Press Releases

    18 July 2002

    Secretary-General Weighs Successes, Failures of Decade of Humanitarian Action

    NEW YORK, 17 (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to participants in the panel discussion on "Challenges for Humanitarian Assistance in the Last Decade and into the Future." The message was delivered on the Secretary-General's behalf by Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:

    It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all those from the United Nations system, as well as our partners, who have gathered to mark this important anniversary in the world of humanitarian action.

    More than a decade ago, in response to an explosion of conflicts around the world following the end of the cold war, the General Assembly adopted resolution 46/182, putting in place an array of mechanisms for timely and coordinated humanitarian action by the international community. These arrangements have been tested to the limit -- by complex emergencies stemming from ethnic conflict and other political upheavals, and by natural disasters that seem to grow in number and intensity with every year. To our great dismay, we have also seen attacks on refugee camps, truck convoys and relief workers; the deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance, employed as an instrument of war; and the provision of humanitarian aid used as a surrogate for more forceful political or military action that might have addressed root causes of the conflict.

    For the practitioners and theorists of humanitarian assistance, 10 years is time enough to assess performance and draw lessons. The situation in Afghanistan, even before the events of the past year, served as a potent reminder of the devastating effects that prolonged internal conflict can have, particularly when compounded by severe natural disasters, against a backdrop of waning donor interest. Our experiences in East Timor and Kosovo showed that an early response can prevent the expansion of a humanitarian crisis -- though in both cases an earlier political response might have prevented it altogether. Successful efforts last year to avert a famine in the Horn of Africa, where drought threatened millions, reaffirmed the value of teamwork among United Nations agencies. Our work with the severely traumatized population in Sierra Leone demonstrated the key role a strong Security Council resolution can play. But of course, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia will remain painful examples of the terrible price that can be paid when the international community is too slow to act.

    I hope you will use this panel to take stock of our successes and setbacks, to strengthen our mechanisms, and to consider how to build on the last decade's achievements in improving coordination within the humanitarian community. Tens of millions of vulnerable people around the world look to us for protection, sustenance and hope. With this very much in mind, I would like to extend to the United Nations humanitarian agencies and our partner organizations my congratulations for 10 years of hard and heroic work. I look forward to learning the results of what I am sure will be a constructive, insightful discussion.

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