30 August 2006
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY emergency relief coordinator

 


At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, the United Nations top humanitarian official informed correspondents about forthcoming conferences on Lebanon’s early recovery and the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories that are going to take place in Stockholm tomorrow and Friday, and outlined his efforts to address humanitarian emergencies in various parts of the world.


Regarding the Lebanon Conference, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, who is also United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he would be launching a revised humanitarian appeal for a massive rebuilding challenge in that country.  He was going to Stockholm to urge the whole world to come to the aid of the Lebanese people and Government in their hour of greatest need.  While over $90 million had already been pledged for the emergency phase, the Government of Lebanon would be asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for the recovery effort.


So far, it had been a remarkable operation in a sense that never before had he seen a million people displaced in two and a half weeks by a massive military campaign, he continued.  Now that some 75 per cent of those people had returned home, the returnees faced massive problems.  Some 250,000 people would not be able to move back into the houses that had been destroyed or were affected by unexploded ordnance.


In that connection, he also shared with correspondents “the shocking new information” his Office had received from the staff of the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre, who had identified 359 separate cluster-bomb strike locations contaminated with as many as 100,000 unexploded bomblets.  “These devices are going to be with us for many, many months, and possibly years”, he said.  What was “shocking and completely immoral” was that 90 per cent of the cluster-bomb strikes had occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when everybody knew that there would be an end to hostilities.  “It shouldn’t have happened”, he said.  Every day, people were maimed and killed by those devices.  Civilians were going to die, disproportionately, again -– not during the war, but after the end of the conflict.


Turning to the meeting on Friday, he said that the Palestinian areas were facing a deep crisis.   Gaza was a ticking time bomb that could lead to a social explosion in 10 days, or 10 months.  “You cannot seal off an area, which is a little bigger than the city of Stockholm, has 1.4 million people, of whom 800,000 are youth and children and then have 200 artillery shells go in there virtually every day, seal off the borders … for people to live or even humanitarian supplies to get in.”  Nobody visiting Gaza could avoid the fact that it was a totally untenable situation.


“On top of that, we don’t have money”, he continued.  The previous humanitarian appeal had brought in only 40 per cent of the $385 million that were required for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He hoped that more money would be forthcoming in Stockholm and that there would be full diplomatic support for “a fresh look at the situation”.


Turning to Sri Lanka, he said that the conflict there had deepened while all eyes were on Lebanon.  Today, $37.5 million was needed to meet the needs of 220,000 newly displaced people in Sri Lanka.  However, it was unacceptable that the Government had not provided any explanation regarding the execution of 17 humanitarian workers on 5 August, and humanitarian assistance could not continue, unless the people responsible for those actions were held accountable.


And finally, he told correspondents that he was going to visit Kinshasa and Eastern Congo next week.  Afterwards, he intended to visit Kampala, Northern Uganda and Juba for the talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army.


The jury was still out if the international community would be able to set things right in the Eastern Congo, which had witnessed both tremendous progress and significant setbacks, he said.  More attention and additional funding were needed to improve the situation because the needs in that area were greater than possibly anywhere else in the world.  However, the humanitarian appeal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo had brought in only about one third of the required needs.  Currently, the country was getting the largest amount of money -- $38 million out of some $130 million -- from the Central Emergency Response Fund.


Responding to several questions about the cluster bombs, he said that the munitions had been dropped by Israel.  The countries that had made those bombs “should have a serious talk” with Israel on their use.  It was an outrage that there were now 100,000 unexploded cluster bomblets in the areas where civilians, including children and women, were present.  During his own visit to the area, he had said that Israel’s response was excessive and disproportionate.  He had also condemned Hizbollah efforts to blend with the civilian population, which had “invited” such a response, in a way.


Cluster bombs were among the most controversial kinds of weapons used today, he added.  That was why it was so inexplicable that their use had been accelerated at the very end of the war, when people were waiting to return home.


To a question about the blockade of Lebanon, he said that time had come for confidence-building measures to defuse the tension.  Time had come to lift the blockade, which was strangling the economy of that small country and making the recovery efforts more difficult.  It was also counterproductive to continue the blockade, which enraged the whole population of Lebanon.  He hoped that Lebanon and Israel would be able to live in security as neighbours in the future.


Regarding northern Uganda, a correspondent said that one of the demands that the rebels were making was amnesty for their leaders, but some of them had been indicted by the International Criminal Court.  Would that indictment be traded for a political settlement? he asked.  Mr. Egeland replied that one could not allow impunity for the indicted, who had to face justice.


Asked about the situation in Darfur, he said that he had been calling for security action there for many months now.  For him, a resolution on the matter was long overdue.  According to the reports from the field, the fighting in northern Darfur had intensified since Monday.  With little access to that area, the humanitarian agencies didn’t even know what was happening to the civilian population there.  The area was “in a freefall” right now, and he urged the Security Council to pass a resolution on the matter and the Government of the Sudan to accept an offer of assistance through a United Nations force.


Responding to a query about the international response to humanitarian appeals worldwide, he said that there had been progress.  While it sometimes appeared like things were getting worse, in fact, the press were getting better at covering the crises and the international community was getting better at responding.  The funds in the Central Emergency Response Fund had come from Governments that believed in humanitarian assistance.  In Lebanon, against all odds, there had been an extremely effective response.  “We are hanging by our fingernails” in Darfur, we are trying to get to the areas in Sri Lanka, we are reaching people in Eastern Congo, because we get money from an increasing number of donors and we get political support from an increasing number of people and Governments, and the Security Council has never ever been so supportive of humanitarian assistance before”, he said.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record