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EU Presidency Statement – United Nations Economic and Social Council: Humanitarian Affairs Segment

Summary: 15 July 2008, New York - Statement by H.E. Mr. Jean-Maurice RIPERT, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union, at the United Nations Economic and Social Council Humanitarian affairs segment

Mr. Chairman,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, as well as the Republic of Moldova and Armenia align themselves with this declaration.

We would like to thank the Secretary-General for the reports submitted for this session. The EU also wishes to reiterate its support for the work of the Emergency Relief Coordinator / Under-Secretary General John Holmes and the OCHA team. The EU reaffirms its support for OCHA’s role as a global coordinator of international humanitarian assistance.

We consider the humanitarian segment of the ECOSOC to be an opportunity to reflect upon operational challenges facing humanitarian actors, and look for ways to improve humanitarian action by providing guidance to the operational activities of the United Nations.

The European Union wishes to share its views on current humanitarian challenges and on key issues where we need to make further progress.

While we acknowledge the efforts deployed to improve the humanitarian response, the EU considers more work still needs to be done in a number of areas, including strengthening coordination and leadership at the field level, mainstreaming cross-cutting issues in humanitarian programming, reinforcing needs-based humanitarian financing. Moreover, a key challenge remains the humanitarian access, too often restricted, which impedes any relief efforts at all.

Mr. Chairman,

The number and scale of humanitarian emergencies has increased significantly over the past years. Last year was marked by an increase in the incidence and severity of extreme weather events, mostly associated with climate change: as underlined by the Secretary-General in his report, 9 out of every 10 disasters are now climate-related. 14 out of the 15 humanitarian flash appeals launched last year were climate related. We are witnessing the dramatic humanitarian consequences of climate change, with more severe floods, droughts and hurricanes. Today, 26 million people are displaced throughout the world following natural disasters, which is the same number that are internally displaced due to violence, and there are a further 11.4 million refugees.

This calls not only for the continued support of the humanitarian community, but also for a strengthening of the capacity of all stakeholders to better cope with these situations, and to reduce the loss of life and livelihoods caused by these disasters. We need to enhance disaster-risk reduction activities and preparedness at all levels, and we need to continue to invest in adapting to climate change.

Mr. Chairman,

The EU is also extremely concerned about the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation where there are long-standing conflicts. Violence often occurs along with forced recruitment of children as well as sexual and gender-based violence. The prolongation and aggravation of violence in many parts of the world also continues to fuel massive displacement. From Somalia to Darfur, which currently hosts the biggest humanitarian operation in the world, thousands of people are displaced every day.

The European Union is calling for the full deployment of the UN-AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which will enhance protection of civilians in the area. The EU is also directly engaged in the field, with the deployment of a European Force in Chad and the Central African Republic (EUFOR), authorized by the Security Council, to protect civilians, facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid, and ensure the safety of UN personnel.

Mr. Chairman,

In the context of growing humanitarian and protection needs, it is more important than ever for all parties to adhere to the humanitarian principles.

The EU is committed as stated in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid adopted last year, to upholding and promoting the fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. We are also committed to strongly advocating respect for International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law and Refugee Law.

The EU considers access as the fundamental prerequisite for any humanitarian response. Populations in need have a right to receive assistance, for which access to humanitarian actors is vital. International humanitarian law, as well as resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council, underline the need for all parties to facilitate the safe and timely passage of relief supplies, equipment and personnel.

Unfortunately, humanitarian workers are all too often denied access to populations in need. The EU is particularly concerned with the continued restrictions imposed on humanitarian access, ranging from deliberate attacks on relief personnel, to hijackings, harassment, closing of crossing points and bureaucratic obstacles. Limitations on access, imposed in some cases by governments themselves, demonstrate disrespect for humanitarian principles.

The EU reiterates its call for concrete measures to be taken by all actors, including by national authorities, to allow unimpeded and timely access to populations in need.

We also condemn, in the strongest terms, the increase of deliberate violent attacks on humanitarian personnel, which violate international humanitarian law: we reiterate our call to governments to take the required steps to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel working on their territory. This involves ending impunity for such attacks, but it also includes public acknowledgment of the impartiality of and the positive role played by humanitarian workers.

Mr. Chairman,

In such an increasingly difficult environment, the EU welcomes the efforts of United Nations relief agencies to further strengthen their capacities and capabilities for a timely delivery of humanitarian response.

The EU supports the reinforcement of capacity and coordination in the field through the implementation of the cluster approach, which has already helped address response gaps and improved humanitarian planning and preparedness. The clusters can also play a key role in mainstreaming cross-cutting issues, such as gender, HIV-AIDS, the environment and early recovery; we call for further strengthening and accountability in this area The EU also invites cluster leads to increase efforts to link efforts at a global level to working arrangements in practice in the field, for example by further strengthening surge capacity and stand-by rosters, with the aim of delivering more timely, predictable and effective humanitarian aid to populations in need.

The EU supports a plurality of relief agencies – the UN, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs - to deliver humanitarian aid. We encourage the development of humanitarian partnerships between UN and non-UN actors at all levels, through initiatives such as the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP), which can contribute to strengthening the capacity of local NGOs. The EU also notes the role that the private sector is increasingly playing in providing support for humanitarian relief operations, through financial contributions, equipment or expertise.

A strong UN humanitarian coordination function is key to enhanced humanitarian action, as well as to better disaster risk reduction and preparedness. The EU welcomes the system-wide efforts to strengthen this function particularly where double-hatted UN resident coordinator/humanitarian coordinators are in place, and supports initiatives aimed at identifying individuals that can provide effective and accountable leadership in the field.

Mr. Chairman,

On humanitarian financing, allow me to recall that the EU is collectively the largest provider of international humanitarian assistance (half), channelled through United Nations relief agencies and other humanitarian partners. We recognize the need for continued equitable, flexible and timely funding in response to humanitarian emergencies based on needs.

In this regard, we support the full range of financial mechanisms, both direct bilateral and multilateral mechanisms including consolidated and flash appeals, agencies' emergency funds, as well as the humanitarian ‘pooled funds’ and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) each with its comparative advantages. The EU welcomes all contributions to CERF that are additional to current commitments in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 60/124. We hope to collectively reach the 500 million USD target.

However, the CERF alone cannot solve the issue of humanitarian financing as a whole, in the context of growing humanitarian needs, in particular as a result of the food crisis and climate change.

Reinforcing a response based on needs is key, which requires humanitarian needs to be better identified and addressed more effectively. The EU supports OCHA’s efforts to map current needs assessment initiatives, in order to develop a reliable global needs assessment framework to allow for a shared understanding of needs and more effective humanitarian response.

Civil-military cooperation can also contribute to a more efficient humanitarian response. Lack of coordination in the provision of military assets can overload the affected country’s ability to use them effectively. In this regard, we have also noticed some instances where there has been a decrease of humanitarian assistance independence and freedom of movement in cases where military and humanitarian assets are working together without proper coordination. As a consequence, the impartiality of humanitarian workers, as well as their safety on the ground, is frequently put at risk. We believe that OCHA can play a valuable coordination role in this area, including by strengthening the ability of Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators to assist governments in determining the need and use of such assets. The EU emphasizes the need to fully respect the Oslo Guidelines, as well as the Military and Civil Defence Assets Guidelines in complex emergencies. The European Union is itself engaged in promoting and disseminating the understanding of these guidelines.

Although there have been significant efforts to ensure to integrate a gender perspective in relief operations, there is still room for further progress in this area, for more coordination among humanitarian stakeholders and for accountability mechanisms to be in place. In this regard, we welcome the recent review of the IASC Policy on Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action. Women and girls also need to be provided with equal opportunities in capacity building and reconstruction programmes.

Increased sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies is also a very serious concern for the EU, and we welcome the 2007 UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Crisis for a stronger system-wide response in this regard. Urgent measures have to be taken to prevent such sexual violence, strengthen support for victims, and fight impunity. The EU emphasizes the effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 and welcomes the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1820.

Mr. Chairman,

Before I conclude I would like to touch upon quickly on the specific issues of the two panel discussions in this segment:

Humanitarian Implications of Climate Change

The humanitarian consequences of climate change, translating into an increase in the number and intensity of disasters, are a major source of concern. This calls for collective and a more coordinated effort to strengthen capacities for emergency response, as well as to enhance Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness.

When communities and authorities are well prepared, they are able to respond better and faster to natural disasters and reduce the loss of life. On the other hand, lack of disaster risk reduction and preparedness contributes to higher death tolls and more damage, as the recent humanitarian crisis in Burma/Myanmar unfortunately illustrated.

The EU welcomes initiatives underway by the United Nations humanitarian agencies and their partners to enhance capacity-building efforts and preparedness. We support pre-positioning of relief items and community-based preparedness activities. The role of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and especially that of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is pivotal in terms of disaster response. The European Union thus fully supports the “Guidelines on the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (IDRL Guidelines), adopted at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November.

The EU reiterates its commitment to the principles of the Hyogo Framework relating to disaster risk reduction, through the deployment of early warning systems, but also by instilling a culture of safety and resilience. Close cooperation of Member States with the United Nations, in particular the UNDP and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), are critical to the effectiveness of the risk reduction process.

Humanitarian Implications of global food trends

The EU is also alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of soaring food and fuel prices that have had huge impact on food security and humanitarian aid globally, while 800 million people are already suffering from hunger throughout the world.

In this regard, the European Union supports the work of the United Nations Secretary-General’s establishment of the High Level Task Force on the global food security crisis that will help tackle current challenges. We also call for the implementation of the Rome Declaration of 5 June 2008.

The impact of current dynamics on humanitarian operations is huge: UN agencies have faced dramatic food commodity costs increases (up to 130 percent in one year) as well as increased logistical costs. Over the past six years, the total cost of WFP operations has increased by 43%: given the WFP’s particular responsibilities as ‘Logistics Cluster’ lead, it is necessary to strengthen its financial support and capacity.

We would also like to emphasize that the EU is particularly attentive to the situations in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Burma/Myanmar, which are currently some of the most worrying food crisis situations in the world, and where the primary responsibility of States should be underscored, in particular in terms of access of populations to humanitarian aid.

Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to reiterate our full support for the Emergency Relief Coordinator. Many challenges remain and we look forward to working on them with him and others to improve humanitarian response and reduce human suffering.

Thank you.

  • Ref: PRES08-202EN
  • EU source: EU Presidency
  • UN forum: ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), (including functional Commissions)
  • Date: 15/7/2008


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