United Nations Response System Can No Longer Cope, Economic and Social Council Told as It Begins Humanitarian Affairs Segment

23 June 2014

United Nations Response System Can No Longer Cope, Economic and Social Council Told as It Begins Humanitarian Affairs Segment

23 June 2014
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2014 Substantive Session

26th Meeting (PM)

United Nations Response System Can No Longer Cope, Economic and Social Council

Told as It Begins Humanitarian Affairs Segment


Under-Secretary-General Cites Funding Shortfalls, Urges More Preventive Diplomacy

With a burgeoning and increasingly complex caseload taxing the global humanitarian aid system, more funding and better ways to help and protect people in strife-torn countries from the Central African Republic to Syria were more vital than ever, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council began its three-day humanitarian affairs segment.

“We are encountering an immense challenge that we need to address effectively as an utmost priority,” said Ibrahim Dabbashi ( Libya), Vice-President of the Council.  “It is clear that global humanitarian action needs to change.”  No organization could meet the challenge alone, and all humanitarian hands must be on deck, including non-traditional actors already present on the ground and in a position to respond.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, reinforced that point.  “The way we have been doing business is not sustainable,” she said, calling for greater attempts at preventive diplomacy and early warning, among other strategies, to complement recent efforts to improve the assessment of needs and strategic planning.  Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening the coordination of United Nations humanitarian aid, she said current humanitarian relief costs had already surpassed the system’s capacity.  In the past year, requests for funding had nearly doubled, from $6 million to more than $10 million, while the number of people in need had jumped from 30 million to 70 million.  A record $16.9 billion had been sought in 2014 to help 50 million people suffering in conditions of conflict and disaster around the world, she noted.

Ireland’s representative noted that only $5.2 billion, or 30 per cent, of the $16.9 billion requested had been received.  In light of the enormous needs and the funding shortfall, available resources must be spent to maximum effect and reach those most in need, without delay.  Furthermore, a “gender lens” was essential in all humanitarian programming, because there was still a long way to ensuring that every humanitarian response addressed issues of gender and protection, sexual and gender-based violence in particular.

Pakistan’s representative said the $16.9 billion “price tag” was both exorbitant and inadequate.  Echoing Canada’s delegate, he said there must be a focus on resilience, preparedness and modern technology in carrying out humanitarian responses.  However, the best response was to tackle the root causes of crises, notably endemic poverty, underdevelopment and chronic neglect by the international community.

Both Bolivia’s delegate — speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China — and her counterpart from Uruguay emphasized that humanitarian responses must be carried out in compliance with the principles of neutrality, territorial integrity and international humanitarian law.  The increased number of people displaced or affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, especially in developing countries, had exacerbated the effects of climate change, the global food crisis, continuing food insecurity and the financial and economic crisis.  Greater efforts were needed to strengthen capacities and frameworks to better cope with related challenges.

The representatives of Greece — speaking for the European Union — and Switzerland said the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in 2016 would present an opportunity to make the humanitarian system more inclusive and accountable, and to set a realistic, ambitious agenda for future action.

Following the general debate, the Council held a high-level meeting on “Humanitarian action in the Central African Republic and neighbouring countries”, during which Ms. Amos noted that only 35 per cent of the $565 million requested in assistance for that country had been received.  Panellists discussed the security, political, development, human rights and financial challenges facing the Central African Republic, while delegates described the concerns of their respective Governments, as well as their financial and resource commitments to the country.

Participants included representatives of France, United States, Cameroon, United Kingdom, Finland, Spain, Luxembourg, Benin and Morocco.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 June, to hold a panel discussion on effective humanitarian assistance.


Meeting this afternoon to begin its three-day humanitarian affairs segment, the Economic and Social Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations” (document A/69/80-E/2014/68).

Opening Remarks

IBRAHIM DABBASHI ( Libya), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the meeting by saying that the international humanitarian system was struggling under the weight and expense of the growing global humanitarian caseload.  “We are encountering an immense challenge that we need to address effectively as an utmost priority,” he said.  “It is clear that global humanitarian action needs to change.”  No organization could meet the challenge alone.  Participation was needed by everyone, including non-traditional international humanitarian actors already in a position to respond.  Since every crisis was different, it was essential to develop and incorporate new ways of operating to better meet the needs of people in different crises.  Since complex emergencies needed the greatest amounts of aid and absorbed the most humanitarian resources and attention for years to come, it was essential to build a humanitarian system that could better help and protect people while tackling related challenges.

Introduction of Report

VALERIE AMOS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, introduced the Secretary-General’s report (document A/69/80-E/2014/68), saying that current humanitarian costs were surpassing the system’s ability to cope.  Requests for funding had nearly doubled from $6 million to more than $10 million during the past year, with the number of people in need having risen from 30 million to 70 million.  Although $16.9 billion had been raised in 2014 to help 50 million people impacted by conflicts and disasters around the world, there had been a significant increase of people impacted by armed conflict, to 33.2 million people, with 16.7 million having fled their homes.  Natural disasters had claimed 23,000 lives, affecting 100 million people and causing $118 billion in damage.

Specific emergencies behind those numbers were testing humanitarian capacities, including those in Yemen, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Asia and Africa, she continued, adding that reforming the United Nations response system was aimed at improving needs assessment and strategic planning.  In Syria, clean water and food were now reaching 4 million people every month and in the Central African Republic, there was a significant scaling up of response.  She also noted that harnessing technology between communities and aid workers had been a successful tool, one which she saw for herself in the Philippines.  However, with the growing number of complex conflicts, such as those in Iraq, Syria and Africa, and with conflicts and natural disasters creating severe food insecurity, “the way we have been doing business is not sustainable”, she said.  It was critical to change the system by enhancing preventive diplomacy and early warning, among other strategies.

General Debate

INGRID SABJA (Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the principles of respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must remain the overarching parameters guiding the coordination of humanitarian aid.  The increased number of people displaced or affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, especially in developing countries, had exacerbated the effects of climate change, the global food crisis, continuing food insecurity and the financial and economic crisis.  Greater efforts were needed to strengthen capacities and frameworks to better cope with such challenges.  “Complacency or inaction in response to such situations is inexcusable,” she said.

Calling for a multidimensional approach to humanitarian responses in order to better coordinate aid for internally displaced persons, she said States must comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention on protection and assistance to civilians in occupied territories.  Reliable data must inform humanitarian decision-making, and in that regard, it was essential to share information among Member States, and to ensure that the sharing of data led to the building of capacity in developing countries.  Resolutions on strengthening humanitarian aid and coordination were flawed as they attempted to cover under the same “umbrella” situations of armed conflict, natural disaster and complex humanitarian emergencies, which belonged in other areas of the United Nations.  Nonetheless, there was an opportunity for better collaboration among all parties involved, she said, emphasizing that the draft resolution before the Council must be adopted by consensus.

MICHEL SPINELLIS ( Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that the bloc was collectively the world’s biggest humanitarian donor.  With humanitarian needs worldwide growing dramatically faster than available funding, the current system, and to some extent the current humanitarian paradigm, must be adapted to the changing world.  Citing the “terrible examples” of Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan, as well as the many other emergencies that no longer received sufficient attention or funding because of the first three, he stressed the crucial importance of allowing humanitarians to do their work.

It was crucial to ensure protection of the most vulnerable in humanitarian emergencies, including refugees, and the “skyrocketing numbers” of internally displaced persons, he said, emphasizing also the need to meet the specific needs of women, girls, boy and men.  The policy discussions under way would feed directly into the World Humanitarian Summit, which must seize the opportunity to make the humanitarian system more inclusive and accountable, and to credibly carry the debate on the matter to every world region.  Humanitarian and development actors must make it their core task to raise preparedness levels and build resilience and capacity to reduce disaster risk, as a very cost-effective investment, compared to emergency response.

TIM MAWE ( Ireland) noted that, to date, only 30 per cent, or $5.2 billion, of the record $16.9 billion in aid requested by the United Nations in 2014 had been received.  Given the scale of funding required, as well as the ever-increasing gap between global aid needs and the resources to meet them, available funds must be spent to maximum effect and reach those most in need without delay, he emphasized.  The humanitarian response system must continue to be strengthened, with closer engagement by development colleagues in addressing the root causes of crises.  Even before the crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the two countries had been among the poorest and least developed in the world, due to years of endemic poverty, underdevelopment, weak democratic institutions and neglect by the international community.  There was still a long way to go in order to ensure that every humanitarian response addressed gender and protection issues, sexual and gender-based violence in particular, he said, adding that on Wednesday, his delegation would host a side event on the impact of gender equality programming on humanitarian outcomes.  A “gender lens” was essential in all humanitarian programming, he said, pointing out that at 2.7 per cent of the national budget, Ireland’s spending on sexual and gender-based violence was the highest of any donor as a percentage of development assistance.

GONZALO KONCKE ( Uruguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, urged the Economic and Social Council to contribute to an environment of trust by focusing its work on the non-political aspects of humanitarian activities.  He pointed out that, year after year, the Secretary-General’s report called for timely access to those in need, as prescribed by international humanitarian law, the preservation and strengthening of which represented an urgent need.  The international community must “redouble our efforts” in protecting the most vulnerable populations, such as women and girls, he said, adding that the contribution of civil society in that regard must be recognized and encouraged.

MANUEL BESSLER ( Switzerland) said that while the Transformative Agenda had had a positive impact on the collective efforts of humanitarian actors in the field, there was an urgent need to invest more in prevention and to improve the analysis of dangers and risks by strengthening the leadership and commitment of the States concerned.  Humanitarian action must be tailored to the specific context of each crisis, and the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence must not be questioned.  Expressing concern over the ever greater challenges of gaining access to victims of conflict and the security of humanitarian workers, he said he supported the United Nations “Rights up Front” action plan, which emphasized the need to respect and protect the rights of affected populations, as well as the December 2013 declaration by the heads of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which affirmed their commitment to the centrality of the principle of protection in all aspects of humanitarian action.  Switzerland was strongly committed to the World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in Istanbul in 2016, and hoped the process would make it possible to set an ambitious, realistic agenda for humanitarian action beyond that year.

GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI ( Canada) said that the efforts of the Under-Secretary-General and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in implementing the Transformative Agenda had already significantly improved leadership, coordination and accountability within the humanitarian system.  However, it was imperative to bolster and promote international, regional, national and community-based disaster risk reduction efforts.  A comprehensive approach to building resilience to diverse shocks such as financial crises, natural disasters and conflicts, was far less costly in lives and resources than responding after the fact, he emphasized.

YUSRA KHAN ( Pakistan) said the parties to the crisis in Syria were still seeking a military solution while non-combatants such as women and children were caught in the atrocities.  “The fighting must stop.  Guns must go silent,” so that diplomacy could have a chance to find a viable political solution, he emphasized.  Noting other conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, as well as natural disasters and disasters, he said the international humanitarian response had reached its limits, pointing out that $16 billion was both exorbitant and inadequate.  There must be a focus on resilience, preparedness and the use of technology in humanitarian responses.  Pakistan was implementing a comprehensive 10-year plan in responding to human-induced and natural disasters.  As for the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, he called for their repatriation and re-absorption into Afghanistan.

High-Level Meeting

The Council then held a high-level meeting on “Humanitarian action in Central African Republic and neighbouring countries”.

Moderated by Ms. Amos, the meeting featured presentations by Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response; Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Special Envoy for the Central African Republic, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC); and Marguerite Samba, Minister for Public Health, Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, Central African Republic.

Ms. AMOS opened the meeting by noting the hundreds of thousands of families torn apart, humanitarian violations and the rise in sectarian violence.  Humanitarian aid workers were supplying food and clean water, but with half a million displaced people, more was needed.  Of the requested funding of $565 million, only 35 per cent had been contributed, she said, requesting that all Member States contribute in any way possible, that operational partners deploy staff and equipment, and that regional States and actors with influence do even more to address the crisis, a critical need because the tragedy was having a huge impact on neighbouring countries.

Ms. GEORGIEVA said efforts to bring stability and peace would not succeed unless stakeholders stayed with the Central African Republic.  “We need to do that for the people there, but also for their neighbours.”  The whole region was “feeling the heat” of the crisis, she said, citing Cameroon, now hosting large numbers of refugees.  The President of the Transitional Government had three key priorities, “security, security, security”, but unless international assistance was provided to secure the country, the violence would not stop.  The European Union was now operating in the most difficult parts of Bangui, a direct and credible contribution, but it would nonetheless not be enough unless Member States raised their voices and provided additional peacekeeping assistance.  Funding was crucial in responding to the humanitarian crisis, and of the more than $200 million pledged, approximately, $180 million had been received.  However, another $4 million was still being “chased”, though it would only cover the first three months of “security level three”.  Although the European Union would be establishing a trust fund to finance recovery, rehabilitation and development, it was not good enough to bring the country back to where it had been before the tragedy.

Mr. GUTERRES pointed out that the crisis had been both predictable and predicted.  The Security Council had already been warned that a lack of funding would put the country back on the brink of disaster.  The money had not been available and the crisis had unfolded, with refugees now numbering nearly 400,000.  The crisis had always been there, he emphasized, pointing out that the recent transition to a new President had occurred through elections, and others through coups.  “What is different now is we have the State that disappears,” marked by deep divisions among people who used to live together, now no longer able to do so, he said.  Religious issues had been created by political manipulation, a global phenomenon that was resulting in the disintegration of States.  The key was to strengthen regional organizations and their interaction with the United Nations, he said, adding that a huge investment was needed in the political, security, and financial sectors.  Acknowledging the courage of African Union soldiers fighting and dying, as well as their lack of modern equipment, he emphasized that there was no way to achieve peace “on the cheap”.

Mr. GADIO said that, “from day one” OIC had been able to avoid the trap of religious confrontation, underlining that the crisis was not a religious war, but a political crisis using religion.  In its mediation, OIC had presented a platform from the outset, including the immediate and complete cessation of fighting, but the players had not been properly identified.  The political process had been placed on the back burner, as people dealt with the emergency situation and security questions.  However, political dialogue, as well as free and democratic elections, must be advocated.  Recalling the pleas of a Muslim father whose Christian wife had been forced to flee and to leave their three children behind, he stressed that OIC did not favour partitioning the country.  There was also good news, with contacts taking place between warring parties and ceasefire talks starting.  OIC’s plan was being discussed with other partners, and many neighbouring countries were in agreement with it.

Ms. SAMBA thanked the international community for all its support, and said her country had gone through several crises.  The last, most lethal and destabilizing, had begun in 2012 as an immediate consequence of failure to respect the political process.  She also emphasized the negative effect of the international media, saying they had portrayed the situation as a religious conflict instead of a community crisis.  In the context of humanitarian and security issues, there had been a slight improvement, giving reason for hope, she said.  Concerning women and girls, she said there was rapid intervention to help victims of sexual violence, and there were efforts to finalize a global intervention of medical and psychological support.  With international support, the Government could restore security, which was a major constraint on humanitarian action.  It was restoring the rule of law and national dialogue, and intended to restore constitutional activities through elections in 2015.  “All these young people cutting up people with machetes or with guns had lost hope,” making them easily manipulated by people of bad will, she said.

During the ensuing discussion, the representative of France said the situation in the Central African Republic was improving, thanks to help from French and African forces, as well as the European Union-led peacekeeping force.  That should encourage everyone to do more.  Pledges must be fulfilled and aid must be effective.  It was vital to restore security, reconstruct capacity, and strengthen the rule of law.  France supported the decision by the Government of the Central African Republic to place the most serious crimes committed on its territory since 2012 before the International Criminal Court, he said, adding that his Government had paid out 60 per cent of the €35 million it had pledged in urgent humanitarian assistance.

The representative of the United States, noting that her country had begun airlifts as a way to address the physical constraints of the Central African Republic, announced an additional pledge of $51 million for the urgent humanitarian response in that country, which would include a focus on gender-based violence, and provide seeds and tools for farmers.  The United States remained committed and focused on the immediate crisis and the longer-term complexity.

The representative of Switzerland said the outpouring of refugees into Chad and Cameroon illustrated the regional perspective of the crisis in the Central African Republic.  Switzerland would continue to provide humanitarian assistance, he said, encouraging development actors to help in terms of security-sector reform.

The representative of Cameroon said the international community must address the most urgent issues, namely the humanitarian situation, but the emergency phase should not overshadow the Central African Republic’s long-term development needs.

The representative of the United Kingdom stressed the importance of restoring security and civilian protection.  The United Kingdom had committed $40 million in relief since July 2013, he said, strongly encouraging others to come forward with support.

The representative of Finland announced an additional contribution of €1.5 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) for the regional response plan.

The representative of Spain said the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of rape as a weapon of war could perhaps have been avoided.  Spain was contributing to security in the Central African Republic, having provided a transport airplane to the French-led mission and 100 personnel to the European Union operation within the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

The representative of Canada said longer-term efforts at peacebuilding would be essential, and his Government had paid $5 million in support to MINUSCA since 2013.

The representative of Ireland said his Government had been one of the top 10 international donors to the Central African Republic since 2007.  It had given $14 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund for that country since its creation.  Religion was not the root cause of the violence, but rather years of poverty, weak democratic institutions and neglect by the international community.  He stressed the need to build resilience so the country could move from relief to development.

The representative of Luxembourg expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis and the impact on neighboring countries, firmly condemning lethal attacks against civilians and the humanitarian personnel.  All perpetrators of serious crimes against children must be held accountable.  Luxembourg had given €1 million in aid to the Common Humanitarian Fund in the first half of 2013, and had since increased its commitment to €4 million.

The representative of Benin called for stronger initiatives to end the crisis in the Central African Republic, pointing out that only 82 per cent of the humanitarian aid pledges had been met.  The international community must do more to ensure that the necessary resources were available.

The representative of Morocco expressed concern over the worsening security situation in Bangui and the displacement of the local population.  Ethnic cleaning could lead to the country breaking up, he warned.  Morocco was considering various options for providing humanitarian aid, he said, appealing to donors to fulfil their pledges.

Ms. GEORGIEVA, in closing remarks, applauded France for being at the forefront of the response in the Central African Republic, and called on all donors to deliver on their promises, go to the country and do more.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.