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Addressing Economic and Social Council, Emergency Relief Coordinator Stresses Need for Sound Decision-Making, Broader Partnerships for Humanitarian Response

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ECOSOC/6538

Economic and Social Council
2012 Substantive Session
35th Meeting (AM & PM)

Council Opens Humanitarian Affairs Segment
Also Holds Special Event on Humanitarian Needs in Sahel Region

Basing humanitarian responses on reliable data and tapping the expertise of local partners were vital to bringing relief aid to areas and communities in need, top United Nations officials said this afternoon, as the Economic and Social Council began its humanitarian affairs segment.

“To make the best use of resources for humanitarian response, decision-making must be based on evidence from reliable data,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, as she introduced the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening the United Nations coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance.

Operational datasets could highlight the locations and scale of essential services such as functioning health facilities or water sources, added Ms. Amos, who is also the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator. If that information was in place ahead of time and updated immediately after initial assessments, it would help planning and would directly support the response to a crisis. National and local authorities possessed a wealth of such information, but lacked the mechanisms to share it, she said.

For its part, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was expanding its collaborative efforts with Governments and partners to make sure that operational datasets for preparedness were in place. She said that creation of “one-stop-shop” information-sharing websites would be of great help to staff and organizations working in emergencies, and would give humanitarian country teams a solid basis of evidence for decision-making. “It’s all work in progress,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of broadening and deepening partnerships for humanitarian response, in support of the primary role of affected States in initiating, organizing, coordinating and implementing such assistance. Through partnerships and relationships with regional and national actors, the Office was able to gain access to areas and people that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Finally, Ms. Amos challenged Member States to address key questions, such as ways to improve the quality, timeliness and exchange of humanitarian information.

In his opening remarks, Council Vice-President Fernando Arias ( Spain) said that the humanitarian affairs segment — held under the theme of “working in partnership to strengthen coordination of humanitarian assistance in a changing world” — provided a unique opportunity to deepen understanding of the operational challenges of delivering relief aid.

“Humanitarian action required active engagement by Member States, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others,” he said. “To ensure coordination, needs must be recorded comprehensively and all available resources should reach those in need in a timely manner.”

The segment would feature two high-level panels over the next two days — one on evidence-based humanitarian decision-making and the other on partnerships, he said. There would also be an update on Inter-Agency Standing Committee efforts to make the humanitarian system more effective.

During the general discussion that followed those presentations, many delegations echoed the view that reliable data and partnerships with local governments and organizations were essential to reach the people in dire need. The delegate of Norway said that to make international humanitarian assistance and coordination more effective and sustainable, the international community should work more directly with people in need, since “local communities were the first responders when disaster struck”.

To this, Ireland’s representative added: “We need to remember that people affected by crisis and disaster survive and recover mainly on their own.” It was up to the international community to help strengthen local capacities and harness resources available to national Governments and communities. The representative of Cuba was among those who stressed that humanitarian assistance should be carried out in full respect of the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality. It must also be provided upon the request and on consent of the countries needing it. He rejected the endorsement of concepts that had not been agreed upon and that ran counter to sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

Many Member States also acknowledged the work done by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and stressed the importance of disaster preparedness. The representative of Denmark said much had been achieved within the framework of that Committee’s Transformative Agenda process over the past year, citing improvements in the management and performance of clusters, use of consolidated appeals as a strategic planning instrument, and in the mandate and functioning of humanitarian coordinators.

Yet there was also room for improvement, such as ensuring the availability and deployment of Humanitarian Coordinators with skills that matched requirements on the ground. Coordinators also must be given strong operational mandates with clear lines of authority. He was also among those who said crises in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel showed the need for much stronger efforts in early warning, prevention and strengthening resilience.

Australia’s representative said recurring crises, such as the ones in the Sahel region, highlighted the absolute need for disaster risk reduction and building resilience to cope with disasters. “Investing in disaster risk reduction saves lives, livelihoods and assets, and it reduces the costs of responding to disasters and rebuilding after them,” he said. The delegate from Nepal, speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, said that the Hyogo Framework for Action of 2005-2015 had provided a comprehensive road map in strengthening disaster preparedness and risk reduction measures at multiple levels.

Ahead of the opening of the segment, the Council held a special event on the humanitarian situation in the Sahel. Amadou Allahoury Diallo, High Commissioner for the Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens (3Ns) initiative, Government of the Niger, said the scale and complexity of cyclical food crises in Niger had underscored the importance of addressing the root causes of the food insecurity, which put about 5.5 million people at risk of hunger this year in the country.

His Government had launched the 3N initiative, which sought to provide a holistic strategy encompassing diversification of agriculture production, improvement of rural infrastructure and trade-related capacity for market access and strengthening the resilience of vulnerable households and communities, among others. Partners should align their efforts with this national strategy. “We’re in the driver’s seat in partnerships,” he said.

Claus Sorensen, Director-General, European Commission Humanitarian Office, said the Commission’s member States were accelerating funds to the Sahel, noting that another $40 million had just been allocated. He agreed on the importance of Governments in Sahel taking the lead. “We cannot continue to pick up the bill at the end,” he said.

Speaking during today’s general discussion was the Vice-Minister of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, and the Vice-Director of the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency.

Also taking part were the representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and Cyprus (on behalf if the European Union).

Also speaking were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Morocco, El Salvador, Mexico, United States, Croatia, Nicaragua, Finland, China, South Africa, Chile, Israel and Sweden.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 19 July, to continue its humanitarian affairs segment.