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ECOSOC opens humanitarian affairs segment


ECOSOC/6294

Hears Presentation of Reports of Secretary-General and Joint Inspection Unit

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 16 July (UN Information Service) - The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning opened its humanitarian segment, held this year under the theme of “strengthening of the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance through enhancing the effectiveness of needs-based humanitarian assistance”, hearing an introduction of the reports of the Secretary-General under this item, as well as a report of the Joint Inspection Unit.

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, introducing the reports of the Secretary-General under this item, said they reflected a year of continuing crises and humanitarian challenges, but also modest progress in some areas. Positive developments had made it possible to operate more effectively and see the kind of progress in major humanitarian situations that had eluded the United Nations for decades. But despite these positive developments, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of civilians remained at risk. Words should be translated into concrete action that facilitated humanitarian access in a timely and consistent manner. Humanitarian action was the business of all countries and all peoples, and was based simply and solely on the needs of the vulnerable, the weak and the suffering.

Tadanori Inomata, Inspector with the Joint Inspection Unit, presenting the report of the Unit entitled “towards a United Nations humanitarian assistance programme for disaster response and reduction: lessons learned from the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster”, said in January 2005, the Joint Inspection Unit decided to undertake a comprehensive review of the role of the United Nations system in disaster reduction and response. The objective of the review was to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations system to coordinate and support humanitarian assistance for disaster reduction and response. The report put forward 17 recommendations aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations humanitarian assistance system through the establishment of a coherent governance and management framework as well as the dissemination of best practices, improved coordination, and the greater efficiency and enhanced accountability of resource use through the entire disaster management process.

Remo Lalli of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, in a statement regarding the comments of the Secretary-General and those of the Chief Executive Board for Coordination on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit, said the report aimed to help increase the United Nations' capacity to coordinate and support disaster reduction and response, through a range of procedures related to the entire disaster management cycle. The Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination agreed with the report's conclusions that there was a need for multilateral agreements, regulations, rules and guiding principles for disaster response and reduction to be more effectively applied in affected countries, and that national, regional and global capacities for disaster risk reduction and response should be strengthened. The Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination were taking measures therefore to enhance their collaboration and cooperation, in a spirit of true commitment to reform and delivering as one.

The Council then held a general discussion on this agenda item, under which speakers raised a number of issues, including that the alarming frequency and ferocity of natural disasters was a major concern of today's world. The number and scale of natural disasters, in developing countries in particular, over the past decade, were on the increase. The aggravation of some existing emergencies, as well as a significant increase in the incidence and severity of consequences caused by natural disasters, called for continued engagement in providing humanitarian assistance as well as for continued support of the humanitarian community and the need to strengthen capacity of humanitarian actors to address these questions. Strengthening inter-Governmental dialogue through the analysis of lessons learnt by all countries would contribute to better mutual understanding in the humanitarian field. Enhancing both preparedness for natural disaster and capacity to respond timely in an emergency were the key to meeting challenges.

Speaking in the general debate were the representatives of Pakistan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Switzerland, Russian Federation, Japan, Chile, United States, Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, Indonesia, Cuba, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Norway, China, Kenya and Thailand. Also speaking were the World Food Programme, the World Health Programme and UNESCO.

This afternoon at 3 p.m. the Council will hold a panel discussion on the use of military assets for natural disaster relief.

Documents

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (A/62/87-E/2007/70), which describes the humanitarian developments of the past year, provides an overview of key initiatives to improve the humanitarian system and analyses two thematic issues of concern: the use of military assets in natural disaster relief; and needs-based humanitarian financing, including the Central Emergency Response Fund. The report ends with a series of recommendations for further strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance of the United Nations based on the conclusions contained in the report.

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the Central Emergency Response Fund (A/62/72-E/2007/73), which covers activities from the launch of the Central Emergency Response Fund on 9 March 2006 until the end of 2006. Findings show that the Fund has made progress towards its objectives of providing rapid, coordinated, predictable and equitable funding for humanitarian emergencies, based on demonstrable needs. The Fund is promoting early action and response to reduce loss of life, enhancing response to time-critical requirements based on demonstrable needs and strengthening core elements of humanitarian response in underfunded crises. The future success and sustainability of the Fund depend on increasing funding levels to $500 million by the end of 2008. A high-level donor conference on the Fund towards the end of 2007 will be an opportunity to make new pledges and increase broad-based political support for the Fund.

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (A62/83-E/2007/67), which says, two-and-a-half years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, progress is apparent across the affected region: affected populations are living in newly constructed homes, children are back in school, and hospitals are being rebuilt and repaired. Yet while progress in physical reconstruction efforts is palpable, many complex challenges remain as the recovery efforts across the region continue. Each affected country faces different challenges, and thus the picture of progress is an uneven one, but common to all countries is the realization that it will take many years for individual households, and the wider economies on which they depend, to recover from the most destructive disaster caused by a natural hazard in recorded history.

The Council has before it the note of the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) entitled Towards a United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Programme for Disaster Response and Reduction: Lessons learned from the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (A/61/699-E/2007/8 and Add.1). The JIU report says that the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster has demonstrated that there is an urgent need for strengthening the understanding and application of existing internationally established guidelines on disaster relief and recovery in most of the disaster-affected countries. It was also demonstrated that there exist no clear and coherent regulatory agreements on disaster management and humanitarian assistance, except for the Tampere Convention on the Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations. Consequently, it is of utmost importance for the United Nations system to assist in strengthening national disaster management frameworks, and for the Economic and Social Council to initiate a process of formulating coherent international legal instruments and regulations in an intergovernmental decision-making process open to all types of potential stakeholders and actors concerned. The report outlines 17 major recommendations in the regard.

An addendum sets out the comments of the Secretary-General and the Chief Executives Board for Coordination on the JIU report. They concur that the existing frameworks on international humanitarian and development assistance for disaster response and reduction developed by multilateral organizations need to be rendered more effective, that ongoing reform initiatives to better tackle emerging global disaster threats should be vigorously promoted and implemented, and provide an update on current policy reform initiatives in this area that have been undertaken by the United Nations system.

The Council has before a letter of the Secretary-General transmitting a note by the Secretary-General on a meeting of the Advisory Group of the Central Emergency Response Fund held in New York on 23 and 24 May 2007 (A/62/94-E/2007/83). The note summarizes the key points raised during the discussions on both the management of the Fund and its effect on humanitarian operations on the ground. In it, the Secretary-General draws attention to the recommendation of the Advisory Group that Member States should make every effort to achieve the $500 million target by 2008. He fully endorses that recommendation and calls upon Member States to contribute to the Fund.

Opening Statements on Special Economic, Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance

JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, introducing the reports of the Secretary-General under this item, said it was a great honour and a pleasure to open the humanitarian affairs segment. The Secretary-General's reports under consideration during this session reflected a year of continuing crises and humanitarian challenges, but also modest progress in some areas. Positive developments had made it possible to operate more effectively and see the kind of progress in major humanitarian situations that had eluded the United Nations for decades. Donor generosity had also increased. The past year had also demonstrated that efforts to improve the humanitarian system were bearing initial fruit. But despite these positive developments, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of civilians remained at risk. The international community, including the donor community, had not yet fully internalized and organized how to respond to internally displaced persons' crises, even though these now loomed so large. Meanwhile, the prevalence of gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies remained profoundly worrying. The need to continue to build a response system capable of meeting the demands of the future and addressing the needs of hundreds of thousands of additional beneficiaries was therefore still pressing, and had to be a joint endeavour between Governments and humanitarian organizations.

In 2005, in this very forum, the initial programme was launched for improving humanitarian response by strengthening preparedness and response capacity, by upgrading response mechanisms and tools, by improving country-level leadership and accountability and by broadening the base of the political, financial and technical support. Two years on, Mr. Holmes said considerable progress had been made in improving the way the system worked, and delivering assistance in a more timely, adequate and predictable way. At the core of this programme were stronger partnerships, based on the belief that common purpose and collaboration were required to ensure that the impact of the effort was greater than the sum of its parts. The success of the cluster approach and the effective use of humanitarian financing mechanisms required quality decision-making and leadership on the ground.

Words should be translated into concrete action that facilitated humanitarian access in a timely and consistent manner, Mr. Holmes said. Ensuring the timely, safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel, equipment and supplies, for the purpose of preventing and alleviating human suffering was a core tenet of humanitarian assistance, and a prerequisite for humanitarian work. The incidence and severity of disasters associated with natural hazards were likely to increase under the effects of climate change, population growth, urbanization, desertification and environmental degradation. Whatever the scenario, national and international humanitarian actors should be ready to act quickly, predictably and with adequate capacity and resources. The humanitarian system should continue to improve response capacity to meet increased needs, and rapidly address gaps and duplication at global, regional and local levels. Improvements to the system should occur through a continuous cycle of analysis, implementation and evaluation that improved the working of the system. Humanitarian action was the business of all countries and all peoples, and was based simply and solely on the needs of the vulnerable, the weak and the suffering.

TADANORI INOMATA, Inspector at the Joint Inspection Unit of the United Nations System, said that, since 1966, as the only independent external system-wide oversight body, jointly established among 27 participating organizations, i.e. specialized agencies and other international organizations and entities within the United Nations system, the Joint Inspection Unit had provided legislative bodies of these organizations with independent views through inspection and evaluation aimed at improving management and methods and achieving greater country-ordination between the organizations. Its output consisted of determining how the activities were undertaken by the organizations in the most economical way and the optimum use was made of available resources as well as presenting recommendations for the improvement and reform of governance and management of the services they inspected. Currently more emphasis was given to system-wide coordination issues.

In January 2005, in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster and the launching of the Hyogo framework for Action, the Joint Inspection Unit decided to undertake a comprehensive review of the role of the United Nations system in disaster reduction and response. The objective of the review was to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations system to coordinate and support humanitarian assistance for disaster reduction and response through the integration of programmes, resource management and coordination, and the streamlining and standardization of operational, administrative and financial practices, he said. The unprecedented scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami catastrophe, its transboundary nature and the magnitude of resources involved in the international response to the disaster entailed enormously complex operations and shed light on the shortcomings of the existing global humanitarian system. Some lessons learnt from the tsunami included that the United Nations system had no governance and management framework to cope with large scale disasters; the dichotomy and disjoint between relief and recovery through mitigation stages in contrast with successful experience in India; and a lack of transparency and accountability of the use of money collected through the Flash Appeals, particularly at the recovery and reconstruction stages.

The report of the Joint Inspection Unit put forward 17 recommendations aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations humanitarian assistance system through the establishment of a coherent governance and management framework as well as the dissemination of best practices, improved coordination, and the greater efficiency and enhanced accountability of resource use through the entire disaster management process from relief to recovery and reconstruction. The Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, expressed general concurrence with most of the recommendations and the intended impacts of the implementation, and expressed unswerving agreement with respect to an intergovernmental review of current interagency principles and rules on international humanitarian assistance, among other points.

REMO LALLI, of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, in a statement regarding the comments of the Secretary-General and of the Chief Executive Board for Coordination on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit, said with the indications from scientists that the frequency and severity of natural disasters would increase, the ability of the United Nations to respond to this was ever more critical. The report of the Joint Inspection Unit aimed to help increase the United Nations' capacity to coordinate and support disaster reduction and response, through a range of procedures related to the entire disaster management cycle. The Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination agreed with the report's conclusions that there was a need for multilateral agreements, regulations, rules and guiding principles for disaster response and reduction to be more effectively applied in affected countries, and that national, regional and global capacities for disaster risk reduction and response should be strengthened.

The Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination considered that disaster risk reduction was a cross-cutting issue, which required the active participation and involvement of humanitarian, development and environmental actors, under the framework of sustainable development, Mr. Holmes said. They agreed that overlaps and duplications identified in the mandates of various coordinating bodies and mechanisms, as well as international financial and development institutions, should be addressed. They remained concerned that the system would continue to remain fragmented unless the institutional frameworks, tools and policies were all coordinated with the United Nations entities dealing with man-made disasters, post-conflict reconstruction, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and overall preparedness issues within regular development programmes.

The comments made by the Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the United Nations System Chief Executive Board for Coordination on many of the recommendations of the Joint Inspection Unit report took into account steps that had already been taken. Yet, while there had been many developments over the last two years, they fully agreed with the report's overall message that more could be done to improve the effectiveness of disaster response and reduction. They were taking measures therefore to enhance their collaboration and cooperation, in a spirit of true commitment to reform and deliver as one.

General Discussion on Special Economic, Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance

TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that this year's theme of the segment entitled “strengthening of the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance through enhancing the effectiveness of needs-based humanitarian assistance” was very pertinent in the context of innumerable human and economic losses caused by natural disasters in the last few years. The need for a strengthened and more coordinated response by the international community to meet these challenges could not, therefore, be overemphasized. The devastating impact on lives, livelihoods and economies had to be minimized. The alarming frequency and ferocity of natural disasters was a major concern of today's world. The number and scale of natural disasters, in developing countries in particular, over the past decade, were on the increase. It was, therefore, imperative to examine the measures that needed to be taken to improve the response capacity of affected nations and the assistance and cooperation that could be provided by the international community in this regard. Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must remain the overarching parameters in all efforts for coordination of humanitarian assistance.

In this regard, Pakistan also wished to emphasize the primary role of the concerned State in the identification, coordination and delivery of such humanitarian assistance where assistance was requested from the international community, she said. It was important that relevant organizations of the United Nations system engaged with the relevant authorities at the national and regional levels to build strong capacities at all levels, with a view to improving the overall adequacy and deployment of resources. The Group of 77 and China believed that the provision of emergency assistance to an affected country should not be seen as an isolated mechanism in the overall effort for humanitarian response. There was a need to recognize the clear linkages between emergency assistance, rehabilitation and long-term development as different stages of a coordinated effort. The Group of 77 and China would like to endorse the proposal of the Secretary-General that the international community should support the efforts of the developing countries in building humanitarian capacities, inter alia, through transfer of technology and expertise and extending multisectoral cooperation, particularly in health, sanitation and shelter.

CARLOS PEREIRA MARQUES (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the humanitarian segment provided an excellent common space to bring together the humanitarian community, to reflect upon its collective performance, consider the challenges that lay ahead, and identify ways to improve the humanitarian response. The Secretary-General's reports offered many interesting points for discussion on possible improvement in the area of humanitarian operations. Over the past year, positive developments in some long-standing emergencies had offered a degree of optimism regarding the possibility for durable peaceful solutions. On the other hand, the aggravation of some existing emergencies, as well as a significant increase in the incidence and severity of consequences caused by natural disasters, called for continued engagement in providing humanitarian assistance as well as for continued support of the humanitarian community and the need to strengthen the capacity of humanitarian actors to address these questions.

A prerequisite for an effective humanitarian response was the ability of humanitarian actors to speedily reach affected populations so they received the humanitarian assistance they needed: more was required to ensure that access was granted, maintained and sustained on the ground, and more could be done in this regard by Governments and the United Nations. The European Union strongly supported the cluster approach not as an end in itself but as providing an important tool in identifying gaps in humanitarian response and a means to enhance the quality and coherence of humanitarian action, both at the global and country level. The strengthening of the Humanitarian Coordinator System was a key element of humanitarian reform. Humanitarian aid should be first and foremost implemented by organizations with a humanitarian vocation. The effective use of humanitarian funding mechanisms depended on the development of an accurate picture of beneficiaries' needs, of common performance measures and of quality analysis on funding levels and trends.

MARCO FERRARI ( Switzerland) said that the use of military assets and in particular foreign military assets in disaster relief was a topic of particular relevance at this time. Switzerland would like to emphasize the primacy of civil humanitarian organizations in emergency relief, as well as the specific mission that had been entrusted to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In the light of the lessons learned from recent experiences in this area, Switzerland called on Governments to recognize the relevance of the instruments that regulated civil-military cooperation in disaster relief, namely like the Oslo Guidelines adopted in 1994 and revised in 2006, which were based on the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. Furthermore, Switzerland invited regional organizations to support efforts made at the national level to build up capacities in this area. These same organizations must do their best to ensure that their relations with the United Nations remained transparent and harmonious at the operational level.

With regards to efforts to improve humanitarian aid through improved needs assessments, the United Nations Common Appeals Process (CAP) was as relevant as ever, as far as Switzerland was concerned, he said. In this process, facilitated at the field level by OCHA, the agencies determined, with due respect for the mandates and responsibilities of each partner, the needs of the beneficiaries and their operational priorities in situations of crisis in an inclusive and participative way. Considerable effort was still needed to develop more refined and efficient instruments for collecting, analysing and using data, as well as for monitoring and evaluation. In concluding remarks, Switzerland recalled that access to people in need by neutral and impartial humanitarian organizations was also a matter of the greatest concern. With this in mind, and in the hope of making a substantial and concrete contribution, the Swiss Government planned to organize a meeting of experts to discuss humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict at the beginning of 2008.

ALEXANDER PANKIN ( Russian Federation) said today's efforts to enhance humanitarian activities at all levels should be assessed on the basis of lessons learnt from recent major humanitarian emergencies. Strengthening inter-Governmental dialogue through the analysis of lessons learnt by all countries would contribute to better mutual understanding in the humanitarian field. Such an approach, which was aimed at strengthening participation and took into account the positions and concerns of all States, reinforced confidence between donors and recipients of humanitarian assistance. Up to now, the United Nations Secretariat, namely the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), had already made significant progress in terms of modernization of the global mechanism of response to humanitarian emergencies on the basis of the Council's mandate of 2005.

More attention should be given by all States to recent propositions by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator with regard to the modernization of the system of humanitarian funding and involvement of non-governmental organizations in humanitarian work coordinated by OCHA. The increasing frequency and magnitude of natural disasters objectively called for an increased demand for the use of powerful and available means of response to disasters to ensure search and rescue work, evacuation of the affected population and delivery of humanitarian assistance. It was important that military assets in this regard should be used only as a last resort, upon the agreement of the affected country, only if civil assets were not available, and only if civil control over the whole humanitarian operation was being preserved. It was necessary to define the coordinating roles of OCHA and the United Nations Development Programme more clearly than was proposed in the report. The capacity of OCHA in the coordination of humanitarian assistance should not be undermined.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI ( Japan) said that the United Nations family was one of the largest bureaucracies in the world. Bureaucracies had well known defects, among others rigidity, sectionalism and slow response. To run an organization was always a fight against such problems. At least on the humanitarian front, the United Nations was doing a lot better than before. The fight against rigidity and sectionalism must be conducted through institutional reform as well as mental reform. In these few years, thanks to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other organizations' efforts, one could see notable institutional changes: the activities of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and humanitarian coordinators, introduction of the cluster approach, and the Central Emergency Revolving Fund. Japan hoped that the Peacebuilding Commission, which it would be chairing, would play a significant role as well.

One of the biggest issues was the gap between humanitarian assistance and development assistance. This was not a new problem. As many countries were in a transition period between relief on the one hand and rehabilitation and restoration on the other, this issue was becoming all the more important. In order to realize a seamless transition, it was often said that the coordination on the ground was the key. But on top of that, what was needed was the notion in capitals that there should not be such gaps. Often, humanitarian agencies and development agencies in capitals were not the same ones. It was the member countries' responsibility to fill these gaps. It was also necessary to increase means to fill these gaps as the High-level Panel on United Nations System-Wide Coherence pointed out. Enhancing both preparedness for natural disaster and capacity to respond timely in an emergency were the key to meeting challenges. Each one must check or review the individual system and see if it did not need any improvements. Japan was determined to do its part.

XIMENA VERDUGO ( Chile) said humanitarian assistance was one of the noblest expressions of international cooperation and solidarity in the face of the challenges that came up due to natural disasters and the persistence of conflict worldwide. The United Nations system had been working on disaster reduction and to improve the response of countries affected by these, through various means, including improving national capacity and the adoption and application of international guidelines on disaster readiness and disaster management. The increasing importance of the United Nations system continued to strengthen national disaster management procedures.

The Ministry of the Interior of Chile had a National Emergency Office, which was working to strengthen the national emergency protection system, through various means, including more efficient management instruments to help reduce the risk of disaster. The Office was a pillar of the Government's policy to prevent and respond to the risk of natural disaster, and to improve rehabilitation once they had occurred.

RICHARD T. MILLER ( United States) said the United States Government wished to reaffirm its support for the essential role that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs played in coordinating international assistance, and to acknowledge the critical work of the United Nations humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations. In working with the humanitarian partners, the United States' top priority and flexible humanitarian response was ensuring that aid was provided as quickly and effectively as possible. The United States believed that each Member State should find an approach, which enabled it to most effectively share the responsibility of international humanitarian assistance. While financial support was crucial, effective humanitarian operations also required safe and unhindered access to vulnerable populations. The United States was extremely alarmed at the increase in attacks on aid workers over the past year and believed that States must put in place measures to ensure that humanitarian workers had access to populations in need. The main report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance highlighted the concern that had already been noted about access and the growing alarm over the safety of aid workers.

The United States supported the implementation of disaster reduction measures, including efforts to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, develop effective early warning systems and mainstream disaster risk reduction into development activities. The United States supported the aim of the Cluster Approach to better coordinate response efforts to natural disasters and complex emergencies. This year's ECOSOC panel discussion on improving the use of military assets in disaster relief, as well as the proposed review of civil-military coordination in disaster response, was welcomed. Strong coordination was critical to the effective deployment of military assets. Over the past two years, the United States had advanced a number of items highlighted in the Secretary-General's report on the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. In 2006, the United States collaborated with Thailand to develop an inter-agency system that would improve their public tsunami warning system.

NATASHA SMITH ( Australia) said the international humanitarian community faced an ever growing range of complex crises and disasters. The human and economic costs of humanitarian crises demanded action, and growing accountability for humanity's actions. This demanded a range of things, including proper accountability and management frameworks, a strong and coherent leadership, and the role of the affected country in restoration efforts. The main point for humanitarian response was that it was delivered concretely on the ground. Integrating a gender-perspective into all aspects of humanitarian response was critical, as an emergency response that did not take the potential of women, girls and others was not effective. All United Nations system organizations and Governments should mainstream the gender perspective.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had a main role to play in humanitarian coordination, and the work of the Resident Coordinators was vital in this regard. The positive impact of the cluster approach on the ground was welcomed, but there were still ways and means in which the system could be improved. Accountability should be a key element. There should be more analysis of the lessons learned from this approach. Early recovery was a critical issue, but was part of the continuum from relief to development, and was multisectoral. The use of military assets was often useful to address gaps, and the conclusions of the Panel in this regard were supported. Humanitarian financing should be more predictable. The steps taken to improve and strengthen the timeliness and predictability of humanitarian aid were welcomed.

SYRYM GABBASOVICH GABBASSOV ( Kazakhstan) welcomed this discussion and Under-Secretary-General Holmes. The reforms in the humanitarian field and humanitarian issues connected with emergencies must be considered together. This had been confirmed last June with the Global Platform. The Government of Kazakhstan had carefully monitored this issue. In creating the platform, it was important to ensure that there was a rapid response mechanism. It was now possible for Kazakhstan to provide assistance to neighbouring countries and countries further away. On the issue of humanitarian planning, a framework was being discussed. Good practical solutions had been found in this connection. United Nations officials had been visiting Kazakhstan and in September this year, a United Nations office would be opened to provide assistance throughout the country and to interact with neighbouring States. This was the country's contribution for resolving these matters.

VICTOR CARVELL ( Canada) said last year had witnessed important progress and positive change. International humanitarian action had brought hope and comfort to millions of people worldwide; United Nations agencies and other actors were strengthening coordination mechanisms and aiming to respond in a more timely and effective manner to address clearly-identified humanitarian needs. There was a growing recognition of the importance of better disaster-preparedness planning. However, continued vigilance was required; international response to crises remained at best uneven, and humanitarian actors faced many challenges in their efforts to assist affected populations. The safety of humanitarian workers was increasingly at risk. There could be no impunity for those who targeted and attacked humanitarian aid workers; Member States had a responsibility to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of such acts wherever and whenever they occurred.

Canada continued to place tremendous importance on reinforcing the coordination of humanitarian action across and beyond the United Nations. It welcomed the progress to date on the implementation of humanitarian reforms, and in particular the mutually reinforcing nature of the Central Emergency Revolving fund, the cluster approach and the strengthening of the humanitarian coordination position. Rolling out the clusters was critical to ensuring better coordination and more effective needs-based response. Humanitarian action should be guided by the leadership of high quality and experienced humanitarian coordinators. For humanitarian action to be effective and equitable across emergencies, needs assessments, underpinned by strong, evidence-based analysis, were required. The civilian sector was best suited for the vast majority of humanitarian tasks. It was important that the upcoming Secretary-General's report make clear the importance of ensuring that assets provided be demand-driven, cost-effective and appropriate to identified needs. Greater attention should also be given to disaster preparedness, crisis contingency planning and mitigation strategies. Humanitarian reforms and enhanced coordination were a necessary means to a critical end.

ADE PETRANTO ( Indonesia) said that international humanitarian assistance and the transition from relief to development were significant issues for the consideration of ECOSOC in light of the growing number of disasters occurring worldwide. It was important that an effective mechanism was in place to respond to appeals by affected countries. In this context, Indonesia would like to underscore several points, including the full observance of the principles outlined in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182 of 16 December 1991, which among others underlined the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality and a better understanding of the extent to which it had strengthened system-wide preparedness, technical capacity at the global level and delivery of humanitarian assistance at the country level.

In addition, it was necessary to support the capacity of developing countries in preparing disaster preparedness plans and evaluations conducted by national governments to assess recovery after natural disasters, so that it served as the primary source for accountability and transparency to donors, the United Nations system and the international community. Indonesia would like to re-emphasize the importance of supporting the United Nations in responding to humanitarian assistance. As a victim of the 2004 tsunami, the country was quite aware of the severe impact natural disasters had on development and therefore urged the international community to continue supporting efforts of relief to development, particularly in the context of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

JORGE A. FERRER RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said severe natural phenomena did not discriminate, and had a particularly severe effect in the developing world where poverty was endemic due to the colonial inheritance and economic disparities due to the unfair international system. The rise in natural disasters was due to climate change, caused by unsustainable use and exploitation of natural resources by predatory multinational enterprises aiming to increase consumption in the developed nations and then seeking to impose this mode upon the globalized world. There was a need for real political commitment if the far-reaching consequences of these various disasters were to be dealt with. Countries should make their energy policies more responsible and more sensible.

Humanitarian assistance could not be a substitute to official development aid, but rather a complement to it. Development was essential if countries were to boost their own ability to improve and alleviate the situation of millions worldwide. When providing humanitarian assistance, it was important to remain neutral and impartial, and this was an imperative. Assistance should be provided at the request and with the consent of the State concerned.

SVETLANA MOSCHINSKAYA ( Belarus) said that Belarus appreciated the results of the work done by the United Nations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in coordinating international emergency assistance in cases of natural and other disasters. Belarus had signed agreements with various countries and considered that as a major step in the right direction. The key role in international collaboration should be an international strategy dealing with disaster. The country emphasized the importance of early warning systems. The importance to mobilize financial resource by OCHA to react to humanitarian crises was also important.

The work being done by the United Nations Secretary-General with regard to the Central Emergency Response Fund was appreciated. Belarus attached importance to the Secretary-General's comments to better prepare populations to react to disasters and put an emphasis on training. In Belarus, this was being done through grassroots organizations. There was also an institute to train and improve the qualification of the emergency personnel. Belarus would be happy to exchange information in this respect with other members of ECOSOC.

O.L. AMEERAJWAD ( Sri Lanka) said in the aftermath of the tragic tsunami disaster, Sri Lanka had recorded remarkable achievements in restoring normalcy, primarily in key sectors such as housing, health, education and livelihoods in the tsunami-affected areas throughout the island, including the conflict-affected areas. A Reconstruction and Development Agency had been set up by the President of Sri Lanka in 2005 to coordinate the reconstruction process, with four main sectors identified for reconstruction: housing; livelihoods; health, education and social protection; and the national infrastructure. In the tsunami-affected areas of the North and East, reconstruction and recovery activity under the aegis of the Government had been rapid. A majority of the displaced had returned to their homes and their restored livelihoods.

There were remarkable achievements compared to the destruction witnessed two and a half years ago, despite a number of challenges. This success could not have been achieved without the support of the international community. Efforts had been hampered by the ongoing conflict. However, the lessons learned from the humanitarian response to the tsunami were being incorporated in the response to provide much-needed emergency assistance to conflict-affected communities. With an institutional base and supporting legal and policy frameworks in place, and a better understanding of what the key priorities for action were, there was now progress on the way towards building a safer Sri Lanka.

SUSAN ECKEY ( Norway) said that humanitarian crises were on the increase in terms of frequency, scope and complexity. In 2006, 426 natural disasters had affected 143 million people, causing large-scale economic damage, according to the report. Some 4 million people were forced to leave their homes because of conflict. From 1990 to 2005, official humanitarian spending by members of the Development Assistance Committee increased fourfold -- from $ 2.3 billion to 8.2 billion. These trends would probably continue over the coming years, due to factors like climate change, population growth and uncontrolled urbanization, as well as the rise in the number of fragile states. However, the problem one was faced with was not large and expanding humanitarian budgets but that the resources could not keep up with the rise in humanitarian needs. Therefore, the way of organizing development assistance needed to be changed, such as securing greater political commitment to disaster preparedness and risk reduction at all levels and across the relief-development divide; making more explicit the links between disaster risk reduction and development effectiveness, notably in relation to the attainment of Millennium Development Goals; and giving more attention to measures aiming at building local resilience through a rights-based, participatory approach, among others.

It was therefore encouraging to see that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts increasingly were being placed higher on the political agenda, at the national and international level – and that more emphasis was being put on preparedness on local communities on training, education and the interlinkages between disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and development policies, she said. Norway supported the Secretary-General's report on violence against women that was presented during last year's United Nations General Assembly. The report was unprecedented. Its holistic approach gave a better understanding of both the complexity and consequences of violence against women. Sexual and gender-based violence was increasingly prevalent in humanitarian crises, particularly in conflict settings. Gender-based violence had become a deliberate tactic of war. The international community could do more to end gender-based violence. Norway encouraged all actors, civil and military, to respect and recognize the Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets for complex emergencies and the Oslo Guidelines for disaster relief, and to recognize the coordinating role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

LIANG HONG ( China) said the report of the Secretary-General systematically analysed the situation, and came up with concrete recommendations for the Council to discuss. 2006 saw frequent occurrences of natural disasters in different regions of the world, causing tremendous challenges for the United Nations system, which had, fortunately, overcome these successfully. The active role played by the United Nations system in this regard was commended. Disasters called upon the international community to make tremendous efforts, and effective coordination was required between Governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, among others, in order to provide effective assistance.

There was a need for coordination within the United Nations system, and there were various organizations within the United Nations system that dealt with humanitarian assistance. The coordination between these should be strengthened -- the coordinating role and functions of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs should be strengthened. The cluster approach should be further assessed by the United Nations on the basis of experience gained. The work done by the United Nations in enhancing partnership and international cooperation should not be overlooked. The United Nations in the future should make further efforts towards developing certain partnerships.

FREDERIK L. MATWANGA ( Kenya) said that the theme of this year's humanitarian segment was quite relevant at this time especially as the United Nations was undertaking rigorous exercises of reforms. Among the reforms relevant to the humanitarian affairs activities was the United Nations system-wide coherence in the areas of environment, development and humanitarian affairs. Indeed improving coordination of the United Nations humanitarian assistance was very important for three major reasons. First was the critical role the United Nations had continued to play in natural and other disaster situations that called for humanitarian assistance. Second were the neutrality, catalytic and convening powers and authority of the United Nations in both acting individually as a system or collectively by coordinating other actors. Third was the ever increasing number, complexity and intensity of disasters in the world, which obviously required a coordinated response.

Disasters that called for humanitarian assistance continued to increase in number and complexity and hence required special coordination arrangements to address and assist the victims. It was also worth noting that the response to disasters was even more complicated when they occurred in developing countries, in particular those with poor infrastructure and capability and know-how on disaster response. The effectiveness of the United Nations response would to a greater extent depend on the resources availed to the United Nations. HIV/AIDS was declared a national disaster in Kenya in 1999. Since then, the concerted efforts of both the Government and the international community had led to a drastic fall in the HIV/AIDS prevalence currently to 5.9 per cent from about 6.7 percent in 2003 and over 15 percent in the year 2000.

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW ( Thailand) said that, in spite of significant progress made in recent years, the challenge of effective and timely humanitarian relief remained daunting; conflict situations and natural disasters had increased in frequency and urgency. Climate change would affect efforts to respond to disasters, and thus it was important to strengthen the response system, with the United Nations in a pivotal role. Effective disaster response and mitigation should adopt a mitigated approach including both short- and long-term needs, including post-disaster and reconstruction needs. Preparedness should lie at the heart of any disaster strategy. While effective humanitarian response could not be achieved without mobilizing international efforts, the United Nations should play a leading role in building up national capacities to handle any crisis from the very beginning.

The ongoing efforts to enhance the United Nations' links and synergy with regional organizations were supported, as they were essential for ensuring a timely and integrated response. Harmonization was the key to effectiveness. Governments concerned had the responsibility to provide unrestricted access to humanitarian relief personnel, and ensure their safety.

JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that security and access were the main prerequisites for humanitarian action. For millions of people caught in conflicts or natural disasters, resulting in the collapse of coping mechanisms, access to humanitarian assistance was the only option for survival. WFP, together with other humanitarian actors, was constantly engaged in security assessments, negotiations and seeking all options for opening humanitarian corridors. However, obstructed humanitarian access remained a major recurring challenge to WFP's emergency food assistance operations in a number of countries, such as Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic. In some cases, natural hazards also contributed to limiting humanitarian access. WFP of course could not work alone when it came to humanitarian access. The United Nations system, together with the IO/NGO partners, needed to work together collectively – politically, economically, and morally – to resolve urgent access issues.

WFP was committed to improving the quality of its needs assessments to ensure that food assistance was provided in the manner and quantity appropriate to the needs of the affected population. But an effective system of needs assistance also required a successful system of needs-based financing to deliver assistance to disaster-affected populations. Another important element in effective needs-based response was improved capacity, performance, and partnerships in addressing the major sectoral requirements of humanitarian programmes. WFP supported the “cluster approach” as a major contribution to improving sectoral humanitarian response. While thanking those donors who already contributed to this global appeal, WFP called on the donor community to come forward and generously support its efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of the humanitarian response.

ALA ALWAN of the World Health Organization (WHO) said WHO's commitment to humanitarian reform was dramatically changing the way in which it supported countries suffering crises and disasters. The Humanitarian Health Cluster, established in 2006, had brought about a renewed sense of purpose in bringing together agencies with a similar mandate to work closer together. WHO, as lead agency of the Cluster, now worked with more than 30 United Nations and non-governmental organization partners to achieve a more effective and comprehensive humanitarian health response. This was also resulting in a change of working culture towards inter-agency work and partnerships - working alone was no longer an acceptable option.

Against the backdrop of widespread reform, the collective commitment in the Health Cluster was to meet four basic functions. The availability of impartial evidence was essential for the effectiveness of relief interventions and equitable allocation of resources. Coordination was essential to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the response. Gaps that posed threats to life should be promptly addressed. National partners should be fully integrated in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The emphasis on health and the need for strengthening partnerships was of paramount importance: conflicts had a devastating effect on social development and on the structure of civil society; they destroyed health. Investing in capacity-building at community level for emergency preparedness and response was the most sustainable answer to address health aspects of emergencies and crises.

INGEBORG BREINES of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that UNESCO commended the efforts to strengthen the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance through enhancing the effectiveness of needs-based humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian crises caused by conflicts or natural disasters were fundamental obstacles for countries to achieve the six “Education for All” goals set by the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000. The provision of educational services, based on an integrated sector-wide approach, was an essential pillar of any humanitarian response. Conflict and disaster-affected communities and countries increasingly prioritized and expected provision of education from the earliest stages of relief.

Beyond global advocacy, UNESCO directly assisted affected communities in addressing educational needs through operational programmes aimed at reactivating and upgrading the education system as a whole and supporting more specifically secondary, technical and vocational, as well as higher education, notably in Iraq, in the Palestinian Territories, in Pakistan, in Somalia and in Sudan. UNESCO remained committed to play an active role in the Education Cluster, country-chaired by UNICEF and Save the Children. UNESCO also welcomed the continued emphasis put on risk reduction and preparedness as an integral dimension of the humanitarian response. Within its mandate of ensuring the freedom of opinion and expression flow of information in crisis situations, UNESCO was assisting in establishing immediate media channels, firstly for humanitarian information but secondly also to facilitate the dissemination of neutral and unbiased information through local media.

For information media • not an official record