|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Senior United Nations Officials on World Humanitarian Day
Marking World Humanitarian Day this morning, top United Nations officials recognized the sacrifices made by humanitarian workers around the globe, but stressed that it was also critical to use the event to redouble efforts to help those currently suffering in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.
“It’s all about the fact that we can all change our world for the better,” Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said of the Day, which was designated by the General Assembly in 2008 for 19 August, the date in 2003 on which a terrorist attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 people, including Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello.
This year’s theme for the day was “People helping people”, said Ms. Amos, who was joined at a Headquarters press conference by Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). They said that a large focus of the Day’s events in 2011 would be mobilizing support for Somalia and other countries of the Horn of Africa suffering from severe drought and famine.
At the same time, Ms. Amos said, commemorations from Australia to Afghanistan were being held today to pay tribute to the colleagues who had lost their lives in service to others around the world, as well as to the many thousands of aid workers delivering assistance. “We thank them for their service and urge of course that more be done to keep them safe from harm,” she said.
On the African famine, the United Nations system and its partners was doing all that could be done, but were still not reaching enough people to prevent widespread death, she said, emphasizing that some 12 million people were at risk in Somalia alone. Despite the generosity of donors, $1 billion more were still needed. Whether by giving money, or by volunteering or by spreading the word, “we have to do all we can to help the people of the Horn of Africa”, she stressed.
Mr. Lake said that the humanitarian disaster in Somalia was becoming a humanitarian catastrophe. Tens of thousands had died and hundreds of thousands were at imminent risk, including a million and a half children, since children suffered the most in such a crisis. Already, nearly 400,000 children were suffering from malnutrition, mostly in the central and south zones, with 140,000 in danger of dying from “severe acute” malnutrition. Twice as many would be in imminent peril next year. Because of the magnitude of the crisis, accurate figures were hard to come by; “too many are dying off camera”, he said.
He called for an urgent, bold and sustained response from the international community, emphasizing that it was critical to counter “disaster fatigue” by raising awareness that those people were not just numbers and not just victims to be pitied, but courageous human beings fighting to save their children’s lives. “They deserved support, and we’re struggling to provide it,” he said.
In answer to questions, Ms. Amos agreed that it was important to work on long-term solutions while striving to meet the demands of the acute crisis, noting that droughts had increased in the region from once or twice a decade to every other year. Climate change, population growth, stable water supplies and the sustainability of the livelihoods of pastoralists were among the long-term issues that had to be addressed.
Kenya and other countries in the region were not currently in crisis because they had been working with agencies on sustainability programmes, she noted. Donors should be encouraged to put more money into such resilience activity, with stronger links made between humanitarian response and development, and a focus on such preventive tactics as prepositioning aid. With so many children dying, all those activities had to be increased.
In that context, Mr. Lake noted that the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) conference yesterday had published a list of actions that could be taken for adaptation to climate change. He emphasized, however, that in areas like north-west Kenya, pastoralists needed, not only better water supplies, but also education to allow them to make choices and avoid forced resettlement into irrigated agricultural areas.
Asked about funding, Mr. Lake said that somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent of money contributed to UNICEF reached those working to produce results on the ground. The institutional budget had recently been cut by 5 per cent. Ms. Amos emphasized that not all the money for the drought emergency had come through the multilateral system, with much of it coming from bilateral donors and partner organizations. She referred correspondents to an online tracking system for the list of donor countries and their contributions.
Mr. Lake said that UNICEF was able to work in areas controlled by militias, such as Al-Shabaab, because it had a 70-year track record of being non-political. National staff were stationed in key locations and worked through local drought committees, elders, local non-governmental organizations and local authorities. Approval was obtained in advance for all activities.
Thus far, aid delivery had gone well in those areas, he said, paying tribute to the “extraordinary bravery of the people on the ground” from his organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Red Crescent and a number of other non-governmental organizations. Ms. Amos stressed the need to support the efforts of organizations that were able to deliver aid in such areas.
The press conference ended with the music video entitled “If I Could Change”, released for World Humanitarian Day 2011. It featured Ziggy Marley and other artists from around the world.
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