New York

24 April 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at Meeting of Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals [as prepared for delivery]

I am happy to be here today to talk about the humanitarian system and how we can make it more effective.
We are all keenly aware that the reputation of the United Nations and its partners often rests on how well we respond to disasters. You are all on the frontline, saving lives and upholding our credibility.
I myself benefitted from the world’s humanitarian action.
During the Korean War, my family and I were forced to flee my village and live in the hills.
The United Nations came to our rescue. It fed my family and my people, and it helped to rebuild our country. It gave us great hope.
I always think of this when I visit countries in the midst of a humanitarian emergency. I assure people that they are not alone.
So I have the very greatest respect for all of you, for your work, and for your colleagues who face grave risks, delivering aid and bringing hope to people, every day.
This Committee is one of the most important parts of the humanitarian system, bringing together, as it does, UN agencies, our NGO partners and the Red Cross, Red Crescent Movement.
We value the knowledge and the access of our NGO partners and the Red Cross. You can go where we cannot, and you are often on the ground before we are.
In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, we were not the first responders. Local people and organizations brought immediate aid. Then, with your access through local networks, backed by our resources, we made a powerful team. 
But we are not powerful enough. We are not always delivering as we should for people in need.
The humanitarian system is being questioned as never before. We have been accused of doing too little, too late.
The past year has been a period of intense self-reflection.  I know you have already taken important steps to transform the system.
The reform process rests on three priorities: leadership, accountability and coordination.  Let me say a few words about each.
First, humanitarian leadership means making difficult, life-and-death decisions, and saying things that people do not want to hear. I admire you for facing this challenge so honestly and forthrightly. And I encourage you to nominate your best and brightest staff to work as Humanitarian Coordinators.
Second, we must be accountable not only to our donors, but to those we serve. After all, it is they who have the biggest stake in what we do and how well we do it. People are making their voices heard more loudly than ever, including through international, local and social media. We must listen if we are to deliver effectively.
And third, coordination. This is our best force multiplier. Without coordination, there is duplication; there are gaps in delivery; there is bureaucracy; there is a focus on process rather than results. But with coordination, 1 plus 1 can add up to far more than two.  This is a hard thing to get right, but when we do the benefits can be formidable indeed.
I know that you are already beginning to see the impact of your Transformative Agenda.
In South Sudan, for example there is co-leadership – a true partnership between the UN and NGOs.
There is innovative pooled funding that gets beyond the traditional rivalries that have sometimes hampered our collective efforts;
And there are agreed priorities that put people first.
But at times I hear talk of reform fatigue. People say reform just creates more work. When will we stop all this reform, they complain.
My answer is this: we will stop when we have peace, security, development and human rights for all!
Your work plays a crucial role in that quest.
But the landscape in which you operate continues to undergo significant change.
The world is becoming less hierarchical. We are witnessing the emergence and proliferation of response systems driven by local ownership and leadership, outside the IASC. 
At the same time, donors facing austerity at home are looking carefully at what they spend abroad.
We must adapt on both these fronts.
I am glad that you are emphasizing inclusivity and partnerships as part of your agenda.
 My own five-year action agenda includes the creation of a Partnership Facility to scale up the UN’s capacity to engage in transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Finally, a few words on the crucial question of security.
Attacks against humanitarian personnel have tripled over the past decade, rising to more than 100 deaths each year. We are all working to reverse this trend. 
I would like to express my full commitment to defending the humanitarian principles that underpin your work.

An important shift has taken place.  Where once you focused on judging the right moment to leave a country in conflict, today you are sharing best practices so that you can stay in high-risk areas.
I commend this change, which speaks volumes about your dedication to the people who need you most. You have my full backing for your efforts to deliver life-saving services in these difficult conditions.
In crisis after crisis, humanitarian workers are on the ground, making a difference. When people think of humankind at its best, they think of you.
I am proud to be with you today.
I thank you all for your contributions, for your professionalism, and for the human passion you bring to this work.

Thank you.