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Humanitarian Response

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator is responsible for coordinating humanitarian responses and for promoting humanitarian issues — helping raise awareness, for example, of the consequences of the proliferation of small arms or the humanitarian effects of sanctions.

People who have fled war, persecution or human rights abuse — refugees and displaced persons — are assisted by UNHCR. Every year UNHCR helps some 32 million people in more than 110 countries, including 14 million internally displaced.

The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, providing emergency food assistance worldwide.  Its food aid reaches an average of 100 million people in 80 countries every year.

An estimated 300,000 children have been recruited as soldiers in more than 30 conflicts worldwide.  More than 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflict over the last decade, and at least 6 million have been permanently disabled or seriously injured. More than 1 million have been orphaned or separated from their families. UNICEF seeks to meet their needs by supplying food, safe water, medicine and shelter. UNICEF has also pioneered the concept of "children as zones of peace" and created "days of tranquillity" and "corridors of peace" to help protect children in war and provide them with essential services.

Disaster prevention and preparedness are also part of UN humanitarian action. When disasters occur, UNDP coordinates relief work at the local level, while promoting recovery and long-term development. And in countries undergoing extended emergencies or recovering from conflict, humanitarian assistance is increasingly seen as part of an overall peace-building effort, along with developmental, political and financial assistance.

Perhaps the most dramatic natural disaster in recent years was the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami.  In the early hours of Sunday, 26 December 2004, a massive earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck the west coast of northern Sumatra, triggering powerful tsunamis reaching 10 metres (33 feet) in height which moved through the Indian Ocean at over 500 kilometres (310 miles) an hour.  The tsunamis wrecked coastal areas in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles and Somalia.  More than 280,000 were killed and more than half a million became homeless.

The UN system immediately sprang into action, addressing a wide range of humanitarian needs, including agriculture, coordination and support services, economic recovery and infrastructure, education, family shelter and non-food items, food, health, mine action, protection of human rights and the rule of law, security, and water and sanitation.  To that end, a “flash appeal” for $977 million was issued on 5 January 2005 to fund the critical relief work of some 40 UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  And on 1 February, the Secretary-General appointed former United States President William Jefferson Clinton as his Special Envoy for the tsunami-affected countries.