|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Economic and Social Council
2008 Substantive Session
31st & 32nd Meetings (AM & PM)
TO SUCCEED, DISASTER MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES MUST TARGET, REDUCE INEQUALITIES,
VULNERABILITIES FACED BY POOR, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL TOLD
Three Day Humanitarian Affairs Segment Continues;
Panel: Addressing Consequences of Natural Disasters, Including Climate Change
Disaster-relief experts from United Nations and international humanitarian agencies today warned the Economic and Social Council that disaster management strategies would not be successful if they did not target -- and reduce -- the inequalities and vulnerabilities poor people faced, especially since they would be the “first and worst” affected as the climate changes.
As the Council continued the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2008 session with a panel discussion on “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness: addressing the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change”, experts called for innovative strategies that reduced poor people’s vulnerabilities and strengthened their resilience.
The participants stressed that such people-centred action should be long-term, flexible and crafted with Governments drawing on civil society expertise and the first-hand knowledge of the poor themselves. This exercise should also pave the way for necessary cooperation among the diverse actors working in the field of disaster relief -- humanitarian, environmental, and sustainable development.
Chaired by Council Vice-President Park In-kook (Republic of Korea) and moderated by Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, the panel featured: Barbara Carby, Director, Hazard Management, Cayman Islands; Madeleen Helmer, Head of the Climate Centre, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Mostafa Mohaghegh, Head of the Regional Office for West Asia and North Africa, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction; Phil Bloomer, Campaigns and Policy Director, Oxfam, Great Britain; and Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.
Setting the stage, Ms. Bragg stressed that, while climate change was certain to increase humanitarian needs, emerging adaptation mechanisms need not “reinvent the wheel”. Rather, they should draw on existing risk-reduction measures. Better synergies should be promoted between climate change and humanitarian agendas, and the humanitarian community should work together to develop innovative approaches to risk-reduction issues resulting from climate change, she added.
Mr. Bloomer, of Oxfam, remarked that a project-based approach to disaster risk reduction was “no good”. Instead, he urged thinking more about systemic risk management -- meaning that risk reduction must embrace national adaptation plans, and that they together should form part of a State’s national development plan or poverty reduction strategy. By example he recalled that in 1998, when Hurricane George ripped through Latin America and the Caribbean region, it left 6,600 people dead and some 8,000 missing in Honduras, while only 6 people were killed in Cuba. The difference had been Cuba’s long-standing investment in preparedness, as well as planning and foresight to move people out of areas vulnerable to floods and landslides.
He also noted that disaster risk reduction and adaptation must address societal inequalities -- in decision-making power, as well as income -- or else such strategies would only end up replicating or deepening those inequalities. Major shocks, whether economic or weather–related, almost always made the lives of the poorest more difficult. A successful strategy then, must, above all, bolster the resilience of the most vulnerable, marginalized and excluded. That meant making the extra effort to protect poor people’s rights to food, water, shelter, livelihoods and health.
Oxfam’s experience had also shown that the participation of women and the poor was a precondition to successful disaster risk reduction and adaptation. “The poor and most vulnerable have coped with shocks for a millennia and their knowledge and insights are indispensable, not only to the design of successful strategies, but also their execution,” he said. That was the only way to end the suffering of those who would be hurt “first and worst” by global warming. He added that the current challenges, including the current food crisis, required the humanitarian community to change its strategies, as well.
Ms. Helmer said that climate change would lead to more rainfall, more droughts, more heat waves, more intense hurricanes, erratic weather patterns, and the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, cholera and dengue. Along with other global trends, like population pressure and urbanization, climate change added to the vulnerability of people and lead to more disasters, migration and, possibly, conflict.
As the Red Cross and Red Crescent educated itself about climate change, timelines for action were key, she said. But, it was difficult to translate that to risk reduction and preparedness for climate change. Indeed, reducing emissions would not stave off the further impacts of global warming in the short run. Also difficult was the fact that, while there was greater certainty that climate change was happening, there was much that remained uncertain about how it would manifest itself. Troublingly, the disaster management community tended to prepare for the last disaster, rather than anticipate the next one. There was a further tendency to delay action while more was learned about the exact nature of the risk. “Both approaches don’t work, in light of climate change,” she added.
Overwhelmed and intimidated by the science, the disaster management community was paralysed by the magnitude and complexity of global warming, she said. Yet, it was important to recognize that stand-alone programmes to address climate change were not needed and should be avoided. Instead, one group of climate change experts should be consulted and worked with on a daily basis. The people on the ground, now having lived in the same place for decades, were seeing the real impact of climate change in real time. She emphasized that local efforts should be made to assess and address vulnerabilities.
After wrapping up the panel discussion, the Council began its work in the afternoon with elections to fill open seats on a number of its subsidiary bodies. The first vacancy to be filled was on the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. After one round of secret balloting, Eugenio A. Insigne ( Philippines) received the absolute majority of votes (22), and was elected as a new member to the Permanent Forum, for a term that will begin on 1 January 2009 and expire on 31 December 2010.
Next, the Council elected by acclamation Gabon to fill the vacant seat assigned to the African States on the Commission for Social Development. That term of office will begin at the first meeting of the Commission’s forty-eighth session in 2009, and expire at the close of its fifty-first session in 2013. The Council also decided to postpone the election to that body of one member from the Eastern European States Group and two members from the Latin American and Caribbean States Group.
The Council then elected by acclamation the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fill the vacant seat of the African States on the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2009, thus completing the membership in that body. The Council went on to elect by acclamation Democratic Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea to fill the African Group’s remaining two vacant seats on the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Those four-year terms will begin on 1 January 2009.
Regarding the remaining vacancy on the Programme Coordination Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Council elected by acclamation the Congo to a three-year term of office beginning on 1 January 2009.
The Council also in the afternoon heard the final 16 speakers for the general debate of the humanitarian affairs segment, including the representatives of the Congo, Liechtenstein, Algeria, Pakistan, El Salvador, Republic of Korea, Uruguay, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and South Africa, as well as the observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The debate also featured the participation of the representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the New York offices of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 17 July, to continue its humanitarian affairs segment with a panel discussion on “the humanitarian challenges related to global food aid, including enhancing international efforts and cooperation in this field.”
The Economic and Social Council reconvened its humanitarian affairs segment this morning with a panel discussion on disaster risk reduction and preparedness. In the afternoon it was expected to hold elections to a number of subsidiary bodies and continue its general debate.
The panel discussion on “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness: Addressing the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change” was chaired by Council Vice-President Park In-kook (Republic of Korea) and moderated by Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
It featured the participation of Barbara Carby, Director, Hazard Management, Cayman Islands; Madeleen Helmer, Head of the Climate Center, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Mostafa Mohaghegh, Head of the Regional Office for West Asia and North Africa, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction; Phil Bloomer, Campaigns and Policy Director, Oxfam, Great Britain; and Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.
Opening the discussion, Mr. PARK said the concepts being deliberated on today were not new, but remained as pressing as ever. The current session would contribute to the debates, strategies and conclusions of various international, regional and national forums that had already been held on disaster risk reduction and preparedness and the causes and impacts of climate change.
In his report on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, the Secretary-General had outlined the wide-ranging humanitarian effects of climate change. The increased incidence and severity of weather events, such as storms, floods and drought, would impact the living conditions of one tenth of the world’s population. By affecting global food production and access to safe drinking water, those pressures could force population movements and trigger or exacerbate conflicts over limited resources. Increased flooding was already leading to higher rates of water-borne diseases and rising temperatures had changed morbidity patterns of diseases, such as malaria. Those climatic extremes were challenging humanitarian actors at all levels to prepare and respond in a more timely and effective manner.
Ms. BRAGG said it was certain that climate change would increase humanitarian needs. Emerging adaptation mechanisms should not, however, “reinvent the wheel”, but draw on existing risk-reduction measures. Better synergies should be promoted between climate change and humanitarian agendas. The humanitarian community should work together to develop innovative approaches to risk-reduction issues resulting from climate change.
Ms. CARBY said the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had established the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. Its focus today was on mainstreaming adaptation to climate change. Pilot projects on vulnerability assessments of various sectors were currently being done in three countries. At present, the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) programme was working to help the region’s countries integrate risk reduction into national programmes, planning and legislation. For example, after hurricane Ivan, it was widely realized that building codes had to be revised to prepare for Category 5 hurricanes. As result, in the Cayman Islands, all new emergency shelters were built according to that standard.
In all climate change planning, it was important not to lose sight of the people who would be affected by climate change, she said. In Jamaica, a Government programme that aimed at protecting people’s livelihoods had looked at the horticulture sector, which was often devastated in the wake of hurricanes. Through a simple redesign, the programme had created greenhouses that were easily disassembled and reassembled before and after hurricanes. Shorter “recovery time” meant income losses were lower. Changes were also made in the design of chicken houses, allowing them to withstand up to Category 3 hurricanes. As one sign of how effective public awareness campaigns had been in influencing the private sector, some developers had changed their building designs to meet government-legislated codes, raising structures off the ground above hurricane surge levels.
Work was also being done throughout the Caribbean in data gathering, scaling down global models, capacity-building, risk assessments and public education, she said. In July 2008, a regional strategic plan had been announced. It was understood that doing nothing was also costly -- up to 5 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) could be lost by 2025, if nothing was done to mitigate the risk posed by climate change.
Questions facing the region were exemplified by the situation of the Normal Manley International Airport, which served the western and southern section of Jamaica, including the country’s capital in Kingston. Apart from economic importance, the airport was a major disaster relief focal point. It was, however, at sea level at the end of long peninsula. As part of disaster reduction preparedness, it was essential to consider if the airport would be accessible or flooded by rising sea levels -- and to make efforts now to ensure accessibility.
Moving forward, she said design of coastal defences should factor in sea level rise from climate change, plus any expected increase in the frequency and intensity of storms. Regional modelling schemes should include the correct inputs and factor in the complex and interlinked impacts of climate change. Throughout the Caribbean region, the disaster risk-reduction experience could be used to guide climate change adaptation processes. National mechanisms should build on the experience and success of that community. Many expected and present effects of climate change could be managed within the Hyogo Framework and certainly should be whenever they could be. Where applicable, climate change scenarios should be included in mitigation measures and multisectoral coordination mechanisms should certainly be taken advantage of.
Next, Ms. HELMER said that when the humanitarian consequences of global warming were beginning to be explored in 2001, climate change had predominantly been seen as an environmental issue. Today the focus was on the consequences of climate change that could, unfortunately, no longer be prevented.
Indeed, climate change would lead to more rainfall, more droughts, more heat waves, more intense hurricanes, erratic weather patterns, and the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, cholera and dengue. Along with other global trends, like population pressure and urbanization, climate change added to the vulnerability of people and lead to more disasters, migration and, possibly, conflict.
Yet there were very few institutional relationships between the disaster management community and the climate change community at the local, national and international levels, she said. Climate change was covered by the ministries of environment, while disaster management was often dealt with by the ministries of the interior or civil defence. In most countries, connections between climate change institutions and public health services and the Ministry of Health were very weak. There was often little understanding within the disaster management community about what climate change could mean for its work, and much of the climate change science gave no help or guidance. Time horizons for climate change focused on scenarios in 2050 and 2080, while the disaster management community needed to focus on the next 5 to 10 years.
Indeed, as the Red Cross and Red Crescent educated itself about climate change, the timelines for action were key. But, it was difficult to communicate to reduce risk and prepare for climate change. Indeed, reducing emissions did not help in avoiding further impacts of climate change in the short run. Also difficult was the fact that, while there was greater certainty that climate change was happening, there was much that remained uncertain about how it would manifest itself. The disaster management community already tended to prepare for the last disaster, rather than anticipating the next one. There was a further tendency to delay action while more was learned about the exact nature of the risk. Both approaches did not work, in light of climate change.
Overwhelmed and intimidated by the science, the disaster management community was paralysed by the magnitude and complexity of climate change. Yet, it was important to recognize that stand-alone programmes to address climate change were not needed and should be avoided. Instead, one group of climate change experts should be consulted and worked with on a daily basis. The people on the ground, now having lived in the same place for decades, were seeing the real impact of climate change in real time. She emphasized that local efforts should be made to assess and address vulnerabilities.
With the support of the Netherlands, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had been working in almost 40 developing countries to hold workshops between the disaster management and climate change communities. As a result, six components for climate risk management had been identified. First, climate risk assessment meant assessing priorities and planning follow-up. Addressing the consequences by integrating climate change across programmes was also important, as stand-alone programmes had not worked. Public awareness also had to be raised. Partnerships should be established and enhanced. International advocacy would also play a role in shaping the global response to climate change. Finally, experiences and information should be documented and shared.
One of the main concrete innovations developed in the last year were regional and global partnerships that provided climate information, like the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University. By providing longer-term weather forecasts, those partnerships could allow better planning for climate-related disasters, such as flood risks.
Saying that a lot of work was needed to prepare for the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen next year to ensure a good outcome, she stressed that capacity-building for climate risk management and engaging the people and sectors that would be vulnerable to climate change would be crucial. While it was hard to get the attention of donors for such non-appealing areas as capacity-building, it was the only way to go. All actors in the humanitarian and development community must realize that climate change was an additional risk to their agendas and should be mainstreamed into their programmes.
To that end, all humanitarian and development agencies and departments should begin a process of capacity-building for climate risk management, she said. Humanitarian and development agencies, Government humanitarian departments and non-governmental organizations had to become actively engaged in developing national and international policy on climate-related risks. One highlight in that process would be the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in December, in Poznan, where risk reduction would be one of the main subjects. Donor Governments could play a key role in the coming three years to facilitate and finance capacity-building for climate risk management.
Drawing on very telling statistics, Mr. MOHAGHEGH said that, over the past year, the number of events that would be considered natural disasters had actually remained steady, compared with figures from 2006, but the numbers of people affected by those events had risen dramatically. Out of 364 disasters, some 212 million people worldwide had been affected in one way or another. Those events had left more than 240,000 people dead and had cost the world economy more than $77 billion.
Echoing the sentiments of other panellists, he said that the majority of those affected were from the poorest and most marginalized communities. So the key message was the critical need to put disaster risk-reduction strategies in place that built resilience and curbed vulnerabilities in those communities. Such plans, should address, among other things, socio-economic vulnerability caused by poverty, and increasingly unplanned urban growth. Education and awareness were also vital, because poor communities suffered more because they did not know about existing disaster strategies or early warning systems, including even simple evacuation procedures that could save their lives.
He went on to say that poor communities, in both rural and urban areas, also suffered because of insufficient land-use planning, poor housing construction and location, and poor watershed or marshland management of watersheds. With all that in mind, he said that minimizing the negative impacts of natural hazards and disaster relief and preparedness must be people-centred and must address the development consequences of such disasters.
Disaster risk reduction also required a holistic, multi-hazard response approach that involved all stakeholders. “This is everybody’s business,” he said, stressing that in discussions and meetings on risk reduction, it seemed like everyone knew that something needed to be done, but believed that it was someone else’s job to do it. At the same time, much more attention should be given to post-disaster initiatives, not only to rebuild devastated communities, but to put plans and procedures in place to reduce future risks.
Turning to the experience of his region, the Middle East and North Africa, he said that climate change and weather anomalies were driving such phenomena as water scarcity, prolonged droughts and food insecurity. The issue of climate change was, therefore, finally beginning to be discussed prominently at the political level, and the League of Arab States had begun to focus more intensely on disaster risk reduction. The Arab Regional Framework Plan for Climate Change focused on adaptation to reduce vulnerabilities of communities in the region. It would also set out multisector methodologies that aimed to bring community-level actors together, and then integrate local ideas and initiatives into the process. Finally, he stressed that the tools to put successful disaster risk-reduction strategies into action were already available, “we just need to invest in them […] and then we need to implement them”.
Focusing on his area of expertise, Mr. KÄLIN emphasized the myriad climate-related factors that were already causing displacement and driving population movements worldwide. Rising sea levels, dwindling fresh water sources, especially in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, Southern Africa and Latin America, withering crops and more intense storms and floods were going to have an impact on hundreds of millions of people, many of whom would be forced to flee their homes and communities. Although displacement caused by natural disasters and weather anomalies was not new, the impact of the dire predictions about global warming looked to make it more and more difficult for people to survive where they were.
Experience had shown that displacement caused by natural disasters took just as high a human tool as that caused by conflict, he said, adding that more often that not, people displaced by natural disasters needed life-saving and sustaining humanitarian assistance. The most vulnerable among them were particularly at risk, as the consequences of such disasters exacerbated existing inequalities and patterns of discrimination. Those consequences also further marginalized women, elderly persons, persons with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS and chronic disease. They also affected the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. “This is why more robust measures are needed to address the humanitarian consequences of displacement in the wake of natural disasters, including those caused by climate change,” he said.
He went on to urge the Council not to be distracted by meaningless semantics; whether people displaced by natural disasters should be called “climate change refugees,” or “environmental migrants”. What was needed, instead, was a thorough analysis of the different contexts and forms natural disaster-induced displacement could take, he said, describing several different scenarios that could trigger displacement or migration.
Governments, civil society and humanitarian agencies needed to prepare strategies to cope with the impact of, among others, an increased number of hydro-meteorological disasters, such as hurricanes, cyclones floods and mudslides. Those events caused large-scale displacement, but while most of the affected populations remained in country, others were forced to cross borders for safety. Those persons did not officially qualify as refuges and did not qualify for protection, as such. Neither were they considered economic migrants. Thus, their status remained unclear and, despite the applicability of relevant human rights norms, they risked ending up in legal and operational limbo. “For the time being it is highly desirable for host Governments to allow such persons to stay temporarily for humanitarian reasons until they can safely return to their homes,” he said.
Disasters would also increase the need for Governments to designate high-risk zones in areas considered too dangerous for human habitation; assess the impact of environmental degradation and “slow onset” disasters, such as desertification and sinking coastal zones; prepare for the humanitarian consequences and displacement caused by “sinking” small island States, especially whether those forced to permanently flee uninhabitable islands would become Stateless under international law; and prepare for the possibility of conflict and violence over dwindling essential resources, such as water or food triggered by global warming.
Here, he urged the Council not to be discouraged by those gloomy scenarios, saying that the international community could mitigate the impact of disasters by taking measures aimed at reducing the effects of particular hazards and reducing the vulnerabilities of those affected. The international community could also strengthen response capacities. Climate-driven displacement could be reduced if proper risk-reduction measures were in place and adaptation strategies were promoted. Indeed, such strategies should not only become a political priority, but should be systematically incorporated into development planning and projects.
Regarding displaced persons, he said that existing human rights norms and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provided sufficient protection for those forced from their homes by sudden onset disasters, or because their place of origin had become uninhabitable due to environmental or ecological degradation. However, there was a need to clarify or even develop a relevant applicable framework. Among other things, the rights of those affected populations needed to be identified, especially for those displaced across international borderers, who currently fell into a “normative gap”.
Taking up the issue of risk reduction in the face of climate change, Mr. BLOOMER remarked that a project-based approach to disaster risk reduction was “no good”. Instead, he urged thinking more about systemic risk management -- meaning that risk reduction must embrace national adaptation plans, and that they together should form part of a State’s national development plan or poverty reduction strategy. To underline that point, he cited the difference in suffering caused by Hurricane George in Honduras and Cuba. That devastating hurricane left 6,600 people dead and some 8,000 missing in Honduras, while only 6 people were killed in Cuba. The difference, he said, had been Cuba’s long-time investment in preparedness, and it’s planning and foresight to move people away from areas that were vulnerable to floods and landslides.
He also noted that disaster risk reduction and adaptation must address societal inequalities -- in decision-making power, as well as income -- or else such strategies would only end up replicating or deepening those inequalities. Major shocks, whether economic or weather–related, almost always made the lives of the poorest more difficult. A successful strategy then, must, above all, bolster the resilience of the most vulnerable, marginalized and excluded. That meant making the extra effort to protect poor people’s rights to food, water, shelter, livelihoods and health.
Citing the response to Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, he said that country’s Government and civil society had joined to mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and early warning systems had given some 3 million people an opportunity to evacuate low-lying coastal areas. In addition, contingency stocks had been moved rapidly to support those most vulnerable people. In all, more than 100,000 lives were estimated to have been saved. Now, however, the challenge was to shorten the recovery phase for those people, many of whom were still living in temporary shelters. “The Government needs support to ‘build back better’ and to improve resilience of these people to future disasters, as agreed in the Hyogo Framework for Action,” he added.
Oxfam’s experience had also shown that the participation of women and the poor was a precondition to successful disaster risk reduction and adaptation. “The poor and most vulnerable have coped with shocks for a millennia and their knowledge and insights are indispensable, not only to the design of successful strategies, but also their execution,” he said. Overall, however, if the international community was going to be successful and not be overwhelmed by the impacts of climate change or future natural disasters, all stakeholders “as a world community” needed some sense of the scale of adaptation and risk reduction that would be needed.
There was no longer a question of whether climate change was going to affect us. Indeed, scientists had shown that because of the damage to the Earth’s atmosphere wrought by countries in the industrialized world, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today, two more decades of global warming fallout were already locked in. “So the question is whether our political and business leaders will make the tough decisions in the next two years and act rapidly to avoid catastrophic climate change,” he said.
No help appeared to be coming from the North, especially since the statement from the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting last week set no base year from which to measure the proposed 50 per cent reductions. That statement was basically worthless and could only be considered an “advance” because the rich countries had heretofore not been able to come to any agreement on the matter whatsoever. Indeed, in terms of disaster risk reduction, the meeting had been a “disaster itself”, because it actually set the stage for worsening global warming, he declared.
So one of the keys to disaster risk reduction was to speak out “with all our force” on what was already known and about what the consequences of such recklessness would be, in order to maximize pressure for action on mitigation. “Rich countries must stop harming and start helping,” he said, urging a successful conclusion to the next Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. That was the only way to end the suffering of those that would be hurt “first and worst” by global warming. He added that the current challenges, including the current food crisis, required the humanitarian community to change its strategies, as well.
Responding to a question from the Republic of Korea on how the work of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) at the local level fit into its overall disarmament, demobilization and reintegration strategy at the country level, Ms. HELMER said that when disaster struck, the IFRC attempted to react as well as it could. As part of a paradigm shift, it had realized that better preparation before a disaster would result in better response after the fact.
It had also been recognized that people were protected during disasters more often by their neighbours and families than by helicopters flying in with aid. That had been seen during the recent floods in Mozambique. As a result, the IFRC had expanded its work to reduce the impact of disasters by working with local-level actors who would be the first and frontline responders. In terms of climate change, reducing risks and the impact of disasters meant it was important to see new trends coming.
To a question on how the experiences and lessons learned by the IFRC could be used throughout the United Nations system, she emphasized that a willingness from both the climate change community and the humanitarian community to cooperate with each other was crucial. Knowledge transfer was insufficient. It was also crucial for the humanitarian community to manage expectations; the scientific information would not be a silver bullet. She further emphasized that it was necessary to work with poor people. One of their few assets was their knowledge of the weather. As they watched climate change unfold, their gaps between past experience and current circumstances had to be addressed.
To a question on how the Arab Regional Framework Plan for Climate Change had been drawn up, Mr. MOHAGHEGH said that the League of Arab States had presented the Arab Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change at the United Nations conference in Bali last year. As a result, a working expert group had been established and, over the past year, various stakeholders and experts -- including representatives from the disaster risk reduction community -- had been convened. Those meetings had resulted in the Arab Regional Framework Plan for Climate Change.
The Arab States had recognized disaster risk reduction as an important methodology for climate change adaptation because it established links between different relevant sectors, including those focused on the socio-economic aspects of climate change. The final draft of the Framework would be adapted in a few months. The plan of action included components for regional cooperation, as well as national and local implementation.
Responding to a question on the fate of populations displaced as a result of extreme climate events, Mr. KÄLIN said the response should not be an “either/or” dichotomy, but a combination of approaches. Some countries had been willing to grant a temporary stay for some displaced populations, as the United States had done for weather refugees from Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. That was very good practice and should be widely considered.
Noting that some binding norms already existed, he stressed that it was up to the country to say whether or not humanitarian actors were allowed into a country. But, in situations where they were unable to assist their own populations, they were obligated to allow outside access to humanitarian workers. Still, there was a need to develop such norms for certain specific problems. More thorough legal analysis also needed to be done to determine if new binding norms were required. To that end, the General Assembly had entrusted the International Law Commission to look into the legal aspects of natural disasters and their effects.
A representative of the World Health Organization emphasized that, although more work should be done by the health sector in responding to disasters, the health and natural disaster sectors were natural allies. The best health outcomes were achieved when disasters were prevented. Risk reduction was, therefore, quite important.
A representative from the International Organization for Migration said the purpose of the discussion about the terms used for those displaced had been to establish definitions, rather than debate semantics. It was her organization’s understanding that the international discussion on climate change would benefit from clear and common terminology.
In closing, Ms. BRAGG said today’s discussion had revealed many different and important angles in the climate change discussion. She highlighted: the need for adaptation to be part of Governmental decision-making; the importance of local expertise; the fact that reducing population displacement through effective disaster risk-reduction planning was a political issue; the fact that disaster risk reduction could be seen specifically as a methodology of climate change adaptation work; and the importance of responding to small and medium-sized disasters to provide more equitable responses.
Elections to subsidiary bodies
Voting results for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
Since there were two candidates for the single seat on the Permanent Forum, the Council elected, by secret ballot, one new member to fill the seat to be vacated by Xiaomei Qin ( China) on 31 December.
Eugenio A. Insigne ( Philippines)
Bernado Vunibobo ( Fiji)
Having received the absolute majority of votes, Eugenio A. Insigne ( Philippines) was elected as a new member to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for a term that will begin on 1 January 2009 and expire on 31 December 2010.
LUC JOSEPH OKIO (Congo), aligning his statement with the one made a day earlier on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said Member States must continually enhance the debate on humanitarian response to natural disasters to ensure its effectiveness and to find solutions to the problems related to climate change. The many statistics included in the Secretary-General’s report illustrated the dire impact of climate change. The consequences of the situation were seen in the massive displacement of populations and the increased vulnerability, particularly of women and children. He supported the conclusions of the report, as well as the recommendations and directives contained in General Assembly resolutions 46/182 and 62/94, which concerned the planning, cooperation and coherence of humanitarian operations. The Hyogo Framework could further enhance the ability of countries to prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters.
While recognizing the efforts made by United Nations and other partners to improve the humanitarian response, he believed many challenges remained, including the development of partnerships, increased financing and stronger capacity-building. He welcomed the efforts made to strengthen the interventions of United Nations humanitarian responses and thanked the United Nations system and its agencies for its aid to the Congo, including the relocation of displaced persons, the repatriation of refugees and the reinsertion of former combatants.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) expressed concern over the dramatic increase in the prices of food and commodities since the beginning of 2008, which posed dramatic challenges for countries that relied heavily on food imports. Noting that the causes for the food crisis were complex and interlinked, he said they must be addressed without delay by all States and relevant international organizations. While the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA) developed by the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Global Food Security should serve as a guide for global and local actors to meet urgent needs and contribute to sustainable food security, the CFA should be further developed and constantly updated to reflect future developments. Liechtenstein further supported the full implementation of the High-Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome of 5 June 2008.
Emergency measures should be put in place to mitigate the devastating effects of poor harvests, natural disasters, high oil prices and commodity speculation, he continued. State-imposed policies should not exacerbate the current structural rise in food prices. Further, export restrictions imposed by large exporters of staple foods and the opening of markets by large importers to secure local supplies in the short term could have fatal consequences. Food supplies needed for humanitarian purposes should be allowed to circulate without hindrance. With the World Food Programme (WFP) struggling from the sharp increase in commodity costs, non-earmarked contributions should be made. For its part, 50 per cent of the funds donated by Liechtenstein had not been earmarked.
Saying the recent deadly attack on the joint United Nations-African Union force in Darfur that killed 7 peacekeepers and wounded 22 was alarming, he said deliberate attacks against United Nations field missions led to unacceptable constraints in the access to populations in need. Liechtenstein welcomed the draft resolution that clearly urged Member States to ensure the perpetrators of crimes committed on their territory against such personnel did not operate with impunity and were brought to justice. He called for the urgent reflection worldwide of the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises.
EDDINE BENFREHA (Algeria), supporting the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said today’s debate coincided with a resurgence in humanitarian crises, including climate change, armed conflict and soaring food and fuel prices. Such challenges required, “more than ever before” enhanced coordination of United Nations humanitarian assistance, which was closely linked with capacity-building at local and regional levels. All responses to humanitarian disasters must be guided by the principles of impartiality and independence. Indeed, management of humanitarian aid last year raised conceptual problems.
He said the principles of national sovereignty, integrity and unity of a State must always be respected, as should the “priority nature” of national authorities. Efforts must also seek to improve the national ownership of humanitarian assistance, and he called for enhanced coordination among relevant United Nations bodies and regional organizations.
Continuing, he said humanitarian assistance must be part of a long-term process aimed at transforming a nation from relying on humanitarian assistance to pursuing development. Humanitarian assistance must not be a substitute for development assistance, and delivery of it would become more effective with an enhanced role of non-Governmental organizations. In determining priorities, the Secretary-General’s High Level Task Force should seek out ways to facilitate access to food for those most needing it.
FARUKH AMIL (Pakistan), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said successive reports by the Secretary-General had signalled the importance of today’s discussion to the growing incidence of humanitarian emergencies. The alarming increase in the number and scale of natural disasters was a source of deep concern; they had adversely impacted the economic and social development of the vulnerable and impeded progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. As such, there must be recognition of the clear link between emergency assistance, rehabilitation and long-term development as different stages of a coordinated effort. It was also important that relevant United Nations organizations and other actors engaged with authorities at the national and regional levels.
Continuing, he said respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must remain the “overarching parameters” in the provision of all humanitarian assistance. Assistance should also be based on actual needs and delivered by impartial actors. Further, the access of humanitarian personnel to needy populations was linked to timely coordination with local authorities on the ground. In closing, he stressed that more attention be given to strengthening financial mechanisms for humanitarian assistance. It was crucial to address funding gaps, especially for post-disaster recovery.
ENRIQUE JOSE VASQUEZ ROMERO (El Salvador), associating his delegation with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the problems of climate change and the continuation of armed conflict had created the conditions that had led to a rise in global food prices. That, in turn, had triggered violent protests in many countries and threatened food security, particularly in developing countries. In that context, the humanitarian responses to natural disasters should be addressed through a coordinated strategy that addressed their myriad effects. To that end, El Salvador had established a national plan that would allow it to meet the challenges posed by natural disasters and climate change. It had also established a centre to monitor meteorological, geological and oceanic trends.
Noting that there was a clear link between emergency responses, relief assistance and development, he stressed that national risk reduction required a seamless transition between relief and development. Emergency measures should be seen as a step towards achieving sustainable development. El Salvador was working to strengthen cooperation among local authorities, civil society and local non-governmental organizations. It was also working to strengthen links between its national actors and the United Nations system. One key way the United Nations system could contribute to those efforts would be by increasing knowledge transfer.
El Salvador repeatedly carried out disaster response exercises, as called for by the Hyogo Framework for Action, he continued. In that, it was focusing on its most high-risk regions. While noting that civilian authorities played a central role in distributing humanitarian assistance, he underscored the assistance provided by military forces in the wake of natural disasters. The role of the Central Emergency Response Fund was also critical in responding to natural catastrophes.
KIM BONG-HYUN ( Republic of Korea) said the combined effects of climate change, global food price hikes and the energy crisis required an effective and coordinated method to address the ensuing humanitarian issues. Emphasizing that preventive measures were more valuable than coordinated attempts to correct the problem after it had occurred, he highlighted the importance of national and regional capabilities in disaster risk reduction and preparedness. The Republic of Korea was actively participating in regional efforts to build a disaster management and emergency response system to mitigate the effects of natural disasters like typhoons. A regional cooperation mechanism had been initiated among the Republic of Korea, China and Japan.
Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s leadership in managing the current food crisis, he said the current situation should serve as a wake-up call for achieving global food security and poverty reduction. To transform crisis into opportunity, the international community should undertake both immediate and long-term action programmes. The portion of official development assistance devoted to agricultural production and rural development should be increased.
Saying the rapid delivery or relief goods and services to the population in need was key to a successful relief operation, he stressed that restrictions on access were a grave challenge to all stakeholders in humanitarian assistance. Unhindered, safe and timely access for humanitarian workers must be ensured. National authorities should also play an important role in securing the safety and security of all humanitarian personnel. The coordination of the emergency humanitarian response of the United Nations should be enhanced by increasing its capacity, capability, predictability and accountability. His country had undertaken efforts to ensure predictable and equitable humanitarian financing by contributing $8.5 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund for three years. It was also working to promote gender mainstreaming in every humanitarian response.
LUIS CANCELA (Uruguay), associating himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, underscored that humanitarian assistance must be given in line with the principle of impartiality, among others, and States should work to establish a “climate of trust” in the humanitarian field. To that end, he underscored the apolitical nature of such activities, and the importance of the safety and security of United Nations humanitarian personnel. He condemned all acts of violence against them, and called for preventing such acts. He regretted that, time and again, the Secretary-General’s reports needed to call for their rapid and timely access, though it was a principle enshrined in international humanitarian law. Efforts undertaken to prevent civilian suffering were particularly significant, and he reaffirmed the crucial role of civilian organizations.
Continuing, he said 9 of 10 disasters were climate-related, compelling the Council to pay attention to the link between climate change and the growing need for humanitarian assistance. Further, the multiple factors associated with the food crisis must be addressed. Uruguay was developing measures to mitigate the impact of both phenomena; however, as global problems, they required global responses. Further, it was crucial to ensure capacity-building at the national level. Indeed, local communities generally undertook the chief rescue actions before help arrived, and completed refugee reinsertion activities. While the State had the main responsibility in humanitarian emergency assistance, the availability of international interventions must be ensured. In closing, he reaffirmed need to strengthen the norms of international humanitarian law, and facilitate access of emergency personnel.
SILES ALVARADO ( Bolivia), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77, said the magnitude of disasters led the Council to reaffirm the need for an effective and efficient response mechanism. Strengthened coordination mechanisms between donors and recipients were needed to ensure appropriate channelling of resources to the most vulnerable sectors. Moreover, Bolivia held a positive view of the timely response to natural disasters through the Central Emergency Response Fund, and welcomed its establishment as an appropriate mechanism to meet the needs of affected populations. Nonetheless, humanitarian assistance should not be politicized, and assistance must be unconditional, using natural organizational channels of affected countries.
Noting that his country had been affected by serious flooding, he said a response took the form of assistance through the national civilian defence system. The United Nations system worked in unison with national bodies, in launching an international appeal for affected families. The Central Emergency Response Fund pledged over $2 million, dispersed by various United Nations agencies through national projects. To ensure greater coordination with the United Nations system, the Ministry for National Defence signed an agreement for resource management with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Subregionally, a decision had been adopted that allows for joint efforts in emergency situations. He voiced great concern at the “palliative” nature of responses to natural disaster or armed conflict emergencies, and strongly condemned acts of armed aggression. The parameters of sustainable development must be re-drawn, and it was crucial to change consumer habits to better use natural resources. In closing, he expressed condolences to the victims of the violence in Darfur.
SAMANTHA JAYASURIYA (Sri Lanka), aligning herself with the statement on behalf of the Group of 77, said the unprecedented humanitarian challenges, brought on by soaring food and fuel prices and the increased intensity of natural disasters, demanded concerted and coordinated responses at all levels. Reaffirming the State’s primary responsibility to care for its people affected by such humanitarian emergencies, she emphasized the need to respect the agreed principles contained in General Assembly resolution 46/182. In the focus on improving mechanisms to build capacities, especially in resource-poor developing nations, Sri Lanka recognized the importance of effective management of existing resources and enhanced coordination among relevant institutions at national and local levels.
As a country that had from suffered the scourge of terrorism for over two decades, Sri Lanka continued to provide timely emergency humanitarian relief to its people, she continued, stressing also that, generally, such assistance should pave the way for the long-term development of any affected State. Disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts must be augmented, and her Government had taken steps to address disaster management as a national priority. She endorsed the call for intensified research to fully understand the linkages between the humanitarian consequences of climate change, and the need for more investment in disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Early implementation of the Bali action plan was also necessary, and establishment of a climate change adaptation fund would be of “immense” help to vulnerable States. In closing, she said the growing demand for food posed serious challenges to developing countries in their efforts to halve the numbers of people affected by poverty and hunger. As demand for humanitarian assistance grew, increased material and human resources were needed.
AIDA ALZHANOVA ( Kazakhstan) described her country’s contributions in providing assistance to countries affected by disasters, including through public organizations and “ordinary people”. The Government recently provided humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in China, and mobilized $3 million in fuel, foodstuffs and essential goods to help Tajikistan deal with an unusually cold winter last year. At the same time, she agreed that no agency or country was capable of coping with any disaster alone, and there was a need to coordinate efforts to ensure that interventions achieved maximum impact.
Continuing, she fully commended the report’s recommendations on strengthening coordination, including for an enhanced role for the Central Emergency Response Fund to address situations in the first 24 hours, when help was most needed. Noting that Kazakhstan was host to a regional office of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Central Asia, she said her Government was also considering opening a regional warehouse for emergency relief that would strengthen the logistics system of United Nations organizations. As new challenges, such as climate change, were the explicit or implicit causes of different disasters, Kazakhstan had made an enormous effort to resolve the Aral Sea region crisis, which could affect countries outside the region. In that regard, she requested efforts from the United Nations to institutionalize the Aral Sea International Fund.
Mr. MASHABANE (South Africa), reiterating his country’s commitment to General Assembly resolution 46/182 and the guiding principle contained therein, said the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality, as well as the principle of independence, should remain the basis of all responses to humanitarian emergencies and guide the work of the United Nations and other relevant organizations. The State had primary responsibility to protect the victims of natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies and the sovereignty of States must be respected when providing assistance. Still, the current global crisis had shown yet again the critical need to strengthen the collective efforts of the international community to provide humanitarian responses.
He emphasized that the problems caused by natural disaster and extreme weather events were a major concern for developing countries. South Africa viewed disaster management within the broader development context, including the Millennium Development Goals. It supported the transfer of knowledge and expertise to enhance the capacity of developing states to adapt to climate change. It welcomed the establishment of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and would continue to support initiatives to assist developing countries to invest in early warning systems. The Central Emergency Response Fund also importantly addressed the funding gaps in the global humanitarian response. While having a positive impact on the predictability of funding, it was clear that the international community needed to continue to provide additional funding to the Fund. South Africa was committed to participating in the evaluation of the Fund later this year.
Noting the ongoing discussions on the global food crisis, he highlighted the need for coordinated action to blunt its impact on the most vulnerable and developing countries. Food production and agricultural development had to be scaled up. In closing, he also joined other countries in condemning attacks on humanitarian workers. It was not right that those who were impartial and neutral were targets, and States should extend protection for those personnel who unselfishly chose to aid those in need, he said.
BERTRAND DE LOOZ KARAGEORGIADES, observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said the Council had found new vigour, and he cited as proof the inauguration of its Development Cooperation Forum and its Ministerial Declaration. The Order’s new Grand Master was currently following global events, so as to link the Order’s own humanitarian efforts with those of the international community. In his recent visit to Albania, he had recalled that the Order remained faithful to its long-standing missing of aiding the poor, ill and displaced regardless of their race, origin or religion. Present on five continents, the Order of Malta formed an impressive medical network, working in 120 countries.
The considerations, conclusions and recommendations contained in the report of the Secretary-General underlined the principles of neutrality, humanity, impartiality and independence. Those principles also served as the foundation for the work of Order of Malta, he said. Malteser International had been established in 2005 to link emergency response, relief aid and development assistance. Today it was able to quickly respond to international catastrophes, such as Cyclone Nargis and Hurricane Katrina. It also had 200 projects in 40 countries and provided assistance to nearly 7 million people worldwide.
IBRAHIM OSMAN, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said today’s debate on building stronger humanitarian capacity at all levels was particularly relevant to the international Red Cross Movement, the emphasis of which was on the community and national levels. When communities were stronger and when nations had improved capacity to address the vital needs of their populations -- be they in emergencies or for longer-term development -- the demand for international assistance was dramatically diminished. In disaster-affected villages, towns and cities, the first people on the scene were usually local Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers. Volunteers, and the communities from which they were drawn, were the critical hub for effective action. Strong risk reduction was built on systems, skills, capacities and organization at the community level and national capacity was built on that foundation. Enhanced management capacity at local and national levels was the starting point for all meaningful disaster preparedness, risk-reduction programming and initial response operations.
While noting that the Hyogo Framework for Action was particularly important in local response, he said there was still insufficient reference to the ultimate goal from Hyogo: the building up of safer and more resilient communities. More explicit consideration and promotion of the essential links between humanitarian assistance, recovery and longer-term risk reduction and development was needed. The time had also come for firm commitments and long-term investment to address root causes, while strengthening communities.
One important tool for building national capacity endorsed at the international Red Cross Conference last November was the Guidelines for the Domestic Facilitation and Regulation of International Disaster Relief and Initial Recovery Assistance, which incorporated the International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles. Those guidelines would build a stronger legal framework for domestic disaster response capacity and make the international response to major disasters smoother and more effective. In closing, he expressed concern that some actors claimed to be complying with humanitarian principles, but were in fact influenced by political or military objectives. He urged all Member States to ensure greater respect for those principles.
STEPHEN GONAH, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said today’s meeting was taking place against the backdrop of the growing challenges to the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance, skyrocketing fuel prices, climate change and environmental degradation among them. His organization was committed to the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and the Stateless, and actively participated in country team activities. Indeed, the implications of rising food prices were “very grave” for refugees and displaced persons, particularly women and children. UNHCR was working with the World Food Programme to ensure that their needs were met, and was engaging States to promote self-sufficiency among those populations, as dependency on food aid -- particularly for a prolonged period -- exacerbated vulnerability.
To address the humanitarian implications of climate change, UNHCR was working with other humanitarian organizations to tackle that multifaceted challenge, he explained, and its engagement with the HLCP Working Group on Climate Change was an example of its efforts. Further, all humanitarian actors should be afforded humanitarian access. In line with the reaffirmation of the neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian operations, he welcomed steps to promote a unified, system-wide response to complex emergencies and, similarly, the promotion of gender equality in United Nations policies. UNHCR placed great value on the Central Emergency Response Fund, and welcomed the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s decision to set aside $100 million from that Fund for mitigating increases in food prices. Massive human displacement and mixed migration flows could only be tackled by “delivering as one”, and thereby strengthening the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance.
AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), said that, in humanitarian situations worldwide, the highest concentrations of affected populations lived in urban settlements. Further, crises arising from complex emergencies, as well as from natural and man-made vulnerabilities either displaced urban populations, or forced rural families into cities seeking jobs, shelter and security. He said that the shelter response to recent disasters had, among other things, demonstrated that efforts to provide a range of in situ non-tent-based emergency shelter options had proven effective in protecting people’s housing, land and property, providing survivors with constructive engagement, and rebuilding self-confidence following disaster.
By example, he said that many people preferred to receive a “shelter kit” to help them recover damaged building parts and use them to provide their own emergency shelter from the rubble. At the same time, others wished to engage in communal cleanup and reconstruction, both of which became the initial steps towards recovery. He went on to say that the cornerstone of UN-HABITAT’s engagement in the immediate aftermath of crisis was assessing and recommending alternative, culturally contextual, transitional shelter approaches.
The primary value added was UN-HABITAT’s working hand in hand with global humanitarian agencies, leveraging short-term investments in emergency services into longer-term development gains. “This potentially shortens the term of crisis and creates opportunities for early recovery and sustainable development,” he said, adding that, together with UNHCR, the IFRC and a range of non-governmental organizations, UN-HABITAT was providing a series of post-crisis shelter options as alternatives to tents and plastic sheeting in, among others, Peru, Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Uganda and the Sudan.
SUZANNE BILELLO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said her agency had focused particularly on aligning with national capacity-building requests in education planning and management; teacher, technical and vocational training; non-formal and distance education; as well as capacity-building for effective early warning systems. It also provided support to community and broadcast media and independent and pluralistic media, as well as emergency consolidation and support to culture and heritage, particularly for the management of World Heritage Sites.
She noted that, most recently, those intergovernmental mandates had been put to use during the response to the earthquake that devastated China’s Sichuan Province and the cyclone that hit Myanmar. In those cases, UNESCO had been invited to help lead rapid sectoral missions, notably in education, and to have project proposals included in the joint United Nations Humanitarian Appeal launched last week. He also noted that, in Iraq, UNESCO was contributing to, among others, Iraqi national capacity-building in the area of education, including distance education, to help address the humanitarian crisis faced by internally displaced persons and refugees. More broadly, through its Education Cluster, UNESCO sought to advocate for, and contribute to, a holistic United Nations approach to the early revitalization of education services and systems in many conflict- and disaster-affected countries, helping to address the needs of vulnerable age groups at every level of formal and non-formal education systems.
* *** *For information media • not an official record