Press Releases

                                                                            15 July 2004

    Help Build Local, National Anti-Disaster Capacities, Emergency Relief Coordinator Urges Humanitarian Community

    Need to Enable Crisis-Affected Countries Highlighted as Economic and Social Council Concludes Humanitarian Segment

    NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- Having successfully developed fast, sophisticated international relief networks, the humanitarian community must now help build local and national capacities to prevent and mitigate future humanitarian crises, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland stressed today.

    As the Economic and Social Council concluded its humanitarian segment, Mr. Egeland, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, summed up the main concern voiced by Member States over the past few days: the need to enable countries affected by crises to coordinate effective emergency relief responses, for which they bore primary responsibility.

    For instance, among the speakers addressing the Council today, the representative of Nepal, whose country had recently experienced severe flooding and landslides, warned that short-term emergencies should not divert the international community’s attention and resources away from the long-term need to redress issues of poverty, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS and discrimination, which compounded complex humanitarian emergencies. Nor should high-profile complex emergencies detract attention from other serious, but lower-profiled, humanitarian crises.

    Iran’s representative said that, in the wake of the 2003 Bam earthquake, it had become evident that transparent and reliable communication and information management in terms of pledges and donations was essential to disaster responses. Any public statement on pledges and donations that were unlikely to materialize would cause unnecessary rising expectations among the affected population and might prevent other potential donors from providing support.

    Recalling the devastating recent flooding in the province of Independencia, the representative of the Dominican Republic said that, while the Government had established a clearly defined national policy for the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, political and economic pressures continued to compel people to live in unstable regions and homes, which countered those risk prevention and mitigation efforts.

    Mr. Egeland agreed that the humanitarian community must broaden the ownership of and support for its activities. The United Nations system must improve collaboration and dialogue with Member States and the collection of agencies and offices operating on the ground must pursue more active roles for regional organizations, as well as better engagement with national and local non-governmental organizations.

    Among the specific points raised for further action, he said in his concluding remarks, were the increasing frequency of natural disasters, the security and sustainability of humanitarian action and future prospects for integrated missions. Overall, the Council’s present segment had given him a long list of “to-dos”, a clearer sense of collective priorities and a renewed resolve to see them through.

    At the outset of the afternoon meeting, the Council agreed to consider the report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination during its resumed session, as the report had not been made available in time for the regular substantive session.

    Also addressing the Council today were the representatives of Ghana, United States, Indonesia, Cuba, Egypt, Australia, Namibia, Jamaica, Mozambique, Zambia, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Azerbaijan.

    Representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) also spoke.

    Israel’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

    The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 15 July, to begin its consideration of the implementation of and follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits within the context of its general segment.


    The 2004 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convened today to continue its consideration of special economic, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. For more background information, see Press Release ECOSOC/6127 of 12 July.


    PAUL YAW ESSEL (Ghana), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China on 12 July, said there was a fundamental difference between emergency humanitarian assistance in the case of natural disasters and that of human conflict. Whereas natural disasters might be unpreventable, human conflicts were, to a large extent, avoidable. It was, therefore, imperative that every effort be made to pre-empt the outbreak of violent conflict, particularly in developing countries. Ghana had been working assiduously within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other international forums to prevent, as well as resolve, conflicts in the West African subregion and elsewhere on the continent.

    HIV/AIDS continued to wreak serious havoc on societies already grappling with natural disasters and conflicts, he said, adding that strategies for the pandemic’s prevention and management must be incorporated into efforts to alleviate the problems of affected communities. The comportment and behaviour of humanitarian personnel should be in tune with the goals of humanitarian programmes and be sensitive to local norms and practices.

    He noted with concern that, even though the overall requirements for humanitarian assistance remained at approximately the same level, the patterns of funding of humanitarian activities was uneven, leaving some countries substantially under-financed. There must be an even-handed response to all humanitarian activities. Ghana looked forward to the practical benefits of the progress reported under the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative (GHDI), the key element of which was a commitment to provide funding that was commensurate with clearly defined and demonstrable need.

    SICHAN SIV (United States) said that access by aid workers to communities in need continued to constrain significantly the speed and quality of humanitarian response. There were two ends of the spectrum, with the response of the Government of Iran to the Bam earthquake in December 2003 figuring, at one end, and the situation in Darfur, Sudan, at the other. The man-made disaster in Darfur remained the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the world, yet the Government of the Sudan had delayed access for months with bureaucratic hurdles. At present, the largest obstacles to access were the onset of the rainy season and the lack of security. As the people of Darfur died in continuing violence, it should be recognized that 350,000 to a million people could perish there in coming months due to exposure, malnutrition and disease, if the situation were not addressed in a comprehensive way.

    Expressing his country’s commitment to addressing both the root causes of the Darfur tragedy and the immediate needs of the affected people, he said the United States had provided more than $150 million in relief assistance since February 2003. Dozens of government officials had been dedicated to addressing the needs of Darfur, including a 13-person Disaster Assistance Response Team. That response reflected the commitment of the United States to the principles of the Good Humanitarian Donorship -- whether in the Sudan, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or Uganda. Assistance had been provided irrespective of the political objectives and media profile of the crisis in question.

    The United States also adhered to the core humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, he said. While supportive of the integration of all available tools to save lives and alleviate suffering, the country continued to insist that humanitarian action must be the priority. Thus, high expectations had been placed on the United Nations agencies with regard to coherence. In Darfur, successful implementation of the collaborative approach to internally displaced persons (IDPs) was particularly important.

    JONNY SINAGA (Indonesia) drew attention to the growing diversity of actors providing humanitarian assistance, including regional peacekeepers, and the increased engagement of private contractors in managing the distribution of aid, as well as the direct involvement of armed forces in relief and reconstruction activities. While supporting every effort to make relief assistance available to needy populations as quickly as possible, Indonesia believed ground rules were needed to govern the provision of assistance, as well as civilian-military relations and coordination.

    Turning to the increasingly interrelated nature of humanitarian problems, he said it was further proof of the need for a stronger and more coherent international response. In particular, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and all relevant international humanitarian agencies should continue their valuable work in trying to reduce the high numbers of refugees and IDPs. Humanitarian operations should be conducted in strict compliance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.  Assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and with respect for the State’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity.

    The affected States should play the primary role in coordinating relief efforts, with humanitarian agencies providing support when requested, he continued. It was also necessary to enhance sensitivity to local cultures and conditions. Humanitarian assistance should not substitute or be mistaken for peace and economic development. Parties in conflict must cooperate with humanitarian efforts, while Member States should, at the same time, more actively play their role in terms of providing the necessary resources.

    YURI ARIEL GALA LOPEZ (Cuba) said the sensitive issue of aid could not serve as a pretext for the introduction of doubtful concepts that rewrote international law and undermined respect for State sovereignty in the interventionist interests of a small group of very powerful countries. Nothing, or very little, had been said in that regard during the current segment, as if nothing had occurred or as if numerous cases of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial execution, torture, sexual abuse and cruel treatment of detainees within the framework of the so-called war against terrorism had not been broadly documented.

    It was simply unrealistic to expect that local populations would receive affectionately “humanitarian actions” by the same forces that had carried out unilateral aggression, using false reasons as a pretext, he said. Those considerations should be taken more seriously by those who promoted integrated missions. Humanitarian assistance should be independent, neutral and impartial, and its coordination could not be related or subordinated in any way to occupying military activity. Another source of concern was the increasing use of mercenaries, through private enterprises taking part in security activities.

    Poverty and underdevelopment only aggravated vulnerability to natural hazards, he continued. To save precious human lives, it was necessary to reinforce prevention, mitigation and preparation activities and ensure prompt international responses to the requests of affected countries. Of particular importance was the need for a continuum from relief to development. Strict respect for the United Nations Charter and international law was the necessary condition for the effective provision of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.

    KHALED ABDEL RAHMAN SHAMAA (Egypt), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, reiterated its condemnation of the aggression against humanitarian staff and urged the international community to punish those who carried out such actions, which violated international law. The international community must provide the necessary financing so that the United Nations could face emergency humanitarian situations resulting from crises and natural disasters. It was also important to respond with greater funding to requests by the United Nations for fair responses to all situations, without necessarily responding more to situations highlighted by the media to the detriment of others that got less coverage.

    Expressing the hope that the United Nations would address the numerous crises in Africa, he asked all parties to conflicts not to prevent access to civilians or use civilians as human shields. The international community could not use double standards. Egypt reaffirmed the importance of the Council’s role in carrying out humanitarian activities, and that of the General Assembly in assessing those activities. The Protection of civilians should be placed on the agendas of both the Council and the Assembly. Egypt also hoped that the Good Donorship Initiative would result in greater financing of humanitarian activities and in strengthening cooperation among donor countries. 

    Referring to the principles governing humanitarian assistance, he stressed that sovereignty must be taken into account. Humanitarian activities must not be hindered by political activities, as that would give a false impression and could endanger humanitarian staff. Egypt urged the international community to intervene clearly in the Palestinian crisis caused by the Israeli occupation, which had resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Sanctions and blockades also impeded access for humanitarian assistance.

    JOHN DAUTH (Australia) said that crises and disasters continued to devastate communities around the world, undermining poverty reduction and sustainable development initiatives. At the same time, the delivery of humanitarian assistance had become more difficult, more dangerous and more complex in many situations, which posed a significant challenge to the international community. For its part, Australia continued to provide rapid support for the victims of disasters, both regionally and globally, but gave the highest priority to the Asia-Pacific region.

    While recognizing the enormous needs of Africa, he suggested that the United Nations should also focus on playing a role in the Asia-Pacific region. There were lessons to be learned there, including from experiences in Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands. For example, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was a coordinated regional effort to prevent conflict, respond to humanitarian needs and assist in post-conflict reform and rebuilding.  It was a regional “integrated mission”.

    Among issues of particular importance to Australia, he added, were important aspects such as ensuring security and access for humanitarian personnel, protection of civilians in conflict, integration of humanitarian assistance into broader United Nations missions, support for countries in transition, more effective responses to natural disasters, gender analysis, and mainstreaming and strengthening the humanitarian coordinator system.

    MORINA MUUONDJO (Namibia) said her country was battling interrelated humanitarian problems, including income inequality, abject poverty and food shortages as a result of recurrent drought and floods, compounded by the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. All those factors undermined development gains and efforts to eradicate poverty. Efforts to combat HIV/AIDS should be integrated into humanitarian planning and programming, cutting across humanitarian and development lines to focus on long-term solutions.

    Welcoming the progress made under the GHDI, she noted with concern, however, that the number of countries requiring humanitarian assistance due to complex emergencies remained constant, and that funding for humanitarian assistance remained uneven. The decline in humanitarian assistance channelled through the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) was a real cause of concern.  Namibia called for unearmarked, predictable funding for relief assistance, as well as urgent actions to strengthen the coordination of United Nations humanitarian aid. Efforts to integrate a gender perspective into the planning, programming and implementation of humanitarian activities must also be strengthened.

    DIEDRE MILLS (Jamaica), expressing concern over the uneven pattern of funding for humanitarian activities, said greater emphasis should be placed on equity in the distribution of such assistance. The recommendation that donors should make available increased amounts of unearmarked, predictable funding for relief assistance, including in the transition phase, deserved special consideration, as did the suggestion that they should also explore means to fund all critical needs across sectors. Every effort should be made to ensure that the provision of funds, especially in the context of assessing post-conflict needs, did not impose additional conditionalities on recipient countries.

    Promoting capacity-building at the local, national and regional levels was of paramount importance, she continued. International cooperation in support of efforts by affected countries to deal with natural disasters and complex emergencies was critical. Programming in that respect had not been as extensive or wide-ranging as it should be, however, especially for natural disasters, due in part to the comparatively low level of funding provided for capacity-building in disaster reduction and recovery.

    She went on stress the importance of strengthening coordination and coherence within the United Nations system, as well as with national partners. Jamaica’s recent experience in providing assistance to Haitians seeking refuge in that country, following the eruption of violence in Haiti, bore testimony to that fact. Further dialogue was also needed regarding changes in the way humanitarian operations were perceived and accepted. Another important aspect that must be addressed was the blurred distinction between military and humanitarian operations. There was also merit in the recommendation that all personnel be sensitive to national and local customs and traditions.

    CESAR GOUVEIA (Mozambique), endorsing the position of the Group of 77 and China, emphasized the importance of focusing on the empowerment of local communities, with international partners playing a supporting role. There was no doubt that in dealing with emergencies the national capacity should be capable of providing the first line of defence, giving priority to the development of national prevention, mitigation, preparedness and management capacities that could ultimately prove to be most cost-effective.

    Turning to the complex nature of emergency assistance, he said that in Mozambique, for instance, the compounding effects of HIV/AIDS on cyclical natural disasters had significantly increased the vulnerability of the population that was still in need of humanitarian assistance, despite the positive gains made in recent years. Therefore, humanitarian problems must be addressed in an integrated manner, comprising emergency relief, as well as a development dimension. Also of great importance was the transition from relief to development, which could ensure an end to vulnerability and dependency on emergency aid. It could also enable the recipient countries to develop the tools that could help them face future disasters. 

    Complementarity between emergency relief and development activities continued to be of critical importance and must be central to any development cooperation strategy, he said. In that connection, it was hoped that the resolution on assistance to Mozambique, expected to be tabled during the next session of the General Assembly, would focus not only on humanitarian assistance, but also on the main political, social and economic aspects of the country’s development. It should serve as an instrument for the further mobilization of humanitarian and development assistance for Mozambique.

    MWELWA C. MUSAMBACHIME (Zambia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said Africa was tackling some of the most complex humanitarian disasters, such as the Darfur crisis. The southern African subregion, which was just emerging from a major crisis, remained vulnerable as HIV/AIDS, poverty and food shortages still needed considerable attention.  Long-term needs must be addressed if another humanitarian crisis was to be averted. Zambia deplored sexual abuse and exploitation, especially in the context of peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations. The issue was one of oversight in the area of operations.

    Not much progress had been achieved in implementing a gender perspective, he said, adding that greater coordination was also needed in the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The African Union had appointed a special representative for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which should make it easier for the United Nations to coordinate its actions in Africa. While the refugee situation might be improving, the plight of internally displaced persons, estimated at 25 million, was still a source of concern. Much more must be done in that regard to ensure that coordination extended from policy to actual operations. The Central Emergency Revolving Fund was insufficient to meet required needs, he said, noting that disaster response required that funds be sufficient, timely and readily accessible if lives were to be saved.

    RAMON OSIRIS BLANCO DOMINGUEZ (Dominican Republic) acknowledged that his country was vulnerable to natural forces, which had impeded national efforts for poverty reduction and economic development. Moreover, while the Government had established a clearly defined national policy for preventing and mitigating natural disasters, political and economic pressures compelled people to live in unstable regions and homes, which countered risk prevention and mitigation efforts, as demonstrated by the recent flooding in the province of Independencia. Yet, thanks to the solid support of the national and international aid communities, assistance had been provided in a timely manner.

    Frequent loss of human life and property as a consequence of natural phenomena had held up the process of development in the Dominican Republic, he reiterated. Developing countries urgently needed technological and scientific assistance to help them combat the harmful effects of natural disasters.  Furthermore, as national governments bore the primary responsibility to facilitate responses to natural disasters, there was an urgent need to eliminate bureaucratic barriers that often held up the multilateral humanitarian response.

    Calling for more progress in creating programmes to develop national capacities for disaster prevention and mitigation, he said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continued to suffer from financial limitations. By complementing the work accomplished by regional and national search-and-rescue groups, OCHA would leave governmental and non-governmental and civil society organizations free to mobilize without political limitations. Emergency cash grant maximums should also be raised to $100,000.

    NICOLAS RIVAS DE ZUBIRIA (Colombia) said the humanitarian work of the United Nations system should be based upon a strict observance of international humanitarian law, while the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality must rule humanitarian action. Assistance must be neither politicized nor rushed into exploring options that might weaken States and further aggravate already vulnerable populations. Humanitarian assistance must be offered upon request, with the consent of the affected State and with respect for international and national law.

    In Colombia’s experience, he noted, the President’s “Democratic Security” policy had demonstrated that strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions would lead to increased levels of security for the population and facilitate solutions to humanitarian challenges. For example, the number of IDPs in Colombia had declined by 48 per cent in the past year, although that achievement had not been noted in the Secretary-General’s report.  Much remained to be accomplished, for which reason the Government remained committed to the fight against internal displacement and to reintegrating displaced persons.

    The Government applied the guiding principles of guaranteeing the willingness, security and dignity of the returning displaced population, he said. Escorting, facilitating or promoting forced returns was unthinkable.  Furthermore, the Social Solidarity Network, which guided the Colombian State, had developed follow-up mechanisms to facilitate the monitoring of returnees’ and alerting authorities about risks to their security.

    DIEGO SIMANCAS (Mexico) reaffirmed the guiding principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity, which should guide the provision of humanitarian assistance. Also important was the full observance of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of States. Humanitarian workers needed full access to people in need. It was the primary responsibility of States to coordinate international efforts and provide humanitarian relief in their respective territories.

    No conditions should be attached to the provision of humanitarian assistance, he stressed. It was also important to maintain a balance between assistance in emergencies and efforts to build national capacities for the prevention of natural disasters. The international community should support national efforts, taking into account the priorities of the affected societies and the needs of the most vulnerable population groups.  In dealing with natural disasters, special attention should be paid to the developing and least developed countries. States must strengthen their commitment to respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law, while humanitarian actors must respect the laws, culture and customs of recipient countries. 

    Turning to increased threats and deliberate violence against humanitarian workers, he expressed support for Security Council resolution 1502 (2003) which addressed the question of safety and protection of humanitarian actors. The Secretary-General should also use his prerogative under the United Nations Charter to bring to the attention of the Security Council any acts of violence that hindered the provision of humanitarian assistance. The International Criminal Court Charter defined deliberate acts against humanitarian actors as war crimes and should be used for the protection of international personnel. The United Nations must continue strengthening its collaboration with States and governmental, as well as non-governmental, organizations in the field.

    MEHDI MIRAFZAL (Iran), expressing appreciation for the international humanitarian assistance offered to the survivors of the Bam earthquake, said that one of the lessons in that regard might be the issue of communications on donations. Transparent and reliable communication and information management was needed during emergency disaster responses in terms of pledges and donations. Any public statement on pledges and donations that were unlikely to materialize would cause an unnecessary raising of expectations among the affected population and prevent other potential donors from providing support.

    He said governments had the primary responsibility for the protection of and assistance to civilians, while the international community had an important role in assisting national efforts. However, in cases where a government lacked the necessary institutions and structures to meet its responsibility, or where territories within a country were under factional domination, the international community should intervene. In those extreme cases, the United Nations was the sole legitimate body that could take charge of coordinating humanitarian affairs on the basis of international law and the principles of impartiality and neutrality.

    External humanitarian assistance in an affected local community should be complementary to local systems and capacities, and should not try to establish a new and different practice, he said. In order to make a clear distinction between humanitarian and political actions, it was vital to identify, articulate, disseminate and apply the principles of humanity and neutrality individually and collectively. Measures to meet security concerns must be based on a deep understanding of their impact on the local community.

    MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal) stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to humanitarian assistance, as it was vital to finding reliable solutions to humanitarian problems. The focus must be on ensuring the seamless transition from relief to development in order to prevent and mitigate recurrent disasters. And yet, short-term emergencies should not divert the international community’s attention and resources away from the long-term need to redress issues of poverty, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS and discrimination, which compounded complex humanitarian emergencies.

    The amount of resources allocated to humanitarian assistance was insufficient, he noted. Additional resources must be provided, yet the United Nations also had an obligation to use available resources optimally. To that end, there must be strengthened coordination within the United Nations system and between the system and other humanitarian actors to avoid waste. Moreover, as the primary responsibility for responding to natural disasters rested with the affected countries, national capacity-building was vital. The United Nations must also focus on building regional capacities, so that help would be available next door in times of difficulty.

    Within the United Nations system, contributions to efficiency should be effected through joint planning, information and analysis sharing and common procurement, he said. High-profile complex emergencies should not detract attention from serious humanitarian situations elsewhere. Across the board, there was a need for a holistic approach to facilitate a judicious division of attention and resources. Humanitarian assistance should not be used as a vehicle to undermine the territorial or political sovereignty of any country, no matter how rich or poor, large or small. Moreover, allegations of sexual abuse must be investigated by ECOSOC, in conjunction with the competent bodies.

    GUSTAVO EDUARDO AINCHIL (Argentina) expressed deep concern about problems of access for humanitarian workers to populations in need, attacks against civilian populations and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The Council must devote more attention to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and no security consideration could prevail over the primary obligation of any State to comply with the basic norms of international humanitarian law. Similarly, the fight against terrorism should be carried out in full compliance with international law and human rights.

    He said the difficulties affecting humanitarian assistance required a great amount of flexibility in the use of humanitarian tools, which should be expressed in broad mandates for humanitarian organizations. The Council’s coordinating role in humanitarian affairs required strengthening, and there should be a possibility to suspend the humanitarian segment at the end of the substantive session and to resume later in the year if so required. It was also important to continue to improve existing communication channels between the United Nations system and Member States.

    GALIB ISRAFILOV (Azerbaijan) said that the Council event on the issue of transition from relief to development had helped to create a better understanding that the United Nations system was responding to the needs of populations in armed conflict. The Council should continue its consideration of transitions, which was a priority for Azerbaijan and other countries that suffered from protracted armed conflict and problems of IDPs and refugees.

    Welcoming the emphasis placed on local capacity-building in disaster-prone areas, he called on the United Nations system to further develop its risk-vulnerability assessment tools. The most vivid indicator of the adequacy of international humanitarian responses to the needs of refugees and IDPs was their impact on improving conditions. Vulnerable groups still did not receive sufficient protection and assistance.

    Positive developments under the GHDI were encouraging, and it was hoped that its further development would ensure that more assistance was provided in proportion to the needs of affected countries, regardless of the protracted nature or political circumstances surrounding any particular emergency.

    JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE, Senior Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said the agency had been put to extraordinary tests in 2003, fighting hunger in a world that seemed determined to produce ever-more hungry people. Violent conflict, terrorism, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS had come together to stretch the limits of the WFP and the United Nations family. Having begun the year facing unprecedented needs -- $3 billion globally, with  $1.8 billion in Africa alone -- the WFP had seen needs rise sharply. At the end of 2003, it had delivered more than twice as much aid as in 2002 -- over $3.3 billion in aid to more than 100 million hungry people in 81 countries.  Even excluding the emergency in Iraq -- the largest-ever operation -- the volume of food moved had increased by 35 per cent.

    While the provision of food was essential, it was not enough, he continued. In most emergencies, there were other needs in the areas of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and agriculture. Those were key to ensuring that food aid made a maximum impact and that it could be phased out as soon as possible. Donors must continue their efforts to find ways to fund all critical needs across all sectors to make relief operations a success. Coordination between humanitarian partners and donors was an absolute necessity.

    He emphasized WFP’s leading and practical role in support of humanitarian coordination by acting as the custodian for critical humanitarian common services, including an inter-agency United Nations Joint Logistics Centre and a Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy. The Programme was also providing support to a variety of users, including United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), through its air services.

    LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Permanent Observer for the International Organization on Migration (IOM), said that considerable efforts had been made over the past few months to improve the combined capacities of humanitarian actors to provide more timely, predictable and coordinated responses to crises of internal displacement, starting with a more proactive field-level approach. Agencies participating in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) had opted for an inter-agency collaborative approach, which represented the most appropriate modality to mobilize a broad range of expertise available in the system. Among recent achievements were efforts to strengthen the Internal Displacement Division in OCHA, to create a more vigorous role for the humanitarian/resident coordinators and define a procedural road map for the assignment of tasks among the partners.

    Turning to the role of the IOM, he said that in Iraq, for instance, it worked as part of the United Nations country team, participating in the joint approach which called for the sharing of resources through clusters covering security, operations support, management and oversight. The Sudan was another example of the complex coordination required to address a displacement crisis of enormous proportions. Alongside OCHA, the IOM had recently initiated a comprehensive assessment of camp management needs among IDPs in Darfur.

    Regarding security, he said that while a more robust security management system was needed, humanitarian agencies could not operate under a siege mentality. It was hoped that discussions on the new security system would take due account of the conditions needed for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Another serious matter of concern related to the resources available for security.

    PAMELA DELARGY, Chief of the Humanitarian Response Unit of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the agency was seriously troubled by the deteriorating security situation of humanitarian actors, and by the evident impact of mixing humanitarian, political and military objectives within integrated mission structures. The UNFPA wished to encourage, and express its willingness to participation in, a serious examination of how global and local political dynamics related to United Nations missions in particular and as a whole.

    The humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality must remain fundamental to the design and implementation of mission mandates, she stressed. Thus, although the UNFPA recognized that local contexts would vary, a humanitarian space must be preserved in every instance, and deeper understanding and participation of local communities in the planning and execution of missions should be encouraged.

    Among aspects of the Secretary-General’s report that were particularly welcomed, she said, was the level of attention dedicated to the need for HIV/AIDS prevention and care.  The tragedy of displacement must not be compounded by that of HIV/AIDS, yet the burden of HIV/AIDS had derailed the best-organized efforts of advanced nations, and so must be considered an element in planning for transition. In fact, it was precisely post-conflict environments that were most conducive to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The UNFPA also welcomed the report’s focus on the need to improve reproductive health, as well as on prevention and assistance for victims of sexual abuse.

    AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), New York Office, stressed its leading role within the United Nations system in coordinating disaster-assistance activities in the field of shelter and human settlements. In particular, it had launched a Disaster Management Programme to marshal resources in order to provide national and local governments, civil society and the private sector with practical strategies for mitigating and recovering from conflicts and natural disasters in the context of human settlements.

    She said the Programme also sought to create awareness among decision makers and communities on mitigation methodologies and adequate rehabilitation in human settlements, as well as providing a combination of long-term technical and normative support through ongoing partnerships within the system. The UN-Habitat was also actively engaged with its United Nations and international partners in work on the normative and operational aspects of humanitarian assistance. During the upcoming World Urban Forum in Barcelona, there would be a dialogue on urban disasters and sustainable relief efforts in post-disaster environments.

    Right of Reply

    MOSHE SERMONETA (Israel), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, expressed surprise at allegations by a certain delegate against his country, given the fact that the delegate’s country was involved in putting the Middle East peace process back on track. It was difficult to understand how such language could contribute to that process.

    Regarding the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region, he said that violence and terror, by their very nature, entailed hardships for the civilian population. Ending the suffering and providing security for all people in the region was a critical component of any peace process. Israel had made efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance despite the threat of terror. During 2003, there had even been an increase in the movement of humanitarian assistance from Israel to the Palestinian territories.

    He said the delegate had failed to make even a token reference to the campaign of terrorism against innocent civilians. Efforts continued to improve the situation, but it was far easier to facilitate humanitarian aid without the terror. Palestinian terrorists had consistently exploited any easing of measures against terrorism, using the immunity granted to medical personnel to smuggle weapons. The intentions of the international community should not be devoted solely to easing the situation of the Palestinian population, but also that of Israelis suffering from terror.

    Closing Remarks

    Concluding the humanitarian segment, JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the deliberations of the past days had been insightful, thorough and productive. As many had noted, the humanitarian community’s work had become increasingly difficult, intricate and unsafe. Agencies operating on the frontlines of humanitarian response had to cope daily with the pressure of operating in fragile and uncertain environments. Among the points agreed:  the humanitarian community must broaden ownership and support for its activities; the United Nations system must improve its collaboration and dialogue with Member States; and the collection of agencies and offices operating on the ground must pursue more active roles for regional organizations and better engagement with national and local NGOs.

    Noting specific points raised for further action, he said natural hazards increasingly threatened the lives and livelihoods of those living in poor countries and could wipe out development gains that had taken decades to achieve. Having developed fast and sophisticated international response networks such as the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group and the United Nations Disaster and Assistance Coordination (UNDAC), the international community must now prioritize national capacity building and seek to recognize and utilize local and community responses. The international community must invest in preparedness and training for national, local and community groups to prepare for future disasters. It must also think beyond disaster emergency management and spend more time planning and funding post-disaster-reduction transitions. Neglecting the long-term recovery phase in the wake of natural disasters constituted a lost opportunity to improve development practices and ultimately reduce risk.

    Another preoccupying factor during the humanitarian segment had concerned the security and sustainability of humanitarian action, he stated. Humanitarians had always worked in dangerous environments, but today’s threats were more serious in terms of the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers in several countries. While reaffirming the leading role of impartial civilian organizations in implementing humanitarian assistance, it must also be recognized that support from military or civil defence assets might sometimes be necessary. However, all such support must be used in conformity with international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles to preserve the humanitarian community’s independence, uphold its reputation and protect its staff.

    In terms of integrated missions, that meant that their impact on humanitarian assistance must be further examined, he said. While most recognized the importance of the greater coherence that integrated missions could bring, there was also a need to ensure the identification of and proper respect for humanitarian missions’ principles and responsibilities. The acceptance of such missions by local populations and their impact on the ability of humanitarians to operate alongside a military presence should be assessed.

    Summarizing the Council’s discussion of issues relating to the transition from relief to development, gender, sexual exploitation and IDPs, he stressed that he was taking away from the present segment of the Council’s substantive session a long list of “to-dos”, a clearer sense of collective priorities and a renewed resolve to see them through.

    Closing the meeting, Council Vice-President DAW PENJO (Bhutan) noted that the 37 statements delivered by delegations had exhibited a keen understanding of the changes and constraints affecting humanitarian coordination. Delegations were urged to accelerate their efforts to reach agreement on an action-oriented resolution that would serve as an important guide for United Nations humanitarian action in the future.

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