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Economic and Social Council continues discussion on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance

GENEVA, 11 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this afternoon continued its debate on United Nations efforts to coordinate special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance with national delegations and international agencies speaking about their undertakings to help affected countries, and calling on the international community to step up funding for humanitarian operations. The discussion took place under the Council's humanitarian affairs segment. The Council's current session will conclude on 27 July.

The representative of Burkina Faso said that throughout the history of United Nations, it had been able to coordinate relief efforts to nations affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts. Nowadays, the United Nations was one of the main providers in the international community for humanitarian assistance, providing food, shelter and medicines to affected peoples. However, there were serious difficulties encountered that reduced the effectiveness of the United Nations in these areas, including a financial shortage from donors, and more intense and bloodier conflicts.

The representative of South Africa said the innovative coordinating structures introduced 10 years ago had proven their worth. The past decade had seen an exponential growth in natural disasters, including some in South Africa's region, with natural calamity hitting its neighbours Mozambique and Malawi particularly hard. The response to repeated flooding in Mozambique, while heartening and appreciated, also vividly demonstrated the collective inability of the system to cope swiftly, efficiently, and equitably with disasters in all parts of the globe.

The representative of Egypt, and others, noted that there had been a reduction in voluntary contributions from States for humanitarian efforts in recent years.

Other speakers maintained there was a need for a "culture of prevention", in which firm strategies of prevention and early warning signals could help lessen the impact of natural disasters, which, because of climate change, were expected to increase in the future. Speakers also focused on the importance of creating favourable economic, social and political climates to reduce the number of armed conflicts which helped drive demand for humanitarian assistance.

Also taking part in this afternoon's discussion were the representatives of China, Czech Republic, Peru, Algeria, Costa Rica, Argentina, Nepal, Pakistan, Ukraine, Australia, Turkey, India, El Salvador, Poland, Madagascar, Honduras and Guinea.

Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also spoke.


ZHANG XIAOAN (China) said there needed to be improved disaster prevention policies at the national levels. The Consolidated Appeals process had played an important role in disaster relief, and had increased humanitarian activities by raising new funds. As mentioned in the Secretary-General's report, the national laws of the countries concerned must be respected in situations of humanitarian assistance.

JEANNETTE NALOUU (South Africa) said the innovative coordinating structures introduced 10 years ago had proven their worth. South Africa welcomed the merging, in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, of the geographical desks dealing with complex emergencies and natural disaster response. The past decade had seen an exponential growth in natural disasters, including some in South Africa's region, with natural calamity hitting its neighbours Mozambique and Malawi particularly hard. The response to repeated flooding in Mozambique, while heartening and appreciated, also vividly demonstrated the collective inability of the system to cope swiftly, efficiently, and equitably with disasters in all parts of the globe. More encouraging was the obvious willingness of the United Nations to learn lessons from that catastrophe and to recognize the need for more effective contingency planning, local and regional disaster-management capacity, and regional disaster-response mechanisms.

OUEDRAOGO YOUSSOUFOU (Burkina Faso) said the United Nations was one of the main providers in the international community of humanitarian assistance, providing food, shelter and medicines to affected peoples. However, there were serious difficulties, including a financial shortage from donors, and more intense and bloodier conflicts. The international community should act swiftly to help humanitarian operations, and should provide political efforts to defuse conflicts and promote peace and stability.

ALEXANDER SLABY (Czech Republic) said that in Central Europe the majority of the national committees working during the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction had continued their activities through the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The Czech Republic had, additionally, initiated the establishment of the Central European Disaster Prevention Organization, which included associated representatives of national hydrological and meteorological services.

Last year, the Czech Republic had provided humanitarian assistance in 26 cases around the world in the form of financial and material aid and through the sending of rescue teams. Material assistance was mainly the provision of food, medicine, medical equipment and essential supplies.

FAYZA ABOULNAGA (Egypt) said it was always to be remembered that humanitarian interventions should always respect the national sovereignty of the affected countries.

In the occupied Palestinian territories, it was hoped that the Secretary-General's report would make reference to the repression and suppression that was being carried out by Israeli forces in front of the eyes of the entire world. There had been nine months of vandalism and destruction that had been described by a United Nations organ as unprecedented. When addressing the plight of civilians in time of war, it must be on the basis of the international principles of law, as outlined in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Egypt also emphasized it was important for the General Assembly to play a leading role in the follow-up of humanitarian assistance operations.

MARCO BALAREGO (Peru) said his country had suffered from a devastating type of natural disaster -- an earthquake had killed hundreds of people and had left 200,000 injured, as well as destroying vital infrastructure. In such circumstances, immediate emergency assistance was needed, as well as transition aid, and Peru wished to thank the United Nations and many countries for the assistance they had provided.

The United Nations system now had a high level of efficiency in responding to emergency situations. The guiding principles followed continued to be relevant. Still, some weaknesses had to be looked at. The relevant revolving fund should be expanded to include humanitarian assistance and emergency situations and the protection of United Nations staff.

THEMBA N. MASUKU, of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the organization was not one of those that undertook immediate life-saving activities. Rather, it came in when rural populations affected by disasters, be they natural or man-made, needed to pick up their lives and reconstruct their livelihoods. The contribution of the FAO to these efforts included assessments of the expected food production levels, of the available food supplies and of the needs for agriculture inputs to get the production back to, or if possible beyond, pre-crisis level.

It was important to support emergency agriculture assistance for three main reasons -- getting food production back on track; allowing affected populations to feed themselves even if the access of the humanitarian community to them was cut off; and enabling affected people to return to normalcy.

C.E. ZELACI (Algeria) said there had to be a broader category of beneficiaries of emergency response assistance, including to internally displaced persons. Such assistance should not focus just on crises, but should be aimed at the long term. People should not be abandoned after the emergency phase. It took a long time to return to normal.

Silent disasters, such as disease, needed greater attention. Developing countries, especially African countries, were most affected by natural disasters which accounted for 90 per cent of victims. Interventions were needed before, during and after, and Algeria welcomed the efforts to have coordination teams intervene in such crises.

BERND NIEHAUS (Costa Rica) said humanitarian assistance was perhaps the most important and fruitful work done by the United Nations, whether it was providing shelter and safety for refugees and natural disasters, or clean water to those affected by drought. Sadly, the emergencies were constantly on the rise. There had been an increase of natural disasters and complex situations in recent years. These disasters had exacerbated poverty, wiping out many years of hard work in which many areas were enjoying development.

There was an urgent need to create a culture of prevention. In the next few years, there would be more natural disasters because of climate changes. If firm strategies of prevention and early warning could be formulated, it could lessen the impact of natural disasters.

HORACIO SOLARI (Argentina) said there was a need for clear political will on the part of States to address the problems facing the humanitarian response system. The exponential growth in the number of national disasters over the last decade had overwhelmed the governments and the capacities of developing countries. A recent painful example could be seen in the earthquake that had struck Peru. The number of armed conflicts had also increased sharply, and civilians were often the primary targets. Should the United Nations remain idle during such violations of human rights if they took place within national borders? It was true that issues of territorial integrity and non-intervention in internal affairs were important, but Argentina felt another principle should be added to the package -- the principle of "non-indifference".

NABIN B. SHRESTMA (Nepal) said that year after year the number and scale of complex emergencies expanded in the form of protracted conflicts and natural, environmental or other disasters with serious humanitarian consequences. In such situations, it was the civilians, particularly women, children and other vulnerable groups, who were affected most. Reaching out to them was the most difficult challenge for governments and United Nations humanitarian agencies.

Protecting refugees and internally displaced persons affected by armed conflicts or disasters constituted the overwhelming caseload of United Nations humanitarian agencies. As a country providing refuge to more than 100,000 refugees, Nepal was aware of the pain of refugees and of the trauma they had to endure.

IMTIAZ HUSSAIN (Pakistan) said the principles of safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid to all needy and vulnerable people must be guaranteed, and humanitarian staff must be able to carry out their work in safety. There had been a proliferation of conflicts and natural disasters, causing great loss of life and frustrating hopes for peace, development, and global prosperity. Most of these humanitarian catastrophes had taken place and had extremely lingering effects in the world's poorest countries. Early warning capabilities and preparation of contingency plans were important steps for curtailing damage and for preventing the deterioration of disaster situations.

Donors needed to provide the needed resources to allow the Office of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the revolving fund to prepare effective responses. The decline in donor contributions was a matter of great concern.

SERGII YAMPOLSKY (Ukraine) said that since 1991 the humanitarian community had had to operate in rapidly changing and deteriorating humanitarian environments. Ukraine welcomed the measures taken by the Secretary-General to enhance humanitarian coordination by developing different mechanisms for achieving the United Nations humanitarian goals, and for linking different aspects of its humanitarian mandate into broader development and peace-building frameworks.

The international community should continue to form more efficient United Nations emergency humanitarian assistance systems, ensuring the universal nature of the world Organization and its capacity to respond to the needs of all groups of countries. It was important, in particular, to secure the effective coordination among different agencies involved, to continue strengthening an early warning function of the United Nations system, as well as the Consolidated Appeals process, and to reinforce the role of the Emergency Relief Coordinator.

JACQUI DELACY (Australia) said her country supported efforts to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations system to address the needs of internally displaced persons, and it encouraged the Emergency Relief Coordinator to coordinate with the efforts of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to address conflict prevention and peace building to facilitate a smooth transition from relief and reconstruction to longer-term sustainable development.

Australia strongly supported efforts to strengthen prevention, preparedness and response capabilities and recently had agreed to donate 100,000 Australian dollars to a United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution.

LEUS XAVIER, of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that over the past year surviving through extreme events had become, for an unacceptable number of people, the predominant objective in a daily existence. The World Health Assembly had passed a resolution defining WHO's role as a founding member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

The determinants of life and death in armed conflicts were well-highlighted by different studies. Health problems accounted for the largest part of the suffering. Global interests converging around health provided unique opportunities. HIV/AIDS commanded global attention as a global security threat. For the WHO, there was a challenge to capitalize on the commonality of interests between the international health and humanitarian communities.

S.L.N. RAO, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that for some time the Fund had been promoting access to reproductive health services for refugees and internally displaced persons. Pregnant women continued to give birth during crises, and good health care had to be provided to them despite the unstable environments of refugee camps and camps for the internally displaced. In addition, in such camps, young women should also be protected from sexual and gender-based violence which occurred all too frequently.

It was vital to support and recognize the role of women in conflict prevention and peace-building; to take steps to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS at times of war and displacement; to have extensive coordination between various disaster-relief agencies; and to pursue disarmament and reintegration programmes, all of which had effects on the spread of HIV/AIDS.

PIERRE-YVES SIMONIN, of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said humanitarian assistance and disaster relief were areas in which the Sovereign Military Order of Malta was active internationally. The Emergency Corps of Malta had been active in El Salvador in 1998 because of Hurricane Mitch, in Turkey following the earthquake in 1999, and in India after the earthquake earlier this year. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta welcomed the establishment of a monitoring committee that had the ability to enter into consultations with competent national bodies that provided assistance and expertise in this area. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta possessed specialized services and was well trained, and would make itself available.

TOLGA KAYA (Turkey) said disasters in heavily populated areas had increased the need for improving search and rescue capabilities, as well as the need for better international coordination and cooperation. Effective and rapid deployment of search and rescue teams was an essential element for reducing the loss of life. To improve such efforts, existing guidelines needed to be transformed into a legally binding international set of norms. An initiative had been undertaken to mobilize international support for the drafting and establishment of an International Urban Search and Rescue Convention.

A core group had been formed by countries supporting this idea and two meetings had been held in Geneva -- in February and June 2001. Turkey, as a member of the core group, expressed its appreciation for the progress achieved so far and hoped the project would proceed effectively.

B.S. BISHNOI (India) said funding for natural disaster relief was disproportionately inadequate, as compared to that for complex emergencies. It was, therefore, gratifying to note that the Secretary-General had proposed that the General Assembly consider expanding the use of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund to support humanitarian assistance in natural disasters.

Development assistance, in the long term, reduced the need for emergency humanitarian assistance and even for special development assistance. There was a difference between natural hazard and natural disaster. Drought, for example, was a natural hazard and was, therefore, unavoidable. It need not, however, inevitably lead to disaster. Famine could be avoided through long-term development assistance, which would make the socio-economic system resilient to the impact of natural disaster.

VICTOR MANUEL LAGOS PIZZATI (El Salvador) said the Central American region was very vulnerable to natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and storms. The risks that these disasters represented had increased considerably because of the impact of human activity on the environment and the existence of more and more vulnerable settlements.

El Salvador had suffered two considerable earthquakes at the start of the year, along with thousands of aftershocks that had caused panic. In addition, the rainy season had just started. Fortunately, landslides had been reduced through effective measures. Many housing units had been built in a short time to provide shelter for persons made homeless by the disasters. Electricity, water, sewage, and transport infrastructure had been affected.

El Salvador had managed to raise extensive financing in loans and foreign aid, but still had to raise considerably more to pay for massive reconstruction. The Government was undertaking major efforts to reduce its vulnerability to natural disasters and to improve its responses. Improvement in coordination was vital, and painful sacrifices would be required. El Salvador wished to express its gratitude for the international support it had received following recent natural disasters, and called for continuing assistance.

ANDRZEJ SADOS (Poland) said the Secretary-General had recommended that a comprehensive set of guidelines covering all phases of international emergency response operations -- from preparedness to activation -- should be transformed into a legally binding document. One of the main reasons for the necessity of such a legal transformation was the problem the urban search and rescue community faced today. In the confusion created by the massive international response to major disasters, existing guidelines were not always fully applied.

The draft proposal did not violate international law and the sovereignty of the State. Poland was ready to continue efforts aiming at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of international urban search and rescue assistance, and would like to request the Secretary-General to produce a document updating the General Assembly on progress achieved so far.

YOLANDA PASEA (Madagascar) said the cycle of cyclones that frequently devastated Madagascar made the country interested in disaster-response issues. Over the past 15 years, there had been some 15 cyclones, of which six had been especially devastating, causing great flooding and considerable loss of life. Infrastructure damage also tended to be extensive. The country, in addition, was vulnerable to drought.

The Government had long struggled to prevent disasters and to respond effectively when they occurred. The international community and the United Nations had shown great solidarity in helping Madagascar by providing funds and technical assistance. Governments held primary responsibility for coping with humanitarian crises. But it was true that natural disasters particularly affected developing countries, and such countries already faced extreme poverty and other serious problems. The international community must do more, despite its extensive efforts to date, to increase the resources set aside for humanitarian assistance.

OLMEDA RIVERA RAMIREZ (Honduras) said the country was grateful to the international community for redoubling efforts to mobilize financial and social resources that would allow Honduras to continue to develop. There was instability in Honduras from armed rebel groups, and there were many anti-personnel landmines, but there was strong political will, and people who had been displaced were helped to return to their homes.

Honduras was still vulnerable to disasters, but it was continuing to promote democracy. When Hurricane Mitch struck two years ago, the Government drew up an economic and social plan targeting the most vulnerable groups in the country that needed help and protection. One of the main conclusions of the reconstruction plan was that rebuilding should be inclusive -- local governments had to be given a leading role in the design of the rebuilt areas. The lessons learned by Honduras had shown that destructive events could be dealt with, especially if they were dealt with before the disaster.

ALHOUSSEINE THIAM (Guinea) said there was an urgent need for the international community to take up the humanitarian challenges posed by natural disasters and armed conflicts. Guinea was a major country of asylum. It had some 700,000 refugees from neighbouring countries who had been there for more than a decade, and it knew of the stress and expense involved in such humanitarian crises. Guinea could not alone, despite a long-standing tradition of solidarity, assure full protection for such a large population, nor could it assure security for its own population and for humanitarian staff, especially in the face of repeated aggression against its territory.

The international community needed to do more to help the country and other countries in similar situations. Guinea would like to organize a round-table discussion on the situation of the country and its refugees. It wished to repeat its commitment to establishing a climate of durable peace and stability, and of coordination and cooperation.