15 November 2005
General Assembly Calls for further Strengthening United Nations Humanitarian Capacity to Assist Millions of Disaster Victims Worldwide
NEW YORK, 14 November (UN Headquarters) -- Deeply alarmed over the critical condition of millions desperately awaiting immediate response in Pakistan's high altitude valleys following the 7.6 earthquake that rocked South Asia early on 8 October, the General Assembly requested United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to further strengthen the rapid response capacities for immediate humanitarian relief efforts in the devastated region, building on existing arrangements and ongoing initiatives, in one of four resolutions adopted today.
Spotlighting the plight of millions of people worldwide in 2005 who needed help to pull through crises ranging from large-scale conflict and abiding food insecurity to catastrophic earthquakes and their aftermath, Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden) opened today's meeting by stressing the significance of strengthening United Nations emergency relief assistance and boosting its coordination with the wider humanitarian aid community to help mitigate disasters, speed up the deployment of resources and stimulate post-disaster development.
He said that the complexity of today's crises and the growing magnitude of disasters required that humanitarian assistance remain one of the Organization's highest priorities. The draft resolutions under consideration concerned the recent South Asian earthquake, the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Hundreds of thousands of human beings in grave need and mortal danger were at the heart of the Assembly's discussions, he said, adding "Our solidarity with them must be unwavering."
By further terms of the text on the South Asian earthquake, the Assembly asked Mr. Annan to appoint a special envoy to, among other things, sustain the international community's political will to support the medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction efforts.
Maintaining worldwide focus on the need to strengthen emergency relief, reconstruction and prevention after last December's Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, which killed nearly 250,000 people and left an arc of devastation across 12 countries, the Assembly adopted another resolution encouraging continued effective coordination among the Governments of affected countries, relevant United Nations bodies, donors, regional and global financial institutions, civil society and the private sector, to ensure adequate response to remaining humanitarian needs.
Another provision of that text reaffirmed that all regional efforts should serve the purpose of strengthening international cooperation aimed at the creation of a global multi-hazard early warning system, including the newly established Indian Ocean Warning and Mitigation System.
Conscious of the long-term nature of the consequences of the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the Assembly also adopted a resolution requesting the United Nations Coordinator of International Cooperation on Chernobyl to organize, in collaboration with the affected countries of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, a further study of health, environmental and socio-economic consequences of the accident, consistent with the recommendations of the Chernobyl Forum.
When the floor was opened for discussion, delegations noted the serious challenges faced by the United Nations humanitarian response mechanisms during the past year. Agreeing on the need to strengthen the Organization's coordination and disaster relief capacity, speakers said that addressing the world body's funding capacity was one of the most critical steps to achieving that objective. Many delegations, particularly those in disaster-prone and small island regions, also highlighted the need to improve global disaster response and reduction mechanisms.
Noting the increasing demands on the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, delegations supported the Secretary-General's recommendation to modernize that mechanism by expanding its target of $500 million to include a grant element alongside its existing loan element. The modernized Fund would be used to ensure resources were immediately available for rapid response to humanitarian crises and address critical humanitarian needs in underfunded emergencies. One speaker noted that making the modernized Fund a success required a flexible advisory group structure and clear criteria for the allocation of resources, as well as accurate needs assessments and appropriate accounting and reporting mechanisms.
The Assembly also took up the Secretary-General's report on assistance to the Palestinian people. The Permanent Observer of Palestine said such international assistance had been the "lifeline" for the Palestinian people over the past decades of occupation and deprivation since 1967, when the Palestinian economy had been hostage to the occupying Power and had been forbidden to reach its potential.
The past five years had seen a downward spiral in the Israeli attitude towards international assistance efforts, going from obstruction to destruction by systematically destroying hosts of internationally-funded infrastructure projects such as ports, roads and water networks. The Palestinian Authority had formulated a Medium-term Development Plan and called on the international community to endorse it with funding of the projects, in order to quickly optimise Palestinian ownership. Pledges should be backed by delivery of funding and pressure should be brought upon Israel to end its occupation, he added.
In other action, the Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing 800 years of Mongolian statehood, to be celebrated in 2006. The text welcomed the efforts of Mongolia and other Member States to preserve nomadic culture and traditions in modern societies. It also invited Member States, the United Nations system and other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to participate actively in the events surrounding Mongolia's anniversary celebration.
Speaking in the Assembly today were the representatives of Jamaica (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union), Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), United States, Japan, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Russian Federation, Maldives, China, Malawi (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Switzerland, Canada, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Norway, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, India and Thailand.
Also addressing the meeting were the representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Resolutions were introduced by the representatives of Pakistan, Belarus, Malaysia (on behalf of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)), and Mongolia.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the representative of Israel and the observer for Palestine.
The Assembly will reconvene on Monday, 28 November, to consider matters related to oceans and law of the sea.
The General Assembly met today to consider strengthening the coordination of United Nations emergency humanitarian assistance; managing the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster; and assistance to the Palestinian people. It was also expected to consider a draft resolution with regard to the global agenda for dialogue among civilizations.
Among the documents before the Assembly was the report of the Secretary-General on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/60/223 and Corr.1), which outlines the threats against the safety of relief workers over the past year, and is the first such report under the auspices of the newly-established Department of Safety and Security. It notes that throughout the year, United Nations personnel deployed globally in a broad range of field operations continued to be subjected to threats such as hostage-taking, physical assault, robbery, theft, harassment and detention.
There were three incidents of hostage-taking and 17 kidnappings, as well as four cases of rape and six assaults against United Nations personnel during the reporting period. A total of 119 incidents of armed robbery involving significant United Nations assets were reported, as well as nine attacks, resulting in the death or injury of the Organization's personnel, on humanitarian convoys and operations. Noting that overall, the year had been one of "great risk" for international relief workers, the report notes specific and "unrelenting" danger in Iraq, as well as in the Sudan's western Darfur region, among others.
The report observes that there continues to be deep concern about the ongoing difficulties encountered in a few countries in obtaining permission to import communications equipment, as well as long-standing cases of unwillingness by some host Governments to provide timely information in the event of arrest or detention of locally recruited United Nations personnel. Very few countries have fully investigated attacks or threats against local or international relief workers. According to the report, while much can and will be done by the United Nations to train and equip its staff to operate safely in difficult places, the culture of accountability engendered by Member States, local authorities and leaders at all levels remain the surest means of enabling the Organization's staff to safely meet the needs of the world.
Also before the Assembly is the Secretary-General's report on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/60/86), which identifies the lessons learned from the massive humanitarian response to the December 2004 tragedy and highlights some issues that have come out of the ongoing recovery effort in the affected countries. In doing so, it examines success and challenges specific to the response and recovery effort, and addresses several themes universal to all disaster response and recovery, such as national ownership and leadership, coordination, resource mobilization, civil society engagement and risk reduction.
Among the Secretary-General's recommendations is a call to improve structures for national and international response to major sudden-onset emergencies. The United Nations, Governments and relevant civil society groups should commit to building and re-establishing regional and local disaster response capacities so that the humanitarian system has immediate access to deployable resources, particularly in disaster-prone areas. He also recommends enhancing coherence within the civil-military response, investing in early warning and preparedness, and promoting financial transparency and accountability, among other things.
Another report by the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/60/87), examines key humanitarian developments and challenges, particularly capacity gaps experienced in both complex emergencies and disasters during the past year. It notes that the scale of violence witnessed in the past few years in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sudan's western Darfur region, along with last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami in the South Asian region, have tested humanitarian response capacities to the limits, and have challenged the ability of the humanitarian system to guarantee that such a response is quickly and effectively applied.
According to the report, the United Nations Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal for 2005 reported that 26 million persons in 20 crises worldwide needed $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance. Though that represents a decrease in the overall number of crises during the past year, the financial requirements to address these crises are 25 per cent higher -- some $3.4 billion. Overall, the report notes that while there is sufficient deployable capacity within the system, it is unpredictable, thin and relies too much on too small a core.
Therefore, it is necessary to, among other things, expand and sustain essential common humanitarian services so that they can be predictably deployed with the right combination of skills. Also recommended is the establishment of financial mechanisms at the country level to ensure that critical gaps are immediately addressed.
The report on the transition from relief to development (document A/60/89) draws on case studies from countries undergoing both post-disaster recovery and transition from conflict to peace to discuss the specific challenges of national ownership, coordination and financing. It also considers the uniqueness of situations of transition, including recovery from conflict, as well as drought, flood or other natural disasters. It notes that the coordination challenges in any disaster recovery are often complex, and while the United Nations has well-developed coordination capacity, such capacity needs to be strengthened.
The report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/60/227) highlights the key challenges faced by the international community in strengthening the capacity of disaster-prone countries in disaster preparedness and response, post-disaster recovery and disaster risk reduction. The report stresses that national Governments, local institutions and affected communities have primary responsibility for disaster management, as they are best placed to recognize and address disaster risk accumulation in their own environment, and represent the first line of response in case of disaster.
According to the report, the international community should make it a priority to strengthen the response capacity of disaster-prone countries. International support to Governments can serve as an opportunity to improve the population's faith in the Government, as well as enhance the Government's capacity to respond to future disasters. Further, regional organizations in disaster-prone areas can also play an important role, as they have unparalleled knowledge of local conditions and prior relationships with national decision-makers.
The report on humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation for selected countries and regions (document A/60/302) covers information on assistance supplied by the United Nations and its partners to cope with various types of natural and man-made disasters, included in country reports from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Somalia and Timor-Leste.
The Secretary-General's report on improvement of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (document A/60/432) proposes that to ensure a more predictable and timely response to humanitarian crises, the Fund be expanded to a target of $500 million to include a grant element alongside its existing loan element. The modernized Fund will be used to ensure resources are immediately available to support rapid response to humanitarian crises and address critical humanitarian needs in underfunded emergencies.
The report requests the Assembly to endorse the upgrading of the current Fund to make humanitarian response more predictable. It also recognizes that predictable funding is but one key element of the Secretary-General's humanitarian reform package, and that approval of a modernized Fund, to be renamed the Central Emergency Response Fund, will contribute to the realization of other elements of humanitarian reform, including those related to strengthening humanitarian coordination and humanitarian response capacity. As the grant facility would be based on voluntary contributions, the report calls on the Assembly to strongly encourage Member States to contribute generously.
The Assembly will also consider the Secretary-General's report on optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/60/443), which reviews activities undertaken by United Nations funds, programmes and agencies and other international actors to provide assistance to communities affected by the 1986 accident. It notes that the United Nations has shifted its strategy from a humanitarian approach to one that focuses on sustainable development. The report also describes the consensus established by the collaborative effort by eight United Nations bodies and the Governments of the three most affected countries -- Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine.
Following a detailed overview of the current situation on the ground in the region, the report notes that the Chernobyl-affected communities are still struggling with the loss of lives and livelihoods following the nuclear accident, as well as the broader economic, political and social challenges that have occurred during the transition period that followed the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. It concludes that overall, the needs of those populations have changed greatly and that international assistance is now focused on helping individuals in the region regain a sense of self-reliance. International organizations and the affected Governments should work together to share knowledge and make good use of methods that have proven successful elsewhere.
Also before the Assembly is the Secretary-General's report on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/60/90), which notes that despite ongoing violence in the Middle East region, the year under review was marked by the announcement of Israel's disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, successful Palestinian elections, and cautious efforts towards resumption of the peace process by both Israelis and Palestinians. It also notes that internal and external closures and other measures by the Israeli military, though eased somewhat towards the end of the period, nevertheless continued to create economic hardships for Palestinians and to restrict the delivery of necessary emergency supplies.
According to the report, while the humanitarian situation required that such supplies and assistance remain a priority throughout the year, United Nations agencies took steps to assist the Palestinian Authority to refocus on longer-term planning and improved governance at both the central and municipal levels. The humanitarian community will need to address a wide variety of needs in 2005 and 2006, and it will, therefore, be vital for the United Nations, donors and others to continue to provide the necessary resources for assistance to programmes for the Palestinian people.
The report also observes that the parties themselves must make every effort to facilitate the work of United Nations agencies and partners in the donor and aid communities. The Secretary-General especially calls on the Israeli Government to ease restrictions and work closely with the United Nations and other humanitarian and relief agencies to ensure that aid and development projects are delivered in a timely and comprehensive manner.
The Assembly also had a number of draft resolutions before it, including one on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake disaster (document A/60/L.18). Deeply alarmed over the critical condition of millions of homeless and countless injured in the South Asian earthquake awaiting immediate response in desperation and pain, the Assembly would emphasize the need to give particular attention to help the affected population, especially orphans and widows in their physical and psychological trauma and to provide immediate medical assistance, particularly with regard to children's vaccinations and long-term rehabilitation.
Also by that text, the Assembly would emphasize the need for the international community to maintain its focus beyond the present emergency relief, in order to sustain the political will to support the medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction efforts led by the Government of Pakistan and other affected States at all levels.
In addition, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy to, among other things, sustain the international community's political will to support the medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction efforts. It would also ask him to explore ways to further strengthen the rapid response capacities for immediate humanitarian relief efforts, building on existing arrangements and ongoing initiatives.
Further, the Assembly would invite the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to mobilize the international community, including affected States, to address the rehabilitation and reconstruction needs of the affected areas. It would also welcome the proposed convening of a reconstruction conference to generate assistance and commitments for long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction phases in the disaster-stricken areas, to be held in Islamabad on 19 November.
A draft on strengthening of international cooperation and coordination efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/60/L.19) would have the Assembly ask the Secretary-General and the United Nations Coordinator of International Cooperation on Chernobyl to take further practical measures to strengthen coordination of international efforts.
The Assembly would also welcome the initiatives of the Governments of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine to host international events on lessons learned and on future actions in observance of the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, and request the Assembly President to convene, in April 2006, a special commemorative meeting in observance of the twentieth anniversary.
Also, the Assembly would request the United Nations Coordinator to organize, in collaboration with the above-mentioned Governments, a further study of health, environmental and socio-economic consequences of the Chernobyl accident, consistent with the recommendations of the Chernobyl Forum.
Stressing the need for continued commitment to assist the affected countries and peoples to fully recover from the catastrophic and traumatic effects of the Indian Ocean disaster, the Assembly would encourage donor countries and international and regional financial institutions, as well as the private sector and civil society, to strengthen partnerships and continue supporting the medium- and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction needs of the affected countries, including through the swift delivery of donors' pledges, by a text on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/60/L.20).
The Assembly would emphasize the need to promote transparency and accountability among donors and recipient countries by means of, among other things, a unified financial and sectoral information online tracking system -- a development assistance database -- with the support and participation of the Global Consortium, and would highlight the importance of timely and accurate information on assessed needs and the sources and use of funds.
Under a related term, the Assembly would encourage the continued effective coordination among the Governments of affected countries, relevant United Nations bodies, international organizations, donor countries, regional and global financial institutions, civil society and private sectors involved in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, in order to ensure adequate response to the remaining humanitarian needs and effective implementation of existing joint programmes and to prevent unnecessary duplication, as well as to reduce vulnerability to future natural hazards.
By the terms of a draft resolution on 800 years of Mongolian statehood (document A/60/L.17), the Assembly would welcome the efforts undertaken by Mongolia to celebrate that milestone in 2006, and invite the international community to actively take part in the events to be organized by the Government.
JAN ELIASSON ( Sweden), President of the General Assembly, said that, during the past year, the world had witnessed natural disasters of unprecedented scope and magnitude, from the Indian Ocean tsunami to the South Asian earthquake to a particularly intense and destructive hurricane season. Elsewhere, conflict-based emergencies continued with varying intensity. Food insecurity, fuelled by a lethal combination of conflict and drought, continued to affect close to 35 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, underlining the need for innovative approaches to responding to acute malnutrition and the underlying causes of hunger and poverty.
He said that the complexity of today's crises and the growing magnitude of disasters required that humanitarian assistance remain one of the highest United Nations priorities. The Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit reiterated the importance of the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. It further reinforced the need for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian actors to populations in need. It also called for strengthening the capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters and for improving the use of emergency standby capacities for rapid response to humanitarian emergencies. In addition, it called for better predictability of humanitarian funding, notably by improving the current Central Emergency Revolving Fund. The proposed improved Fund, which would include a grant element, aimed to promote early response, as well as to strengthen the core elements of humanitarian response in underfunded crises.
He said the debate was based on several reports from the Secretary-General, including ones on the Chernobyl disaster and on humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. Three draft resolutions had also been submitted for action on the South Asian earthquake, on Chernobyl, and the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. Behind the issues of today's discussions were hundreds of thousands of human beings in grave need and mortal danger. "Our solidarity with them must be unwavering."
Introduction of Drafts
MUNIR AKRAM ( Pakistan) introduced the draft resolution on the strengthening of emergency activities in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake disaster (document A/60/L.18). He said the disaster was the worst ever in the region, described by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the most challenging relief operation the United Nations had ever faced.
It was essential for international attention to remain during the recovery and reconstruction effort, he continued. Disasters such as the earthquake provided hard lessons, the first of which was that disasters could not be prevented but that their devastating impact could be mitigated by joint efforts. Also, the United Nations machinery must be strengthened to respond to natural or human calamities, even in situations of bilateral assistance. And finally, it was imperative for the United Nations to be provided the resources with which to respond to disasters, as with the proposed $500 million Central Emergency Revolving Fund.
VLADIMIR TSALKO ( Belarus) introduced the draft on coordination of efforts to mitigate the effects of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/60/L.19), saying that the present resolution differed from previous ones. More than half the provisions were new, reflecting the international dynamism on the situation in the last two years. The new United Nations strategy did not centre on emergency assistance but on comprehensive rehabilitation of contaminated areas, including the renewal of socio-economic activity.
He said the new strategy had been discussed at the September international conference in Vienna, in the framework of the Chernobyl Forum. It focused on improving cooperation and coordination in areas such as health and living conditions, also recognizing national efforts of the affected countries of Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine. A special meeting of the General Assembly in April would mark the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. The purpose of that meeting was not only to talk about problems, as had been done in the past, but also to consider the joint steps to be taken to improve the future for those affected.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said his country had absorbed 70 per cent of the radioactive fall-out from the disaster, spending $17 billion on efforts including the resettlement of 137,000 people. State or regional funding could not meet the demands of such damage. Long-term international cooperation had to be channelled through the United Nations, such as through the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) draft country programme. An international conference would be held in April in Minsk to develop a programme of joint actions to be taken by the affected countries and the international community. The economic survival of the affected countries was at stake, along with the long-term health and ecological impact. Modern medical equipment was a priority.
Finally, he said the increase in natural disasters prompted two conclusions. One was to fully implement the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action for 2005-2015, which had been adopted this year by the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. Special attention should focus on early warning and threat reduction systems for natural calamities. Second, the financial capacity of the United Nations response mechanisms must be increased as soon as possible based on the creation of a new and upgraded Central Emergency Response Fund.
HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), introduced the draft on strengthening of efforts in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/60/L.20). He said the globalized media network had caught the gravity of the disaster. The response was quick and unprecedented. International organizations, including the United Nations, had been able to organize emergency assistance in due time. The Governments of affected countries had continued the job of restoring normalcy for people while putting into place preventive measures for the future. The job was not easy. Both affected countries and the international community must remain committed to promoting transparency and accountability with respect to the use of resources to facilitate long-term sustainability of recovery and reconstruction efforts.
The draft was basically an update of an earlier draft, he said. It focused on seven developments: the reaffirmation of the Heads of State at the September Summit to work for a worldwide early-warning system; continued international support for rehabilitation of the region; the Secretary-General's appointment of a special envoy for tsunami recovery; establishment of the Global Consortium for Tsunami-Affected Countries; the importance of transparency and accountability; request to the Secretary-General to continue exploring ways to improve rapid response; and the importance of building stronger community participation frameworks.
HAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia) took up the question of assistance to the Palestinian people by calling on Israel to ease its obstruction of Palestinian economic recovery, to provide unfettered access to United Nations staff members and to comply with the advisory opinion rendered by the International Court of Justice concerning the separation wall. He welcomed the coordination efforts undertaken by the various actors providing assistance to the Palestinian people, including the launch of a new media-related inter-agency coordination mechanism to draw attention to the humanitarian situation in the region and to the United Nations presence there.
He said the Israeli disengagement from Gaza was a positive move that could lead to peace and stability, as well as contribute to economic improvement. Both Israel and the Palestinians must establish and maintain close coordination within the context of the Road Map. Peace would not come without good faith and political will on the part of both parties and the international community.
STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" and China, said the last decade had seen a growing demand for United Nations humanitarian assistance with the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters. Long-standing complex emergency situations were now joined by new ones as a result of armed conflict, many of which occurred in developing countries. That called for an increased response from the international community. Serious challenges had been posed to the United Nations humanitarian response mechanism. The need to strengthen its coordination and disaster relief capacity was of paramount importance. Addressing the funding capacity of the United Nations system was one of the most critical steps to achieving that objective. Reliability and predictability of funding was essential in ensuring that all humanitarian crises were given publicity. The increasing demands on the Central Emergency Revolving Fund required urgent review.
He said the endorsement of the recommendations of ECOSOC by leaders at the World Summit was a significant decision. He supported the expansion of the Fund to include a grant component to support rapid response. That would significantly contribute to achieving a more predictable, timely response to humanitarian emergencies. Effective coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance required cooperation between all stakeholders, including the United Nations system, and regional and national mechanisms. Account should also be taken of the role to be played by national Governments in identifying national priorities. The need for field-level coordination was of paramount importance. It was the primary responsibility of States to respond to the needs of its citizens in emergency situations. At the same time, international cooperation should be part of a comprehensive package of response to the relief and development dimensions of humanitarian disasters.
EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom), on behalf of the European Union, said the Secretary-General's reports clearly demonstrated the immense challenges faced by the humanitarian community in the past year, as well as the continuing need to provide more effective and predictable assistance. Events this year, most recently and starkly in Pakistan, had highlighted the importance of expending and improving capacity to respond quickly and effectively to major disasters. The challenge was to sustain the response and commitment in the aftermath of a disaster. In Pakistan, the Union was committed to supporting the United Nations renewed appeal for assistance for the ongoing tragedy as winter approached. Similarly, the growing crisis in Southern Africa -- often referred to as the "triple threat" -- demonstrated yet again the urgent need for early preventative measures, with the clear lesson that early intervention was much less costly than responding later.
He said that, in terms of standby capacity, the Union valued existing mechanisms, such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Teams (UNDAC), but it also attached great importance to developing and sustaining disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response capacity at all levels. On funding capacity, it had been given a clear mandate from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and from world leaders to improve the existing United Nations Central Emergency Revolving Fund. An upgraded Fund would address critical humanitarian needs in underfunded emergencies. On coordination capacity, the response to recent disasters had shown that there was room for improvement. The Union attached great importance to the quality of humanitarian coordination, and sought further efforts to improve that critical function, especially in terms of training and support, and the right incentives to attract the best people.
As donor Governments, the Union's members also recognized the need to enhance coordination among themselves, he noted. That was why they were committed to the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative, which was an unparalleled opportunity to promote innovation and good practice in the way in which aid was provided, and to enhance the predictability, adequacy and flexibility of humanitarian financing. Also welcome was the Humanitarian Response Review, as well as work under way to identify cluster, or sectoral, leads. The cluster system presented an opportunity to define benchmarks for the speed, scale and quality of response. There were also several lessons to be learned in the use and coordination of military and civilian defence assets. The Union attached great importance to disaster risk reduction, early warning and preparedness, and it fully accepted the need to make the international humanitarian response system more effective and predictable, including through lessons learned and implementation of existing commitments.
RUTH ELIZABETH ROUSE ( Grenada), on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the problems facing the world had multiplied, including natural disasters. She applauded the proposal put forward by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, for renaming the Central Emergency Revolving Fund to the Central Emergency Response Fund. The CARICOM was pleased that the United Nations agencies had continuously provided necessary assistance over the years, particularly the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). However, with the increased magnitude and frequency of disasters in the Caribbean, there was the need for further collaboration with other regional agencies. The report on the Fund showed that the consolidated and flash appeals had been insufficient in meeting the needs of the various crises and emergencies. The mechanism must be able to disburse funds quickly with the primary aim of saving lives and providing immediate humanitarian relief.
She said increased resources for rapid deployment of relief would be required and it would be necessary to establish proper mechanisms to ensure immediate access to those funds. The CARICOM had noted the poor response to appeals following recent disasters in the Caribbean region. Only a minor percentage of the pledges had been fulfilled. The CARICOM had stressed the need for special and differential treatment for small island developing States, due in part, to their vulnerability. Natural disasters threatened their very existence. Small States ran the risk of being forgotten by the media and by the international community. Preparedness was necessary, but the recovery process was of paramount importance. She welcomed immediate intervention by the United Nations agencies when they were called to assist in such situations. She also supported the need for transparency, accountability and visibility of the Fund. The States of the Community resolved to work closely with the Emergency Relief Coordinator and other United Nations agencies.
SICHAN SIV ( United States) said protracted civil conflicts provoked some of the largest occurrences of forced displacement, and recent natural disasters had caused destruction on an exceptional scale exposing areas in which the international community could improve its collective response. The international community had met many of the challenges in the past year, but humanitarian needs required a more effective and efficient response, both at management and technical levels. A key element of United Nations reform was the reform of the humanitarian response system.
The Central Emergency Revolving Fund, a centralized source of rapidly available funding could help effectively address urgent needs in rapid-onset emergencies and swiftly deteriorating crises. The approach to humanitarian reform should be comprehensive, aligning the benefits of the Fund alongside initiatives to broaden the donor base, secure additional voluntary resources, strengthen early warning systems, bolster response capacity, and enhance overall coordination of disaster relief and mitigation efforts. Financial resources were critical to have an effective response, but there was also a need for experienced personnel on the ground, ensuring that the aid reached the persons most in need.
Anticipating emergencies before they began was essential in dealing with lack of access, insecurity, and difficult logistics, he said. One of the greatest lessons from the past year was the need for the United Nations system to be able to shift into "emergency mode" smoothly and efficiently when the situation deteriorated. The various operational components of the United Nations needed to be capable of rapidly implementing relief activities.
TOSHIRO OZAWA ( Japan) said a holistic and comprehensive approach was necessary to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. Funding arrangements were an important part of that approach, but must be put into perspective. Japan was not ready to make pledges to the reformed Central Emergency Revolving Fund, but understood the intentions behind the ideas and saw some merits in the proposal. Reform was also necessary in the areas of needs assessment and common strategy for humanitarian assistance. Without progress on those fronts, effective response was not really possible, even if sufficient resources and capacity existed. The Niger food crisis was a case in point. Tension between development policy and the requirements of humanitarian assistance hampered free food distribution there, because of fears of distorting the local economy. Even in a situation where efforts were focused on longer-term development, emergency relief might sometimes be needed, as in the case of the Horn of Africa.
He said he attached great importance to the improvement of the coordination mechanism, particularly to the ongoing discussion on the cluster lead and the strengthening of the role of humanitarian coordinators. Engagement with emerging donors and the private sector needed to be further promoted. The positive response to the tsunami and the South Asian earthquake disasters needed to be consolidated by promoting closer dialogue with contributors who used to be outside the humanitarian circle. One option was setting up a briefing session that was open to all Member States, possibly through the Economic and Social Council, once a major humanitarian crisis occurred.
LUIS ALBERTO AMOROS NUÑEZ ( Cuba) said that in addressing humanitarian assistance issues, some complex emergencies had been favoured through the years, pushing the cases of natural disasters into the background. The populations of several sister nations from the Indian Ocean basin had to suffer a major catastrophe in order to begin reassessing United Nations actions. The impact of the current hurricane season called for a radical change in planning and implementation of humanitarian assistance within the United Nations. While the fury of nature did not distinguish between developing and developed countries, there was a serious underlying crisis that Third World countries faced. Developing countries suffered from the impact of unjust conditions derived from the current international order, which acted to the detriment of their national capacity to quickly respond to the huge challenges imposed by the effects of the natural disasters.
He said it was essential that humanitarian assistance went hand in hand with a serious commitment to the economic growth and sustainable development of developing nations. The situation his country was facing required that the transition from relief to development capture the interest it deserved. It was crucial to take steps aimed at the reactivation of the socio-economic activities of the affected communities, such as the cancellation or rescheduling of external debt. Other actions could be launched through the UNICEF, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other United Nations bodies and agencies. The increasing impacts of natural disasters demanded a reinforcement of national activities for prevention, mitigation and planning. However, the mechanisms of international cooperation should be strengthened. Assistance to those who needed it was one of the pillars of Cuba's foreign policy. That should be an example to other rich States and international financial bodies.
ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said recent natural disasters, and the volume of destruction and death caused by those disasters, had proved two facts. The first was that developing countries were not prepared to face natural disasters and, accordingly, the resulting damage was considerable and the recovery was slow. The second fact was that countries, regardless of their capabilities, needed each other and international cooperation was, therefore, the safest and most suitable way to protect humanity from natural disasters. It was important to implement the recommendations of international conferences on coordination in facing disasters, which called for the application of an international strategy that dealt with natural disasters at all stages, from early warning to reconstruction and development. In order for that strategy to succeed, donor countries needed to increase their financial contributions to humanitarian relief activities.
Turning his focus to the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, he said that even after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, conditions for Palestinians had worsened due to the continued control of the borders and trade points by Israeli forces. International humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in the occupied territories, according to international reports, was not sufficient for alleviating their suffering. Donor countries and international financial institutions needed to provide the necessary assistance to the Palestinian people.
NATASHA SMITH ( Australia) said that as a country prone to natural disasters, Australia was acutely aware of the threat they posed and the importance of disaster mitigation and preparedness. The international humanitarian community should be congratulated for rising to unprecedented challenges over the past 12 months. National authorities had worked to rebuild their communities and alleviate the suffering of their people, which highlighted the importance of building national capacities within the humanitarian system. It was not just in the case of natural disasters that the humanitarian community must be able to respond but also in complex emergencies.
She said Australia was a strong supporter of humanitarian reform. Progress had been made in several areas, but more needed to be done. The United Nations should continue to build coordination and collaboration links during quiet periods, as well as in times of crisis. The key elements of the reform agenda -- improved capacity, coordination and financing -- were each like a leg of a three-legged stool. All must be taken forward at the same time. None could stand alone. More effective coordination, in particular a stronger humanitarian coordinator system, was essential to improving response. Humanitarian financing had to be more timely and predictable. Australia supported the upgrade of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and was considering making a contribution. The challenges of the transition from emergency support to development could not be underestimated. Coordination, capacity and financing were critical during that period. Everyone must work together to ensure that transitions were managed as effectively as emergency responses.
NIKOLAY V. CHULKOV ( Russian Federation) said the world was standing at the threshold of decisions to substantially improve the existing mechanisms of international humanitarian cooperation. Additional global measures were needed. It was becoming obvious in the wake of this year's natural disasters that practical steps were needed to strengthen the capacity of humanitarian response. States needed to be in a position to quickly launch a humanitarian operation in any part of the world. There needed to be an assignment of relevant authority to the United Nations humanitarian coordinators in order to coordinate in the field. Work could only be effective when there was a strong partnership between the United Nations country team and the recipient Government. The attitude towards financing international humanitarian activities needed to be changed. The current system of humanitarian financing had put certain limitations on humanitarian actors to quickly mobilize the required means. A source of predictable humanitarian funding was needed. That could be achieved through a reorganization of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund.
He said that with a certain degree of autonomy in the activities of the renewed Fund and the overall global humanitarian mechanism, the criteria on which such work would be based was of exceptional importance. Therefore, it was essential to ensure that those criteria were agreed upon in an open-ended intergovernmental process. A key role in the efforts to strengthen international cooperation belonged to the United Nations. His country supported measures aimed at strengthening the mechanisms of planning and preparedness and called for stronger national early warning and improved international cooperation. After nearly 20 years, the Chernobyl disaster still negatively impacted citizens' health and the environment. To successfully overcome the aftermaths of the catastrophe, a firm scientific foundation for the recovery strategy was needed. International cooperation on Chernobyl had remained very important.
MOHAMED LATHEEF ( Maldives) said the frequency of worldwide natural disasters was increasing at an alarming rate. Natural disasters impacted both rich and poor, but less developed countries suffered most severely. The impact of the tsunami on Maldives was devastating. It would take time for his country to regain the level of development progress it enjoyed before the disaster. The limited human resources available and the logistical difficulties were major hurdles for the Government. At the same time, there was a major funding gap in the national recovery and reconstruction programme. Out of the total $470 million estimated for the programme, nearly one third had yet to be pledged. For the first time in its history, Maldives was faced with an acute financial crisis.
He said natural disasters needed urgent and timely action by the international community on an epic scale. Shifting from emergency disaster response to more proactive disaster prevention was key. Disaster risk management should become an integral part of long-term development policies. He called upon the international community to ensure the set up of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System. The role of the United Nations in extending humanitarian and disaster relief assistance could not be overemphasized. The strengthening of the rapid response capacity of the United Nations should be a priority. International efforts in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster risk management needed to be supplemented at regional and subregional levels. The main tool needed to limit, manage and prevent disaster was political will.
YAO WENLONG ( China) said the level of relief operations in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the South Asia earthquake had demonstrated the immense international potential and the leading role of the United Nations in coordinating efforts, particularly as more and more agencies and organizations were involved. The role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and of humanitarian coordinators must be strengthened to coordinate activities between the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and civil society. Responsibilities must be clearly defined to assist affected Governments in carrying out their work.
Continuing, he said the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and the Consolidated Appeals Process were both effective mechanisms of financing and planning for agencies. However, funding had dried up in recent years. States should be generous, particularly with regard to disaster-affected developing countries. The Central Emergency Revolving Fund should also be upgraded as an integral part of reforming the humanitarian assistance process.
Strengthening international and regional cooperation was an effective means of responding to natural disasters, he concluded. His own country was vulnerable to disasters. Floods this year had affected more than 200,000,000 people at an economic loss of $17 billion. Still, China had provided over $83 million to countries affected by the tsunami, including $20 million through the United Nations multilateral system. It had given over $6 million to those affected by the Asian earthquake, in addition to dispatching search-and-rescue teams to the disaster areas in gestures of solidarity.
BROWN B. CHIMPHAMBA ( Malawi), on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC), said the entire global community had witnessed a series of large and destructive disasters, requiring rapid and coordinated humanitarian interventions. More determined efforts were required. While acknowledging serious crises in other parts of the world, he drew attention to the drought-induced food insecurity situation in a number of the SADC countries. The international community vowed after the 1992/1993 drought that it would never allow a similar situation to happen again. However, a decade later, it had. Something was clearly missed in the responses. The United Nations response must be entirely different or radically scaled up. Communities and households must be placed squarely at the centre of programme design, analysis and implementation. The dichotomy of humanitarian and development assistance must be overcome and replaced by more innovative and simultaneous humanitarian and development action that took into consideration the short-term shocks and long-term challenges.
He said the humanitarian community was mounting its response to the emergency situation through country-specific initiatives, including flash appeals and consolidated appeals. A number of Governments had responded favourably. But the appeals remained critically underfunded. The experience of donor response to the Indian Ocean tsunami indicated that donors were capable of a large-scale, fast and flexible response. His country recognized the important role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and urged it to broaden its donor base. He underlined the importance of international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters from relief to development, and emphasized that humanitarian crises must be tackled with common actions and joint resolve. The existing gaps needed to be filled by strengthening existing partnership, as well as increasing the involvement of the private sector.
PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said that access to civilian populations and the security conditions in which humanitarian agencies and their workers operated remained "highly unsatisfactory and worrying". Long-term efforts needed to be undertaken to increase strict compliance with international humanitarian law by all actors at every level. He noted that welcome proposals were under discussion regarding the adjustment of international humanitarian aid capacities. But while Switzerland supported such talks, they should fully take into account the diversity of the wider humanitarian system, of the specific roles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the role of non-governmental organizations and of local and national actors. Any adjustment process should, above all, improve and strengthen collective response at all levels.
He went on to say that although Switzerland had announced its intention to support the modernization of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund -- in the amount of some 5 million Swiss francs at the appropriate time -- more detailed discussion was needed to discuss and clarify with all stakeholders the parameters of the Fund's expansion and its specific working procedures, particularly internal and external accountability mechanisms. Finally, he stressed the need to maintain the independence of humanitarian action in the framework of integrated United Nations missions.
GILBERT LAURIN ( Canada) said this year, natural disasters on an unprecedented scale and ongoing conflicts had forced millions of people to seek humanitarian assistance. Those crises had also highlighted the undeniable need to prioritize disaster management and mitigation. Reinforcing the coordination of humanitarian assistance within the United Nations had long been a Canadian foreign policy priority. The Humanitarian Response Review was a valuable contribution. His country enthusiastically welcomed any proposal aimed at improving existing structures by making them more predictable and more accountable. But the Review must generate concrete results that would provide the affected populations with tangible benefits. Canada strongly supported the Secretary-General's proposal to expand the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, and intended to make multi-year contributions to the Fund if it was satisfied with its first-year operations.
He said in order to allocate funds where the needs were greatest, there needed to be an agreement on what those needs were and how to best address them. States must ensure that scarce humanitarian resources were being allocated to where needs were greatest. There must also be a renewed commitment to strengthen the Consolidated Appeal Process, which remained the most important tool for ensuring strategic, coordinated and effective humanitarian responses. The role and capacities of humanitarian and resident coordinators needed to be strengthened. The Consolidated Appeal Process, the Fund and the clusters were tools that must form a cohesive whole that was more effective than the sum of its parts. An ongoing commitment by Member States remained essential. Improvements would be of little consequence to affected populations if the protection of civilians was not put at the heart of the international agenda. There were still too many flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.
YASHAR ALIYEV ( Azerbaijan) said that the quality of the humanitarian community's massive response needed further improvements. For one thing, humanitarian response did not always meet the basic needs of the affected populations in a timely manner. In addition, the response varied considerably from crisis to crisis, and current capacity levels were not always sufficient to meet the demands of simultaneous major emergencies. Some of the key challenges seemed to be systematic in nature. He, therefore, supported efforts to reform the humanitarian response system, and fully shared the view that predictable funding was a key element of the reform package. The idea of upgrading the Central Emergency Revolving Fund through the addition of a grant element was of particular importance for ensuring timely and effective responses, both in cases of newly emerging, as well as underfunded and protracted crises.
With regard to the latter, he underlined that even the overall increase in global humanitarian funding had not ensured an equitable humanitarian response across the globe, and funding continued to be concentrated on high-profile crises that enjoyed significant political and media attention. Clear and objective eligibility criteria based on needs assessment should be elaborated, in order to ensure equitable and balanced funding of emergencies. The disbursements of the Fund should take into account the existing imbalance in spending among regions as well as among sectors. At the same time, national ownership in design and implementation of programmes in both post-disaster and post-conflict situations was essential, as was better coordination by the United Nations of efforts on the ground. He, meanwhile, noted with concern the situation of internally displaced persons, the number of which had increased all over the world. Existing gaps in the international response to their concerns should be addressed.
ANDRIES OOSTHUIZEN ( South Africa) said the past year had indeed been a very challenging one for the humanitarian community. Faced with hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, the need for effective humanitarian assistance had increased dramatically. It was obvious that the international community needed to rethink the way it funded international humanitarian responses, not only the amount of funding, but also the unequal way in which it was being distributed. The effectiveness of the humanitarian response could, in part, be enhanced by improving the Central Emergency Revolving Fund. South Africa supported the modernization of the current Fund with the aim of responding to forgotten or underfunded emergencies, many of which where in Africa. He also recognized the value of upgrading the Fund and to providing it with more financial support, especially through the addition of a grant facility.
He said his country also supported operationalizing the Fund as soon as possible. South Africa also wanted to see the further development of the Financial Tracking System to better monitor humanitarian financing. Improving the international community's response to humanitarian crises was not only an issue of financing, but also of leadership and response capacity. It was particularly important to improve and strengthen the leadership and performance of resident and humanitarian coordinators. It was also necessary to ensure that the guiding principles for humanitarian assistance were adhered to, particularly the idea that humanitarian assistance should be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. The proposals on the table to improve the Fund were a step in the right direction.
VOLODYMYR HOLOSHA ( Ukraine) said that almost 20 years ago in Ukraine, an enormous catastrophe doomed millions to suffering and forever changed their surroundings. The Chernobyl accident showed how vulnerable States were in peacetime. Over the last 15 years, during which the Ukraine had been covering the cost of responding to the consequences of the disaster, the amount spent had not decreased. The economic loss represented $180 billion. In 1994, the international community presented the Government with a proposal for the early termination of the nuclear power plant. In 1995, an understanding was signed to close the plant, and it was closed down in 2000. There was no project for decommissioning the plant. Because of that, grants were being used to support the closure of the power station. Currently, at the production site, four major projects were being implemented. There were delays in implementing key projects, even now five years after the plant was decommissioned.
He said the most important international projects to convert the shelter system into a safe system were also several years behind schedule. Ukraine needed additional resources from donors to finance the project. The problems the Chernobyl disaster engendered over the years had not disappeared but took on different forms. It was a priority to have an innovative approach to solving those problems. Contaminated areas needed to be rehabilitated. Ukraine was doing everything it could, but it hoped for assistance. The main areas included protecting the health of people, decommissioning the Chernobyl station, converting the shelter into an environmentally safe system and strengthening the safety belt against further contamination. He hoped there would be greater cooperation with United Nations structures and with donor countries. Thanks to the international community and the United Nations, Ukraine had been able to deal with many problems, but many issues continued to exist. April 2006 would mark the twentieth anniversary of the accident. He invited Member States to take part in the conference that Ukraine would be holding.
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM ( Sri Lanka) said it was an unfortunate reality that, within just a year, two natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude had hit the South Asian region, one by land and the other by sea. On 26 December, tidal waves had struck two thirds of Sri Lanka's coastal areas, leaving in their wake death and destruction on a scale hitherto unknown in recorded history. In the aftermath of the disaster, it had become evident that building local capacity and ownership was essential for the success of long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction. Sri Lanka had now developed a blueprint for reconstruction, in cooperation with the United Nations system, the international donor community and numerous civil society organizations.
Natural disasters created huge setbacks for developing countries, he added. As the first anniversary of the tsunami disaster approached, Sri Lanka had engaged in a long and complex reconstruction process. An estimated $1.8 billion would be needed for reconstruction. Natural disasters could strike anywhere. Because survival rates and the ability to rebuild depended on the relative wealth of the affected country, development partners could take several steps to help affected countries attain sustainable development. Market access for developing countries, preferably under concessionary terms, would accelerate the recovery process. Excessive debt burdens continued to be a great hindrance to recovery potential, especially in the light of escalating oil prices and depression in commodity prices.
While the disparity in resource availability for each disaster might be a result of several factors, including donor fatigue, it was the responsibility of each Member State to empower the Organization in such a manner to even the odds to the extent possible. The United Nations should not be made to wait for funds to commence immediate work. In that context, Sri Lanka supported the proposal to upgrade the Central Emergency Revolving Fund with a renewed funding base. Having faced a natural disaster recently, Sri Lanka recognized some criteria that would make delivery and assistance cost effective, including avoiding duplication, promoting substantive national and local involvement, using local resources and promoting transparency in action. In a world of rapid technological advancement, it was unconscionable to let less fortunate fellow human beings suffer due to neglect and apathy.
ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia) said that with ongoing conflicts and natural disasters, the demand for humanitarian assistance continued to escalate. The United Nations must take steps to strengthen its current system and to effectively address current and future humanitarian needs. There must be the constant awareness that humanitarian needs continued well beyond the post-conflict recovery and reconstruction phase. Action must also be taken to address the persistent financial constraints that affected humanitarian work. Her country supported the Secretary-General's recommendations to convert the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, to an emergency response fund with a grant facility. Being one of the countries that suffered the wrath of the tsunami, Indonesia was deeply grateful for the generous contributions of the international community, and had ensured that the contributions were managed in a fully transparent manner.
She said that while rehabilitation of the tsunami-affected areas was under way, certain aspects could affect the pace of implementation of the overall programme. Coordination was one such aspect. For that to be successful, community leadership must be consulted, and there must be community participation. It was critically important for vulnerable countries developing regional or national capacity to be able to anticipate major natural disasters, using early warning systems, and to be able to mobilize in-country resources to lessen the humanitarian impact. Indonesia, as a country affected by the tsunami, had a full appreciation of the practical value of the various recommendations put forward by the Secretary-General in his reports. It was not enough for recommendations to be made. They must inspire rapid response from the international community.
MONA JUUL ( Norway) noted that as the Assembly met in New York, some 300,000 Pakistanis were facing the coming winter in Kashmir without the necessary shelter and assistance, and an estimated 10 million people were facing drought and severe food shortages in southern Africa. In both cases, donor response to United Nations appeals had been slow. Those two humanitarian crises could have been handled differently, and more effectively, if the United Nations and OCHA had been equipped with the necessary tools when up against the fierce forces of nature or of man. Strengthening the coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance and providing it with the necessary resources was essential. Norway welcomed, therefore, the upgrading of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, which would make it a permanent emergency fund to quickly respond to, and possibly prevent, crises like the one in southern Africa.
The new Fund was not a goal in itself, she added. For Norway, the key success criterion for humanitarian reform was that it more effectively met humanitarian needs on the ground. The Fund was an important step towards that goal, and Norway intended to closely cooperate with OCHA, relevant United Nations agencies and Member States to ensure that the Fund become a successful financial mechanism. It would require a flexible advisory group structure and clear criteria for the allocation of resources. The Fund would also require accurate needs assessments and appropriate accounting and reporting mechanisms. The new Fund provided an opportunity to encourage higher levels of donor funding and to demonstrate in practice the true value of humanitarian principles. The time had come to break with the perpetual underfunding of standby and preparedness mechanisms.
JOSÉ BRIZ GUTIÉRREZ ( Guatemala) said he agreed with the Secretary-General that relevant United Nations organizations and donor Governments should strengthen the capacity of disaster-prone countries in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and post-disaster recovery, within a disaster risk reduction framework. Coping with those problems, however, required a global response; hence, the importance of strengthening cooperation with and technical assistance to Governments, so that concrete actions might be taken in the prevention and mitigation of disasters. The Stan, Wilma and Beta storms and hurricanes had confirmed Central America's vulnerability to natural disasters. By reason of its geographic position and geological characteristics, Guatemala was a country of multiple and varied landscapes, as well as climates, but also highly vulnerable to various types of disasters. In addition to its devastating effects on human security and sustainable development, a disaster also seriously threatened social organization.
He said he agreed that there was a need to modernize the Central Emergency Revolving Fund and create a more efficient mechanism for rapid reaction and predictable funding, on an equitable basis. Modernizing the Fund was the best way to ensure that cases of "unnoticed" emergencies received the attention they deserved. All natural disasters should be on the same footing of equality, with respect to the attention they received. They should not be viewed in terms of which country suffered the greatest number of deaths, or damage, or was the subject of most of the headlines in the global press. The tsunami disaster clearly demonstrated that extraordinary financing could be secured with the necessary political will and commitments. While it was normal for funds to have bodies or committees responsible for deciding whether or not to grant financial assistance, that was not the most appropriate arrangement in emergencies, where response time was critical. Needs assessed should be determined by the State concerned, and not by an entity providing the funds at the discretion of a select group.
YERZHAN KH. KAZYKHANOV ( Kazakhstan) said the past year had been an extremely difficult one in terms of the number of natural disasters. Millions of people had been left homeless as a result of the destructive impact of the tsunami, the earthquake in South Asia and mudslides in Central Asia, which had also put a heavy burden on Governments in affected countries. The international community should not remain indifferent to such tragedies. Only through joint efforts would the international community be able to counteract natural cataclysms. States needed to build upon initiatives and create early warning systems. Of critical importance was the timely provision of assistance. Kazakhstan had provided as much assistance as possible to recent disaster victims.
He said that, as was pointed out in the report of the Secretary-General, 19 years after the Chernobyl disaster, hundreds of thousands of people were still suffering its consequences. One of the results was an increase in the level of cancer. The radiological effects spread beyond the crisis itself, and overcoming them took decades. Much effort had been made to mitigate the consequences. Kazakhstan welcomed work carried out by the United Nations. Practical steps would facilitate an early rehabilitation. Assistance given by donor countries was appreciated. April 2006 would mark the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. The anniversary would be a major event at the international level, and would remind the international community of the unpredictable consequences of such disasters. Kazakhstan supported the adoption of the resolution on Chernobyl and was one of its co-sponsors.
AMIRA AL-DASHTI ( Kuwait) said her country had given $100 million to the post-tsunami effort and another $100 million in response to the South Asian earthquake disaster. It also continued to participate in the reconstruction and development of both regions. The Kuwait National Red Crescent was coordinating with others in the delivery of aid, and the Kuwait Fund was following up on the reconstruction aspect of the assistance. However, the latest disasters should demonstrate the need to take concerted international action towards developing early warning systems and towards improving rapid response and relief efforts. The international community and international financial institutions should follow up on their pledges.
SHARADA SINGH ( Nepal) said natural disasters in the forms of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and related phenomena posed a great challenge for the international community in relation to peace and sustainable development. Many developing countries, particularly the least developed ones, needed technical and financial assistance to strength national capacities for dealing with natural disasters through all phases, from prevention and preparedness to mitigation, recovery and reconstruction. The United Nations multi-pronged strategies were welcome developments for enhancing national ownership and leadership and for strengthening disaster response capacity, including by reducing risk and mobilizing resources. A grant element should be included in the existing loan element in the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, and it would be acceptable to change the Fund's name to the Central Emergency Response Fund.
Furthermore, she said, terrorist activities in recent years had added to the natural disaster toll on countries. They caused huge losses of life and property, as well as of national infrastructure for development. The international community should support and strengthen national efforts, by providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.
ENRIQUE BERRUGA FILLOY ( Mexico) said that, as a token of its solidarity and by making an exceptional effort, his country had made financial and other contributions in support of efforts to assist the victims of hurricanes in the United States, Guatemala and El Salvador. Mexico would also participate actively in the donor conference in Islamabad on 19 November. It would also soon be making a non-earmarked contribution to OCHA for the implementation of humanitarian assistance programmes in Pakistan. Given the many millions of people affected by natural disasters in recent months, he stressed the need to intensify efforts to develop strategies for responding to natural disasters, with a long-term vision and within the framework of a culture of disaster prevention. He attached great importance to risk identification and mitigation, with the highest priority being given to the most vulnerable sectors.
He called on Member States to limit their endless debates on the conceptual framework and return to a more pragmatic debate on fundamental questions, such as the development of a global plan for the prompt and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as a strategy for coordination, involving States, civil society and other humanitarian organizations. The aim should be to channel assistance to meet the real needs and avoid the uncoordinated flow of resources. All such efforts would prove useless unless they were accompanied by national and global plans for the protection of the environment. Given the incontrovertible evidence of the link between the growing number of natural disasters and the continuing destruction of the environment, he deeply regretted the refusal of some States to subscribe to and/or ratify the Kyoto Protocol, whose full implementation would contribute significantly to restoring the ecosystem's stability. He also deeply regretted the recent tendency to interpret the guiding principles of humanitarian assistance in a way that impeded access to affected populations.
MARÍA ANGELA HOLGUÍN CUÉLLAR ( Colombia) said natural disasters had proven a big challenge for the United Nations this year. The human impact and the effect on the infrastructure of affected nations deserved the attention and assistance of the United Nations system. Recovery efforts must turn into a priority. Humanitarian assistance must be provided on the basis of a profound conviction to work and cooperate with States and to support their efforts. That was the only way to ensure sustainability in overcoming emergencies. Humanitarian assistance must not be politicized, which would lead to a weakening of the Organization's response capacity. Strategies aimed at supplanting weakening States in their response capacity would not bring about any of the expected results. States should not be misled by short-term successes.
She stressed the necessity of ensuring a needs-oriented approach. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was an example to be followed. The Committee's credibility arose from its work, which for decades had been mindful of humanitarian international law. It was for the United Nations to learn from those successful experiences. Noting the Emergency Relief Coordinator's proposal for a Central Emergency Response Fund, she said every effort to improve United Nations humanitarian coordination was worth consideration. The General Assembly must review the proposal, and guarantee that the Fund would respond to the needs of the affected countries.
RICARDO MOROTE ( Peru) said the economic costs associated with disasters had increased fourteen fold since the 1950s, and there was a dire need for more coordinated action throughout the United Nations system. A new attitude should face up to the fact that the Organization was limited because of a lack of human and financial resources. It was important to differentiate between the origins of disasters. Those that were natural could not be avoided, and they accounted for only 15 per cent of the number of disasters. Disasters created because of human activity must be reduced. The strategies being designed must take into account the lack of political will. On environmental disasters, he said it was possible that global warming could lead to that much more destructive winters, and perhaps a stronger El Niño phenomenon. Climate change would have an effect on the loss of biological diversity and would affect world food production, as well energy and water resources.
He said there needed to be a system-wide approach, a push for a timely and unrestricted early warning system, an improvement in rapid response and a recognition of local players. There also needed to be prevention measures, preparation, mitigation, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction, as well as the provision of basic essentials and the establishment of conditions favourable to development. It was important to enhance North-South cooperation. Also needed were improvements with regard to the abilities of States, international financial institutions, regional organizations, the military and the media. In order to evaluate damage, there should be a move towards an international strategy, as well as an inter-institutional task force. Additionally, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs should publish an annual report with a guide to its activities in areas of natural disasters.
NIRUPAM SEN (India), recalling the devastating dimensions of the 8 October earthquake, said that India had promptly conveyed its readiness to extend any assistance that the Government of Pakistan might deem appropriate. At the late October meeting on the tragedy, India had pledged some $25 million for rehabilitation and relief assistance. He went on to say that timely and adequate funding of relief efforts in the initial phase was crucial to save lives and provide assistance to victims during sudden-onset natural calamities. To that end, an improved Central Emergency Revolving Fund would make humanitarian funding more predictable.
Moreover, by allocating one third of the Fund's grant facility to underfunded emergencies, the new Fund, which India would support, was expected to address the needs of countries that did not have the benefit of the so-called "CNN effect". At the same time, he noted that the improved Fund would not cover the rehabilitation and reconstruction needs of disaster-affected countries. International cooperation in tackling natural disasters proved that the world was "one family", a notion that promoted international solidarity and multilateralism.
ITTIPORN BOONPRACONG ( Thailand) said the more challenging tasks ahead were rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention of the impact of the tsunami disaster. Greater knowledge and understanding among the general public on natural disasters was also important and needed to be reinforced. The aftermath of the tsunami had brought about a true sense of solidarity within the international community, as witnessed by the outpouring of assistance from around the world. The Global Consortium for Tsunami Affected Countries aimed to improve and ensure effective coordination, and transparent, accountable and efficient use of assistance for relief, recovery and reconstruction. The establishment of the Voluntary Trust Fund on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, administered by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), was another positive development that aimed to enhance national and regional tsunami early warning centres.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Observer of Palestine, said international assistance had been the lifeline for the Palestinian people over the past decades of occupation and deprivation since 1967, when the Palestinian economy became hostage to the occupying Power and had been forbidden to reach its potential. The past five years had seen a downward spiral in the Israeli attitude towards international assistance efforts, going from obstruction to destruction, by systematically destroying hosts of internationally-funded infrastructure projects such as ports, roads and water networks. Conservative estimates put the cost of the Israeli campaign at $4.5 billion between 1994 and 1999, plus $6.4 billion in lost potential income. Concurrent with that destruction, collective punishment measures against the Palestinian people were worsening an already dire situation.
As the Secretary-General's latest report showed, he continued, 700 roadblocks and checkpoints had severely restricted movement of persons and goods. Land and property had been destroyed when in the way of expanding illegal settlements. The wall, which the International Court of Justice had declared illegal in its 2004 advisory opinion, had caused untold damage to the Palestinian economy. As the Quartet's Special Envoy for Disengagement had said in a situation letter, it was as if the occupying Power was loath to relinquish control, as if there had been no withdrawal.
The Palestinian Authority had formulated a Medium-Term Development Plan, and he called on the international community to endorse it with funding of the projects in order to optimize Palestinian ownership quickly. Also, pledges should be backed by delivery of funding and pressure should be brought upon Israel to end its occupation.
MICHAEL SCHULZ, observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said 2005 had shown the dramatic impact disasters continued to have on lives, livelihoods and hard-won development gains. Climate change, environmental degradation and unsustainable development, coupled with inadequate mitigation efforts, suggested that the number of people and assets affected by disasters would continue to rise. He welcomed efforts to strengthen the coordination of United Nations humanitarian disaster relief assistance. Coordination was the most important element in dealing with humanitarian disasters. No single organization could tackle alone the increasing challenges posed by disasters. The Federation supported reform efforts such as ensuring greater predictability of humanitarian action, funding and access.
The cluster approach -- which aimed to improve the predictability of humanitarian action by organizing coordination on a sectoral basis -- was currently being employed in the relief efforts for the South Asian earthquake. It had helped to identify common challenges and sector gaps, focusing relief efforts on meeting humanitarian needs, and not on the work of any agency. United Nations efforts to strengthen coordination of relief at the field level by strengthening the roles of the resident coordinator were also an improvement. He also welcomed efforts to improve the predictability of humanitarian funding through the creation of a Central Emergency Response Fund, enabling the immediate deployment of resources to the disaster area. The strengthening of disaster relief coordination needed to be done holistically, meaning that coordination must be strengthened during all phases, from response, to recovery, to preparedness and development.
ROBERT L. SHAFER, Observer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said humanitarian aid workers were often the first to respond to crises in the most unsafe areas, and the last ones to remain long after financial support ebbed. That often made them vulnerable to acts of violence and persecution. The increase in the number of attacks reported last year against United Nations and other humanitarian workers was very alarming. Threats against humanitarian workers needed to be neutralized, and adequate measures for their protection should be included in Security Council mandates. It was also imperative for humanitarian assistance to provide not only immediate relief to victims, but to develop comprehensive relief systems that included mitigation, prevention and reconstruction.
ANNE PETITPIERRE, Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said she welcomed the process of United Nations humanitarian reform assuming that any serious reform would ultimately lead to more effective and more reliable humanitarian response where it counted most: in the field, for the people affected by disaster or conflict. The ICRC was willing to play an active role in efforts to improve complementarities and interoperability between the United Nations system, the Red Cross and Red Crescent network and the non-governmental organization community. There was room for improvement in the area of complementarities through the development of common criteria for assessing needs and measuring impact. Interoperability could be improved through facilitating cooperation between the joint United Nations Logistics Centre, the ICRC and other logistics centres. The goal was to combine the respective comparative advantages of humanitarian organizations to achieve the best results for people in need of protection and assistance.
Promoting self-reliance of affected communities was one of the main aims of the ICRC's humanitarian assistance programmes. One strategy for achieving that objective was to enhance the ability of host populations to absorb internally displaced persons. The ICRC also took care to preserve existing coping mechanisms used by victims of displacement, to avoid aggravating the situation by increasing disparities between various segments of the population. Transition coordination in post-conflict humanitarian situations was crucial. Relief operations often needed to be extended in the immediate aftermath of a peace agreement to ensure there was no gap between the phasing out of humanitarian action and the phasing in of development programmes. She hoped that the planned Peacebuilding Commission would be able to deal with that situation and find lasting solutions allowing communities that had suffered the scourge of war to move forward with dignity.
LUCA DALL'OGLIO, Observer of the International Organization for Migration,said strengthening coordination among different humanitarian agencies required taking into account the changing nature of different emergencies and the evolution of the participating agencies themselves. Periodical reforms and innovative approaches were needed, such as the cluster approach, to improve the predictability, timeliness and effectiveness of the humanitarian response to crisis. The cluster approach had been field tested for the first time in the inter-agency response to the South Asian earthquake. In that emergency, the coordination efforts led to positive results and, therefore, agencies should remain committed to its effectiveness. Such efforts, though, required timely and predictable funding. The Central Emergency Revolving Fund established by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would further facilitate and streamline access resulting in important improvements, such as urgently needed funds and improved capacity for a quick response.
K. BHAGWAT-SINGH, Observer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, said the world had witnessed growing magnitudes of natural disasters in the past few years. The response by Governments, the United Nations and the public had been prompt and generous. The International Union had played a significant role in early relief and rehabilitation and in recommendations for long-term environmental management. It had the proven ability to mobilize its members -- 82 Governments and over 800 non-governmental organizations -- for a common cause. It also had the necessary infrastructure. Immediately following the tsunami disaster, the Union, with its regional staff, collaborated with all of the organizations involved in the immediate relief, rehabilitation and recovery efforts.
He said the Union had a large presence in South Asia, and staff in the region had been quick to respond to the destruction caused by the recent earthquake. Apart from the enormous and tragic loss of life, there had been great damage to the environment, particularly to forests. Forest products were critical to the survival of disaster victims in the coming winter with regard to shelter, firewood and wood for reconstruction. It was essential that measures be taken to manage the forests in a sustainable manner. The Union would continue its collaboration and involvement in efforts for medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk reduction.
Action on Drafts
The Assembly took up the three draft resolutions: on coordinating the relief effort in the wake of the South Asian earthquake disaster (document A/60/L.18), the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/60/L.20), and the Chernobyl disaster (document A/60/L.19).
The Secretariat announced that the draft on the South Asian earthquake called for the appointment of a special envoy to sustain the political will for the long-term recovery effort required. The draft bore no financial implications since any associated costs would be financed exclusively from extra-budgetary funds. Also on that item, the word " Pakistan" would be added to the title of the resolution, which would now read, "Strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake disaster -- Pakistan".
The three texts were adopted without a vote.
Right of Reply
Ms. ORON ( Israel) said the situation in her region had changed in the past year since leaders on both sides had come to an agreement, and Israel had taken bold steps earlier this year to carry out its commitments. What had not changed was the unwillingness of the Palestinian authorities to attack the infrastructure responsible for thousands of terrorist attacks against Israel. Furthermore, there was no doubt the targets were children and other vulnerable persons. Neither side had a monopoly on suffering. Therefore, Palestine should refrain from unhelpful rhetoric. Israel would speak further when the appropriate resolution came up for debate.
AMMAR HIJAZI, observer for Palestine, said Israel's recent actions in Gaza came 30 years too late and fell far short of what was needed. Gaza had been left in ruins and was still effectively under Israel military control. Over 4,000 Palestinians had died in the past two years, many of them children. The situation could change only when Israel's occupation, and the suffering of the Palestinian people, came to an end.
Before wrapping up today's debate, Assembly President JAN ELIASSON ( Sweden) noted that a record number of terrorist attacks had taken place this year and said he would ask the Assembly to take note of that fact.
He went on to say that the majority of today's speakers had supported the work of the United Nations and of OCHA in its humanitarian efforts, and had called for a strengthening of the Organization's rapid response capacity. While the current portion of the debate was concluded, debate on the item was far from finished.
Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations
When the Assembly took up the item on the global agenda for dialogue among civilizations, O. ENKHTSETSEG ( Mongolia) introduced the draft resolution on 800 years of Mongolian statehood, contained in document A/60/L.17. She said the world was marked by an unprecedented level of interdependence and interaction among different civilizations, cultures and peoples. The achievements of civilization were a source of inspiration and progress for humanity at large. However, she noted that the rich and diverse civilization created by nomadic peoples across the globe and on the vast expanses of the Eurasian steppe had so far received little attention within the overall framework of the global agenda.
She said nomadic civilization had largely existed in peaceful symbiosis with sedentary societies and played an important role in the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large cultural, religious and commercial centres. Mongolia was a nomadic State, and was about to celebrate the 800th anniversary of its statehood next year. The anniversary would allow her country to look more closely at the study of nomadic civilization in its various aspects. The resolution before the Assembly aimed to reinforce the concept of a dialogue among civilizations. It also reaffirmed the importance of preserving and developing the culture and traditions of nomadic peoples in modern societies.
The Assembly adopted the draft resolution without a vote.
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