ECOSOC OPENS HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS SEGMENT AND DISCUSSES SPECIAL ECONOMIC, HUMANITARIAN AND DISASTER RELIEF ASSISTANCE
Hears Statement by the Under-Secretary–General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
19 July 2011
The Economic and Social Council this afternoon opened its Humanitarian Affairs Segment and heard an address by Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. It also held a general discussion on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.
Jan Grauls, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, in opening remarks, said working together would make it possible to identify ways to improve the collective response of the international community to the humanitarian disasters that the world faced today and to envision the appropriate responses for the challenges of tomorrow. In responding to humanitarian disasters, governments, donors, civil society, private sector and individuals all had the desire to ensure that these efforts were effective and efficient. The United Nations was entrusted to lead and coordinate the international efforts to assist the affected populations and these debates would contribute to enhance the coordination of humanitarian assistance.
Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said global challenges continued to increase people’s vulnerability and thereby increased humanitarian needs. Existing partnerships required strengthening. New partnerships with innovative private sector actors and others not traditionally involved in humanitarian assistance had to be built. The international community needed to harness ideas and capacities to focus on responses that addressed not only the immediate humanitarian needs at hand, but the underlying factors and in a way that improved the resilience of people and the communities in the future. Humanitarian financing had to change, especially to ensure predictable and adequate funding for preparedness activities and effective transition from relief to longer-term recovery. Coordination also needed further strengthening.
In the general discussion on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, speakers strongly supported the continued reinforcement of the international humanitarian system and acknowledged recent progress in strengthening the role of humanitarian coordination. In the wake of new and ongoing conflicts, the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters and the impact of global challenges, humanitarian needs were on the rise. It was necessary to provide better levels of humanitarian assistance coordination according to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Speakers expressed their support for strengthening the capacity of the United Nations, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and other humanitarian actors to prepare for and respond to disasters and other crises. More emphasis should be put on mobilizing new and innovative resources for preparedness and response capacity-building. It was necessary to promote effective, predictable, flexible and adequate funding through enhanced partnerships and strengthened mechanisms. The report of the Secretary-General and the Economic and Social Council’s Humanitarian Activities Segment provided opportunities to review the collective response to disasters, recommit to addressing the needs of populations shaken by humanitarian crises and reflect on improvements. It was necessary to build on existing efforts in the field of disaster preparedness; the best time to prepare for emergencies was before they happened.
Argentina on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, Poland on behalf of the European Union, Nepal on behalf of Least Developed Countries, Canada on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Finland, Peru, Mexico, Switzerland, Honduras, Norway, United States, Cuba and Slovakia took the floor in the general discussion.
The Economic and Social Council will convene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 July when it will hold a panel discussion on “Preparing for the future – Predictable, effective, flexible and adequate humanitarian financing and its accountable use to meet the evolving needs and challenges for the delivery of humanitarian assistance” followed by a question-and-answer session. In the afternoon, the Council will continue its general discussion on special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.
The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (E/2011/117) which describes the major humanitarian trends and challenges over the past year and analyses two thematic issues of current concern: strengthening resilience, preparedness and capacities for humanitarian response; and humanitarian financing. The report provides an overview of current key processes to improve humanitarian coordination and ends with recommendations for the further strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.
JAN GRAULS, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Humanitarian Affairs Segment provided the opportunity to have a frank and open discussion and to deepen the understanding of operational challenges for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Working together it would be possible to identify ways forward to improve the collective response of the international community to humanitarian disasters that the world faced today as well as to envision the appropriate response for the challenges of tomorrow. Mr. Grauls commended the passion and drive of the Emergency Relief Coordinator Valery Amos and the commitment of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to advocate for the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence and to reach out and strengthen the humanitarian community worldwide. In responding to humanitarian disasters, governments, donors, civil society, private sector and individuals all had the desire to ensure that these efforts were effective and efficient. The United Nations was entrusted to lead and coordinate the international efforts to assist the affected populations and these debates would contribute to enhance the coordination of humanitarian assistance.
Attacks and threats to aid organizations, their personnel, equipment and facilities jeopardized the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian workers wanted to stay and deliver. Improved risk management and searching for new ways to address safety and security of humanitarian personnel should allow them to remain in the field, have access to the affected population, assess their needs and provide them with necessary humanitarian assistance. These panels addressed essential questions that would stay relevant for humanitarian action over the years to come and along with other side events constituted a dense schedule of work for the following two days. Mr. Grauls looked forward to a productive exchange of views on how to strengthen coordination of humanitarian assistance of the United Nations and constructive measures to reduce the impact of humanitarian emergencies.
VALERIE AMOS, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council represented a rare opportunity to come together to discuss some of the most pressing humanitarian issues and developments. Existing partnerships required strengthening. New partnerships with innovative private sector actors and others not traditionally involved in humanitarian assistance had to be built. The international community needed to harness ideas and capacities to focus on responses that addressed not only the immediate humanitarian needs at hand, but the underlying factors and in a way that improved the resilience of people and the communities in the future. This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the General Assembly resolution 46/182 which remained the common basis for providing and coordinating humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian system continued to evolve and was larger and stronger than ever. It was also more predictable and accountable. Coordination had been strengthened, financing mechanisms had been upgraded and preparedness efforts at all levels had been improved. In 2010, two large-scale emergencies in Haiti and Pakistan, in addition to the numerous other humanitarian emergencies across the globe, stretched the capacity of international humanitarian response to the limit. Global challenges continued to increase people’s vulnerability and thereby increased humanitarian needs. Food price increases, fuel price spikes and the increasing number and intensity of natural hazards were serious challenges. Conflicts had continued to affect tens of millions of people.
Ms. Amos said the Secretary-General’s 2011 report, “strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” spelled out some of these trends. Given the challenges ahead, the United Nations and its partners would have to continue to adapt, which required strengthening partnerships with all stakeholders, especially governments. This would help to shift from a reactive system that responded to emergencies to a more prepared and anticipatory system. Humanitarian financing had to change, especially to ensure predictable and adequate funding for preparedness activities and effective transition from relief to longer-term recovery. In addition to addressing challenges to overall funding availability, the humanitarian community should also ensure that the financing system could continue to evolve to strengthen the predictability, sustainability, capacity, coordination and speed of delivery of humanitarian assistance. Despite improvements, challenges remained in funding preparedness and support for countries emerging from conflict. Strengthening capacities of responders ahead of crises was required. The roles and responsibilities of the various parts of the humanitarian system in support of building national and local response capacities needed to be further defined. Coordination needed further strengthening. Only by creating partnerships and integrating each others’ experiences, comparative advantages and capacities would the international community be able to create the sense of solidarity with the most vulnerable and turn humanitarian assistance into a truly global agenda to address the enormous challenges and increasing caseloads over the next 20 years.
MARCELO SUAREZ SALVIA (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, said that the theme of the Humanitarian Affairs Segment offered a valuable opportunity to further discuss how Member States, the United Nations system and other stakeholders could continue to enhance the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance in order to effectively address the needs of the increasing number of people affected. The G77 and China urged all actors engaged in the provision of humanitarian assistance to fully commit to and respect the guiding principles contained in General Assembly resolution 46/182, including the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality, as well as the principle of independence, as a basis of all responses to humanitarian emergencies. They reaffirmed the primary role of the concerned State in the initiation, organization, coordination and implementation of assistance. It was necessary to further strengthen the capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters, in particular of developing countries, and build preparedness as a long-term investment. For this reason, the G77 and China urged the United Nations system and the international community to assist developing countries in the enhancement of their existing humanitarian capacities, knowledge and institutions. Respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity must remain the overarching parameters in efforts for coordination of humanitarian assistance.
Humanitarian emergencies, in particular armed conflicts, disproportionally affected civilians, especially women and children, thus addressing their especial needs called for strong commitment and commensurate action, said the G77 and China. Funding remained a challenge in the context of increasing humanitarian emergencies in Member States, in particular developing countries, and the international humanitarian response system; it was necessary to promote and achieve effective, predictable, flexible and adequate funding through enhanced partnerships and strengthened mechanisms. Member States must comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect and assist civilians in occupied territories and the Group of 77 and China called on the United Nations system and the international community to provide assistance to those civilians. The Group of 77 and China had engaged actively and constructively during the negotiations on the resolution entitled “strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” and looked forward to its adoption by consensus.
KRZYSZTOF STANOWSKI (Poland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union was a strong supporter of the continued reinforcement of the international humanitarian system and acknowledged recent progress made in strengthening the role of the Humanitarian Coordinators, the use of pooled funds, the cluster approach, the ties between the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee principals, and improved cooperation between the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations agencies. However, there were a number of areas where further work was still needed, such as the continuing improvement of strategic and effective cluster leadership as well as enhanced cluster support functions such as information management and joint needs assessments. Humanitarian leadership was a central element to ensure a coordinated and principled humanitarian response as well as a shared understanding of humanitarian needs. Recent natural disasters had underlined the importance of preparedness for disaster at all levels, particular at the local level. National and local governments should continue their efforts in this regard with support from the international community.
The European Union believed that the international community must also continue to strengthen efforts to address humanitarian needs in complex emergencies. The European Union urged all States and all parties to fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure safe, unimpeded and timely access for humanitarian personnel and supplies to populations in need. The European Union remained gravely concerned by recent acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated against humanitarian personnel and looting of humanitarian supplies and it urged all States and relevant actors to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian workers. They also expressed appreciation for the stronger focus of the United Nations system on security risk management. The challenges were enormous as the intensity and frequency of natural disasters were on the rise and the ongoing impact of the financial crises continued to affect governments and citizens alike.
DINESH BHATTARAI (Nepal), speaking on behalf of least developed countries, said in the wake of new and ongoing conflicts, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters and the impact of global challenges, humanitarian needs were on the rise. The impact had been not only the loss of life and property, increased multiple vulnerability, but a setback to development by decades. The international community should assist countries and humanitarian organizations in strengthening their response capacities. The Hyogo Framework for Action provided a comprehensive roadmap to strengthen preparedness for response at all levels. There was a clear need to make progress towards greater predictability and efficiency in humanitarian financing. The financing of emergency preparedness remained an area of concern for the United Nations and its partners. It was essential to strengthen the analysis of early warning information and response efforts at the national and international levels. It was equally important to focus on the strengthening of the effective management of Humanitarian Coordinators and Resident Coordinators. Affected populations stood at the forefront of humanitarian action. Their active participation was essential in providing assistance to best meet their needs. Harmonized and coordinated needs assessments were equally necessary. Least developed countries were disproportionately bearing the impact of natural hazards and the Istanbul Programme of Action duly prioritized this issue. However, least developed countries would not be able to fulfill commitments without meaningful international support.
MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada), speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said Canada, Australia and New Zealand recognized the progress achieved in strengthening the international humanitarian system since General Assembly resolution 46/182 was adopted. Yet, a sustained commitment was required to address continuing and emerging challenges. The response to humanitarian needs had become ever more complex, and at times, stretched the capacities of the international humanitarian system. The crises in Haiti, Pakistan, Japan and New Zealand sadly reinforced valuable lessons learned elsewhere, including the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction, building preparedness and resilience, and ensuring effective coordination. Canada, Australia and New Zealand placed high priority on efforts to strengthen the response capacity of the international humanitarian system. Strong leadership in the international humanitarian system and the effective coordination of the international humanitarian system were fundamental. The accountability of the United Nations and other humanitarian actors was important and consultation and communication with affected communities were essential in this respect. Canada, Australia and New Zealand strongly supported efforts to strengthen the humanitarian programme cycle, which facilitated evidence-based decision-making and programming. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ outreach and advocacy activities were key to establishing partnerships, facilitating access to a wide range of resources and capacities and encouraging greater coherence and coordination.
KENICHI SUGANUMA (Japan) expressed heartfelt gratitude for the generous support received from numerous countries in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The transmission of accurate information on the actual damage as well as the expertise provided by the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs teams in particular had been of significant help. While Japan must focus its efforts on responding to this disaster, it would continue to contribute to the international community as possible. Today the Government of Japan had decided to contribute $ 5 million in food assistance to the Horn of Africa, which was undergoing a grave humanitarian crisis. The number of humanitarian crises resulting from large-scale disasters was increasing and continuing reform was needed to strengthen the capacity for emergency response. For effective and efficient humanitarian coordination a system which guaranteed the required leadership was vital. The coordinating role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs played a key role in achieving this. The recent earthquake reminded Japan of the necessity of stepping up preparedness internationally. Ensuring smooth communication between humanitarian assistance organizations and the Government was also an important aspect of emergency preparedness. Japan intended to continue to promote global cooperation in the area of disaster risk reduction. Japan had announced at the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction its willingness to host a high-level international conference in order to facilitate sharing of experiences and lessons with respect to large-scale disasters.
ULLA -MAIJA FINSKAS (Finland) welcomed the report of the Secretary-General as a comprehensive narrative of the most recent developments and challenges ahead. Strengthening of resilience, preparedness and capacity building for humanitarian response, and disaster risk reduction in particular, should to a large extent be the responsibility of development actors, although the report could have more concretely spelled out how the United Nations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in particular could cooperate with the United Nations funds, programmes and other relevant development actors on this issue. Finland recognized that preparedness and financing were key elements for effective humanitarian response. The report’s approach to preparedness financing was rather traditional with a focus on development assistance although transition funding was well covered. More emphasis should be put on mobilizing new and innovative resources for preparedness and response capacity building. It could have also included more recommendations on the possible modalities of more appropriate and well-resourced financing mechanisms. The humanitarian community operated in an increasingly complex environment, faced with growing needs. Leadership, strengthening of coordination, mutual accountability and accountability to affected people were prerequisites for effective collective results. The focus should be on improving field level clusters and more work should be carried out through constituencies as well, including all humanitarian actors, bilateral donors and non-governmental partners.
GONZALO GUTIERREZ REINEL (Peru) said, as could be seen in the central theme of the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council, the world was in constant change and evolution. There were constantly new challenges. In this context, social emergencies and natural disasters added an element of uncertainty to the achievement of development and well-being in the world, especially in the poorest countries. The combined impact of global crises and the damage of natural and humanitarian crises added significantly to the vulnerability of countries. It was of the greatest importance that Member States strengthened efforts for humanitarian coordination. It was necessary to provide better levels of humanitarian assistance coordination according to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. States had to be prepared for responding to different types of crises. Mechanisms for capacity building in these countries, including the transfer of knowledge, technology and capacity-building, were required. More predictable and effective financing modalities for humanitarian assistance were required to respond to the wide range of humanitarian emergencies. Much could be learned from national and regional risk management. It was important to stress that the United Nations system needed to strengthen national and regional mechanisms. Peru expressed solidarity with countries suffering from humanitarian and natural emergencies.
RODRIGO PINTADO (Mexico) said the subject of the Humanitarian Activities Segment reflected the challenges that existed for delivering humanitarian assistance on the ground. Mexico supported and recognized resolution 46/182 that provided principles and a framework for coordinating all actors providing humanitarian assistance. Mexico also recognized the efforts of the United Nations in making humanitarian work more effective and efficient. The growing number of crises put the response capacity of humanitarian actors at risk. In view of the situation, actors needed to be prepared, but also coordination at the institutional level needed to be enhanced. The variety and number of actors on the humanitarian scene were growing, which posed a challenge for delivering humanitarian assistance. The preparedness of States and other actors was necessary in regard to national and humanitarian disasters. Investments in this area had to be adapted to the specific needs of States. There was a trend towards proliferation of mechanisms that also sought to coordinate humanitarian efforts. It was necessary to complement the work of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs but also to avoid duplication on the ground. Mexico reiterated support to the Central Emergency Response Fund and expressed its commitment to contributing $ 300,000. Mexico reiterated the importance of linking assistance strategies to national development strategies so that the basis for preventing the worst aspects of disasters in the future could be laid and in order to satisfactorily conclude activities on the ground.
RENE HOLENSTEIN (Switzerland) said that, concerning the humanitarian principles and access to affected populations, since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, significant progress in humanitarian international law had been made. New challenges had emerged, including new actors, means of fighting, and these had had an impact on the security of humanitarian personnel. Switzerland emphasized the importance of applying international humanitarian law by all parties to conflicts and reiterated the primary responsibility of States for providing protection and assistance to their populations. Without rapid, free and unimpeded access to victims, humanitarian personnel could not accomplish their goals and save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity under all circumstances. Switzerland promoted an initiative designed to improve humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict addressing the main constraints, and developing tools and a practical manual for humanitarian actors in the field. At the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, it had become clear that political statements must be followed by concrete action. It was important to align reconstruction efforts with long-term development and holistic and integrated approaches, and further efforts were needed to increase awareness and promote concerted action. The cluster system had made it possible to achieve real progress in sectoral coordination but there was room for improvements. It was not always clear who was responsible for the functioning of particular clusters at the national level; and it required further cooperation among United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations.
ROBERTO FLORES BERMUDEZ (Honduras) welcomed the report of the Secretary-General which reflected how the combined impact of climate change, volatile food prices and environmental degradation made the world more vulnerable and increased its humanitarian needs. The Government had articulated a vision for the next 30 years, which included the promotion of productivity, the creation of opportunities for employment, promoting sustainable development and reducing environmental vulnerability, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals. Honduras had suffered from a number of natural disasters, including hurricanes, and was grateful for the support of the international community. Preparedness had become a priority for the Government and it sought to establish a culture of protection of the fundamental rights of persons during the preparation and delivery of disaster relief. The institutional endeavours were congruent with the Hyogo framework of action. Adverse climatic phenomena had adversely affected food production. For this reason the Honduran Congress adopted last March a law on food and nutritional security. Furthermore, the Government had launched an investment plan on agribusiness, reducing the number of rural families living in poverty and families living in extreme poverty. Honduras had taken concrete actions for risk management and hoped to attain more concrete successes in accordance to the goals set as part of the humanitarian agenda.
KARE STORMARK (Norway) said effective humanitarian responses required effective coordination. As the Chair of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ donor support group, Norway would make efficiency, effectiveness and quick-response capabilities priorities. Norway agreed that common intentions had to lead to real and tangible improvements in the field. More effective leadership and field coordination should be the next step. While there had been some progress, redoubled efforts should be made to assure that the deployment and mobility of staff did not continue to be impediments in the field. The provision of timely information required strengthening. It was imperative that international humanitarian actors cooperated and coordinated with the governments of countries involved. National and local authorities needed to be supported, when and if they were not involved in conflict with local populations. It was a common responsibility that the international humanitarian assistance framework be accountable to local populations. It was important to reorient disaster response systems to address climate change vulnerabilities. There should be further discussions and coordination on the roles and responsibilities of the various institutions and agencies in regards to preparedness. Norway welcomed the involvement of new partners in humanitarian activities, which would enrich and improve the quality of the system.
JOHN SAMMIS (United States) said the United Nations and its Member States would continue to be confronted with a host of humanitarian crises from natural disasters to raging conflicts. The report of the Secretary-General and the Economic and Social Council’s Humanitarian Activities Segment provided opportunities to review the collective response to disasters, recommit to addressing the needs of populations shaken by humanitarian crises and reflect on improvements. It was necessary to build on existing efforts in the field of disaster preparedness. The best time to prepare for emergencies was before they happened. The Government of the United States funded numerous such programmes around the world and, in making such strategic investments, was saving lives. The United States continued to advance self-sufficiency in disaster management, whether the subject was disaster response or preparedness. The United States believed firmly in accountability to affected populations. When civilian capabilities were overwhelmed, the military had unique capabilities to support humanitarian responses, which should be carried out in accordance with the principles and best practices of humanitarian assistance. No response could be successful without strong leadership. The United Nations had to improve efforts to select the right people for these critical roles. Too many times, disasters had struck and the United Nations had moved too slowly. The United Nations had to place the interests of vulnerable people first and set aside turf battles when it came to the appointment of humanitarian leadership in disaster-prone or disaster-affected countries.
YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba) welcomed the reports of the Secretary-General and said that because of the consequences of climate change and ecologic imbalances there had been an increase in the number of humanitarian emergencies, along with an increase in the number of conflicts and complex emergencies on the other hand. Cuba rejected the imposition of ambiguous concepts which had not been agreed upon and went against the principles of sovereignty and non intervention. Affected countries should be the ones to request and accept assistance in the context humanitarian emergencies in accordance to the United Nations Charter. Humanitarian assistance should not be part of military activities by coalitions. Cuba had been often affected by natural disasters and national civil defense mechanisms had been important elements in saving lives in collaboration with national media. Cuba had strengthened its legislative and normative frameworks to reduce disaster risk exposure and complement the work of civil defense measures. Local capacities to react had been strengthened and training for reducing disaster risk had been included in curricula at all educational levels. Cuba reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation in humanitarian assistance and the role of concerned States in initiating, coordinating and delivering assistance in the context of humanitarian action in accordance to the Hyogo framework of action.
FEDOR ROSOCHA (Slovakia) said that the world had seen changes in humanitarian response patterns. Manmade disasters and conflicts were not the only reasons for internally displaced people and refugees. Natural disasters caused by climate change drove people from their homes and constituted some of today’s main humanitarian challenges. Strengthening preparedness capacities for humanitarian response and financing to cope with persisting challenges were tasks facing both donors and affected communities, as noted by the report of the Secretary-General. Coordination activities and mutual cooperation among United Nations humanitarian organizations and agencies had improved over the past years. In particular, the cluster approach had become more visible as a positive phenomenon in activities during crises or manmade disasters and conflicts. Slovakia was ready to share its experience and skills in providing assistance for building early warning systems, drought preparedness activities, integrated preparedness packages or training for humanitarian country team members, among others. One of the main challenges was humanitarian financing. Maintaining an adequate humanitarian response would continue to be challenging in the years to come. It was important to strengthen preparedness measures and provide support in accessing appropriate financial measures, knowledge, skills and experience of Resident Coordinators and Humanitarian Coordinators and solidifying response mechanisms.
For use of the information media; not an official record