Tsunami envoy Clinton urges UN to keep up momentum on relief effort

Special Envoy Bill Clinton

14 July 2005 – Former United States President Bill Clinton, the United Nations Special Envoy overseeing recovery efforts from last December's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, today urged the UN and its partners to maintain momentum for what may by the most difficult phase, declaring that the world body was "the glue that holds international cooperation together."

Back in New York from a recent visit to the tsunami-ravaged region, Mr. Clinton told the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that the events of recent months had confirmed his belief in the intrinsic value of the UN as the deliverer of vital services in the aftermath of a crisis.

"As impressive as the immediate response was, we need to keep up the momentum now, to tackle the difficult, longer-term recovery phase," Mr. Clinton said during a panel discussion on lessons learned from the response to the Tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami left an arc of destruction from Thailand to the Horn of Africa, nearly a quarter of a million people dead and millions displaced.

"History tells us that this phase is in many ways the most difficult," he said. "I am warning people that we may have more bad days than good this year. It will be a complex and frustrating time. Recovery in each country will need a customized response and will move at different speeds."

While paying tribute to the extraordinary effort of the UN and humanitarian community at large in the early weeks following the tsunami, Mr. Clinton warned that although the recovery process was still in the early phases, "there is impatience already, and there is exhaustion," and that the most challenging days lie ahead.

Mr. Clinton also noted that while the framework for the recovery effort was in place in most of the affected countries, specific policy and operational challenges needed to be resolved if we are to see a truly successful recovery.

On the way ahead, he said that UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), donor and affected governments, and the corporate sector all needed to agree on who was going to do what, when and where. He also highlighted the need for disaster risk awareness education and urged governments to keep their people informed about what was going on, when they could expect results, and how they could meaningfully participate in their own recovery.

Another participant in the discussion, Margareta Wahlström, Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Special Coordinator for the Tsunami Response, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said one of the key issues facing UN relief officials when they arrived on the ground in Aceh was the high expectation for immediate results. So, looking ahead, international relief groups needed mechanisms in place to coordinate the release of aid flowing in from all part of the globe and help local authorities cope with and distribute those resources quickly and effectively.

Jean-Jacques Graisse, Senior Deputy Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said overall coordination of on-the-ground disaster response initiatives must be improved so that the needs of desperate populations could be better and more swiftly met. Links with private entities for goods and services needed to be strengthened in a more systemic way while attention should also be focused on averting bottlenecks in ground transport and air traffic control.

Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), describing UNICEF's massive response to the tsunami, said that cooperation must improve in the future and a focus had to be made on "building back better." To prevent child trafficking, she urged continued vigilance, chiefly through registration, community awareness, universal education and government action. Preventing malnutrition among women and children required a similar complex of actions.

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