21 August 2012
World Humanitarian Day Panel Discussion
Opening Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
World Humanitarian Day 2012 – Panel Discussion
Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 16:00
Palais des Nations, Room XX
Mesdames et Messieurs les Ambassadeurs
Monsieur le Président du Comité
international de la croix rouge
C'est un immense plaisir pour moi de vous accueillir ici pour la Journée mondiale de l'humanitaire à Genève. De par sa forte réputation de ville humanitaire, Genève est le lieu idéal pour se souvenir du sacrifice des travailleurs humanitaires et pour réfléchir aux défis qu’il nous faut encore relever.
Aujourd'hui, mes pensées vont aux victimes de ces actes terroristes, des actes lâches qui nous laissent tous orphelins. Je pense aussi à leurs familles dont la peine est indicible.
J’aimerais aussi souhaiter la bienvenue aux journalistes qui participeront à nos discussions aujourd'hui; nous vous sommes particulièrement reconnaissants d’avoir pris le temps de venir partager votre expérience avec nous.
The events today have been organized in collaboration between the United Nations family in Geneva and its many humanitarian partners, and I commend this cooperation. The challenges we face can only be met when all stakeholders work closely together – Governments, international organizations and civil society.
Our events take place under the theme “People Helping People”. As we just heard from the Secretary-General, we celebrate the spirit of solidarity that drives humanitarian workers to devote their talents and time to helping people. We are a part of a global commemoration and I hope that you have all registered on the global site to say that you, too, were here to mark this important day.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the role of reporters in emergencies – be it natural disasters or conflicts. It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. But, journalists and other media professionals help us to understand the character, scope and impact of any emergency by reporting the facts from the ground. They do so often at great risk to their own personal safety, as our panellists have also experienced. According to Reporters without Borders, 67 journalists were killed last year, with 33 having lost their lives in 2012 already. Today is a welcome opportunity to go beyond these tragic numbers, and pay tribute to reporters from across the world for their indispensable contribution. Today we particularly recognize that journalists not only share the risk with our humanitarian colleagues; they are also united by their commitment and conviction.
Importantly, reporters can go beyond statistics. They make real what is happening to our fellow human beings. They give voice to those who are unable to or prevented from speaking up for themselves. Often, it is moving journalistic reports that help to galvanize an international response to a crisis. I am pleased that much of the media coverage on humanitarian crises comes out of Geneva, and I would like to commend our resident press corps for their efforts in raising awareness. They demonstrate the important role that journalists can play for emergencies not only on the ground, but also in newsrooms and conference rooms where they contribute to the global conversation.
For our discussion today, there are two dimensions that I think it could be interesting to examine in greater detail.
Firstly, how can we work better together, international organizations and media, to counter “donor-fatigue” and ensure a sustained international focus on humanitarian crises? Despite donations from Governments and individuals, we continue to face protracted humanitarian emergencies where it is difficult to raise adequate funding. After a while, the glare of the media fades; often precisely when the hard work of reconstruction gets underway and continued attention is needed. How can we better ensure that there will be no forgotten conflicts and no forgotten emergencies? As I mentioned earlier, our local press corps play a valuable role in this regard, but I believe we need to do more.
Secondly, how can we highlight better the importance of prevention? A strengthened emergency response is critical to saving lives. But prevention at all levels has a higher pay-off. Many of the emergencies we experience today, such as in the Sahel, are the result of a number of inter-related factors, accumulated over time. We have also seen that climate change, for example, increases the frequency and extent of heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels. We feel the knock-on effects in the continuing economic crisis, with rising food prices and poor public health adding to the vulnerability of individuals and communities. Systematic human rights abuses also undermine societies and lead to instability, and often conflict. In many cases, these factors are known, and we are aware that particular areas are at risk. But, frequently, global attention turns to these communities only when the situation has already escalated into a humanitarian emergency. How can we work better together to bring forward the story of prevention, before it is too late?
Both issues should always be kept in the context of the security of those who provide humanitarian assistance.
I hope we can touch on these – and many other – issues in the discussion, and look forward to our exchanges.