussion of the General Assembly. The reports showed that all the countries except Somalia had moved from emergency relief to development and were no longer considered in the category of humanitarian assistance. In Angola, Liberia and Mozambique assistance had been directed to the most vulnerable groups of people including internally displaced persons and refugees. Noting the unresolved situation of the same categories in Serbia, which the report did not consider in depth, he said. Those people had been forced to leave their homes in the Serbian part of Kosovo, yet they had no security guarantees and could not return home. They should be able to count on international assistance, which should be based on neutrality and impartiality. To wait for a final decision on the status of Kosovo made no sense and they should be able to return no matter how the situation was resolved.

ISABEL MANUEL ( Angola) said she supported the highlights of the Secretary-General's report but noted that it failed to outline the steps taken and the results of implementing resolution 59/216. In spite of the progress made, the reconstruction of the country, the reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees as well as the rehabilitation of the economy still posed a challenge. In that context, assistance from the international community remained essential to overcoming the challenges. Those tasks were no longer within the realm of humanitarian assistance.

SLAVKO KRULJEV? ( Serbia) said his country had not submitted a draft resolution on humanitarian assistance since its overall economy had improved. However, that did not mean that international assistance was not necessary because Serbia was experiencing high unemployment, rampant inflation and poverty. It also contained Europe's largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons. As a result of the crises in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia continued to provide shelter for around 106,000 refugees and 230,000 internally displaced persons, and a large number still lived in collective centres under difficult conditions. Serbia planned to amend its law on refugees so as to create a legal framework for local integration as part of its National Strategy for the Resolution of the Problems of Refugees and Displaced Persons with special emphasis on resolving the housing problem.

He said the number of refugees had fallen in 2005 because they had been given Serbian citizenship, but their humanitarian needs remained the same. Serbia was committed to carrying out the provisions of the Sarajevo Declaration and hoped that the remaining obstacles to the repatriation of refugees would be eliminated. The allocation of $31.5 million by the United Kingdom towards the settlement of Kosovo's internally displaced persons was appreciated, and it was to be hoped that the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) would continue to serve as an operational framework for United Nations activities in Serbia.

MOHAMMAD AL-HAJREY (Kuwait), aligning himself with the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said his country stood by all victims of disasters throughout the world and the international community should do its utmost to better coordinate relief efforts. Kuwait commended the United Nations and OCHA for their speedy response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Pakistan and Iran.

Noting that disasters differed in nature and effect, he said agencies should learn to better coordinate their actions with those of affected Governments. They should also study the specific requirements of the different States most often hit by disasters. For its part, Kuwait had contributed more than $1 billion to alleviate the effects of natural disasters, conducting its activities in complete cooperation with international organizations. Kuwait called upon developed countries to help the wider international community to establish early-warning systems by sharing their expertise and providing technological assistance. Meanwhile, Kuwait would continue its contributions through the Kuwaiti Fund for Development and the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society.

YAO WENLONG ( China) said the report demonstrated the leading role of Governments in post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction. China supported and appreciated the concerted efforts and achievements of the United Nations, the international community and the affected countries themselves. Despite those nations' shift to a post-disaster recovery and reconstruction phase, they faced daunting challenges in their economic recovery, which impeded their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and placed them in dire need of financial support from the international community. China urged developed countries to provide those nations particularly the least developed countries with more humanitarian relief and reconstruction assistance. China would always support the United Nations system in its disaster relief and humanitarian assistance efforts.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG ( Brazil) said insufficient financing continued to be a major challenge that hindered development efforts and it was critical that the allocation of funds be better managed to maximize the use of resources in chronically under-funded situations. The issue of internally displaced persons especially in Somalia and Montenegro demanded attention, and the delivery of humanitarian aid was critical to mitigating the most harmful effects of conflicts. Regarding natural disasters, the report showed the need to strengthen local capacity, improve early warning and preparedness and mobilize resources. Brazil agreed with the Secretary-General regarding the need to protect highly vulnerable groups, particularly indigenous populations who suffered the most owing to poverty.

M. NATHANIEL BARNES ( Liberia) said his country was truly grateful for the outpouring of goodwill from the international community. Liberia's challenge was transforming that goodwill into tangible programmes that would help the people, and all partners were asked for their indulgence as the country shifted from aid and humanitarian efforts to sustainable development. A donor conference for reconstruction and development would be held in Washington, D.C., early next year. But despite the gains made in recent months, the situation remained fragile and it could pose a threat to peace and security in the subregion. Liberia hoped it could continue to rely on the support of the international community.

EDUARDO AGUIRRE, National Reconstruction Coordinator and Adviser for the Vice Presidency of Guatemala, thanked the United Nations for its help following the devastating hurricanes in October 2005. Entire communities had been buried by floods and landslides, leading OCHA to continue to appeal for funds one year after the fact, in the form of $4 million for hunger alleviation and an assessment of the situation. That request had been made in addition to $11 million in previous appeals for housing and disaster prevention, which had enabled the building of 87 new urban centres.

He said his country had learned many lessons throughout its reconstruction process, including the importance of coordinating the efforts of a myriad of actors -- the Government, local municipalities, international agencies and civil society. Guatemala's risk reduction and rehabilitation strategy encompassed four pillars: strengthening the social fabric; building sustainable infrastructure; focusing on economic policy; and managing the country's water basins. So far, the Government had carried out reforestation projects and rebuilt bridges, highways, schools and houses. It had also received assistance for irrigation and food support.

Input from the affected population had been valuable in helping improve living conditions, he said, noting that Governments should be mindful that disasters often had the greatest impact on the poorest communities. Any rehabilitation effort should therefore include efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger. While disaster reduction was the responsibility of the Governments of affected countries, international input in helping to coordinate national activities as the Hyogo Framework had done for Guatemala was welcome.

NEBOJSA KALUDJEROVIC ( Montenegro) said that in 1999 the country had 130,000 refugees and internally displaced persons making up about 22 per cent of its population. That number had fallen to about 25,000 or 4 per cent of the population. Montenegro had managed to find solutions to many humanitarian challenges, but assistance had been reduced and vulnerable groups were suffering. New citizenship laws, which were in line with international law, were moving through the legislative procedure. Montenegro was no longer in a humanitarian crisis and had shifted to a phase of stabilization and economic development. It needed the strong support of the international community as it developed a balanced social and economic system.

VANESSA INTERIANO ( El Salvador) said Tropical Storm Stan had coincided with the eruption of a volcano in Santa Ana, but through early warning and the monitoring of both phenomena, it had been possible to minimize the number of victims. Indeed, those thought to be at greatest risk had been evacuated to temporary shelters beforehand. OCHA's immediate response to those disasters had been useful in terms of assessing damage and coordinating international humanitarian assistance. The country had sustained $350 million in damage mostly borne by the private sector in the form of agricultural and housing losses. Non-governmental organizations and private enterprises had cooperated successfully with the Government in responding to the disasters, thus allowing the prompt rehabilitation of the social structure.

El Salvador had no central mechanism to keep track of the financial assistance it received, leading the Foreign Ministry through a special body devoted to disaster management to create one, she said. Central America was susceptible to natural disasters, which could limit its ability to pursue its development goals. Bearing that in mind, the United Nations should support Governments in the subregion in setting up recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction systems. The greatest impact of such disasters fell on the most vulnerable -- women, and small farmers and business owners, whose losses were not visible because their impact on the overall economy was small. A short term strategy was needed to help restore the income of those groups.

ALICE ARMANNI-SEQUI, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the organization firmly believed that coordination at the national level must be led by the affected country. The international humanitarian system had significantly improved its own response capability over the past year