At a time when the global humanitarian response system was struggling to meet an unprecedented demand in aid for millions of people displaced by natural disasters and conflict, new approaches and stronger partnerships were key to overcome urgent challenges, the Economic and Social Council heard today at the opening of its humanitarian affairs segment.
Early action and efficient financing mechanisms were among the tools needed, said Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on strengthening coordination of the Organization’s emergency humanitarian assistance. Indeed, the humanitarian system was strained. To date, only $8 billion of the required $25 billion had been received at a time when natural disasters had, over the past year, affected more than 96 million people and conflicts had displaced millions across the world. Tackling such issues required stronger collaboration, he stressed.
Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the three-day meeting was an opportunity for Member States and humanitarian partners to discuss how to better coordinate assistance to respond to record levels of need.
Focused on the theme “Restoring humanity, respecting human dignity and leaving no one behind: Working together to reduce people’s humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability”, the segment featured a general debate and side events, with the Economic and Social Council expected to adopt its annual humanitarian resolution on 21 June. High-level panels would look at ways to bolster local capabilities for sustainable outcomes and local resilience; strengthen the response to meet the needs of children affected by armed conflict; and address the risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable.
Some of those issues were highlighted by delegates, who also outlined their ongoing efforts to address challenges.
The representative of Papua New Guinea said his country was still reeling from the most challenging humanitarian situation in its history: a massive earthquake that struck in February. That daunting experience had underscored the importance of partnership, preparedness, capacity-building and resilience.
Summarizing a common theme, Afghanistan’s delegate emphasized that meeting the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development hinged on adoption of a comprehensive approach to sustainable development that included dealing with humanitarian emergencies.
Many delegates, including those from Canada and Norway, underlined the need to ensure gender equality in all efforts, and highlighted long-standing and new concerns.
Drawing attention to the situation of the migrant population in a major destination country, the representative of El Salvador underlined that the practice of children being separated from their parents was, in fact, a human rights violation and called for that practice to end immediately. He also reminded delegates about the lessons learned from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
Raising several concerns, the representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the response to humanitarian emergencies must be based on respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. International cooperation, technical and financial support from States and the United Nations, while indispensable, must be channelled in ways that did not undermine or replace national or local mechanisms.
Agreeing, Thailand’s delegate said external assistance should reinforce national and local capacities, with people placed at the heart of all such efforts.
Several donor countries shared their perspective. Germany’s delegate said donors alone could not resolve all challenges, while Belgium’s representative recommended a new funding mechanism to create effective partnerships.
Ireland’s representative said that the mobilization of assistance to prevent famine last year in Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa and Sudan demonstrated how critical anticipatory approaches and early action were to reduce suffering and need. Concerned that targets under the Grand Bargain — an agreement signed last year among 30 large donors and relief organizations to increase the amount of emergency aid going directly to local and national actor to 25 per cent by 2020 — would not be reached, he urged other signatories to increase the proportion of their funding that was not earmarked.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Bulgaria (on behalf of the European Union), Australia (also on behalf of Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Turkey), Armenia, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Republic of Korea, Japan, Netherlands, South Africa, Ecuador, Cuba, Sweden, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Honduras, Turkey and Nigeria.
The Economic and Social Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 June, to continue its humanitarian affairs segment.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Council’s humanitarian affairs segment this year — on the theme “Restoring humanity, respecting human dignity and leaving no one behind: Working together to reduce people’s humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability” — was an opportunity for Member States and humanitarian partners to discuss how to further strengthen the coordination of humanitarian assistance to respond to record levels of need. Outlining the programme of work, he said three high-level panels would address the impact of armed conflict on children; the challenges, risks and impacts of extreme weather events and climate change on the most vulnerable; and strengthening local capabilities for sustainable outcomes and local resilience. Eighteen side events would also take place. Noting this year’s centenary of the birth of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, he emphasized the importance of human dignity in humanitarian assistance, as well as the importance his delegation attached to the issue of children.
The Council then viewed a short video that paid tribute to President Mandela.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/73/78–E/2018/54). The report contained a range of suggestions, offering an overview of efforts to improve humanitarian coordination and response, as well as major humanitarian trends, challenges and measures taken regarding famine and the risk of famine, severe food insecurity, climate-related shocks, international humanitarian law and human rights law, forced displacement and financing and enhancing humanitarian action in the age of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the commitment to leave no one behind. Providing a snapshot of the report, he highlighted several initiatives, including those aimed at helping disaster and climate change victims, as well as vulnerable groups such as the Rohingya community.
However, the humanitarian system was currently strained, he said. To date only $8 billion of the needed $25 billion had been received at a time when natural disasters had, over the past year, affected more than 96 million people and conflicts had displaced millions across the world. Partnerships and collaboration must be strengthened, he said, pointing at suggestions the Secretary-General had made in his report. The 2030 Agenda recognized that humanitarian crisis threatened to reverse recent gains and issues such as conflict, protracted food crises and the growing number of forcibly displaced people must be addressed.
In addition, international humanitarian law must be upheld, he continued, emphasizing the need for parties to conflicts to protect and not target civilians, a message reinforced by the Security Council’s recent debate on the issue. Also, food security must be broadened and lasting solutions must be found to resolve the current massive displacement of populations worldwide.
To begin, early action and efficient financing mechanisms would facilitate effective response initiatives, he said. Moreover, partnerships among stakeholders would strengthen those efforts. Noting several current initiatives, he said progress had been made to reduce vulnerability and need in countries such as Somalia. In line with the Secretary-General’s strategy on eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse, efforts were also focused on ensuring that all those in need felt safe in getting assistance. Taking such approaches would tackle many challenges effectively.
SHEYAM EL-GARF (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, voiced concern about the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures that were not in accordance with international law and the United Nations Charter. Response to humanitarian emergencies must be based on respect for the principles of international law, namely the recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States. International cooperation, technical and financial support from States and the United Nations, while indispensable, must be channelled in ways that did not undermine or replace national or local mechanisms, she said, emphasizing the primary role of affected States in humanitarian assistance.
On humanitarian financing, she said the Group of 77 encouraged the United Nations system to step up its efforts concerning anticipatory financing mechanisms with a view to scale up predictive mechanisms that would support effective and timely humanitarian assistance. The Group of 77 was pleased that this year’s Economic and Social Council draft resolution contained new elements dealing with affected populations in humanitarian emergencies and elements that built on the 2030 Agenda, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. She went on to underscore the need to address insufficient geographical and gender diversity in the composition of United Nations humanitarian staff, and that in narrowing the humanitarian‑development divide, the line separating their respective mandates and priorities must not be blurred.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the challenge of growing and increasingly complex humanitarian needs was unprecedented. Addressing that challenge would require decisive global action on conflict prevention, conflict resolution, climate change, advancing the 2030 Agenda, turning early warning into early action, and building the resilience of vulnerable populations. Strongly advocating a forward-looking humanitarian system that would better anticipate crises and disasters, she said early financing and implementation could save lives and lead to more effective humanitarian responses. Recalling that conflict was the main driver of humanitarian emergencies, she called for greater efforts to enhance the protection of affected populations, the safety and security of humanitarian and medical personnel, and respect for international law and international human rights law. People should be at the centre of humanitarian action, she added, appealing for greater efforts on forced displacement and the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit.
Discussing this year’s draft humanitarian resolution, she said the European Union welcomed its increased focus on children, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities, as well as improvements regarding early warning and early action, internally displaced persons and education. It would have welcomed more progress in other areas, including international humanitarian law and unhindered humanitarian access. The European Union was particularly concerned about a regression in Council discussions on sexual and reproductive health, she said, stating that sexual and reproductive health‑care services saved lives in humanitarian situations. She deeply regretting that agreement on such measures as the Minimum Initial Service Package — a series of actions required to respond to reproductive health needs at the onset of crises — could not be maintained.
CATHERINE GILL (Australia), speaking also for Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Turkey, said swift action was urgently needed to address the magnitude of challenges facing the world. Partnerships must be forged to prevent and resolve crises, she said, noting that the humanitarian affairs segment was a useful platform to exchange experiences in that regard. The call to action set out in the Agenda for Humanity must be heard. Going forward, development investment must be risk-informed and efforts must be inclusive, with gender equality ensuring the advancement of vital development transformations and persons with disabilities included in all processes.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said more collective efforts were needed to rise to current challenges. Respect for international law was essential and any attempts to politicize humanitarian action must be addressed. The United Nations system must do more to help affected populations. Raising several concerns, he condemned all attacks on media personnel while noting that the denial of past crimes and promoting hate speech represented early warning signs of crises. Unpunished crimes only encouraged further offences, he said, emphasizing the need to boost efforts to end impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. For its part, Armenia had hosted conferences on eliminating genocide and had undertaken related efforts, including the role of education in preventing such atrocities.
CRISTINA CARENZA (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said meeting the needs of the world’s most vulnerable required coherence and coordination among all humanitarian actors, as well as a joint needs assessment based on national and local ownership. In emergency situations, particular attention must be given to the protection of minors, persons with disabilities, the elderly and women, he said, underscoring Italy’s respect for the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Greater efforts were needed to assist the 71 million people around the world fleeing violence and poverty, through short-term actions that combined security and solidarity, and a long-term vision to address the causes of displacement. Italy was implementing the commitment made in Istanbul to “go as local as possible” in the humanitarian response through direct funding to local non-governmental organizations, he added.
SUPARK PRONGTHURA (Thailand), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said coordination in humanitarian actions must be strengthened, especially in country teams, adding that such work by the United Nations should not replace national and local capacities in the humanitarian response, but rather reinforce them. People must be placed at the heart of all such efforts, with the aim of creating resilient communities. Attaching great importance to effective and timely disaster management, Thailand accorded the highest priority to building self-resilience and preparedness among local communities through the “sufficiency economy philosophy” of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, he said, adding that investing in early warning infrastructure through measures such as disaster risk financing and insurance was the way forward.
LOUISE BLAIS (Canada) said the international community must recommit to upholding international humanitarian law, which was being increasingly violated with seeming impunity by parties to armed conflict. Forced displacement must be tackled in a comprehensive way, and there must be greater steps to address the most vulnerable, including girls and boys and persons living with disabilities. She emphasized that all humanitarian intervention must be gender responsive.
PHILIPPE BESSON (Switzerland) stressed that the humanitarian community was continuing to come up against serious difficulties in its efforts to preserve the necessary space for its operations. All parties to conflict must respect international humanitarian law and human rights, he said, adding deliberate attacks on medical personnel and facilities were intolerable given their devastating consequences both in terms of the loss of human lives and the damage to infrastructure and health services. In implementing the reform of the United Nations development system, efforts must be made to increase the synergies between peace, development, humanitarian and human rights actors with a view to achieving shared objectives.
CLAUS LINDROOS (Finland), associating himself with the European Union, said that some people, regions and countries were worse hit than others by humanitarian crises, but the international community had a responsibility to help everyone. The challenge was to find the resources to provide assistance to a growing number of people affected by crises, while at the same time preventing disasters and armed conflicts with tools already available, such as mediation. Finland was deeply concerned by a growing number of violations of international humanitarian law, he said, calling for States and other actors to end that negative trend with strong international action. He went on to underscore the risks and challenges faced by persons with disabilities, as well as women and girls, and welcomed an increased commitment among humanitarian organizations to address sexual abuse by aid workers.
NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI (Afghanistan) said his country continued to face a range of challenges, including those stemming from terrorism and violent extremism. Deliberate attacks on civilians and infrastructure had worsened conditions, which had in turn been exacerbated by a mass displacement of people who were in serious need of basic services. In addition, drought and dry weather were affecting much of the country. While assistance had provided much-needed help, he called on donors to support Afghanistan’s humanitarian response plan, which provided life‑saving aid to the most vulnerable populations. While the chronic needs of the population were being addressed through a national development plan, he said that, today, more than ever before, a comprehensive approach to sustainable development was needed, including through addressing humanitarian emergencies, if the 2030 Agenda objectives were to be met.
THOMAS ZAHNEISEN (Germany) said that, in an increasingly dangerous world, efforts must be made to protect humanitarian workers on the ground. Turning to financial concerns, he said donors alone could not meet all the needs. Germany would do its part to contribute, he said, adding that there was no room for complacency. Steps could include participatory approaches to humanitarian assistance. The World Humanitarian Summit had not been just about closing the financing gap, but about reducing needs. The most important challenge now was the shrinking humanitarian space, including reports of attacks on workers. To counter that trend, efforts must continue in a non-political manner.
CHULL-JOO PARK (Republic of Korea), associating himself with Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia, welcomed the agencies’ commitment to improving the humanitarian system’s efficiency in line with the New Way of Working and the Grand Bargain. Expressing particular concern about the increased risk of gender-based violence against women and girls in conflict situations — a group that the Republic of Korea prioritized in its humanitarian policy — he said humanitarian crises could no longer be separated from peace, development or security challenges. In that context, the Steering Committee led by the Deputy Secretary-General must find concrete ways to promote scaled-up collaboration at the country level and ensure a more joined-up approach overall. As funding remained the bedrock of the United Nations work on the ground, he encouraged Member States and the agencies to work together to make humanitarian resources more flexible and predictable, asking them to focus more on protracted, neglected and underfunded crises.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) said that, more than ever, timely assistance was needed to respond to humanitarian crises. So far this year, Japan had earmarked more than $600 million for humanitarian action, which hopefully would help the United Nations to act swiftly when responding to crises. He also noted his country’s support for small grass‑roots projects with local non-governmental organizations. Emphasizing the value of a joined-up approach, he said innovation had great potential for making humanitarian assistance more effective.
JEROEN COOREMAN (Belgium) said that addressing the risks faced by the most vulnerable groups was a priority for his country. With crises getting longer and more complex, a more strategic approach was needed, he said, recalling that the World Humanitarian Summit had indicated that the status quo was no longer an option. He noted Belgium’s efforts to become a modern humanitarian donor, including the recent launch — in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — of the first humanitarian impact bond.
BJORN HOFMANN (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, stressed that the deliberate starvation of people was a crime that must be prosecuted. It was unthinkable that, in the current century, food insecurity and the threat of famine still existed, and in that context, the international community must work towards zero tolerance for the practices that led to food insecurity and famine, including starvation as a method of warfare. His Government would increase its efforts to support those affected by crises and disasters through psychosocial support. Further, the Netherlands would also strive to be a driver for change and innovation by actively promoting the use of data for better decision-making, strengthening innovation platforms and coalitions and supporting and seeking new financing instruments.
LENI STENSETH (Norway) emphasized respect of international humanitarian law and strengthening the protection of civilians and health care facilities. More also needed to be done to protect children and young people in armed conflict, as well as to ensure the safety and needs of women. This year’s draft resolution should have included a stronger response on sexual violence in conflict. Noting that Norway would remain a major humanitarian donor, she expressed strong support of country-based pooled funds.
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), aligning himself with the Group of 77, raised several concerns, among them the increasing frequency of climate‑change-related disasters caused by extreme weather. Humanitarian assistance at the global level must respect international law, he said, expressing support for the Geneva Process. Reminding delegates of lessons learned from the World Humanitarian Summit, he highlighted the need to empower local actors. Drawing attention to the situation of the migrant population of the destination country, he said children were being separated from their parents and called for that practice to end immediately. He pointed out that continuing that practice was a human rights violation.
N. K. M. SELEKA (South Africa), aligning himself with the Group of 77, cited Mr. Mandela, saying: “Human compassions bind us.” South Africa had experienced the pains of human indignity and suffering, and also of humanity and its healing touch. Over the years, South Africa had made a number of commitments, including stepping up humanitarian assistance in countries including Somalia, Madagascar and Caribbean States affected by hurricanes. South Africa had worked with Brazil, Russian Federation, India and China, based on a just world order, he said, aligning his delegation with the common African position led by the African Union.
FABIAN GARCIA (Ecuador) said efforts must be fine-tuned to address the unprecedented number of people that had been displaced for many reasons and others affected by conflict. Recent meetings had recognized the need to strengthen coordination among local Governments and other stakeholders to provide effective assistance. In addition, more effective programmes were needed in urban areas. An earthquake two years ago had impacted El Salvador, triggering efforts to boost prevention and preparedness initiatives. Turning to the 2030 Agenda, he emphasized that plans must ensure that no one was left behind.
ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), noting the progress made by her country in early warning, emergency management and recovery, said efforts to strengthen the United Nations capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies must be based on the express recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and non‑interference in the internal affairs of States. “It is the only way to prevent small countries with limited resources from being subjected to the self-serving goals of wealthy and powerful nations,” she said. Strengthened international cooperation and technology transfers to developing countries would complement their ability to respond to emergencies, but that must be done with no conditions attached and without undermining their respective development programmes.
NIKLAS WIBERG (Sweden), associating himself with the European Union, said humanitarian needs had doubled in the last five years. In the Security Council, Sweden had given priority to the humanitarian perspective, including through a resolution on conflict and hunger. It had also given greater attention to building synergies between development and humanitarian action. He emphasized the value of flexible funding, which allowed for a needs-based approach and catered to both forgotten crises and those which suddenly emerged. Sweden also welcomed innovative ideas of humanitarian funding for the future, focusing on an anticipatory approach. On this year’s draft resolution, to be adopted on Thursday, he said his country was deeply concerned about a regression in discussions on sexual and reproductive health.
STEPHEN SCOTT (Australia), speaking in his national capacity, said donor funding was at a record high, but the international community was still falling short in meeting its humanitarian imperative. Reviewing his country’s initiatives, he said Australia was committed to empowering local actors in disaster preparedness and response, particularly in the Pacific region. Australia was also giving priority to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as the rights of women and girls, responses to sexual exploitation and abuse, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. On funding, he called for a move towards response plans with priorities determined by need.
INA HAGNININGTYAS KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia) said the spread of radicalism, extremism and terrorist were causing more humanitarian emergencies. Condemning violations of international humanitarian law, she added that durable solutions were needed — “right here, right now” — to address today’s humanitarian emergencies. Humanitarian assistance should be provided at the request of host Governments, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned. Root causes of humanitarian crises must also be addressed, with the active participation of all humanitarian actors and stakeholders.
NGA HOANG (Viet Nam) said reducing needs, risk and vulnerabilities must be placed at the top of national priorities. Having suffered deaths after recent natural disasters, Viet Nam had focused on developing local action plans to respond to climate change consequences. Improving local resilience through education and awareness-raising was essential, especially programmes targeting groups such as women, children and persons with disabilities. Once encouraged, those vulnerable groups could make meaningful contributions to risk-reduction policies.
MARY E. FLORES FLAKE (Honduras), aligning her delegation with the Group of 77, said climate change was a humanitarian issue and a complex challenge, with the burden falling most heavily on developing countries. Central America had been struck by cyclical droughts, affecting agriculture production, the economy and the quality of life, and Honduras had adopted laws aimed at tackling climate change and related concerns. Financing for such climate change-related efforts was essential, but as a middle-income country, Honduras had difficulty accessing climate change funding. To successfully combat climate change, global cooperation was the only way forward.
BRYAN FLYNN (Ireland) said that, despite funding gaps, progress had been made in building the humanitarian system, as could be seen following the Secretary-General’s call to action in 2017 to prevent famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. That mobilization of efforts to assist 15 million people had demonstrated the system’s ability to heed early warnings and scale up appropriately. Such was the case with the Ebola outbreak and rapid response. As conflicts became longer, immediate and longer-term needs must be considered. In addition, clear frameworks would allow country-level humanitarian and development actors to collaborate. Avoiding famine in four countries had demonstrated how critical anticipatory approaches and early action were to reduce suffering and need, he said, pointing at the Central Emergency Response Fund as an essential tool. Indeed, the provision of pooled, core and flexible funding would remain essential. Concerned that targets under the Grand Bargain would not be reached, he urged other signatories to increase the proportion of their funding that was not earmarked.
MAKBULE BAŞAK YALÇIN (Turkey), recalling the World Humanitarian Summit, said efforts to leave no one behind should include designing a new approach to forced displacement, as well as model for equitable sharing of responsibility. The international community must also strive to ensure gender equality and to close gaps in education. Addressing the vulnerabilities of migrants was also essential, she said, emphasizing the role of the Global Compact on Migration in that regard.
MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea) said his country was still reeling from the most challenging humanitarian situation in its history, arising from a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck in February. Over 160 people were killed and some 544,000 affected, with 270,000 of them requiring immediate humanitarian assistance. Expressing gratitude for the contributions made to its $62 million emergency appeal by bilateral and multilateral development partners — including various United Nations agencies, the private sector and faith-based organizations — he said Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Management Team had established a Highlands Earthquake Response Plan with three phases of response, recovery and reconstruction work. “This daunting experience has brought to the forefront and also underscored the importance of partnership, preparedness, capacity building and resilience,” he stressed, voicing concern about indications that global humanitarian needs were on the rise.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said humanitarian issues required practicable and working solutions that would accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. In his country, the activities of Boko Haram insurgents had put on Nigeria the responsibility of refugee management, including the adoption of an action plan to address the plight of women and girls.