Press Briefing by Emergency Relief Coordinator

The Security Council would hold an open debate tomorrow entitled "Maintaining peace and security: humanitarian action in the Security Council", Carolyn McAskie, Emergency Relief Coordinator a.i., told journalists at a Headquarters press briefing today.
It was a very interesting and welcome development, she added. It built on a debate that was held in January 1999, and echoes of that debate had also been heard in Council discussions on a variety of matters. Early in 1999, there was a Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict-- a matter that had come under renewed consideration in a September Council meeting, and would be considered again in April. The Council had also discussed the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. In January, it had held a number of debates on Africa, all of which managed to take into account the humanitarian aspects.

The practice had grown to the extent that when conflicts and peace and security issues were discussed now, there was a parallel and even an integrated discussion of the humanitarian effects of crises, she said. That contrasted strongly with five years ago. It recognized that the real purpose of solving a war was to make life better for people on the ground.

The debate aimed to underscore the importance of Security Council support for humanitarian action -- not only for its own sake, but as a very critical and essential contribution to the work the Council could do to restore and maintain peace and security, she said. That interrelationship was witnessed first hand in all the crises that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tackled, and that Office was now working more closely with the Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations. There was now a concerted effort within the Secretariat to examine the political, military and humanitarian aspects of any situation together, as part of an integrated approach. United Nations efforts in Sierra Leone were an example of that approach. The Secretariat recognized that the demobilization and disarmament of soldiers had to go hand in hand with their reintegration into their villages, the release of children held captive, the ability of displaced persons to return to their homes and the opportunity for the country to address an extraordinary range of war traumas.

There was no formal document prepared for the meeting, she said. The Secretary-General would make a statement, available at the opening of the debate, and at its close there would be a presidential statement.

Turning to other matters, Ms. McAskie said Mozambique was the humanitarian disaster of the moment, caused, in this instance, by natural disaster rather than conflict. The international assistance effort had now reached major proportions. The United Nations had 500 people on the ground, of whom 150 were international staff, and more helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft than it had anticipated.

Food was being distributed, she said. The big issue now was clean water, as what the floods had done to regular water supplies was unimaginable. Existing water supplies had to be disinfected -- for which the chlorine required was arriving -- and fresh supplies had to be created by digging new bore holes. Medical supplies were also needed urgently. Malaria posed a big threat and, while no cases had been reported to date, the United Nations was watching out for cholera. The response of the international community had been enormous. As of today, some $107 million had been pledged, and contributions were still coming in.

In addition to relief, efforts were now focusing on reconstruction, she said. Mozambique was a country that had dragged itself out of war, with both sides making difficult compromises for the sake of rebuilding the nation. The devastating affect the flood would have on development could hardly be calculated. The Government had asked the international community to organize an international conference on reconstruction. Details of the conference were still being worked out, but the United Nations would be involved, as would the international community writ large. Mozambique had, in the past, benefited from a fairly generous response from donors, she noted. It was a member of the World Bank consultative group process, and that process would be brought to bear to help with infrastructure.

Asked what items, aside from money, were most needed, she said the greatest need was for medicines and water purification equipment. These were arriving, but needs had not yet been met. Another important need was shelter, in particular plastic sheeting. Tragically, it was still raining in Mozambique. Thus far, the rains had not resulted in more flooding, but the situation was being closely watched.

Asked about the effect of the flooding on demining, she explained that the major mine-mapping and demining effort in Mozambique had been undermined. Prior to the floods, deminers had surveyed and staked out much of the country, so that the location of mines was largely known. A high proportion of that mapping had now been lost. Once the flood settled, large numbers of mine-action survey teams would have to be brought in. It was too early to send them back in yet, but planning for their return was under way. For Mozambique's demining, the floods had proven a terrible setback.