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Improving the United Nations Response to Global Humanitarian Crises

July 25th, 2008

The ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment took place from 15-17 July 2008, at the UN headquarters in New York City, providing an important forum for discussing activities and issues related to strengthening the coordination of the humanitarian system of the United Nations. Father Tomas Vyhnalek, OMI who is doing a summer internship at the JPIC office, attended the session at the UN headquarters in New York.

Panels in the Humanitarian Affairs Segment addressed the issue of challenges facing the provision of humanitarian assistance. Specific topics addressed were: “Building capabilities and capacities at all levels for timely humanitarian assistance, including disaster risk reduction”; “Disaster risk reduction and preparedness: addressing the humanitarian consequences of natural disasters, including the impact of climate change”, and “Humanitarian challenges related to global food aid, including enhancing international efforts and cooperation in this field”. Each panel featured high-level participation from affected governments, relevant UN agencies, NGOs and experts.

In introducing two reports from the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Mr. Holmes said too many of the world’s current long-running conflicts and the ensuing humanitarian crises showed no sign of abating. Moreover, they were being further complicated by deepening environmental pressures and rising food costs.

“These needs are genuine and they are huge,” he said, stressing that it was not enough to be faster, more reliable and better skilled, if reaching vulnerable populations was impossible. A renewed effort to save lives was needed, because ensuring access for the purpose of alleviating human suffering and protecting populations in armed conflict would be essential.

Comments of interest in the general debate:

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, acknowledged global efforts to improve the humanitarian response, but said more work needed to be done to strengthen coordination and leadership at the field level, to mainstream cross-cutting issues in humanitarian programming and to reinforce needs-based humanitarian financing.

HASABO MUHAMMAD ABDULRAHMAN ( Sudan) said that broad coordination mechanisms between the international community and the government were needed to ensure humanitarian access to all the populations in need. And he reported about the situation in Darfur.

EDDINE BENFREHA (Algeria) said humanitarian assistance must be part of a long-term process aimed at transforming a nation from relying on humanitarian assistance to pursuing development. Humanitarian assistance must not be a substitute for development assistance, and delivery of it would become more effective with an enhanced role for non-governmental organizations. In determining priorities, the Secretary-General’s High Level Task Force should seek out ways to facilitate access to food for those most needing it.

Disaster-relief experts from the United Nations and international humanitarian agencies warned the Economic and Social Council that disaster management strategies would not be successful if they did not target — and reduce — the inequalities and vulnerabilities poor people faced, especially since they would be the “first and worst” affected as the climate changes.

The current global food crisis would require increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance for some time to come, told the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs during a panel discussion on humanitarian challenges related to global food aid.

For more information visit, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

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