5 June 2013
Press Conference

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

Press Conference by OCHA Director of Coordination and Response Division


On Recent Visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan


The international humanitarian community faces an expanding and vastly underfunded portfolio of crises, both new and protracted, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said at a Headquarters press conference today.


“There has to be a realization […] that humanitarian needs continue to grow worldwide,” said John Ging, Director of the Coordination and Response Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, while briefing on his recent mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Warning that financial assistance had not kept pace with the world’s growing humanitarian needs, he called for a “rethinking” of the way in which States provided support, particularly in respect of neglected long-standing crises.


He said that one of the main goals of the recent mission, on which he was accompanied by seven directors of emergency humanitarian aid organizations, had been to ensure that humanitarian actors continued to be “fit for purpose” as Afghanistan underwent a period of major transition.  Indeed, with the imminent withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force personnel in 2014, humanitarian assistance must keep pace with the evolving security and development situation, he emphasized.


While pleased with the success of the recent Chicago and Tokyo funding conferences for the security and development aspects of the transition, Mr. Ging noted that the humanitarian side had not been represented.  In fact, the $471 million appeal for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan had only received $79 million to date, he pointed out.  Humanitarian funding was critical, not least because “there has to be a foundation of humanitarian stability on which to build the development that this country needs”, he stressed.


He went on to say that on the mission’s first day in Afghanistan, there had been tragic attacks on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Kabul.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in Jalalabad had also been attacked for the first time in 37 years.  Those events demonstrated the dangerous environment in which humanitarian aid workers still operated.


Describing some of the humanitarian challenges facing Afghanistan — including food insecurity and lack of basic health care and medicine — he noted that some 535,000 Afghans were internally displaced and at least 250,000 were affected by natural disasters every year.  The country had a low literacy rate at only 26 per cent — with only 12 per cent of women able to read and write — and faced a demographic bulge with about 500,000 young people entering the labour force annually.


There was a very different humanitarian situation in Pakistan, he said, with the country now undergoing a successful democratic handover of power that had generated both optimism and high expectations.  In addition, development workers were helping to build preparedness for and resilience against the type of natural disasters that had ravaged Pakistan in recent years.  However, he warned that “there is still a huge vulnerability”, particularly as the monsoon approached.  Indeed, as the country headed into the rainy season, the humanitarian community might soon be called upon to respond to more flooding, he pointed out.


The question was again one of funding, he continued, noting that there had been an alarming drop in international support to Pakistan.  The humanitarian appeal launched during the severe floods of 2010 had been 70 per cent funded, but that number had dropped to 29 per cent by 2012.  There was frustration among aid workers at not being able to deliver, he said, underlining the need to raise Pakistan’s profile among donors.


Mr. Ging also responded to a number of questions from correspondents, including one who asked about activities to increase funding for protracted emergencies like those in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Mr. Ging replied that new, high-profile crises, such as those in Mali and Syria, received the “lion’s share” of assistance, and the pot of money assigned was simply not sufficient to meet the needs of all crises around the world.  In fact, new crises required the allocation of new money, in addition to funding for protracted emergencies.  More Member States must begin to shoulder that burden as it had sadly fallen on just a few countries for too long, he said, warning that their tax payers had limited tolerance and could not be relied upon forever.


Asked about the status of refugees from Syria, and how they affected the humanitarian conditions of neighbouring countries, he acknowledged that their return was not yet possible as the crisis was still raging.  The large number of refugees was having a destabilizing effect on neighbouring States, in addition to posing a huge economic burden.  While commending Syria’s neighbours for keeping their borders open to refugees, he stressed:  “We in the international community need to share in that burden,” in particular by helping to finance basic services in those countries.


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For information media • not an official record