26 January 2011
Press Conference

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

Press Conference by Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Deputy


Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, on Recent Mission to Sri Lanka


Reporting on her humanitarian mission to Sri Lanka last week, Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the humanitarian needs in that country were “still significant” and activities should be stepped up to address the most critical.


Briefing correspondents today at Headquarters, Ms. Bragg called for strong engagement with the Sri Lankan Government, which had been a major goal of her visit to the Indian Ocean island State, from 19 to 21 January, along with producing an assessment of the humanitarian concerns there, particularly in the post-conflict north.  The mission, coinciding with the flood crisis in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, had also provided an opportunity to advocate for flood-related humanitarian assistance.  She had met with Government ministers, the United Nations country team, representatives of non-governmental organizations and donors.


While there had been “quite a bit of progress” in the country since the cessation of fighting in May 2009, she had returned from the country with the sense that a lot more work still needed to be done.  Concerning the floods, the heavy rains that had struck the country in the latter part of last year had impacted livelihoods and disrupted social services, and severely damaged the infrastructure and the economy in an area that was heavily agrarian-based.


In the flood-affected areas in the eastern part of the country, she said she had the sense of how overwhelmed the affected communities were and how their ability to withstand further shocks had been severely affected.  The region and its population had already suffered multiple threats — from the tsunami to the conflict, and now the floods — making the vulnerability very real and acute.


While there, she said she had launched a flash appeal to raise some $51 million of emergency funds for the immediate humanitarian needs of the more than 1 million flood victims.  She had also been able to announce that the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) would contribute a further $6 million immediately to jumpstart priority programmes.  She urged donors to give generously and to keep in mind both the medium- and longer-term assistance that was needed to restore lives and livelihoods, chiefly in the agricultural sector.


Largely, her mission had been about advocacy, she said, recalling that she had seen first-hand how communities, particularly in the north, were struggling to rebuild their lives.  “It is clear that there are still immediate humanitarian needs that we must address now,” Ms. Bragg said.


Noting significant progress in the past year in Government-led efforts towards resettlement, she said that only 20,000 of the 300,000 persons displaced at the height of the crisis remained in Government-run camps.  However, due to difficulties in clearing landmines, combined with the lack of basic services in the home areas, those remaining in the camps were expected to stay there until at least mid-year, and would thus continue to need humanitarian assistance.  Additionally, many thousands of people who had left the formal camps were either in transitional shelters, where they still required assistance, or had returned to areas where basic services and infrastructure were not yet in place.


Furthermore, although the Government had committed significant resources to infrastructure in the return areas, most of the returnees currently had limited access to basic services such as shelter, water and sanitation and health care.  Those communities remained extremely vulnerable.  “The future of the north is about investing in people.  They need skills, livelihoods and social development to help them move on with their lives,” Ms. Bragg stated.


In her meetings with various Government officials, including the ministers of economic development, defence, and disaster management, she said she had reaffirmed the support of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, especially in rebuilding the northern province.  She had discussed how that support could be more effective with more relaxed operating conditions for non-governmental organizations.  In particular, she had discussed facilitating access for humanitarian organizations, to which the feedback had been “fairly positive”. Also considered had been the need to strengthen partnerships between United Nations agencies and local government structures, as Sri Lanka moved beyond the years of conflict.


In response to correspondents’ questions, Ms. Bragg said she had not discussed any matters pertaining to the United Nations panel of experts on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka, as that issue had not come up during her visit.  Nor did she have any plans to meet with the panel members over the matter, she added.


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For information media • not an official record