|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
on Recent Visit to Myanmar, Philippines
The ongoing response to a natural disaster by local authorities, as well as the central Government in the Philippines provided “a model of best practice” for partnership with the international community, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said at a Headquarters press conference today, following visits to Myanmar and the Philippines.
“I have to say, in all of the countries that I have visited in this past year, this stands out as a model of best practice where the Government and the international community are partnering in a very effective way,” said John Ging, Director of Operations of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He was referring to a major monsoon that struck the Philippines in 2012, affecting 6.2 million people and leaving 934,000 displaced.
Emphasizing that it was now essential to ensure that the country would “not fall off the international radar screen”, he said that of the $112 million humanitarian appeal, only $37.5 million, or 34 per cent, had been received. He urged the donor community, in spite of all other demands, “not to forget the people who have suffered incredibly due to this natural disaster”, and reminded aid providers that “we are making a very real difference, sustainable difference, through the effort under way”.
On Myanmar, Mr. Ging said the situation in Rakhine State and the recent inter-communal violence in Meikhtila had been the focus of his mission to that country. In Rakhine State, 127,000 people remained displaced following violence in June and October 2012, he said. The violence had resulted in 167 dead, 223 injured and 10,000 private, public and religious buildings damaged or destroyed. Adding to those woes, two camps located on patty fields and providing temporary shelter to 24,000 displaced persons would be completely under water when the monsoon season began over the next two months, he said, stressing that a solution must be found to relocate those people.
A humanitarian appeal seeking $67.6 million for Rakhine State had received only $39 million, Mr. Ging noted. He added that he had urged the Government of Myanmar to take up an offer of help from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Recalling his visit to OIC leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he noted that they had been “very conscious” of the sensitivities surrounding the Buddhist-Muslim conflict in Myanmar, and had offered assistance to all communities. “We firmly believe that OIC is also part of the solution,” he said.
On the recent inter-communal violence in Myanmar, he said people had been reported dead and 12,000 displaced in Mandalay State, where a state of emergency had been declared in four townships. Non-food items such as hygiene kits, temporary shelters, water and health-care materials, had been identified as initial needs.
Mr. Ging said he had discussed with the Government the situation in conflict-hit Kachin State, where more than 83,000 people remained displaced. Humanitarian aid workers were still struggling to gain access to 47,000 people in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization. “We are making progress in those discussions but it has not yet translated into substantial access,” he added.
Asked about a Human Rights Watch report that the Myanmar Government was blocking aid, Mr. Ging said he would not characterize it as “blocking”, but the Government must “do more to facilitate us” in gaining access. Despite sensitive public rhetoric, “this is the time for all political parties, the Government, religious and civil society leaders to step up and defuse these tensions, which have a tremendous capacity to spiral out of control at an alarming rate”, he warned.
When asked how much money OIC was offering in assistance to Myanmar, he said it had pledged to mobilize about $50 million. The OIC and the Myanmar Government had signed a memorandum of cooperation, but it had not yet been activated. “It’s an opportunity missed,” said Mr. Ging.
Asked to confirm a report that female aid workers had been sexually intimidated, he said he did not have a specific example, but intimidation of aid workers had been “very intense and aggressive”. Aid workers, particularly national staff, were courageous but frightened.
When asked to elaborate on the challenges in the Philippines, he said that unlike other countries where aid workers lacked access and security, the challenge there was not related to security and access problems, but to the gap between funding and needs on the ground, given the scale of the disaster.
To a question about funding for the crisis in Syria, he replied that it had been “very successful” compared with other appeals. The one for Syria had been met after Member States had pledged their contributions at the Kuwait Donor Conference. “The challenge is to see those pledges converted into cash,” he said, noting that humanitarian agencies had exhausted their reserves and needed cash to catch up with demand on the ground. There were plans for a follow-up discussion in the coming weeks, he said, inviting all Member States that had made pledges at the Kuwait Conference to attend.
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