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ECOSOC holds general discussion on strengthening coordination of humanitarian assistance

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The Economic and Social Council this morning opened its Humanitarian Affairs Segment, holding a general discussion on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance: present challenges and their impact on the future.

Tiina Intelmann, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, introducing the Humanitarian Affairs Segment on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance: present challenges and their impact on the future, said humanitarian practitioners feared that hundreds of millions more would be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming few years. This year's Humanitarian Affairs Segment provided the Member States with an opportunity to deliberate and reflect, jointly with the international humanitarian community, on how to best respond to these traditional and emerging crises.

John Holmes, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, opening the segment, said unfortunately, many of the adverse trends which had plagued the humanitarian community in recent years, particularly the pressure on humanitarian space and principles and the increased severity of natural hazards, showed no sign of disappearing. If anything they were intensifying. In 2009, complex emergencies had taken an even heavier toll than in previous years. Furthermore, he said he was deeply saddened and increasingly horrified by the rising attacks on humanitarian workers. These dedicated professionals - the majority of whom were from the communities they were trying to help - gave their energies and their lives to helping others in need, but too often were rewarded only with hostility, suspicion, violence and even murder.

In the general discussion, speakers noted, among other things, that the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance was one of the most important responsibilities of the United Nations. One of the main challenges to humanitarian assistance identified in the report was the normative framework underpinning humanitarian action. However, the report also noted that strengthening response capacities at the local, national and regional levels including national civil society organizations was critical to face the humanitarian emergencies. With regard to gaps that remained in the humanitarian assistance reform, further work and attention were required, and included the strengthening of the humanitarian coordinator function; effective closing of the gap between humanitarian assistance and early recovery; and greater attention had to be given to disaster preparedness, contingency planning and mitigation strategies. Recent situations of conflict had also reinforced the need to ensure the safety and security of not only humanitarian personnel, but also facilities and supplies. Speakers also stressed that States were primarily responsible for providing protection and assistance to their populations. Humanitarian personnel, in particular local personnel, were paying a high price for criminal acts and attacks against them. It was essential that humanitarian personnel be allowed to carry out their mission, which was to save lives, to alleviate suffering and to guarantee the protection of human dignity in all circumstances, and for this to happen, States had to ensure that humanitarian personnel obtained rapid and unimpeded access.

Speaking during the general discussion were representatives of the delegations of Sweden on behalf of the European Union, Canada on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Brazil, Switzerland, Sudan, India, Peru, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Norway, El Salvador, and the Holy See. Also speaking were representatives of the International Organization for Migration and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

This afternoon the Council will meet at 3 p.m., to hold a panel discussion on "respecting and implementing guiding principles of humanitarian assistance at the operational level - assisting the affected population". The Council will conclude its general discussion from this morning on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 July.

Report

The Economic and Social Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (E/2009/87), which describes the major humanitarian trends and challenges that have occurred during the past year and analyses two thematic issues of concern: respecting and implementing guiding principles of humanitarian assistance at the operational level and addressing the impact of current global challenges and trends on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance. The report provides an overview of current key processes to improve humanitarian coordination and ends with recommendations for further strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.

Humanitarian Segment

Opening Statements

TIINA INTELMANN, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, introducing the Humanitarian Affairs Segment on strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian assistance: present challenges and their impact on the future, said the provision of humanitarian assistance was an increasingly complicated endeavour, while Member States, United Nations entities, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organizations strove to produce life-saving assistance for communities affected by complex emergencies and natural disasters; the combined effect of global challenges such as climate change, extreme poverty, and the food and financial crises were generating new humanitarian needs, in non-traditional humanitarian contexts. Humanitarian practitioners feared that hundreds of millions more would be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming few years.

This year's Humanitarian Affairs Segment provided the Member States with an opportunity to deliberate and reflect, jointly with the international humanitarian community, on how to best respond to these traditional and emerging crises. The Humanitarian Affairs Segment provided a very important contribution to humanitarian response globally- not only did it provide Member States with an opportunity to inform about humanitarian response priorities in an informed discussion with the international humanitarian community, it also provided a forum for Member States and the international humanitarian community to jointly deliberate on how to improve humanitarian response and address future challenges.

JOHN HOLMES, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, opening the segment, said unfortunately, many of the adverse trends which had plagued the humanitarian community in recent years, particularly the pressure on humanitarian space and principles and the increased severity of natural hazards, showed no sign of disappearing. If anything they were intensifying. The Sichuan earthquake in China cause 87,476 deaths and some $85 billion in losses, while hurricane Ike in the United States caused economic losses estimated at $30 billion. In 2009, complex emergencies had taken an even heavier toll than in previous years. While long-running and intractable conflicts such as those in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the occupied Palestinian territories, and Somalia continued to affect millions, outbreak of conflict in Pakistan, and the end game of the long running conflict in Sri Lanka had disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands more. Mr. Holmes highlighted two sets of issues affecting the provision of humanitarian assistance: chronic problems, and new challenges coming from the combined impact of current global trends.

With regard to chronic problems, access issues had of course confronted humanitarian assistance since its early days, said Mr. Holmes. No-one challenged the fundamental primacy of national sovereignty. But access for humanitarians posed no challenge to this. On the contrary, since Member States were primarily responsible for the well-being of their citizens, and for the initiation and coordination of humanitarian assistance to populations affected within their borders, calling on the international community for help at a time of need and allowing those concerned free and timely access was precisely an expression of the sovereign responsibility of all Governments with the interests of their citizens at heart. Moreover, operationally access to affected communities could be constrained by multiple factors, including intense military operations, unfavourable seasonal and weather conditions, geographical or infrastructure constraints, and, too often, bureaucracy that intentionally or accidentally limited the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This was a complicated area, which they could only tackle in partnership. Mr. Holmes said he was deeply saddened and increasingly horrified by the rising attacks on humanitarian workers. These dedicated professionals - the majority of whom were from the communities they were trying to help - gave their energies and their lives to helping others in need, but too often were rewarded only with hostility, suspicion, violence and even murder. He urged the Council to join him in strongly condemning these unacceptable and extremely damaging attacks on humanitarian staff.

General Discussion on the Humanitarian Segment

HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the humanitarian segment was a key forum for inter-Governmental dialogue on contemporary humanitarian challenges and humanitarian response. The global consensus on ensuring effective delivery of humanitarian assistance could be articulated and strengthened through a constructive and informed dialogue. Coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance was one of the most important responsibilities of the United Nations - humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law provided the basis for humanitarian assistance, and States had the primary responsibility for disaster management. In addition to the traditional causes of humanitarian emergencies, today a range of inter-connected trends were transforming the humanitarian environment and the operational landscape. Climate change, population growth and rapid urbanisation, as well as food insecurity, combined with widespread poverty were already driving humanitarian needs. The international humanitarian system must stand ready to provide a more predictable and consistently effective response to humanitarian needs in ongoing crises, as well as in new crises. In order to respond adequately to the complex humanitarian challenges, the humanitarian system needed to be flexible, efficient and predictable. The European Union welcomed the consolidation of the humanitarian reforms, and was pleased to note the positive effects of the cluster approach in strengthening and channelling capacity in this field.

MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada), speaking on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said they welcomed the focus in the report and in the segment on the humanitarian principles - humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. They recognized that national authorities had the primary responsibility to meet the needs of people in their territory affected by humanitarian crises. However, when needs exceeded the capacity of national authorities and local agencies to respond, the international community could play a role in supplementing the latter's efforts. Further, as Member States, they may not be neutral actors. But it was in all of their interests to support and advocate for humanitarian action that was neutral, impartial and independent - with the sole purpose of preventing and alleviating human suffering wherever it may be found. Around the world, millions of people in need benefited when they supported these principles collectively. Yet, all too often, these principles were taken for granted, disregarded or blatantly flouted. Since the humanitarian reform process was launched four years ago, it was clear that progress had been made. But now was the time to reflect on the gaps that remained. In this respect, further work and attention was required to strengthen the humanitarian coordinator function - a key element of humanitarian reform; effectively close the gap between humanitarian assistance and early recovery; and give greater attention to disaster preparedness, contingency planning and mitigation strategies.

ALEXANDER PANKIN (Russian Federation) said with the growing demand for humanitarian services in the world, it was especially important for the international community to manifest its commitment to the guiding principles contained in the annex to the fundamental humanitarian United Nations General Assembly resolution 46/182, departing from which would lead to a politicisation of efforts and weakening of United Nations humanitarian assistance. There were a number of factors hampering the implementation of these principles, in particular the increased number of attacks on humanitarian workers and interference of political, military and private sector actors into humanitarian assistance, which blurred the notion of humanitarian assistance, and increased risks linked to the security of humanitarian personnel. The use of military assets in humanitarian response operations should meet the principle of independence. Russia was advocating for adequate and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected population: to do this, it was necessary to rely on objective needs assessments, and to see the access to those in need facilitated. Global food, financial and economic crises, climate change, migration, demographic growth, urbanisation, terrorism, and shortages of energy resources and drinking water were complex factors leading to the growth of humanitarian needs and undermining donor financial capacity. To increase efficiency of humanitarian work during large-scale crises, it was of utmost importance to further strengthen the mechanisms for mobilising financial resources. There was a growing need to discuss how to improve the humanitarian discourse in the United Nations without compromising the organs' mandates, and excluding duplication of work.

HAMIDO ALI (Malaysia) said they needed to openly address the challenges to humanitarian economic insecurity resulting from the global economic and financial crises, the food crisis and high energy prices. They noted that even if these crises were to come to pass, the effects to populations would still remain with them for some time, creating further pressures on global humanitarian assistance. Recent situations of conflict had also reinforced the need to ensure the safety and security of not only humanitarian personnel, but also facilities and supplies. In this regard, they needed to give due consideration to those reports which identified the instances where this had taken place. Additionally, one of the main challenges to humanitarian assistance identified in the report was the normative framework underpinning humanitarian action. This was indeed something of concern for them, and for the international community as a whole. To resolve some of these challenges, they needed to address the fundamental questions and issues. Firstly, on the matter of the blurring of humanitarian, political and security objectives, what were the lessons learned, best practices and experiences of the United Nations' "integrated missions" to overcome this? Secondly, with the increase in demand for humanitarian assistance due to extreme weather events, was there sufficient international cooperation to assist countries, especially developing countries, in preparedness and disaster risk reduction?

GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said it was fitting that, at a time of concurring global crises, Member States chose to discuss the issue of present challenges in strengthening coordination of humanitarian assistance, and their impact on the future. At the outset, it was important to note that despite the severity of the financial crisis in a number of traditional donor countries, the commitments to existing humanitarian funding mechanisms were not reduced in 2008. Donors should continue to recognise the importance of keeping a steady flow of financing to tackle humanitarian emergencies in coming years. The current mechanisms of the United Nations humanitarian system were insufficient to adequately address humanitarian emergencies, and the system should give more priority to the chronic vulnerabilities of populations, which would imply some shift in the current focus on response. There should be increased investment in preparedness, measures for disaster risk reduction, as well as capacity building at the national and local levels. Investments in preparedness and disaster risk reduction greatly offset the costs of response and recovery efforts. Coordination of humanitarian actors with other partners should be encouraged, particularly in relation to the need to guarantee long-term and sustainable solutions to humanitarian emergencies. Member States needed to renew their commitments towards food security - developed countries had an important role to play in cooperating with developing countries through transfer of expertise and technology, and, not least, through the dismantling of protectionist and illegal subsidy programmes. A positive development in recent years was the increased engagement of regional and sub-regional organizations and the development of regional initiatives in coordinating humanitarian assistance.

TONI RRISCH (Switzerland) said Switzerland was particularly worried by the increasing tendency to restrict access of humanitarian actors to conflict zones. It was essential that humanitarian personnel be allowed to carry out their mission, which was to save lives, to alleviate suffering and to guarantee the protection of human dignity in all circumstances. For this to happen, States had to ensure that humanitarian personnel obtained rapid and unimpeded access. It had to be stressed once again that States were primarily responsible for providing protection and assistance to their populations. Switzerland for its part intended to tackle the constraints affecting humanitarian access head-on. Following the expert meeting in Montreux on 30 June and 1 July, Switzerland had launched an initiative to improve humanitarian access in armed conflicts aimed at making available practical instruments, notably a handbook on the normative framework for the national authorities, for international organizations and for humanitarian actors on the ground. Switzerland was also worried about the deterioration of the security situation for actors on the ground. Humanitarian personnel, in particular local personnel, were paying a high price for criminal acts and attacks against them. Furthermore, in addition to making resources available for prevention and preparation, it was also crucial that mechanisms for coordinating responses, both by States concerned and by the international community, had to continue to develop and to be given appropriate support.

KHALID M-ALI (Sudan) said the world was facing growing issues in the humanitarian sector, given the growing number of emergencies caused by armed conflicts and natural disasters. The adverse effects of climate change, and the increase in food prices and energy prices aggravated this, in the context of global financial and economic crises. The Secretary-General's report referred to frightening numbers of victims, floods and earthquakes, and desertification, indicating that the United Nations' capacity had to be strengthened to deal with these. The scale of these challenges meant that there should be a strengthening of coordination of humanitarian assistance provided in these situations, in a spirit of neutrality and independence, with respect for the integrity and internal affairs of the country involved, in the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the principles contained therein. Cooperation in Sudan had taken various tangible forms: the President of the Government had enacted a large range of decisions with a view to streamlining procedures allowing flexible access for humanitarian operations in Darfur; measures had been taken to implement the fast-track procedure to import food aid and deal with administrative procedures; and the Higher Committee had been established, bringing together the Government, the United Nations, national organizations and donors and others, supervising access to humanitarian aid and obligations related thereto. The rebel group had engaged in destructive activities with regards to humanitarian assistance, including attacks on drivers with the intent of reselling aid assistance, thus depriving the needy of it. Thanks to the provision of Governmental facilities, the number of organizations working in Darfur had increased.

ARINDAM BAGCHI (India) said India was deeply concerned by the increasing incidence of attacks on humanitarian personnel. India had always opposed violence and condemned such attacks in the strongest possible terms. The coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance was one of the most important responsibilities of the United Nations. The capabilities and role of the United Nations had to be strengthened further. This also meant an augmentation of the operational coordination capacities of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, improved delivery of humanitarian services by relevant United Nations funds and programmes as well as greater accountability to stakeholders. There was an important need to recognise that the task for emergency assistance was now-a-days increasingly undertaken at local, national and regional levels. The Secretary-General's report rightly pointed out that strengthening response capacities at the local, national and regional levels including national civil society organizations were critical to face the humanitarian emergencies. Cooperation to strengthen local, national and regional capacities in this critical sector would benefit all. Mechanisms that tapped these capacities and disseminated best practices and knowledge had to be given high priority by the United Nations. Furthermore, the Central Emergency Response Fund had been successful in mobilizing over $1.5 billion since its inception. The disbursal of the Central Emergency Response Fund's funds had a role in accelerating responses to emergency situations and had a positive impact on the management of these situations.

GONZALO GUILLEN BEKER (Peru) said Peru had not been spared the impact of natural disasters and was aware of the need to be prepared to deal with their unforeseen circumstances, and its effort to do so had been vital in dealing with such events. However, in serious cases, the immediate national response and later recovery would have been impossible if it had not been for the generous and effective response by the international community. This valuable assistance was evidence of the importance of international humanitarian assistance to support national efforts, and the decisive role played by that international assistance when it came to saving lives in the face of the brunt of any type of disaster. The Secretary-General showed in his report the growing scientific consensus on the increasing types of natural disasters which were due in ninety per cent of cases to climate change. Peru had also suffered from this. There was not only concern about the effects of climate change on natural disaster frequency and severity, but for the food crisis, growing scarcity, pandemics and migration, which would generate new types of emergency and cyclical crises. Humanitarian assistance must also deal with situations of emergency from new perspectives, seeking long-term solutions for prevention and disaster-management. To achieve a more efficient approach, the virtues of coordination between all actors involved could not be ignored, with the principal coordination role played by the State. Unfortunately, the State sometimes forgot about its main goal, to alleviate the suffering of victims, due to excessive procedures, which caused slow flows of aid.

Mr. I.G. WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia) said with regard to the normative work underpinning humanitarian action, three points had to be emphasized. Firstly, resolution 46/182 of 16 December 1991 underlined that humanitarian assistance be undertaken only with the consent of the affected country and within the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality, and respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States. Secondly, the rapid and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to affected communities had to be insured consistent with humanitarian law. Thirdly, coordination of the United Nations system with Member States and other stakeholders had to continuously be conducted in a coherent, comprehensive and cooperative manner. Taking into account the increasing number of emergencies that had multidimensional effects, Indonesia continued to support an effective humanitarian mechanism that promoted greater information sharing and coordination between the humanitarian and development areas. As important as a timely humanitarian response was for disasters, they could not overlook the need to strengthen disaster preparedness. Furthermore, evaluations conducted by Governments of affected countries to assess post disaster recovery should be the primary source for accountability and transparency to donors and the international community.

MUHAMMAD AYUB (Pakistan) said today, natural disasters caused by climate change had affected more people in the world than complex emergencies caused by conflicts or internal strife. In the years to come, it was expected that the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance as a result of natural disasters would be much more than those affected by complex emergencies. While the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance was continuously increasing, there was a parallel need to improve the level of coordination with the affected State, and provide resources in a more effective, accountable, and needs-based manner. The diversity of challenges faced by the world of humanitarian assistance had been compounded by the ongoing multiple crises of finance, fuel, and food. While the financial and economic crises had hit the roots of provision of necessary funds for humanitarian assistance through the world, the food and fuel insecurity had increased the vulnerabilities of the populations in need. There were no easy fixes - these challenges needed to be matched with a concerted and effective response through innovative thinking and reinvigoration of efforts to anticipate and overcome such emergencies. In all times, the primary role of the concerned State in the initiation, identification, coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance remained central; respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must remain the overarching parameters in all coordination, as enshrined in General Assembly Resolution 46/182.

SHAO CHANGFENG (China) said at present the world was facing unprecedented challenges and multiple crises which affected humanitarian assistance. The outbreak and spread of the global economic and financial crises eroded the global development achievements and could lead to a decline in global humanitarian assistance and aid to traditional recipient countries. The international community should take action, with strict adherence to the guiding principles, to respond to disaster reduction and preparedness levels globally. Timely and effective action in terms of humanitarian assistance should be guided by the principles as set out in the General Assembly resolution 46/182, and should also be taken together with Governments respecting national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. The United Nations system should work hard to enhance existing structures and capacity, as well as knowledge sharing in the area of new technologies. China supported a greater coordinator role of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in capacity building, and suggested this be included in next year's report of the Secretary-General. The United Nations should adopt a more scientific approach to requests made with regard to disaster relief efforts. China also welcomed the progress made to date by the Central Emergency Response Fund, which enhanced the human response to disaster relief crisis. China reiterated its continued support to the United Nations and the international community in disaster prevention and reduction, and was ready to help countries overcome challenges they faced in this regard.

SUSAN ECKEY (Norway) said the many violations of humanitarian law that had been seen during the last few years, in particular with regard to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, gave cause for grave concern. The targeting of civilians, lack of respect for humanitarian law principles, including in conflicts in populated areas, and the use of sexual violence as a method of warfare were just a few examples of the serious challenges, with grave humanitarian consequences that posed a threat to peace and development. There was an urgent need to work to enhance respect for international humanitarian law and improved protection of civilians in armed conflict. An overwhelming majority of recent conflicts involved States against non-State actors, many of which conflicts were characterised by attacks on civilians, and could create incentives for both State and non-State actors to act in ways that ran counter to international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. The aim was to revitalise and raise these issues high on the international agenda, and agree on a way forward that would make States and other actors commit to concrete measures to promote respect for international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Climate change was aggravating the uneven distribution of risk and poverty globally, and exacerbating underlying risk drivers such as poor urban governance, vulnerable livelihoods, and ecosystem decline. This meant that the humanitarian system would have to become more focused on chronic needs or cyclical crises in vulnerable areas, not just on humanitarian response; decisive action needed to be taken with regard to both disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

MARIO ERNESTO CASTRO (El Salvador) said the Humanitarian Segment gave them a chance to look at the coordination of assistance and emergency humanitarian assistance, and how they could improve the coordination of humanitarian assistance. As noted in the Secretar