11 July 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Recent Activities of Emergency Relief Coordinator


A worsening drought and increasing pressure on scarce resources threatened to push Ethiopia into “famine-like conditions”, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today in a Headquarters press conference on the heels of her recent visit to that country.

An estimated 3.2 million people in Ethiopia were currently receiving food assistance, said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, adding that the figure would soon be revised to 4.6 million.  In the Ethiopian region bordering Somalia — which had been flooded with refugees crossing the border — nearly one third of the population was in need of aid, she said, stressing:  “The need to do more now is urgent.”  Women and children had been hard hit, with some forced to walk for up to five hours to receive aid, she said, adding that many families had lost their livestock and livelihoods.

Despite the poor conditions, however, an estimated 1,700 refugees from Somalia were still entering Ethiopia every day, putting further pressure on already-stretched humanitarian resources, Ms. Amos said.  Donors had been generous, but more funds would be needed to avoid a descent into famine.  As the drought was expected to continue worsening, it was also essential to plan long-term strategies — including more sustainable methods of harvesting rainwater and plans to improve access to basic health services, she said, adding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called an interagency meeting, to be held on 12 July, to assess the United Nations response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Ms. Amos went on to brief on her recent visit to Nigeria, a country that she noted was playing an increasingly important role in world affairs.  As the fourth largest contributor of military personnel and police, Nigeria was a critical player in United Nations peacekeeping, and was widening its impact in global humanitarian affairs, having recently made contributions to Haiti’s recovery efforts, in addition to giving $100,000 to the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund.  Nigeria was now both a contributor to the Fund as well as a recipient from it, she pointed out.

She said that during her visit to the capital, Abuja, she had met with officials of both the Government of Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in which the country played a major role.  Discussions had focused on disaster risk reduction, humanitarian assistance and the challenge of internal displacement, which had been the subjects of a regional ministerial conference held in Abuja this month.  Ms. Amos expressed hope that more States would ratify the African Union’s Kampala Convention, the first legally binding regional instrument to impose the obligation to prevent internal displacement and assist those displaced.  “We must stop accepting internal displacement” as an inevitable consequence of violence and disaster, she emphasized, calling on States to do more.

Asked about the relationship between conflict, security and internal displacement in the countries she had visited, Ms. Amos said her meetings in Ethiopia had addressed the impact of the country’s general security situation on humanitarian access.  The ability of humanitarian workers to gain access to some parts of the country was limited, she said, noting that she had spoken with high-level Ethiopian officials about the need to develop a general framework for improving access.  “Of course, conflict exacerbates the number of people who move,” she added.

In response to a question about the recent clashes between Nigerian security forces and the extremist Boko Haram Islamist group, Ms. Amos said it was too early to say whether such security-related events would lead to a humanitarian crisis.  Pointing out that inter-religious and regional tensions had long existed in Nigeria, she stressed that there was no sign that the tensions were noticeably more severe than they had been in the past.

Asked about the response of the United Nations to the Kenyan Government’s rejection of a request to build a new refugee camp at Dadaab, on the Kenya-Somalia border, Ms. Amos said she was “very disappointed” with the Government’s decision since the facilities in the camp were extremely overcrowded and conditions around the region were deteriorating.  The Organization was engaged in discussions with the Government while exploring other options, she added.

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For information media • not an official record