15 July 2008
Economic and Social Council

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

Economic and Social Council

2008 Substantive Session

30th Meeting (PM)



Emergency Relief Coordinator Opens Humanitarian Affairs Segment;

Risk Reduction, Funding, Ensuring Safe Access among Issues Addressed in Debate

The overall demand for humanitarian assistance would continue to rise as the number of climate-related disasters increased and growing food insecurity exacerbated existing crises, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Economic and Social Council today, as that 54-member body launched the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2008 substantive session. 

The Council’s humanitarian segment, which runs through 17 July, will focus on the theme of building capabilities and capacities at all levels for timely humanitarian assistance, including disaster risk reduction.  In addition to the general debate, which began today as the Council heard from 22 speakers, two expert panel discussions will be convened on the humanitarian consequences of climate change and other natural disasters and the humanitarian challenges related to global food security.

In introducing two reports from the Secretary-General, Mr. Holmes said too many of the world’s current long-running conflicts and the ensuing humanitarian crises showed no sign of abating.  Moreover, they were being further complicated by deepening environmental pressures and rising food costs.

“These needs are genuine and they are huge,” he said, stressing that it was not enough to be faster, more reliable and better skilled, if reaching vulnerable populations was impossible.  A renewed effort to save lives was needed and, in that, ensuring access for the purpose of alleviating human suffering and protecting populations in armed conflict would be essential.

Synergies between the humanitarian and climate change communities should also be promoted, he said, noting that the humanitarian challenges of natural disasters had been vividly illustrated by the catastrophes caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China, which had affected the livelihoods and caused the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of citizens.

In his opening remarks, Council Vice-President Park In-kook ( Republic of Korea) said this year’s humanitarian affairs segment provided United Nations Member States with an opportunity to consider jointly with the international humanitarian community how to best address and respond to those crises.  It would also afford the chance for the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence to be reaffirmed.

China’s representative noted, thanking all those who had provided humanitarian assistance after the devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck his country’s Sichuan Province last May, that last year’s jump in natural disasters had forced the United Nations to launch a record number of 15 Flash Appeals for emergency assistance.  With this growing number of crises, it had become even more urgent for the international community to strengthen cooperation and coherence to improve the system’s response capacity.

In that, enhancing disaster reduction and preparedness capabilities at all levels would be critical, he said.  Within the United Nations system, the role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs should also be strengthened.

Emphasizing the clear relationship between emergency relief, rehabilitation and development in paving the way for a smooth transition from relief to development, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said humanitarian assistance should be provided in ways that supported recovery and long-term development.  While applauding the growth of international funding mechanisms for humanitarian assistance, he urged that more attention be paid to funding gaps.

Noting that progress had been made in the last year on reforming and financing the humanitarian system, the Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway said Governments should further invest in the full range of priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action, including institution-building, risk assessment, mitigation, education and preparedness.

Stressing that adaptation to climate change as a first line of defence was also urgent and that research on the humanitarian impacts of climate change should be intensified, she requested the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to help States improve their understanding of risks and vulnerabilities.

Simply, the representative of Brazil said the fact that 80 per cent of the lives saved when disaster struck were saved within the first 48 hours underscored the importance of building Member States’ capacities and capabilities at all levels.  He stressed that, in addition to Government preparedness, the important role played by civil society and non-governmental organizations should be duly recognized and strengthened.

Also speaking today were the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Ethiopia (on behalf of the African Group), Sudan, Switzerland, Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Canada, Russian Federation, United States, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Belarus, Australia, Colombia and Syria.

Representatives of the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization also spoke.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 July, to continue its humanitarian activities segment, which will feature a panel discussion on “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness:  addressing the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change”.


The Economic and Social Council today opened its humanitarian affairs segment under the theme of “Building capabilities and capacities at all levels for timely humanitarian assistance, including disaster risk reduction”.  As part of its consideration of those issues, it will convene two panel discussions in the coming days:  “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness:  addressing the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change”, and “Humanitarian challenges related to global food aid, including enhancing international efforts and cooperation in this field”.

The Council had before it this afternoon two reports of the Secretary-General, the first of which was entitled strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/63/81-E/2008/71).  The report describes major humanitarian trends and challenges of the last year, underscoring that the largest driver of disasters has been the increased incidence and severity of extreme weather events, mostly associated with climate change.  The humanitarian consequences of inter-State and intra-State conflicts also remain high, while the recent jump in food and fuel prices has led to violent protests in many countries.

The report also analyses two thematic issues of concern:  the humanitarian implications of climate change and the humanitarian challenges related to current global food trends.  On climate change, the immediate challenge posed to humanitarian organizations is in preparing for -- and responding to -- more frequent events, and there was an urgent need to increase investment in disaster risk reduction.  Improving organizations’ understanding of how climate hazards affect existing patterns of vulnerability and risk is equally important.  On food trends, the report points to the need for Governments, communities and international agencies to become better equipped for providing longer-term solutions to new patterns of hunger.  Against the backdrop of such issues, the report provides an overview of key processes to improve coordination, and recommendations for further strengthening coordination of the United Nations emergency humanitarian assistance.

The second report, entitled strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (document A/63/84-E/2008/80), provides an assessment of the humanitarian response in areas affected by the 2004 tsunami.  Progress is apparent across the affected region, where displaced persons are living in newly constructed homes, children are attending school and hospitals are being rebuilt and repaired.  Yet, the picture of progress is uneven and many complex recovery challenges remain, with each country facing a different scenario.  One common realization is that it will take many years for individual households and the wider economies on which they depend to recover fully.

The report further describes progress made towards the Tsunami Recovery Impact Assessment and Monitoring System (TRIAMS), which is an analytical framework designed to assist Governments, aid agencies and affected populations measure the rate and direction of tsunami recovery.  It also provides an assessment of measures to evaluate and strengthen early warning systems and establish official tsunami warning focal points.  Noting that recovery and reconstruction efforts were being mainstreamed into long-term development assistance projects and programmes, the report concludes that continued specific reporting to the Council is no longer warranted. 

Opening Statement

Opening the humanitarian affairs segment, Council Vice-President and segment President PARK IN-KOOK ( Republic of Korea) said the world was facing a major food security crisis that could negatively impact hundreds of millions of lives.  At the same time, the increased severity of the humanitarian implications associated with natural disasters were also being felt worldwide, threatening the lives of tens of thousands and displacing millions.  This year’s humanitarian affairs segment provided United Nations Member States with an opportunity to deliberate and reflect jointly with the international humanitarian community on how to best address and respond to those crises.

The segment also provided an opportunity to reiterate the significance of humanitarian assistance and to reaffirm commitments to respecting and upholding the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.  While each nation had primary responsibility of protecting its citizens’ well-being, today’s increasingly complex humanitarian emergencies often disregarded national boundaries, making it necessary for countries to be appropriately prepared, including by being open and ready to allow and facilitate humanitarian aid and support from regional and international partners.

Each Member State would also have the opportunity to discuss humanitarian response priorities with the international humanitarian community during the segment, which would also provide a forum to jointly deliberate on how to improve humanitarian response and address future challenges.  It was, therefore, critical to come to an agreement on the resolution before the Council that endorsed practical improvements to humanitarian operations and guided the coming year’s humanitarian effort.

Two panels, on disaster preparedness and the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters and the humanitarian challenges of global food aid, would further address two particularly important challenges that would no doubt change the world for future generations, he said, anticipating a frank and productive exchange of views during the segment.

Introduction of Reports of Secretary-General

Noting that, when he had addressed the Council a year ago, he had predicted that the incidence of natural hazards would increase, JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said any idiot could have made that prediction.  Indeed, according to the Secretary-General’s report on “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency assistance of the United Nations”, climate-related disasters had increased by almost 90 per cent since 1987.

In the last year alone, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China had affected the livelihoods and caused the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of citizens.  The humanitarian response in China, which was largely led by national authorities, had been quickly organized, while in Myanmar the issues had been more complicated and international assistance had been delayed in reaching affected populations.  Asia continued to be the continent most affected by natural hazards, but Africa and South America were also facing greater threats.  In both Myanmar and China, “building back better” meant that disaster risk reduction planning had to be a development priority from the start.

Meanwhile, around the world, too many of the current long-running conflicts and the ensuing humanitarian crises showed no sign of abating.  In Darfur, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Gaza and Iraq problems caused by continuing conflict were being further exacerbated by environmental pressures.  Given this global scenario, the overall demand for humanitarian assistance would continue to rise and the international community would need and want to respond with increasing resources.

Underlining the impossibility of providing assistance if the populations under threat were inaccessible, he reiterated that the basic driving principles guiding humanitarian work were humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.  Unfortunately, although those principles were enshrined throughout the United Nations system in General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, humanitarian workers were still targets of violence.

As a result, those words had to be translated into concrete action, he said.  It was not enough to be faster, more reliable and better skilled if it was impossible to reach the vulnerable populations.  A renewed effort to save lives was needed and, in that, ensuring access for the purpose of alleviating human suffering and protecting populations in armed conflict was essential.  Emphasizing that the Council had important work to do to reinforce that fact, he expressed hope that negotiations for the resolution around that point could reach a speedy conclusion.

From 2007 to 2008, an estimated 20 humanitarian workers had been killed in Darfur alone.  In Afghanistan, in 2007, there were over 130 attacks on humanitarian workers and convoys.  The murder of the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Somalia had been a tragedy not just for the United Nations family, but for the people of Somalia.

“I fear we are becoming inured to such losses,” he said.  There was a danger that the lives of national aid workers might seem less valuable than those of international staff.  “We must never allow ourselves the hint of a double standard in this regard.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had noted that the global population of internally displaced persons resulting from violent conflict had reached 26 million.  The dimensions of those humanitarian disasters were growing due to the rise of food insecurity, particularly in fragile States.

“These needs are genuine and they are huge,” he said.  The international community had to act immediately and in a unified manner to respond to the current food emergency and to ensure that increased agricultural productivity would allow for a long-term response.  That would require sustained investment in agricultural sectors around the world and all stakeholders -- from Governments, civil society and public and private institutions -- must pull together in that effort.

Turning to the set of humanitarian challenges from climate change, he said the increasing incidence of extreme natural disasters was threatening millions.  Rising temperatures were increasing the likelihood of such diseases as malaria.  The threat of conflict was growing, as tensions over dwindling natural resources rose.  While more studies were needed to chart the threats posed by climate change and predict how those dangers could be mitigated, stronger disaster preparedness at the national level would certainly be necessary.  Synergies between the humanitarian and climate change communities should also be promoted.  In that, the Hyogo Framework for Action could provide key guidance.  The cluster approach to humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness had also had some success.

Further, it would also be necessary to increase not only the volume of emergency funds, but the effectiveness of their disbursal, as well.  The generosity of Member States had meant the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was better able to meet the needs of humanitarian efforts, but a recent evaluation of CERF had highlighted challenges facing the Fund that would have to be addressed.  The establishment of funds at the country level had allowed for better channelling of resources, but a more systematic prioritization of national resources was necessary.

To address all those concerns in a timely manner, collective action was needed.  Only a concerted approach would allow the humanitarian community to alleviate suffering and save lives.  Defence of humanitarian space and activity was fundamental.  Calling humanitarian workers “brave individuals” who risked their lives to save others, he stressed that Member States who were primarily responsible as host countries should do more to protect aid workers and pursue and prosecute those who threatened them.

The humanitarian affairs segment was an affirmation of the importance of humanitarian assistance, he said, noting that “we all share the responsibility” for that work.  Still, greater understanding of, and commitment to, the practice of humanitarian work was needed.  In closing, he expressed hope that the Council’s discussion would be driven by the operational concerns of doing that work.

General Debate

CONRAD HUNTE (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the importance of the two issues of concern this year -- climate change and the global food crisis -– and supported calls for additional study of the implications of both.  In recent years, many humanitarian emergencies had occurred in regions represented by the Member States for which he spoke, and the magnitude of the natural disasters had underscored the need for a timely and coordinated response.  Highlighting the many challenges to coordinating humanitarian assistance, he said a single natural disaster could set back the development of a developing country by several decades.  The United Nations had a unique role to play in assisting those countries in enhancing their capacities, knowledge and institutions by promoting access to new technology and funding.

Reaffirming States’ responsibility to care for victims of humanitarian emergencies within their borders, he also noted that armed conflict had disproportionately affected civilians and, sadly, deprived them of the necessary services in such situations.  Women’s empowerment could contribute to conflict resolution, and the empowerment of women, children and other vulnerable groups had become integral to the United Nations activities in the field.  He reaffirmed the importance of facilitating safe and unhindered access of United Nations and other organizations working with the consent of the affected State, underscoring the need to respect the primary role of the affected State.  He also urged parties to cooperate with the Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations agencies in the country concerned.

Continuing, he said there was a clear relationship between emergency relief, rehabilitation and development in pursuing a smooth transition from relief to development, he said.  Indeed, humanitarian assistance must be provided in ways that supported recovery and long-term development.  While applauding the growth of international funding mechanisms for humanitarian assistance, he urged that more attention be paid to funding gaps, and looked forward to the outcome of the independent evaluation of the Central Emergency Response Fund.

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States and acknowledging global efforts to improve the humanitarian response, said more work needed to be done to strengthen coordination and leadership at the field level, mainstream cross-cutting issues in humanitarian programming and reinforce needs-based humanitarian financing.  Humanitarian access also remained a key challenge.  Given the increasing number and scale of humanitarian emergencies, the capacity of all stakeholders had to be strengthened.  Disaster-risk reduction activities and preparedness had to be enhanced at all levels.  The further deterioration of the humanitarian situation where there were long-standing conflicts also remained a concern.  Noting that Darfur was the host of the biggest humanitarian operation in the world, he called for the full deployment of the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur.

It was more important than ever for all parties to adhere to the humanitarian principles, he continued.  Access was the fundamental prerequisite for any humanitarian response.  Concrete measures should be taken by all actors, including national authorities, to allow unimpeded and timely access to populations in need.  Strongly condemning the increase of deliberate violent attacks on humanitarian personnel, he called on Governments to take the required steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel working on their territory.  He welcomed the efforts of the United Nations relief agencies to further strengthen their capacities and capabilities, including through the cluster approach, and further encouraged the development of partnerships between United Nations and non-United Nations actors in humanitarian efforts.

Turning to humanitarian financing, he said the European Union supported the full range of financial mechanisms, but felt CERF alone could not solve the issue of humanitarian financing as a whole, particularly in light of growing humanitarian needs.  Reinforcing a response based on needs was critical and humanitarian needs should be better identified, in order to be met more effectively.  Civil-military cooperation would further enhance a humanitarian response and the gender perspective should also be further integrated into such responses.

To enhance disaster preparedness planning to meet the humanitarian implications of climate change, he said the European Union supported pre-positioning of relief items and community–based preparedness activities.  It remained committed to the principles of the Hyogo Framework.  He also called for the implementation of the Rome Declaration of 5 June 2008 to meet the humanitarian challenges of the current food crisis.  In closing, he noted that the European Union was particularly attentive to the situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Burma/Myanmar, which were the site of some of the most worrying food crisis situations in the world, and underscored the primary responsibility of States in humanitarian efforts.

HASABO MUHAMMAD ABDULRAHMAN ( Sudan) said that broad coordination mechanisms between the international community and the Government were needed to ensure humanitarian access to all the populations in need.  Even in Darfur, a moratorium was holding so that relief workers could operate safely and effectively.  He denounced the violent attacks against humanitarian workers in the country, which had been carried out by rebels.  The Government was doing its best to curb such attacks and, while certainly not all the Darfur region was safe, it was much safer than it had been portrayed.

Indeed, he said, the Sudan would like to have seen the positive improvements regarding humanitarian relief in Darfur reflected in the Secretary-General’s report.  Such praise would have been helpful to the Sudan, as well as other countries dealing with rebel-driven violence.  The report could have also strongly condemned rebel actions in Darfur.  President Bashir had signed some 29 decrees to ensure coordination of humanitarian efforts.  He went on to say that, along with war and conflict, the Sudan also faced natural disasters, such as floods and droughts.  To address such issues, it had entered into disaster risk reduction strategies with international organizations.  At the same time, more help was needed to ensure that the Sudan could better implement its agreements, including to help the country build its national capacity to deliver humanitarian aid.

YOSEPH KASSAYE ( Ethiopia) spoke on behalf of the African Group and aligned himself with the statement on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  The challenge of climate change had contributed to soaring food and fuel prices, which, in turn, had led to aggravated global food insecurity.  Indeed, the recent earthquake in China and flooding in Myanmar had reminded the world of the impacts of such severe natural disasters.  In that connection, he expressed appreciation for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations agencies, donor countries and all humanitarian partners for their timely relief assistance last year.

Continuing, he said Africa also had experienced its share of disasters, including unprecedented heavy rainfall in 2006, 2007 and 2008, which had resulted in some of the worst flooding in the continent’s history.  Flooding in the eastern, central and western parts of Africa had killed more than 200 people and affected millions.   Africa did not have the required capacities or financial resources to lessen the impacts of such calamities, without the United Nations timely and effective humanitarian interventions.  There was an urgent need to increase investment in disaster risk reduction preparedness in high-risk settings.  Addressing the food crisis, he called for mobilizing more resources to help the world’s most vulnerable developing countries, including in Africa, that depended on external food assistance and faced a severe drop in food aid.

HANS PETER LENZ ( Switzerland) said it was essential that the resolution of the humanitarian segment of the Economic and Social Council concentrate on specific questions that provided answers in the form of policy orientation for current operational challenges.  In that respect, the recommendation of the Secretary-General’s report should be an essential guide to identifying the main subjects of debate.  He also wanted to comment on and perhaps also supplement the report in four areas. 

First, he encouraged all organizations taking part in the Task Force on the food crisis to resolutely continue their measures to support the efforts of the Governments concerned to permanently reduce hunger and food insecurity.  Second, he underlined the need to base humanitarian assistance on reality-based needs assessments of the populations affected by disaster, a crisis or conflict, pointing out that applying the principle of impartiality was central to all humanitarian action.  In addition, the strengthening of capacity for emergency response should also include voluntary measures to improve the quality of operations by bilateral agencies and by all the international actors delivering emergency aid.

Third, he agreed with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s observation that situations in which the actors concerned did not guarantee free and unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations to persons needing the protection and assistance that those organizations provided were unfortunately all too frequent throughout the world.  That situation needed to be urgently addressed and Switzerland, which had been an active participant in efforts to find a solution to it, intended to push forward with that process so that ways of making it easier for humanitarian organizations to act in the interest of persons in need could be identified.  Finally, he thanked the staff of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which had carried out several large-scale emergency operations as well as elaborating joint policies with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in the year under review.

HILARIO G. DAVIDE (Philippines) said, in the past 10 years, since the first Economic and Social Council humanitarian affairs segment, the Organization had been able to provide an integrated response to numerous complex emergencies, established CERF, and elaborated major humanitarian policies, such as on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and on negotiating humanitarian principles and access.  The Philippines itself had been a beneficiary of humanitarian assistance many times.  As recently as this week, his Government had received assistance in the wake of the ferry tragedy after the passage of typhoon Frank.

However, he said, while much could be said in high praise of the assistance that the Council helped to coordinate, much of that work seemed reactive in nature.  Much more could be done to help countries prevent tragedies from escalating in emergency situations.  Precious financial resources of the United Nations might also be effectively used to prevent the effects of disasters by providing Member States the capacity to forestall grave consequences and developing national capacities to provide immediate assistance.  In many instances, that would require the coordinating capacity of UNDP to encourage developed countries and development partners to provide training and technology.  That could also address the possibility of donor fatigue.

For example, he said, take the crisis caused by climate change.  Man was the culprit and the countries that had contributed least to the problem were suffering the most.  Emphasizing the importance of “helping affected countries help themselves”, he said that States and peoples would be well advised to start preparing for extreme weather events as a result of climate change “for and by themselves and call for the United Nations to come only to support” their efforts.  The strategy on the food crisis was a prime example of how to act.  The Framework of Action provided Member States with clear strategies to address the challenge, and the Council should strongly endorse that Framework on 18 July, as an initial sign of political will to assist the most vulnerable.

TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan) said massive natural disasters had struck Asia over the past few months, including Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, an earthquake in China, a typhoon in the Philippines and a violent earthquake in northern Japan that killed 10 people.  He expressed concern about the frequency of such natural disasters and questioned whether the international community was responding effectively.  He welcomed the agreement reached on the humanitarian cluster of the mandate review process.  Humanitarian reform must be vigorously promoted.  That would involve strengthening the humanitarian coordinator system and improving the cluster approach and CERF.  Japan had long stressed the importance of disaster preparedness and risk reduction.  In May, Japan’s Prime Minister announced that Japan intended to promote, together with other Asian countries, cooperation in disaster preparedness and risk reduction, as well as create a disaster management and infectious disease control network in Asia. 

He stressed the importance of adapting to the effects of climate change and strengthening early warning mechanisms, in order to minimize climate change’s adverse impact on the global population.  Under the Cool Earth Promotion Programme, Japan would provide approximately $10 billion for adaptation and access to clean energy and mitigation.  Japan had already begun cooperating with more than 20 countries on the Programme.  At the Toyako Summit last week, Group of Eight leaders issued an outcome document on the environment and climate change that expressed their determination to, along with the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), achieve at least a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050.  They also welcomed the decisions made at Bali as the foundation for reaching a global agreement in the UNFCC process by 2009.

DENNY ABDI ( Indonesia), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said threats to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals posed by the turmoil in the global economy and natural disasters made the timely provision of humanitarian assistance more essential than ever.  While efforts to assist affected countries in enhancing their humanitarian response were appreciated, the coordination, effectiveness and efficiency of that response could be improved and partnerships strengthened.  An effective mechanism, such as the one embodied in General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 16 December 1991, should be in place to respond to appeals by disaster-affected countries.  That resolution had rightly underlined the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality and called for full respect of State sovereignty and national territorial integrity.

While all countries were rightly expected to identify their vulnerability to disasters and to develop appropriate responses, those in the developing world often lacked the capacity to provide swift and timely relief efforts and to conduct rehabilitation and recovery programmes at later stages, he said.   Indonesia believed that the international community should support the development of national disaster preparedness plans in these countries by, among other things, making increased resources available to them.  To that end, the Indonesian Government had developed and implemented local action plans for disaster risk reduction with the help of United Nations agencies, and it was hoped that would provide quicker, more effective assistance when disaster struck.

In addition to natural hazards, he said man-made disasters also held the potential to create humanitarian crises, citing the current food crisis as the most vivid example.  It was essential to establish an early warning system on food security to prevent any future global food crisis and to use all available resources to monitor climate change, so communities and nations could prepare for climate-inducted disasters.

LESLIE NORTON ( Canada) pointed to several examples of positive change, including reform efforts taking place within key humanitarian agencies, such as the World Food Programme, and a growing recognition of the importance of disaster risk reduction.  Equally important, however, were the challenges, including the question of humanitarian access.  The safety and security of humanitarian workers was increasingly at risk, and the current food crisis could impact the world’s collective capacity to meet the nutritional needs of at-risk populations.   Canada was committed to helping those most affected by the food crisis.

She said Canada placed great importance on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian action, and on ensuring that flexible financing mechanisms were in place.  She noted with satisfaction that –- through the development of the cluster coordination approach -– there was a stronger collaborative spirit among international humanitarian actors, and she encouraged the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to work constructively to address those clusters where performance had lagged.  In addition, she applauded the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs efforts to effectively manage CERF and highlighted her country’s five-year, $192 million commitment to that Fund.

Humanitarian action must also be guided by high-quality humanitarian coordinators, and she urged strengthening the role and capacity of coordinators on a priority basis.  In closing, she reiterated Canada’s commitment to efforts to strengthen the international humanitarian system and was committed to working with States, United Nations entities and other partners.

V.A. NEBENZIA ( Russian Federation) said worldwide demand for humanitarian services was growing, and stressed the non-political nature of such activities.  Expressing support for the Hyogo Framework for Action, and for the international community in building capacity at all levels to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, he said the international humanitarian community should pay particular attention to strengthening humanitarian preparedness, as outlined in that Framework.

Turning to the global food crisis, he called for determining its causes and taking effective measures to overcome it.  In addition, he called on the Council to give serious attention to issues on the humanitarian agenda.  In that context, he welcomed the recent High-Level Conference on Food Security held in Rome, and noted the importance of carrying out its outcomes.  On the Central Emergency Response Fund, it was necessary to enhance mechanisms for mobilizing funding.  Commending the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for its work over the last year, he wished to continue the practice of transparency in its work.

ROBERT S. HAGEN ( United States) said that the international community’s commitment to humanitarian principles of impartiality, humanity, neutrality and independence was critical to the effectiveness of all such efforts.  Those principles must be safeguarded and ensured by each member of the international community.  Equally critical was the need to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to curb the loss of life.  Deliberate obstruction of life-saving assistance, including through bureaucratic and political obstacles or other means, was unacceptable.

On other issues raised in the Secretary-General’s report, he said that it was important for all States to recognize that links to climate change alone were not the sole cause of natural disasters.  Focusing only on climate change was detracting from efforts to craft a response to certain occurrences.  It was important to give due attention to non-climate related disasters, such as the recent earthquake in China and the situation in Darfur.  On the global food crisis, he said that a number of factors were driving the high prices, including spiralling fuel and transportation costs, export restrictions in some countries, and the welcome, but unprecedented, economic growth that was boosting demand.

Biofuels were only one of a number of factors behind the rising food prices, he said.  By investing on next generation technologies, the United States was working to ensure that biofuel production and use did not lead to long terms of environmental, food security and energy problems.  Further, the United States was pursuing an international strategy that, among other things, provided assistance to those countries capable of rapidly increasing food production, as well as promoting trade liberalization and the use of new technologies.  The United States would also urge others seeking an early and successful conclusion of the Doha development round of World Trade Organization negotiations to, among other things, reduce trade distorting subsidies, lift restrictions on agricultural exports, and encourage innovative research and use of technology, including biotechnology.

ISMAT JAHAN ( Bangladesh) said the myriad and interrelated crises facing the international community today would no doubt put pressure on the international humanitarian assistance framework, which was already experiencing problems responding to increased demands.  Indeed, with disasters and floods becoming more frequent as the planet grew hotter, there was an urgent need to intensify research and analysis to better understand the humanitarian consequences of climate change.  Further, increased investment in disaster risk reduction and preparedness in the most vulnerable countries, including the least developed countries and the small island developing States, was also required.  Such efforts must focus on addressing the impacts of floods, cyclones and droughts, as well as sea-level rise.

She went on to say that the current global food crisis created serious immediate and long-term humanitarian challenges, as increased food insecurity would require emergency interventions.  The United Nations system must urgently improve needs assessments and vulnerability analyses to protect people exposed to the food crisis.  “The international community should undertake a comprehensive strategy to provide both short- and long-term solutions to the challenges,” she said, adding that building resilience to natural disasters was important to this end.  She went on to stress that, overall, humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.  Further, financial coherence was vital, and required, among other things, the development of improved and more flexible multi-year funding mechanisms.  Such funding should also go where it was most needed, and donors should make available increased amounts of flexible predictable funding to ensure relief assistance reached needy populations in a timely manner.

ROBEHAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia) said that his delegation believed that the credibility and, by extension, the effectiveness of the international community’s humanitarian action rested on the key principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.   Malaysia also noted that the sharp increase in the number of deliberate attacks on relief workers, which was unacceptable, was taking place at a time “when the lines of distinction between military and humanitarian actors are becoming more blurred”.  At the same time, it seemed that an integrated approach involving both military and civilian workers, and the increased use of foreign military assets, had exacerbated those problems.

To resolve that issue effectively, Malaysia urged the Council to consider three fundamental questions:  What were the links between all the issues?  Was there a global trend towards attacking humanitarian workers as part of a strategy of one belligerent party to destroy another?  And were there increasing situations where humanitarian workers did more than relief work and, therefore, exposed themselves to attack?  Member States needed to further consider re-examining international guidelines on humanitarian work to ensure their effectiveness and to address difficulties in their implementation.  There were also concerns that humanitarian action was being used to promote ideas “for which no intergovernmental consensus exists, such as the responsibility to protect”.  He also called for a focus on the impact of the parallel challenges of climate change, the food crisis and rising fuel prices.  Those crises had multiplied the humanitarian difficulties facing many countries.

ALEXANDER STRIGELSKY ( Belarus) said his country was positioning itself as a donor of humanitarian assistance, having taken part in activities in several countries, including Sri Lanka and China.  He advocated enhancing coordination among all participants, particularly through the greatest possible centralization of humanitarian assistance.  Such an approach would ensure a focus on addressing humanitarian challenges within the framework of a long-term country process, and would prevent politicization of that process.

Continuing, he said Belarus was prepared to share its experience in establishing a system for ensuring targeted assistance and, in that context, commended the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in orchestrating assistance in response to disasters, including natural disasters.  A key role in developing cooperation efforts could be found in the strategy for disaster reduction, a leading tool for intergovernmental action.  Expanding the resource base for such efforts was necessary, including through innovative sources, and he supported the launch of the Central Emergency Response Fund.

SUSAN ECKEY, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, noted that progress had been made in the last year on reforming and financing the humanitarian system.  At the same time, as recently seen in Myanmar, access to life-saving assistance was “not a given”.  Governments should invest in the full range of priorities set out in the Hyogo Framework for Action, including institution-building, risk assessment, mitigation, education and preparedness.  Adaptation to climate change -– as a first line of defence –- was also urgent.

Attaching importance to intensified research on the humanitarian impacts of climate change, she requested the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to help States improve their understanding of risks and vulnerabilities.   Norway would table a revised proposal for an IPCC Special Report on the Management of Extreme Events at the September IPCC meeting.

On the food crisis, she urged that, in the short-term, the increased need for food, nutrition and health services be met, adding that it was timely for the Food Security Team Groups at the field level to fulfil their mandates.  The incidence of early recovery challenges -– those taking place after a humanitarian crisis -– would increase, and she encouraged closer coordination to ensure more effective planning and response in that “aftermath” phase.  She wished that there had been more concrete recommendations directed to the United Nations in the Secretary-General’s report.  In closing, she urged making use of existing instruments to ensure humanitarian responses addressed the different needs of women, men, girls and boys.

PIRAGIBE DOS SANTOS TARRAGO ( Brazil) said that, while affected States had the primary responsibility to address the needs of their citizens, the “impressive humanitarian system” developed by the United Nations system could contribute to domestic efforts.  At the same time, the fact that 80 per cent of the lives saved when disaster struck were saved within the first 48 hours underscored the importance of building Member States’ capacities and capabilities at all levels, including local authorities and civil society.  Neighbours and community-based organizations were usually the first to have access to victims, save lives and reduce losses, he added, stressing the need to duly recognize and strengthen the important role in preparedness and response played by civil society and non-governmental organizations.

He went on to say that the recent rise in food prices had “acquired a particular sensitivity”, as it had put additional strain on the humanitarian response capacity of Member States and the United Nations.  One way to address capacity-building in that area could be a more widespread adoption of a twin-track approach that combined immediate and short-term relief actions with policies that revitalized agricultural production in developing countries.  To that end, Brazil reiterated the importance of purchasing food to cope with immediate needs locally from small scale farmers.  For example, he noted the Brazilian Strategic Programme on Cooperation with Haiti, which was in the process of identifying small farmers in that country for the purchase and distribution of food.

ROBERT HILL ( Australia), highlighting today’s challenging humanitarian environment, called for effective coordination, proper accountability, clear leadership and a focus on impact.  Several issues were critical to strengthening the United Nations coordination of humanitarian assistance.  Australia welcomed progress made on the humanitarian reform agenda, and would like to see further effort given to ensuring a larger pool of deployable humanitarian coordinators, who could support the Resident Coordinator role.  On gender-mainstreaming and gender-based violence, it was imperative that a gender perspective be mainstreamed into all aspects of humanitarian policy, planning and implementation, and special attention must be given to ensuring that women have access to reproductive health services in emergency situations.

Taking up disaster risk reduction, “prevention is always better than cure”, he said, commending the Hyogo Framework for Action.  In recent years, preparedness and planning had saved lives.  Equally, devastation had resulted from inadequate attention to those issues, and he supported efforts to recognize the linkages between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction agendas.  On safety and security, he urged ensuring that the safety of every humanitarian worker was paramount and, where appropriate, enshrined in national humanitarian policy.  On the question of access, he urged States to facilitate timely humanitarian access in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters.  As for the use of military assets, Australia recognized that affected Governments and humanitarian actors required transparency around the use of such assets in disaster relief.  He welcomed continued debate on the appropriate and effective use of those assets in disaster response during complex emergencies.

CLAUDIA BLUM (Colombia), associating herself with the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said humanitarian assistance must be provided in strict adherence to several principles, including that of the impartial nature of humanitarian work and respect for the State’s role in the initiation and implementation of humanitarian assistance.  For its part, Colombia had developed comprehensive public policies consistent with international standards, and had faced disasters associated with climate change.  To develop effective responses, Colombia had strengthened its national prevention system, and developed guidelines for the formulation of emergency plans.  Such efforts had made her country a regional provider of cooperation in that field.

Continuing, she said Colombia had responded to areas affected by violence caused by illegal armed groups.  The number of those groups had dropped, thanks in part to the massive demobilization of illegal actors.  Nonetheless, prevention and protection responses were still a priority.  Solid programmes were in place, and budgetary resources had been allocated to care for victims.

On the report’s reference to emerging challenges, including climate change, she reiterated the importance of technology transfer, among other things, in adaptation, and disaster preparedness and response efforts.  On the food crisis, she said implementation of short-, medium- and long-term solutions required concerted efforts by all Member States.

YAO WEN LONG ( China) thanked all those who provided humanitarian assistance in the wake of the massive and devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake that had struck the country’s Sichuan Province last May.  He went on to say that, last year, the jump in natural disasters had forced the United Nations to launch a record number of 15 Flash Appeals for emergency assistance.  With ongoing armed conflicts in some regions, climate change and soaring fuel prices further pressuring the global humanitarian system, it had become even more urgent for the international community to strengthen cooperation and coherence to improve the system’s response capacity.  Such cooperation was also crucial for improving disaster reduction and preparedness capabilities at all levels.

Indeed, Governments and the wider United Nations should provide affected countries with timely and necessary assistance on the basis of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, while respecting disaster-stricken countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.  On the work of the United Nations, he said that it was necessary to strengthen the role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  At the national level, the resident coordinator system needed to be improved.  With those things in mind, China proposed that the United Nations system strengthen the training of and guidance for resident coordinators and establish a relevant accountability system. 

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said the impact of complex emergencies, including armed conflict, could be extremely onerous on some countries.  The international community had a particular duty to protect civilians in situations of armed conflict, as well as those living under occupation.  Such peoples living under occupation were routinely deprived of their most basic rights and access to their lands.  The most vivid example was that of the Palestinian people, who were suffering mightily under Israel’s occupation of their land.

Israel was denying the Palestinian people their basic rights, including by expelling those people from their lands and obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The United Nations had not effectively addressed the situation of the Palestinian people, even though the Organization’s Charter did not allow a State to violate the rights of citizens, even while living under occupation.  Indeed, the duties assigned to occupying Powers had been clearly defined.

The Council and wider United Nations must move to ensure the implementation of international law, he said, noting that the situation of the inhabitants in the Syrian Golan was not that different from that of the Palestinians living under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.   Israel continued to seize land from the Syrians living there, impede agricultural production, and curtail freedom of movement, diminishing the possibility that those people could have dignified lives and livelihoods.   Israel’s actions violated international law, as well as that country’s own obligations as an occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions.  The international community must press Israel to adhere to international law and abide by the relevant United Nations resolutions.

ANKE STRAUSS, Liaison Officer of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the Secretary-General’s report offered a valuable opportunity to take stock of progress and draw lessons for the future.  Reflecting on select humanitarian challenges, she said collaboration and coordination was most relevant for her organization’s work in situations of population displacement.  The issue of internal displacement was multifaceted, and many organizations worked on its different aspects to meet the protection, assistance and recovery needs of internally displaced persons.

The relevance and usefulness of the Central Emergency Response Fund could not be overstated, she said, adding that her organization had received nearly $30 million from that Fund, a somewhat limited amount.  She would welcome an increase in contributions to the Fund.  On climate change, IOM was particularly concerned about environmentally-induced migration and displacement.  Indeed, migrants included those who had moved voluntarily or involuntary, and such a range of situations must be factored into risk reduction and adaptation strategies at the national, regional and international levels.  In closing, she said her organization was committed to those most vulnerable in times of crisis, and remained dedicated to working resourcefully with its partners.

ERIC LAROCHE, Assistant Director-General of Health Action in Crises of the World Health Organization (WHO), discussed his organization’s leadership of the Global Health Cluster, which was constantly improving the systematic approach to providing humanitarian relief for health.  In 2008 alone, WHO and its partners launched 40 per cent more emergency operations than in the previous two years, reacting to health crises linked to armed conflict and natural disasters.  In Myanmar, WHO led a strong health cluster composed of over 40 agencies, and had provided more than 650 tons of medical supplies.  In China, an expert team provided input for recovery and reconstruction planning in the Sichuan Province earthquake zone, while in Zimbabwe WHO had strengthened its field presence with international experts.

Turning to climate change, he said more frequent extreme weather events meant more potential deaths and injuries caused by storms and floods.  The most sustainable way to address the health aspects of emergencies was to invest in capacity-building for emergency preparedness, response and recovery.  WHO was well-positioned to handle the challenge ahead. His organization was extremely concerned about the impact of the global food security crisis, and had set up an internal task force to develop health responses for inclusion in the Comprehensive Framework for Action of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force.  While there had been increased recognition of WHO’s role in emergencies, underfunding for health through the consolidated appeals process was a major concern.  In closing, he urged the global community to pay special attention to the quality and quantity of funding for the health sector.

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For information media • not an official record