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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Opening Remarks at the ECOSOC Event on the Transition from Relief to Development, 24 June 2019

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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Opening Remarks at the ECOSOC Event on the Transition from Relief to Development: Recent Advancements, Challenges and Best Practices of the Collaboration between the Humanitarian, Development and Peacebuilding Actors in Africa

Geneva, 24 June 2019

As delivered


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mr. Vice-President Omar Hilale,

Thank you very much indeed for the way you have set up the discussion for us this afternoon.

Thank you also very much indeed to Robert Piper for giving you all an update on how, across the whole UN system, we have tried to join up better between the humanitarian work we do, which is so important, the development work and the peacebuilding work.

The main theme I want to talk about is that unless we make more progress on the join-up, we are not able to make the progress we want to make on the Sustainable Development Goals.

There is a real iteration between the imperative to relieve and reduce humanitarian suffering and the progress towards the SDGs. The best way to progress towards the SDGs is to first stabilize the humanitarian situation and have a stronger focus on the development side. Equally, we cannot reduce humanitarian needs in the long term unless we make faster progress on the SDGs. These things are all inextricably interlinked with each other.

Let me say a couple of things on how I see things on the humanitarian side, to start with.

Firstly, the world humanitarian system is an effective system. Every year at the moment we are reaching more than 100 million people and we are unquestionably saving millions of lives. And investing in humanitarian action is in fact one of the cheapest ways of saving a life.

What we are seeing is that we are dealing with larger and larger numbers of crises which are protracted, they are lasting longer than they used to. Last year, for example, three quarters of the people we were trying to reach with humanitarian assistance were in countries which have been affected by crises lasting for last seven years or more. And in some cases, we have been responding to crises for up to 18 years.

And the biggest crises are absorbing most of the resources. It is important to know that there has been a big increase in financing for humanitarian action between about 2006 and about 2011. There was more than a doubling of finance for humanitarian action, which is why we reached a lot more people and saved a lot more lives. There has been another 50 per cent increase in financing over the last few years as well, reflecting the growth in need.

We have to sustain the humanitarian action in order to avoid going back to the position we saw when I was first working on these kinds of issues 25 or 30 years ago, when every year there were two million people on the planet who would lose their lives due to humanitarian crises.

Now, for most people, if they are caught up in humanitarian crises, we can save lives and we can get people hope for the future. But what we are not good at doing collectively, as a community of nations supported by our shared institutions, is addressing the underlying issues and reducing the number of people who need that humanitarian assistance.

So, one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we strengthen collaboration in the way the Ambassador and Robert were talking about, between the humanitarian action, development action and the peacebuilding, is that the underlying reasons why we have these humanitarian crises are: firstly, conflict, its insecurity and the absence of peace is the single biggest cause of humanitarian suffering and also, by the way, the single biggest reason why that suffering is hard to address.

And then there are development failures. Rich and middle-income countries do not suffer the same level of humanitarian need, and they can escape the need unlike the poorest countries. For people like me, who try to get out of the scale of activity we have to run at the moment, the only solution is peacebuilding, political reconciliation of differences, and development. That is why I hope all the humanitarian organizations and colleagues from the humanitarian sector feel motivated by this join-up across what, in the past, were pillars too far apart from each other.

In some places, I think we do have some progress to report on how that join-up is going. We are going to hear shortly for example from our fantastic Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Eddie Kallon. There the UN system with other partners has been working very hard behind the Government to try to strengthen the collaboration between humanitarian response, transition and longer-term development.

And a lot of that is supporting the efforts being led by the Government to strengthen social services, to strengthen local governance and livelihoods, and provide lasting solutions for people who are displaced. In the 18 months or so, more than 2 million people who had previously been displaced in northeast Nigeria were able to go home. And that is a very important mark of process.

Since then, unfortunately we have seen a recurrence of some of the more severe conflict, and additional people have been displaced. But we need to keep our eyes on the goal of helping people return when they have been displaced and of providing durable solutions for them.

Likewise, in Somalia, we have seen stronger efforts over recent times than previously, in joining up the humanitarian response with the building of resilience and development activities, including work to try and develop durable solutions for the 2.6 million Somalis who are displaced inside their own country. And the kinds of things that Robert [Piper] talked about: joint analysis, articulating common goals, and trying to do more joint programming, those are the things we need to do.

I do want to flag to you that there are other places where that join-up is not really yet working adequately. Later this week, my office will be launching a call to action on the Sahel. The Sahel is an area in many ways which worries me of all the places that we are engaged in because what we have seen is a spike in conflict during this year. We have seen growing problems of food insecurity. And we have seen essentially the accumulation of factors such as environmental stresses, exacerbated by climate change, rapid growth in population, the inability to develop as fast as what is needed to get people out of poverty, the difficulty of putting in place government structures which are sufficiently accountable and responsive to the needs of the people.

All of those things have grown and that has created more disputes and tensions of various sorts, which has morphed into larger numbers of clashes and people being displaced. What we see in terms of the response is a military response which is important to deal with the insurgents and some of the violence. We see a humanitarian response. But, we see very little dealing with the underlying reasons why people are being displaced and why there is conflict and violence. I am afraid that unless we have a much stronger focus on those underlying reasons, the humanitarian response and the security response will never be able to deal with the kinds of problems that we are seeing. They will simply get worse. One of the big collective challenges for us is how do we do better at getting to grips with those underlying challenges.

On the side of the United Nations, we obviously have a very large share of responsibility for global peacebuilding, peacekeeping efforts. We have a large market share in humanitarian response. And, we need to find ways to join up better on the development responses. That is why the collaboration with, for example, the World Bank and other development efforts are so important. In the work of the Joint Steering Committee, that the Deputy Secretary-General was just talking about, what we are particularly trying to do is build better bridges to engage with those who can contribute to finding the solutions to underlying problems. We are motivated by the progress we are making in some places, to know that we can succeed in these challenging objectives. But, we are a little bit daunted by the scale of the challenge in others and we want to strengthen our collaboration with all of you so that we have more solutions and more progress.

In the last 50 years, more than 100 countries across the planet have made enormous progress in development, dramatic reductions in infant mortality, and more children going to school, reduced hunger rates, countries growing their economies and their infrastructure and so on. But there are 30 or 40 countries that are stuck in a very low level of repeated crises and are unable to go on the development path, we need to collaborate and stronger effort to move those countries along the journey of progress that so many other countries have been on.

Thank you very much indeed.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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