18 January 2005


Press Release

Fifty-ninth General Assembly


77th & 78th Meetings (AM & PM)

Secretary-General describes earthquake-tsunami devastation, as resumed


fifty-ninth General Assembly session extends condolences to victims

While Lauding International Response, Assembly President

Emphasizes Need to Strengthen Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance

Once-vibrant communities had suddenly ceased to exist in the wake of the 26 December earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, as the General Assembly resumed its fifty-ninth session to extend its condolences to the victims of the devastating natural disaster.

The Organization’s top official said that during his recent tour of the three hardest-hit countries –- Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldive islands –- he had seen families torn asunder and looked into the eyes of fishermen whose silence expressed their loss as no words could.  Yet, he had also seen examples of the best that humanity had to offer.

He said the governments of the affected countries had moved quickly to do their part, joining forces with civil society and the private sector.  Neighbouring countries, affected or not, had moved to help those struck by the disaster.  More than 60 governments worldwide had offered contributions, including official pledges that now stood at $739 million -- more than 75 per cent of what had been requested in the Jakarta Flash Appeal -- while the worldwide response from the general public and private sector amounted to nearly $1 billion.

Describing the present time as a moment of mourning, General Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) noted that, to date, the disaster had killed more than 175,000 people, injured 5 million, and displaced an estimated 1 million others.  Thus, while the international community’s exceptional mobilization was welcome, the frequency and scope of natural disasters in recent years attested to the need to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian assistance, and to establish a global early-warning system for natural disasters.

Acknowledging that natural events could not always be foreseen, he said that appropriate measures to manage and predict their destructive effects could be established.  In that regard, the draft resolution before the Assembly emphasized the need to step up efforts to provide the United Nations with the machinery to manage, prevent, attenuate and give early warning of natural disasters.  It would constitute a decisive step forward in achieving that vital objective.

From the vantage point of the country hit hardest by the disaster, the representative of Indonesia expressed his support for the establishment of a regional early-warning system, as proposed at the 6 January ministerial meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, as well as for the creation of a regional Humanitarian Rapid Response Capacity.  Ongoing relief efforts in Indonesia had brought some normalcy to communities affected by the disaster, yet such support must be maintained during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases.

Speaking for the second-most affected country, Sri Lanka’s representative noted that his island nation had had little reason to worry about tsunamis prior to 26 December 2004 as there had been no such experience in living memory.  Yet, its northern, eastern, southern and south-western coastal areas had absorbed the brunt of the killer wave.  And while the subsequent outpouring of sympathy and solidarity by the international community had lifted people’s spirits, financial assistance alone would be insufficient for recovery.  In addition to aid and debt relief, developed countries could accelerate recovery by granting market access under concessionary terms for the exports of affected countries for a specific period, among other measures.

Thailand’s representative said that, as the host of a forthcoming ASEAN ministerial meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements, his country’s Government would propose the creation of a voluntary trust fund for the establishment of such a mechanism in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia.  Additionally, it had pledged $10 million as seed money for that fund.  Having already contributed more than $1 million towards regional relief efforts, Thailand would continue to help coordinate relief and rehabilitation for other affected countries.

Also underscoring the importance of early-warning systems, the representative of the Maldives cautioned that such mechanisms would be insufficient in future events of similar magnitude.  For that reason, the Maldives had developed a “Safe Island Programme”, by which it intended to resettle populations exposed to high levels of danger onto larger and safer islands.  The island nation also wished to request that the General Assembly suspend implementation of its recent decision to graduate it from the list of least developed countries until national conditions had improved to pre-tsunami socio-economic levels.

Proper warning would have saved countless lives on the other side of the Indian Ocean, Somalia’s representative affirmed.  Almost eight hours after the tsunami had struck Asia, Somali fishing communities had had no idea of the wave’s approach.  The resulting death toll had been estimated at 500, with more than 100,000 displaced and left homeless.  With a proper warning system in the Indian Ocean, those eight hours would have been adequate to evacuate and save countless lives.

Also addressing the world body today were the representatives of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (on behalf of ASEAN), India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Guinea (on behalf of the Group of African States), Honduras (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Kazakhstan (on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization), Syria, Russian Federation, Israel, Egypt, United States, Morocco, Japan, South Africa, Australia, China, Tunisia, Bahrain, Norway, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Turkey, Monaco, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Belarus, Brazil, Bangladesh, Iceland and Jamaica.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 19 January, to conclude its discussion and to take action on the related draft resolution.

Statement by General Assembly President

JEAN PING (Gabon), President of the General Assembly, noted that the world body met today during a period of mourning following the earthquake and tsunami that hit Indian Ocean countries and the South-East Asian region on 26 December 2004. At present, the disaster’s toll amounted to more than 175,000 individuals dead -– half of them children -- 5 million casualties, and an estimated 1 million individuals displaced.  Meanwhile, the ecological destruction wrought by the disaster remained immeasurable.

He emphasized that the frequency and scope of natural disasters in recent years attested to the need for the international community to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian assistance and to establish a global early-warning system for natural disasters.  It should also be recognized that the international community had mobilized in an exceptional manner in the face of the present disaster, and it was to be hoped that all pledges to assist recovery efforts would be honoured.  Moreover, the decisive role played by the United Nations every day in coordinating and managing humanitarian assistance was welcome.

One could not always foresee natural events, he acknowledged, but appropriate measures to manage and to foresee their destructive effects could be established.  In that regard, the convening today of the International Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, was welcome.  The draft resolution proposed by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN,) was also welcome.  It emphasized the need to step up efforts to provide the United Nations with the machinery for the management, prevention, attenuation and early warning of natural disasters.  The draft would constitute a decisive step forward in achieving that vital objective.

Statement by Secretary-General

KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he had just toured three of the countries most affected by the tsunami disaster -- Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where once-vibrant communities had suddenly ceased to exist.  He had looked into the eyes of fishermen whose silence expressed their loss as no words could.  He had seen families torn asunder, mothers inconsolable, livelihoods gone.  But he had also seen examples of the best that humanity had to offer.

He said that the governments of the affected countries had moved quickly to do their part, with civil society and the private sector joining forces with them, and communities organizing themselves spontaneously and reaching out to their neighbours.  In Aceh, displaced persons were being sheltered in government houses and schools; and in Sri Lanka, families were housed and cared for in a mosque, whatever their religion or ethnicity.  Neighbouring countries, whether affected or not, had helped those hardest hit, while more than 60 governments worldwide had offered pledges and contributions.  The United Nations had mobilized itself early and quickly, combining its efforts with those of affected governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and countries deploying military assets.

Official pledges now stood at $739 million, more than 75 per cent of what had been asked for in the Jakarta Flash Appeal, he said.  There had also been an unprecedented response worldwide from the general public and private sector, whose contributions now totalled almost $1 billion.  The World Food Programme (WFP) was feeding more than 300,000 people, and the World Health Organization (WHO) was providing technical support for water, nutrition, sanitation, immunization and women’s health, and monitoring for communicable diseases.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing shelter, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had shipped tonnes of education materials to help get children back to school.  At the same time, the long-term challenges were considerable.  The international community must focus on longer-term recovery and reconstruction, and ensure that there would be no gaps in future funding efforts.

Other Statements

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) introduced the draft resolution on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster on behalf of ASEAN, noting that the disaster had been unprecedented in magnitude.  Its consequences had led ASEAN to request a resumed session of the General Assembly in order to express sincere condolences to the victims and to hold a special ministerial meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, to respond to the urgent needs of affected communities.  Against that backdrop, ASEAN expressed profound appreciation to the peoples and governments represented today, as well as to all NGOs and citizens of the world, for the tremendous outpouring of support and assistance in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

He said ASEAN underscored the medium- and long-term social, economic and environmental impact of the disaster on affected States and held it essential that the international media maintain their focus on the long-term impact of the tsunami.  For, once media attention faded away, the international community might mistakenly believe that life had returned to normal in the affected countries.  Similarly, the international community must maintain its focus beyond the present emergency relief in order to sustain the political will to support the medium- and long-term reconstruction and risk-reduction efforts of the affected countries.  Thus, the heads of State and government who had met in Jakarta had requested the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative and to convene a conference to address the needs of the affected countries for the medium and long term.

Finally, he stressed that there were priceless lessons to be derived from the catastrophe.  First, the international community had seen that all could be affected by disasters that affected entire regions and spared no one’s life or property.  Secondly, international, regional and national organizations must enhance their coordination efforts to minimize the casualties.  Third, countries must work together ahead of time and at the subregional, regional and international levels to respond quickly to immediate humanitarian needs.  Fourth, risk reduction depended upon effective communication and information sharing; the link between scientific institutions and national and local authorities must be strengthened to avoid human, economic and social losses from such disasters.

REZLAN ISHAR JENIE (Indonesia) said that relief efforts in his country had brought some normalcy to communities affected by the disaster by ensuring the availability of health care, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs.  However, such support must be maintained during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases, which required different approaches and facilities to address victims’ needs, especially those of the 700,000 displaced persons in Aceh.  Efforts were already being undertaken by the Indonesian Armed Forces, local authorities and volunteers, and United Nations agencies to set up 24 relocation centres to provide accommodation for the displaced.  The Government had also set up a Joint Disaster Management Centre in Jakarta, and the Coordination Minister for People’s Welfare was currently on the spot in Aceh coordinating relief there.

He stressed that a regional early-warning system should be set up to prevent the huge loss of life and property that had resulted from the tsunami.  Indonesia also supported the proposal for a Regional Tsunami Early Warning Centre for the Indian Ocean and the South-East Asia region.  Similarly, during the ASEAN Standing Committee meeting, currently in Jakarta, it had been proposed to establish an ASEAN Humanitarian Rapid Response Capacity as a regional institution to speedily mobilize and deploy civilian and military personnel in addressing emergency situations in ASEAN countries.

BERNARD GOONETILLEKE (Sri Lanka) noted that his country, situated far from the earthquake zone, had had little reason to worry about such natural disasters.  In Sri Lanka’s living memory, there had been no experience of tsunami; the very terminology to describe that phenomenon had not even existed until the fateful day of 26 December 2004.  Yet, the country’s northern, eastern, southern and south-western coastal areas had absorbed the brunt of the killer wave.  As the second-most affected country, Sri Lanka had lost nearly 40,000 individuals.  And, in addition to that staggering death toll, the situation of the survivors remained disturbing.  More than half a million had been displaced; and providing shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and health care to such a vast number was a monumental task.

The tsunami had also dealt a crippling blow to two vital economic sectors, the fisheries industry and tourism in coastal areas, he stressed.  Destruction and damage to other infrastructure -– such as schools, hospitals, roads, rails, bridges, power lines, drainage systems and telecommunications -– was also massive.  Yet, at a time when Sri Lankans felt that they had been left alone to suffer, the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from the international community had lifted their spirits.  Within days, relief supplies and rescue and medial personnel had been at hand.  To those who had responded, Sri Lanka owed a deep debt of gratitude.  However, financial assistance alone would not be sufficient for recovery.  In addition to aid and debt relief measures, developed countries could take other measures to provide relief and accelerate recovery, including through the granting of market access under concessionary terms to the exports of affected countries for a specific period.

PRAVIT CHAIMONGKOL (Thailand) said his country had now moved from post-disaster relief to reconstruction, and the priority had shifted from providing basic necessities to rehabilitating livelihoods, infrastructure, and the environment.  The Government had approved $700 million to help its people set up temporary shelters, compensate household damages and provide sanitary measures and health-care assistance.  It had also approved tax breaks for affected individuals and corporate entities.  Thailand had contributed more than $1 million towards regional relief efforts, and would continue to help coordinate relief and rehabilitation for other affected countries.

He stressed that a major lesson learned from the tsunami disaster was the urgent need for prevention.  Countries could no longer remain complacent or neglect the environment.  Thailand would be hosting the Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements in Phuket at the end of January to expedite the setting up of effective, functioning, real-time early-warning arrangements covering the Indian Ocean Rim region.  A significant amount of financial resources would be needed to realize that objective, however, and Thailand would propose in Phuket that a voluntary trust fund on regional early-warning arrangement in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia be established as soon as possible.  Thailand had pledged $10 million as seed money for that fund.

MOHAMED LATHEEF (Maldives) noted that the tsunami had swept the length and breadth of his country, leaving behind an unprecedented path of destruction.  Out of 199 inhabited islands, 53 had been severely damaged, with 13 requiring total evacuation.  One third of the population had been directly affected, with their homes, livelihoods and access to basic services either totally or partially destroyed.  National authorities, in collaboration with the United Nations and friendly countries, were now struggling to provide immediate relief and to prevent the outbreak of disease from damaged water and sanitation systems, disrupted living conditions, water contamination and lack of access to basic services.  The tsunami had also plunged the tourism and fishing industries into disarray, and a proper assessment of the damage to the country’s infrastructure had yet to be made.

Only six days before the disaster, he added, the General Assembly had decided to graduate the Maldives from the list of least developed countries (LDCs).  Yet, within minutes, the country’s livelihood, hopes and aspirations had been washed into the sea.  The disaster now required the nation to turn its attention to rebuilding, and to aim for “recovery plus”.  Thus, while fully appreciating the Assembly’s decision to graduate the country, the Government wished to suggest suspending the implementation of General Assembly resolution 59/210 –- concerning its graduation from the LDC list -- until conditions had improved in order to bring the country back to its pre-tsunami socio-economic level.  The Maldives also wished to join others in emphasizing the importance of establishing a Tsunami Early Warning System in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and other regions.  However, early warning would be insufficient in future events of similar magnitude, and, for that reason, the country had also developed a “Safe Island Programme”, by which it intended to resettle populations exposed to high levels of danger onto larger and safer islands.  That plan would also result in more rational and sustainable development.

NIRUPAM SEN (India) said that offers of external assistance following the disaster were vital in assuring people they were not alone in dealing with their enormous losses. India had not required such assistance, since its experience with previous disasters had allowed it to develop well defined response mechanisms.  The Government believed firmly that development could not be sustainable unless disaster management was built into it at all levels.  It was also clear that other affected countries had greater need of international relief than India.

Stressing the particular vulnerabilities of small island developing States, he noted that the recent conference in Mauritius had emphasized the need to set up early-warning systems, telecommunication links and satellite facilities in coping with natural disasters.  India was prepared to cooperate with the international community and the Indian Ocean region to establish them.

In dealing with the aftermath of the tsunamis, the Indian Government had spent some $250 million in India and a substantial amount in other affected countries, focusing now on reconstruction and rehabilitation, he said.  Sustained political will would be needed for long-term reconstruction in the affected countries, and the role of the United Nations and multilateral institutions in implementing quick programmes would be critical.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) said the convening of the Assembly’s resumed session marked a crucial step in the international community’s follow-up efforts to the tsunami disaster, including in addressing the medium- and long-term needs of affected countries.  While the fact that the tsunami had affected Malaysia had come as a shock, the Government had immediately focused on responding to victims’ needs.  However, other affected countries deserved much more international attention than Malaysia, which could cope with the burden of response.  It would continue to respond to other countries’ needs and had been among the first to dispatch search-and-rescue teams, as well as medical teams, to Banda Aceh.  The country’s air force had ferried medicine, medical supplies and equipment to that region, and the navy had dispatched ships to carry food, shelter and water supplies.

Malaysian airports had been used as staging points for the delivery of relief supplies, he said, adding that private-sector and national contributions to recovery in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka together amounted to more than 53 million ringats.  While it was not possible to prevent natural disasters, much could be done to mitigate their effects.  Malaysia would extend its fullest cooperation to any initiative to provide the necessary capacity for such efforts.  However, the high cost of setting an early-warning infrastructure would necessitate the United Nations’ continued involvement in that effort.  At the national level, 90 million ringats had been approved to establish a national early-warning system.  Malaysia advocated the alleviation of hardship and the acceleration of recovery efforts through international debt cancellation.  It was to be hoped that countries in a position to do so would consider taking such far-reaching steps in the name of humanitarianism.

U KYAW TINT SWE (Myanmar) said his country had suffered only minimal damage compared to other seriously affected nations.  The earthquake and tsunami disaster had resulted in 59 people dead, three missing and 43 injured.  It had destroyed 592 houses in 17 villages along the coast, leaving 3,205 homeless.  The Government had immediately sent a team headed by the Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement to the worst-hit areas to provide food, drinking water, clothing and medical supplies.  The country had also been working with such organizations as the Red Cross, the Auxiliary Fire Brigade, the Union Solidarity and Development Organization, and the Maternal and Child Welfare Association to assist in relief efforts.

In responding to the tsunami disaster, the international community should provide not only emergency relief, but assistance for medium- and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction, he said.  It should also work on a plan to prevent such loss of lives and property if a similar natural disaster should strike again.  The catastrophe had underscored the urgent need to develop a regional system to warn about future tsunamis.

JEAN-MARC HOSCHEIT (Luxembourg), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, noted that the citizens of more than 50 countries had perished in the disaster and that the Union itself had not been spared.  Thousands of Europeans had died or were missing in the catastrophe.  Yet, in the wake of the destruction, the international community’s reaction had been swift and generous.  Already, nearly 75 per cent of the United Nations’ Indian Ocean Earthquake-Tsunami Flash Appeal requirements had been met.  To date, commitments by the European Union and its member countries stood at more than €1.5 billion -– approximately
$2 billion.  That exceptional amount would cover immediate humanitarian needs and support longer-term reconstruction and development efforts.

Stressing the need to ensure that resources released in response to recent events supplemented development commitments already made, and that other emergencies were not forgotten, he reiterated the European Union’s support for the United Nations’ essential role in coordinating ongoing efforts on the ground.  The Organization’s role in humanitarian response must be strengthened and various options deserved studied attention.  Within the Union, several initiatives had been put forward, including the creation of an “international humanitarian force”.  Having made clear at the Geneva donors’ conference that its solidarity with the affected countries would not falter, the Union now emphasized the need to look ahead.  A comprehensive financial aid package was being prepared, and ministers would meet again to examine all medium- and long-term measures with a view to establishing an operational action plan.

ALPHA IBRAHIMA SOW (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the disaster had brought global tragedy, sending unprecedented shock waves to all corners of the globe.  There was an urgent need to seek integrated and lasting responses to natural disasters and now was a vital time to agree on measures strengthening emergency relief, not only for the effects of tsunamis, but also in response to cyclones, hurricanes, drought, desertification and locusts.  Attention must also be paid to sea-level rises due to global warming, which were threatening millions of people living on coastlines worldwide.

He said it was clear that the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction opening today in Kobe, Japan, would serve as a framework for implementation of the results arising from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.  It must also find ways to rapidly implement proposals advocating an early-warning system for natural disasters that would cover all regions of the globe.  The international community and donors must maintain their support of tsunami-affected countries throughout the rehabilitation and reconstruction stages and extend their assistance to other humanitarian or political crises.

MARCO ANTONIO SUAZO (Honduras), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States, said that no one had dreamed the past year could end with such catastrophe.  While the Latin American and Caribbean region had experienced its share of natural disasters in recent years, and which had proved to be more destructive than war and civil strife, none had equalled the devastation wrought by the 26 December earthquake and tsunami.  Yet, the disaster had demonstrated the international community’s capacity to respond to such disaster in a heroic manner.

Natural disasters remained unavoidable, he acknowledged, but some of their devastation could be prevented through early warning mechanisms, and by acting strategically to tackle poverty, environmental degradation and improving urban planning.  The Group of Latin American and CaribbeanStates thus wished to stress the importance of the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of small island developing States, and to urge increased coordination among the United Nations and other international organizations and agencies in responding to the present humanitarian emergency.  It also shared the concern expressed recently over declining resources for emergency assistance.  After interest in a tragedy shifted, some pledges were withdrawn, relief organizations moved on and reconstruction projects were abandoned, he noted.

YERZHAN KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan), speaking on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, said the tsunami catastrophe was the largest natural disaster the United Nations had had to respond to in the 60 years of its existence.  The Organization had launched one of the biggest relief operations ever to assist the affected countries, operating on the frontline with countries in the region.  No agency or single country was capable of dealing alone with the effects of the disaster, and the international community must pool its efforts to ensure that intervention had the maximum impact.  To that end, a substantial amount of money and effort would be required over an extensive period.

He said that the catastrophe had triggered debates among scientists and politician on how to establish a more effective early-warning system to deal with similar disasters in the future.  Some 2,000 international experts and officials from about 150 countries had gathered today in Kobe, Japan, to participate in the World Conference on Disaster Reduction.  Under such timely and overwhelming circumstances, the Conference should identify methods to enhance and set up regional mechanisms for surveillance, early warning, assessment and prevention of natural disasters.

AHMED ABDI HASHI (Somalia) said that almost eight hours after the tsunami hit Asia, the fishing communities of his country had no idea that the wave was coming.  As a result, the Somali death toll from the tsunami had been estimated at 500, with more than 100,000 people displaced and left homeless.  Yet, with a proper warning system in the Indian Ocean, those eight hours would have been adequate to evacuate and save countless lives.  The effects of the tsunami would leave a lasting mark on Somalia for years to come.

Homes, roads, hospitals and schools had been destroyed, and local fishing communities decimated, he said.  The displaced were being sheltered under plastic sheeting provided by UNICEF, but they had little access to clean water, sanitation and other basic services.  Moreover, the country’s coastal geography in affected regions had been altered, forcing people to resettle farther inland. The makeshift camps were overcrowded and there was a risk of disease outbreaks.  United Nations agencies and other non-governmental organizations were doing their best to respond, but the need for a better-coordinated assessment of the damage remained.  Even prior to the tsunami, the region had suffered under a dire humanitarian situation.  Coupled with the tsunami, that situation posed a formidable challenge to the new Government of Somalia.  All nations should help alleviate the impact of the crisis, and those in a position to do so should evince a continued commitment to the long-term reconstruction of all affected countries.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that the tsumani disaster, which had stricken the conscience of the entire world, stressed the need for the international community to act collectively and immediately.  The response to the catastrophe had demonstrated international solidarity in the face of an unprecedented disaster that had beset mankind as a whole.  Syria had sent medications, water and blankets to the victims, and was trying to get those provisions to them as quickly as possible.

He said the international meeting in Jakarta on 6 January had helped coordinate relief and international efforts, making it possible to develop an international plan to deal with the tragedy’s effects.  Syria called upon the international community to ensure that affected countries were assisted beyond the tragedy’s physical and psychological effects.  It must continue to coordinate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.  Awareness must also be raised in the prevention of natural disasters, not only in the affected region, but in all areas of the world.

NIKOLAY CHULKOV (Russian Federation) said his country had begun to send humanitarian assistance to affected countries the day after the catastrophe.  Among other efforts, it had dispatched a search-and-rescue team to Sri Lanka, as well as water treatment units, tents, blankets, decontamination units, sanitation teams and food supplies.  To Thailand, it had dispatched more than three tonnes of clean drinking water and sanitation teams; and in Indonesia, it had begun to airlift medical personnel and equipment to establish a field hospital on Sumatra.  Moreover, 20,000 tonnes of grain had been sent to those three countries, and additional aircraft would be dispatched to the region to deliver water treatment units, hospitals and other humanitarian supplies.

In addition to its bilateral aid, the Russian Federation had participated in multilateral efforts, he said.  It had attended ASEAN’s meeting in Jakarta as an observer, and the World Conference for Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan.  At the recent Geneva donors’ conference, the Russian Federation had announced the allocation of more than $30 million for recovery efforts.  However, there was a growing need to predict emergency situations and to prepare for them in advance.  National early-warning systems must be strengthened, and a global warning system for major natural disasters put in place.  In all such activities, the United Nations must continue to play a major coordinating role.

DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said his country had put its capabilities and know-how in dealing with disasters at the disposal of those nations struck by the tsunami.  It had contributed financially to the relief efforts of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and a plane from El Al Airlines had recently flown to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, carrying 85 tonnes of emergency aid materials donated by Israeli organizations and companies.  Emergency kitchens were providing hot meals for some 4,000 people per day, an Israeli mobile medical clinic had been set up, and a separate medical delegation specializing in trauma had begun work in Sri Lanka.  Israeli aid to Indonesia had included 16 tonnes of baby food, 30 tonnes of rice, flour, water, sugar, and grain, and 20 tonnes of medicines.  In addition, Israeli NGOs had donated two water purification systems, and 12 communication networks.

Although the world had just witnessed the depths of cruelty that nature was capable of unleashing, it was now seeing the extent to which international brotherhood could fuse people in times of real need, he said.  It was to be hoped that the sense of international solidarity brought on by relief efforts was not temporary or isolated, and that empathy for the suffering did not end at the shores of the affected countries.

TAREK ADEL (Egypt) said the response to the present emergency required coordination among the United Nations and the international community, including for the provision of assistance in a coherent and diversified manner in the medium and long term.  The freezing of external debt repayments would also facilitate recovery efforts.  All Member States should support the resolution presently before the Assembly.

During last fall’s debate on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance, Egypt had stressed the need for a better-integrated approach to addressing natural disasters in their various stages, he recalled.  Among its efforts to alleviate the suffering of those affected, Egypt had established an airlift to provide food and medical equipment and assistance to countries based on their priorities.  Egypt wished to express full solidarity with the States and peoples stricken by the disaster.

ANNE PATTERSON (United States) said it was imperative that reconstruction efforts in the tsunami-affected region include the establishment of a warning system to reduce the likelihood that widespread death and destruction from such a disaster occurred again.  The United States strongly supported a global warning system, conducted under the aegis of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), and encouraged countries interested in developing such a system to do so through the GEOSS consortium of 54 nations.  The GEOSS represented an already-existing framework for international coordination, dealing with data-sharing and availability issues.

She said that a detection and monitoring system for tsunamis must be complemented by an assessment of existing warning capabilities, training of local officials, installation of national and local warning communications systems, and public education that would enable citizens in susceptible areas to respond appropriately to warnings.  National and local officials in threatened nations must be prepared to respond to warnings within minutes, and communicate warnings to local populations via sirens, mass media, specialized radio systems, and other notification technologies.  Finally, monitoring and warning systems should be designed to alert at-risk populations about all major hazards in their area, not just tsunamis and earthquakes.

MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco), noting that his country had had its own recent experience of deadly natural disasters, joined those countries affected by the tsunami disaster in their grief.  Morocco had done its part to assist the disaster’s victims, sending pharmaceuticals and other emergency relief assistance.  In addition, Moroccan individuals and NGOs had been active in the region.  Their generosity and solidarity, and that of others around the world, testified to the awareness that all lived on one planet and were jointly affected by such disasters.

Although considerable, the funds pledged to date would not suffice to rebuild those countries damaged by the disaster, he warned.  There was a need for sustained support from the international community, including to reweave those countries’ socio-economic fabric and to rebuild their infrastructure.  There was also a need to take into account the need for disaster-risk assessment and reduction needs, and to establish an early-warning mechanism.  The World Conference on Disaster Reduction, opening today in Kobe, Japan, provided the opportunity to pinpoint foreseeable risks.  Regions affected by poverty, among other factors, remained more vulnerable to natural disasters, a factor that should also be addressed.

KENZO OSHIMA (Japan) said an early warning system was vital in mitigating the damage and suffering tsunamis could cause after a massive earthquake.  The United Nations Conference on Disaster Reduction had just opened in Kobe, Japan, and his country had proposed a special session at the Conference that would be dedicated to discussing the establishment of a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia region.  The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other relevant agencies, working with the donor community, should play a key role in such efforts, building on the experience and expertise gained from the Pacific Ocean early-warning system.  Japan would contribute the necessary knowledge and expertise that it had acquired over the centuries from many earthquakes and tsunamis.

Nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population lived in areas that had experienced at least one serious natural disaster over the past 20 years, he said.  Nevertheless, the impact of natural disasters was underestimated by the international community, including agencies of the United Nations system.  Insufficient political will had been mobilized to address disaster reduction, particularly their effect on development.  If awareness of the need for an early-warning system was one lesson learned from the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, another lesson that should be learned was the need to enhance political will in coping with natural disasters, by incorporating disaster prevention and mitigation into national development planning.

DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa), noting with appreciation the response of the many countries that had given assistance to the victims, said the United Nations had responded promptly and in such a manner as to do the Organization proud.  However, it was donations by people of all ages and from all walks of life and every corner of the world that were particularly heart-warming.  That response reaffirmed that solidarity remained possible in addressing global disasters.

South Africa supported the appointment by the Secretary-General of a special representative to coordinate humanitarian support for the United Nations system, he said.  The urgent establishment of an International Disaster Fund was also supported, in order to enable the Organization to respond to the immediate needs of those affected by disasters while more long-term assistance was being mobilized.  Furthermore, South Africa supported the establishment of a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean.  Overall, recent events, including the toll of Hurricane Ivan on Grenada and Haiti, had shown that developing countries did not have the domestic resources necessary to recover on their own.  Underdevelopment remained a permanent threat, which must be addressed in such forums as the forthcoming September 2005 high-level event.

PETER TESCH (Australia) noted that regional cooperation had swung in immediately to respond to the December tsunami disaster.  Reflecting its commitment to the Asian region, Australia had provided $60 million in relief, targeting priority needs.  In addition to emergency assistance, it had provided another $1 billion towards a partnership with Indonesia for reconstruction and development, recognizing that emergency relief was just the tip of the iceberg.  It had also sent assistance in the form of its military and police, who had assisted with victim-identification services.  In addition, the Australian public had contributed some $190 million to the relief and rebuilding effort.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that, as a natural disaster-prone developing country, China understood the damage and suffering of those affected.  In the wake of the catastrophe, the Government had immediately launched a foreign disaster-relief operation, and had to date pledged $60.5 million in assistance. The country was also considering reducing the debts of those countries hardest hit by the disaster.  Moreover, individual donations in China had now exceeded $12.1 million, and more than 500 million Hong Kong dollars had been raised in the Special Administrative Region.  Additionally, the Macao Special Administrative Region had dispatched a rescue team to the disaster area.

Recalling China’s pledge of $20 million for multilateral relief and reconstruction efforts within the framework of the United Nations, made at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Jakarta, he reaffirmed that the Government of China would work with OCHA to distribute the aid.  Priority would be given to the provision of sanitation, drinking water, education and infrastructure restoration.  It was to be hoped that the contribution would assist in the establishment of an early-warning and response mechanism for regional disasters.

ALI HACHANI (Tunisia) said that 2004 had been a year of destruction for many nations due to earthquakes, tsunamis and severe hurricanes.  The tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean had pointed to the urgent need for a worldwide early-warning system to monitor all potential disasters, including sea-level rise due to global warming.  The tsunami was a tragedy affecting the entire world, and hopefully its devastating effects would serve to further consolidate commitment to the United Nations and its capacity to meet humanitarian challenges throughout the world.

TAWFEEQ AHMED ALMANSOOR (Bahrain) said the world had been shocked by the earthquake and tsunami, which had caused the disappearance of entire villages and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents.  In one strike, many had been displaced, orphaned and widowed.  The one mitigating factor amid the tragedy remained the solidarity and support expressed by the international community.  At a time when such compassion remained truly necessary, when lack of security and stability had caused extensive damage among nations, the earthquake and tsunami had demonstrated humanity’s capacity to respond collectively in the face of nature’s challenges.

The United Nations had called for more than $900 million to respond to the needs of the more than 5 million individuals affected by the disaster, he said, and the need for continued solidarity remained evident.  There must also be a collective effort to establish an integrated early-warning system to prevent and mitigate natural disasters in the future.  Other priorities must include the prevention of the spread of disease, including through the provision of adequate clean drinking water and sanitation services.  The survivors must also receive adequate medical and psychological treatment and rehabilitation, as well as assistance to resume their livelihoods.  For its part, Bahrain had provided
$2 million in emergency assistance to affected States.

JOHAN L. LØVALD (Norway) said that Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami had deprived millions of people of their livelihoods, and the international community must make sure immediate humanitarian aid could reach all the affected communities, many of which were now displaced.  There was also an urgent need to provide support to the many suffering from shock and loss, particularly the children.  Sexual exploitation and trafficking in human beings often increased in the aftermath of a crisis, and Norway had been pleased to see an emphasis on the need to protect women and children against violence and sexual abuse.

Effective coordination of humanitarian assistance based on actual needs at all levels was imperative, he continued.  In the current emergency and into the early reconstruction phase, Norway supported coordination throughout the United Nations system, in close cooperation with national and local authorities.  In addition, access to the areas concerned was crucial for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.  Regarding donor coordination, a clear division of labour must be established in both the emergency and reconstruction phases.  Donors must not compete with each other in providing assistance in the initial wake of the disaster, only to disappear when the media attention died down.  Norway favoured a mechanism that would track pledges in similar humanitarian and reconstruction operations and had been pleased by the initiative taken by the United Nations in that regard.  So far, Norway had dispersed $17 million in humanitarian assistance.  In addition, it would provide approximately $170 million as an extrabudgetary allocation for humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development assistance.

KIM SAM-HOON (Republic of Korea) said that the devastation inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami was of such epic proportions that the world was still struggling to come to terms with it.  In the face of such horror, however, the spirit of cooperation and friendship demonstrated by the countries of the world had been truly remarkable.  The Korean Government was committed to providing not only immediate relief, but also medium- and long-term assistance to ensure full reconstruction and recovery.  In addition to $5 million in emergency relief, it had pledged another $45 million to 2005-2007 for rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance.  Furthermore, it had dispatched a military cargo plane to Sri Lanka and cargo carriers carrying transportation and construction equipment to Indonesia on 14 January to assist in delivery of relief material and reconstruction. 

He said the disaster had underscored the need to establish an integrated tsunami early-warning system for the Indian Ocean region.  The system would enable countries at risk to exchange information on disaster forecasts and to undertake a joint response to natural disasters.  In that regard, there were high expectations for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, being held in Kobe, Japan, from 18 to 22 January.  It was to be hoped that the Conference would achieve concrete and tangible outcomes towards establishing an early-warning system for the region.  For its part, the Government of the Republic of Korea stood ready to contribute its expertise in information technology to expedite the establishment of such a system.  In addition, as the 2005 chair-country of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Republic of Korea would place a high priority on disaster prevention and assistance and would actively lead cooperation efforts to enhance the preventive capabilities of member countries.

Ms. DOVZHENKO (Ukraine) said her country had granted immediate humanitarian assistance to the countries affected by the tsunami disaster.  Only effective cooperation between the governments of stricken countries, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations had allowed for emergency assistance to be delivered to the region in such a short period of time.  However, that machinery needed further improvement, and its future effectiveness would depend on early-warning and emergency operations.  There was a need for global machinery to provide those services, as well as for the transfer of information and resources.  Ukraine would take an active part in providing that machinery.

HOSSEIN MOEINI (Iran) said the tsunami and similar disasters underscored the need for systematic and more coordinated international search-and-rescue operations, which would allow the international community to save the greatest possible number of lives.  A multi-hazard and well-balanced approach to all phases of disaster management, including preparedness, relief, rehabilitation and longer-term reconstruction, was vital for any comprehensive strategy of disaster-risk management.  The international community should focus further on promoting measures that increased the resilience of countries to disasters and reduced their devastating consequences.

He said that Iran, especially after the devastating earthquake last year in Bam, had fully realized the urgent need to enhance local capacities for disaster management.  There was also a need to set up specialized regional centres for the exchange of scientific and technical know-how, as well as equipment and experiences.  Promoting international efforts in early-warning, information exchange, communications and surveillance technologies was also imperative to curb the negative consequences of similar tragedies in the future.  Serious technical and financial challenges severely deepened the impact of disasters on socio-economic infrastructures and environments in developing countries.  It was crucial to examine measures that improved their response capacity, and to reshuffle international support in order to promote access to and transfer of related technologies.

SAEED H.S. AL-JOMAE (Saudi Arabia) said that in spite of the stoic response of the international community, financial aid would remain inadequate for responding effectively to the needs of affected countries.  An early-warning system and other effective international mechanisms must be established to help States respond to tsunamis and other natural disasters.  Among its initiatives in response to the recent catastrophe, the Iranian Government had moved to discuss, in conjunction with the United Nations, ways in which to provide swifter assistance to the victims of catastrophes.

MI NGUYEN (Canada) said that as the initial shock of the disaster subsided, it was incumbent upon all to ensure a timely, flexible, coordinated and effective response to the tragedy.  The role of the international community must be to support the efforts of affected governments in their recovery and reconstruction efforts.  In addition to the staggering, immediate humanitarian needs, longer-term reconstruction needs would require sustained efforts and unflagging commitment for some time to come.  Canada had committed $425 million towards a comprehensive package of disaster-relief measures and rehabilitation assistance.  The Government’s commitment over the next five years also included matching donations by Canadians, who had already demonstrated incredible generosity to national non-governmental organizations involved in relief efforts on the ground.

The Canadian Government also supported fully the United Nations as the premier organization to coordinate international response to the crisis, she said, adding that the principles of humanitarian action must guide all efforts.  The international community must effectively coordinate its involvement, demonstrate flexibility and concentrate on supporting and strengthening the Organization’s central role in coordinating international humanitarian assistance.  Attention must also be focused upon national capacity-building to prepare for future crises and to alleviate their impact.

BAKI ILKIN (Turkey), aligning himself with the European Union, said today’s meeting re-emphasized the determination of the international community to provide full support and assistance to the governments and peoples of the affected countries.  Although Turkey had full confidence in the determination and resilience of the stricken nations to rebuild their countries, the more the international community was prepared to help, the sooner reconstruction could be realized.  The international community had acted with compassion and generosity, but it was equally important that the support and assistance continue unabated.

Turkey, which had suffered a major earthquake in 1999, had immediately joined others in responding to the present emergency through cash donations, a search-and-rescue team, food, medicine, medical equipment and water purification units, among other things, he said.  As of today, official and private donations and contributions were in the vicinity of $15 million.  Turkey would do everything possible to help alleviate the suffering of the tsunami victims and strongly supported ASEAN’s decision to establish a regional mechanism on disaster prevention, particularly a regional early-warning system in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia.  Turkey was chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose Secretary-General had made an appeal to member countries on 1 January to mobilize assistance.  A high-level committee had been established to coordinate humanitarian and relief assistance by member countries, particularly for orphans in Indonesia.

GILLES NOGHES (Monaco) said that nature had managed to show that a catastrophe of relatively short duration, but of extreme violence, could change the course of existence in many countries at once, taking the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children, with still more missing, and causing significant health risks to the survivors.  Monaco saluted the remarkable efforts accomplished by the United Nations and various countries in such a short time and in the aftermath of horrific hardship.  To the best of its ability, it had participated in the tremendous worldwide outpouring with a contribution of $130,000 to the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.  The same amount had been allocated to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies by the Monaco Red Cross, which had actually received, to date, more than $1.4 million in donations.

Similarly, several other associations had also made contributions, he said.  The terrible trial had shown how the world could be mobilized, as well as the considerable role played by the media in that mobilization.  In that way, the media had also contributed to meeting the needs of populations in deep distress.  Much remained to be done, however, in terms of natural-disaster prevention, including through the installation of effective alarm systems.

ILGAR MAMMADOV (Azerbaijan) said he expected practical outcomes from the World Conference on Disaster Reduction.  Specifically, it should succeed in setting up the necessary framework for future action to prevent and prepare for natural hazards.  Azerbaijan supported fully the international response to the urgent needs of the severely affected communities and commended the work done by the United Nations, particularly the tireless efforts of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland.  It was essential that close cooperation and coordination continue among governments of the affected countries, the donor community, United Nations entities and international aid agencies in order to ensure the efficiency of assistance delivery.  Azerbaijan had allocated $1 million through the United Nations in emergency assistance for immediate relief needs.

He said international solidarity and assistance must continue beyond the immediate disaster period and focus on two parallel directions:  reconstruction and rehabilitation; and the establishment of early-warning mechanisms.  It was particularly important to create such a system in the region, and Azerbaijan stood ready to support the affected countries in their efforts towards that goal.  The country was deeply concerned about the health needs of the worst-affected populations, and supported the WHO in performing the five key tasks that would be the focus of its work for the coming months.  The need for early warning in terms of pre-empting the spread of epidemic and deadly diseases, that could “follow hard on the heels of natural hazards”, should also constitute a main direction for urgent action.  During the transition from emergency to recovery and rehabilitation, sustained support should be provided to the victims, particularly children.

ANDREAS BAUM (Switzerland) said the tsunami catastrophe had stressed the importance of diminishing the vulnerability of States to natural disasters, especially through prevention at all levels.  Switzerland had provided $23 million for relief assistance, was working in close coordination with the United Nations and affected populations, and had sent about 100 specialists to the field.  It was also coordinating appropriate responses to be made in international financial institutions, such as the Paris Club.

Noting that other victims worldwide also needed assistance and protection, he said the world’s admirable response to the tsunami crisis should not divert international support from other humanitarian crises.  Populations living in poverty were more exposed to such situations, since they were hampered by weaker infrastructures, underdeveloped communications, and more fragile health-care systems.  The international community must overcome delays in dealing with future disasters.  Hopefully, the ongoing conference in Kobe, Japan, would help strengthen international structures for overcoming such catastrophes.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) said that, while the unprecedented and heart-rending scale of the devastation in the wake of the Indian Ocean tragedy could make one question the limits of human suffering, it could also teach some very valuable lessons, one of which was that compassion and human solidarity transcending State borders could save the world.  Belarus not only admired the truly generous response by major developed and developing countries in the aftermath of the tragedy, but commended the fast, coordinated and effective relief effort launched by the United Nations system.  While Belarus was not yet a donor country, it had delivered dozens of tons of food, basic necessities and water purification kits to hard-hit Sri Lanka.

The world had not been prepared for the disaster, but it could have been, he said.  The establishment of comprehensive early-warning systems –- spanning the breadth of possible natural catastrophes that could affect people around the globe -– had become a truly vital facet of collective security efforts.  Real progress in meeting the challenge of preventing such horrible losses of life could only be made when everyone understood that killer waves, earthquakes and hurricanes did not respect borders.  Destructive force could only be sensibly countered by a unified effort that was just as strong.  And in view of the increase in frequency and intensity of such calamities, the United Nations must take the lead in that.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) welcomed the generous pledges made by donor countries and international financial institutions, and urged all donors to make good on those pledges without delay.  Also of concern were the medium- and long-term economic and environmental consequences of the disaster, and the need to sustain international commitment to reconstruction and rehabilitation.

For its part, Brazil had responded quickly in sending aircraft laden with water and food supplies, he said.  The Government also intended to send medical and technical teams to the region.  Supportive of international and regional initiatives grappling with the consequences of natural disasters, Brazil also affirmed its support for the establishment of regional early-warning systems.  Donor countries and international financial institutions should provide funding to support such initiatives.  However, there must also be efforts not to forget emergencies, and to extend assistance based upon need.  It was encouraging to see the international community responding to such a calamity with solidarity.  That should provide an example for future responses.

IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) stressed the need for a tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean region, but added that warnings must be accompanied by relevant and adequate protection and relocation programmes.  Bangladesh had devised an intricate warning system to reach the remotest corners of the country, mobilize thousands of urban and rural volunteers immediately, and help deliver the population to shelters.  As a result, human fatalities from disasters had been vastly reduced.

Emphasizing that the key challenge for affected communities was rehabilitation and reconstruction, he said the international community must keep adequate resources handy for disaster-prone countries.  Relevant multilateral institutions must focus on the environment to reduce human tampering with nature.  In Bangladesh’s experience, democratic values that rendered public actions more accountable and authorities more responsible also aided in fighting disasters.

HARALD ASPELUND (Iceland) said no continent had fully escaped the disaster’s effects, although the countries of the Indian Ocean had been hardest hit, with communities having been swept away, leaving survivors exposed to severe psychological trauma, as well as the risks attendant upon the destruction of infrastructure and lack of essential supplies.  There was a real risk that development would be set back several years if the necessary aid was not forthcoming.

Iceland had allotted 25 million krona for development cooperation with Sri Lanka, he affirmed.  That aid would be tripled to 75 million krona ($1.2 million), and the national development aid agency would carry out a reassessment in light of the recent disaster, with a view to contributing as effectively as possible to reconstruction.  The Icelandic people had also shown solidarity with the tsunami’s victims, and had donated some $4 million.

NORMA TAYLOR ROBERTS (Jamaica) noted that the Flash Appeal for the tsunami disaster had generated a positive response, but stressed that the international community must now look beyond its six-month time frame.  Simultaneous action on a longer-term strategy should be considered to cover disaster-prevention management and recovery.  That strategy should include plans for the rehabilitation of devastated countries, reconstruction, and specific programmes for economic recovery in affected countries.  There was also a clear need for increased cooperation towards an early-warning system capable of speedily communicating earth movements, as well as threatening atmospheric patterns.  Finally, there was a continuing need to develop and strengthen national and regional capacities in disaster management and mitigation.  Local and regional response teams would always be the first line of defence against the destructive impact of natural disasters.

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For information media. Not an official record.