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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, opening remarks at the opening of the 2021 Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week, 19 April 2021, virtual

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Originally published


19th April 2021, virtual

Thank you very much. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everybody. I'm pleased to be here again for the opening of this year's Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships week. In fact, one of the very last events I did where we could all gather face to face before the pandemic closed everything down was last year's event in Geneva, which was an excellent event.

I'm sure, even though the circumstances are different, this year's event can be just as good and productive. I want to thank again the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and particularly our good and close friend Manuel Bessler for being part of the opening of this year's event.

I'm incredibly grateful for Switzerland's continued support and generosity over the years in welcoming us to Geneva for the partnership event and in co-hosting this virtual event. I do hope this close cooperation will continue in the years ahead.

2020 was an extraordinary year, the likes of which none of us have seen, but 2021 is proving not much less challenging in humanitarian terms.

The consequences of the pandemic include the biggest economic slowdown anybody alive now has ever seen, and that is contributing directly to a global record in recorded numbers of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

More than 236 million people need assistance and protection from the humanitarian system this year, as we said when we launched the global humanitarian overview in December.

For the first time in decades, the real specter of multiple famines has returned. We had a bad year in 2017 when we thought there could be famines. This year is much worse, 174 million people going to bed hungry every night in just three countries, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. There are 8 million people who may die as a result of hunger and starvation over the next few weeks.

Women and girls face alarming levels of sexual and gender-based violence. We are only beginning to understand the extent of this in many places including in the ongoing conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia.

The pandemic has made all these things worse, but it is important to recognize that humanitarian needs were already at a peak before the pandemic. That is essentially because of the combination of conflict and climate and the failure of the world to deal with the causes of conflict and climate.

What we have is a response to the symptoms. If you respond to the symptoms but not the causes, you should not be surprised that they get worse. In some places, these problems now threaten to unravel decades of development progress.

One thing this means for humanitarian agencies is that we really have no choice but to keep trying to improve the way we do our work, and the HNPW is a terrific opportunity for that.

Over the next three weeks everyone will have a chance to compare, experience, exchange information, present new ideas and tools, and hopefully develop new and better collaborative and collective solutions to all of these challenges.

So I really hope everybody will, even in these circumstances, do the best they can to get the most possible out of these events.

What I have learned over the last four years, since I was appointed to this post, is that when we collaborate across our system, it has a direct beneficial impact on the lives of the world's most vulnerable people.

I think it's terrific that we have such a diverse group among the 3,000 registered participants this year, across not just NGOs, UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement but also the academic world, national authorities, regional organizations and private companies.

I'm particularly pleased to see growing representation this year from Member States of the United Nations. Your support is the mainstay of the sector. So the voluntary system we have is funded overwhelmingly by generous contributions made as a choice, not an obligation by Member States. And we really will need you to stay on this course if we are going to keep up with escalating needs.

I also want to welcome private sector representation. The knowledge and expertise and innovation you bring are very important, whether it's providing cash vouchers in the banking systems and the other IT systems, or whether it's later analysis or whether it's in the way the vaccine distribution and immunization effort is working or whether it's in logistics or in whatever area, private sector does play an important role in disaster preparedness and in response and recovery.

There are important themes for this year's event, how to scale up anticipatory action, how to deliver lasting solutions by linking better humanitarian and development efforts and, of course, around the lessons we are learning about crisis response in the pandemic.

And I think it's very good that the established emergency response networks we have, including the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group and the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination System, will also be able to share what they have learned about working on the front line.

As, of course, will organizations involved in humanitarian civil military coordination who play a crucial role in dealing with one of our biggest challenges which is how to improve access and security in the protection of civilians when the main threat to them is men with guns and bombs.

I'm pleased the core theme running through the entire event is the issue of inclusion. The biggest thing I feel and I think I have learned over the four years since the Secretary-General announced I would be taking up this job, is that we do not pay enough attention to the wishes and expressed needs of the people who we say we are trying to help.

If there is one thing that will make the system better it will be that we listen harder to what people in crisis say they want and we give them more of the things they ask for. That is what inclusion is about.

So I'm looking forward to hearing the outcomes of these three weeks and I wish everybody very productive and constructive and useful discussions during the course of it.

Thank you very much, indeed.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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