ECOSOC continues general discussion under its humanitarian affairs segment

Report
from UN Economic and Social Council
Published on 15 Jul 2003
ECOSOC/6075
Importance of Increased, Balanced Funding for Humanitarian Assistance Stressed; Praise for Incorporation of HIV/AIDS Programming in Humanitarian Strategies Voiced

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 15 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning continued its general discussion under the humanitarian affairs segment of its agenda. Among the issues which continued to be highlighted by the delegations participating in the discussion was the importance of balanced financing for humanitarian assistance through the United Nations system and the incorporation of HIV/AIDS into humanitarian planning.

Among concerns addressed in this context were the need for further increases in overall levels of funding, and that those increases in funding for humanitarian assistance already experienced had occurred at the expense of decreased levels of official development assistance (ODA). Thus, the representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) noted that, while donors had increased their funding for humanitarian assistance, the humanitarian community continued to fall behind in its response. In the same regard, the representative of Jamaica said that overall levels of humanitarian assistance remained insufficient to meet global need, which had skyrocketed. The donor community should be challenged to increase the level, speed and predictability of its assistance to ensure the provision of adequate financial assistance.

Moreover, as the majority of delegations noted, while there had been a recent increase in funding for humanitarian assistance through the United Nations, this increase had been paralleled by a decrease in funding through official development assistance (ODA). Thus, continued the representative of Jamaica, it was important to ensure that increased levels of humanitarian assistance did not divert ODA funds, but were provided in addition to them.

Other delegates reiterated their concern that humanitarian assistance was not equitably distributed, such as the representative of Brazil who recalled the spectre of "forgotten emergencies" and said that it was essential for funds to be allocated in proportion to need in order to ensure a more equitable distribution. While donor countries must establish agreed principles of good donorship behaviour and practice, and place more trust in the United Nations' system of coordination and flexible response, the United Nations should at the same time improve and increase its consistency in assessing humanitarian needs.

With regard to its efforts to respond effectively to HIV/AIDS, the United Nations' efforts to deal with the humanitarian disaster in Southern Africa through integrating HIV/AIDS into humanitarian assistance planning was broadly praised. For instance, the representative of Sudan encouraged the United Nations system to continue using such successful approaches in situations where other epidemics, such as malaria and tuberculosis, presented serious threats.

The issue of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Southern Africa - the region of the world with the highest rate of infection - has been the focus of much concern throughout the humanitarian segment. As noted by the representative of Zimbabwe, the challenge posed by HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa had gone beyond nations' ability to cope, leading to further worsening of the situation. For this reason, the delegations attending this session of the Economic and Social Council had made a special request for the holding of a panel discussion on the specific issue of HIV/AIDS and its affect on humanitarian activities.

Also participating in the general discussion this morning were representatives of Argentina, Republic of Congo, Chile, Norway, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, Indonesia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria. Representatives of the Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-alga Spirulina against Malnutrition, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and World Health Organization (WHO) also participated in the general discussion.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene today at 3 p.m. to conclude its consideration of the humanitarian segment.

Statements

ALICIA BEATRIZ DE HOZ (Argentina) said that Argentina supported and commended the work of the United Nations in the humanitarian sphere. Humanitarian personnel must have full access to affected populations, while the principles of humaneness, neutrality and impartiality must guide humanitarian work. Ensuring timely, coordinated and technically appropriate assistance in urban search and rescue operations was important, as was the organizing and streamlining of the provision of official development assistance (ODA) and other humanitarian assistance through the consolidated appeals process (CAP), which sought to maximize available resources. In this regard, ensuring strong coordination structures through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to avoid duplication of efforts was important.

Also expressing support for the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on the transition from relief to development, she said that the tragic loss of humanitarian workers was alarming. This phenomenon shed light on security situations dealt with in the field. Concerning the issue of sexual exploitation and violence in humanitarian emergencies, Argentina supported the creation of a set of minimum behavioural standards, in compliance with which all humanitarian workers must work. Finally, noting that HIV/AIDS had complicated crisis situations and had a disproportionate effect on women and children, she expressed satisfaction with the global consultations on the subject of protection held in 2002.

BASILE IKOUEBE (Republic of Congo) said his country appreciated the high calibre of the Secretary-General's report on humanitarian assistance and welcomed the progress that had been made on negotiations for draft resolutions on the same topic. Humanitarian crises often took on different forms and the United Nations must ensure that the international community reacted to each specific crisis. With the current humanitarian world situation, improvements were needed. These improvements needed to be focused on forecasting and preparedness for humanitarian emergencies. The United Nations would not be able to achieve its goals without a mobilization of external resources. It was regrettable that some countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies were receiving more attention and more resources than other "forgotten crises". A framework needed to be established that would address humanitarian emergencies both on a short-term and long-term development basis. Such a framework must also support national institutions and support good governance programmes. There was also a need for cooperation between United Nations Country Teams and national Governments to ensure increased coordination and planning.

In Congo, after the cessation of hostilities, the Government had undertaken initiatives aiming to assist internally displaced persons, as well as ex-combatants. The Government aimed towards the return to normalcy on all levels by working with the United Nations agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations. These partnerships aimed to strengthen national capacity, as well as to reduce poverty.

JUAN MARTABIT (Chile) said that one of the principles driving his country's participation in the Council was the necessary concern for the welfare of the victims of natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. In this regard, it was important to maintain close cooperation with affected areas, which should be accomplished through the proper authorities. The same applied to the channelling of humanitarian assistance through the United Nations. Chile participated in direct humanitarian assistance for a number of countries in Latin America, as the situation warranted. It was also important to highlight the coordination of efforts and the channelling of assistance through the United Nations. The United Nations' involvement with humanitarian assistance programmes in Afghanistan was a good example of a situation in which Chile, through the United Nations, had been able to participate effectively.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on humanitarian operations, he continued, should be based upon an integrated approach, involving governments, academics and civil society in the finding of solutions. Furthermore, as a member of the human security network, which sought to place the individual at the centre of humanitarian responses, Chile was particularly concerned about the vulnerable position of children in humanitarian emergencies.

HANS FREDRIK LEHNE (Norway) said today humanitarian emergencies were much more complex and were larger in scale and number than they were 10 years ago. There had been a steady increase in the number of internally displaced persons. Massive displacement was a direct, and often intended, result of armed conflicts. Civilians were not only the main victims; too often they were also the targets. The growing number of humanitarian emergencies increased the need for resources. More human suffering and deprivation cost more to alleviate. Donor resources were, however, limited and one must seek to utilize them more effectively. Donors had been criticized for not being sufficiently predictable in their allocations for humanitarian assistance. This called for two actions - sustained and adequate financial commitment from donors, and further improved donor coordination. Norway supported initiatives taken for more predictable needs-based funding and would participate in the initiatives taken to establish principles of good donorship. The consolidated appeals process had led to improved coordination of international humanitarian assistance and less duplication. Joint strategic planning and shared priority setting and identification of objectives between humanitarian actors constituted important improvements.

Over the years, there had been too many examples of how protracted crises, once they were no longer in the media spotlight, had been almost forgotten by the international community until they flared up again. If the international community was to succeed in making lasting progress and solving the problems that caused the crises in the first place, more attention needed to be given to the difficult period between the receipt of humanitarian assistance and the arrival of more long-term aid.

FRANCIS O'NEIL (Jamaica) said that the approach to humanitarian emergencies must be guided by the principle that any effective response required durable solutions, which could only be identified if both national governments and the international community improved their collaborative efforts to address the effects of humanitarian emergencies and their causes and to find sustainable solutions. In this regard, the transition from relief to development should be a coherent process involving national governments, the donor community, the United Nations system and civil society. Noting the continued gap between funding for relief and development activities, he stressed the crucial importance of avoiding gaps as relief action was replaced by development activities.

Moreover, overall levels of humanitarian assistance remained insufficient to meet global need, he added. Challenging the donor community to increase its level, speed and predictability of assistance to ensure adequate financial assistance, he stressed that emphasis should be placed on equity in the distribution of such assistance to ensure that longer-term emergencies with limited visibility were not forgotten. It was also important that humanitarian assistance not divert funds from official development assistance (ODA). As the majority of humanitarian emergencies were the result of natural disasters, which afflicted mostly those countries with the least capacity to cope with their effects, the efforts of national governments required strong support in emergency assistance, as well as capacity-building to respond to natural disasters and to reduce their impact, in addition to help with early warning and monitoring systems.

GILLES GRILLET (Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Alga Spirulina against Malnutrition) informed the Economic and Social Council of the possible use of micro-alga spirulina as a means to combat serious malnutrition and to support rural development. The Institution believed that Spirulina could be used as an important nutritional supplement in countries suffering from acute malnutrition or food emergencies as a result of humanitarian crises, drought, famine, and massive displacement. The actual growth capability of micro-algae was 260 times the production of meat, 30 times that of soy and required 500 times less water to produce the same levels of protein as beef. It was added that spirulina had healing capabilities and that it could strengthen the immune system. The goal of the Institution was the creation of production centres of Spirulina to respond to urgent humanitarian needs, malnutrition and food insecurity. The Institution, therefore, called upon all States to ensure that a United Nations programme on the use of the micro-alga Spirulina be proposed to the General Assembly during its next session.

OMER BASHIR MANIS (Sudan) called on all those involved with humanitarian work to heed the report of the Secretary-General, which had highlighted past abuses in this regard. Affirming that there had been important recent progress between the Government and rebels in Sudan, the negotiation of peace could soon be anticipated. Returning to the Secretary-General's report, he stressed the need to protect civilians in conflict situations and noted that the increase in funding for humanitarian assistance, by 30 per cent, had been encouraging. However, there had also been an alarming decrease in financing for the consolidated appeals process (CAP); the most recent CAP for Sudan had not exceeded 30 per cent of Sudan's needs. Thus, it was important to stress that increases in humanitarian assistance should not come at the expense of official development assistance (ODA).

Praising the United Nations' efforts in dealing with the humanitarian disaster in Southern Africa, he said that approaches integrating HIV/AIDS into humanitarian planning had been very successful and should be applied to situations where other epidemics, such as malaria and tuberculosis, presented serious threats in emergency situations. In view of the economic vulnerability of many African States, disease prevention and control was much harder to effect, which humanitarian assistance must take into account. Finally, national governments should take part in all phases of the planning and implementation process in humanitarian emergencies.

GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala) said the Secretary-General's report underscored the need to determine how best to finance the action to be taken to meet humanitarian needs. Guatemala agreed that the assistance must be provided in order to ensure that the financing measure up, quantitatively, to the magnitude of the need, that it be distributed equitably, in accordance with humanitarian principles, and that, once it had been provided, it was managed effectively. Guatemala shared many of the concerns expressed in the report. Among them were the possibility that humanitarian assistance might take place at the price of cooperation, whereas both activities must be complementary, and the need for a clear distinction between what was emergency assistance and what was assistance for purposes of rehabilitation and recovery. The ECOSOC must address the need for coherence among humanitarian measures, political ones and measures in the fields of human rights and development. This would make it easier to identify the main threats that were emerging and provide the correct responses. It was, likewise, necessary to have available adequate and sufficient resources to respond effectively to those threats. Strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance required not only the infrastructure already in existence within the Organization, but also by the Member States, both the donors and the recipients.

JORGE FERRER RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said that there had been a marked increase in the frequency of natural disasters and in the number of persons affected by them, while at the same time, the capacity of developing countries to deal with these emergency situations had decreased. Typhoons, earthquakes and droughts led to the further entrenchment of poverty in developing countries, and aggravated diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and dengue fever. Moreover, the selective application of humanitarian assistance in such situations cast doubt upon the United Nations' adherence to the principles of neutrality and impartiality in humanitarian assistance.

Those crises caused by natural disasters occurred quickly and were quickly relegated to oblivion, leading to additional suffering and setbacks on the part of affected countries, he said. Promises to help in preparing for, preventing and reducing vulnerability to natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies would constitute empty words if the international community did not accompany them with sufficient and predictable resources. Greater international cooperation and international solidarity were also needed to cope with these natural phenomena. It was of utmost importance that assistance was provided at the request of States and with their consent. States should have the role of initiating and directing humanitarian assistance within their territories. Moreover, as the United Nations was an intergovernmental organization, all its activities and the mandates of its funds and programmes were subject to the approval of its main bodies, particularly the General Assembly. It was hoped that the guidelines of the working groups detailed in the Secretary-General's report would be submitted to the scrutiny and approval of all Member States, not simply rubber stamped.

OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru) said that impunity for crimes against humanitarian workers was unacceptable. Humanitarian assistance was not only about the protection of civilians in humanitarian crises, such as conflict and natural disasters, but to work towards gender empowerment, combating HIV/AIDS, and promoting development. The role of the United Nations was expanding far beyond peace and security issues. The principal aim of humanitarian assistance was to alleviate suffering; however the definition had now extended to the transition from relief to development. This definition of humanitarian assistance was hazy, unclear and unrealistic since it wrongly made people believe that development and the eradication of poverty were just around the corner. This was not the case - two thirds of the world population was living on less than two dollars a day. His delegation was therefore in favour of a more modern and realistic definition of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian assistance in cases of conflict had sometimes led to sharp criticism of the United Nations. Such criticism had not been seen in humanitarian assistance of the United Nations in cases of natural disasters. In fact, such assistance had done nothing but enhance the prestige of the Organization. The United Nations' role in combating natural activities was of key importance. Natural disasters were increasing and activities in this field, therefore, needed to be strengthened, more coordinated and supported by Member States. In conclusion, he paid tribute to all men and women who had lost their lives in fighting for human dignity.

CHITSAKA CHIPAZIWA (Zimbabwe) said Southern Africa was at the moment going through severe socio-economic challenges which had been aggravated by recurrent droughts and the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These challenges had gone beyond nations' ability to cope, leading to the worsening of the situation. It was in this regard that he appealed to humanitarian agencies to play a part by supporting national initiatives to help achieve food security and long-term development. The ultimate goal must be to ensure that long-term solutions were found by assisting members to move from relief to development. This required collaborative partnership with clarity of roles and responsibilities among the humanitarian community agents, governments and local actors.

In Zimbabwe, the Government operated a variety of social safety nets meant to meet the needs of the poor. To ensure that humanitarian aid was adequate and objective, the humanitarian agencies needed to work in close collaboration with governments, and to work within already existing institutional structures. Experience had shown that the creation of parallel structures led to unfair distribution of aid, as well as duplication of activities in some areas. Reference was also made to the Government's approach to gender mainstreaming; emergency preparedness and contingency planning; HIV/AIDS in emergencies; and the transition from relief to development. He stressed that the growth of humanitarian assistance had occurred during a period when official development assistance was decreasing. It was a matter of concern that humanitarian assistance was uneven and not clearly distributed on the basis of food. Effectiveness of humanitarian assistance depended on the timeliness of the response to the appeal, processing of pledges and predictability of funding by donors for agencies to act quickly.

JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE (World Food Programme (WFP)) said that the coordination mechanisms of the United Nations system had improved significantly in the last decade, but that there was room for further development as well. For example, there was room to further improve the prioritisation of activities in camps and to minimize under-funding so that the agencies and their donors could better understand the complementarity of their programmes. It was important to recognize that the need for programmes was skyrocketing. While donors had increased their funding last year, the international community continued to fall behind in its response, necessitating a "triage" approach to the supply of food to those most vulnerable. Thus, anticipating emergencies and preparing for them in advance were important capacities that the humanitarian community needed to address. Effective coordination was an imperative need for the humanitarian community, not an issue to which to pay mere lip service.

SUNU M. SOEMARNO (Indonesia) said governments played a primary role in coordinating and providing humanitarian assistance to beneficiaries and, as such, he welcomed international cooperation in support of the efforts of affected countries in dealing with natural disasters and complex emergencies. Having said this, Indonesia was of the view that assistance from the international community must complement national efforts, and that its delivery must fall under the direction of the national Governments of the affected countries. Indonesia also believed that the implementation of such assistance must adhere to the guiding principles contained in the relevant General Assembly resolution, which included respect for sovereignty, integrity and national unity of States, as well as the consent and appeal of affected countries.

The way in which humanitarian needs were financed must be addressed, he continued. This component of the relation between States and the debts that they owed to populations in crisis could not be held hostage by any other factors. It certainly could not, and must not, lead to what the Secretary-General had called "the blurring of the distinction between humanitarian assistance and ODA", and neither must substitute for the other. Indonesia urged a strong improvement in donor response to humanitarian emergencies and the ability of the United Nations to prepare for them. There could be little excuse why, given the resources available to the developed world today, that predictable and adequate funding could not be made available to meet humanitarian needs. Populations in need might be aware of politics, and might even have been partly responsible for their condition, but the responsibility for humanitarian assistance was not theirs, it was that of the international community.

PAUL YAW ESSEL (Ghana) said conflicts, such as the ones in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, invariable created humanitarian crises of massive proportions as unarmed civilians who were caught in the conflict sought refuge either in safer areas of their own countries or in neighbouring countries not involved in the conflict. Ghana had received significant numbers of refugees from the conflicts mentioned and had offered and continued to offer protection and humanitarian assistance to them from its limited resources. Ghana was a member and the current Chairman of the sub-regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and had been actively involved in efforts within the organization, as well as in other international forums, to manage and resolve these conflicts as a matter of urgency, and in the long-term, to seek ways of preventing the outbreak of such conflicts in countries of the sub-region to ensure peace and stability.

Ghana believed that a peaceful and stable West Africa was a "sine qua non" for the achievement of the avowed common objective of sub-regional economic integration. In this context, reference was also made to the importance of the elimination of the proliferation of small arms; demobilization and reintegration of combatants; and the transition from relief to development. He concluded by emphasizing that the sudden arrival of huge numbers of refugees in neighbouring countries had the effect of putting extreme pressure on the limited infrastructural and budgetary resources of such countries, with negative repercussions on their development objectives. Consequently, any coherent strategy for restoring stability and normalcy to post-conflict countries must also focus on the need to repair the damage caused to the economies of refugee-hosting countries. Development assistance was, therefore, needed for the benefit of the country, as well as the refugees themselves.

AMINA C. MOHAMED (Kenya), noting that her country continued to be vulnerable to recurrent disasters, including drought, HIV/AIDS, floods and terrorism, as well as civil conflicts leading to the flow of refugees and illicit weapons from neighbouring countries, reaffirmed the importance of recognizing that the provision of emergency relief supplies to communities in drought-prone areas could never be an optimum solution; it failed to tackle the core causes of vulnerability. Thus, the Government and its development partners were pursuing alternative strategies for the diversification of production, enhancement of access to markets and investment in appropriate water management, among others, to reduce vulnerability to disaster.

However, recent statistics indicated that approximately 2 million Kenyans were living with HIV/AIDS, she said. In an effort to curb the pandemic, the Kenyan Government had established HIV/AIDS prevention and control bodies from the grassroots to the national level, declared the epidemic a national disaster and established its National Aids Control Council. Moreover, access to cheap anti-retroviral drugs would go a long way in the management of the epidemic. In addition to HIV/AIDS, Kenya struggled to deal with over 230,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, unpredictable weather patterns resulting in frequent flooding, and terrorism. Indeed, Kenya's experience showed that there was no place in the world safe from terrorism.

NILS KASTBERG, of the United Nations Children's Fund, said that at this session there had been much more reflection on humanitarian financing and the need for donor aid to be predictable and effective. A second issue had been the question of transition and the need to conduct transition appeals and consolidated appeals at the same time. Much attention had also been focused on violence, the sexual violation of girls, and HIV/AIDS. The UNICEF appreciated the note in the draft resolution about the role of United Nations organizations, and had taken aboard the need to improve coordination and cooperation. Concluding, he thanked the delegations for the negotiations on the draft resolution and he hoped that its provisions would become a reality.

HASTINGS AMURANI-PHIRI (Malawi) said that the key challenge of the Secretary-General's report was for all stakeholders to muster broad collective effort and high-level political will for humanitarian assistance. Malawi was one of six African countries to have benefited from humanitarian assistance, directly from foreign governments and through the United Nations system, as a result of a protracted drought situation compounded by outbreaks of famine-related diseases, overwhelmed health-care facilities and the ravages of HIV/AIDS. Yet, even while thanking the international community for its timely assistance, Malawi wanted to draw attention to the fact that less than one tenth of aid pledged had materialized. The absence of this pledged support had seriously strained the country's local resources, which were spread extremely thin to accommodate further grain imports to contain the effects of the emergency situation.

Agreeing with the Secretary-General's recommendations for enhancing cross-functional collaboration and integration among the United Nations' flagship relief agencies, he said that increased inter-agency cooperation and close liaison with recipient governments should buttress the centrality of humanitarian assi