Fifty-ninth General Assembly
79th Meeting (AM)
General Assembly adopts resolution emphasizing need to maintain focus
on tsunami-hit region beyond emergency relief stage
Text Also Seeks Appointment of Special Envoy
To Help Sustain Global Political Will in Support of Rehabilitation
Emphasizing the need for the international community to maintain its focus beyond the present stage of the emergency relief effort under way in the Indian Ocean, the United Nations General Assembly today requested Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a special envoy for the devastated region to help sustain global political will in support of medium- and long-term rehabilitation, reconstruction and risk-reduction efforts led by the governments of the tsunami-affected countries.
Unanimously adopting a new resolution, the world’s nations expressed sincere condolences to and deep sympathy with the victims, survivors and governments in the aftermath of last month’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean that left an arc of destruction from Thailand to the Horn of Africa. The resolution invited the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to bring members of the international donor community together with the affected nations to address their immediate and future rebuilding needs in the aftermath of the disaster.
The Assembly’s action capped a two-day special debate in which more than 50 delegations called for the strengthening of emergency relief, rehabilitation and prevention following the Indian Ocean tsunami. The wide-ranging text reflected many of their concerns, and with nearly 160,000 dead across the tsunami zone -– half of them children -- and with the long-range socio-economic and environmental impacts of the disaster yet to be determined, the Assembly recognized that the development of stronger institutions and mechanisms, especially at the community level, was essential to building resilience to hazards and disasters and reducing the risks to vulnerable populations.
Emphasizing the urgent need to establish a regional early-warning system in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia regions, the resolution also welcomed the proposed convening of a regional ministerial meeting on regional cooperation in that regard, to be held in Thailand on 28 January 2005. Germany’s proposal to host a third international early-warning conference, covering the complete range of natural hazards, with a focus on the urgent implementation of early-warning systems for hydro-meteorological and geological hazards on a global scale, was also welcomed.
Additionally, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to explore ways to further develop the international community’s rapid-response capacities for immediate humanitarian relief efforts, building on existing arrangements and ongoing initiatives, including the consideration of “standby arrangements” under the auspices of the United Nations.
Prior to the plenary session’s adoption of the resolution, Singapore’s representative said that, although his country was a small one, whose contributions were only a “trickle in the ocean of assistance” needed to help the tsunami-affected countries, its geographic proximity to many of the affected States, together with its well developed communications and logistics hub and its status as a medical centre in the region, had enabled it to respond speedily to the plight of many of the affected nations. Hence, its response had reached its neighbours quickly, when they were most in need. Singapore had deployed most of its available and relevant civil defence capabilities and military heavy-lift assets, including helicopters and landing ships, as well as cargo planes, to help create access to various communities that had been ravaged and cut off by the disaster.
The representative of Mauritius, just back from the International Meeting for the 10-year Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, said that the conference, which concluded in his country last Friday, had devoted a large part of its work to the recent tragic events. The Mauritius Declaration adopted at the Meeting recognized the tragic impact of the earthquake and tsunami, as well as last year’s hurricanes in the Caribbean and Pacific regions. Under the Mauritius Strategy, also adopted at the Meeting, small island countries undertook to strengthen their respective national frameworks for disaster management.
Also speaking today were the representatives of New Zealand, Viet Nam, Colombia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Guyana, Qatar and Timor-Leste.
The Observers for the Holy See and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also addressed the Assembly.
Reconvening at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 January, the Assembly will hold a special session to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps.
The General Assembly met this morning to conclude its debate on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance, in the wake of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis.
DON MACKAY (New Zealand) said the immediate impact of the disaster in South Asia had been felt by millions of people. Along with the tragic loss of life and countless injuries, many of the most poor in the region had had their livelihoods and other assets destroyed. With that in mind, the Assembly should ensure that the needs of the poor and marginalized would be a top priority during the reconstruction. New Zealand had been among those offering assistance since the days immediately following the tragedy. It had also been assisting directly in the field, as well as through the international community, and had strongly supported United Nations operations. The country’s official response had climbed to some 68 million New Zealand dollars, including 10 million dollars already announced for the relief effort.
Like others, New Zealand was looking to continue to help over the various stages of reconstruction and rehabilitation, he said. New Zealand would encourage other donors to ensure that their aid delivery was credible, that it addressed poverty by prioritizing the needs of the poor, and was managed professionally by applying the principles of harmonization. Donors should remember that the focus on the tsunami crisis must not divert attention from international efforts to address chronic poverty in many developing countries.
KHEMRAJ JINGREE (Mauritius) said that the disaster, unprecedented in its nature and scale, had been matched by an unprecedented worldwide solidarity with the affected populations. Notwithstanding the emergency relief efforts, support for medium- and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction, as well as risk-reduction efforts, was equally important. Recalling also the spate of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean region last year, he underscored the importance of advancing the concrete realization of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, especially in relation to its provisions on vulnerability and building resilience to natural disasters and their effect on development. Had the Indian Ocean had an early-warning system, many lives could have been saved.
It was in that connection that the International Meeting on the Sustainable Development of Small-Island Developing States, which concluded in Mauritius last Friday, had devoted a large part of its work to the recent tragic events, he said. The Mauritius Declaration adopted at the Meeting recognized the tragic impact of the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the hurricanes in the Caribbean and Pacific regions, and stressed the need to develop and strengthen disaster-risk reduction, early-warning systems, emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. It also fully supported the proposed establishment of a regional natural disaster early-warning system for the Indian Ocean and the South-East Asian region. In addition, it supported the call for enhanced international cooperation and partnerships to build and manage effective regional early-warning systems, public education and awareness and disaster management. Under the Mauritius Strategy, also adopted at the meeting, small island countries undertook to strengthen their respective national frameworks for disaster management.
LUONG MINH (Viet Nam) said that the international community’s most important task now was to help restore normalcy to the lives of the affected peoples. Leaders at the meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 6 January had adopted a declaration covering a set of actions to be implemented in various areas, from emergency relief to rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention. Several other recent meetings, both international and regional, had discussed the establishment of mechanisms for surveillance, prevention and assessment of severe natural disasters. Viet Nam welcomed such timely debates and looked forward to their implementation.
He said that upon learning of the losses and damage caused by the tsunami, the Government of Viet Nam had decided to donate approximately $500,000 to help the victims in affected countries. Private citizens and social organizations had also responded actively to the appeals of the Government and the Viet Nam Red Cross Society with all kinds of donations. As a rough estimate, approximately 2.5 billion Viet Nam dong had been collected, and the campaign was continuing. In today’s difficult moment, the Government and people would continue to join hands with the international community in concerted efforts to overcome the challenges ahead.
GUSTAVO DAJER BARGUIL (Colombia) said the contributions made and the pledges given represented the commitment of States, individuals and organizations to overcome the devastating effects of the Indian Ocean disaster. Colombia agreed with the Secretary-General and others concerned that once the spotlight faded from the disaster, the international community’s attention would also wane. Colombia urged global actors not only to remain focused on the countless victims of the tsunami, but also to step up their efforts to ensure effective early-warning systems. Global actors should also ensure that the resources allocated to the relief effort were provided in an effective, efficient timely and transparent manner.
MASOOD KHALID (Pakistan) said that, as a neighbour in the region, his country had been among the first to respond to the human suffering resulting from the Indian Ocean tsunami. It had given some $50 million and sent 12 relief sorties of C-130 aircraft to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Pakistan had also dispatched three helicopters, medical teams and equipment and donated two ships in the region of the Maldives, thereby participating in the relief and rescue operations of six States and assisting in the overall evacuation of some 367 persons from 21 countries. Pakistan’s President had also set up a President’s relief fund for the victims, for which newspapers and the electronic media had been mobilized. People from all walks of life in Pakistan had also contributed generously.
Expressing support for the establishment of regional mechanisms for early warning to prevent such disasters, he said that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in his capacity as Chair of the South Asia Association for Regional Coordination, had called for such a mechanism. Meanwhile, Pakistan was gratified that the international community had responded promptly and generously to help the victims in that unprecedented disaster. It also appreciated the coordination efforts of the United Nations and would continue to support international efforts, which had brought quick succour to the affected peoples and helped to hasten reconstruction.
MANSOUR AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) said the scale of the devastation in the South Asian region had been unprecedented, and that the willing and quick response of the international community and the United Nations had been likewise unprecedented in providing aid and other humanitarian assistance. For its part, Kuwait had allocated $2 million in the immediate wake of the disaster, quickly followed by an $8 million allocation on 2 January. The Government had instructed the national Red Crescent Society to cooperate with the broader international effort.
The scope of natural disasters, along with the increasing loss of life and infrastructure in recent years, especially in developing countries, required the international community not only to increase its diligence and long-term assistance in the aftermath of such tragedies, but to cooperate in developing global mechanisms that could help stricken countries address a range of concerns -– whether financial, environmental or socio-economic. All States should also work together on measures to mitigate the effects of natural disasters.
VANU GOPALA MENON (Singapore) said his country was a small one, whose contributions were only a “trickle in the ocean of assistance” needed to help the tsunami-affected countries. Singapore’s geographic proximity to many of the affected States, however, together with its well developed communications and logistics hub and its status as a medical centre in the region, had made it possible for it to respond speedily to the plight of many of the affected nations. Hence, its relief efforts had reached its affected neighbours quickly, when they were most in need. Singapore had deployed most of its available and relevant civil defence capabilities and military heavy-lift assets, including helicopters and landing ships, as well as cargo planes, to help create access to various communities that had been ravaged and cut off by the disaster. With that response, Singapore had provided those communities with fresh water, food, medicines, shelter and other basic needs.
He said Singapore had also facilitated the relief operations of international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other governments by, among other things, making available its air and naval bases, as staging areas. There had also been an outpouring of care and support by individuals, private companies and hospitals in Singapore, which had sent medical and technical relief teams to the affected countries. Singaporeans and other living in Singapore had also donated more than $20 million so far to help the victims and their families. The United Nations and the global community must respond collectively to restore normalcy and help rebuild the affected nations. Completing the tasks would take several years, and the only way to achieve that was through a sustained international engagement. It had been heartening, therefore, to hear the Secretary-General state that he would, appoint a special representative who would sustain international attention and political will for the long-term effort.
GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) said his Government stood in solidarity with the governments and peoples of the tsunami-affected Indian Ocean region. The tragedy had profoundly shocked the Guyanese people, but they had nevertheless been heartened by the overwhelming international response to the tragedy. Guyana commended the Secretary-General and his team for leading the pivotal role the United Nations was playing in the relief effort. Of modest means, Guyana had nevertheless joined the global response, contributing $50,000 to the country’s United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative for the effort. The generous Guyanese people had thus far donated $100,000 to the cause.
He noted that the growing intensity and frequency of natural disasters in recent years had been highlighted by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis, which had been preceded just a few months earlier by the deadly hurricanes and tornadoes that had pummelled the Caribbean region and the south-eastern United States coastline last August and September. Indeed, while today’s meeting was under way in New York, Guyana was experiencing some of the worst flooding in over 100 years, which had led had led the Government to declare three of the country’s 10 administrative districts, including the nation’s capital, disaster areas. Guyana’s experience served only to further cement its bonds of empathy with the affected countries in South Asia.
MOHAMED AL-HAYKI (Qatar) conveyed his distress at the tremendous damage resulting from the destructive earthquake and the giant waves that had flowed from it. Such natural disasters characteristically happened suddenly and without warning. Thus, there was a need to react immediately to bring relief to the victims and mitigate their effects on the survivors. The number of victims of disease and hunger might exceed the number of victims of the tsunami itself, thus, also requiring an immediate response. Qatar had provided maximum assistance to the victims, and had been among the first countries to do so, with grants of $25 million, as well as food aid and other relief. That reflected the spirit of solidarity and fraternity that bound Qatar with the peoples of the affected countries. That response had also been part of Qatar’s policy that stressed the need to provide assistance to developing countries in great need in the aftermath of natural disasters.
He said he valued the thrust of the meeting to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of disasters. It was not wise to wait for another similar disaster, and the world must strive now to limit the impact of future such disasters. Thus, Qatar supported the international efforts under way to set up a regional early-warning system like those existing in the Pacific and other areas likely to face that kind of danger. All countries should abide by their commitments and not simply confine themselves to pledges and promises. They must come to the aid of others.
JOSE LUIS GUTERRES (Timor-Leste) said that the unprecedented natural disaster had affected millions of lives in many countries, with long-term psychological, environmental, and socio-economic effects. The solidarity and humanity expressed by the international community, the United Nations, governments and peoples, business and humanitarian institutions, from the North and South, the East and West, had also been unprecedented. It had been rewarding to see the warships, helicopters and soldiers from countries around the world using their strength to save lives and bring food and shelter to families in the devastated regions.
He said that his own Government had decided to give a modest financial contribution in the belief that it was its moral duty to express solidarity with the affected peoples and nations. Timor-Leste’s President was leading a public campaign to gather more financial support. Today was a great opportunity for the United Nations, governments and scientific institutions to find solutions to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Hopefully, the meeting in Kobe, Japan, would evolve strong recommendations in that regard. Timor-Leste specifically supported the establishment of an early-warning system, as recommended by the ASEAN countries.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, expressing his deepest condolences to the victim countries of the tsunami disaster, said he supported measures intended to strengthen emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, as well as prevention, in the wake of the Indian Ocean calamity. From the beginning of the disaster, Pope John Paul II had expressed his deepest sympathy and had committed the agencies of the Catholic Church to act in a genuine gesture of solidarity to all the affected people without exception in each of the nations touched by the catastrophe. Since then, Catholic institutions and papal representatives in the affected nations had gone into action immediately, giving out food and clothes, as well as sheltering the affected populations.
Tragically, it had become clear that the most affected group had been children, at least 50,000 of whom had been swept away, he said. But tens of thousands had also been orphaned, and for that reason, the Church’s efforts emphasized ways to bring help to the surviving children in the worsted-affected places. In cooperation with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Catholic agencies were already using funds from throughout the world, totalling nearly $500 million, some of which was going into emergency aid and the rest into longer-term projects through the agencies’ local networks. Non-governmental organizations and faith-based organizations in the field now needed to be allowed to work directly with the populace, while aid from multilateral sources should be distributed impartially between the affected regions without political, ethnic or religious bias, as well as in cooperation with the different stakeholders.
ENCHO GOSPODINOV, Permanent Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that interest in the organization’s work had grown around the world because of recognition of its unique position as the only international organization with a grass-roots presence in virtually every community in the world. Thus, working with its network of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, it was at the forefront in providing emergency relief on the ground following natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunamis of 26 December.
Urging nations to build emergency relief into their programmes of preparedness and risk reduction, he said that such programmes must be designed and implemented through a national body which included the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society. The first line of defence in emergencies was provided by the communities themselves as emergency relief could not be provided by the international community alone. The best possible systems had to be in place to provide warning of impending disaster. Yet, even the best systems could not work without the involvement of local communities and their volunteers. Governments should bring their relevant laws into harmony with international instruments and the necessities imposed by disaster situations.
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