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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock remarks on behalf of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the humanitarian landscape in 2020 at the 2020 Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum

News and Press Release
Originally published

Riyadh, 1st March 2020 As delivered

Your Royal Highness Prince Faisal

Your Royal Highness the Governor of Riyadh

Your Excellency the Supervisor General of the King Salman Relief Center

Your Excellency Minister Reem Al Hashimy

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

Peace be upon you

Let me start by thanking and congratulating the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting us all here at the second Riyadh International Humanitarian forum.

It is indeed a pleasure to be here, and to bring you greetings from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

I want also to express again how grateful we all at the United Nations are to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous support for UN humanitarian work around the world. This region is becoming an increasingly important humanitarian hub.

My message to you today is one of deep concern. But also of hope.

We face global instability and uncertainty. A warring world, a warming planet and the spectre of disease.

But we also observe solidarity, collaboration, and a growing desire for change.

The humanitarian suffering we see today is driven by three main things.

Firstly, conflicts, which are becoming more protracted and intense. People caught up in conflict suffer displacement, hunger, psychosocial trauma. On top of the loss of their livelihoods, their schools and health services.

Combatants show a growing disregard for international humanitarian law. They put civilians and civilian infrastructure in the line of fire. They kill hundreds of aid workers.

Take the conflict in Syria. It has gone on now for nine years, created more than five and a half million refugees and displaced a further 6 million Syrians inside their own country. Since December, 900,000 people have had to flee further fighting in northwestern Syria. Their suffering, displayed daily now on all our screens, is unimaginable.

The second big driver of need is climate change.

In recent years we’ve seen an average of 300 climate-related emergencies a year. That’s twice the number we were seeing 20 years ago.

They include storms, cyclones and floods, which do huge damage in themselves, but have also created the conditions for the worst locust plague we have seen for decades in eastern Africa.

They also include droughts, like those we have seen in southern Africa, the Horn and parts of Latin America.

The third driver of humanitarian suffering is disease.

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not over. Africa experienced a 700 per cent increase in measles cases over the first three months of 2019 compared with the previous year. And now the international community is dealing with the coronavirus.

The only way to respond to these humanitarian challenges is by resolving conflict, by taking action to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and by delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2020 marks the first year of the Decade of Action on the SDGs. It is also the 75th anniversary of the UN, which world leaders will mark in New York this September.

As the current President of the G20, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can showcase the group’s resolve to make progress on the SDGs.

The international community must also seize opportunities when they arise. For instance, in Sudan, right now is the moment we can help the country move forward.

Likewise, the IMF and World Bank have announced the normalization of their relations with Somalia. This will open the way for new resources to help meet Somalia’s challenges.

We must take every opportunity to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable people, wherever they are. Especially women and girls, who always form the majority of those affected by crisis.

Our projection for this year, as set out in the Global Humanitarian Overview we published last December, is that 168 million, or one person in 45 in the world, will need humanitarian assistance and protection.

Through the UN response plans my office coordinates, we aim to help nearly 109 million of the most vulnerable among them. This will cost $29 billion. Needs are rising faster than funds.

The good news is that the humanitarian system is swifter to respond, more effective, better coordinated and better funded than ever.

We are targeting our help more rigorously. We are paying more attention to making sure the most vulnerable are helped.

We are also helping to drive a shift from emergency response, to anticipatory action. This means we can get ahead of crises before they develop.

The humanitarian sector must continue to innovate.

One solution we all need to focus on is the effort being made to reduce the humanitarian caseload.

That is why humanitarian agencies are working more closely with development partners to reduce the root causes of vulnerability and suffering. This is part of our significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the meantime, we have to do everything we can to preserve life and reduce suffering in the midst of the biggest crises.

Nowhere is that more true than in Yemen. I am grateful for the continuing generosity of all our donors, who last year provided over $3 billion to help UN agencies, NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent avert famine, reduce hunger levels, protect families, and treat cholera.

As Dr Al Rabbeah has just said, following the gracious decision of His Majesty King Salman, Saudi Arabia in partnership with the United Nations will convene a High Level Pledging Event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen here in Riyadh on 2 April.

We hope all our donors will respond and participate to the fullest extent.

Alongside resources, it is also essential that all blockages and hindrances to the relief operation are addressed, so that aid agencies can reach needy people in accordance with the humanitarian principles. The Ansar Allah authorities have taken important decisions recently to that effect, which I welcome, and we look forward to seeing them built on further.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

We face a challenging year ahead. We have no choice but to make every riyal, dollar, euro and pound go further and faster.

I hope this forum gives you all an opportunity to discuss new solutions and ideas for our complex challenges, and I wish you all a very productive two days.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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