Concluding Segment, Economic and Social Council Adopts Text on Strengthening Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

21 JUNE 2018

Concluding its humanitarian affairs segment, the Economic and Social Council today adopted a resolution on improving emergency response, stressing that the United Nations could better coordinate the protection of civilians, including women and children, persons with disabilities, the wounded, sick and displaced.

By the terms of the text titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document E/2018/L.14), the Council underscored that it was critically important for civilians, particularly women and children, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, including trafficking in persons. It further called on Member States to take steps to ensure the international protection of refugees, urging countries to also ensure the protection of the wounded, and the safety of medical and humanitarian personnel.

The Council urged Member States and the United Nations to involve persons with disabilities in all processes, consultations and stages of decision-making in humanitarian preparedness. Further, it urged Member States to ensure reliable and safe access to sexual and reproductive health-care services and for countries to continue to investigate and prosecute acts of sexual and gender-based violence. It urged States to continue to seek to prevent, respond to, investigate and prosecute violations and abuses against children in humanitarian emergencies.

Calling on all Member States and parties to comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law, the Council urged efforts to enhance cooperation and coordination of United Nations humanitarian entities, other relevant humanitarian organizations and donor countries with the affected States. It stressed the need to enhance resource mobilization efforts to address increasing capacity and resource gaps, including through exploring innovative mechanisms.

Discussing the text, Member States stressed that the protection of civilians and respect of international humanitarian law remained more vital than ever, as they emphasized the need for impactful and ambitious political solutions to global crises and conflicts. They also urged the need to provide protection to the most vulnerable in society and ensure that humanitarian personnel could reach them.

Brazil’s representative stressed that “leaving no one behind” was a global responsibility, emphasizing that humanitarian emergencies must be dealt in a humane and dignified manner. “They need our help and support to ensure respect for their rights wherever they go,” he added, referring to the millions of displaced refugees and migrants people worldwide.

Several delegations welcomed the resolution’s emphasis on children and persons with disabilities, with Spain’s representative commending such inclusions while expressing regret that consensus could not be reached on sexual reproductive rights of women. Echoing a similar sentiment, Canada’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, expressed regret that previously agreed language on access to sexual and reproductive health was not included in the text.

The representative of the United States, disassociating with aspects of the resolution, said her Government did not recognize abortion as an element of family planning. She said the United States would seek to work to find consensus on new terminology. Nigeria’s delegate said it was essential to avoid being overambitious in a manner that was too divisive, referencing attempts to include language on abortion and access to abortion.

Syria’s representative expressed concern that the text was unbalanced, hardly mentioned sustainable development and the need to fight poverty, and also had failed to include terrorism as one of the causes of humanitarian crises. The text was overly politicized.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that hope, ambition and compassion for all people around the world was needed. The failure to protect civilians had resulted in people not having enough to eat. Humanitarian workers were being denied the ability to carry out their work. Armed conflict pulled children away from their families, and today’s crises required additional joint work that could develop long-term solutions.

Council Chair Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa) said that several themes had emerged during the segment’s discussions, including that the protection needs of children were not being sufficiently addressed. “We have to mobilize political action to stop the brutality inflicted on our children,” he added. Further, he called for better solutions to counter the growing impact of disaster and climate‑related humanitarian crises. To prepare, a shift from managing to mitigating and managing risk was essential. On humanitarian assistance, he urged strengthening local capacities and resilience, stressing the vital role of local communities.

Also delivering statements were the representatives of the Russian Federation, China, Morocco, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Switzerland, Egypt (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Bulgaria (on behalf of the European Union), Uruguay, Hungary and Sudan.

An observer for the Holy See also delivered a statement, as did representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Earlier in the day, the Council held a panel discussion titled “Strengthening local capabilities for sustainable outcomes and local resilience — contribution of humanitarian action”. Moderated by Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, it featured the following speakers: Nilab Mobarez, Secretary General of the Afghan Red Crescent; Monique Pariat, Director General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, European Commission; Dineo Mathlako, Head of Operations, Department for International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa; and Morika Hunter, Chair, Fiji Business Disaster Resilience Council.

Participating in that discussion were the representatives of Switzerland, China, Japan, Australia and the United States. Several members of civil society also spoke.

Panel Discussion

In the morning, the Economic and Social Council held a panel discussion on the theme “Strengthening local capabilities for sustainable outcomes and local resilience — contribution of humanitarian action”. Moderated by Urusal Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, it featured the following speakers: Nilab Mobarez, Secretary General of the Afghan Red Crescent; Monique Pariat, Director-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, European Commission; Dineo Mathlako, Head of Operations, Department for International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa; and Morika Hunter, Chair, Fiji Business Disaster Resilience Council.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, delivering opening remarks, said that over the past decades, national Governments, local non-governmental organizations, the private sector and regional organizations had significantly improved their ability to prepare and respond to crises. Nevertheless, the international humanitarian response system had not always been able to keep pace and exercise sufficient flexibility to adapt its mechanisms and funding. There should be a good understanding of existing response capacity and critical gaps, he said, as well as predictable and sustainable technical cooperation, guidance and expertise. International humanitarian actors should also reconsider short-term projects and shift to a model that would build and strengthen national and local response capacity over several years.

Ms. MUELLER recalled that more than 400 commitments were made to localization at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Today, she noted, more international partners were moving to a more collaborative approach while United Nations agencies had increased the visibility of local partners. The voice of international non-governmental organizations was being heard, she added. The panel would discuss efforts to reduce vulnerability and build resilience, starting at the local level, with international efforts strengthening, not replacing, local humanitarian action. It would also highlight lessons learned from current practices as well as way to improve assistance in different local contexts.

Ms. MOBAREZ said her organization, founded 80 years ago, was among the oldest in Afghanistan. Its local roots and impartiality were key to its work — a challenge in a country with more than 20 non-State armed groups. Through its local networks, the Afghan Red Crescent negotiated with all actors with the aim of alleviating human suffering, regardless of location. Its volunteers recovered battlefield casualties, a third of which came from Government forces, she said. The Afghan Red Crescent also carried out polio vaccination campaigns and deployed 40 mobile clinics. Aware of its shortcomings and strengths, it did not hesitate to turn to external partners and donors, she added, citing, for example, $5 million over five years from the Government of India, as well as Islamic funding. Despite 40 years of conflict, Afghans were eager to show their country in a different light, including through a cricket team that was among the world’s 10 best. She also noted a three-day ceasefire during the recent Eid festival, saying some Afghan soldiers took pictures with Taliban combatants who laid down their weapons at the gates of Kabul before entering the city.

Ms. PARIAT, describing localization as a collective process, emphasized the importance of dialogue with stakeholders and on addressing issues of trust and transparency to have a clear view of how money was being used, given the difficulty of working with so many local-level groups. Strengthening international structures, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was also critical. She cited the response to Hurricane Matthew in Haiti as an example of pre- and post-disaster preparedness and a participatory approach stemming from years of international support. To meet donor requirements while diversifying funding sources, she said it would be necessary to review the current transactional nature of the humanitarian system and find long-term solutions, particularly in the areas of water, building resilience and absorbing shocks. Donors would also have to better integrate local needs into their planning.

Ms. MATHLAKO said humanitarian assistance was part of a comprehensive effort to promote democracy, good governance, socioeconomic development, humanitarian resources and post-conflict recovery. Projects had been completed in Lesotho and Swaziland, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), to help women and children following a food crisis in 2012 and after the El Niño episode in 2016. Small local South African farmers received training in their communities to help neighbouring countries, while small businesses in disadvantaged communities had been selected to transform maize at WFP quality standards. It was through real partnerships that South Africa could help affected populations in the beneficiary countries, said Ms. Mathlako, whose department worked with the Red Crescent in Western Sahara and with faith-based groups in South Sudan which were helping internally displaced persons living outside camps.

Ms. HUNTERM said her Fiji-based organization had become a resilience network for the Pacific region. It was developed by the private sector and Government in 2016 after Cyclone Winston ravaged the archipelago nation. Support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs enabled it to have a platform to move forward together, anticipate disasters and map out capabilities through a unified approach. She explained that the Business Disaster Resilience Council included companies that were vulnerable links in multinational supply chains which also played vital roles in their communities. It included insurance companies and commercial banks, and worked in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development and regional telecommunications providers. The Council’s work extended to Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa, she said, helping business understand local traditions and values while building trust with communities.

When the floor opened for discussion, the representative of Switzerland underscored the need to invest in a change of culture, with adherence to management and fiduciary principles and beyond.

The representative of China, noting the number of natural hazards which had affected his country, drew attention to a comprehensive national plan for disaster prevention and risk mitigation that had been enacted, covering the period to 2020. Key to that approach was the support of all society, he stated.

The representative of Action Aid said that during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, access to funding, information and education were challenges that needed to be addressed. She called for more direct funding to local actors working in the field.

The representative of Japan emphasized direct communication with local non‑governmental organizations.

The representative of Australia described business continuity as a motivating factor, helping to attract private sector interest in disaster prevention. For the long term, effective partners needed to be identified.

The representative of the United States said more work must be done in risk transfer.

The representative of Care International expressed interest in ways to find partnerships with women’s organizations. Responding, Ms. MOBAREZ said the Afghan Red Crescent brought together women’s groups and advocates, creating shelters for war widows and educating orphans. She added that it was the only institution in Afghanistan offering care to women affected by psychiatric illnesses.

The representative of the World Food Programme described how mobile telephones could be used to collect data on risk assessment. In an ideal world, humanitarian action should happen at the local level, he said.

Ms. PARIAT acknowledged that partnership involved taking risks — a challenge that would require greater transparency to foster trust. Noting that development financing was more predictable than humanitarian funding, she said that gap must be bridged by working more closely with development actors. In response to another question, she suggested making “invisible people” — such as children out of school or people living with disabilities — more visible as a priority.

Ms. MATHLAKO described working in partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-Women), involving women at the local level — including farmers — to prepare meals for vulnerable children. It also worked with contractors in Namibia to dig wells, developing local project management capacity.

Mr. MATJILA, in closing remarks, praised regional integration efforts in developing countries, as well as those organizations working to create greater resilience in conflict zones or areas affected by natural hazards. More could be done to leverage the private sector, he said, adding that the United Nations should create a system for collecting surplus materials from the food, automotive and other industries that could be used in times of need.


NAME TO COME (Spain), associating herself with the European Union, said that the protection of civilians and respect of international humanitarian law was a significant priority for her Government. Spain was focusing on the provision of medical care in conflict regions, and ensuring a substantive reduction of attacks on medical staff. In addition to a humanitarian solution to myriad international crises, there must also be a political one that was ambitious and impactful. Spain could not overlook the major competition for humanitarian funds, she said, stressing the need for the international community to agree on a consensus on how to deal with overlooked crises. She regretted that it was not possible to reach an agreement in the text on sexual and reproduction health. The resolution should be able to mention the specific needs of women and children. She welcomed the new points in the 2018 resolution specifically pertaining to sexual violence, children and the most vulnerable. It was important to move towards a global humanitarian agenda that fully respected human rights.

NAME TO COME (Brazil) said “leaving no one behind” was a global responsibility, stressing that humanitarian emergencies must be dealt with in a humane and dignified manner. “They need our help and support to ensure respect for their rights wherever they go,” he said, referring to the millions of displaced people worldwide. He commended the efforts of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in supporting national plans, adding that Brazil continued to offer humanitarian visas to those displaced by the Syria civil war. Brazil also provided humanitarian and medical supplies. The only way, however, to reduce humanitarian need was to work towards a lasting political solution to conflict and crises. Turning to the dangers posed by hurricanes, droughts and other natural hazards, he welcomed emphasis on resilience-building and quick, flexible responses to emergencies. He welcomed the new emphasis on children and people with disabilities in the text. He also added that local and regional initiatives helped countries support local markets and respond to crisis in a timely manner.

NAME TO COME (Russian Federation) said there had been an increase in natural hazards, industrial accidents and armed conflicts around the world that required international coordination. It was a priority that the resolution of conflicts should remain a cornerstone for United Nations responses to humanitarian situations. States should play a leading role in the coordination of humanitarian responses. Governments had a capacity that was unmatched by other entities. The sovereignty of the host country should be respected. In the last 20 years, there was an acute problem increasingly created by the absence of food security. The donor community should provide additional assistance. Harmony and timely joint action needed to be ensured. The prevention of conflicts would help reduce the need for humanitarian assistance by achieving peace. It was necessary to end conflicts and support international dialogue. The Russian Federation was an active participant in that area.

NAME TO COME (China), associating himself with “Group of 77” developing countries, said that, in 2017, natural hazards, armed conflicts and protracted crises kept the global level of humanitarian needs increasing. There were more challenges for developing economies. It was necessary to strengthen international coordination. Urgent action was needed, and China attached great importance to finding solutions. A timely response to the needs of the recipient countries was necessary. In line with the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolution 46/182, humanitarian assistance had to be provided with respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and the national unity of the recipient countries. Peace was only sustainable if grounded in development. It was necessary to scale up assistance and lay a foundation for the transition from disaster relief to development.

NAME TO COME (Morocco) said humanitarian emergencies fuelled by conflict and natural hazards had led to worrying developments, calling on Governments, civil society and the private sector to join forces to deal with the crises. Verified, updated data and its exchange between Member States and humanitarian actors must be utilized to reduce the suffering of populations. He condemned the manipulation for political means of vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. Humanitarian actors must be able to reach those in need, he stressed. Aid currently available was below what was needed, he added, emphasizing that the effectiveness of humanitarian aid was largely dependent on aid reaching vulnerable communities. Host countries and humanitarian actors had the primary responsibility to avoid aid misappropriation, which was a serious violation of international law. He strongly condemned attacks carried out against humanitarian staff, recalling that the international community had a collective duty to ensure their safety.

NAME TO COME (Syria), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the draft resolution was not balanced and unfortunately was in line with the interventionist policies of some countries. Those nations continued to politicize humanitarian crises. The draft resolution did not focus on operational elements. Some countries had tried to include controversial issues, such as protection and non-consensual issues agreed to only by some Member States. The text barely touched on sustainable development, technology transfer and the need to fight poverty and achieve food security. The draft also did not consider terrorism as one of the causes of humanitarian crises. Terrorism remained a culprit of crises, including in his country. Noting that unilateral measures were contrary to human rights and the United Nations Charter, he said that some countries, enjoying great economic and political leverage, continued to interfere in the internal affairs of other Member States.

For information media. Not an official record.