'We have to be the hope' for people most in need, says top UN humanitarian official

Under-Secretary-General Stephen O'Brien pays a visit to a camp in Saint Saveur, Central African Republic. MINUSCA/Nektarios Markogiannis

18 August 2016 – Praising the spirit and drive of relief workers, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, has said the global humanitarian community is determined to not let political disagreements, conflicts or natural disasters get in the way of their ability to help the people who are most in need.

“We have to be their hope; that we can be the ones to reach them, even if nobody else can,” said Mr. O'Brien in an interview with UN News Service.

He added that it is also equally important that humanitarian actors, who are neutral and impartial, are provided with safe and unimpeded access.

Speaking specifically about the desperate humanitarian situation Syria, the UN relief chief underscored the urgency of ensuring safe access for relief workers.

“[Parties to the conflict] and all those who have influence on them [need] to recognize [that now] is the time to have a ceasefire […] and that there is safety for humanitarians to get in to meet those needs,” he stressed.

Mr. O'Brien also praised the bravery of humanitarian workers in the country, where intense fighting has not only put the lives of many at risk, but also severely impeded their ability to access or deliver humanitarian assistance to the people in need.

Turning commitments into action is vital

In the interview, taken just ahead of World Humanitarian Day, Mr. O'Brien, who is also the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Day is an occasion for everyone, as global citizens, to reflect on the opportunity and to make a real contribution to meeting the needs of the human beings on this planet who're the most vulnerable.

He added that the Day is also linked to the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit which was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in late May.

The Summit provided a common purpose and understanding of the need to have strong political will to sustain the resources necessary to be able to respond to the needs of the more than 130 million people who require urgent live-saving assistance, explained Mr. O'Brien.

“We have about $21.6 billion this year [to] meet the needs of people, who have suddenly been – through no fault of their own – cast into crisis,” he said, underscoring that turning the commitments expressed at the Summit into action is vital.

“Those who made the commitments will become the champions for delivering on these commitments, and to build the will and support […] to help us better meet the needs of humanitarian suffering,” he added.

'These are not suicidal missions, these are courageous missions'

Asked about his main message for World Humanitarian Day, Mr. O'Brien said the UN and its humanitarian partner are ready: “We have the capacity, we have the skills, we have the people to be able to deliver, for people who have real life-saving and protection needs tonight.”

“But to do that, not only do we need the resources […], we need to work very well together to make sure that we use these resources efficiently [and] the humanitarians, as a matter of international law, must have safe, unimpeded access to wherever the need arises, however it has arisen, so we can deliver to meet the needs, he said.

Returning to the challenges aid workers are facing in Syria, the top UN humanitarian official highlighted: “Our challenge is not only to respect in the courage of their bravery, but also to recognize that we have a duty to make sure that they are safe in delivering their selfless work.”

“These are not suicidal missions, these are courageous missions. And we need to make sure that those who are causing the fighting – those who are causing the blockages – are challenged because it is a matter of right that we meet the humanitarian needs of the people,” he concluded.


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