Speakers Stress Need to Scale Up ‘Smarter’ Humanitarian Aid as General Assembly Holds Annual Debate on Disaster, Emergency Relief

14 December 2011

Speakers Stress Need to Scale Up ‘Smarter’ Humanitarian Aid as General Assembly Holds Annual Debate on Disaster, Emergency Relief

14 December 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly


85thMeeting (AM)

Speakers Stress Need to Scale Up ‘Smarter’ Humanitarian Aid as General Assembly

Holds Annual Debate on Disaster, Emergency Relief


Draft Resolutions Tabled Include Texts

On Assistance to Palestinian People, Drought in Horn of Africa

Humanitarian assistance must be scaled up and made “smarter” as global emergencies continued to expand in both frequency and complexity, delegates in the General Assembly stressed today during their annual debate on the coordination of disaster relief efforts.

“The massive demands on [the humanitarian system] over the past year involve us all,” said the representative of New Zealand, recalling that in 2011, the world had grappled with volatile food and fuel prices, drought and famine in the Horn of Africa as well as other serious disasters.  Many protracted and often overlooked crises continued to require international humanitarian support, he noted.

In that vein, the Assembly today took up four draft resolutions on assistance to the Palestinian people, the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, the safety and security of United Nations personnel and the protection of humanitarian personnel, and strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.  However, it postponed action on those texts.

Many delegates expressed support for those texts, in particular their condemnation of targeted attacks against humanitarian workers and their emphasis on the State as the primary entity responsible for mitigating humanitarian disasters.  The representative of Argentina, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, underscored the lead responsibility of concerned States to initiate, organize and implement humanitarian assistance within their respective territories.

Pakistan’s representative agreed, describing his country’s recent experience of devastating flooding, emphasizing the crucial importance of tapping alternate means of assistance, such as the procurement of local material resources.  He also agreed with other delegates on the importance of building the capacity of countries most likely to be affected by humanitarian emergencies, in particular through the transfer of technology and expertise.

Other delegations also described natural disasters or other complex emergencies that had hit close to home.  Kenya’s representative, presenting the draft resolution titled, “Strengthening humanitarian assistance, emergency relief and rehabilitation in response to the severe drought in the Horn of Africa region”, stressed that the subregion was experiencing the worst drought in more than 60 years, which had caused high malnutrition rates, steep hikes in food prices, loss of life and successive crop failures.  The situation had been exacerbated by the protracted armed conflict in Somalia, he added.  The draft resolution would have the Assembly urge countries in the Horn of Africa to provide humanitarian assistance, build resilience and undertake measures aimed at preventing the adverse impacts of drought.  It also underlined the need for the international community to continue providing technical and financial assistance, he added.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s representative described the massive havoc wrought by a series of storms that had hit Central America.  Together, he said, Hurricane Tomas and tropical depression “Twelve-E” had resulted in reported losses of some $34 million in the agricultural sector alone.  The magnitude of that disaster was well beyond the capacity of Central American countries to face with their own resources, and the aid received from friendly organizations and States was critical.  Costa Rica was aware of its national responsibility and had allocated resources to help mitigate the damage, he said, but the support of the international community was essential and urgent.  “We cannot go it alone,” he stressed.

Japan’s representative recalled that an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami had struck the north of his country in March, causing nearly 20,000 people to be killed or go missing.  In the wake of the tragedy, Japan was grateful for the “friendship and solidarity shown by people from all over the world,” he said, also thanking the United Nations system – and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in particular — for their support.  It was clear that the quality of humanitarian assistance benefitted from the sharing of experiences and best practices, he said.  Indeed, many lives had been saved during the earthquake as a result of lessons handed down from the past as well as disaster training and education.  “Improving our own behaviour is a very effective way to mitigate damage without investing in a major way,” he added.

Also speaking today, the Permanent Observer of Palestine responded to a draft resolution focusing specifically on assistance to the Palestinian people, stressing that the “significant amount” of aid they had received over the years had helped to ease some of the hardships they had endured under the yoke of Israeli occupation.  It had provided them with a minimum standard of decent living, he said, adding that today, the international community was witnessing their “able performance” and the readiness of their national institutions to work effectively in an independent State of Palestine.  However, the Palestinian Authority now faced a “steep financial crisis” due to the reluctance of some donors to fulfil their financial obligations towards Palestine, he noted.

Many delegations also addressed the importance of moving away from separate humanitarian and development “silos” and towards a more streamlined approach to the provision of assistance.  “Today, a strong coordinating role of the United Nations has never been more important,” said Sweden’s representative, who presented a related draft resolution.  “We need to step up our efforts in the area of disaster-risk reduction,” he added, noting that better responses when crises struck required innovative measures and modes of financing.

Noting that affected populations were at the centre of all humanitarian activities, he called on the United Nations to make assistance an “inclusive process” in which there would be more consultation with beneficiaries.  Other delegations also supported offering local communities the possibility of voicing their opinions on the services provided to them, or stressed that developing countries must be involved in relevant policy discussions concerning humanitarian assistance.  In particular, women and children, as the most heavily affected by humanitarian disasters, should play a larger role in related decision-making.

Poland’s representative presented the draft resolutions “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel” and “Assistance to the Palestinian People”.

Also speaking today were the State Secretary in Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Social Affairs.

Other speakers were representatives of Australia, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Brazil, China, Russian Federation, Israel, Canada, Thailand, United States and the European Union delegation.

Syria’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 15 December, to conclude the debate and take action on the draft resolutions before it.


For its consideration of strengthening the coordination of United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, the Assembly had before it a report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/66/80-E/2011/111) dated 9 May 2011.  It describes the Organization’s efforts, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, donors and civil society, to support the Palestinian population and institutions.  It provides an overview of the current situation, including the political context; describes recent economic, fiscal, humanitarian and other developments; and details the world body’s responses.  It also describes the related budgetary situation, including the donor response, and outlines both unmet needs and challenges.

The Palestinian Authority continued to implement its two-year programme to strengthen the institutions of a future State, the report says, noting that in the key areas of United Nations engagement, the Authority’s functions are sufficient for a functioning Government.  However, such achievements remain constrained by Israel’s continued occupation and the political divide with Gaza.  The overall socio-economic and political situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains challenging, despite economic growth registered across the Territory, prompted by Palestinian and Israeli efforts.

According to the report, direct Israeli-Palestinian talks remained suspended, despite a brief resumption in September 2010.  The holding of legislative and presidential elections, postponed in 2010, remained uncertain due to the continued political split between the West Bank and Gaza.  Unemployment and food insecurity remain high, particularly in Gaza, despite economic growth there, resulting in part from the easing of closures and from the approval of a number of United Nations reconstruction projects.  However, key elements of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) remain unfulfilled.

Also before the Assembly was a report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/66/81-E/2011/117) dated 16 May 2011.  It analyses two thematic issues of current concern:  strengthening resilience, preparedness and capacities for humanitarian response, and humanitarian financing.  Providing an overview of current key processes aimed at improving humanitarian coordination, it ends with recommendations for further strengthening the coordination of United Nations emergency humanitarian assistance.

Among other things, the report encourages Member States, the United Nations system and partners to increase support for preparedness activities, including by strengthening partnerships with development organizations, and to further strengthen regional, national and local capacities and preparedness for responding to humanitarian emergencies.  Member States should also maintain a diversity of humanitarian funding channels in order to provide consistent and predictable support to meet existing and growing humanitarian needs.

Also before the Assembly was a report of the Secretary-General on humanitarian assistance, emergency relief, rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction in response to the humanitarian emergency in Haiti, including the devastating effects of the earthquake(document A/66/332).  Dated 2 September 2011, it covers a range of assistance, including territorial, economic, social and institutional rebuilding, discussing in that context the role of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the United Nations country team.

Among critical challenges, the report says, are the programming requirements for a number of large-scale reconstruction programmes, notably the $65 million housing project supported by the World Bank, the Government’s new housing initiative to build 2,000 homes in Port-au-Prince and the housing and debris-removal programmes supported by the United Nations, which amounted to $72 million.  A significant shortfall remained, with only 37.8 per cent of the funding received as of the date of the report’s issuance.

According to the report, the political stalemate between the President and Parliament affected the pace of recovery, and progress in key sectors such as education, social protection and employment hinged on the appointment of a Prime Minister and other key ministerial positions for the formation of a new Government.  Continued investment in projects to develop the capacity of State institutions remained a priority for the United Nations.  Amid a growing consensus among actors in the field on prioritizing Government leadership across all sectors of recovery, the report concludes that additional United Nations advocacy will be needed throughout 2011.

The Assembly also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/66/339) dated 2 September 2011.  Among its recommendations, the report urges the United Nations system and other humanitarian actors to increase the level of human and financial resources provided to humanitarian and resident coordinators for leading and coordinating disaster preparedness and early recovery activities; encourages Member States to provide timely, flexible and predictable funding for preparedness and early recovery, including through established humanitarian funding instruments; encourages Member States to continue providing early and multi-year commitments to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and other United Nations as well as non-United Nations humanitarian financing mechanisms; and urges Member States to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to communities affected by natural disasters.

Also before the Assembly was a report of the Secretary-General on safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel (document A/66/345) dated 7 September 2011.  It provides an update on the safety and security of United Nations personnel over the past year and on efforts by the Department of Safety and Security to implement the recommendations contained in General Assembly resolution 65/132 (2010).  It also describes the measures taken by the Department and the United Nations security management system to continue to advance the strategic vision of a modern, professional security management system to ensure the safety, security and well-being of personnel and the security of the world body’s premises and assets to enable the conduct of its activities.

Citing the Secretary-General’s observations and recommendations, the report says he remains concerned at the number of United Nations and associated personnel affected by security incidents, and that he was greatly distressed by the death of 24 staff and the injury of 232 in 2010.  Nonetheless, he was encouraged by the substantial reduction in the number of United Nations personnel killed and injured by violence as compared to previous years.  He is encouraged by the continued refinement and implementation of the “Saving Lives Together” framework and calls on Member States to continue observing the internationally agreed principles on the protection of United Nations and associated personnel.

Finally, the report of the Secretary-General on the Central Emergency Response Fund (document A/66/357), dated 13 September 2011, describes CERF’s activities from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011, saying it continued to demonstrate its effectiveness as a tool for collective emergency response.  During the review period, the Emergency Relief Coordinator allocated $342 million from CERF to support life-saving activities in 43 countries and territories.  The five-year evaluation of the Fund, finalized during the reporting period, provided invaluable independent insight into its strengths and weaknesses, the report says, adding that while the evaluation is largely positive, it also identifies areas for improvement.  The CERF Secretariat has developed a management response plan by providing a road map on the way forward.

For its second agenda item, the Assembly had before it a report of the Secretary-General on assistance to survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, particularly orphans, widows and victims of sexual violence (document A/66/331) dated 1 September 2011.  Among its conclusions and recommendations, the report finds that, despite remarkable progress towards peace and stability since 1994, Rwanda still faces challenges in sustaining the gains in its pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  However, within the overall framework of support, interventions for genocide survivors included improving access to justice and witness-protection programmes; promoting the participation of children, young people and women in the democratic process, including in decision-making at the national and local levels; enhancing trauma and psychological programmes; and promoting effective safety nets for the protection of the most vulnerable groups, among others.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

WITOLD SOBKÓW ( Poland) took the floor to introduce the draft resolutions “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel” (document A/66/L.26) and “Assistance to the Palestinian People” (document A/66/L.27).  He recalled that while the European Union had launched the “Don’t Shoot!  I’m a humanitarian worker” campaign, which advocated the safest possible conditions for humanitarian workers, it remained worried by the numbers of casualties and accidents suffered by humanitarian personnel in recent years, especially when United Nations and humanitarian workers were deliberately targeted.  He said the draft contained reinforced language on kidnapping and hostage-taking of both local and international humanitarian and United Nations personnel, adding that it also recognized that building good relations with Governments, but also with affected populations, should be an integral part of humanitarian risk management.

Turning to the draft resolution on assistance to the Palestinian people, he said sustained support from international donors was essential, including in efforts to assist Palestinian State-building efforts, strengthen the economy and meet humanitarian needs.  In that respect, the text stressed the importance of the work done by the United Nations and its agencies, and urged all actors to provide economic and social assistance to the Palestinian people.  It also urged Member States to open their markets to Palestinian exports under the most favourable terms.

MÅRTEN GRUNDITZ (Sweden), introducing the draft “Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance” (document A/66/L.28), noted that 20 years had passed since resolution A/46/182 had first laid the foundation for the current humanitarian response system.  “Today, a strong coordinating role of the United Nations has never been more important,” he said, noting that through the text before them today, Member States would reaffirm their commitment to the principles underlying humanitarian action.

Making remarks on behalf of his own country’s Government and that of India, he said that, going forward, the role of the United Nations and its agencies, particularly the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was critical to strengthening humanitarian response.  The unprecedented scale of natural disasters and other complex emergencies over the last few years continued to put pressure on the humanitarian system, and the most vulnerable were often the worst affected.

India and Sweden were committed to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, he said, emphasizing that humanitarian assistance must also respect at all times the primary role of the affected States in response efforts, with due respect for the sovereignty of States.  Likewise, affected populations were at the centre of all humanitarian activities, he stressed, calling on the United Nations to make assistance an “inclusive process” in which there would be more consultation with beneficiaries.  Additionally, more accountability mechanisms were needed within the system.

He went on to express utmost concern at the alarming protracted situation in the Horn of Africa, stressing that the United Nations must work to assist those affected.  “We need to step up our efforts in the area of disaster risk reduction,” he added, stressing that better responses when crises happened required innovative measures and modes of financing.  More attention should be given to disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness, and the Organization should also close the gap between humanitarian relief and development programming, he said, calling for more attention to crises that received little international attention.

Since women, the elderly and children, especially girls, were most affected by emergencies, more should be done to engage them as partners, he continued.  Ensuring gender equality in human assistance helped to enhance the response and would have a lasting impact.  Additionally, safe and unhindered access for human personnel was of utmost importance.  Expressing concern about recent targeting of United Nations and humanitarian personnel, which affected their ability to provide assistance, he encouraged all actors to continue enhancing their support for OCHA.  “As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of resolution 46/182 … we recognize the challenges ahead,” he said, expressing hope that broad consensus among Member States would help target those challenges.

MACHARIA KAMAU ( Kenya) introduced the draft resolution “Strengthening humanitarian assistance, emergency relief and rehabilitation in response to the severe drought in the Horn of Africa region” (document A/66/L.29) on behalf of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Poland and other main co-sponsors.  He said that as a result of rain failure in the last two seasons, the region was currently experiencing the worst drought and famine in 60 years.  That had resulted in a severe food crisis and high malnutrition rates, steep hikes in food prices, loss of life, suffering and successive crop failures.  The draft expressed deep concern at the critical humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa, brought about by incessant drought and further exacerbated by the protracted armed conflict in Somalia, he said.

Over the past few years there had been a dramatic escalation of threats and deliberate attacks against humanitarian and United Nations personnel by armed groups, he said.  Armed groups had threatened, confiscated and expelled humanitarian workers, thereby disrupting and stopping their operations while putting their lives at risk.  The draft resolution urged countries in the Horn of Africa to provide humanitarian assistance, build resilience and undertake measures aimed at preventing the adverse impacts of drought, and further underlined the need for the international community to continue providing technical and financial assistance in order to overcome the humanitarian situation, in particular food insecurity and chronic water deficiency in the region.


GRY LARSEN, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said many people were now better off than ever before, and many developing countries had experienced a decade or more of impressive growth.  Yet, in spite of that, many had been left behind “at the margins of human existence”.  Humanitarian needs were increasing while the international response was becoming increasingly complex, she noted.  Therefore, more and better humanitarian aid was needed, as were stronger leadership and increased coordination, she said, adding that it was necessary to look “outside the box” to better integrate emergency relief and humanitarian assistance with early recovery and development policies.

That in turn would require improved dialogue and mutual understanding among those involved, she said, recalling that earlier this year, Norway and OCHA had together invited a number of Member States to partake in a Humanitarian Partnership Field Mission to Panama and Haiti with a view to learning and subsequently improving the quality of international humanitarian cooperation, coordination and response.  Whenever possible, the international community must strengthen the capacity of national Governments and local authorities, while working more directly with people in need.

In most humanitarian crises and protracted emergencies, the humanitarian and development community needed to get better at working together, and to reassess their traditional ways of thinking about each other.  Emphasizing that the international community must get better at promoting the regional dimensions of humanitarian aid and coordination, including by promoting South-South cooperation, she said developing countries could take the lead by getting even more involved in humanitarian affairs at the global level.  While the United Nations had a leading role to play in coordinating international humanitarian assistance, the primary responsibility for protecting people in need remained with their own States and Governments, she said.

MARCELO CESA (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that ongoing conflicts and the increasing number of natural disasters required the international community to keep working together in addressing such challenges and in bolstering the wider effort to alleviate the suffering of tens of millions of people around the world.  In line with General Assembly resolution 46/182, which had inaugurated the United Nations humanitarian architecture 20 years ago, the Group of 77 and China reaffirmed its guiding principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence in the provision of humanitarian assistance.

He went on to reiterate the lead responsibility of concerned States to initiate, organize and implement humanitarian assistance within their respective territories.  While recognizing State responsibility for undertaking disaster risk reduction, however, he urged the international community to continue to support efforts by developing countries to build national and local capacities for preparedness, response and early recovery through the transfer of technology and expertise.  The Group of 77 and China reaffirmed the obligation of all Member States to comply with their obligations under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in occupied territories.

In the context of increasing international emergencies, funding remained a challenge, especially for developing countries, he said.  As such, it was necessary to promote effective, predictable, flexible and adequate funding through enhanced partnerships and strengthened financial mechanisms.  As in previous sessions, the Group of 77 and China would submit a draft resolution on “international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development” with the aim of mainstreaming a holistic approach in that area, he said.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Delegation of the European Union, noted that 2011 marked the twentieth anniversary of the current United Nations humanitarian architecture, and while OCHA had enjoyed much success in handling one of the Organization’s core activities, “challenges remain and we face pressure to adapt and strengthen the response system”.  In a growing number of countries, access to victims had become more difficult and the security of both relief workers and aid recipients was increasingly under threat, he said.  Moreover, climate-related and environmental disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes had claimed a high number of victims in the past year, and the exposure of some populations and communities would only continue to rise.

Conflicts only added to the complex nature of such situations, he continued, noting that the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries were often the most affected.  With all that in mind, he emphasized that preparedness, resilience and disaster risk reduction strategies could mitigate the effects of natural disasters in the short- and medium-term.  Involving relevant stakeholders earlier, and linking short-term humanitarian aid to longer-term development cooperation activities remained crucial to ensuring a smooth transition from emergency to relief and recovery.  He went on to say that protecting and providing assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons remained among the greatest challenges for humanitarian response efforts, especially since huge communities and populations could be forced to flee their homes in an instant, leaving behind their belongings, becoming separated from their families and winding up with little or no access to basic necessities such as food, water, sanitation or adequate shelter.

While expressing appreciation to those States that hosted refugees, he called on the entire international community to keep working towards lasting solutions for displaced persons.  The European Union urged all States and parties to conflict to ensure safe, timely and unimpeded access for humanitarian personnel and supplies to populations in need, he said, adding that the bloc was highly alarmed that humanitarian emblems and flags that had traditionally acted as “shields” for relief workers were now marking them for deliberate attack.  That was unacceptable, he stressed, pointing out that the ultimate consequence of such aggression was that people in need did not receive the assistance to which they were entitled.  “We need concerted international action now,” he emphasized, urging all States and actors to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of all humanitarian personnel, particularly in high-risk environments.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, noted that cooperation among nations constituted one of the main human values in a world where many faced serious challenges.  The Palestinian people had received a significant amount of assistance over the years, which had helped to ease some of the difficulties and hardships they endured under the yoke of Israeli occupation.  That aid had provided them with a minimum standard of decent living, and today, the international community was witnessing their “able performance”, and the readiness of their national institutions to work effectively in an independent State of Palestine.  They had achieved those goals with their partners, and were determined to control their own destiny despite the continuing Israeli military occupation and its violations of international law.

Several reports – including those of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – had commended the performance of Palestinian national institutions, he pointed out.  The Palestinian National Authority, under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), had made significant progress in building and developing vital sectors such as governance, economic development, infrastructure and social development.  However, the World Bank report concluded that it would be impossible to sustain achievements relating to State-building and economic growth under the occupation, he said.  Indeed, gross domestic product (GDP) had not measured up to projections, and the percentage of Palestinians living below the poverty line had risen to almost 38 per cent.  The IMF, for its part, had recognized that Palestinian fiscal policy had made significant progress in the management of public funds, he continued, noting that the need for external assistance to pay for current expenditures had fallen from $1.8 billion to $1.1 billion.

However, he said, the Palestinian Authority now faced a “steep financial crisis” due to the reluctance of some donors to fulfil their financial obligations towards Palestine, and to the Israeli Government’s repeated practice of withholding taxes and customs revenues due to the Palestinian people.  The transition from relief to development required the ability of Palestinians to control their own natural resources, and to ensure free movement of people and goods, as well as control over international outlets, he said.  In other words, it required independence.  Nevertheless, Israel, as the occupying Power, continued to deprive the Palestinian people of that independence and to defy international laws and resolutions on a daily basis.  The international community was called upon, today more than ever, to mobilize “real political will that can be translated into effective action to put an end to this hateful occupation and its criminal practices”.  He also called for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace through the realization of an independent State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living in peace with its neighbours, including Israel.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said more must be done to meet the challenges involved in providing support to the world’s most vulnerable populations.  To that end, international assistance should be delivered in a way that supported the priorities and capacities of Governments and civil society.  A new approach based on innovative risk-management strategies and long-term investment in building relationships with local communities was also required.  The protection of populations affected by conflict, particularly women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities must be prioritized, he stressed, adding that more must also be done to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian actors working in hostile environments.

Emphasizing the need to move away from humanitarian and development silos towards a sustained and integrated approach aimed at building community resilience, he highlighted the relevance of that approach in the Horn of Africa.  Moreover, local authorities and communities must be given a greater role in implementing disaster-risk reduction strategies.  He said that on Friday in New York, Australia would launch its new Humanitarian Action Policy, by which it would commit to providing increased funding for humanitarian assistance within 48 hours of requests being made for assistance.  Further, it would provide assistance to more than 25 million people in crisis situations by 2016 through disaster-risk reduction, mine action, conflict prevention and humanitarian action.  Australia was also continuing its support to the Palestinian people through a new five-year partnership with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that would provide increased, predictable and un-earmarked financial assistance from 2012, he said.

PEDRO NÚÑEZ MOSQUERA ( Cuba) reaffirmed that humanitarian assistance should be conducted with full respect for the principles enshrined in resolution 46/182, and for the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.  The United Nations Charter must be respected, as must the Organization’s principles and purposes.  They could not be undermined, manipulated, restricted or made subject to conditions, he emphasized.  Cuba, therefore, rejected the imposition of any measures that contravened the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.

Highlighting his country’s great experience in launching, coordinating and providing humanitarian assistance when affected by natural disasters, he said that had made it possible to reduce considerably the resulting humanitarian damage.  As for civil protection, the lessons learned over many years had allowed Cuba to strengthen its disaster-relief and reduction frameworks, as well as local and national capacities to evaluate and monitor risks and to increase the efficacy of early-warning systems.  Also of key importance had been the inclusion of risk-reduction strategies in school curricula throughout the country, he said, adding that the press had also played an active role.

The knowledge resulting from academic and scientific research had been placed at the service of combating drought and floods, he said, adding that a project had been launched to improve the monitoring of watershed basins, among other measures.  Nature’s force had made itself felt, given the irreversible changes across the globe, and over the last five years, Cuba had been affected by numerous high-intensity meteorological events which had brought great economic hardship.  In future, greater emphasis would be placed on monitoring tsunamis and climate change, he said, adding that the Government would expand centres for risk reduction throughout the country and establish more early-warning stations in vulnerable communities.  The United Nations system and the international community had a key responsibility to help developing countries improve their capacities to respond to natural disasters, he said, stressing that the best way was for developed countries to meet their official development assistance (ODA) commitments.

JUN YAMAZAKI ( Japan) said 2011 had been a year of extraordinary challenges for his country.  An unprecedented earthquake and tsunami had struck in March, causing nearly 20,000 people to be killed or to go missing.  On behalf of Japan, he expressed his “heartfelt gratitude for the friendship and solidarity shown by people from all over the world” and for the “helping hands extended” since that emergency.  He also thanked the United Nations system, OCHA in particular, for its assistance, saying Japan intended to accelerate its efforts towards recovery and reconstruction.

The year had also witnessed many humanitarian crises caused by conflicts and natural disasters around the world, he continued, describing his country’s contribution to the relief efforts.  Reiterating the importance of respect for international humanitarian law and principles such as humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, he said his country also recognized the importance of senior and well-experienced leadership in further strengthening coordination.  Additionally, the primary responsibility in responding to natural disasters lay with affected States, and their ownership should be respected, he noted, emphasizing the importance of a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to development assistance, in accordance with the notion of human security.  It was important to swiftly establish policies and projects towards future reconstruction and development while still implementing emergency relief response, he added.

With regard to natural disasters, he said many lives had been saved during Japan’s recent earthquake emergency as a result of lessons handed down from the past and of disaster training and education.  Japan had proved that “improving our own behaviour is a very effective way to mitigate damage without investing in a major way,” he said, adding that the Government intended to organize a high-level international conference in Japan’s disaster-stricken region next year.  It also invited the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015 to convene in Japan.  It further welcomed the fact that not only traditional donors, but also emerging ones as well as non-governmental organizations were getting more involved in humanitarian response, and reiterated the importance of cooperation with regional organizations, including the African Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Japan commended the initiative taken by the relevant regional organizations in response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa, and hoped for further cooperation between those organizations and OCHA, he said.

AHMAD AL-JARMAN (United Arab Emirates) said that despite international solidarity and quick response in confronting disasters, the challenges facing international humanitarian activities remained large and numerous, requiring greater efforts, resources and cooperation.  The enormous losses and weak capacities for immediate response by some affected countries had underscored the importance of building and strengthening national capacities and preparedness to deal with disasters as an important element in reducing human losses and achieving quick recovery.  Building national capacities was strongly linked to providing the necessary resources for realizing sustainable development in those countries, he said.

He went on to state that his country placed high importance on making major contributions to the international partnership for development.  Besides the Government, the United Arab Emirates had a number of donors, including the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent Authority and other entities.  In the meantime, the United Arab Emirates was a major member of and contributor to a number of international partnerships providing long-term development assistance to countries affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts.  Noting that the Palestinian people continued to suffer under very difficult economic and humanitarian conditions, he said his country was committed to continuing to provide humanitarian and development assistance to them and to the Palestinian Authority until the liberation of their land from the Israeli occupation.

VUSI MADONSELA, Director-General, Department of Social Development of South Africa, said the increased frequency, complexity and scale of natural disasters in recent years, which had resulted in massive loss of life and negative long-term social, economic and environmental consequences, was a serious concern, especially for developing countries.  Humanitarian emergencies disrupted their development progress and adversely affected their most vulnerable people, such as women, girls and persons with disabilities.  Such emergencies required coordinated international efforts as no single country could on its own deal effectively with them.  Noting that the Horn of Africa was currently experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in 60 years, he said that while his delegation was grateful for the international community’s response, there should be continued cooperation with countries in the region in providing humanitarian assistance to those affected.

Regarding disaster-risk reduction, he urged the international community to support developing countries and empower their national capacities for disaster-risk reduction, preparedness and relief so they could respond effectively to humanitarian emergencies.  The continued deliberate threats and violent attacks against humanitarian personnel and facilities around the world also remained a concern, he said, emphasizing that humanitarian personnel should be able to reach the vulnerable without restrictions.  A critical contributing factor in providing an enabling environment would be ensuring the safety and security of humanitarian emergency personnel, in accordance with the principles of international law, including humanitarian law.  Efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in a faster, more predictable and coordinated manner must be improved in order to alleviate the suffering of millions of people affected by humanitarian emergencies worldwide “that could so easily affect all of us sitting in this room,” he said.

PAUL SEGER ( Switzerland) expressed concern that rapid and unimpeded access to affected populations was not available in many cases.  Bureaucratic hurdles, attacks on humanitarian personnel and other challenges were still hindering assistance in both natural disasters and complex emergencies, he said, emphasizing that access was absolutely essential for humanitarian personnel to do their life-saving work.  Switzerland supported the Secretary-General’s appeal for Member States to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of personnel to affected areas and communities, he said, adding that it was also important for every agency to respect humanitarian principles.

Particular attention should be paid to preparedness for natural disasters and disaster-risk reduction capacity, he continued.  Financing for preparedness was “ad hoc and inconsistent,” he said.  “We should no longer focus on reacting to disasters, but on preparing for them.”  The knowledge and means to make preparedness a priority at all levels already existed, he added.  It was essential to align short-term recovery efforts with long-term development efforts, he said, noting that his country had itself adopted such an approach.

Switzerland supported the Secretary-General’s recommendations on strengthening humanitarian coordination mechanisms.  The “cluster system”, especially on food security, should not lead the international community to forget that much remained to be done, he cautioned.  Greater local involvement in those clusters was especially necessary.  In that regard, the commitments made by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee aimed at coordinating and creating a culture of mutual responsibility were critical, he said, adding that Switzerland also supported offering affected populations the possibility to voice their opinions on the services provided.

SÉRGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS ( Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, commended the emphasis of the Secretary-General’s reports on humanitarian financing and preparedness.  “Enhancing the preparedness and resilience of our societies is key to reducing impacts and improving the capacity of States to cope with emergencies in their territories,” he said.  Despite efforts to improve preparedness, the international community still had a vital role to play.  Meanwhile, international organizations must improve their coordination to avoid gaps and duplication.  Donors and international organizations needed to make progress on streamlining the financing of national preparedness efforts to ensure an adequate level of resources and to avoid funding gaps, he said.  In that vein, he noted with concern the potential impacts of the economic and financial crisis on the provision of United Nations humanitarian assistance, and called on donors to maintain and increase their financial support.

In the last few years, his country had increased its contributions to disaster relief significantly, both in cash and in kind, including by providing more than 700,000 tonnes of food to countries facing emergencies, he recalled, adding that Brazil had also steadily increased its contributions to CERF.  Describing other particular contributions and efforts, including in Haiti’s recovery efforts, he stressed that education played an important role in humanitarian cooperation.  Brazil therefore supported humanitarian efforts that fulfilled the right to education, such as providing school feeding and educational materials as well as school infrastructure.

Complex emergencies, including armed conflict, remained a leading cause of suffering, displacement and loss of lives, he said, stressing the need to ensure safe, unhindered and timely access to affected populations in order to provide them with life-saving assistance.  Strengthening partnerships among all Member States and humanitarian actors would increase ownership and contribute to the effectiveness of United Nations humanitarian assistance.  In that regard, OCHA and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee should improve their dialogue and cooperation with developing counties, in order to benefit from their expertise in responding to emergencies, he said, adding that developing countries must be involved in relevant policy discussions concerning humanitarian assistance.

WANG MIN (China), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said global crises were becoming more challenging, with the Horn of Africa’s food crisis putting global humanitarian coordination and response to a serious test.  States should continue their adherence to the principles of humanitarian assistance enshrined in resolution 46/182, a “landmark document”, he said, calling for the strengthening of capacity-building in affected countries, because many had been unable so far to tackle crises due to lack of capacity and international support for increasing capacity.  Support should focus on disaster prevention, preparedness and response capacity, he said, adding that it should aim to ensure rapid recovery and long-term development.

He called for improvements to the workings of the United Nations humanitarian system in response to the constant increase in global humanitarian needs, including strengthened partnerships with relevant countries, international agencies and non-governmental organizations.  OCHA played an irreplaceable part in fundraising appeals, he said, expressing hope for further improvement and a bigger role for the Office.  Welcoming the five-year evaluation of CERF, he expressed hope that it would continue to emerge as a highlight of the reform of United Nations humanitarian affairs.  Despite its limited resources and its own susceptibility to natural disasters, China placed great emphasis on international cooperation and had taken part in multilateral relief efforts, he said, adding that it had sponsored, with OCHA, the Humanitarian Partnership Workshop for the Asia-Pacific Region.

DMITRY MAKSIMYCHEV ( Russian Federation) said recent natural disasters, technological accidents and armed conflicts had confirmed the relevance of United Nations humanitarian assistance.  Strengthening humanitarian response capacity, at the national and local levels in particular, was the basis for effective responses to disaster.  The Russian Federation was implementing a number of measures aimed at improving the national emergency prevention and response system, including the establishment of the National Crisis Management Centre within the Ministry of Civil Defence.

Emphasizing that his country attached great importance to the safety and security of United Nations personnel, he said it supported active advocacy work among affected communities about the goals and tasks of the humanitarian mission in the affected country.  The use of military assets was becoming a factor of United Nations emergency response operations due to the effectiveness of their involvement.  At the same time, he stressed that providing humanitarian assistance was always supposed to be a strictly civilian activity, and it was of paramount importance to preserve its civilian nature.  The Russian Federation firmly supported the further strengthening of OCHA’s capacity and its role as the guarantor of the civil nature of humanitarian assistance, provided on the basis of the guiding principles contained in the annex to General Assembly resolution 46/182, he said.

SHULI DAVIDOVICH ( Israel) said her country had a long tradition of providing humanitarian assistance and had contributed sanitation and water purification supplies after the earthquake in New Zealand.  Israel had also sent medical, search-and-rescue and communications specialists to Japan following the tsunami, and had taken field hospitals and temporary buildings to Turkey in October.  It had also responded to drought in the Horn of Africa through contributions to the World Food Programme (WFP) and to the Ethiopian Government in support of Somali refugees.

She said her country’s humanitarian assistance followed a comprehensive approach, with preparedness at its core.  MASHAV, the Agency for Development Cooperation, trained doctors, nurses, medical technicians and administrators to deal with mass casualty events, she said, highlighting Israel’s cooperation with OCHA, particularly with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC).  Expressing pride in seeing five Israeli experts on the Emergency Response Roster, she said she looked forward to UNDAC’s participation in her country’s annual national security exercise.  Coordination was vital and the United Nations had a fundamental role in providing the necessary framework, she said, adding that every nation was obliged to stand in solidarity with others in times of tragedy and disaster, as disasters knew no borders.

GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI ( Canada) said that events in 2011 had underscored the importance of timely, effective humanitarian action.  Globally, needs continued to rise at an alarming rate as protracted emergencies in Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan, as well as the earthquake in Turkey and flooding in Pakistan and Central America highlighted the continuing need for better coordinated humanitarian action.  The evolving humanitarian situations in Libya, Yemen, Côte d’Ivoire and Syria also highlighted the importance of meeting the protection and humanitarian needs of populations affected by violence and armed conflict, he said.  The proliferation of humanitarian actors, some of whom had limited experience, increased the restrictions on humanitarian space in key contexts such as Somalia and Sudan, he said, adding that growing risks to the security of humanitarian aid workers made it even more challenging to meet humanitarian needs.  All such actors must work together closely, share information and ensure that established coordination mechanisms worked when disaster struck.

Calling on the Inter-Agency Standing Committee to continue its efforts to more rapidly relay the content of discussions on humanitarian issues, he said greater transparency in decision-making and communication would help strengthen coordination between humanitarian actors and Member States while ensuring transparency and accountability within the system.  He called on cluster leaders to work more closely with local and national coordination mechanisms to avoid duplicating efforts and ensure that action responded to the needs of affected populations.  Calling on United Nations agencies to agree on a common approach to humanitarian analysis, including common and joint needs assessments, he said action must be based on strong evidence.  “Vulnerable populations around the world deserve our commitment to decision-making that is strategic, transparent and grounded in sound assessments and delivery that is innovative and coordinated,” he added.

JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) said that the massive demands on the humanitarian system over the past year “involve us all”, including the United Nations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, non-governmental organizations, civil society and affected individuals.  In 2011, the world had continued to grapple with volatile food and fuel prices, drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, as well as other serious disasters, he said, adding that many protracted and often overlooked crises still needed international humanitarian support.  Food insecurity, for one, required international action, but nonetheless showed how reforms in the humanitarian system were delivering better coordinated responses.

He expressed his country’s support for United Nations leadership and coordination of international humanitarian action in both preparedness and response, in particular on the “twin tracks” of addressing both immediate humanitarian food crises and the need to build long-term resilience in food and national security.  New Zealand had welcomed the opportunity to serve as co-Chair of the OCHA Donor Support Group over the past year, and had been pleased to host the annual OCHA high-level donor conference in June.

Going on to deplore the “erosion of respect for international humanitarian law and principles”, all the more so in the context of the increasingly complex situations in which they were now forced to work, he also condemned the expulsion of humanitarian organizations, bans on the activities of humanitarian personnel and the targeting, hindering or preventing of the delivery of humanitarian assistance by armed groups.  New Zealand encouraged further work to mainstream early recovery into humanitarian programming, so as to ensure that clusters were in place quickly, and urgently to do more to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  The small islands of the Pacific, among other States, were especially vulnerable in that respect, he said.  In that respect, the international community must invest more in early recovery so as to bridge the gap between life-saving humanitarian work and longer-term development.

NORACHIT SINHASENI ( Thailand) expressed solidarity with those affected by natural disasters around the world and commended their bravery and resilience in the face of such overwhelming challenges.  As natural and man-made disasters intensified and became more frequent, the international community needed continually to improve its response capacities, not only at the national level, but also at the regional and global levels, he said.  While natural disasters were not preventable, the loss of life and livelihoods were, and although the recent flooding in Thailand – the worst in decades - had tested national resilience and response capacities, the people were more than ever united in helping one another.

Emphasizing the continuing need to share best practices and technical assistance, he said his country had always placed great importance on building early-warning mechanisms as well as ensuring resilience, emphasizing capacity-building and providing technical assistance to help local communities meet specific local needs.  At the regional level, the Government had contributed $10 million in 2005 to establish the Tsunami Regional Trust Fund and so strengthen regional disaster preparedness.

As ASEAN moved closer to becoming the ASEAN Community in 2015, he said, its leaders were committed to enhancing regional cooperation on disaster management through the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.  That Agreement focused on better preparedness, particularly the need for early-warning systems and a mechanism to ensure the timely dispatch of rescue and assistance.  The international community must look for new ways to improve disaster preparedness through the use of new technologies to ensure that needed assistance was provided to enhance the capacities of affected countries, while exploring the use of media outlets and new communication channels to assist and enhance early-warning and response capacities in order to provide timely information, he said.

JEFFREY DELAURENTIS ( United States) said resolution 182 laid out the guiding principles of humanitarian assistance and emphasized preparedness as a vital element of humanitarian relief.  The system had evolved to meet growing challenges over the past decades, and 2011 was no exception.  Famine and conflict had pushed the system to its limits, and events such as the flooding in Pakistan and the famine in the Horn of Africa each required tailored solutions.  It was important to continue to support and enhance the capabilities of the United Nations and the international humanitarian system to help countries confront disasters, as they had varying abilities to respond, he said.  Indeed, no country was equipped to respond alone to each and every humanitarian crisis.

Commending the manner in which the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the African Union and other actors had taken steps to harmonize their work in response to the famine in Somalia, he said the unnecessary suffering of many victims of natural and man-made disasters was heightened by the absence or insufficiency of humanitarian assistance due to access restrictions imposed by Governments or other parties.  In Somalia, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab had expelled humanitarian personnel and reduced the ability of the United Nations and international aid agencies to deliver food and water to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Somalis.  He invited the international community to join in the condemnation of Al-Shabaab’s actions, which put lives at risk.

He expressed support for the view that national Governments, local authorities and the humanitarian community must recognize and address gender-sensitive approaches, which should be incorporated into all stages of disaster prevention.  Disaster-affected countries, United Nations agencies and other humanitarian partners must plan relief programmes in such a way as to eliminate or reduce the risk of sexual violence, he stressed.  Furthermore, it would be difficult to realize the Millennium Development Goals unless communities and households became more resilient, he warned, urging stronger partnerships between humanitarian and development agencies.  More than 10 million people lived in situations of protracted displacement, he said, adding that development actors should incorporate the needs of forced migrants into their strategies in order to help bring about lasting solutions.

EDUARDO ULIBARRI-BILBAO ( Costa Rica) said the volume and effect of natural disasters around the world was on the rise, and for that reason, it was necessary to recognize the decisive importance of disaster preparedness and of increasing the ability to respond at the local, national and international levels.  Central America had not escaped the recent “bashing” by natural phenomena, he said, recalling the disastrous effects of Hurricane Tomas and tropical depression “Twelve-E”, and expressing thanks for the broad support of a related General Assembly resolution, adopted by consensus on 11 November 2011.

That urgent response had found the best possible welcome in that time of bitter suffering, he continued, noting that the United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator had reported on the serious humanitarian situation in the region, which had suffered rainfall that was far above average.  Equally pressing and severe were rehabilitation and reconstruction needs, he said.  The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had characterized Central America as a vulnerable region, he said, noting that in his country, in particular, recent reported storm-related losses in the agricultural sector alone had climbed to more than $34 million.  The magnitude of that disaster was well beyond the capacity of the region’s countries to face with their own resources, he stressed, noting that the aid already received from organizations and friendly States was thus critical.

He said Costa Rica was aware of its national responsibility, and had allocated resources to the mitigation of damage and to increasing national and regional capacity-building.  “But we cannot go it alone,” he emphasized, noting that the need for international support was essential and urgent.  He called, in that respect, for investment in disaster-risk reduction, sustainable development and other crucial areas.  Costa Rica and its neighbours were working “head-on” to tackle those challenges with the greatest accountability and transparency.  Endorsing the statement delivered on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, he highlighted some of the Secretary-General’s recommendations that were of most crucial importance in Costa Rica’s view, including the need for safe, timely and unhindered access to vulnerable populations and the urgent importance of addressing sexual violence and other types of gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies.

SULJUK MUSTANSAR TARAR ( Pakistan) said the frequency of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change was a prime challenge today.  During the latest monsoon season, Pakistan had been hit by yet another flood which had affected millions in the country’s southern region, where people were already attempting to rebuild after the unprecedented flooding of 2010.  The Government had mobilized all its resources to provide relief to the affected people, and while the international community had come forward to help, much more needed to be done, given the scale of the floods.  On the basis of those experiences, he said, Pakistan had created the National Disaster Management Authority, an institutional, infrastructure and legislative framework intended to lead the national response to floods or other natural disasters.

He said the experience of that framework had convinced Pakistan of several facts:  the primary role of the concerned State in initiating, identifying, coordinating and delivering humanitarian assistance; the importance of an improved and accountable coordination mechanism by OCHA; the importance of tapping alternate means such as increased local procurement of material resources; the necessity of building trust between donors, international humanitarian actors and affected States; the need to ensure accountability on the part of all humanitarian actors; and the essential need to build capacity in countries most likely to be affected by humanitarian emergencies as an important element of domestic preparedness.  “Emphasis should not only be on restoring lives but on restoring livelihoods as well, through better integration of recovery with development,” he said, adding that “politicization of humanitarian relief work should be eschewed”.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the representative of Canada had referred to his country by name.  Syria categorically rejected Canada’s intervention in its domestic matters, he stressed, adding that the delegation’s statements were “politically motivated” and “false” and were made with political ends in mind as an effort to affect relationships between sovereign States.  Further, Canada’s statements displayed a “double-standard”, as Canada had voted against a recent resolution on the occupied Syrian Golan and others relating to the rights of the Palestinian people.  If the delegation were really concerned, he said, it should have joined the majority of Member States in rejecting Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territory, as well as its inhuman blockade of the Gaza Strip.  Syria would have liked Canada to condemn the attack against officials protecting the Palestinian people, as well as the Israeli destruction of schools constructed by UNRWA in 2008.

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