Press Releases

    17 July 2002

    Council Holds High-Level Interacting Dialogue on Access to Vulnerable Groups in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, Natural Disasters

    NEW YORK, 16 July (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council continued its humanitarian affairs segment at the highest level today, in an interactive dialogue on reaching vulnerable groups in the context of complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, and on the transition from relief to development in that same context.

    Highlighting United Nations efforts to support a country in transition in an environment vulnerable to natural disasters and complex emergencies, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said this afternoon that, after 22 years of war and four consecutive years of drought, some 60 per cent of all Afghans was receiving some form of humanitarian aid. The United Nations was seeking to ensure a robust and Afghan-centric approach to human rights protection, with particular support for women and girls.

    Refugees had returned home much earlier than expected, he said, and some 3 million children had returned to school when only 1 million had been expected. Such successes had generated their own problems, however, including the challenge of rehabilitating rural communities to support those returnees, as well as making sure that existing and new schools had the capacity to handle unexpectedly large numbers of students. Broad efforts were under way to ensure that all components of the United Nations working in Afghanistan complemented each other.

    Joining him was United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who stressed the need to harmonize humanitarian work with development efforts. In describing the role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a kind of "Ministry of the Interior for Refugees" who had no government representation, he said the UNHCR sought to prepare the ground for the smooth transition from relief to development. The "Zambian Initiative" -- development through local integration -- reflected an emerging notion throughout the international community. Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, they were seen as engines for national development.

    The other panellists in the afternoon discussion were: Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Didier Cherpitel, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and Carolyn McAskie, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    United Nations Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain this morning urged the humanitarian community to strive to reach all victims of natural disasters and complex emergencies, regardless of any political or other considerations. The needs generated in a war zone compounded by earthquakes, floods, or volcanoes required greater urgency and rapidity. Although that twofold plight seemed to occur only rarely, recent experiences in Afghanistan, where a series of earthquakes struck in March, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a volcanic eruption forced 350,000 people to flee their homes, had shown that they did occur. The immediate presence of standby capabilities on the ground was crucial.

    Joining Mr. Mountain this morning, Jacques Forster, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that reaching the vulnerable in emergencies lay at the heart of the ICRC's mission. Key to its operational strategy was proximity to the victims under the best possible security conditions. Its activities rested on one basic requirement -- acceptance of its presence by all parties involved and recognition of its neutrality and independence. In the context of conflicts and violence, that neutrality distinguished the ICRC and had proved vital to its humanitarian mission. More than ever, there was a paramount need to preserve that essence.

    The Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator for Burundi, Georg Charpentier, and the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Jean-Jacques Graisse, also participated in this morning's panel. The panellists' remarks were followed by a question-and-answer session with Council members.

    The Economic and Social Council will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2002 substantive session.


    The Economic and Social Council met this morning to continue its consideration of special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, the main thrust of its work during the humanitarian segment of its 2002 substantive session.

    The Council is set to hold two panel discussions over the course of the day. The first -- reaching the vulnerable in the context of complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters -- will include the participation of the heads of United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    The second panel, on the transition from relief to development in the context of complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, will include the participation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, among others.

    Introductory Statements

    CAROL BELLAMY, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), opened the panel discussion, focusing on the plight of war-affected children. She said that there were no redeeming features to the reality of a child living in a war zone. It was the reality of fleeing home and community because of armed attacks. It was losing access to basic social care and other essentials for survival. It was a life without enough food, without adequate nutrition or safe water and sanitation. It was a life without education, teachers and schools. And it was the fear of abduction, of violence and exploitation, especially for girls and women.

    She said it was essential for agencies, governments and civil societies to take a close and critical look at how effectively they were assisting the vulnerable in such situations and explore ways in which they could do better. Certainly, all agencies knew which groups were the most vulnerable in humanitarian disasters. The disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and children had been extensively documented. And it was equally well known that women and children made up about 80 per cent of internally displaced persons. She added that at least 2 million children had died in the last decade as a result of wars waged by adults.

    Poverty, exacerbated by conflict or natural disasters, was an obvious component in vulnerability, she continued. Vulnerability was also a consequence of disempowerment and exclusion from decision-making, not only among the poor, but among groups that were geographically or socially isolated, such as ethnic minorities, nomadic populations and people living with HIV/AIDS. Natural disasters also heightened vulnerabilities. Where poverty and disease were already daily realities for vulnerable groups, natural disaster brought them even closer to the precarious line between life and death. In the volcano disaster in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the most affected populations were families already living in extreme poverty, with few resources to draw upon in crisis.

    She stressed, however, that vulnerability did not mean helplessness. Individuals were resilient actors in their own survival and development. They had developed their own coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma and risks of war and disaster. What they needed was support from the international community to strengthen their own resourcefulness and opportunities to participate in planning, carrying out and monitoring humanitarian activities. Meaningful participation was particularly important when dealing with children and youth. In order to reach the goals set by the Millennium Declaration, it was necessary to, among other things, increase resources devoted to humanitarian assistance, obtain safe and secure access to the most vulnerable and complement humanitarian assistance with support to activities that bridge the transition to development.

    JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE, Deputy Executive-Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), next addressed the Council on current relief and recovery strategies being undertaken to address the drought in southern Africa. The WFP consistently made sure it gave priority to the most vulnerable and severely affected persons in complex emergency situations. The agency used three criteria when it set its relief strategies: knowing who the vulnerable were; knowing what kind of assistance they needed; and know how they could be reached. The WFP carried out vulnerability analyses, which assessed the full needs and capacities of households.

    He said the WFP also worked to channel food through women, to ensure that food aid reached families, particularly children. Long-term strategies to that end included involving women in the humanitarian process, as well as providing them with access to markets, among other things. He said there was a need to put in place robust, logistical supply lines that could deliver food to some of the most inhospitable places on earth. He said that, despite the fears of the international community, there had been real success in delivering food to the needy in Afghanistan throughout the year, and he hoped that success could be built upon in southern Africa.

    He said several countries in the region -- Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland -- were suffering from severe food shortages, abiding malnutrition and poor harvests. That was all exacerbated by poor governance. The WFP would target the most vulnerable districts in those countries, particularly those with little or no non-governmental organization (NGO) presence. The most vulnerable populations in the region were children, the elderly, orphans and expectant mothers. WFP programmes provided school-feeding initiatives, among others. Special attention was given to those suffering form the HIV/AIDS virus.

    On the current situation in southern Africa, he said the WFP had targeted some 10.2 million people with 1 million tons of food. Distribution would be challenging, however, due to the high numbers of people that needed assistance and the inhospitable terrain. The WFP would have to establish ties with other local and international partners and community networks with ties throughout the region. The WFP would need to keep track of NGO secondary pipelines to better ensure that all food movements were better coordinated with commercial cargo and to minimize port congestion. It would also maintain key links with local governments and port authorities.

    He said the WFP was ensuring the full cooperation of all governments in the region. It would also seek to ensure that humanitarian staff had access to all parts of the country. He stressed that the WFP had a "zero tolerance" policy towards food being used for political ends or as a weapon against local populations. He hoped that early response from the donor community that had helped the region avoid devastation in the 1990s would be forthcoming.

    JACQUES FORSTER, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that reaching the vulnerable in emergencies lay at the heart of the ICRC's mission. Key to its operational strategy was proximity to the victims under the best possible security conditions. In 2001, the ICRC conducted operations in about 80 countries. A central element of its mission was the protection of civilians and detainees. Last year, the ICRC visited some 350,000 detainees in 2,000 places of detention in more than 70 countries. The main efforts were concentrated in food and non-food assistance and health-related activities, including in hospitals, where the ICRC treated hundreds of thousands of patients.

    He said that the activities of the ICRC rested on one basic requirement -- acceptance of its presence by all parties involved and recognition of its neutrality and independence. The neutrality in the context of conflicts and violence was one of its most distinguishing characteristics and vital to its humanitarian mission. Today, more than ever, there was a paramount need to preserve the essence of humanitarian action by steering clear of polemics. Its operations must remain distinct from political initiatives and steps taken by States.

    To reinforce its neutrality, the ICRC strove to maintain its independence from other actors in conflict situations, but fully recognized that complex dimension of the needs rendered cooperation with other agencies indispensable. That meant coordination with others, particularly through inter-agency mechanisms, to harmonize and increase complementarity. In Afghanistan, for example, throughout the years it had been through that neutrality and independence that the ICRC had gained acceptance and access to all parties to the conflict in most parts of the country. In terms of coordination and complementarity, the ICRC had now concentrated its assistance in remote mountainous areas where it reached people who were not accessible to other institutions.

    In Israel and the occupied and autonomous territories, he said the ICRC had had a long presence and regular and widespread contacts with all parties. The escalation of violence since the beginning of the year had brought about untold suffering to both Palestinians and Israelis. To reach them, the ICRC had significantly increased staff on the ground and planned to reach out to 300,000 people in the West Bank in food assistance alone. Angola was another example, where the needs had been tremendous following the end of the conflict and the signing of the agreement in April. ICRC's core activities there also related to protection, particularly with respect to reuniting families and unaccompanied children.

    ROSS MOUNTAIN, United Nations Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the humanitarian community must strive to reach all victims of natural disasters and complex emergencies in need of life-saving assistance, regardless of any other considerations, be they political, ethnic or gender-based. Thus, assistance and protection should be provided on the basis of need and in the form of targeted assistance. Reaching the vulnerable typically involved four immediate challenges: securing access to the victims; ensuring security for those who tried to bring support to them; establishing the structures necessary to identify the needs and reach those in need; and mobilizing the necessary resources and supplies.

    He said that when the vulnerable were simultaneously affected by natural disaster and armed conflict, the challenges became even more difficult. The needs generated in a war zone, compounded by earthquakes, floods, or volcanoes, called for greater urgency and rapidity in the response. Although that twofold plight seemed to occur only rarely, recent experiences had shown that they did occur. Early this year, two natural disasters occurred in the context of ongoing complex emergencies. There was the volcanic eruption in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which affected a population in an ongoing conflict, forcing some 350,000 people to flee their homes within hours and cross the nearby border into Rwanda.

    A second instance had occurred at the end of March, when a series of earthquakes struck a district in Afghanistan causing fatalities and casualties and leaving some 20,000 people without shelter, he said. Natural disasters occurring in such complex situations were somewhat unique and required an ad hoc humanitarian response. The importance, therefore, of the immediate availability of standby capabilities on the ground was essential. Approach and speed were the fundamentals of any humanitarian response, but all elements of the response had to happen at a much faster pace when a natural disaster occurred in a conflict area.

    He cited three elements needed for the effective coordination of humanitarian assistance: a clear plan and appropriate division of labour; rapid mobilization of necessary resources, including personnel; and the establishment of timely and effective information services. Good preparedness planning was the key to an effective response. Also, the importance of experienced personnel on the ground was vital. The United Nations had systems for rapid deployment, including through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and teams could be dispatched within 24 hours. There were also mechanisms for mobilizing international search and rescue teams.

    GEORG CHARPENTIER, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator for Burundi, said the crisis in and around Burundi had been ongoing for a decade now. There had been some positive signs in terms of the prospects for peace, particularly the signing of the Arusha Accords in 2000, and government transition was under way. The challenge of fully implementing the Accord was daunting, however, considering the deep healing and reconciliation process that was needed among the people of Burundi and their neighbours. So, the process remained fragile.

    In that context, the humanitarian situation was precarious, he said. There were some 500,000 refugees in the United Republic of Tanzania and some 400,000 internally displaced persons in camps throughout the country, all needing assistance. Humanitarian agencies were now faced with a new problem -- "sudden displacement" -- affecting sometimes as many as 250,000 people, as they fled war zones for brief periods when fighting broke out. The challenge was to provide continued and unimpeded access to the most vulnerable people, as well as the safety of humanitarian staff. He stressed that not all of Burundi was unsafe, so some needy populations and communities routinely received assistance. A further challenge was to provide assistance to internally displaced persons, particularly women. That was particularly critical, as women were often the main actors in recovery efforts whenever security was restored.

    One positive initiative under way was a dialogue framework established with the Government to ensure cooperation and coordination with local communities and relief agencies. That programme aimed to promote open and transparent discussion that would lead to solutions, and move away from statements and accusations that left national authorities on the defensive and aid efforts at a standstill. That forum had also established a follow-up procedure. He said when the rebellion attacked and occupied a neighbourhood in the capital for two weeks last year, displacing 50,000, the framework set up a team to go in and out of the areas every day to ensure the return and safety of the displaced population.

    Another example of positive cooperation efforts had been the establishment of a dialogue with armed opposition groups. That had been a very delicate and sensitive process, but it had helped improve the humanitarian situation in the country, particularly in unsafe areas. He highlighted the positive impact of "days of tranquillity" and the establishment of ad hoc and temporary "humanitarian corridors", which had both enhanced efforts to bring assistance to vulnerable people.

    The dialogue had been successful largely because of the transparent nature of the negotiations, he said. The armed groups and the Government were both aware that the aim of the dialogue was not political, but to focus the attention of both sides on the human factor of the conflict. Access and protection remained a priority, and the only prospect that could solve the issue quickly was the attainment of a true ceasefire, which he hoped would come in the next few months.

    Dialogue with Panel

    When the floor was opened for discussion, one representative expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Burundi, particularly the precarious situation of internally displaced persons and refugees. Another representative wondered if statistics were available on the reported millions of persons receiving no assistance whatsoever. When was a recipient no longer considered "vulnerable"?

    Another representative said that recent experience had shown that developing countries were most vulnerable during humanitarian emergencies, particularly natural disasters. Programmes should, therefore, be devoted to prevention and monitoring of natural disasters and ensuring that disaster relief was targeted to those in need. One representative supported the notion of involving the recipients of relief aid in the process of their recovery, as well as in long-term efforts to ensure self-reliance and sustainable development.

    Another representative said it was clear that in order to ensure access to vulnerable populations, cooperation from neighbouring countries was crucial. What measures had been taken to promote such cooperation in conflict regions? What initiatives were under way to ensure continued cooperation among opposition forces in Burundi?

    Responding to questions, Ms. BELLAMY said that women should be seen not only as victims, but also as actors in the recovery process. Very often, they were the ones engaged in the coping mechanisms, such as setting up the internal operations of a refugee camp, distributing food, and sometimes returning first to their communities to assure that there was shelter and some food. Women in Somalia, for example, overriding their allegiance to the various clans, set up schools there. The great desire of people to help themselves and take action in their own right should be recognized. Her efforts aimed at trying to assist people to assist themselves.

    Mr. GRAISSE said that the answer to when one was no longer providing assistance was probably when there was no longer the money to do so. The child who was hungry every day did not understand that the world community had chosen to target its interventions elsewhere. That child was not part of a so-called emergency. Tools for determining where the vulnerable people lived were available -- there was assessment mapping and surveys -- but, at some stage, a decision had to be made that would not include everybody.

    To a question about whether it was possible to engage in policy dialogue with governments, he said the WFP certainly did so on many issues, including the liberalization of grain markets, access to NGOs that could assist in food distribution, and so forth. Thanks to resources leftover in Rwanda, he was able to offer more rapid assistance following the volcano eruption in Goma.

    Mr. FORSTER, also replying to the question of the duration of assistance, said that help could go well beyond the end of hostilities. When it came to re-establishing family links, those activities could go on for quite a while. He drew attention to the plight of missing persons, of whom the majority were men. The re-establishment of economic security was another factor governing the duration of assistance. Post-conflict situations often were fluid and required constant monitoring and evaluation.

    Also replying to the issue of when groups ceased to be vulnerable, Mr. MOUNTAIN said that there were vulnerable groups in all societies and it was not possible to meet the needs of all. There was a stage at which vulnerability needs should be seen in the context of an anti-poverty programme, as the situation became more stable.

    In response to the situation in Goma, he said that the collaboration that had been established with the Rwandan authorities was still in place today. That straddled the border involving those in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, to ensure that the most effective means possible would be deployed should the feared additional eruption occur.

    In terms of available standby funding of the United Nations to facilitate humanitarian aid efforts, he said that the Organization, as well as some governments, had such standby arrangements, particularly with regard to promoting cooperation on the ground when a natural disaster occurred. Preventive measures, however, must be strengthened, including in the area of training and the mobilization of resources and personnel. When earthquakes occurred, for example, more than 80 per cent of victims were saved by neighbours in their immediate community.

    Mr. CHARPENTIER said that the return of refugees to Burundi was particularly delicate and difficult. At present, some 30,000 people had returned, about half of them, spontaneously. The other half had been directly assisted. From the humanitarian standpoint, assistance must continue to be provided to those individuals to ensure their safe return and adjustment. The situation was evolving and not static, and the humanitarian community was persuaded that it must continue to assist those returning individuals. Certain decisions had been taken on the basis of the security situation in the eastern provinces. The situation was being monitored daily, and everyone would be prepared to change their position once conditions allowed.

    During the second round of questions and comments posed by Council members, the issue of gaining and maintaining humanitarian access to vulnerable populations was much on the minds of many speakers. One representative urged humanitarian agencies operating in conflict regions to consider opportunities for mobilizing neighbours and partners -- perhaps those who were signatories to the Geneva Conventions -- as well as fellow agencies. She wondered about the status of the handbook concerning access to armed groups that was being prepared by the Secretariat?

    Another representative asked the agency heads to comment on specific efforts to address the situation of HIV/AIDS in humanitarian crises. There was also a question about the process of classifying a region as "safe" or "unsafe" for humanitarian access.

    Mr. MOUNTAIN said that OCHA was, indeed, working on a handbook on armed groups, but he could not give a date as to when it would be completed.

    Mr. FORSTER said it was important to establish an open dialogue with all parties to conflict. The first priority was to deal directly with those parties in a transparent manner. Of course, there were circumstances where it was difficult to establish such dialogue, particularly in fluid situations, but the efforts was increasingly being made to work towards dialogue. He said agencies also sought to open dialogue with those that had a more direct influence on the parties to conflict. The ICRC had also been trying to develop dialogue and partnership with economic actors that might have influence on conflict parties.

    Mr. GRAISSE thanked the Council for applauding the work of the WFP, noting that if it were not for generous donations, particularly by the United States, the organization could not operate so effectively around the world. On the AIDS pandemic, he said the prevalence of HIV was increasing at an alarming rate in many African regions. Thinking about the future was particularly frightening. HIV/AIDS affected everything -- school systems, as teachers died, and even farming operations, as work forces were decimated by the disease. The WFP was, indeed, targeting its efforts to deal with HIV/AIDS, as well as other preventable diseases, such as tuberculosis. He added that humanitarian agencies were now faced with the emergence of a strain of tuberculosis that was particularly resistant to treatment.

    Mr. CHARPENTIER said security situations and phases of security categorization were determined by the United Nations system. Generally, security situations needed to be evolving, and zones that were categorized as unsafe were monitored and reclassified as soon as they became safe. A "safe" or secure zone meant that United Nations humanitarian workers could travel there, deliver aid and even spend the night. Currently, two thirds of Burundi was classified as relatively safe for humanitarian access. One third of the country was classified as unsafe. He added that an unsafe categorization did not mean that attempts were not made with the Government to ensure aid reached vulnerable populations in those regions.

    Panel on Transition from Relief to Development: Introductory Statements

    LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, opened the panel, highlighting United Nations efforts to support a country in transition within an environment that was vulnerable to natural disasters and complex emergencies. He said the situation in Afghanistan could, indeed, be considered an emergency situation. That country, having gone through 22 years of war and four consecutive years of drought, was struggling to move towards reconstruction and development. It had been estimated that some 60 per cent of the population received some form of humanitarian aid.

    He said that programmes and initiatives in Afghanistan were being implemented within the context of United Nations reform and enhancing the Organization's leadership role in the wider international community. While meeting the most urgent humanitarian needs for some 6 million people, it coordinated programmes by other international actors. The United Nations also focused on capacity building and country ownership, including civil service reform and the establishment of a national development budget. Activities required rapid, flexible and area-specific programmes in the worst-affected areas of the county.

    He said there would continue to be broad efforts to ensure that all components of the United Nations at work in Afghanistan complemented each other. The Organization would also ensure a robust and Afghan-centric approach to human rights protection, with particular support targeted to women and girls. Progress had been made towards many of those objectives, although much remained to be done.

    Refugees had returned home much earlier than expected, he said. And some 3 million children had returned to school when only 1 million had been expected. Such successes had bred their own problems, however. The international community was now faced with the task of ensuring the rehabilitation of rural communities to support those returnees, as well as making sure that existing and new schools had the capacity to handle unexpectedly large numbers of students. He also said that mine action programmes were under way and polio vaccination programmes were continuing apace. Indeed, eradication of polio in Afghanistan would be a real possibility over the next three years.

    Turning to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), he said integration into the country was taking place, but it needed to accelerate. The Mission constantly faced the contradictory and incongruous rules and administrative culture of the United Nations itself. Still, he praised the work of the Secretary-General, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others that had remained constantly engaged in the work of the Mission. He went on to say that there was growing congruence between the Afghan Government, the United Nations system and other partners. The appointment of programme groups last May had also been helpful.

    He said it was possible to draw a number of early conclusions drawn from UNAMA's experiences thus far. Overall, the United Nations was expected to play a clear role in post-conflict environments, and assist governments in reasserting their role in society. The Organization's attempts to carry out integrated intervention were considerably strengthened by clear support and mandates from Member States. He added that it would be helpful if donors took a more proactive role on support strategies, and further that greater attention should be paid to the critical role to be played by NGOs.

    RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, next spoke about the role of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the reintegration of returning refugees and the contribution the agency made to prepare the ground for the smooth transition from relief to development. He said there was a clear need to focus on repatriation and local reintegration or resettlement. Durable peace and sustainable development for refugees required a good transition from relief to development. Ensuring such a transition, however, was a worldwide problem. There was a need to bring humanitarian and development efforts together. To come to sustainable peace, it was as important to ensure that repatriation led to reintegration and, ultimately, reconstruction.

    He said that UNHCR's "Zambian Initiative" was reflective of an emerging notion throughout the international community -- development through local integration. Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, they were seen as engines for development of the country. Also, development assistance that focused on remote areas inhabited by refugees could lead to broader social development and even employment opportunities for an entire country. He said that the UNHCR functioned as something of a "Ministry of the Interior for Refugees", since such persons had no government representation. Its work was also necessary because, in many regions, governments and protective structures had often been weakened by conflict or were going through their own transitions.

    All the efforts of the international community should attempt to link development to humanitarian concerns. There was a clear movement to ensure that the potential of refugees and IDPs was used to serve the development of the countries and regions in which they lived.

    MARK MALLOCH BROWN, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the Council could not be dealing with a more important issue. Many of the agencies had functions that were common to both relief and development. They often found themselves trapped in silos as they moved from relief to development. Efforts in the post-conflict environment had several faces. The first was the peace-building face -- the political role. The second was humanitarian and development, which included human rights work and work on reintegrating returnees. Coherent leadership at the field level and a common strategy were indispensable. Mr. Brahimi's leadership in Afghanistan was a model for how to go forward. By the time the United Nations arrived in Afghanistan, the beginnings of a coherent model existed.

    Populations emerging from conflict had a straightforward list of priorities, including schooling, security, and the need for law and order, he said. There was demand for the basics of government, including a functioning national peace and basic services such as health care. There was also a demand for jobs and the beginnings of a civilian economy. The different demands poured down like a torrent on fragile and weak governments, putting tremendous obligations on the development and humanitarian agencies to respond -- not directly, but through building the capacity of national and local governments. National capacity was indispensable to long-term development. Demoblizing combatants and bringing refugees home presented special challenges. It was often the "make or break" issue. Managing issues quickly and urgently was the challenge faced by the agencies in Afghanistan. The agencies had done a lot to work out their roles.

    On the issue of financing, he said predictions were never right. For example, in 2001, the UNHCR had initially overestimated the refugee exodus from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran. In 2002, it had underestimated refugee return. Both were understandable errors. The funding flexibility to adjust to such situations did not exist, however. Despite pleas for flexibility in funding, the system did not allow for that. Funding for shifting priorities was not usually available. When confronted with a situation of taking on difficult demobilization challenges, the agencies were forced to ask donors for money. The United Nations did not possess the financial capacity to lead when speed was important. Seed money was needed to move in fast situations. Demobilization delayed was civil war retriggered. The United Nations had not reached the point were strategic upfront resources were available. Additional resources from the international community were needed to seed development activities. "More money, more flexibly, please."

    DIDIER J. CHERPITEL, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said disasters were too often handled as events that required special interventions, task forces, separate budget lines and coordination mechanisms. In reality, disasters were situated within the development process as such. Disasters were not only thought about as events, but also as surprises, in spite of the fact that many of them could be predicted. The issue of transition from relief to development was rooted in the way disasters and development were conceptualized. Comprehensive strategies for addressing both must be devised. Humane solutions for disaster-affected people did not require massive funding or sophisticated solutions, but required the will to put people at the centre of disaster recovery.

    He said that the experience of Hurricane Mitch had required the International Federation to rethink its response mechanisms, methodologies and post-disaster work with affected populations. The value of pre-disaster planning and preparation was shown by the experience of Cuba when Hurricane Michelle -- the most powerful storm since 1944 -- ripped through the country in 2001. Very few people had died. Successful civil defence planning had ensured that some 700,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters in time. Search and rescue and emergency health-care plans moved into action. The key to recovery at the community level was the direct participation by local communities and populations in the identification and implementation of humanitarian and early post-emergency programmes. The challenges of addressing both emergency needs and development requirements were complex and large. No single agency or organization could meet them on their own.

    Risk reduction should be built into development planning, he said. Championing development alone was not enough. Development could exacerbate disasters by degrading the natural environment or moving people from quakeproof shanties to quake-vulnerable apartments. More needed to be invested in disaster preparedness. Ensuring that development policies were risk-resilient would take decades. Disasters hit every year, however. Priority disaster-preparedness measures included risk and vulnerability mapping and training in response skills. Also, local capacities needed to be promoted and encouraged. Finally, appropriate financial mechanisms needed to be created. Donor governments needed to consider solutions to the "gap" in funding by developing mechanisms that allowed the rapid disbursement of resources in the immediate post-disaster phase. Perhaps, the transition that should be focused on was the one from development to relief. In other words, development processes should be planned in such a way that the United Nations had the capacity to absorb the shocks of disaster.

    Dialogue with Panel

    CAROLYN McASKIE, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), moderator of the panel, opened the floor for discussion.

    One representative supported the general call of the panellists to search for durable solutions in order to ensure necessary reintegration and repatriation, which could enable a successful transition from relief to development. Several speakers emphasized the need to ensure sustainable reintegration of returnees and IDPs in Afghanistan. One speaker said that, as the international community's active involvement in Afghanistan approached the one-year mark, there was a need to take stock of the humanitarian phase of its work before activities shifted to the development stage.

    In response to comments and queries, Mr. BRAHIMI said that, in a country trying to pull itself out of a conflict situation towards a consolidated peace, the first thing to remember was that peace would remain fragile for quite some time. So emergency work in Afghanistan would, for a time, be geared towards ensuring that the peace remained in place.

    The question of when initiatives on the ground moved from being categorized as "relief" efforts to becoming "development" efforts really depended on how strong the peace was. That was the key, he said. Programmes aimed at helping children go to school or to provide medicines to the sick did not change. Consolidating peace in Afghanistan would help facilitate the work of all humanitarian actors in the country. It was his hope that, soon, the new Government would be able to take over critical humanitarian activities such as the removal of landmines.

    During the second round of questions, a representative said that it seemed the United Nations could handle only one peace-building operation at a time. What about all the other complex emergencies that needed to be solved urgently? While it was good to encourage refugees to become productive and not to languish in refugee camps, what in practice was the UNHCR suggesting that refugees do?

    Another representative pointed out the importance of coordination among United Nations agencies, donors and NGOs. Coordination was vital for providing the needy with assistance. Mozambique was an example of effective coordination. On capacity building, the importance of coordination could not be overemphasized. The capacity of governments must be strenghthened to respond to the needs and expectations of people and, thus, prevent the recurrence of conflict. The UNDP had shown that money could be used effectively.

    A representative said he had seen reports of unexpected outflows of refugees from Pakistan. How well prepared were United Nations agencies in anticipating the outflow of refugees? Did the UNHCR have contingency plans?

    Responding to questions, Mr. LUBBERS said a draft resolution on the strengthening of humanitarian coordination in the United Nations was in the making. He was trying to encourage the concept of integrated programmes. On refugee returnees becoming productive again, he said that in repatriation programmes people were invited to work immediately upon their return. In that case, returnees were used to carry out productive activities. In cases of protracted situations and local integration, it was often necessary to convince governments in remote areas to accept the idea of refugees participating in economic life. Governments did not like that. It was necessary to convince development assistance ministers that, by allocating money to development projects in remote areas, local populations in those areas would benefit.

    Planning was difficult, he said. The UNHCR did not know the speed of the rate at which refugees would return. It was still a mystery as to why so many had left Pakistan and not Iran. It might have something to do with integration into the local economy. More funds were needed for rural housing programmes. The miracle was not that there were so many returnees, but that the UNHCR could handle them.

    When the next round of comments began, one speaker asked what sort of efforts were under way to share information about the prevention of natural disasters and about disaster preparedness. He also wondered what triggered the transition from relief to development efforts in highly unstable regions. Another speaker asked for clarification on the concept of "donor ownership" in the development process. While one speaker wondered to what extent United Nations efforts in Afghanistan would serve as a model for future mission integration initiatives, another said there was still much work to do there. There was a definite need to ensure that resources were forthcoming to the health sector in that country and that capacity building took place alongside recovery efforts.

    Responding to those and other comments, Mr. CHERPITEL said there was a definite need to ensure coordination on disaster preparedness and risk-reduction management efforts. The ICRC did work actively with the UNDP and other international agencies, but more could be done with NGO partners and local governments. He said the ICRC had two small funds, a disaster response emergency fund and a capacity-building fund, which, though small, could be invested in a country right away.

    Mr. BROWN said, while there was always much talk about "lessons learned" in various forums, it was apparent that if the agencies and funds had gone directly from the lessons of Mozambique to the present, humanitarian initiatives would be better off. On funding, he said the issue was not so much the volume of funding but its flexibility -- funding was still very reactive to events on the ground or consolidated appeals for funding specific situations. There was a need to ensure that funding ran ahead of events.

    Mr. LUBBERS said the transition from relief to development was triggered by repatriation, which, in turn, was triggered by peace. Repatriation should be followed by reintegration. For example, he noted that in Eritrea efforts had been made to repatriate and reintegrate combatants but not refugees. Subsequently, the flows of returns had been relatively low. Repatriation was critical. On funding, he said that many of the agencies and funds had a traditional donor, so often only those traditional institutions were approached for resources when, in reality, there were many untapped sources of funding.

    Responding to several questions, Ms. McASKIE said the proposal to have special funding set aside for the transition from relief to development was only one option. In the long term, humanitarian actors should look at the broad gamut of existing institutional tools. On natural disasters, she said humanitarian actors would continue to help countries build response capacities in order to ensure solid preparedness strategies.

    She said that, by addressing the linkages between humanitarian and development efforts, the United Nations was not trying to carve itself a role but was responding to the call of Member States. The progress that had been made thus far was a hopeful sign that the Organization was moving in the right direction. She added that the United Nations was very attuned to the idea that governments were also trying to develop their own capacities during times of humanitarian crisis. The Organization would strive to ensure that long-term strategies supported government structures.

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