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Former US President Clinton addresses UN member states on tsunami recovery

ECOSOC/6167, IHA/1068

NEW YORK, 14 July (Office of Special Envoy) - Former United States President Bill Clinton addressed the United Nations Economic and Social Council today in an effort to sustain the momentum on the recovery effort in the tsunami region.

Addressing a panel on lessons learned from the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami during the Council's Humanitarian Affairs segment, Mr. Clinton, United Nations Special Envoy on Tsunami Recovery, said "The events of recent months have reconfirmed my belief in the intrinsic value of the United Nations, both as the deliverer of vital services in the aftermath of a crisis and as the glue that holds international cooperation together. Yet, as impressive as the immediate response was, we need to keep up the momentum now, to tackle the difficult, longer-term recovery phase."

While paying tribute to the extraordinary effort of the United Nations and humanitarian community at large in the early weeks following the tsunami, Mr. Clinton warned the audience that the most challenging days lie ahead.

"Now let me talk a little bit about where things stand in the early months of this recovery. There is, as I said, impatience, there is some understandable exhaustion, there are some growing pains where new agencies have been created. But I believe we are making a good beginning. Even though it may not be apparent to people who are still frustrated with their living conditions or whose livelihoods have not been restored."

As Special Envoy, Mr. Clinton has already convened various meetings with senior representatives of the United Nations, the World Bank, non-governmental organizations and the private sector in the United States and Europe, and he recently visited the region to assess first-hand the status of the recovery effort and the policy and operational challenges which lie ahead.

Mr. Clinton also noted that, while the framework for the recovery effort was in place in most of the affected countries, specific policy and operational challenges needed to be resolved if we are to see a truly successful recovery. For example:

- A common action plan is needed for the recovery effort where all actors in the recovery effort -- United Nations agencies, non-governmental agencies, donor and affected governments and the corporate sector -- agree on who is going to do what, when, where. They need to coordinate and be held accountable for doing their part. Mr. Clinton asked affected governments to take the lead on this and tasked members of his Global Consortium (which includes UN agencies, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Federation of the Red Cross, and Interaction) to fully support government initiatives on the ground.

- Human resource and capacity constraints need to be addressed swiftly while livelihoods need to be restored. In Aceh, for example, 70 per cent of government buildings were destroyed and 2,500 teachers and assistants died on 26 December. In Sri Lanka, 100,000 houses need to be built in stark contrast to the usual 5,000 the country usually builds annually. Mr. Clinton urged donor governments to respond quickly to requests from the affected governments for support.

- Unresolved or ambiguous government policies need to be addressed. Mr. Clinton underlined the urgent need for adequate shelter for the internally displaced. Specific policy issues he highlighted included the coastal zoning question in Sri Lanka and the lack of clarity on shelter and timber-sourcing guidelines for reconstruction in Aceh.

While applauding the affected governments -- in particular, Sri Lanka and India -- for their various efforts in making the recovery effort a participatory one, Mr. Clinton urged them to keep their people informed about what is going on, when they can expect results, and how they can meaningfully participate in their own recovery.

Mr. Clinton also noted that the human toll of the tsunami was much higher than it needed to be. He urged Member States to implement the Hyogo Framework for Action which lays the ground for disaster risk-reduction measures. Specifically, he asked Member States to include disaster risk-awareness education in school curricula, support local awareness-raising programmes, and ensure that early warning systems are well integrated with other hazard-warning systems.

Mr. Clinton concluded his remarks by highlighting the need to ensure that the recovery effort does more than bring the affected communities back to the pre-tsunami level of development.

Mr. Clinton noted that the time had come for long-term structural challenges to be addressed and for difficult decisions to be made. Yet, he warned that the need for quick results should never undermine the long-term goal of a sustainable recovery.

Speaking about his Special Envoy mandate, Mr. Clinton said "I feel like my job is what Harry Truman once described the Presidency to be. He said being President of the United States was largely a matter of trying to convince people to do what they should have done without you asking them in the first place. That's about all I can do here. But I think we're making some real progress. And these people deserve our support."

For further information, please contact: Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, Office of the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, tel: +212 906 6904, e-mail: