UN deputy chief urges ‘transformation’ in collective effort to tackle ‘staggering’ humanitarian needs

Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson at the Global Consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

15 October 2015 – Warning of the huge, almost uncontrollable human disasters facing the world – with a staggering 100 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has urged global solidarity to meet “the heavy but inspiring responsibility” today’s global challenges demand.

“The numbers of afflicted people are overwhelming. But let us remember: they are not numbers. These are men, women and children enduring searing suffering and pain. All refugees deserve safety. Every migrant has the right to dignity” said Mr. Eliasson in his address to delegates gathered in Geneva for the Global Consultation on the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. The Consultation began yesterday and wraps up tomorrow.

“No one should have to live with violence, discrimination or abuse of human rights. All of us have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to act,” he declared.

He also highlighted two messages from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Global Consultation meeting, convened after a year of regional gatherings to set the stage for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next year.

Mr. Eliasson said the UN chief’s first message was the need for the international community to “prove to the vulnerable and afflicted people around the world that leaders hear their voices and are responding with compassion and resolve.”

And secondly, he said the Secretary-General urged everyone to “engage in committed and innovative preparations for the Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to ensure that it is truly a meaningful step forward for the humanitarian imperative.”

Emphasizing that humanitarian action can never replace political solutions to conflict, Mr. Eliasson said the primary goal of the UN is to find peaceful and enduring settlements, while resolving humanitarian crises – often as conflicts rage.

“The demands are growing faster than our capacity and resources. If we do not address this serious stress symptom, we will have an even steeper hill to climb in the future. We have to get adequate means and we must do more on prevention, as well as on connecting humanitarian work to development,” said the Deputy Secretary-General.

For 2015, the United Nations asked for nearly $20 billion to meet humanitarian needs – six times the level of a decade ago. “With these demands, we must explore ways to optimize our impact and streamline our efforts. We must be innovative and adapt to future conditions.”

He said that the Global Consultation marks the beginning of a new phase in the critical process towards “a transformation in how we deliver for our fellow human beings in need,” and urged delegations to now focus on the many useful proposals made during the consultations and arrive at a set of key recommendations for the Istanbul Summit.

The just-released report Restoring Humanity, a synthesis of the consultation process up to this point, has called for action around five key concepts: dignity, safety, resilience, partnerships and finance. Further, it calls for an integrated approach to humanitarian action, sustainable development, and the creation of peaceful societies. It requires solutions and actions dealing with root causes. It requires inclusive partnerships. And it requires new and diverse sources of funding.

Mr. Eliasson said that early next year, the Secretary-General will issue his Report on the World Humanitarian Summit, aimed to establish the UN chief’s vision for the landmark Summit “and spell out the actions and commitments we need.” It would also draw on the major “UN change agenda” ranging from the Sendai to the Addis, New York and Paris Conferences during 2015.

“We should see the Summit as an opportunity to prove that our ambitious vision of a life of dignity for all is achievable if we retain and strengthen our sense of justice and solidarity,” he said.

Opening the consultations yesterday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien also reiterated the sentiment, and stressed that the human and economic costs due to natural and man-made disasters are staggering.

“This year alone, over 100 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. If that were a country, it would be the 12th largest in the world,” said Mr. O’Brien in his opening address. “Estimated economic losses due to natural disasters worldwide may now be as high as [$300 billion] a year, and are expected to increase,” he added.

Mr. O’Brien also warned that unless immediate measures are implemented, projections indicate that the future could be even worse.

“The World Bank estimates that 1.5 billion people live in countries trapped in repeated cycles of violent conflict. The cost to the global economy is some US$14.3 trillion per year - 13 per cent of the world’s GDP [gross domestic product],” Mr. O’Brien reported.

According to Mr. O’Brien, violence and conflicts have forced over 60 million people around the world out of their homes. He pointed out that for millions of girls, this can mean the end of education, followed by early marriage and a sharp reduction in life chances. Being displaced at such a large scale could mostly mean years of insecurity and instability and dependence on governments and aid organizations.

“We carry the hopes of many on our shoulders. So let us get down to business and make this Global Consultation the crescendo of an extraordinary, inclusive, global process, which has brought us to this point and has given us so many inspiring ideas to work with.”


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