Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, remarks at the Humanitarian Networking and Partnerships Week event: Airports, critical hubs for humanitarian response

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 05 Feb 2019

International Conference Centre, Geneva, 5 February 2019

As delivered

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for attending this important session today on the role of airports in enhancing humanitarian response.

A particular thank you also to the hosts of this event, the Focus Task Force for Airport Efficiency, which was launched at the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week two years ago. Co-chaired by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this task force has made key progress in improving the flow of humanitarian assistance through airports. Today’s event aims to build on this important work.

In the aftermath of sudden-onset natural disasters, airports play a crucial role. They allow humanitarians to deliver assistance to disaster-affected areas that often are isolated and difficult to reach.

They serve as evacuation points and coordination hubs for incoming humanitarian goods and teams. This assistance is often provided by a range of actors: international and national organizations, the public and private sector, local authorities, the military and civil society groups.

However, airport infrastructure is often ill-equipped to handle a sudden influx of people and supplies. Systems and operations become overstretched. Storage becomes limited.
Airport facilities may be congested, damaged or destroyed.

Airports are lifelines so that urgent assistance can reach affected people quickly and efficiently. And for this to happen, they need to have the right capacity in place, including physical storage space, security, personnel, equipment and documentation systems.

The role of airports in humanitarian response has already been formally recognized for many years. For example, UN General Assembly Resolution 2816 – adopted in 1971 – explicitly underlines the need to facilitate the receipt of aid, including overflight and landing rights.


The Focus Task Force for Airport Efficiency is key to making progress in this area. And we have already seen the impact of this work on the ground. Following the earthquake that struck Sulawesi in Indonesia last year, the task force supported the humanitarian response by providing updates on nearby airports, including information on those affected.

One of the main goals of the Task Force is to establish a voluntary prioritization system, that is accepted by all, for both disaster preparedness and response activities at airports.
This will improve how civil aviation authorities; airport management and international responders coordinate during a crisis.

The task force benefits from a diverse membership, including representatives from the UN Development Programme, the World Food Programme, the International Civil Aviation Organization, OCHA and other organizations. Its work is guided by key UN frameworks such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It also echoes OCHA’s Strategic Priorities, which calls for enhanced emergency response preparedness through partnerships, including with groups from outside the humanitarian sector and specialist networks.

Improving the role of airports for humanitarian response requires collaboration. This may take the form of public-private partnerships, providing training and planning for local airport staff, and strengthening local and national capacity.

I am optimistic that through this meeting, we will all be in a better position to develop a collective action plan to improve our coordination and enhance our collective impact.
Thank you very much. I am eager to hear your ideas.


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