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ECOSOC OPENS HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS SEGMENT AND HOLDS GENERAL DISCUSSION ON THE FUTURE OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS
15 July 2013

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this afternoon opened its Humanitarian Affairs Segment and held a general discussion on the future of humanitarian affairs: towards greater inclusiveness, coordination, interoperability and effectiveness.

Masood Khan, Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Humanitarian Affairs Segment was a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding.  The future challenges to humanitarian action and coordination included climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, rapid unplanned urbanization and population growth and they were expected to increase vulnerability to and risks of humanitarian crises.  Mr. Khan praised the efforts of affected Member States who led the coordination and provision of humanitarian assistance to affected people, and the dedication of humanitarian aid workers.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presenting the Secretary-General’s report on Strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance, said that 6.8 million persons were in need of help in Syria, and over 90,000 persons had been killed.  Humanitarian challenges in other countries included natural disasters and inter-communal violence in Myanmar, renewed conflict in Yemen, and complex emergencies in countries of chronic vulnerability such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. 
Preparedness, risk management and resilience were an important part of the humanitarian agenda.  Reducing vulnerability required support to national authorities to build the capacity of national and regional authorities and of local communities.

During the discussion, delegations praised the work of Ms. Amos and her staff and commended the Secretary-General’s report.  Speakers highlighted the importance of investment in risk reduction and management, and expressed concern about the humanitarian disaster in countries such as Syria, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan.  Many speakers reminded Member States that they had an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilian populations and relief staff.   

Participating in the discussion were Fiji on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, Lithuania on behalf of the European Union, New Zealand, Russian Federation, Canada, United States, Mexico, Indonesia, Switzerland, Australia, Turkey, India, Nepal, Japan, Sweden, Cuba, France, South Africa, Spain and Ireland.

The Economic and Social Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 16 July, at 10 a.m. when it will hold a panel discussion on reducing vulnerability, improving capacities and managing risks: an approach for humanitarian actors to work together, followed by an interactive dialogue.  The general discussion will resume on Wednesday, 17 July in the afternoon.


Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (A/68/84–E/2013/77); which describes the major humanitarian trends and challenges over the past year; analyses the need to reduce vulnerability and manage risks and the need to promote humanitarian innovation; and provides an overview of current efforts to improve humanitarian coordination and response, as well as recommendations for further improvement.

Opening Remarks

MASOOD KHAN, Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, said that this year’s Humanitarian Affairs Segment’s theme was the future of humanitarian affairs: towards greater inclusiveness, coordination, interoperability and effectiveness.  The Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the Economic and Social Council was a unique opportunity to have an open discussion and to deepen understanding of the operational challenges facing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  Together they could identify the ways to strengthen their collective response to the humanitarian emergencies facing them today, as well as prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.  The future challenges to humanitarian action and coordination were many.  Climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, rapid unplanned urbanization and population growth were expected to increase vulnerability to and risks of humanitarian crises.  But for every challenge there was an opportunity.  Panels were an opportunity to explore the potential and impact of new thinking and novel humanitarian approaches in improving their collective action, as well as to identify ways to improve collaboration to reduce and manage the risks of humanitarian crises, rather than simply responding to their impact.

Member States’ continued support for the mandated role of the United Nations to lead and coordinate international humanitarian assistance was highlighted.  The passion and energy of the Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and the commitment of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to improve humanitarian action, including through continued advocacy for the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, were applauded.  The efforts of affected Member States who led the coordination and provision of humanitarian assistance to affected people were also commended.  Tribute was also paid to the commitment and dedication of humanitarian aid workers, who in many places risked their lives to help people in need.

VALERIE AMOS, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presenting the Secretary-General’s report on Strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance, said that 6.8 million persons were in need of help in Syria, and over 90,000 persons had been killed.  Humanitarian organizations continued to do all they could to bring assistance to those in need.  A month ago the United Nations launched the biggest humanitarian appeal ever for Syria and Syrian refugees.  What the people of Syria needed was a political solution which would bring an end to the violence and devastation.  Humanitarian challenges in other countries included natural disasters and inter-communal violence incidents in Myanmar, renewed conflict in Yemen, and complex emergencies in countries of chronic vulnerability such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Ms. Amos reminded all Member States of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect and meet the needs of civilians under their control, and to expedite the procedures for humanitarian personnel and goods. 

While it was encouraging to see a decrease in the number of deaths from natural disasters, the number of persons displaced because of such disasters in 2012 was almost double than the number in 2011.  Preparedness, risk management and resilience were an important part of the humanitarian agenda.  Strengthening the ability of families and communities to cope with climate and economic shocks saved lives, protected development gains, and supported better and faster recovery.  Over the past year, the United Nations and its partners had continued to improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian system, including through implementation of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Transformative Agenda.  The growing national and regional capacity to prepare for and respond to crises was welcome.  Reducing vulnerability required support to national authorities to build the capacity of national and regional authorities and of local communities.  They also needed a system in which innovation could flourish where new products, tools and ways of working could be tried and tested.  

General Discussion

Fiji, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that collaboration and coordination of humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons was multifaceted and required different organizations to work with Governments on different aspects.  Special attention was drawn to the necessary support from the international community to ensure predictable, flexible and adequate humanitarian funding.  The need to mainstream environmental resilience, adaptation and mitigation as well as climate change policy considerations into migration, development and humanitarian action was highlighted.  Coordination and collaboration between humanitarian and development actors needed to be enhanced.

Lithuania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ core tasks of humanitarian coordination and advocacy and the collective performance of the United Nations, particularly at the field level, continued to be critical to efficient humanitarian assistance.  Still, the European Union believed that there was ample room to improve the system’s effectiveness.  The United Nations was urged to continue to work towards common, coordinated needs assessment.  It was important to adapt the system to a changing world.  The European Union intended to actively contribute to the process leading to the 2015 World Humanitarian Summit.  All the parties to the conflict in Syria were called upon to allow humanitarian access.

New Zealand said that 2012 had shone a harsh light on some of the most troubling humanitarian emergencies and exposed the complexity of environments in which humanitarian actors operated.  Humanitarian actors had to adhere to the fundamental humanitarian principles.  They must also be granted access to those in need of assistance without undue delay, free from the fear of being attacked themselves.  They had to continue to work together to find new and better ways to use technological advances for information sharing.
 
Russian Federation praised the leadership of Ms. Amos and said that a legal framework which regulated the activities of the United Nations in humanitarian affairs should comply with the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and the Council.  Attempts to manipulate humanitarian assistance in order to achieve political goals were unacceptable.  More reliable information relating to disasters was needed, as were greater consistency and continuity in the provision of humanitarian assistance.    

Canada said that more persons had been forcibly displaced last year than in the past two decades.  In the face of these challenges, the international humanitarian system had to take action.  States also had a role to play in bridging the gap between principle and practice for humanitarian action.  Canada welcomed the work underway to address the most critical needs of those facing humanitarian disasters.  Conflict in Syria, Myanmar and Sudan had demonstrated the need for investment in risk management.

United States expressed concern at the lack of protection for civilians in places such as Syria, Somalia, and Sudan.  The Transformative Agenda continued to be an important initiative in the ongoing humanitarian reform process.  Efforts to develop guidance on best practices in needs assessment and information management were welcome.  More should be done to ensure that reproductive health programmes were incorporated into emergency response activities.   

Mexico said that the adaptation of institutions to improve coordination on the ground constituted headway but there could be no complacency.  Mexico applauded the initiative of the Secretary-General to convene a World Humanitarian Summit in 2015 and it was hoped the consultation process would be broad and inclusive.  The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was a topic to which Mexico attached great importance.  There was an urgent need to eliminate these weapons and have a world free from this scourge.

Indonesia said that relevant actors in the global humanitarian architecture had to scale up efforts to improve their modalities and capacities so they were able to effectively respond to growing demands on humanitarian assistance.  The international community, the relevant United Nations entities and other relevant institutions should support national authorities in building and strengthening their capacity to build resilience, mitigate disaster risk and to prepare for and respond to disasters.

Switzerland welcomed efforts of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee with the aim of implementing the recommendations of the Transformative Agenda.  This Agenda would have a positive impact on the effectives of the United Nations humanitarian action.  It had been established that prevention paid but prevention, preparedness and panning for disasters and crises was still inadequate and resources made available for these were also insufficient.  Rapid and unimpeded access to victims constituted a cornerstone of international humanitarian law.

Australia said that Member States had a shared responsibility to ensure that humanitarian assistance was as effective as possible.  Delayed, impeded or denied access caused unnecessary deaths and suffering.  International humanitarian law obliged all parties to a conflict to protect civilian populations, and extended a range of protections to relief staff.  Humanitarian assistance which was underpinned by longer-term efforts to build the resilience of communities and legitimate institutions was essential.   

Turkey commended the efforts of Ms. Amos and her team to provide humanitarian assistance to those in complex humanitarian situations.  An inclusive humanitarian assistance system recognizing the harmonized role of different actors would provide more efficiency.  Turkey had provided extensive humanitarian assistance in many regions around the world and had opened its doors to Syrian refugees.  The United Nations Security Council had a responsibility to address the Syrian crisis.  

India said that the magnitude and scale of unprecedented natural and humanitarian disasters around the world meant that the United Nations continued to be relevant.  A holistic approach in handling humanitarian crisis situations required an effective disaster management policy which would handle effectively all elements of the pre-disaster phase to post-disaster from prevention, mitigation and preparedness to response, rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery.       

Nepal said that Nepal was highly vulnerable to climate related problems and was the fifth most vulnerable country in the world in terms of climate change vulnerability and the thirteenth most vulnerable in terms of disaster risk.  Addressing root causes was extremely important to reduce growing vulnerabilities.  An enhanced level of international support in the areas of preparedness, emergency response, recovery and rehabilitation as well as resilience in relation to humanitarian disasters was needed.

Japan said that as crises around the world expanded and became more multifaceted, collective responsibility in the response of the United Nations and other international organizations was of paramount importance.  To better prepare for disasters, wide-ranging efforts were needed to strengthen the resilience of society as a whole and a disaster risk reduction perspective should be incorporated into national and regional development plans and projects.  It was of critical importance that trust be fostered in the local community through dialogue at the field level and strategic advocacy.   

Sweden said that the unprecedented scale of humanitarian needs over the last few years continued to put pressure on the humanitarian system and the most vulnerable were often the worst affected.  With a wider range of actors involved in assisting people in need than ever before, they needed to adapt to such new environments and become more inclusive in the way they worked.  Continued reform and improved humanitarian response was imperative for the continued legitimacy of the international humanitarian system.

Cuba said that humanitarian assistance must be carried out in full respect of the relevant resolutions and rejected the endorsement of concepts which had not been agreed upon and which violated the principle of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in countries’ internal affairs.  The work of funds and programmes should not be limited to issues related to humanitarian assistance to the detriment of other activities.  

France praised the courageous work carried out by humanitarian personnel on the ground around the world.  Lack of access of humanitarian actors to vulnerable populations was a serious issue which should be addressed.  The effectiveness of humanitarian assistance should be strengthened in light of new challenges.  Greater transparency in the accountability system was necessary, especially in the context of crises being multiplied, in order to retain the trust of donors. 

South Africa said that complex humanitarian emergencies, including those associated with the heightened frequency and intensity of natural disasters, particularly in developing countries, continued to have devastating effects on women, children and other vulnerable groups.  The issue of insecurity of healthcare in conflict situations and other emergencies was widespread and remained a serious humanitarian concern.  

Spain said that the humanitarian system operated in a reality characterised by increased needs and an increasingly complex and insecure environment.  The respect of humanitarian principles continued to be of paramount importance.  In Syria, the cessation of violence against the civilian population was a legal and moral obligation for all parties.  The amplitude of the crisis was especially challenging in terms of coordination.  With regards to Mali, Spain endorsed the coordination and dialogue efforts between military and humanitarian actors. 

Ireland said that efforts to bring greater coherence and coordination to the humanitarian aid effort were only one part of the picture.   Given the chronic nature of vulnerability in many of the contexts in which humanitarian actors operated, it was firmly believed that an approach which built the resilience of communities affected by recurrent crises was more vital than ever.  Looking ahead national Governments and major development and humanitarian actors had to work together to build capacity in the field of disaster management. 

MASOOD KHAN, Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the general discussion would be concluded on Wednesday, 17 July in the afternoon.  Tomorrow morning, the Council would hold a panel discussion on reducing vulnerability, improving capacities and managing risks, to be followed by an interactive discussion. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

ECOSOC13/023E


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