20 November 2007
General Assembly
GA/10661

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Plenary

55th Meeting (AM)


GENERAL ASSEMBLY PROCLAIMS ‘DECADE OF RECOVERY AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT’


FOR COMMUNITIES AFFECTED BY 1986 CHERNOBYL DISASTER

 


Conscious of the need to tackle the long-term consequences of the disaster at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the General Assembly today proclaimed the next 10 years as a decade of “recovery and sustainable development” to help affected communities reverse the domino effect of poverty, poor health, fear and psychosocial trauma that have hampered growth in the region since 1986, when one of the plant’s nuclear reactors exploded during a test.


Profoundly concerned by the lingering effects of the accident on the lives and health of the people, especially children, in Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus and the Russian Federation, the Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution proclaiming 2006-2016 the Decade of Recovery and Sustainable Development of the Affected Regions, to focus United Nations and national-level activities on helping Chernobyl-affected communities return to normal life, as far as possible, within that time frame.


The Assembly’s action came after the release early last month of a report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who noted that, after two decades, the international community was uniting behind an emerging consensus that the focus of Chernobyl-related activities should “shift from emergency humanitarian aid to long-term development assistance aimed at creating new economic opportunities, restoring community self-sufficiency and promoting a return to normalcy among affected populations”.


The United Nations and the Governments of the three countries had come to recognize that a return to normal life was a “realistic prospect” for most people living in Chernobyl-affected regions, he said.  Now, the areas most needed sustainable social and economic development:  new jobs, fresh investment and the restoration of a sense of community self-reliance.  So, while needs specific to Chernobyl remained, and research into the health and environmental impact of the accident should continue, Mr. Ban said that the main challenges facing the three countries were those in the mainstream of the United Nations development mission, as articulated in the Millennium Declaration.


To that end, the resolution adopted today by the Assembly welcomed the recent proposal by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to coordinate the drafting of a United Nations Action Plan for Chernobyl recovery to 2016, “to implement the Decade in support of national strategies of the affected countries, with the aim of maximizing limited resources, avoiding duplication of effort and building on recognized agency mandates and competencies”.  UNDP was requested to present a draft plan for review by the Chernobyl Inter-Agency Task Force by 26 April 2008, the twenty-second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.


The Assembly also stressed the need for further coordination by UNDP and improved resource mobilization by the United Nations system to support activities aimed at the recovery of Chernobyl-affected territories, including community-based development projects, the promotion of investment and the creation of new jobs and small businesses, advocacy work and the provision of relevant policy advice, and the widest possible dissemination of the findings of the Chernobyl Forum through the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network.


Adoption of the resolution capped the Assembly’s two day debate on strengthening United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, during which more than 40 delegations discussed the Organization’s humanitarian activities under the umbrella of creating predictable finances to enable prompt response to crises, strengthening the Organization’s response capacity through a system of “cluster leads”, and bolstering support for field coordination and long-term recovery from tragic events, such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as well as the Chernobyl disaster.


The representative of Nicaragua made a statement, as did the Observers of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Organization for Migration, Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.


The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 26 November, to discuss the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences in the economic, social and related fields.


Background


The General Assembly met this morning to continue and conclude its joint debate on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance.


Statements


MARIO H. CASTELLÓN DUARTE ( Nicaragua) said his country’s coastline, which occupied much of the country, reflected the area’s great cultural and environmental diversity.  However, on 4 September 2005, a category 5 hurricane hit the autonomous north Atlantic area, demonstrating the vulnerability of Nicaragua and the wider Caribbean region.  The event, a human and cultural tragedy, also provided an opportunity for multiple levels of authority to coordinate, in order to overcome the problem and contribute to the region’s development.


The hurricane affected more than 200,000 people and destroyed 470,000 hectares of forest, measured by the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, he explained.  More than 20,000 homes were demolished, and 86,000 hectares of non-traditional crops were destroyed.  Some 480,000 fishing boats were lost, and the area’s only port was partially destroyed.  Total estimated damages had hit $850 million.  He thanked the States and non-governmental organizations that had responded to the crisis, and noted the work of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


SUSAN JOHNSON, Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that her organization believed that an increased emphasis on vulnerability and risk reduction would reduce the impact of such disasters.  The IFRC’s experience had shown that a range of risk reduction measures could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year, at a fraction of the cost of disaster response.  The IFRC was working with national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at one level and with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to deliver more risk-informed humanitarian action.


She said that the increasing number of smaller disasters pointed to the need to enhance disaster preparedness and response capacity at local levels, and many countries had folded national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies into their mechanisms and strategies.  A good example of the effectiveness of such broad and inclusive preparedness mechanisms was the strategy established by Bangladesh, which had helped save many lives ahead of a devastating cyclone.  On the whole, a national society could provide a unique bridge linking capacity and policy to the efforts of ordinary people, and could also work as an auxiliary to national authorities in the humanitarian field at the grass-roots level, thanks to its volunteer-based staff.


Finally, she stressed that the international community did not give enough attention to many local and national disasters.  With that in mind, the IFRC had significantly scaled up and improved its use of the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF), which delivers start-up cash to Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies within 24 hours of a disaster to ensure life-saving early action.  She recalled that financial support from the DREF to the Mozambique Red Cross had enabled it to quickly respond to neglected, small-scale disasters such as drought and cholera, as well as more high-profile crises like this year’s floods.


LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Observer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), emphasized that strengthening cooperation in humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters was characterized by areas relevant to IOM’s operational work:  situations of population displacement, sudden population movements and forced migration within and across borders.  In addition, while the complex links between environmental change, human security and migration were not yet fully understood, the human impact associated with natural disasters, due to climate change and vulnerabilities linked to such phenomena as population growth, environmental degradation and unplanned urbanization, were undoubtedly on the rise.


Large-scale human displacement in the wake of natural and sudden calamities was perhaps the most familiar scenario of environmentally linked migration, he said.  Those disasters had uprooted communities, leaving millions without shelter and basic services.  Yet, migration was also the result of gradual environmental degradation -- and in those cases the scale of displacement was far greater.  He noted that IOM had been called to contribute to the debate on those emerging but crucial topics; next week’s Council of the IOM would devote one of its sessions to the topic of climate change and migration.


Saying it was a committed actor in the ongoing humanitarian reform process alongside humanitarian partners from the United Nations system and the Red Cross movement, he added that IOM was an active participant in the cluster approach within the Global Humanitarian Platform.  Inter-agency collaboration within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee was now beginning to offer preliminary, but promising, indications of the achievements that could be made in improving coordination and coherence, if all partners consistently followed the cluster approach.  The two-year anniversary of the cluster approach provided an opportunity to highlight it achievements and its challenges.  Several joint approaches were facilitating partnerships and synergies on the central and field levels.  Thus, the cluster approach should be seen as a way to better respond to the needs of those displaced by conflict or natural disaster.  It also supported national responses and filled gaps where the national authorities needed international support and solidarity.


While it was a global cluster lead in Camp Coordination and Camp Management, IOM continued to work on a variety of other important areas in emergencies, he said.  It was active in the protection cluster and was carrying out protection training for emergency staff to ensure protection issues were mainstreamed throughout its operations.  Notably, the Central Emergency Response Fund had allowed IOM to quickly deploy capacities and resources in response to 16 crises in 2007 alone.  Increased contributions to the Fund that would allow it to reach its target goal by 2008 were welcome.


Turning to the use of military assets in disaster settings, he said IOM particularly welcomed an independent study on the effectiveness of using foreign military assets in international disaster response to identify best practices for their deployment, coordination and use.  While humanitarian organizations should be at the forefront of humanitarian aid, the scale of some recent disasters showed that national and international military forces had the necessary capacity to respond in an adequate and timely manner.


HENRY J. HUMPHREYS, Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, while saying large-scale natural disasters had affected 143 million people and resulted in more than 23,000 deaths in the past year, noted that natural disasters were not the only tragedies requiring an emergency humanitarian response.  The Order was pleased that the Central Emergency Response Fund had continued to make progress towards its objective of improving field-level coordination and strengthening the United Nations humanitarian response.  But, while it fully recognized the need for field coordination and the pre-eminent role played by the United Nations agencies and mechanisms like the Fund, the Order believed that management and funding should not be overly centralized.


With more than 80,000 dedicated volunteers working in 120 countries, he said the Order of Malta worked in partnership with United Nations agencies, States and local and international non-governmental organizations to further strengthen a synchronized response to humanitarian challenges.  For example, it had responded to the flooding in Burkina Faso in September and, in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme, had set up a food distribution programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that served approximately 5,000 internally displaced families in the Kiva Province.


It was imperative in emergency situations for humanitarian assistance to provide not only immediate relief to victims, but to develop long-term support systems, he said.  To that end, the Order of Malta had demonstrated its ability to broaden its role from providing immediate relief to long-term development in areas affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami.  Even as it provided emergency relief for tsunami victims, it had begun assessing projects for the reconstruction phase.  Since then, it had also applied its experience in HIV/AIDS programmes, launching a comprehensive prevention project in 33 villages in South India to fight the infection.  People there were learning how to prevent and control the disease’s transmission, and were also learning how to live with the disease.


He said the Order of Malta always strived to accomplish two goals in its humanitarian work.  First, it sought to place local non-governmental organizations at the centre of the relief effort, and local staff training was at the core of many of its projects.  Second, it believed that a long-term commitment was necessary to achieve a lasting impact on the community.  Those principles were exemplified in the Order’s support given to the Palestinian people.  For example, it had operated the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem-Palestine, where 36,000 healthy children had been born in the past 17 years.  Still, that work had often been carried out in dangerous and difficult conditions.


Noting that the report of the Secretary-General on the issue said the safety of humanitarian and United Nations personnel remained precarious, he said despite significant measures taken to improve the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers, they continued to be victims of physical attacks, threats and robberies.  Thus, the Order stood with the Secretary-General in his appeal to Member States to fulfil their obligation, under the United Nations Charter, to ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers.


DOMINIQUE BUFF, Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the humanitarian world had evolved rapidly over the past few years as more players entered the arena, often with different objectives, operating standards and activities.  The United Nations humanitarian bodies had also embarked on a reform process, and the main donor Governments had begun a process of collective reflection.  In addition, foreign military assistance was increasingly present in humanitarian crises, and the roles of secular and religious non-governmental organizations, private companies and other players were also growing.  In that constantly changing environment, the ICRC intended to remain the benchmark organization for neutral, independent and strictly humanitarian action and for international humanitarian law, through its action on the ground and in its dialogues with all stakeholders.


Because of its active presence worldwide, the ICRC had been able to develop and maintain contacts with all those who had a significant impact on the course of armed conflicts and on the humanitarian problems those conflicts created, he said.  Such contacts were crucial in gaining access to the field and in permitting the ICRC to conduct its activities for the victims of armed conflicts and other violence.  The ICRC believed that humanitarian coordination should take place first and foremost in the field.  It should also be reality based and action-oriented.


Noting its unique mandate to protect persons affected by armed conflict, he said the ICRC also intended to remain the benchmark organization in that area, particularly by helping ensure that all parties to armed conflicts met their obligations towards civilians by improving the protection afforded to persons deprived of their liberty, by restoring family links and by obtaining reliable information on missing persons.  It would also continue to maintain its approach of covering all emergency needs by providing quality health and medical care in addition to its relief, water and sanitation activities.  The ICRC was strongly committed to remaining a reliable and predictable organization, and would continue to strengthen its ability to learn from its own experience and that of other organizations.


Noting that humanitarian needs in complex emergencies largely exceeded the capacity of any single organization to cope, he emphasized that many agencies with varying objectives and principles for action were needed to respond to such emergencies.  That diversity of actors and approaches could enhance the humanitarian response and alleviate suffering, if all those involved managed to act in a complementary fashion.  To that end, the ICRC participated in coordination efforts with other humanitarian organizations, investing in those relationships with a view to strengthening its own capacity for action.  At the international level, the ICRC continued to take part in humanitarian coordination forums, and sought to maintain and strengthen its bilateral relations with other major humanitarian organizations.  One example of that was its November 2006 agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in which both agreed to consult one another and to coordinate activities to ensure complementarity.  It had also engaged in similar dialogue with other major humanitarian agencies within the United Nations system.


He said the ICRC was convinced that humanitarian coordination should maximize the added value that each organization could bring to the field.  It saw its added value mainly in being a truly independent and neutral humanitarian actor with wide access globally to those in need of protection and assistance as a result of an armed conflict or other violent situations.


Action on Draft Resolution on Chernobyl


The General Assembly adopted by consensus a draft resolution, as orally amended, on strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/62/L.12), which had been introduced by the representative of Ukraine yesterday.


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For information media • not an official record