GA debates strengthening coordination of UN emergency humanitarian, disaster relief
Sixty-second General Assembly
53rd & 54th Meetings (AM & PM)
Chernobyl Disaster, Aid to Rwanda Genocide Survivors Also Discussed; Adopts Resolution on Overview of United Nations Climate Change Activities
Expressing the General Assembly’s deepest sympathy to the Government and people of Bangladesh for the “tragic loss of life” suffered after a cyclone last week killed thousands of people and devastated acres of cropland, Assembly President Srgjan Kerim today began the global body’s annual joint debate on strengthening United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.
He further called on Member States to “respond promptly and generously” to any request for help, as rapid funding in the wake of humanitarian disasters was of the essence. With Bangladesh’s experience fresh in their minds, delegations discussed the United Nations’ humanitarian activities under the umbrella of creating predictable finances to enable prompt response to crises, strengthening the Organization’s response capacity through a system of “cluster leads”, and bolstering support for field coordination and long-term recovery from tragic events such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Against that backdrop, Bangladesh’s representative said the disaster had hit before his country could recover from two rounds of massive flooding that had inundated almost half the nation just three months ago. The storm –- one of the 10 worst in the last century -- had produced winds of up to 150 miles per hour, killed more than 2,000 people, and extensively damaged the country’s shrimp farms, a chief source of livelihood. Preliminary estimates showed that 27 million people had been impacted.
However, the death toll could have been higher had it not been for the extensive preparation of the Government and other agencies, notably through the evacuation of 3.2 million people to shelters 48 hours before the cyclone’s landing, he said. Moreover, the United Nations country team and others had provided support through extensive emergency response precautions, such as mobilizing in-country staff.
Given such circumstances, he said the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a “mainstay of emergency response”, deserved strengthening. The Emergency Relief Coordinator had committed $259 million to 331 life-saving humanitarian projects in 25 countries in 2006 alone. In the long-term, he hoped the Fund would receive States’ political support and increased resources.
To the Fund’s usefulness, the United States representative said that, while his Government continued to assess the Fund’s value in addressing “under-funded emergencies”, it remained open to the development of clearer definitions and criteria to govern disbursements in that area. The United States also strongly supported neutral, impartial, independent and robust responses to humanitarian needs. To that end, his delegation looked forward to working with States to strengthen needs-based assessment, improve coordination at central and field levels, and review best performance measurement.
Similarly, Australia’s representative pointed out that the Fund –- and other initiatives such as the “cluster approach” to enhancing the quality of humanitarian action -- could no longer be classified as “new” approaches, as they were now integral to humanitarian action. She looked forward to the review of both mechanisms. Effective action required people with the “right skills in the right places at the right time”, and coordination of efforts, all of which must be the objective of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.
Nonetheless, the representative of Djibouti said that, in the midst of news reports of mounting casualties in Bangladesh, Member States should not loose sight of the effectiveness of the Bangladeshi Government’s early warning system, which had saved the lives of vast numbers of people -- at least a million costal dwellers -– who had been able to quickly get out of the path of the deadly cyclone.
Noting that his country’s social and economic development efforts had been constrained by insufficiency of water, endemic aridity and severe drought among other things, he said: “What we see in all this is the need for each of us, within our capabilities, to develop our abilities to deal with risk and adversity”. It was clear that disaster preparedness, or the lack of it, made all the difference.
On that note, Rwanda’s representative recalled that the global community had not taken timely and decisive action to prevent the tragic events which unfolded in his country in 1994. Indeed, States had a responsibility to prevent genocide, to “protect” if prevention failed and “rebuild” if protection failed. Nonetheless, Rwandans today had decided to rebuild their country on a foundation of reconciliation, justice, good governance and human rights, among other things.
Dovetailing with today’s debate, Ukraine’s representative presented a draft resolution on strengthening international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. The scope and magnitude of the catastrophe –- as well as its lingering consequences -- called for keeping it on the General Assembly’s agenda.
The draft welcomed global efforts to complete construction of the Shelter Facility and related nuclear safety projects at Chernobyl, with a view to transforming the site into an environmentally safe area. The text also proposed that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) coordinate the drafting of a United Nations plan of action for Chernobyl’s recovery through 2016.
The Assembly also adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution on the overview of United Nations activities relating to climate change (document A/62/L.11/Rev.1), introduced last week by the Assembly President.
Also speaking today was the Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus, as well as the representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iceland, Switzerland, Peru, India, Russian Federation, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Norway, Egypt, China, Philippines, Lithuania, Thailand, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, Colombia, Republic of Korea, Japan, Nepal, Brazil, Israel, Sudan and Venezuela.
The Observer for Palestine also addressed the Assembly as did the Observer for the Holy See.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 20 November, to continue and conclude its joint debate on strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.
The General Assembly had before it today the Secretary-General’s report on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/62/324), which highlighted significant safety challenges to United Nations personnel and called for international responsibility in promoting security consciousness within the Organization. The report complied with a resolution of the sixty-first Assembly mandating a comprehensive and updated analysis of the difficulties in protecting United Nations humanitarian workers.
The security of humanitarian and United Nations field personnel remained precarious, the report found, and many faced multiple threats, including petty crime, terrorism, harassment, arrest and hostage-taking –- the most serious risk. Additionally, the report found that locally recruited humanitarian and United Nations personnel were the most vulnerable to attacks and accounted for the majority of casualties or arrests, primarily in complex humanitarian situations taking place in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The situation of non-governmental organizations in the Sudan, particular Darfur –- some of which assisted United Nations missions –- also continued to warrant concern, owing to unabated violent attacks such as carjacking, robbery and sexual assault.
Though the United Nations had already put into place a number of precautionary measures, such as books, brochures and CD-ROMs aimed at enhancing the security training of United Nations field officials, the report stated that the department of the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security continued to intensify its efforts, especially by holding high-level dialogue with Member States to increase their cooperation with missions, and by bringing specific cases of infringement of United Nations employees’ human rights, privileges and immunities to Governments’ attention. To strengthen the United Nations crisis response preparedness, the Critical Incident Stress Management Unit also instituted intensive counsellor training to provide harmonized, readily accessible and quality psychosocial services to United Nations staff.
However, the report recommended several steps to increase the safety of personnel. First, it urged on the donor community and Member States to increase their support to United Nations initiatives that promote better security coordination between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Next, the report suggested the international community keep under review policy, operational and administrative arrangements necessary to provide locally recruited personnel adequate safety and security. And finally, the report called on Member States to immediately address unlawful arrest and detention of United Nations staff, obstruction of United Nations staff movement, and impunity for crimes committed against humanitarian and United Nations personnel.
The Secretary-General’s report on the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) (document A/62/72-E/2007/73) covers the period from its launch, in its upgraded, grant-allocating capacity, on 9 March 2006 until the end of that year. (Previously, as the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, it provided only emergency loans.) Findings showed that the Fund had made progress towards its objectives of providing rapid, coordinated, predictable and equitable funding for humanitarian emergencies, based on demonstrable needs. The Fund was promoting early action and response to reduce loss of life, enhancing response to time-critical requirements based on demonstrable needs and strengthening core elements of humanitarian response in crises where the funding for that purpose was insufficient. The Fund had been most effective where country-level leadership and joint decision-making were strongest.
The Fund’s loan mechanism, established in 1992, advanced $53.3 million in 2006, mostly to organizations operating in the Sudan. The top four country recipients of grants from the Fund during the reporting period were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan and Kenya, each of which received more than $25 million. Due to the scale and complexity of their humanitarian emergencies, those four countries constituted almost half of total allocations in 2006. In addition, CERF grants were made to eight United Nations entities and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the World Food Programme (WFP) receiving the largest grant. The Fund’s secretariat facilitated the grant process and was working to streamline procedures. Annexed to the report were charts showing loan disbursements, contributions, and funds committed.
The report recommended that administrative procedures be streamlined to avoid delays in disbursement and policies on funding criteria be refined. All Fund stakeholders, including non-United Nations partners, should monitor and evaluate the Fund’s impact, and provide timely, accurate information on contributions and utilization of humanitarian funds. Training and guidance should ensure that the Fund operates in an effective, transparent and accountable manner. The Fund’s secretariat may need restructuring to ensure adequate human resources to implement multi-pronged activities. The future success and sustainability of the Fund depended on increasing funding levels to $500 million by the end of 2008. A high-level donor conference on the Fund towards the end of 2007 will be an opportunity to make new pledges and increase broad-based political support for the Fund.
Also before the General Assembly was the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/62/83-E/2007/67), which provided an overview of the progress and challenges ahead for the five countries most heavily impacted by the 2004 tsunami: India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Malaysia, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia and the United Republic of Tanzania were also discussed.
The report stated that two and a half years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, progress was apparent across the impacted region: affected populations were living in newly constructed homes, children were back in school, and hospitals were being rebuilt and repaired. Yet, while progress in physical reconstruction efforts was palpable, many complex challenges remained. Each affected country faced different challenges, and thus the picture of progress was uneven. However, common to all was the realization that it would take many years for individual households, and the wider economies on which they depended, to recover from the most destructive disaster caused by a natural hazard in recorded history.
The report noted that the tsunami had the greatest impact on rural coastal communities, many of which were already poor and vulnerable. Nonetheless, “enormous strides” had been made towards rehabilitation and reconstruction in the five most impacted countries. The report included a country-by-country analysis of the tsunami’s impacts and relief efforts underway, notably in the housing, education, health, and livelihoods sectors. It also examined the implementation status of the Secretary-General’s 2006 recommendations, describing coordination in the humanitarian and recovery phases, particularly through the use of dedicated field-based recovery management structures in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Different models of Government humanitarian and recovery institutions were also discussed. On the continued reform of recovery institutions, the report noted that Indonesia, under a newly passed disaster management bill, would establish a National Disaster Management Agency, and that Sri Lanka continued to provide support to its newly created Disaster Management Centre.
In the area of transparency and accountability to donors, the report described progress in implementing several tools, notably the Development Assistance Databases, the Tsunami Recovery Impact Assessment and Monitoring System, and the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition. It highlighted that the four national databases had been updated regularly and provided data on over $7 billion in assistance. United Nations support had focused both on building Government capacity to manage the databases and adapting the systems to respond to longer-term transparency goals.
In the area of risk reduction, tsunami early warning and incorporation of prevention in development planning, the report looked at the work of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System, and the creation of the Tsunami Warning Focal Points. It also highlighted the establishment of partnership and coordination mechanisms among partners and donors as a major achievement of the Secretariat’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Also before the General Assembly was the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/62/87-E/2007/70).
The report highlighted positive developments in several long-standing emergencies, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Nepal, which offered significant opportunities for the United Nations and its partners to strengthen humanitarian assistance and allow peaceful solutions to take hold. It also noted the continuation and, at times, the further aggravation of existing emergencies in places like Darfur, Iraq, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as an overall increase in the incidence and severity of natural disasters.
To further improve the humanitarian system’s response, the report detailed a number of new initiatives including, among others, the cluster approach developed to help address gaps in response and to enhance the quality and coherence of humanitarian action. The cluster approach was used to some success during the reporting period. In the future, it would require strengthened accountability and expertise, improved working arrangements, and streamlined tools that integrate gender, HIV/AIDS and the environment. The report also highlighted efforts to ensure the effective use of humanitarian resources through the Central Emergency Response Fund, efforts to strengthen coordination through the humanitarian coordinator system, and the overall broadening of humanitarian partnerships.
Also included in the report was an analysis of two thematic issues of concern. The first discussed the use of foreign military assets in natural disaster relief -- when it’s appropriate, how it should be coordinated, and its cost-effectiveness. The second issue dealt with needs-based humanitarian financing, including the Central Emergency Response Fund, and the development of new mechanisms to improve, on a global basis, the timeliness, predictability and impartial use of funds during emergencies.
The report concluded that there would likely be an increase in the demand for humanitarian activities and that the United Nations and its partners might find it increasingly difficult to respond adequately. Addressing humanitarian needs more effectively required critical investments, such as establishing partnerships; creating capacities within national and local Governments, regional organizations and civil society groups; and better defining needs. The international community must ensure that humanitarian agencies and their partners were given the space, access and security to provide assistance to those in need. It was also essential to promote respect for humanitarian principles and a better understanding of the role of humanitarian workers in support of Governments and their populations.
The Assembly was also expected to consider the Secretary-General’s report entitled international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/62/323).
The report, which covers the 1 June 2006 to 31 May 2007 period, highlighted significant trends in disaster preparedness and their humanitarian implications. It also identified the international community’s key challenges in improving its ability to address disasters and strengthen the disaster management capacity of susceptible countries.
The report noted an increasing number of natural hazard events, which could be attributed, in part, to improved reporting and the effects of global warming. Among the trends, it highlighted a dramatic increase over the last 20 years in climate-related, or hydro-meteorological hazards, such as floods and droughts; a clear demonstration of extremes in climate-related events in Africa; and Asia’s unchanged status as the continent worst affected by disaster in terms of frequency, fatality, total number of people affected and economic loss. The cumulative impact of disasters associated with natural hazards had been recognized as a key challenge to attaining the Millennium Development Goals.
In that context, the report discussed the evolving nature of risk patterns and described the implications for disaster preparedness. It also detailed climate-related hazard events in Africa, Asia and South America, and described geological hazard events, epidemics and environmental emergencies –- arising from both human and natural disasters -- in countries including Indonesia, Chad and Côte d’Ivoire.
Key challenges remained in the areas of: strengthening local, national and regional disaster-management capacities; strengthening preparedness, coordination and rapid response; strengthening information and telecommunications technology in disasters; use of military assets; early and sustainable post-disaster recovery; resource allocation; and improved accountability in disaster response.
The report concluded with several recommendations, encouraging States and others to improve dissemination of best practices in disaster preparedness. States and humanitarian partners also should better implement the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action and better identify disaster risk. Humanitarian and development actors should prioritize programming to reduce the risk that natural hazards exacerbate transmission of communicable diseases.
The report of the Secretary General on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/62/310) provided a status report and an analysis of the current challenges to the delivery of both humanitarian and relief assistance by the United Nations and its partners to countries affected by natural and man-made disasters. In compliance with the request of the Assembly to consolidate and streamline reports, the country reports under the present agenda items [71b and 72] had been consolidated into a single document covering four countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Philippines and Rwanda.
Designated as a least developed country, Djibouti’s development was constrained by endemic droughts and flooding, and the absence of natural resources, the report stated. It suffered a severe shortage of food and drinkable water. The Government had made efforts to implement reforms. Its poverty reduction strategy paper had been approved by the Bretton Woods institutions. The United Nations system undertook to respond to the consequences of drought, malnutrition and a confirmed human case of avian influenza, among other relief efforts. Further, the potential consequences of a possible influx of refugees coming from neighbouring Somalia were included in the revised 2007 United Nations contingency plan. The Government needed technical and financial resources to address food security and attainment of the Millennium Goals through its national Social Development Initiative.
Ethiopia also suffered from food insecurity, and endemic drought and flooding, as well as from resource-based political and inter-ethnic emergencies, stated the report. Approximately 1.36 million people required emergency food assistance. Unprecedented nationwide flooding in 2006 underscored the need for better national preparedness for rapid onset emergencies. In addition, acute watery diarrhoea remained a cause of concern countrywide. The Government and its partners were making efforts to address those issues, but more assistance was needed. Further, man-made challenges remained in the Somali region, the Oromiya and Gambella regions, and along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia also hosted refugees from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework provided the common strategic framework for the Organization’s activities in Ethiopia, in support of Government efforts.
The report said that the Philippine Government responded immediately to an oil spill from a tanker off its coast in August 2006, and many States and United Nations agencies offered timely assistance. The General Assembly called for additional economic and technical assistance for post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation. The United Nations Development Programme and the Government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources identified humanitarian needs. An environmental damage assessment was ongoing and must be better coordinated. Knowledge transfer and capacity-building efforts were assisting those who suffered property damage. Coastal clean-up activities by local residents were initiated as a cash-for-work programme. Second-phase clean-up should be supported by sound technical expertise. Additional support was needed for long-term rehabilitation objectives for the environment, alternative livelihood programmes, improved disaster risk management and other areas.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda devastated the country’s social infrastructure and economy, the report stated. Progress had been made in the areas of political transition, medical care and improved access to primary education, but overall capacities remained weak. Poverty was high, although it was reduced from 70 per cent to 60 per cent of the population. Progress made in controlling corruption and political decentralization was fragile. The United Nations country team was conducting needs assessments with concerned ministries and had established good partnerships with other development organizations. Rwanda was also playing an increasingly stabilizing role in the region. It was one of the first countries to participate in the African Peer Review Mechanism. Despite a strong policy and planning framework to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the country required investment and human resources capacity-building at all levels for its implementation.
Among the other reports before the Assembly was the Secretary-General’s annual survey on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/62/82-E/2007/66), which noted that, during the period under review, the Palestinian economy suffered a significant decline and the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions of the population worsened. Many donors reviewed their assistance policies to the Palestinian Authority, in the context of the three principles spelled out by the Middle East Quartet in January 2006. At the same time, the Government of Israel continued to withhold the payment of the tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, with the exception of one transfer early in 2007.
As a result, and despite increased levels of aid, the Palestinian Authority had been facing a worsening fiscal crisis, which had exacerbated the already precarious situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Those developments occurred against the backdrop of continuing violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as among Palestinians, that claimed innocent lives on both sides.
The reporting period was notably marked by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants; the continuation of Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, in particular the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip; Israeli military reprisals conducted in Palestinian civilian areas; the continuation of a tight closure policy by the Israeli authorities; the partial implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access; the resumption of direct contacts between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; and the formation of the Palestinian Government of National Unity. The report contained a description of efforts made by United Nations agencies, in cooperation with Palestinian and donor counterparts, to support the Palestinian civilian population and institutions.
The Assembly was also set to consider the Secretary-General’s report on optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/62/467), which chronicled the activities of the Organization’s agencies and programmes to promote recovery from the 1986 nuclear disaster, including participation in the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of that event. Among other things, the report noted that two decades on, many negative consequences of the disaster persisted in the region, particularly in the most affected countries, Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation.
According to the report, the radioactive iodine released during the accident had caused elevated levels of thyroid cancer among those who were children at the time. Many of the hundreds of thousand of people who were displaced from their native towns after the accident still faced diminished opportunities, and the region’s demographic structure remained skewed, as younger people and skilled workers shunned the rural villages for better opportunities elsewhere. The survey stressed that, perhaps most importantly, millions of people in the vast territories designated as contaminated by Chernobyl remained traumatized by lingering fears about their health.
At the same time, the report stated that the commemoration of the anniversary provided some optimism, especially in that concerned Governments, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system, and major donors were unanimous in advocating a development approach to the Chernobyl challenge. That approach had been first proposed in 2002, and called for a shift from emergency humanitarian aid to long-term development assistance aimed at creating new economic opportunities, restoring community self-sufficiency and promoting a return to normalcy among affected populations.
Along with the “strong consensus” behind that strategy, the report stated another optimistic sign was that the findings of the Chernobyl Forum, released in 2005, sent a reassuring message about the health and environmental impacts of the accident, namely that most people living in the region need not live in fear of serious health consequences from the radioactive fallout. It also offered hope that providing better information could ease the public’s pervasive fears arising from myths and misconceptions about radiation.
Among its conclusions, the report noted that the United Nations system and the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine had recognized that, after 20 years, a return to normal life was a realistic prospect for most people living in Chernobyl-affected regions. To realize that goal, what would be needed most was sustainable social and economic development: new jobs; fresh investment; and the restoration of a sense of community self-reliance.
It also noted that, while needs specific to Chernobyl remained, and research into the health and environmental impact of the accident should continue, the main challenges facing the three countries were those in the mainstream of the United Nations development mission, as articulated in the United Nations Millennium Declaration. This was encouraging news because it meant that Governments, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system, and donors could apply development tools and methods that had delivered results elsewhere in the world.
Finally, the report recommended that the proposal to designate the third decade after Chernobyl as the decade of sustainable development for the affected regions –- put forward by Belarus in 2006 -- was an idea worth consideration. The designation could help to focus assistance efforts on the goal of a return to normal life for the affected communities and provide a realistic timeframe in which the aim could be achieved. Such a designation would require a practical framework, and with that in mind, the Office of Coordination of International Cooperation on Chernobyl had proposed to coordinate the drafting of a United Nations action plan for Chernobyl recovery up to the year 2016. A concise agreed outline of the activities planned by the United Nations system could help maximize limited resources, avoid duplication of effort and build on recognized system mandates and competencies.
The Assembly was also expected to consider a relevant draft resolution (document A/62/L.12) by which the 192-Member body would proclaim the third decade after the Chernobyl disaster (2006-2016) as the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions, to be focused on achieving the goal of a return to normal life for the affected communities, as far as is possible within that timeframe. The Assembly would also welcome the proposal by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to coordinate the drafting of a United Nations action plan for Chernobyl recovery through 2016, in order to implement the Decade. The Assembly would also request UNDP to present a draft plan for review by the Chernobyl Inter-Agency Task Force by 26 April 2008, the twenty-second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Action on Climate Change Draft Resolution
The Assembly began its work this morning by adopting, without a vote, a draft resolution on the overview of United Nations activities relating to climate change (document A/62/L.11/Rev.1), introduced last week by the Assembly President.
Introduction of Chernobyl Draft
As the Assembly began its joint debate on strengthening the coordination of United Nations humanitarian aid and disaster relief, YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine) introduced a draft resolution on strengthening international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/62/L.12).
He noted the growing importance of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, in light of the increased number of humanitarian threats and challenges. While it was necessary to ensure comprehensive and coordinated responses, it was also important to preserve the fundamental principles of neutrality, humanity, impartiality, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Turning to the Chernobyl disaster, he said the Government of Ukraine attached great importance to the Organization’s role, especially UNDP, in strengthening international cooperation to mitigate and minimize the effects of that 1986 tragedy. It was essential to ensure effective and timely implementation of the United Nations Strategy on Chernobyl. Indeed, the scope and magnitude of the catastrophe, as well as its severe and lingering consequences, called for keeping it on the Assembly’s agenda. In future it should be considered in plenary, with a special focus on economic assistance.
He said President Viktor Yushchenko had stressed that Chernobyl affected the entire country and insisted on the development of the fallout zone, calling it “not only an area of tragedy, but a land of vast opportunities” that must not be forgotten. To that end, the draft before the Assembly provided a platform for the international community to further optimize the international response to the disaster’s aftermath.
The text took stock of progress made thus far and welcomed global efforts to complete construction of the Shelter Facility and related nuclear-safety projects at Chernobyl, he said. Those efforts were aimed at transforming the site into a stable and environmentally safe area. The text also proposed that UNDP coordinate the drafting of a United Nations plan of action for Chernobyl’s recovery through 2016, in order to implement the “decade of recovery and sustainable development of the affected regions”.
JORGE DE LEMOS GODINHO ( Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said humanitarian and security crises in Sudan’s Darfur region, Chad and the Central African Republic had again highlighted the importance of an immediate and coherent humanitarian response, and the need for enhanced cooperation and collaboration with national Governments and local authorities. While the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence remained the cornerstones for providing humanitarian assistance, the European Union reiterated its continuing commitment to support the central and overall coordinating role of the United Nations in promoting a coherent intentional response to humanitarian crises.
Access was central to all humanitarian work, yet lack of access and obstruction of aid, including bureaucratic obstacles, continued to raise concern, he said. People in need should receive assistance, and the European Union urged all Governments and parties to conflict to ensure rapid, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and protection of affected populations. The Union condemned attacks against humanitarian personnel and called for those responsible to be held accountable. It called also for an immediate end to violence against civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence, and strongly encouraged the integration of a gender perspective into humanitarian operations. The Union welcomed the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a “cluster lead” in strengthening protection and assistance to internally displaced persons.
Noting the European Union’s strong commitment to advancing the humanitarian reform agenda, towards the promotion of a more predictable and effective response, he expressed support for the cluster approach and called on States to respond to the final Appeal for Building Global Humanitarian Response Capacity launched in April. The European Union also welcomed recent initiatives to strengthen the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator system, as well as better recruitment and training practices. It supported the establishment of partnerships with local actors, non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.
The role and responsibilities of United Nations system actors in the transition from relief to development should be strengthened, he said. The Peacebuilding Commission could make an important contribution to a coordinated United Nations response in cases of States emerging from conflict. On funding, the European Union welcomed the upgraded CERF. However, further efforts should be made to provide more inclusive and better coordinated needs assessments in the United Nations consolidated appeals process.
Stressing that natural disasters had caused more victims and devastation than man-made crises, he noted the recent launch of the Global Humanitarian Forum and its intention to focus efforts on the humanitarian impact of climate change. The European Union also attached great importance to developing and sustaining disaster-risk reduction, preparedness and response capacity at all levels. Thus, it urged States to implement the priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action and to incorporate disaster reduction efforts into sustainable-development and poverty-reduction strategies. In addition, the Chernobyl issue and its related General Assembly resolution would be more adequately pursued in the development sphere than in the humanitarian cluster where it was currently placed.
VLADIMIR TSALKO, Deputy Prime Minister for Emergency Situations of Belarus, welcomed the General Assembly’s proclamation of 2006-2016 as the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions and underscored the importance of using the plan of action, to be drafted under UNDP, as a practical tool for implementing that work. Belarus had proposed the Decade to seek better coordination among the Governments of affected States, international organizations and other interested parties.
The consequences of the Chernobyl disaster continued to affect the people, environment and economy of Belarus, he said, noting that 23 per cent of the country’s territory was contaminated by radioactive waste. Over a 30-year period, damage to the Belarusian economy was projected at $235 billion. The latest Government programmes to mitigate those consequences addressed improvements in health care, energy and water supply, housing, hospitals, schools and pre-schools in affected areas. International cooperation was an important component in mitigating Chernobyl’s consequences, and Belarus sought the support of Member States for its joining the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation when that matter was considered at the sixty-third Assembly session.
ABDULLATIF SALLAM ( Saudi Arabia) said mounting human and material loss, due to natural disasters over the past few years, demanded the continued coordination and strengthening of emergency response and assistance to mitigate and minimize damage and allow affected communities to return to normal as soon as possible. The United Nations should be at the forefront in coordinating such efforts, including in dealing not only with natural disasters, but also in conflict situations and helping to curb the impacts of epidemics. The Saudi Red Crescent was active in efforts to address such matters.
The Saudi Government had also actively participated in international and regional humanitarian assistance efforts, he continued. Indeed, some 87 countries on all continents had received Saudi help, which had enabled them to jumpstart economic development. The Government had made specific efforts to focus assistance on the poorest and most needy countries, and would call on other States to ensure the provision of the financial and technical assistance, as well as training, needed to ensure disaster-affected countries got on the road to recovery. The Saudi Government had also made efforts to ensure environmental protection was observed in all its assistance programmes, particularly in light of the complex challenges posed by climate change. Saudi Arabia called on other States to take similar measures to deal with climate change and environmental challenges, following the principle of “common but differentiated” responsibilities.
NATASHA SMITH ( Australia) said humanitarian emergencies had wreaked havoc, threatening economic growth and undermining development. It was the global community’s duty to help prevent and respond to humanitarian crises, while ensuring accountability for the impact of assistance. Australia strongly supported the key United Nations role in providing leadership and coordinating humanitarian action. Nonetheless, it was no longer correct to call the cluster approach, the strengthening of humanitarian coordinators, and such mechanisms as CERF “new” approaches, as they were now integral to humanitarian action. Australia looked forward to the independent review of CERF and an external review of the cluster approach.
She said effective action required resources, people with the “right skills in the right places at the right time”, and effective coordination of efforts, all of which must be the objective of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. Rapid, safe and unhindered access by humanitarian personnel, as well as goods and services for people in need, were fundamental to saving lives in any emergency. Australia called on States and other actors to prevent violence against civilian populations, and for effective responses when it occurred, particularly gender-based violence, which continued to occur at alarming levels.
Noting that prevention was always better than cure, she said disaster risk reduction was an important priority for humanitarian and development assistance and welcomed the inaugural meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in June. Australia was a strong supporter of humanitarian action and the role of the United Nations, and would continue to work to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action.
MOHAMMAD KHALED AL AJRAN ( Kuwait) said his country was deeply concerned about the growing number of natural disasters and their increasing intensity, and Kuwait was at the forefront in providing relief assistance to those ravaged by them. In the last three years, Kuwait had provided financial assistance, including $250,000 to combat flooding in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, $500,000 to those affected by Typhoon Yamin in Pakistan, $2 million to relieve flooding in Somalia and $500 million in relief to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in the United States. The aid provided was complete, and no amount had been discounted for transport and handling. Kuwait had also contributed $200,000 to CERF, which had responded promptly to emergency situations.
Kuwait continued to extend assistance to the Palestinian people through the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said. As long as Israel continued its inhumane practices, which undermined the Palestinian people, while refusing to transfer levies of Palestinian taxation, such efforts would be hampered.
He affirmed the importance of devising readiness plans for disasters, updating existing plans, and enhancing regular training for such disasters as category five hurricanes. Kuwait called on States to increase their efforts to making early warning systems a priority for national, regional and international disaster management plans. Kuwait would continue to provide assistance on a bilateral level, as well as through the specialized agencies of the United Nations.
HJALMAR W. HANNESSON ( Iceland) expressed his solidarity with cyclone victims in Bangladesh, noting that the global community had learned lessons since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, including the urgent need to reform humanitarian responses. States also had learned that available funds, impact evaluation and needs assessments were crucial in achieving the best results. Iceland welcomed the improvements already made in humanitarian responses and underlined that gender mainstreaming should be considered a cross-cutting issue from the earliest stages of reform.
Predictable, rapid and sound funding in the wake of humanitarian disasters was of the essence, he continued, noting that the creation of CERF had been very successful. Since the need for funding was likely to increase, Governments must intensify their efforts. Non-governmental organizations and the private sector also played a significant role in humanitarian work, and Iceland planned to explore further innovative ways to work with the private sector in developing countries.
He noted that women and children were the principal victims in humanitarian crises and welcomed the intensified emphasis in the Secretary-General’s report on them as well as other vulnerable groups. Iceland stressed the importance of not losing sight of the purpose of humanitarian work. As Vice-President responsible for the Economic and Social Council’s humanitarian affairs segment this year, Iceland had worked closely on that issue with efficient experts, both at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and within Member States.
ANDREAS BAUM ( Switzerland) said that while preserving humanitarian space was a prerequisite for assistance, that space was shrinking. Over the last year international and local humanitarian organizations had suffered a large number of deaths and injuries among their staff, besides inadequate access to people affected by disaster or conflict. In addition, the provisions of international law had also been violated too often. Switzerland encouraged the Emergency Relief Coordinator to support efforts to preserve humanitarian space by actively facilitating access for operational organizations to emergency areas.
He strongly urged States and parties to conflict to honour their obligations by allowing the rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief deliveries to civilians in need, and by protecting those populations and aid workers alike. While there had been progress in reforming the United Nations humanitarian system over the last two years, it was not enough. A mapping and analytical stocktaking of the normative framework for humanitarian cooperation might help identify areas where stronger promotion of General Assembly resolution 46/182 was needed, and improve the focus, relevance and impact of future Assembly resolutions. Strengthening national capacities for disaster preparedness also deserved additional attention from States. All stakeholders must act rapidly and in a concerted fashion to achieve a long-term reduction in disaster-related damage.
JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said his delegation supported the Organization’s efforts to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian assistance, and would stress adherence to the principles of neutrality and humanity, as well as to the norms of international humanitarian law. Peru also believed that humanitarian efforts should make use of local capacities and regional actors, while aiming to put in place the relevant frameworks for sustainable development. To break out of the emerging vicious cycle of human vulnerability and loss, the international community must develop a disaster management approach that tackled the relationship between all actors and the work that the respective parties were to undertake on the ground.
To that end, he suggested that perhaps it was time for the international community to take advantage of the positive role that business could play in coordinating, promoting and enhancing humanitarian assistance and relief. Peru had found the assistance provided by the business community most helpful as the country recovered from the effects of a devastating earthquake in August, and he also highlighted the assistance provided by the United Nations Resident Coordinator and many others in the aftermath of that disaster.
PRABHA THAKUR, Member of Parliament from India, welcomed CERF as a non-political, collaborative instrument that supported developing countries in times of need. India’s financial contribution to the Fund represented its conviction that, through CERF, the United Nations would be better able to assist developing countries in the aftermath of disaster by making resources available in a timely and predictable manner, and evenly across emergencies. Yet, it was extremely important that CERF retain a high degree of performance and credibility. While the Secretary-General’s report on CERF had provided details on its expenditures, it would also be useful to know the details for all requests for funding, the proportion provided in each case and the criteria used for the allocations made.
In handling disasters, it was important to have coherent national strategies and national capacities to handle both disaster prevention and management, she said. The development of national capacities should be the starting point of a disaster-management strategy. Thus, India had a forward-looking approach to disaster management and mitigation, including its National Disaster Management Authority, which focused on disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation. Greater awareness about prevention, mitigation and preparedness was the next important step because the lack information and uncoordinated responses hampered relief efforts. Yet, a national response alone was sometimes inadequate. More bilateral, regional and international cooperation was needed in dealing with disasters and making effective use of capabilities.
She said that, through CERF, a more reliable mechanism had been established for saving lives after a disaster and addressing the needs of under-funded emergencies, but greater efforts were required for disaster prevention, risk reduction and early warning to reduce disaster casualties. Because disaster risk reduction should be based on proactive and pre-emptive action, the international community should address the need to share information about appropriate housing technologies in earthquake-prone areas, for example. A proactive approach was also needed in insuring risk-prone regions by spreading costs and ensuring the financial sustainability of risk-insurance mechanisms. It was to be hoped that greater attention would be paid to post-disaster recovery and development, which strained the capacities of most developing countries in the post-relief period.
An evaluation of the cluster approach was needed in countries where it had already been implemented, she said, adding that the cluster approach should be implemented with the consent and under the leadership of the affected country’s Government. Humanitarian assistance should always be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, as per the guiding principles of the provision of humanitarian assistance contained in the annex to General Assembly resolution 46/182. All humanitarian personnel, including those belonging to the United Nations, should observe the national laws of the countries where they were working and remain sensitive to the customs and traditions of the host State.
MIKHAIL E. SAVOSTYANOV ( Russian Federation) called for the strengthening and enhancement of United Nations humanitarian assistance and relief efforts, while preserving the non-politicized nature of such endeavours. The Russian Federation supported efforts to achieve an optimal division of labour and an effective working relationship among the intergovernmental and United Nations organs working in those areas. The Assembly should focus on defining the parameters of strategic coordination among the Organization’s humanitarian activities, while the Economic and Social Council focused on developing the practical aspects of Assembly decisions, and the Secretariat implemented the decisions taken by the two organs.
He went on to note the growing demand for reliable forecasting of natural hazards, and for pre-emptive measures and early-warning systems. The Russian Federation supported measures to strengthen contingency planning and believed it was necessary to strengthen national early-warning systems, damage assessment and mitigation. It was also necessary to boost international cooperation in order to build up national capacities in those areas. One promising area of cooperation was the elaboration of measures to adapt to climate change. The Russian Federation was carefully studying relevant proposals and reaffirmed its readiness to participate actively in agreed approaches in that field.
While OCHA was making strides in its efforts to improve responses to natural disasters, technological catastrophes and complex humanitarian emergencies, not everything in that work was clear and transparent, he said. For instance, it was not clear to whom non-governmental organizations working with the United Nations in the field were responsible and accountable, including in the area of security. Neither was it clear which organizations were acting independently. Such independence did not mean the non-governmental organizations were unaccountable for their actions. Partnerships between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations should include mechanisms of accountability to the Organization, in the absence of which, humanitarian assistance mandates provided by Government to non-governmental organizations could become a formal cover-up for activities inconsistent with those mandates.
He said that more than 20 years after the tragic nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl, its consequences were still being felt, particularly the serious health effects and environmental damage, which was hampering sustained socio-economic growth in the effected countries -- Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. For its part, the Russian Government had focused its efforts on the continuing assessment of radiation impact on current programmes for the comprehensive rehabilitation of the affected region. The consensus adoption of the relevant text before the Assembly would be a demonstration of the international community’s solidarity with the affected countries.
FARUKH AMIL ( Pakistan) said the earthquake that struck Pakistan in October 2005 had wiped out, in a matter of seconds, what had taken many generations to build. That was a wake-up call for everyone. The loss of lives, breadwinners, livelihoods and infrastructure was unprecedented, and the entire nation had come together to help alleviate the victims’ suffering. The United Nations system had played an important role in coordinating and mobilizing resources. When confronted with that situation, Pakistan had had to go beyond the conventional disaster-management model of response, relief and recovery to embrace a holistic approach that included hazard identification and mitigation, community preparedness, integrated response efforts and recovery.
The country had promulgated its National Disaster Management Ordinance in December 2006, later setting up the National Disaster Management Commission and Authority, he said. The Prime Minister headed the Commission, and its members included senior representatives from all provinces, the Leaders of the Opposition in both houses of Parliament, and representatives of the armed forces, civil society and non-governmental organizations. In March 2007, the Commission had approved the National Disaster Reduction Framework and was working to implement its priorities. Pakistan had learned the importance of integrating disaster risk reduction into all sectoral and national development policies and practices, as well as the importance of strong institutions and capacities for systematically building resistance against natural disasters.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that, for decades, international aid had helped ease the hardships endured by Palestinians. While they were grateful for that invaluable assistance, it was imperative to ask: to what extent had the global community helped to ensure that such assistance reached its full potential? The latest figures on the humanitarian and economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, were tragic. All infrastructure and employment-generation projects had come “to a grinding halt”, due to the unlawful measures imposed by the occupying Power. Palestinians were sinking into abject poverty.
Recalling the bleak situation described in the latest Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia report, he said movement restrictions and the wall had battered the Palestinian economy, and the trade deficit had reached an unprecedented 73 per cent of gross domestic product -- 30 per cent higher than the 30-year average. The picture was bleakest in the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s crippling siege had brought the territory to the verge of collapse. Israel had not heeded international expressions of concern, and had instead continued to “tighten the noose”, denying the prospects of a dignified future for that part of the Palestinian Territory. The occupying Power was violating the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among other instruments.
Describing the situation in Gaza, he noted that for months, Israel had closed all six of its crossings, which had been devastating. Some 90 per cent of the territory’s industries had shut down operations, adding “tens of thousands” of Palestinians to the ranks of the unemployed. According to the reports of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Secretary-General, socio-economic indicators had declined significantly despite increased aid levels. Indeed, UNCTAD had concluded that the Palestinian economy had lost $8.4 billion in potential income, or twice the size of today’s economy. Israel continued illegally to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues, and the global community’s “punishing” sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority had made a bad situation almost catastrophic. The suspension of direct international aid in 2006, which had curtailed humanitarian assistance, had had lasting negative consequences.
As a result, increased aid through the temporary financing mechanism could not alleviate the long-term consequences, he said. Despite the disbursement of $800 million in emergency assistance, highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, reports by UNRWA and WFP noted that incomes had dropped, while extreme poverty had increased substantially. The challenges ahead were almost overwhelming. At the 2005 Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting, donors had established new aid coordination bodies, which must be revitalized, especially given the presence of the new Quartet representative.
He welcomed the September meeting that had confirmed the global community’s commitment to helping the Palestinian Authority build strong, viable institutions and noted that the Authority attached high expectations to the December donor conference in Paris. The Palestinian Authority looked forward to confirmation by the AHLC of the Authority’s 2008-2010 reform and development plan, which must be seen as a key test of international support for Palestinian-driven growth. The global community must ensure that the occupying Power did not continue its aggression against internationally-funded projects, while exercising its moral and legal authority to compel Israel to cease such violations.
AHMED AL-JARMAN ( United Arab Emirates) reiterated the importance of implementing the recommendations of international conferences in terms of early warning, relief assistance and development. Developing countries should implement the recommended strategies, while developed countries fulfilled their commitments to help them build national capacities. International solidarity was important in providing assistance, and the United Arab Emirates had pledged to donate $1.5 million to United Nations humanitarian assistance bodies in 2008. It had established the Dubai International Humanitarian City, one of the largest centres for facilitating integrated logistical services to humanitarian organizations.
He said his Government, alongside such national organizations as the Red Crescent, had extended humanitarian assistance through donations to affected countries, and had helped them build up their national capacities to address natural disasters. In the last three years, the United Arab Emirates had contributed $1 billion to support tsunami victims and those affected by earthquakes and hurricanes, and had assisted in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, among other countries.
The Government attached great importance to supporting the Palestinian people during their humanitarian crisis, he said, expressing deep concern at the aggravation of their humanitarian conditions, as a result of continued attacks by Israel and its policies of closure. Israel must be compelled to end its aggression immediately, lift its blockade, comply with international resolutions and humanitarian law, and resume peace negotiations on the basis of relevant resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said that, beyond simple goodwill, humanitarian action responded to the needs of crisis-affected populations and could restore dignity and hope in people’s lives. Yet it was not without challenge or risk. While Canada welcomed the progress achieved over the past year to strengthen the effectiveness, efficiency and coordination of humanitarian action, the international community could ill afford complacency in that area. To measure the toll that conflicts continued to take on civilian populations, one needed to look no further than Darfur, Chad, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan. Achieving real results in the face of such conflicts was not easy, and humanitarian action could not be considered a substitute for political solutions.
He said the hundreds of thousands of people affected by natural disasters over the past year reminded the international community of the importance of making strategic investments in disaster risk reduction, so as to minimize vulnerability to natural disasters. To that end, Canada supported efforts by the Emergency Relief Coordinator to strengthen the international humanitarian response, which should no longer be termed “reform”. Better coordination, more flexible financing mechanisms and strong humanitarian coordinators in the field should simply be viewed as the best way to conduct international humanitarian action.
The rollout of the “cluster coordination system” had proven itself an as innovative approach to promoting strong inter-agency cooperation, and Canada welcomed the findings of the recently released cluster valuation, he said. Despite important successes in better information sharing, accountability and more effective advocacy from the cluster approach, challenges remained. There was a need to buttress the capacity of cluster leads to ensure they could effectively and consistently play a guiding role, and cluster leads where performance had lagged behind should be addressed constructively. Accountability by cluster leads was important in ensuring that enhanced coordination efforts brought results.
Effective coordination relied on having the right people with the right mix of skills and experience, and in that, the role of humanitarian coordinators remained vital, he said, urging OCHA to continue its focus on strengthening their role and capacity. Humanitarian funding mechanisms like CERF should be guided by coherent and reliable evidence-based needs assessments and analysis. OCHA had a critical role to play in that regard. Also, in efforts to strengthen humanitarian efforts, Member States should guarantee security for personnel, particularly in the face of growing attacks that were often carried out in complete impunity. To this end, Canada urged all States to sign the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.
MONA JUUL ( Norway) said her country remained deeply concerned about the sexual and gender-based violence destroying the lives of thousands of women and girls each year. The use of sexual violence as a method of warfare was appalling, and the international community had a collective responsibility to ensure that such acts did not go unpunished. Thus, the United Nations should take the lead in establishing more effective preventive and protective measures to address sexual and gender-based violence. There was an urgent need for the full implementation of the various United Nations resolutions dealing with those issues.
Access for humanitarian actors to populations in need, and the related ability of such populations to receive humanitarian assistance, was the prerequisite for all humanitarian operations, she said. The arbitrary denial of access was an unacceptable practice that placed the lives of millions in danger and prolonged their suffering unnecessarily. The United Nations must be better prepared to respond to humanitarian emergencies than it was currently, and prevention must be placed higher on the Organization’s agenda.
It was widely acknowledged that climate change caused environmental degradation, floods, droughts, hurricanes, involuntary migration, increased urbanization and an explosion in slum-dwelling, she said. Prolonged armed conflicts also increasingly affected already vulnerable States and populations, yet the world community was more willing to pay for the resultant damages than to invest in preventive measures. To that end, several steps should be taken to mitigate the effects of humanitarian disasters in the changing world. First was the need to appoint a global spokesperson and intensify the efforts of the Emergency Relief Coordinator. Second, there was a need for resolve in reforming and strengthening international humanitarian response systems, including more responsive and appropriate funding mechanisms. Norway urged more Member States and other donors to contribute funds to help disaster-prone countries. In addition, the functions of the resident and humanitarian coordinators needed strengthening, and, to that end, Norway strongly supported the cluster approach. Finally, there was a need to enhance capacity-development efforts for humanitarian personnel, and to establish better roster systems with pools of experts from all humanitarian fields.
ABOU EL MAKAREM HUSSEIN ( Egypt) said he was concerned that statistics indicated a dramatic increase in the number, frequency and intensity of floods, hurricanes and droughts, particularly in Africa, over the last 20 years. The economic impact of such disasters was a formidable obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It was important to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance and confront such emergencies.
He noted that some 4 million people had been forced to flee their homes in 2006, while the civilian death toll in Iraq averaged more than 100 per day, and an estimated 8 million Iraqi civilians urgently needed humanitarian assistance. Somalia’s deteriorating humanitarian situation was also worrisome. There was an urgent need to build the institutional capacity of developing countries effectively to deal with natural disasters in a predictable, prepared way and move from recovery to sustainable development.
Humanitarian actors should adhere to their specific obligations under national and international humanitarian law when dealing with the citizens, particularly women and children, of countries in which they operated, he said. They must avoid acts -– such as sexual abuse and child trafficking -- that violated the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as national law and international humanitarian law. As a founder of CERF, Egypt had provided it with financial and technical support. Egypt also welcomed the role of the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, launched in September 2006 to increase the disaster preparedness of States most vulnerable to disasters. To date, $30 million had been contributed to the Fund.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said a record number of flash appeals had been launched by the United Nations system since the start of 2007, presenting the Organization’s humanitarian relief work with increasingly daunting challenges. Its role could be enhanced through better inter-agency coordination, improved overall planning of humanitarian activities, clarification of the division of labour, and improved operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness in resource use. In addition, the Organization’s role in coordinating relief activities could be enhanced by building partnerships with countries, international institutions and non-governmental organizations for better information sharing and broader cooperation.
He praised OCHA for its tireless work, and called for developed countries to contribute generously to CERF to help it reach its $500 million target for 2008. The United Nations should facilitate international and regional cooperation in helping disaster-prone countries to improve disaster preparedness. As a country that suffered natural disasters every year, China understood the toll they took, and the expenditures required to prepare for them and provide relief in their wake. China had made efforts to provide assistance to other affected countries, including Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Madagascar, Sudan and Greece. It pledged to support United Nations and other international efforts to help affected countries.
HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR. ( Philippines) said his Government was grateful for the assistance rendered by the United Nations in the aftermath of a 2006 oil tanker spill off the south-western coast of his country’s Cebu Province. That unprecedented maritime disaster would require years of work to rehabilitate the damaged areas. The Philippines was also grateful for the Secretary-General’s report concluding, among other things, that several areas affected by the oil spill were still a long way from recovery, even after more than a year. The environmental and health fallout from the calamitous oil spill had been effectively captured by an early assessment led by UNDP.
He underscored the specific damage wrought to the fish stocks, since fishing was the main livelihood of the affected populations. Since the spill, the Philippine Department of the Environment and Natural Resources had reported the deaths of at least 600 trees and immature mangroves, which served as breeding and feeding grounds for fish. That finding seemed to validate the observations of fisher folk in the region, who had reported a substantial decrease in their catch. Neither had the local tourism industry recovered from the disaster.
Ironically, even though only 20 per cent of beach tourism had actually been affected, the industry had suffered nevertheless, owing to the impression that the entire island had been contaminated by oil sludge, he said. Despite all that, there was cause for optimism because the international community and the Government had put a speedy recovery plan in place, and PETRON, the company whose oil had caused the problems, had remained fully engaged in the healing process. It was to be hoped that, after hearing its name mentioned in the General Assembly, the company would do more.
DALIUS ČEKUOLIS (Lithuania), aligning himself with the European Union, stressed that a number of people in his country had been affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and about 6,000 of them were registered as part of the high-risk group who had taken part in the clean-up and liquidation of its effects. Non-profit organizations were operating on behalf of those victims, and the Government was also pursuing a number of social security and health care programmes and activities for them. Legislation had been adopted to define the juridical status of persons affected during the disaster’s clean-up, and Government decisions provided for one-time compensation to those affected, due to their participation in that effort, or to their relatives. If health conditions deteriorated, the persons affected were entitled to repeated compensation and certain types of free medical treatment.
He said a national Chernobyl health centre, established under the Ministry of Health, kept a database on individuals who had participated in the Chernobyl clean-up, organized regular health care check-ups, and offered treatment, advice and analyses. The centre also published data and organized conferences on health care for that group, besides maintaining ties with organizations dealing with radiation exposure. In addition, a special centre had been created for children born into the families of affected individuals. The Ministry of Health had also adopted a programme with the aim of providing relevant health care and minimizing the rates of sickness, morbidity and disability. It also aimed to contribute to international research on the impact of small radiation exposures.
SANSANEE SAHUSSARUNGSI ( Thailand) said her country wished to see an integrated approach for national or regional entities in partnering with United Nations agencies to ensure optimal synergies with other related efforts, to avoid duplication of work, and to lead to a more effective and better coordinated humanitarian response. Humanitarian assistance should be based firmly on actual needs on the ground and appropriate management. It should be equipped with sophisticated technology and sufficient resources. While strengthening preparedness, coordination and rapid response may provide an opportunity to mobilize support for investment in disaster preparedness and mitigation, mobilizing resources was always a critical concern. Thus, Thailand welcomed the establishment of CERF, whose efficiency in allocating funds in the case of the August earthquake in Peru had proved its usefulness as a mechanism to generate an early and prompt response to disasters.
She noted her country’s contribution to establishing the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Tsunami Regional Trust Fund, saying it was aimed at speeding up ongoing efforts to enhance national capacity and create a reliable tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia regions. The Trust Fund had already assisted several regional projects in disaster preparedness and the establishment of an early warning system. Meanwhile, more projects were “in the pipeline”. Thailand was one of the 168 countries that had adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, and was preparing its Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction to provide direction in undertaking disaster-risk reduction over the next decade. The country had also made progress on integrating disaster reduction into local communities and school curricula.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEE ( Guatemala) said that all the victims of recent natural disasters encouraged his delegation to share its own experiences in today’s debate. Indeed, some 31 years ago Guatemala had been “caught by surprise” and devastated by an earthquake that had left in its terrible wake some 23,000 casualties and millions injured and displaced. Today was a different story, however, because his country had made significant progress in establishing disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery frameworks. Also, international, national and regional assistance mechanisms were more coordinated and targeted, and were more needs-based. With all that in mind, Guatemala strongly supported efforts by the United Nations, especially OCHA, to ensure the Organization’s strengthened and better coordinated response to natural disasters or other humanitarian emergencies.
He went on to highlight several other measures his Government had taken in that area, including its development of a guidebook that set out relevant emergency procedures. He said that addressing such emergencies required, among other things, recognizing cultural specificities and the needs –- and capacities -- of indigenous populations. He also stressed the essential need to ensure humanitarian access at all times, as well as protection of relief workers. At the same time, access was not an end in itself, but a tool in the overall efforts to ensure that assistance reached vulnerable and needy populations in a timely, efficient and effective manner. He also highlighted the need to coordinate the activities of political actors, peacekeepers and humanitarian organizations to streamline emergency relief efforts. He added that making use of volunteers was also crucial, especially towards developing post-disaster recovery policies.
MUHAMMAD ALI SORCAR ( Bangladesh) said he had taken the floor today against the backdrop of a severe tropical cyclone that had caused extensive havoc in his country. The disaster had hit before Bangladesh could recover from two rounds of massive floods that had inundated almost half the country just three months ago. Noting that the cyclone, named Sidr, had produced winds of up to 150 miles per hour at landfall, he said it was one of the 10 fiercest cyclones in the last 137 years. The official death toll had risen to 2,048 and was increasing.
However, the death toll could have been higher, he explained, recalling that a 1991 cyclone of similar magnitude had killed more than 140,000 people. This time, it appeared that the extensive preparation of the Government and other agencies had prevented such a large death toll. In the 48 hours before the cyclone’s landing, some 3.2 million people had been evacuated to shelters, which alone constituted an enormous exercise, as mass evacuation of densely populated coastal areas was a huge challenge. Extensive and timely action had been instrumental in avoiding a bigger catastrophe.
He said the cyclone demolished houses, destroyed standing crops and damaged shrimp farms, a chief source of livelihood. Moreover, mangrove forests of the Sudarbans, a World Heritage Site, had been extensively damaged. Preliminary estimates showed that 27 million people were impacted by the storm. As such, the Government was focusing on emergency needs: supply of non-food items, food, water and sanitation, shelter, and disease surveillance. Defence forces had been deployed in rescue and relief operations, while cash and food grains were being allocated by the Government. In the long term, livelihoods, infrastructure and educational services would need rehabilitation.
The international response had been great, he continued, underscoring that the United Nations country team and others had provided support through extensive emergency response precautions, such as mobilizing in-country staff. He was grateful to all countries and organizations that had stepped forward with assurance, particularly development partners that had made early pledges for assistance.
Calling CERF a “mainstay of emergency response”, he said the Emergency Relief Coordinator had committed $259 million to 331 life-saving humanitarian projects in 25 countries in 2006 alone. The Fund had been used to respond to disasters in 24 countries; some 59 per cent of it had been used for rapid response in Africa. However, the mechanism deserved to be strengthened, and he hoped, in the long-term, that the Fund would continue to receive political support and increased resources from Member States.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said that the increased incidence and severity of natural disasters confirmed the need for strengthening the capacity of humanitarian actors to address the effects of emergencies, calling it a priority task for the United Nations. She welcomed the results of CERF’s inaugural year, and stressed the importance of coordination and cooperation among United Nations bodies, other international organizations and Governments in responding to disasters. She further welcomed the establishment of the Central Asian Disaster Response Coordination Centre in Kazakhstan, by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and proposed a network of warehouses in Kazakhstan to store relief assets for the Central Asia region, so that they would be readily available in time of need.
She said that it was critical to invest in establishing national and local partnerships with Government, regional organizations and civil society groups, and in better defining needs. The man-made ecological disasters of the dying Aral Sea and the former Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing site affected the sustainable development of the entire region. The salt from the Aral Sea’s exposed seabed was damaging the entire Eurasian continent. Central Asian countries had done much to rehabilitate the Sea, but international intervention was needed. She proposed that the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea be made a United Nations institution. She also said that the Chernobyl issue was not exclusively a problem for the countries directly affected, and that there must be coordinated, wide-scale assistance to rehabilitate affected populations.
CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) expressed appreciation for the expressions of solidarity and support by the international community after the recent flooding in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Governments and public and private international institutions had supported the efforts of the Government of Mexico, local authorities and civil society. Progress in addressing the urgent needs of the affected population and in identifying financial and technical needs was being made. The emergency situation had not concluded, however, and the longer-term consequences of the climatic disaster were beginning to be seen. The impact on the economic and social life of the areas affected would continue to be felt for an undetermined period, as the almost 350,000 people who had lost everything were in a situation of extreme vulnerability and faced health, housing, food and infrastructure challenges.
Mexico deeply appreciated the work of the United Nations, and particularly OCHA, which had sent a Disaster Assessment and Coordination team to coordinate responses of the federal and local authorities and international organizations.
He reaffirmed Mexico’s commitment to the efforts of the international community to reduce the risk of natural disasters, and said that it was fundamental to reinforce preventive strategies. Despite technological and scientific progress in detecting and preventing natural threats, it was necessary to work intensively in identifying and mitigating risks and society preparedness. In that, priority should be given to sectors that were more vulnerable. Thus, it was essential to reinforce the coordination between Governments and civil society, as well as humanitarian and development agencies. The United Nations had a central role to play in implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action, which should be strengthened through concrete measures to ensure coherence between its different programmes and the optimization of available resources.
Strengthening multilateral mechanisms that responded to humanitarian emergencies in order to make them more effective and to expedite assistance to victims was important, he said. The creation of CERF was one of the most significant steps taken in this regard. As a founding contributor to the Fund, Mexico confirmed its commitment to a more transparent and effective humanitarian system, focused on the needs in the field. Mexico had accepted the programme of activities that would be undertaken with Fund resources in Tabasco and Chiapas, he added.
He said the efforts by the international community to improve the efficiency and coordination in humanitarian assistance would continue to be limited, as long as there was resistance to guaranteeing humanitarian workers security and access to the distressed populations, particularly in States that lacked the capacity to offer protection. The issue of access was a cornerstone of the General Assembly’s resolution 46/182, and a sine qua non condition for a solid, multilateral humanitarian system. Yet, civilians were recurrent targets of warfare, and the violence they suffered included kidnapping, child exploitation and sexual abuse of women and girls. The United Nations had a moral obligation to implement concrete measures to alleviate those sufferings. His country was concerned that the issue of access to civilians in armed conflicts was being interpreted as a question of intervention, without considering that it was a fundamental human right of the victims and an obligation, according to international law, of all parties. The protection of human beings affected by humanitarian emergencies should not be a controversial issue, and should constitute a common objective in which Governments and international organizations worked side by side.
JOSEPH NSENGIMANA ( Rwanda) said the tragic events that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 were among the most dreadful in human history, with over 1 million lives lost and over 300,000 children orphaned. Regrettably, the global community had not taken timely and decisive action to prevent those events. Indeed, States had a responsibility to prevent genocide, to “protect” if prevention failed, and to “rebuild” if protection failed. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s report that progress had been made in rebuilding Rwanda, as citizens had decided to rebuild their country on “a solid foundation” based on reconciliation, justice, good governance and human rights, among other things.
Challenges remained, particularly among vulnerable groups such as orphans and widows, he said, calling for continued support in the areas of shelter, health, education, and treatment for victims of sexual violence. Psychological counselling, skills training and microcredit programmes to promote self-sufficiency were also needed.
He commended the United Nations Department of Public Information for its work in victim remembrance, highlighting a successful exhibit at United Nations Headquarters that had marked the thirteenth anniversary of the genocide. He called on States to support the extension of that programme into the next biennium, as rising xenophobia, racism and ethnic tensions required that the lessons of the Rwandan genocide be widely disseminated. On the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he said much work remained to be done, including the completion of trials and resolution of issues relating to survivors, such as victim support. Work was also needed in capacity-building for the Rwandan judiciary and transfer of court documents to Rwanda, and he looked forward States’ support in addressing such issues in the context of a resolution on that sub-item.
ANDRIES OOSTHUIZEN ( South Africa) said effective humanitarian coordination was of utmost importance if States wished to succeed in assisting the vulnerable. The increasing number of humanitarian assistance organizations, with varying skills and priorities, highlighted the need for ensuring all efforts were provided in a coordinated manner. He therefore looked forward to a further evaluation of the impacts and possible success of the cluster approach as one of the measures to provide better leadership.
On the critical role of partnerships in providing assistance, he said regional organizations could be included to improve humanitarian responses and standby capacities. As many developing countries did not have capacity to address disaster preparedness, he called on the United Nations humanitarian system to help States improve local and national capacities, and assist regional organizations to ensure that “emergency response transcended national borders”. Continued support to the Regional Office for Southern Africa would enable it to improve support to fulfil its mandate. South Africa proudly supported CERF and, at the same time, looked forward to the Secretary-General’s report to measure its successes and challenges.
As delivering humanitarian assistance should acknowledge the principles of good governance and ethical behaviour, he called on all “role-players” to address gender-based violence and ensure that adequate measures were put in place to prevent gender-based violence. He also called on the international donor community to continue its support to the Palestinian people.
Turning to Africa, he encouraged the United Nations, in close cooperation with Governments, to identify specific country needs and provide appropriate means to implement proposals that would help countries reach their development goals. Regarding the need to bring normalcy back to affected populations, he said finding lasting solutions to conflict would clearly contribute to countries’ sustainable development. In that context, he called on humanitarian and development actors to strengthen the tools that would ensure that early recovery needs were considered as part of the planning of any humanitarian response activities. In closing, he hoped the global community would continue to provide assistance in a manner that would take into consideration the needs of affected communities.
GROVER JOSEPH REES ( United States) said that his Government supported a stronger and more effective response to humanitarian crises and, over the past two years, had proudly helped some 1 million African refugees to return home. That had largely been due to collective activism, democratic action and financial assistance. The United States was also working with other Governments to resolve the protracted situation of refugees, such as Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. His country had responded to the joint UNHCR and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appeal for education of Iraqi children in Jordan and Syria, and had made some $200 million overall available for displaced Iraqis in 2007.
He said the United States was also conducting active humanitarian diplomacy critical to improving conditions for beneficiaries of assistance worldwide, including in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and Europe. It also recognized the importance of preparedness for all types of disasters, and believed in accountability and quality in humanitarian assistance. The United States also emphasized that international assistance must support and strengthen -– rather than undermine or overrule -– national and community capacities. He went on to acknowledge the United Nations ongoing reform of its humanitarian mechanisms, including strengthening of the “cluster approach” in responding to the needs of internally displaced persons, the humanitarian coordinator system and the Central Emergency Response Fund.
He said that the United States would continue to stress the importance of non-governmental organization participation in all levels of coordination, including the “cluster approach”. Specifically on the Central Emergency Response Fund, he said that while the United States continued to assess that funding mechanisms value in addressing “under-funded emergencies”, it remained open to discussions and development of clearer definitions and criteria to govern disbursements in that area. He stressed that emerging and protracted humanitarian emergencies, including those sparked by conflict, highlighted the need to ensure access to peoples and populations in need of assistance. The safety and security of humanitarian workers was often jeopardized, at times deliberately, by belligerents, he said, stressing that the United States continued to support full, unhindered access for all humanitarian workers.
The United States also strongly supported neutral, impartial, independent and robust responses to humanitarian needs. To that end, the United States delegation looked forward to working with Sweden, with whom it would serve as co-Chair of the Good Humanitarian Donorship Group, and to working with other States to strengthen needs-based assessment, improving coordination at central and field levels, and reviewing best practices and performance measurement. The United States and Sweden would welcome other donor Governments -– including new and emerging donors -– to join that initiative and incorporate its principles into their policies as well.
TRI THARYAT ( Indonesia) said the carnage of the 2004 tsunami demonstrated the high vulnerability of poor communities in the face of natural hazards, and that current reconstruction efforts should emphasize the notion of building back better, to leave populations more prepared for the future. In addition, lessons learned should be shared as must as possible. Indonesia’s main lessons learned included the importance of close coordination on the ground, from the emergency phase until the present phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
He emphasized that medium- and long-term support from the international community, donor countries, financial institutions, the private sector and civil society was still critical, and that it was essential for affected communities to improve the quality and strengthen local capacity in disaster management. Also, prevention efforts through tsunami early warning arrangements in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia should be continually evaluated and strengthened. His country would introduce a draft resolution entitled “Strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster”, and sought generous support and co-sponsorship.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) encouraged the United Nations system to strengthen its role in providing humanitarian assistance, bearing in mind the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarianism, and the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, as well as the leading role of the State in organizing, coordinating and implementing that assistance within its territory. To provide effective and lasting solutions for humanitarian situations, it was important to strengthen coordination between agencies, and especially to ensure their coordination with Government entities. That would allow States to reach efficient coverage without duplicating efforts, including when applying the cluster approach, which must only be done when States request and authorize it. Information systems should also be improved, so that national institutions could set priorities for assistance.
Humanitarian assistance must allow for the rebuilding of social relationships and contribute to economic structures that would be sustainable once critical difficulties were overcome, she said. Colombia’s programmes for disaster relief included such components as early warning, humanitarian emergency assistance, access to services and State social programs, and support for social and economic stabilization. Where violence caused human displacement, a human rights protection and voluntary returns component was also included. Reparations also helped victims rebuild their lives. When cooperating with international agencies, other Governments, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other entities, efforts were coordinated with national plans and local authorities in the field. She reiterated that emergency aid must be temporary and give priority to measures that generated lasting solutions.
ROBLE OLHAYE (Djibouti) said that in the midst of the devastation in Bangladesh and the news reports of mounting casualties, now said to be nearly 2,000, Member States should not lose sight of the effectiveness of the Bangladeshi Government’s early warning system, which had saved the lives of vast numbers of people -- at least a million costal dwellers -– who had been able to quickly get out of the path of the deadly cyclone. “We all have something to learn from Bangladesh,” he said.
Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, natural disasters were on the rise, and the result had been increased loss of life and property damage. At the same time, wars and protracted conflicts were also causing loss of life and environmental destruction that sparked or deepened humanitarian crises. At the forefront of all that was OCHA, which had been galvanizing the needed assistance and coordinating strategic planning during emergency situations. He expressed appreciation for all the hard work being undertaken by that important agency.
He said that Djibouti’s social and economic development efforts had been constrained by insufficiency of water, endemic aridity, severe drought and occasional flash floods, and the Government had wondered if those weather events were the opening salvo of the long-predicted devastation to be wrought on sub-Saharan Africa by global warming. Indeed, when rainy seasons did arrive, they were noticeably shorter, and countries in the region could expect severe flooding and damage to infrastructure in their wake.
“What we see in all this is the need for each of us, within our capabilities, to develop and expand our abilities to deal with risk and adversity”, he said, adding that it was clear that disaster preparedness, or the lack of it, made all the difference. However, the Secretary-General’s report had revealed that only 5 per cent of global humanitarian funding was allocated annually for disaster relief. Much more needed to be done to funnel or earmark preparedness funds to mechanisms targeted for humanitarian relief, including consolidated and “flash appeals”, and the emergency funds of various agencies and non-governmental organizations. He added that the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund had been a great step in the right direction to ensure the provision of timely and reliable humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters and armed conflicts.
ENNA PARK ( Republic of Korea) said the last year had seen both good and bad news in the field of humanitarian assistance. Progress had been made on key initiatives. The Central Emergency Response Fund had been successfully established, and system-wide coherence was being discussed throughout the Organization. Further, many initiatives had been tested and had proven their validity, including the cluster approach and the Humanitarian Coordinators System. Partnerships for humanitarian assistance were also growing, and there was an ongoing dialogue to improve civil-military coordination. Her country had hosted the OCHA Donor Support Group Partnership meeting.
Still, enormous challenges remained, she said. Rising urbanization, climate change, increasingly severe natural disasters and the growing threat of pandemics could impede humanitarian assistance. Her delegation welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on system-wide coherence in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment, and noted that it provided a sound basis for moving forward with reforms. Practices for system-wide coherence should be put into effect as soon as possible. In that, the role of the Secretary-General was crucial. The Secretary-General should continue to demonstrate initiative and strong leadership, as he spearheaded the reform process. The recent high-level discussion on climate change should also be incorporated into the system-wide coherence response.
She also stressed that gender mainstreaming should be incorporated in every humanitarian response, since women and children were more vulnerable in emergency situations. The serious situation of sexual violence deliberately directed against women in such situations was a particular concern. The Emergency Relief Coordinator, relevant United Nations entities and Member States should strengthen their efforts to address that issue.
Although having sufficient funds to satisfy every demand for humanitarian relief was impossible, she said her delegation believed it was vital to distribute funding and assistance based on assessed needs. Yet, that was possible only if needs assessments were provided. Such assessments could help ensure that assistance was effectively tailored for specific regions or States. It would also aid in risk reduction and preparedness, and would ensure that those factors were carefully considered when decisions were made about what kinds of aid and assistance to provide.
TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan) said that his delegation welcomed the efforts of the United Nations humanitarian mechanism to press ahead with reforms aimed at addressing rigidity, sectionalism and sluggishness -- issues typical to large bureaucratic bodies like the United Nations. Japan supported the relevant developments taking place, including the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund, and the introduction of the “cluster approach” and humanitarian coordinators. While there was much yet to be done, Japan hoped the result of strengthening leadership in the field would be that whenever the United Nations acted to provide humanitarian assistance, such efforts world be coordinated and coherent.
At the same time, however, the reform process must be broader than that, particularly with the international community facing a variety of challenges, including, among others, internally displaced persons, the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, and improving needs assessment mechanisms. There was a further need to increase investment in the transition from relief to development. He agreed that the United Nations must work to achieve a seamless transition, and to that end drew the Assembly’s attention to a report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) on lessons learned from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which contained useful recommendations.
On the transition from relief to development, he said Japan recognized that one of the important purposes of the informal consultations on system-wide coherence was to address that particular issue. The challenges of transition also related to peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. With that in mind, Japan, as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, would like to make the maximum contribution to that body, to produce concrete and useful outcomes as soon as possible by deepening its strategic discussions and strengthening its coordination with other entities, including the World Bank. Finally, he stressed the urgent importance of disaster reduction. Indeed, the consequences of hazards could be substantially mitigated with appropriate disaster reduction measures. More efforts, therefore, needed to be exerted towards improving prevention and preparedness, enhancing response capacities and strengthening response capacities. Japan also believed that risk reduction was a vital pillar of sustainable development, and also bore critically on how the world community responded to climate change.
BIDYA BHANDARI ( Nepal) said the humanitarian response to disaster should be approached more systematically, and the United Nations could play a more proactive role in risk analysis, early warning, and coordination of response to humanitarian and disaster situations. She also called for a more sustained mechanism to secure resources for such crises, including through the Central Emergency Response Fund. She noted the challenges in providing relief, including problems of access, coordination, safety and security of personnel, and lack of adequate resources, and particularly deplored deliberate attacks on humanitarian and disaster relief personnel. She called for a stronger mechanism for the security of humanitarian and other United Nations personnel.
As a country prone to disasters like earthquakes, floods and landslides, Nepal attached great significance to the work of the United Nations in humanitarian and disaster response, she said. The Government gave high priority to prevention, mitigation, relief and rehabilitation of disasters, integrating those concepts into development planning. However, more support was needed to strengthen Nepal’s capability to respond to crises. She noted Nepal’s commitment to return persons internally displaced during the country’s conflict, and to give them back the property they had lost in accordance with the 2006 peace agreement. She hoped that ongoing dialogue among political parties would lead to a date for elections to the Constituent Assembly, and expressed confidence that the humanitarian plight of those who had suffered in the conflict would be healed.
PIRAGIBE TARRAGÔ ( Brazil) said his country had increased its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters. Indeed, Brazil’s assistance to victims of the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, and repatriation of Brazilian nationals from Lebanon as a result of the 2006 conflict, were recent examples of “a new phase” of its involvement in international humanitarian assistance. In the past two years, Brazil had transferred resources to several Latin American and Caribbean countries, and, in 2007, had resettled more than 100 Palestinian refugees. In March, Brazil hosted a seminar on humanitarian assistance, with the presence of the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, among others.
Noting that requests for humanitarian assistance were likely to increase, he agreed that a multilateral, comprehensive and urgent response was needed to address climate change. It was especially important to engage actors at all levels of emergency response, and he called for strengthening local, national and regional capacities to ensure a timely deployment of resources. He looked forward to a comprehensive evaluation of the merits of applying the cluster approach at the field level. Despite the unexpectedness that characterized many emergency situations, a preventive approach was possible and ever more important. He supported initiatives focused on risk-reduction and preparedness, especially for vulnerable areas and communities, and noted that the unmatched experience of the United Nations in emergency situations must be fully shared. Best practices at the local level, in turn, should be incorporated into United Nations expertise.
Continuing, he said the participation of community-based organizations and civil society in coordination efforts would greatly contribute to the effectiveness of the response system as a whole. The Central Emergency Response Fund was important for responding to emergency situations, and he was glad that the Fund was on its way to reaching its goal of $500 million in resources. Brazil had contributed to the Fund this year and expected to make a higher pledge at the High-Level Conference in December. He looked forward to the results of its independent review next year. He deplored that access had been denied to humanitarian personnel in various situations, as denial was a violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, it was regrettable that some 4,000 incidents had taken place in the 12 months prior to the Secretary-General’s September report on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. He called for policies that provided adequate safety and security.
Drawing attention to the transition from relief to development, he said the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action should be fully implemented, and he encouraged States to pursue nationally-owned strategies to cope with effects of disaster. Indeed, a revised approach to humanitarian issues that addressed issues beyond the dichotomy of donors and recipients was needed. As developing countries usually absorbed massive refugee flows and bore the high economic and social costs of humanitarian emergencies, he said such countries should be assured broader participation in decision-making.
DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance was a matter of grave importance to the United Nations. Over time, Israel had developed well-known and specific expertise in rapid response assistance and disaster management, and considered it a responsibility to share these practices with the international community. Thus, Israel had in the past deployed rapid response, emergency search and rescue, and medical teams to natural disasters in its region and around the world.
Saying it was regrettable that the statement of the Palestinian representative earlier in the day had, once again, focused on rhetoric and politics, rather than reality and meaningful solutions, in connection to the Secretary-General’s report on “Assistance to the Palestinian People”, he stressed that there were numerous complexities involved in considering the situation in the Middle East. They included, among others, Israeli security and Palestinian stability; internal violence among the Palestinians, which had squandered too many opportunities for progress; and the continuation of daily Palestinian terrorism. Due to important choices made by Palestinian leadership, there was a Palestinian Government today that met the standards of the international community. Consideration of the reality on the ground showed there were a number of initiatives and projects aimed specifically at providing assistance to the Palestinian people. Yet, the Palestinian representative’s statement had seemed to ignore those important developments.
The “astronomical difference” between the Palestinian representative’s politicized narrative and the reality on the ground should be considered, he said. First, a sewage project under the World Bank’s direction was underway in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip, and Israel was working to expedite the plant’s construction by tracking down non-metal pipes for the facility. Second, more than 230 Palestinian trainees in fields like public health, small business, agriculture, educational planning, and empowerment of women and youth were enrolled in projects and seminars sponsored by Israel through its Centre for International Cooperation. Third, Israeli and Palestinian business leaders held meetings like the high-level forum between the Israeli Manufacturers Association and their Palestinian counterparts. Finally, Israel had released approximately $250 million in tax and customs revenues, with the remaining sum to be transferred by the end of the year.
Those were only a few examples of the practical steps being taken by his country to assist the Palestinian Government, he said. Because Israel believed that the current Palestinian Government provided a new opportunity to move forward in the peace process and realize the two-state vision, it had eased movements and removed checkpoints in the West Bank, allowed for Palestinian security forces to be deployed, and consented to the transfer of supplies and equipment to those forces. Yet, no assistance would ever come at the expense of Israeli security. While Israel had considered the release of 441 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill yesterday, a barrage of more than 20 mortars had been fired into Israel from Gaza. The Palestinians should realize that Israeli security was in their own national interest, and terrorism was to blame for the restrictions on the crossing and the lack of access, he said.
Turning to the draft resolution on the Chernobyl disaster, he said Israel was pleased to be a co-sponsor and joined the consensus. It affirmed the importance of wide and active international cooperation and coordination in mitigating the consequences of such accidents. Yet, his delegation also wished to put on record, for consideration at a later date, that it hoped the resolution would in the future not only deal with those affected populations who remained in the geographical region of the disaster, but should also deal with the populations who had once lived there and were adversely affected. Noting that Israel had absorbed many migrants from the Chernobyl area over the years, he said they too should be entitled to the same access to information, and be included in research studies and material published on the health, environmental and socio-economic consequences of that disaster –- particularly those commissioned by United Nations entities.
ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) said today’s humanitarian challenges required broader international action, as well as capacity-building at national levels, especially in areas such as disaster preparedness. In this era of “globalized emergencies”, where the effects of natural catastrophes or conflict crossed borders, it was important not only to boost humanitarian assistance, but to promote the principles of impartiality and State sovereignty in humanitarian assistance. Turning to the situation in Sudan and its western Darfur region, he said that a recent agreement between his Government and humanitarian agencies had led to the stabilization of humanitarian access in that region.
At the same time, he stressed that the areas mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report, where the delivery of relief had been “stagnant”, were rebel-held areas, and he thanked all those agencies for continuing their work in those areas, and all those seeking to bring that situation to an end. That report had also highlighted the importance of the Central Emergency Response Fund in providing timely relief for vulnerable communities. Finally, he called on the international community to be wary of organizations masquerading as humanitarian groups that were in reality working to undermine Governments and other legitimate efforts to address humanitarian crises. The Sudanese Government had recently discovered just such an operation underway in Darfur and Chad.
AURA MAHUAMPI RODRIGUEZ DE ORTIZ ( Venezuela) said that it was time to move from words to action. “We have our conscience and we have the tools to move forward”, she said, calling on the international community to do more to address humanitarian crises in a timely and more effective manner, while simultaneously helping to boost regional and local capacities. She went on to highlight several risk reduction and disaster preparedness activities underway in Venezuela, including the efforts of a team working throughout the Andean region to distribute concrete information on disaster preparedness, in line with a framework drawn up by the Government and civil society. The country was also making great efforts, formally and informally. Training and raising awareness was underway at the community level to promote knowledge about risk management and natural disasters. In all those efforts, the Government recognized the most vulnerable segments of Venezuelan society.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, said the destruction just seen in Bangladesh illustrated the many devastating effects of natural and man-made disasters that were confronted by peoples year after year. In the context of providing safety for humanitarian workers, he called on States to work for a truly effective, coordinated and humane disaster response system.
Noting that the high rate of natural disasters had been accompanied by man-made ones, he said armed conflicts had devastated many societies, ruined economies and set back development. Given the terrible consequences of armed conflicts, he reiterated the call for all parties involved in conflict to comply fully with the principles of international law and international humanitarian law related to protecting humanitarian personnel. Indeed, those parties were obliged to guarantee civilians and all victims of armed conflict safe access to humanitarian aid.
As States had focused on the need to prevent risks associated with disasters, he said the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action had demonstrated countries’ commitment to place preparedness and prevention on par with response and recovery. By increasing local actors’ capacity to respond effectively to emergency situations, countries could reduce the long-term costs of disaster, and civic and faith-based organizations were highly effective in that regard. They should, thus, be fully engaged.
The United Nations was in a key position to coordinate the humanitarian response to disasters, he continued. However, to be effective, the Organization needed the full cooperation of States directly concerned. Likewise, the United Nations could enhance cooperation with the growing number of humanitarian agencies, and he noted with interest work done by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in that regard.
While Governments were responsible for developing long-term recovery strategies, he said collaboration with local agencies was also important, notably those that had long-term deployment of resources in the region. Long-term recovery required the international community’s continued support. As the outpouring of goodwill that often followed live reports of disasters often disappeared as attention moved to other priorities, he said a steady commitment was necessary if the long-term recovery system of peoples and regions was to be achieved.
For information media • not an official record