Remarks to ECOSOC side event: "Ending the Everyday Emergency: Resilience and Children in the Sahel"

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 18 Jul 2012

The Assistant Secretary-General
Remarks to ECOSOC side event
“Ending the Everyday Emergency: Resilience and Children in the Sahel”
New York, 18 July 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to mark the launch of this important report on the emergency in the Sahel.

I would like to thank Save the Children and World Vision for their tireless championing of the humanitarian cause and their dedication to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our work, including through studies like this one.

I particularly welcome this report’s emphasis on children, and on resilience.

First, children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition and undernutrition. They suffer not only the direct effects, but are also susceptible to disease and other health risks like diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 30 per cent of child deaths each year. In the Sahel, in the course of 2012, UNICEF estimates that more than one million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Child malnutrition affects the economic development of a country for both the near- and the long-term. Illness, hunger and the need to care for children reduces earning potential and income, particularly for women. Good nutrition, on the other hand, can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty, helping to shape a society’s long-term health, stability and prosperity. Improving child nutrition is one of the best investments we can make to achieve lasting progress in global health and development. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also the cost-effective thing to do.

We have heard a lot about resilience recently. But it is much more than a buzz-word or a passing fad. It is clear that the reason a relatively minor shortfall in the harvest has led to such widespread food insecurity in the Sahel is because people’s resources are exhausted. They can no longer deal with even a small rise in food prices.

The mission of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors.

Resilience is simply the name we have given to our efforts to rebuild these resources, to strengthen people’s reserves so that they can cope with the annual fluctuations in rainfall and in prices.

This report confirms what we have suspected for some time: there is limited progress towards the strategic alignment of humanitarian and development work so that we can coordinate our programmes and priorities to build resilience. We need to do better.

In fact, there is widespread agreement that we need an overhaul of the aid approach in countries that are vulnerable to hunger.

I believe we now have political momentum around this issue. OCHA is already working closely with UNDP and other UN agencies to bridge the divide between humanitarian and development work in the Sahel. An Action Plan on resilience will be finalized by the end of July.

We are also engaging with other important initiatives like AGIR Sahel (Alliance Globale pour l’Initiative Résilience – Sahel), which was recently launched by the EU. Participants including the Under Secretary-General, Valerie Amos, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, David Gressly, agreed that a concerted effort by governments and organizations in the region, humanitarian and development partners, is vital to address the current crisis and minimize the scale of similar crises in future.

In the Sahel, we started to respond to this emergency more quickly than we have done in the past. Governments, humanitarian partners and donors all rang the alarm bell and reacted rapidly with emergency plans, a boost in operations, surge staff, and money. It is very likely that the crisis would have been even worse without this early engagement.

Early action is about taking risks; it is about working to prevent an emergency even when we are not 100 per cent certain of the level of crisis that could emerge.

But taking risks based on early warning is not enough. We must also be prepared to act now, even on incomplete information, to prevent chronic and recurrent emergencies.

This is the only way to make a real difference in regions that suffer from increasingly frequent severe droughts and natural disasters, like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

To break the cycle of emergency and recovery, we have to invest in measures during and after a crisis that include both prevention and preparedness. By reducing the vulnerability of people and communities, we can help them to anticipate, resist, absorb and recover from the effects of future shocks and stresses.

All humanitarian appeal documents for the Sahel now have resilience measures built into their strategies. These include livelihood diversification, drought risk management programmes, and protecting and rebuilding livestock assets. But we still have to do a better job of mobilizing funds for these programmes.

For our part, we have already increased the flexibility of our funding mechanisms to respond more quickly on a case-by-case basis and allocate resources for resilience programming. The CAP itself can be modified or even launched at any point, if a crisis deteriorates – or improves – The mission of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors. more than anticipated. And if we have to develop a longer-term CAP cycle in countries where we have a long-term presence, we will consider doing that, as we have already done in Kenya and in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This report makes some strong recommendations on the importance of children in resilience programming, on social protection and on small-scale agriculture. It provides guidance for national governments, regional organizations, NGOs and civil society. We support these conclusions and will work with our partners to implement them.

In particular, we call on financial partners to commit to supporting national and community preparedness plans, and we fully support the recommendation that all actors should develop a common approach involving triggers for early action, to be used by both humanitarian and development actors.

In these circumstances, business as usual is not an option. We need strong leadership and calculated risk-taking to ensure an appropriate level of joint investment to build programmes that have focused, long-term, resilience-building objectives.

We are working towards this goal.

Thank you for your support.

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